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Monday, August 24, 2009

EDITORIAL 24.08.09

August 24, 2009

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EDITORIAL

Month August 24, Edition 000279, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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

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THE PIONEER

1.      THE SINKING OF A CITY

2.      IRRESOLUTE BRITAIN

3.      LET’S GET RID OF BABUDOM-JOGINDER SINGH

4.      MANMOHAN TAKES A U-TURN ON TERROR-SUSHIL VAKIL

5.      CHINA’S SHOW OF MIGHT-B RAMAN

6.      LIBERATING LALGARH-SHIKHA MUKERJEE

7.      A MAN WITH MANY PERSONAS-PRAFULL GORADIA

8.      IT WAS THROAT INFECTION THAT KILLED MOZART-JOANN LOVIGLIO


THE TIMES OF INDIA

1.      DON'T LET IT GO

2.      PAWAR POLITICS

3.      FROM IDOLS TO IDEOLOGY-

4.      'NO DEVELOPMENT WILL BE OF USE IF GANGA DRIES UP'

5.      EXTRAVAGANZA EXTRAORDINAIRE

6.      DARK LAUGHTER-JUG SURAIYA 

 

HINDUSTAN TIMES

1.      THERE'S A HOLE IN OUR BUCKET

2.      IN A ROUNDABOUT WAY

3.      LOVE THE DROUGHT

4.      THE BJP’S LEADERSHIP MUST GO-PANKAJ VOHRA

 

INDIAN EXPRESS

1.      JUST DO IT

2.      DIFFICULT TIMES

3.      DURBAR ON RAILS

4.      HERITAGE CLAUSE-C. RAJA MOHAN

5.      UNITED POETS OF INDIA-SEEMA CHISHTI

6.      ‘I TOLD ADVANIJI NOT TO ASSOCIATE HIMSELF WITH THE STING OPERATION. HE KEPT QUIET AND I COULDN’T PRESS BEYOND A POINT’

 

THE FINENCIAL EXPRESS

1.      THE PROBLEM: TOO FEW ATMS

2.      SWEET TRUTH

3.      NOW’S THE TIME TO REMEMBER ECONOMICS-MEGHNAD DESAI

4.      COUNTRY ROAD WILL TAKE THEM HOME-P RAGHAVAN

5.      INDIA’S INFRA CARD IN NEPAL-NISHA TANEJA

 

THE ASIAN AGE

1.      INFRASTRUCTURE: GET THE BASICS RIGHT

2.      LAW AND THE PUBLIC GOOD-HIV VISVANATHAN

3.      AYE MERE WATAN KE LOGON, ZARA...-S.K. CHATTERJI

 

THE TRIBUNE

1.      ASSETS OF JUDGES

2.      THE AFGHAN POLL

3.      ‘HONOUR’ KILLING

4.      MORE SUICIDES-BY NIRMAL SANDHU

5.      HANG ON – CRISIS ISN’T OVER YET-BY STEVEN PEARLSTEIN

6.      DRAMA AT AIRPORT TO PROMOTE FILM?-BY DEVI CHERIAN

 

THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

1.      THREAT TO GUWAHATI

2.      WOMEN UNEMPOWERED

3.      UNHEALTHY INDUSTRY-POLITICIAN NEXUS-PRAFUL BIDWAI

4.      MANIPUR: A BOILING CAULDRON-RANI PATHAK DAS

 

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

1.      ENVIRONMENTAL CLEARANCE

2.      BE FLEXIBLE ON PUBLIC FLOATS

3.      BULB FICTION

4.      WILL THE RECESSION REALLY GO AWAY?

5.      CLIMATE CHANGE TALKS: ANY HOPE?-PRASHANT GOYAL

 

DECCAN CHRONICAL

1.      INFRASTRUCTURE: GET THE BASICS RIGHT

2.      USE NREGS TO FIGHT PRICE-RISE, DROUGHT -BY ARJUN SENGUPTA

3.      CONNECT NATURE’S DOTS TO SAVE THE PLANET -BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

4.      LAW AND THE PUBLIC GOOD -BY SHIV VISVANATHAN

5.      NO PLACE FOR WAR MEMORIAL -BY S.K. CHATTERJI

6.      THE LAST EMPRESS OF EXCESSIVE SPENDING -BY MAUREEN DOWD

 

THE TELEGRAPH

1.      WORDS AS SIGNS

2.      LITTLE COMFORT

3.      HOBBY OR BUSINESS? -S.L. RAO

4.      LEARNING CURVE -GWYNNE DYER

 

 

THE STATESMAN

1.      PARENTAL ‘REWARD’~ CISF RECOGNISES A PROBLEM

2.      ‘FAKE ENCOUNTERS’~ THE ALBATROSS THAT HAUNTS IBOBI 

3.      BELATED BAILOUT ~ LOAN WAIVER CALLS FOR A PROBE

4.      EXPANDING WAISTLINE MAY SHRINK YOUR BRAIN

5.      NATURE SERVES NOTICE~II ~ FUTURE WARS WILL BE WARS OVER WATER-ASHOK KAPUR

 

DECCAN HERALD

1.      THE ROAD TALK-BY ARUN BHATIA

2.      A NEW PARLIAMENT-BY KHUSHWANT SINGH

 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

1.      WHO WANTS TO YELL NEXT?

2.      FOR NEW YORK CITY COMPTROLLER

3.      A REAL FISH STORY

4.      ABOUT YOUR 401(K)

 

I.THE NEWS

1.      CONVERGENCES

2.      EGOS COLLIDE

3.      UN-SWEETENED

 

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

1.      ACCOUNTABILITY OF CORRUPTS AT ALL COST

2.      ALARMING RISE IN EXTERNAL DEBT

3.      AN UNENDING ISSUE OF MISSING PERSONS

 

THE INDEPENDENT

1.      OPERATION CLEAN STREET

2.      REAL ESTATE CRIME

3.      MAKING A SPECTACLE OF YOURSELF...!-ROBERT CLEMENTS

 

THE AUSTRALIAN

1.      NATIONALS FREE TO RUN THEIR OWN RACE

2.      MERCY MISDIRECTED

3.      ROCK SOLID ALLIANCE

 

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

1.      A LEAGUE TABLE FOR SUPER FUNDS

2.      WAITING FOR A TAINTED VERDICT

 

THE GUARDIAN

1.      IN PRAISE OF… MAESTROCAM

2.      NEWS FROM 1959: MANCHESTER GUARDIAN

3.      SCIENCE: COLLISION COURSE

 

 

JAPAN TIMES

1.      PROMOTING RENEWABLE ENERGY

2.      CONSUMER AGENCY CHALLENGE

3.      AFGHAN HEALTH CRISIS DEFIES AID EFFORTS SO FAR-BY CESAR CHELALA

4.      PARTY SHAKEOUTS UNLIKELY IF THE DPJ WINS BIG-TIME

 

THE KOREA HERALD

1.      KIM'S LAST GIFT

2.      OUT OF CONTROL?

3.      NORMALIZATION OF GUERRILLA MOVEMENT -DAOUD KUTTAB

 

CHINA DAILY

1.      CARE FOR PUBLIC VOICES

2.      COMPROMISED JUSTICE

3.      CARBON TAX'S SMOKE AND MIRRORS

4.      US BONDS REDUCTION NORMAL

 

THE JAKARTA POST

1.      SBY’S DREAM TEAM

 

THE MOSCOW TIMES

1.      SBY’S DREAM TEAM

2.      REAL BENETTON, FAKE IKEA, NO FUEL-BY MATTHEW COLLIN

 

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

THE SINKING OF A CITY

AIRPORT AS METAPHOR FOR DELHI’S CIVIC COLLAPSE


The storm that hit Delhi on Friday, August 21, was unusually ferocious. Pouring rain accompanied by high-velocity winds took the city by surprise and, to old-timers, brought back memories of a freak storm the city had experienced in the 1970s. However, the whims of nature were no excuse for the complete and utter civic failure. First, the Met Department had issued not even a ghost of a warning and should be seriously interrogated. Next, for the second time in less than a month, floodwater brought the city to a standstill, disrupted traffic and threw life off gear. Delhi airport’s showpiece new terminal saw not just a leakage of rainwater from the ceiling — such a routine experience now that it is perhaps not even worth commenting on — but actually had a part of its roof cave in. The capital’s drains gave way, as the Public Works Department, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and a host of other agencies began a blame game as to why the sewers and underground drains have not been cleaned since, it would appear, the Khiljis diverted the Yamuna waters to the citadel of Siri. Just to ensure that this city is egalitarian in its mess-making, the New Delhi Municipal Council — perhaps the country’s richest and most pampered urban governance body, looking after the Government enclave of Lutyens’ Delhi — was left embarrassed. At the Congress party headquarters, no less, water from the skies interrupted a Press conference and had journalists and the party spokesperson running for cover. If this is how NDMC treats a heritage zone — the city Lutyens and Baker built is, or is meant to be, one of the most impressive urban landscapes anywhere in the world — what hope is there for lesser mortals in this beleaguered city?


The disaster of wet Friday will inevitably lead to hand-wringing and review meetings. There will be anguished concern about whether Delhi will be ready for the Commonwealth Games in almost exactly a year’s time — or whether there is any likelihood that marooned athletes will have to wade their way from flooded stadia to the Games Village. That may sound facetious and harsh, but after the August 21 collapse, can anybody make any assurances with any degree of certitude? That aside, while the smooth conduct of the Commonwealth Games is desirable, Delhi’s problems require a remedy regardless. For the Games period, civic energies will focus on somehow pumping out water from a few showpiece locations, banning traffic in the neighbourhood of the stadia and the athletes’ and officials’ presence, running gleaming Metro trains between event locations. What happens after that — and what happens to the rest of the city anyway? The past week’s unnerving experience has left many wondering.


Take the airport as a metaphor for the city. If New Orleans airport was still functional after Typhoon Katrina, how come an afternoon’s storm caused Delhi’s so-called state-of-the-art, 21st century facility to shut down, call off flights, bring in the mops and so on? The sad story is Delhi has been let down by all its guardians. Public or private, the institutions meant to run this city and its utilities have ended up exploiting it and doling out only hollow promises in return. MCD, PWD, NDMC, DDA, DESU/DVB, DJB and now GMR: Delhi’s tragedy is betrayal, acronym by acronym.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

IRRESOLUTE BRITAIN

LOCKERBIE BOMBER HAS A BASH


The British Government deserves every bit of criticism that has been coming its way for releasing Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the terrorist who was responsible for the shocking Lockerbie bombing in 1988 in which 270 people were killed aboard a Pan Am transatlantic fight. Last Thursday, despite objections from relatives of the victims, 57-year-old Megrahi, who was serving a life sentence in Scotland for his crimes and who suffers from terminal prostrate cancer, was released by Scottish authorities on grounds of ‘compassion’, allowing the Libyan to go back to his home country. The decision to free Megrahi has been a strange one. It is almost as if policy-makers in Britain were caught in two minds. On Friday, it emerged that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had written to Libyan President Muammar al-Gaddafi requesting him not organise a grand welcome for Megrahi. However, that is precisely the kind of reception that the Lockerbie bomber received when he stepped onto Libyan soil. Even Mr Gaddafi personally met Megrahi to welcome him, while the Libyan supreme leader’s son, Mr Saif al-Islam, hailed his release as a “victory” for Libya. The irony is inescapable.


The lack of conviction on the part of British authorities to firmly stand behind their decision to release Megrahi has only complicated matters. A theory that has been fast gaining currency is that Britain released the Lockerbie bomber as part of a deal with Libya that would see the former gain from bilateral trade between the two countries. In short, it was Libyan oil that bought Megrahi’s freedom. The theory has further gained strength due to Mr Saif al-Islam’s candid admission to a Libyan television channel that in earlier trade talks with Britain Megrahi’s release was an important issue. This has understandably put Labour on the defensive. Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband, otherwise known as a jihad lover, had to go the extra mile to categorically deny claims that Megrahi’s release was in any way linked to Britain’s commercial interests with Libya. Be that as it may, there is no denying that Megrahi’s release was a huge blunder. In terms of the global war against terrorism — of which Britain is supposed to be a key player — it sends out the message that democratic Governments are capable of showing compassion even when you kill 270 innocent people. This is the last thing that a country like Britain, whose people have suffered at the hands of jihadis, needs. Compassion could be shown to those who are guilty of petty crimes and have realised the error of their ways, not someone who killed 270 people and still claims his innocence. If Megrahi’s release were meant to be a diplomatic initiative to please Gaddafi’s Libya, the British authorities have outdone themselves. For, Tripoli clearly sees it as British capitulation.


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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

LET’S GET RID OF BABUDOM

JOGINDER SINGH


The Union Minister for Administrative Reforms and Personnel recently admitted that “there is a perception that the Indian bureaucracy is inefficient and corrupt. If we are not able to provide for inclusive growth and maintain regional and social balance in the country, it may lead to conflicts which may shake the very foundations of our federal polity and our nation”. He also added that India’s performance on UNDP’s Human Development Index remains “abysmal”. India still ranks 132 out of 179 countries.


The present Law Minister had headed the Administrative Reforms Commission and submitted his recommendations to improve the administration. The Minister for Personnel has said, “It is not possible to implement all recommendations of the commission because of different reasons.” He wanted these recommendations to be deliberated and debated.


We have the world’s most unique system. First we set up commissions or committees of eminent people and then the same people, who felt that they had picked up the most competent people for the job, are also asked to examine their reports, then assess whether they should be accepted or not. Often bureaucrats, who are responsible for the mess get to decide whether the measures are acceptable or not.


In our country we have given so much power to the bureaucracy that its efforts are directed at making the possible into impossible. Any change which takes away the authority of the bureaucracy and whittles down its powers is resisted. Every law that is passed means more power for the bureaucracy and expansion of the Inspector Raj.


More than five years ago Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had assured Indian industry that a high-level standing committee with representatives from industry and the Government would review all existing industrial laws and, if required, amend them to end the tyranny of Inspector Raj. The rules and regulations, he said, would be made “more transparent and simple. The attempt would be to, as far as possible, not leave issues to personal interpretation and to ensure that discretionary power is not misused”. Five years later, things stand where they were five years ago.


The demands for ending Inspector Raj have fallen on deaf ears because of our powerful bureaucracy and incompetent political leadership. Heavens would not fall if the private sector were to be trusted with self-certification. For bureaucrats, the ultimate outcome does not matter. It is the procedure, which spawns corruption, that is important.


It is not that today all regulations are complied with, which is the actual duty of the inspectors of various departments, whose number at present ranges from 35 to 65 depending upon the enterprise in which you are engaged in. Their job is to ensure compliance with rules and regulations. Since most of the inspectors have become extortionists, the private sector rightly wants the Government to end Inspector Raj.


Despite brave statements, India has not done away with the licence-permit-quota raj. It is for this reason that domestic entrepreneurs and foreign investors fulminate against the bureaucratic obstacles race they have to run for months and years before they can get necessary sanctions.


Some checks are essential to enforce minimum standards. It will be best to outsource the same, give the option to the private sector to have its own system of doing so. It has been done in regard to pollution — you can get a certificate for your car at selected petrol stations.


The purpose of having inspectors is to ensure that establishments conform to rules and regulations framed to safeguard public interest. What is expected is the diligent performance of duties by Government functionaries, something that still remains an illusion.


According to Transparency International, India is the 83rd most corrupt country in the world, with 34 marks out of hundred. We are caught in a Catch-22 situation. We need some checks and balances to put things right, as it cannot be said that everybody in the private sector is a paragon of virtue. After all, some of entrepreneurs are as guilty as Government Inspectors as they seek to take short cuts and avoid strict compliance with rules and laws. The only solution seems to be to make all changes self-executing and self-certifying. It is a fact that as degree of discretion increases, so does bureaucratic delay, expenses and corruption.

Tragically, instead of downsizing the bureaucracy, the trend is to increase its presence. Even retired bureaucrats find a slot in some department or the other. In Government service, there is no accountability if you do not do your job. Unless performance is linked to job retention, there is no way the bureaucracy will perform There is only a microscopic minority which is putting in all the hard work, due to which Government continues to function. Unless honest upright bureaucrats are protected, encouraged and recognised, the country will remain where it is — full of corruption, sloth and inefficiency.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

MANMOHAN TAKES A U-TURN ON TERROR

SUSHIL VAKIL


Not drowned by the sea, but washed away by a drop! The phrase aptly applies to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Though he has never shown any kind of nervousness previously at international fora, Mr Singh was carried away by the ‘clever’ talks of his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt last month.


Not only did Mr Singh agree to delink the issue of terror from the resumption of the composite dialogue process, but also went an extra mile to portray India as an aggressor in Balochistan. But after stirring the hornet’s nest, the Prime Minister has now withdrawn the clean chit he had given to Islamabad by asserting that Pakistan-based terrorists could attack India anywhere, anytime.


He further said that his Government has credible information of cross-border terror attacks and that not just Jammu & Kashmir but other parts of the country as well are on the radar of the terrorists. Contrary to Mr Singh’s earlier statement that a stable and prosperous Pakistan was in the interest of India, the latest U-turn has caused a stir in political circles.


Besides the Prime Minister, Defence Minister AK Antony has also confirmed that dozens of terror camps are “functioning actively” in Pakistan and that India would continue to face threats as long as they remain are intact. Home Minister P Chidambaram too added that his Ministry has reliable information that Pakistan-based terrorist outfits can strike anywhere, anytime in India. It has become the hallmark of our leaders to claim knowledge of every persistent terror threat even though they have no clue as to how to prevent it. Moreover, it shows the sentimentalities in which our leaders squeal.


It is time that the Centre, instead of harping on friendly relations with Islamabad, ensure tight security arrangements and intelligence gathering, as the country cannot afford to be lax in keeping vigil on our borders and on the sea front. There is no denying the fact that Pakistan has done little to destroy the terrorist infrastructure and training facilities on its soil, despite the pledges given by its leaders on more than one occasion. The situation demands fool-proof security arrangements and action against terror, not reconciliatory gestures. It is said that people who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it. Hopefully, this won’t be the case with India.

 

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THE PIONEER

OP-ED

CHINA’S SHOW OF MIGHT

THE PLA HAS LAUNCHED A MASSIVE MILITARY EXERCISE IN WHICH ARMY DIVISIONS ARE CROSSING GEOGRAPHICAL BOUNDARIES TO FIGHT IN UNFAMILIAR TERRAIN. IT IS EVIDENT THAT THE LONG-TERM SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS EXERCISE MAY NOT BE CONFINED TO CHINESE TERRITORY AND COULD EXTEND BEYOND ITS BORDERS

B RAMAN


Four Divisions of the People’s Liberation Army of China with a total strength of about 50,000 troops drawn from the Shenyang, Lanzhou, Jinan and Guangzhou military regions have embarked on a military exercise code-named ‘Stride-2009’ since August 11, 2009. The exercise, which is due to last for two months, has been projected by the Global Times (August 12, 2009) as China’s largest ever, long-range military exercise.


Under this exercise, a Division of Shenyang military region in the north-east will move to Lanzhou military region in the north-west and a Division from Lanzhou region will move to Shenyang region. Similarly, two Divisions from Jinan and Guangzhou military regions will exchange places. It is not clear from available details carried by the Government and party-controlled Chinese media whether the four Divisions will remain in their new place of deployment after the exercise or they will move back to their original place of deployment.


The objective of the exercise has been described as to test the ability of the Divisions to move rapidly from an area where they were raised and trained to an area to which they were not used. The objective is also to train the troops to fight anywhere, anytime and under any conditions. The exercise will also test the ability of the troops to deal with natural diasters in any part of the country. Another important aim is to test the new road, rail and air infrastructure raised by China in recent years and examine their capacity to support such large-scale movements without causing much inconvenience to the civilian population.


The Lanzhou military region, one of the seven military regions of China, has under its jurisdiction Xinjiang, Qinghai, Gansu, Ningxia, and Shaanxi and the Ali area of northwest Tibet. Shenyang military region covers Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongiang provinces. It plays an important role in the security of Beijing as well as of the areas bordering the Russian far east and North Korea. Jinan military region covers Shandong and Henan provinces. It is responsible for security in one of the most heavily-populated and industrialised areas of China. Guangzhou Military region covers Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, Hebei and Hainan provinces. Inter alia, it is responsible for the security of Hong Kong and its divisions are specially trained for possible military operations against Taiwan.


The three regions not participating in the exercise are Beijing, Nanjing and Chengdu military regions. Beijing military region covers Beijing city, Tianjin city, Hebei province, Shanxi province, and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. It is mainly responsible for defending China from Mongolia and Russia, and also provides security to Beijing. Nanjing Military Region covers Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Fujian, and Jiangxi provinces. It is the principal military region responsible for operations against Taiwan in the event of a military conflict. Most of the missile units facing Taiwan are believed to be under its control. Chengdu military region covers Chongqing, Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou provinces and Xizang/Tibet Autonomous Region. It is responsible for security in Tibet and for protecting the border regions with India, Nepal and Myanmar.


Thus, while the military regions responsible for security in Tibet and Beijing and for military operations in Taiwan have not been disturbed during the exercise, the military region responsible for security in the recently-disturbed Xinjiang province has been. One would have thought that China would be interested in testing the capacity of the newly-laid railway line to Lhasa and the road infrastructure in Tibet to support large-scale and rapid military movements. While the non-participation of Nanjing military region has been seen by Chinese commentators as a confidence-building measure at a time when Beijing’s relations with Taiwan are improving, no explanation has been forthcoming for the non-participation of the Chengdu military region. One is tempted to speculate whether this has been motivated by a desire not to cause undue alarm in India.


Citing the Government-controlled Xinhua news agency, the Global Times reported as follows: “This is the first cross-region long-range training maneuver involving troops from four military area commands,” an anonymous (unidentified) officer at the PLA Headquarters of General Staff was quoted by Xinhua as saying. “The exercise is to test the overall combat capability and long-range mobility of our Army in information-based situations,” he said. According to the plan, 80 per cent of the 50,000 troops and 60,000 weapons, equipment and vehicles will be transported to the target area by railway and motorised manoeuvers. Civil passenger and cargo aircraft will be deployed for the first time to transport troops and weapons. The drill marks a huge breakthrough in the history of Chinese military training, in which the armies are crossing geographical boundaries to fight in unfamiliar areas, a military specialist in Beijing surnamed Chen told the Global Times. “The capability for greater coordination, joint operations and long-range force projection will be tested,” Chen said.”


The paper added: “Nanjing Military Area Command, one of the seven military commands in China and covering areas close to Taiwan, was not included in the drill. Military experts interpreted the absence of Nanjing military command as “the mainland showing goodwill to Taiwan,” Taiwan-based newspaper China Times reported. “This is a friendly gesture from the mainland toward Taiwan and shows cross-Straits relations have further eased up,” Li Daguang, a military expert from the National Defence University told the Global Times. Unlike previous military drills, this exercise has not prompted wild speculations by military watchers.”


It further said: “Since early May, when the PLA Headquarters of the General Staff publicised the information on the planned military drill, foreign media carried factual reports on the military drill, a change from their previous critical or speculative tone. “As the Chinese Army is more and more open to the outside world, the mysteries of the Army will be unveiled. And there will be fewer and fewer false reports to speculate on the threatening effect of Chinese military drills,” Li said. In addition, the drill aims to test the Army’s capacity to cope with large-scale natural disasters.


China will be observing in a big way the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China in October. One would have thought that in the weeks preceding this event they would not disturb four Divisions from their present areas of deployment so that they are available for any emergency if political, ethnic or religious dissidents try to create disturbances. It is a fact that China has been concerned over the possibility of such disturbances in Tibet and Xinjiang. Since April, China has strengthened preventive measures in those areas. These have been further strengthened in Xinjiang after the Urumqi disturbances in the first week of July. The fact that China is going ahead with this exercise involving four Divisions reflects its present confidence in their ability to deal with any disturbances that might break out even without the use of these Divisions.


The writer is director of the Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai.

 

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THE PIONEER

OP-ED

LIBERATING LALGARH

MAOISTS, MAMATA, COPS ARE COMPETING WITH EACH OTHER

SHIKHA MUKERJEE


The residents of Lalgarh in West Midnapore, a name tag that includes a larger area stretching from Shalboni and including parts of Bankura and Purulia in West Bengal, must be the most liberated people anywhere. The Communist Party of India (Maoists), the Peoples Committee Against Police Atrocities, the Trinamool Congress, the West Bengal Police, including its specialised armed police, Central paramilitary forces including specialists with experience in handling similar insurgency situations, have all vowed to liberate the territory.


The fixation with liberation has converted the area into a theatre, where troupe after troupe after troupe stage performances. That the troupes are successful is evident since the population of Lalgarh appears to have an insatiable appetite for more.


There are two basic scripts. The first has scriptwriters who propagate the idea of liberation from the stranglehold of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the atrocities committed by the West Bengal Police acting on behalf of the Marxists to which has been added the obvious demand of liberation from occupation by the joint forces that includes the central paramilitary. The second script is about liberating Lalgarh from non-State actors, namely the banned Maoists, who have also been identified as terrorists.

Occasionally the first set of scriptwriters tinker with the play, killing a few Jharkhand Mukti Morcha supporters as a change from killing Marxist local leaders, panchayat members and ‘informers’. Occasionally the second set of playwrights inject action into scenes of besieged lacklustre combatants who appear to be strangely reluctant about performing heroic feats. Both sets of writers and actors of course are committed to liberating Lalgarh.


For the Maoists, PCPA, Trinamool Congress, liberation equals cleansing the area of Marxists. For the West Bengal Government, liberation equals sanitising the area by permanently pushing out the Maoists, restoring normalcy and restoring the rule of law. According to the Maoists, PCPA and Trinamool Congress the actions of the West Bengal Government have nothing to do with restoring law and order; the action is a ruse to once again impose Marxist dominance of the area, despite the people’s disenchantment with the CPI(M).


With all these agencies working to liberate Lalgarh, the local population ought to be euphoric because such determined efforts to free them is nothing short of utopian. Assuming that utopia is what all these liberators are promising the local population, it is perhaps necessary to examine what is on offer to tempt the ‘oppressed’.


According to the Maoists, PCPA and the Trinamool Congress, the local population has been oppressed by the CPI(M)’s bully boys, who have usurped allocations intended for the mostly tribal population of the area. Consequently, the purpose of liberation is to restore to the locals the benefits that have been earmarked for them, to initiate programmes that can be broadly described as development with the objective of reducing poverty, providing health care, education and employment, restoring dignity, ending atrocities and establishing conditions for a just and free society.


According to the West Bengal Government, the purpose of liberation is to restore normalcy. The normalcy that the combined operations by the West Bengal Police and central paramilitary forces hope to restore is not revert to things as they were three months ago, that is before the joint operations began. What the West Bengal Government wants as a return to normal is an idea that had not been implemented, perhaps ever, which is an administration that delivered the best of governance to a vulnerable population, where neglect, exploitation, hunger and absence of opportunity bordered on the extreme.


Neither the CPI(M) nor the West Bengal Government can duck the charge that the condition of the local population in the forest-tribal belt of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia has remained seriously unsatisfactory. There were hunger deaths in Amlashole three years ago. The number of people classified as BPL in the area has steadily increased. The numbers of BPL families in Lalgarh area were to begin with much larger than in the rest of West Bengal. Therefore, the level of development achieved through ‘normal’ administrative and political efforts over the past three decades is low which has produced, undeniably, a sense of deprivation and oppression.


While the Maoists, PCPA and the Trinamool Congress have reasons to cry liberation and collect supporters from among the deprived and exploited, their alternative idea of justice, freedom and development does not hold water. Demanding the withdrawal of the police and paramilitary forces from Lalgarh could well be described as a version of liberation, but that would convert the area into no man’s land, where the justice delivered would be as defined by Maoist ideology, whatever that is. The same is true of development and freedom, which includes non-development and unfreedom, since the Maoists and PCPA have voiced their opposition to the model of development being pursued by India as a whole.


It seems, therefore, that Lalgarh instead of being liberated is a captive to claimants in conflict. For Lalgarh the best sort of liberation may well be freedom from competing politics and claimants.

 

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THE PIONEER

OP-ED

A MAN WITH MANY PERSONAS

MOHAMMED ALI JINNAH WAS PERSONALLY UPRIGHT, RELIGIOUSLY INDIFFERENT AND POLITICALLY A MUSLIM WHO SUPPORTED OR OPPOSED ANY DECISION AS THE SITUATION SUITED HIM AND HIS POLITICS

PRAFULL GORADIA


Over the decades a number of biographers and commentators have expressed their views on the character, career and performance of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. If one studies the Quaid-e-Azam’s political career one would find him to be different from time to time, depending on his advantage at the particular moment. According to his secretary MH Saiyid, at one time Jinnah aspired to be the ‘Muslim Gokhale’ who was a secular moderate.


Although he was known as a constitutionalist, in 1913 he sponsored the Wakf Validity Bill in direct contradiction of the Privy Council order. The judgement was delivered in 1894 by Lord Hobhouse in the Abul Fata case. The Act overturned the apex court’s well-studied order in the same manner in which Rajiv Gandhi got the Lok Sabha in 1987 to pass the Muslim Women’s Bill and overturned the Supreme Court judgement in the Shah Bano case, which awarded alimony to a widow. Wakf land and properties were confiscated from Hindus by medieval invaders and handed over to their camp followers. By enabling the Wakf Act passed, Jinnah behaved like a momin to protect Muslim interests.


Come 1919 and the same Jinnah opposed the Khilafat movement and refused to lift a finger in the defence of the Turkish Sultan’s throne who was the caliph of all Islam. Recall that the Khilafat movement was led by Mahatma Gandhi and Maulana Mohammad Ali and Shaukat Ali as his right-hand men. Presumably, Jinnah behaved like a good Shia Muslim and did not support what he perceived as essentially a Sunni (90 per cent of all Muslims) and not a Muslim cause.


Before that, as a good secularist, he presided over the first public welcome to Gandhi on his final return to India in 1915 at Petit Hall in Mumbai. In his reply, Gandhi said he felt flattered that of all people a Muslim leader said such nice things about him. This statement offended Jinnah’s secular credentials. As time passed he became more and more bewildered by Gandhi’s mass politics. Yet he continued to be a member and active leader of the Congress party until 1928 when he resigned from the party on the issue of separate electorates for Muslims.


Most in the party wanted joint electorates. He had finally realised that by remaining with the Congress he could never be the numero uno in India. Frustrated, Jinnah left for London to resume full-time practice as a barrister. He acquired a property at Hampstead and settled down, until one day in 1934 when at his evening party he met a young man called Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan and his bride; they were on honeymoon. Khan carried a message from League eminences that the Quaid should please return to India and take over the leadership of the party as well as the Muslim cause. He responded positively.

On his taking over the Muslim League as president, Jinnah ceased to be an Ismaili Khoja; in 1866 the Bombay High Court had declared Ismailis to be a hybrid between Hinduism and Islam. Wanting to take no chances, the Quaid switched to the Asna Ashari Shia sect whose Islamic credentials were considered perfect.

Later in 1946 his brother Ahmed Ali gave an insight into his elder brother’s psyche to his friend Dharamdas Vora, my grandfather. He said that from a comparatively young age his brother Mohammed aspired to be the badshah of India. In order to be one, he had to be seen to be secular, impartial between Hindus and Muslims. This was not difficult for him since culturally the family was more Parsee than anything else. He had married a Parsee and his daughter is Parsee. In his own words: Neither of us brothers knows how to offer namaz. We have no food restrictions so long as we enjoy the meat — whether of a pig, a cow or a lamb. We both enjoy, although separately, a sundowner every evening. I still do not have an achkan or a churidar and my brother had the same problem until his return from England as life president of the Muslim League. By then his decision was to go flat out to try and become sultan of a part of India since he could not be the badshah of all India. The point that came through Ahmed Ali’s conversation was that he was personally upright, religiously indifferent, kind to his sibling, politically a Muslim or otherwise as the situation suited him.


Ahmed Ali was in Bombay at the time when his brother ordered Direct Action commencing on August 16 in Calcutta. The Quaid was known to be a constitutionalist who had no faith in violent street politics and yet the Great Calcutta Killing was engineered by the League. In his brother’s opinion, Jinnah had no option if he wanted to convince the British that Hindus and Muslims could not coexist and that they should partition the country before leaving India. And the Quaid became the sultan of Pakistan on August 14, 1947.

 

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THE PIONEER

OP-ED

IT WAS THROAT INFECTION THAT KILLED MOZART

A DEFINITIVE STUDY BRINGS TO AN END SPECULATION ABOUT THE AUSTRIAN COMPOSER’S SUDDEN DEATH, WRITES JOANN LOVIGLIO


For more than two centuries, the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has endured — as has the speculation about what led to his sudden death at age 35 on December 5, 1791. Was the wunderkind composer poisoned by a jealous rival? Did he have an intestinal parasite from an undercooked pork chop? Could he have accidentally poisoned himself with mercury used to treat an alleged bout of syphilis?


A report in Tuesday’s Annals of Internal Medicine suggests the exalted Austrian composer might have succumbed to something far more commonplace: A streptococcal infection — possibly strep throat — that led to kidney failure.


The researchers looked at death records in Vienna during the months surrounding Mozart’s death — November and December 1791 and January 1792, and compared causes of death with the previous and following years.


“We saw that at the time of Mozart’s death there was a minor epidemic in deaths involving edema (swelling), which also happened to be the hallmark of Mozart’s final disease,” said Dr Richard Zegers of the University of Amsterdam, one of the study’s authors. There was a spike in swelling-related deaths among younger men in Vienna at the time of Mozart’s death compared to the other years studied, suggesting a minor epidemic of streptococcal disease, Zegers said.


The cause of death recorded in Vienna’s official death register was “fever and rash,” though even in Mozart’s time those were recognised to be merely symptoms and not an actual disease. His surviving letters and creative output suggest that he was feeling well in the months before his death and was not suffering from any chronic ailment.


Many accounts note that he fell ill not long before he died — suffering from swelling so severe, his sister-in-law recalled three decades later, that the composer was unable to turn in bed.


Others who reported to have been witnesses to Mozart’s final days also described swelling, as well as back pain, malaise and rash — all symptoms that indicate Mozart may have died of kidney disease brought on by a strep infection.


“It’s not definitive, but it’s certainly food for thought,” said Dr William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center who was not involved in the study.


He said it was not unreasonable to presume that Mozart died from strep complications, based on the information presented, but he pointed out that the authors had scant data to go on. “Serious streptococcal infections were much more common than they are now and, indeed, they had very serious complications,” he said. “This is sure to set off many discussions going forward.”


AP

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

EDITORIAL

DON'T LET IT GO

 

The amount of water being used in India from underground sources is estimated to be 45 per cent more that what natural systems or artificial recharging can replenish. It's scary, and not very dissimilar from what we face on the energy front. Except that while alternatives to fossil fuels are on the horizon, there's no alternative to water. The only solution, therefore, is to utilise underground water resources more efficiently.

As detailed in a report in this newspaper on August 21, there is a discrepancy between what scientific findings by independent sources say about the current stock of groundwater in the country and what official sources proclaim. Scientific surveys show, for example, that underground water in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan is disappearing at the rate of one foot per year. Another media investigation has revealed that while the UP government claims that more than 80 per cent of agricultural land is under irrigation, farmers say it is barely 25 per cent.


Water insecurity has come about because of poor hydrological management - water storage, distribution, usage and conservation - as well as failure of water authorities to periodically survey and record accurately the state of the country's water table, the extent of its usage and wastage. Agriculture is the chief consumer of water. Therefore it's imperative to ensure scientific delivery and usage of water for irrigation, besides encouraging drought-resistant seeds and changing cropping patterns where necessary.


Drip irrigation - where water is delivered in measured doses through slender pipes close to the plant, thereby avoiding wastage from spillovers and evaporation - is being used successfully in countries like Israel where water is scarce. Collaborative efforts in this area between the two countries ought to be explored further so that more farmers can benefit from the new technology. Growing water-intensive crops like sugarcane and rice ought to be confined to areas where the crops are grown traditionally because of water availability. Cost of electricity supplied for agricultural purposes - primarily to pump water - needs to be recovered from the consumer. A scarce commodity can no longer be given away free.


India depends on groundwater reserves for most of its agricultural and domestic water requirements - hence the stress on groundwater reservoirs. Urban and rural rainwater harvesting is an option that has not been explored fully. Check dams can be thought of as an alternative to mega dam projects to provide local water support. Above all, the problem needs to be acknowledged first by government agencies and ministries before solutions can be found.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

EDITORIAL

PAWAR POLITICS

 

Should the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) continue as a separate political party since it no longer has issues with the foreign origins of Congress president Sonia Gandhi? This poser from Congress leader Digvijay Singh set political circles agog with the anticipation that new equations may be in the making in Maharashtra. NCP chief Sharad Pawar has since ruled out a merger with the Congress, but the issue is far from settled. It is most likely that the two parties will fight the impending assembly elections separately, but on a joint UPA platform.


A Congress-NCP tie-up appears natural because their political bases overlap. There aren't any ideological differences between the two parties. The one political reason that caused the split has ceased to be an issue. The NCP is a product of Pawar's national ambitions. He left the Congress a decade ago to form the NCP to position himself as a desi alternative to Sonia's leadership. He didn't succeed. The foreign origin issue didn't strike a chord with Congress workers or voters. National politics has also dramatically changed in favour of the Congress. In the last general elections, a resurgent Congress won 17 seats from Maharashtra whereas the NCP tally fell from 11 in 2004 to eight.


However, the alliance with the Congress could create an identity crisis for the NCP. Why exist as a separate outfit if it is only to become a paler version of the Congress? Does the NCP have any other option? Can it reinvent itself as a regional party with Maharashtra-specific agendas? Such a transformation wouldn't be easy because the party has always projected itself as a pan-Indian outfit with national concerns. Moreover, the Shiv Sena and its splinter, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, already occupy the regionalist space. A leadership tussle could be in the making as senior leaders like Praful Patel have indicated that they don't see Supriya Sule, Pawar's daughter and Baramati MP, as the natural choice to lead the NCP in the future.


In many ways, the NCP's dilemma is characteristic of single-agenda splinter groups. They lose their raison d'etre when the cause of split ceases to be an issue. A party like Trinamul Congress could face a similar situation in the future except that it may be able to dictate the terms of merger to its parent outfit, the Congress. It's best to have a consolidation of political parties with a similar outlook when their agendas converge and ideological differences cease to exist. That logic holds true for parties like the CPI and the CPM as well.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

EDITORIAL

FROM IDOLS TO IDEOLOGY

 

History is littered with examples of leaders who fell prey to a destructive folly. Inspired by delusions of grandeur, they ignored what was writ large on the horizon, and in the process embarked on a path which inexorably led them to rack and ruin. Jaswant Singh, who has always nursed an elevated sense of his calling, may well have been a victim of such a conceit.


The scholarly worth of his revisionist account of the role of major players in the events culminating in partition is hardly germane to the fate that has befallen him. That question is best left to experts on the period he covers in his book. Far more pertinent to his expulsion from the party he served for three decades is this: what possessed him to throw all caution to the wind and still hope to survive unscathed?

Had he been a 'public intellectual' without a formal link to a party or a movement, his attempt to refurbish the image of Jinnah at the expense of Nehru and Patel would have exposed him to nothing more than bitter criticism. But that was not the case. Jaswant Singh was one of the architects of the BJP, one of its leading lights, its representative in Parliament and in government. And the BJP, like any other political formation, is not, as Montaigne would have said, a little back shop where he could be himself without reserve.

In solitude alone could Jaswant Singh have enjoyed true freedom, not in the company of party leaders, peers and acolytes engaged in the all-consuming business of acquiring, retaining and expanding power. The ideas the party is prepared to entertain, the policies it frames, the strategies it devises and the tactics it deploys are welcome not for their intrinsic value but for what they can deliver in terms of money, prestige, publicity, votes and seats.


In the eyes of the BJP, and of its RSS mentors, Jaswant Singh committed not a crime but something worse: he was guilty of apostasy. Had he patted Jinnah for his squeaky clean nationalist and secular credentials, he would have been let off with a rap on his knuckles much like L K Advani had to endure four years ago. The punishment would have been even lighter had he upbraided Gandhi, and especially taken Nehru, the sangh parivar's bugbear, to the cleaners.


But Jaswant Singh did not stop at that. In what can only be called a flush of either naivete or daredevilry, he defiled one of the prime idols of the sangh parivar Sardar Patel, a life-long Congressman it has appropriated as some sort of a closet messiah of Hindutva. No wonder the Congress got into the act to dub the BJP as the Bharatiya Jinnah Party. This mischievous twist was akin to a rapier thrust. It struck where it hurts most: in the party's ideological nerve centre.


That explains the wrath of the party. Jaswant Singh had to be shown the door without ado since he had deviated from its ideology. Under fascist and Stalinist regimes, such deviation meant internal exile, prison or death. In this day and age, the most severe form of punishment that the BJP could inflict on the apostate was to turn him into a non-person. It chose this form of indictment.


The expulsion of Jaswant Singh has served several ends simultaneously. It has signalled to its stern schoolmaster, the RSS, that the BJP is able and willing to yet again behave like an obedient, disciplined and studious pupil. It has warned putative rebels that they should expect no mercy if they do not stop their rants against the leadership forthwith. And it has taken, or so it believed, public attention from the ego clashes, turf battles, local squabbles, ideological confusion and loss of political nerve that followed in the wake of the party's dismal performance in the general elections.


All this however could be no more than chasing a chimera. The internal document indicting the BJP's leadership will matter much more than the expulsion of Jaswant Singh. Sooner rather than later heads will have to roll, strategies reviewed, ideology brought in line with the swiftly changing mood in the nation. This is admittedly a tall order. But a failure to follow it could lead to an implosion of the party or to its rapid obsolescence.


Meanwhile, one cannot but wonder why Jaswant Singh waited for his humiliation which he bore with stoic dignity to realise that Hindutva was fraught with disturbing ambiguity. He could have raised his voice against the bigoted and often murderous conduct of the saffron brotherhood. But he did nothing of the sort doubtless in the belief that discretion was the better part of this moral and intellectual squalor.


Can he now transform this belated realisation into a sustained critique of the toxic ideology of the parivar? That way he might yet be able to keep in one piece what he cherishes more than anything else: his honour as a Rajput, as a soldier and as a distinguished citizen of our republic.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

Q&A

'NO DEVELOPMENT WILL BE OF USE IF GANGA DRIES UP'

BILL MCKIBBEN IS A US-BASED EXPERT ON GLOBAL WARMING AND ALTERNATIVE ENERGY. ON A RECENT VISIT TO INDIA, HE TOLD NANDITA SENGUPTA WHY INDIA NEEDS TO BARGAIN STRONGLY ON ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES:


How worrying is the state of the earth today?


Earth's satellite images today are far different from five years ago. There's much less white of the mountains, and much more blue of the sea. More white means 80 per cent sunrays would bounce back, but blue means that 80 per cent rays are absorbed. We never realised how quickly and how violently climate would change with a mere one-degree difference in temperature. The summer of 2007 was the best wake-up call when large parts of the Arctic melted. Dengue spread very fast, droughts increased. Most scary was the melting of high-altitude glaciers in the Andes and Himalayas. It turns out our planet is finely balanced.


How pertinent is India's policy on the issue?


India has the least developed policy. Climate change is not a fully mature political issue here. People need to be clear about the danger to development posed by not doing anything. What's the back-up plan if the Ganga's glacier melts? No car factory will be of any use if the monsoons fail. No development will be of any use if the Ganges dries up. We can go on negotiating, but the real negotiation is between human beings on the one hand, and physics and chemistry on the other. Physics and chemistry have laid their cards on the table. 350 parts per million (ppm) is the highest safe level of CO2 in the atmosphere. Above 350 is the danger zone. The planet now has 390 ppm CO2, and this number is rising by about 2 ppm every year. Certainly, India occupies the higher moral ground but that won't make the rains fall.


Can India's stand endure at the Copenhagen meet?


If India is to play its part, it has to bargain strongly to get a real return from the West for real change. India's appeal for justice has to be an appeal for resources. India must get the technology to allow this transition to happen rapidly. Not enough will happen in Copenhagen because we're not trying hard enough. Targets are not ambitious enough.


US climate negotiator Todd Stern said India had asked for an 'astronomical' and unrealistic amount at $75 billion. I wondered how much was paid to bail out AIG? We need to push for an agreement in Copenhagen for enough flow of resources from developed to developing countries. Developing countries need to leapfrog into energy security. You just have to be able to figure out how to make this happen. Because it's even harder to figure how you'll amend nature's laws. We need to deal with nature as it is. We need a worldwide agreement and quickly.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

BIRTHDAY GIRL

EXTRAVAGANZA EXTRAORDINAIRE

 

From billionaire steel king L N Mittal's wedding bash for his daughter to the wedding of New York-based hotelier Vikram Chatwal, such extraordinary affairs put India on the world's extravaganza map, if there is one. While the Great Indian Wedding has made it to the big league, its first cousin, the birthday party, has been languishing in the dark.


Or so one thought. I received a card a couple of days ago, inviting me to one. The munificence dripping from this card stumped me and the florid language used to craft the invite reminded me of Oscar Wilde's Birthday of the Infanta. Curiosity won out over the desire to turn down the invitation. I trekked to an upmarket club in the city to participate in the grand celebrations.


And what a grand celebration it was. The life-size cut outs of the Little Mermaid, Princess Fiona (human, not ogre), Barbie and assorted fairies made the venue look like a princess's castle. Given her big day, the one-year-old princess too was dressed like one.


Was the child gasping for breath, burdened under her weighty frills and paraphernalia? Well, my husband quickly dismissed it as an illusion. What, however, was not an illusion was the average age of the guests, which was at least 60. I wondered where the kids were, puzzled by the conspicuous absence of any little brats from the scene. Must have gone to bed, my husband offered as a clue to solve the puzzle.


It was the perfect opportunity to air zari-embellishedsarees, my jeans and T-shirt notwithstanding. The cake-cutting ceremony was next. A three-storey cake was unveiled and amidst the 'aw's and 'wow'sa monster-sized knife was thrust into the little princess's hands, who then reluctantly dug into the cake's belly with her dad's help and demolished it almost instantly.


At this point the DJ made his grand entry and set the party ablaze with the Bidi Jalaileynumber. I wanted to suggest that he play Tu Jiye Hazaron Saal, but all cool boys were making some noise and singing Om Shanti Om. Soon after that the kebabsand tikkis started doing the rounds. Within minutes the sumptuous dinner was uncloaked and we quickly rushed to fill our plates.


It was time to leave after the DJ-dance-dinner ritual and one wondered where the little princess was. I saw her just then, drifting into a deep slumber in the lap of a domestic help. I sent out a happy birthday wish, hoping to reach her, but my guess is it got lost in the DJ's din of Hare Ram Hare Ram, Hare Krishna Hare Raam.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

EDITORIAL

DARK LAUGHTER

JUG SURAIYA 

 

Humour is the revenge of the ant against the elephant which seeks to stomp it into oblivion, the incongruity of the act exerting the force of a moral ju-jitsu to throw the disproportionately powerful aggressor into ridicule.

 

Punning, the so-called lowest form of wit, exemplifies the dual nature of humour. At its best, the pun acts as a semantic zip fastener to bring together opposing and apparently contradictory elements to form an unseamly - pun intended - whole which is larger and more meaningful than the sum of its parts, a gestalt in which jest is revealed as truth, and vice versa.

 

The resultant tension seeks release via the safety valve of laughter, which often with pain is fraught. If humour is sometimes a cruel business, it is so only because life is. If cruelty - including the ultimate cruelty of mortality - were to be taken from it, life might conceivably be worth living; but it would no longer be worth satirising. Which would be a pity, if one accepts the definition of the human animal as a creature whose humanity consists of his capacity to laugh and to cry, and not always to know the one from the other.

 

This business of satire, of laughing because we seem no longer to be able to weep, becomes all the more necessary in what euphemistically are called ''troubled times'', when more than ever our common humanity is at stake.

 

But it is at such times that laughter is most frowned upon: at best, it is seen to be an inappropriate and insensitive frivolity; at worst, a catalyst likely further to provoke already inflamed passions. Such arguments gain vehemence whenever religious issues are involved. You can't make fun of religion and get away with it, say those who mouth the conventional wisdom.

 

But if quantum theory is to be believed, what God likes to do is to laugh with his creation. In the ambiguous light of the ''new physics'', the world is viewed not as a rigidly defined, homogeneously organised and well policed state of things but a participative happening, characterised by a cast seemingly borrowed from the theatre of the absurd: subatomic particles like ''tachyons'' which are assumed to travel faster than light and therefore move backward in time, or ''charmed quarks'', the ''ultimate building blocks of the universe'', which are not really matter at all but ''hypothetical events'' which may or may not take place. (The word ''quark'' has been borrowed, appositely enough, from James Joyce's comic classic Finnegans Wake, the title a pun on the quick and the dead.)

 

Confronted with the question how ''real'' is ''reality'', science has adopted an idiom suspiciously similar to that of mysticism - or of comedy. ''Reality is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe. What we believe is based upon our percepts. What we perceive depends on what we look for. What we look for depends on what we perceive. What we perceive determines what we believe. What we believe determines what we take to be true. What we take to be true is our reality.'' Or, as Groucho Marx almost put it: I would not care to join any reality which would have me as a member.

 

Laughter it seems is serious business, and the more serious things become, the greater is the role of laughter. It is not a reaction to the scheme of things, but an exorcism of the very real fears and anxieties, the animosities and the prejudices which those who silence laughter would have us believe are our inescapable lot. With our backs against the wall, facing the firing squad, we can either accept our culpability in the form of the condemned man's blindfold or wave it away, together with the offer of a last cigarette - the latter on the grounds that smoking is likely to prove injurious to longevity.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

THERE'S A HOLE IN OUR BUCKET

 

India’s growth is increasingly taking place at the cost of its environment. This is no longer in doubt. Even so, when the man in charge of the highest office in the land says that the environment situation is ‘alarming’, you know that there is really cause for worry. This also highlights the disconnect between all the talk that we must ensure sustainable growth and the reality on the ground, which is gross mismanagement of our environment. At a conference of state environment ministers in the Capital recently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the gathering that the ecological crises that confront the country have led to an “alarming situation”. He then went on to ask the state governments to curtail pollution, clean rivers and fight climate change.

 

The Prime Minister’s warning comes in the wake of two reports that demonstrate the slippery slope that we are on. The just-released ‘State of the Environment Report’ says that at least 45 per cent of India’s land is environmentally “degraded”, air pollution is rising and the flora and fauna are diminishing. A National Aeronautics and Space Administration study, also released around the same time, found that groundwater levels in northern India have been declining at an alarming rate, by as much as one foot per year over the last decade. The reason: water is being pumped and consumed by human activities — principally for irrigation — faster than the aquifers can be replenished by natural processes.

 

To stop the further decline of our natural resources, stringent regulation and incentives are needed. And for this, the charge must be led from the top, from those in charge of keeping a balance between growth and the environment. If they follow the rules, then half the battle is won. There are instances galore when the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the nodal central ministry, has flouted all norms to give clearance to dubious projects at the cost of the environment and communities which depend on it. Therefore, it is no surprise that the fight between the government and civil society and civil society and corporates has reached a crescendo. While India gears up for the climate change battle in Copenhagen at the end of this year, it definitely needs to put its house in order before we are left with very little to save. This will also put us in a better position to argue for safeguards that developing countries need to stave off unreasonable demands from the developed world.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

IN A ROUNDABOUT WAY

 

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re going around in circles? German scientists tell us that the feeling of déjà vu in people who lose their way is real and that they actually backtrack. We know the feeling. If you feel that you’ve read this editorial somewhere before, you’re probably right, we must have sprung this on you some time ago. But enough of us. Going down the same path over and over again is a specialisation with Indians.

 

Take the dear old BJP. While we waited with bated breath for a new, re-invented party, what did we get? Advaniji and Co. going back to the same old Jinnah, Partition, Nehru, Patel and getting the knife into each other. This certainly is taking the concept of going around in circles to a fine art. Or take our relations with Pakistan. Here we go around in two distinct circles. One is that taken by the Wagah-bound candle-lighters who say embrace our brothers across the border with open arms even if they greet us with plain old arms. The other, a little more official, says we need to show them what’s what beginning with making them read the twitter from the office of the minister of state for external affairs.

 

And before we forget, there’s that great star spangled circle that we take ever so often. In this, we have been walking on the same path hoping that one fine day, our path will lead us to Michelle Obama’s herb garden, so we’re in training for this one. En route, we’ll make a quick round to the United Nations headquarters and revisit our Security Council bid. So we carry on our 62-year-old journey round and round the mulberry bush. Which explains why we are such well-rounded personalities. So let no one try and lead us up the garden path, or they’ll find that the wheel of life will come a full circle faster than they thought possible.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

LOVE THE DROUGHT

 

You have only to have a conversation in south Mumbai to realise how far away it is from India. Much passion is expended in packed — what was that about a downturn? — restaurants over the latest prices of (already overpriced) flats and the latest cars (imported, not Indian). Over the past week that I have been here, I’ve gathered that very few of India’s richest and brightest have heard of the NREGA.

 

That’s the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the world’s largest attempt to create a modest social security network in a democracy where the rural poor are mostly ignored till the end of their short lives. It guarantees one member from each rural family 100 days of work every year in exchange for their sweat and toil. More than 40 million of India’s poorest rural families have thus been given a livelihood of sorts. If you take an average of five people to a family, that’s more than 200 million people.

 

The two knee-jerk reactions you hear in India’s islands of affluence like south Mumbai (or south Delhi for that matter) are these:

 

That’s my money being spent on these handouts!

 

It will all end up in the hands of corrupt officials and politicians.

 

First, let’s understand this clearly: It is not likely to be your money. No more than 13.6 per cent of the Indian government’s Rs 9 trillion ($184 billion) expenditure in 2008-09 came from personal income tax. The estimates for next year show that income tax is likely to comprise no more than 11 per cent of state spending. No more than 31 million Indians, or less than 3 per cent of the population, pay tax.

 

Second, of course there is corruption. Fake payrolls and ghost workers have long bedevilled the NREGA. Corruption is a part of Indian life — so, when did you last slip a Rs 50-note to the constable who pulled you over? — not just the government.

 

Despite the leaks and the programme’s inability to provide, on average, more than 48 days of work, there is strong evidence that it keeps the worst deprivation at bay. Indeed, on the vast plains of northern India, the NREGA has become a common noun: “Narega”.

 

With the drought imperiling millions of livelihoods, the government is going to spend much more money on Narega in the coming months. It’s critical that the splurge is impeccably planned and directed.

 

We have till the end of September to see if things change, but if present meteorological estimates hold good — let’s pray they don’t — India may be facing its worst drought since 1918, the year since when records are available. That’s the conclusion drawn by Himanshu, a columnist at Mint and a Jawaharlal Nehru University professor, who analysed records of annual summer monsoon rainfall since 1918.

 

As I write this column, the monsoon rainfall of 2009 is 29 per cent short of normal. Last week, worried state governments started emergency spending. Gujarat, a state that has invested more than Rs 27,372 crore (Rs 273 billion) in irrigation over the last decade, has more than doubled power supply to farmers, from eight hours a day to 19, so that water can be pumped to save crops. Gujarat’s farm subsidies of Rs 3,000 crore will immediately increase by up to Rs 15 crore. Maharashtra — faced with withering fields and an election — has upped the money it pays each rural labourer under Narega from between Rs 66 and Rs 80 a day to Rs 120.

 

Such Band-Aids may not be avoidable, but they cannot be substitutes for a surgical operation. Fattened by four good years, Indian agriculture has managed to hide the terminal decline that affects its vital organs. The drought is a great opportunity — adversity always is — to make some radical lifestyle changes.

 

Narega’s predecessor, and arguably its inspiration, was Maharashtra’s Employment Guarantee Scheme. It was launched in May 1972, the result of some innovative thinking by state officials who realised that once its mighty capital city (then Bombay) was removed from the economic equation, India’s most industrial state was no better than darkest Bihar. Narega itself was created after the drought of 2002, and India’s biggest advance in agriculture, the Green Revolution, was launched after crippling droughts swept India in the 1960s.

 

There is much that can be done today, from grand national projects to a village initiative. There are warehouses to be built, dams and canals to be completed, new crops and practices to be tried.

 

You will find thousands of farm innovations across India’s vast plains. They are run by dreamers, agronomists, workers, visionaries and, of course, ordinary farmers. It is impossible to list them here, but you will read about them soon in this newspaper.

 

It is time, then, to launch a thousand new revolutions. It is time to address the weaknesses of a system that keeps India dependent on the vagaries of the rains — especially in a world beset by the meteorological uncertainties forced by global warming. It is also time to find someone to lead this grand agricultural overhaul.

 

With his attention divided between cricket and crops, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar is unlikely to be the man for the job. The Prime Minister picked flat-world pioneer Nandan Nilekani to lead the project to provide all Indians with an identity card. Surely he can find someone to begin the transformation of the livelihoods of more than 600 million Indians?

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE BJP’S LEADERSHIP MUST GO

PANKAJ VOHRA

 

The  BJP appears to be afflicted by procrastination. It had an opportunity to go into the causes of its Lok Sabha defeat and chalk the way ahead at its so-called Chintan Baithak in Shimla but has chosen to finalise its future strategy only in October when the National Executive meets. Maybe the party has postponed things because it apprehends a change of leadership in light of the poor impression the Sangh has of its present leaders, as was evident in Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat’s recent interview.

 

The BJP’s fortunes are at their lowest today and the manner in which Jaswant Singh was expelled, for portraying Mohammad Ali Jinnah in a contrary light, made many wonder why was similar treatment not meted out to L.K. Advani when he praised the Pakistani leader in Pakistan four years ago. Advani is yet to retract his remarks about Jinnah when he visited his mausoleum. Till date, no other Indian leader has visited the mausoleum. Advani clearly felt insecure after Bhagwat’s recent interview and feared that the Jinnah controversy may again erupt to his disadvantage following Jaswant Singh’s controversial book. There were also apprehensions that some key players in his coterie might also come under fire at Shimla.

Simultaneously, another section of the leadership thought that the best way to rake up the Jinnah issue would be to attack Jaswant Singh in order to finally get at Advani. Thus Jaswant Singh was made the fall guy. The Advani camp was confident that Jaswant’s expulsion would serve as a good diversionary tactic. Once Jaswant went, his supporters would be able to distinguish between Singh’s view and Advani’s, and shield Advani (something which Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Ravi Shankar Prasad are doing). The other faction is satisfied that Advani is also now under fire.

 

The Jaswant episode had shades of Julius Caesar since many of those who conspired to pull him down were once beneficiaries of his patronage. It is difficult to say who was Brutus or Cassius but the plot was as diabolical. And there is no Antony to speak up for him. The only difference is that this Caesar has decided to hit back. He has already started embarrassing Advani by stating how he had covered up for “his lies” during the 1999 Kandahar IC-814 hijacking and how the then Home Minister was on board when the Cabinet decided to release the prisoners. He said that had the plane not been allowed to take off (by the Home Ministry) from Amritsar, there would have been no need for Kandahar.

 

For those who have followed the BJP (Jan Sangh) politics, there is nothing surprising about what has happened to Jaswant Singh. Similar discourtesy has been shown in the past to three of the Jan Sangh’s presidents — Moily Chander Sharma, Pitamber Dass and Balraj Madhok, who were expelled or suspended. If Madhok is to be believed even Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, killed while travelling in a train, was victim of a conspiracy.

 

The party is in the habit of invoking ideology when it suits it. Ram Jethmalani paid the price for taking up professional cases that did not adhere to its basic beliefs. But no one has been able to explain how the party leadership has got away by downplaying its core issues — Article 370, the uniform civil code and the Ram Mandir.

 

The trouble with the BJP is that its problems are self-created because of the reluctance on the part of Advani and his coterie to move aside and allow others to run the party. Bhagwat has more or less indicated that the party has to look beyond the four or five names which keep on coming up as second-rung leaders to succeed today’s leadership. There has to be a strong leader whose commitment to ideology is complete and who has the ability to carry the cadres. The BJP is at a crossroads. It has to look at politics after Atal Behari Vajpayee and Advani. Its problems have more to do with its leadership and less with the RSS. Between us.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

JUST DO IT

 

The government’s decision to go ahead with the Debt Management Office is welcome news. This action was long due, after recommendations of various high-level committees and the detailed work of the Jahangir Aziz committee on this. As reported in this newspaper (August 21), the government seems to be going ahead now with the establishment of a DMO as a statutory body even before an act of Parliament is passed to set up one. This is welcome. The Centre now has a very large borrowing programme and despite the sharp reduction in nominal policy interest rates, the RBI, which currently manages the government’s debt, has failed to bring down the government’s cost of borrowing proportionately. Bond rates have inched up and it is only by forcing banks to hold government bonds through the “statutory liquidity ratio” and by loosening interest rate risk regulation of banks, by allowing them to hold some of these bonds in a portfolio called “held to maturity”, that the RBI has managed to sell government bonds. Banks are now putting pressure to allow them to hold more under this portfolio in which they do not have to hold capital according to the normal risk weightage assigned to government bonds. The source of this risk is that when interest rates rise, the price of government bonds fall, a situation in which banks would make treasury losses.

 

Given that the market for government bonds has not been developed, made wider or deeper, the unpleasant policy choice of reducing profitability and increasing risk in the banking sector to achieve targets for government borrowing is undesirable. The banking sector, after the global financial crisis and its impact on the real economy, is today already suffering from a higher credit risk. In such a situation, as a banking regulator, the RBI would not want to increase the interest rate risk borne by banks. When the task of managing government debt is conferred upon the DMO, the RBI’s conflict of interest will be reduced and it can focus on better regulation of bank risk, including interest rate risk.

 

In coming months, if the RBI believes that as a monetary authority it has to tighten monetary policy, which will require raising rates, while as a manager of government debt it has to lower the burden of interest payments on government debt, the conflict will worsen. It is thus an apt time for the government to hand over its debt management to another agency which does not have the conflicts of interest that arise when an agency (the RBI) is the banking regulator and the monetary authority.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

DIFFICULT TIMES

 

The official visit of Nepal’s prime minister, Madhav Nepal, was a tricky exercise in management by India’s diplomats. India’s interests in Nepal are obvious. And India will welcome a centrist alternative to the Maoists or to the royalist rump. Since that’s what, for better or worse, Madhav Nepal represents, India will want to do nothing to undermine him. It’s in this fragile context that relations will have to move forward.

 

The joint statement at the end of Nepal’s visit had three focuses. First, various measures to enhance trade. Second, quest for effective controls on cross-border crime. Third, and most delicate, instructions to the two foreign secretaries to sit together and review the 1950 India-Nepal Friendship Treaty, the cornerstone of bilateral relations. Movement on each has different implications. The trade measures, for example, should serve only as a beginning. A trade treaty was signed; and Visakhapatnam was opened to Nepal’s trade. But it ill-behoves India to be stingy about access. Getting Nepal’s landlocked economy plugged into the world’s is very much in India’s interest. More should be done. On the second issue, the ball is somewhat in Nepal’s court. Extradition and pursuit of crime suspects (both “regular” and those of a political, terrorist nature) is necessary for India. But it will have to be very clear that any measures are of mutual benefit. From that perspective, plans to help Nepal upgrade policing infrastructure are well thought of.

 

And so to the 1950 Treaty. Like the similar 1949 treaty that bound together India and Bhutan, it is very much a creature of the immediate post-Raj era. In Nepal it is far, far from popular. It needs to be dragged into the modern era. Hopefully the “reviewing” by the foreign secretaries will be translated into redrafting as soon as possible. In 2006, India signed an updated friendship treaty with Bhutan, consigning the 1949 treaty to history’s dustbin. This will need to be repeated with Nepal. But, again, Nepal’s fragile internal processes must be heeded. The peace process, the development of institutions and of a stable centrist consensus, is the ultimate aim.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

DURBAR ON RAILS

 

From the Singur chaos last year to an industry durbar last Friday is quite a turnaround. But where Mamata Banerjee goes from here is a journey that will not profit from high rhetoric, songs and slapstick. But at Friday’s meet in Kolkata, Banerjee appeared to offer a tangible and time-bound agenda. And yet, it’s all still in the domain of words; and the interaction was first of all an invitation, as Banerjee herself hinted at, to study her (and her priorities) from close quarters — a proximity that she and her aides hope will convince sceptical industrialists that this is a different Mamata Banerjee, not at all anti-industry, but with a more nuanced, principled position on industrialisation and development than the West Bengal chief minister she managed to humiliate. So did it work?

 

Friday’s durbar gathered the who’s who of Bengal’s business bosses. And reportedly, they came away impressed. Banerjee offered a ready 112,000 acres from the Railways land bank for development — multi-functional stations, power projects, wagon manufacturing units, ancillary industries and myriad infrastructure projects — protesting her “impatience” and urging industry to do it immediately. So far so good, but what exactly are Banerjee’s plans for Bengal’s industrial development away from the long arm of the Indian Railways? (As Union Railways minister, she acts like Bengal’s CM-in-waiting; but as CM, she will not be Railways minister!)

 

A synergy between agriculture and industry, development with a “human face” sound alleviating after Singur and Nandigram, but Banerjee has to confront a three-decade-long Left-guided industrial decline and the long-term consequences of her own actions in Singur which cannot be wished away just by winning the popular vote or surrounding oneself with industrialists once in a ministry.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

HERITAGE CLAUSE

C. RAJA MOHAN

 

When the heads of Indian diplomatic missions gather in New Delhi this week for an annual brainstorming and policy guidance, the history of India’s external engagement is unlikely to be on the agenda. Even a little bit of reflection on the nation’s diplomatic history, however, might reveal many recurring patterns that are rooted in India’s geography and culture, have endured amidst the rise and fall of many empires in Delhi, and offer insights into how a rising India must deal with its emerging strategic challenges.

 

Our many current frustrations in dealing with Pakistan, for example, are not very different from those faced by every major Indian empire in the north-western marches of the subcontinent that were at once difficult to control and offered the easy invasion routes into the Gangetic plain. The British

 

Empire in India devoted much of its military energy to securing the restive north-western frontier and preparing for potential military invasions across the Hindu Kush.

 

India can learn from its diplomatic history only when it ends the pretence that our global engagement began at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947. Independent India eagerly embraced the many instruments inherited from the Raj for the conduct of

 

India’s foreign relations. Post-colonial Delhi also held on to many principles of British India’s foreign policy.

 

Talking of the institutions, the history of our Foreign Office dates back to 1783, when the Secret and Political Department was formed by the East India Company to deal with the sensitive political communication with the various kingdoms within the subcontinent and on its periphery. The Secret and Political Department was run by the “Persian Secretary” (all inter-state communications in the subcontinent were then in Persian), the oldest predecessor to the current “Foreign Secretary”.

 

The Secret and Political Department was renamed the Foreign Department in 1843; it was reorganised again in 1914 as the Foreign and Political Department, with two separate secretaries. The Political wing dealt with the princely states and other Asian kingdoms, while the Foreign Department focused on engagement with the European powers.

 

In 1937, the Indian Political Service, the forerunner of the Indian Foreign Service, was created. Long before they were incorporated into a separate service, our earliest diplomats in the modern period were known as the “politicals”.

 

What does this brief institutional history of our diplomacy have to do with its current problems? If New Delhi wants to expand its regional and global influence, its diplomatic corps must necessarily recapture some of the romance and risk-taking that defined the Indian “politicals” in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The “politicals” operated in the remote corners of the Indian Ocean littoral and Asia, outsmarted rival powers to influence local rulers to win special privileges for Calcutta.

 

Our Foreign Office today might also want to learn from the past in co-opting critical elements of the Indian establishment at the national and local levels rather than proclaiming an unenforceable monopoly over the nation’s external engagement.

 

Not all the “politicals”, for example, were attached to Calcutta and later Delhi under the British. The Bombay Political Department, for example, was responsible throughout the 19th century for India’s diplomatic intercourse with Persia, Mesopotamia, Arabian Peninsula and East Africa. India, as a collective, can immensely benefit if the South Block finds ways to mobilise the state governments as well as the regional political and business elites for more effective conduct of relations with our periphery.

 

Not all the “politicals” were “civilian”. The early Indian diplomatic corps was happy to recruit from the army and the navy. In 1890, for example, nearly 40 per cent of the “politicals” were from the armed forces.

 

Today when military diplomacy has become an important element of our external interaction, the IFS cannot only gain from greater collaboration and cross-recruitment with the armed services. The

 

Indian navy by its very nature is a perfect partner for the Indian Foreign Service in projecting Indian power and influence abroad.

 

If learning from the institutional past is difficult, acknowledging that India might have had a foreign policy before Independence is quite painful for our political classes. It is even more difficult for them to accept that the founder of independent India’s foreign policy preserved many elements of the Raj legacy, especially in dealing with our neighbours. The first three treaties Jawaharlal Nehru signed after independence during 1949-50 were slightly modified versions of the 19th-century agreements that Calcutta negotiated with Bhutan, Sikkim and Nepal.

 

The proposition that all that preceded 1947 was “colonial” and therefore negative and irrelevant has cut us off from the rich diplomatic experience before independence. While imperial London was surely an important driver of Indian foreign policy then, so were the geographic and political imperatives that were rooted solely in the subcontinent’s history and tradition. Reclaiming that diplomatic legacy might better prepare India to cope with its changing status in the international system.

 

A rising India finds that her current foreign policy priorities are similar to those Calcutta faced a hundred years ago — gaining secure access to raw materials outside the subcontinent, promoting free trade and opening markets, pacifying India’s periphery, limiting the role of hostile greater powers in our extended neighbourhood, offering protection to small states, calibrated use of force beyond borders to maintain regional peace, and protecting the Indian Ocean maritime commons.

 

Unlike India, the other rising Asian giant, China has begun to transform all its major institutions, including its foreign service, in preparing them for new global responsibilities. In mandating a new mindset for its mandarins, Beijing is searching for useful ideas from its own past as the middle kingdom. A rising India can draw from a more recent and a far richer legacy of acquiring and exercising power; to gain from that heritage, Delhi must first look for it.

 

The writer will hold the Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the John W. Kluge Centre, Library of Congress, Washington DC during 2009-10

express@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

UNITED POETS OF INDIA

SEEMA CHISHTI

 

Shelley’s Ozymandias speaks of the pointlessness of kings using stones and granite to try and immortalise themselves. But statues and large structures have been a key to conveying a sense of power for centuries. And statues have had particular significance in India. If they didn’t, why would the most prestigious space in the capital, under the canopy near India Gate, straight down the road from Rashtrapati Bhavan be still empty — because a decision still can’t be taken, after 62 years of independence, on who should be made to stand there? But talk about statues over the past few months has been mostly of the huge stupa-like structures and four-dimensional Ashoka’s

 

Lions-type constructions of the UP chief minister. They’ve attracted much condemnation — do they seek to deify the living? — but the UP CM is not a first at all. Kings, monarchs, even democracies have always looked at statue placements as important markers of themselves, as a claim on the memory of future generations.

 

The last of the (political) statue conversations of any significance (pre-Mayawati) was in the mid-’80s when N.T. Rama Rao, wresting power away from the Congress in Andhra, went on to transform the tank bund by the Husain Sagar lake in Hyderabad with an array of statues, of literary and political greats — reminiscent of a time when poetry, cinema, literature and public life and politics were woven together seamlessly — especially in south India, with its intimate links between politics and popular arts.

 

Now, a far more significant statue conversation is taking place amongst the southern states, which had stopped midway about 18 years ago. Tamil Nadu and Karnataka exchanged statues of literary giants: Tamil’s Thiruvalluvar and Kannada’s Sarvajna. Thiruvalluvar’s statue had been ready for the past 18 years, but was never unveiled; the author of the timeless work Thirukkural could but stand, covered, in a crowded Bangalore square till August 9. And Pramodini Deshpande completed Sarvajna’s in Chennai in only eight months, but decades after the then-mayor of Chennai, M.K. Stalin, gave his consent for its installation.

 

The fact that Karunanidhi and Yediyurappa, CMs from two very different parties, and not driven by any coalitional necessity, have sought to bridge a distance that was becoming paradoxically greater in an era of easy migration (causing fears of “lost” jobs to “outsiders”) is cause for optimism.

 

The poetry of Sarvajna and Thiruvalluvar are of two different genres and times, but both equally central to their respective languages. Thiruvalluvar’s Thiruk-kural contains couplets on almost all aspects of life, from romance to worrying about how to best connect with the monarch; Sarvajna’s three-line poems, mostly passed on by word of mouth, are, as Karunanidhi put it, “revolutionary and progressive”: hard-hitting, trenchant commentary against the caste- and sect-driven politics of medieval Karnataka.

 

Most Indians north of Dharwar might have been blissfully unaware of the sharpness of the conflict between Madrasis. Playful fights for the tangiest rasam, the best fish-fry or the Kootu conceal a bitterness which actually claimed lives in the 20th century, a century which saw Andhra desperate to shake off Tamil Nadu in 1956 and Tamil-speakers being attacked in Bangalore at the peak of the Cauvery conflict in 1991. The fact that the politics of each southern state is completely and has been completely autonomous of the others is a reflection of this — despite the fact that southerners typically speak more than one southern language, unlike in the north, where a Punjabi speaker being comfortable in Rajasthani is an exception, not the rule.

 

The southern divides have a limited impact on their cosmopolitanism. There are, on an average, perhaps more English-speakers in the South; and while Kannada chauvinists get extremely irritated at the thought, negotiations with an auto-rickshaw driver in Tamil can be pretty fruitful in Bangalore — from where, incidentally, at least two national Hindi dailies have editions, as well as at least 10 local Urdu dailies. But the thirst for a language (the attachment to U.R. Ananthamurthy’s “language of the backyard”) as the prime marker of identity runs deep and has been often exploited by cynical chauvinist groups.

 

While one endlessly hears talk of the “Unity in Diversity” principle, a lot of that lacks soul. Because only very rarely have political groups used culture, statues and the cults of poets to mend fences and try and get over longstanding emotional disputes. This is why both sides deserve to be cheered in this case.

 

It is said that the prime place in the capital’s canopy may be occupied by a statue of the aam aadmi (the “mango people”, in the words of Saif Ali Khan’s character in Love Aaj Kal). It is unclear how the aam aadmi might be conceived, let alone, be carved. But anyhow, if it does, as the 21st century goes along, that might not be a bad idea at all — quite “inclusive” and all that.

 

seema.chishti@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

‘I TOLD ADVANIJI NOT TO ASSOCIATE HIMSELF WITH THE STING OPERATION. HE KEPT QUIET AND I COULDN’T PRESS BEYOND A POINT’

 

EXPELLED FROM THE BJP AFTER BEING ASSOCIATED WITH THE PARTY FOR THREE DECADES, FORMER UNION MINISTER AND DARJEELING MP JASWANT SINGH SAYS HE HAS BEEN WOUNDED BY HIS OWN KITH AND KIN. IN THIS INTERVIEW WITH THE INDIAN EXPRESS EDITOR-IN-CHIEF SHEKHAR GUPTA ON NDTV 24X7’S WALK THE TALK, JASWANT SINGH TALKS ABOUT THE RISE OF SYCOPHANCY AND MORAL DECADENCE IN THE PARTY, THE STING OPERATION DURING THE VOTE OF CONFIDENCE, THE KANDAHAR HIJACK, AND HOW HE PERSUADED VAJPAYEE NOT TO RESIGN AFTER THE 2002 GUJARAT RIOTS.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Hello and welcome to walk the talk and without wasting any time let me turn to my guest this week, Mr Jaswant Singh.

 

Jaswant Singh: Hello Shekhar

 

Shekhar Gupta: welcome to walk the talk. How grateful I am you found time. I know you have a lot to do

 

Jaswant Singh: Thank you

 

Shekhar Gupta: You mind if I describe you as one of our most famous victims of friendly fire

 

Jaswant Singh: It’s perhaps not friendly fire. I have been wounded by my own kith and kin. So friendly fire has a different connotation as a literary term. Its accidental

 

Shekhar Gupta: Unintended

 

Jaswant Singh: Unintended. This is not friendly fire. This is something like what – I am not alluding to it because it is a connotation – Winston Churchill once said, “No, no, no these are not,” pointing to the opposition benches, “these are not my enemies, look behind, they are sitting behind me”. I ve been wounded, injured, and expelled by kith and kin. Not by friendly fire

 

Shekhar Gupta: I hope now you don’t get punished for quoting Winston Churchill

 

Jaswant Singh: Why should I be

 

Shekhar Gupta: Because now its become dangerous to talk of figures from history

 

Jaswant Singh: Shekhar, the day as a country, you, in fact though you say it lightheartedly, you question a deep and serious import, the day a country and a people, irrespective to whether it is us or any other country begins to imagine history, create an illusory history, back, to create as we were talking earlier, create a history based on cults…

 

Shekhar Gupta: Right…..

 

Jaswant Singh: and cult figures, as you said yourself, both living and dead, what are we now? The challenge to us in India today. I really think we have to reflect on it very deeply is not of discovering a new iconography. We have to learn to be iconoclasts and we have to destroy a great many of the cults that have come around, come up around living and around dead people. I wont name any. Unless we do that how can you enter the 21st century?

 

Shekhar Gupta: Because most of our political parties today you can’t question the leaders of today. But now you are coming to a state when you cant question the leaders of the past

 

Jaswant Singh: So you begin to shut doors to everything

 

Shekhar Gupta: Right

 

Jaswant Singh: But a very limited thought of today and that limited thought of today, doesn’t want to read, it doesn’t want to dicscuss, it wants no discourse, its diktat is issued. What sort of a nation are we?

 

Shekhar Gupta: xxxxxx???

 

Jaswant Singh: My god! Please, don’t describe us as XXXX (3:20) because it would be disastrous.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Because the mindset is the same

 

Jaswant Singh: You know what is the point, what is the point my dear friend for us to be eulogizing and praising that great piece of poetry by Rabindranath Tagore “where the head is held high”

 

Shekhar Gupta: “and the mind is without fear”

 

Jaswant Singh: “and the mind is without fear”. How do you hold your head high if you are constantly being asked to look down. And how can the mind be without fear if the foundation of your discipline and party, a political party, becomes fear? This is very dangerous

 

Shekhar Gupta: Have you seen fear in the BJP?

 

Jaswant Singh: Oh yes. Oh yes.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Since when?

 

Jaswant Singh: I don’t want to appear as I am tattling but the fear has actually come into the BJP thinking and uttering. Because I have lived and grown, I’ve been in politics for 42 years now

 

Shekhar Gupta: You have been in the Army and then politics

 

Jaswant Singh: That’s it. That’s all I’ve done in my life. I joined the BJP when it was found. There was no fear, Atalji, there was no fear, fear began to come up because we wanted something. And that want, that hunger for office

 

Shekhar Gupta: As long as there was nothing to lose there was no fear

 

Jaswant Singh: There was fight, for a right, to dissent. If the party was basing its political activism on the right to disagree with the ruling establishment, Congress, ruling, this is wrong with you and they couldn’t very well be committing wrong with themselves. But office was, power is a very different word, office and power, unability and patronage turned their heads

 

Shekhar Gupta: Can I try and put words in your mouth? You can always say no. would you say that the fear factor increased with the sort of retirement of Mr Vajpayee from active politics

 

Jaswant Singh: Oh yes, that was a change. Can I say something in Hindi though this is a …There is a very fine saying, it’s Rahim’s saying, Chaha mitti, chintha gatti, manuvaaha, bhiparuvaha, jisko kachunachaahiye, shaahan ke shah. Now there was a period, even in Kerala for example, the BJP has a purity, because it is struggling. Uptill we were struggling and not gained office there was a purity in our endeavours

 

Shekhar Gupta: Because there were no hankerings

 

Jaswant Singh: No hankerings

 

Shekhar Gupta: Chaha gatti, what he means when hankering goes

 

Jaswant Singh: Also, there was much less sycophancy. We could say what we wanted to. We could disagree…

 

Shekhar Gupta: But see power came when Mr Vajpayee was there. Was there sycophancy then?

 

Jaswant Singh: No, there was no… I mean I didn’t come across any instances, because the fundamental of his personality is integrative, accommodative. He knew how to manage differences. He had started the experimenting, experiment of bringing together, even before the NDA, Late Choudhary Charan Singhji, that experiment started, Choudhary saab went okay, so we couldn’t

 

Shekhar Gupta: So the sycophancy came in after Mr Vajpayee or were there signs of it earlier also

 

Jaswant Singh: No the signs came to…there were signs of it earlier. The rot began to…and quite often I told Atalji. Atalji bhimari ghar kar rahi hein and he said haan, kar rahi, par kya karu. He had to carry, because I don’t want to name political parties, it was a highly successful six years of NDA government. Even though I say it myself Shekhar it was a very successfully run coalition. What did we not contend with, I don’t want to list it

 

Shekhar Gupta: Three near wars actually

 

Jaswant Singh: yes

 

Shekhar Gupta: One bad drought, very bad drought, worse than this

 

Jaswant Singh: Also, cyclone, earthquake, two earthquakes, Gujarat and Kashmir

 

Shekhar Gupta: That’s right

 

Jaswant Singh: So it wasn’t as if, and the factor of externally encouraged terrorism was at its height. But despite that the integrative nature, accommodative nature of Mr Vajpayee was sufficiently strong to depite all this, in Srinagar, to invite Gen Musharaff

 

Shekhar Gupta: And he took you by surprise with that

 

Jaswant Singh: Yes it did. But he had at a luncheon, Advaniji was present, I was present, and he had said I am going to Srinagar

 

Shekhar Gupta: The same day

 

Jaswant Singh: Haan, Srinagar jaa rahe the

 

Shekhar Gupta: Jaate raaste. So it’s not as if he had discussed this is the cabin

 

Jaswant Singh: No, the three of us was there

 

Shekhar Gupta: It was an instinctive call

 

Jaswant Singh: That’s right

 

Shekhar Gupta: Now sir, hypothetical. But since you analyse history hypothetical questions are fine, a fair game. How would Mr Vajpayee have handled this situation

 

Jaswant Singh: Oh, he would have heard everyone talk, there was no harm

 

Shekhar Gupta: He would have certainly let you come in for the meeting

 

Jaswant Singh: Why, why go over it

 

Shekhar Gupta: Let’s engage on this

 

Jaswant Singh: I had, yes certainly, you mean, I don’t think so, at least I don’t think so that I have written a flippant book. I have received accolades from those that have read this book from Pakistan. It’s ironic. Hamid Haroon, one of the discussants, said at a private dinner just before leaving that fear that the book would set the streets of Pakistan on fire. And I am astonished that India is setting itself on fire

 

Shekhar Gupta: Not India, only your party. Now I am pushing the envelope on the Vajpayee question, if Mr Vajpayee was in Shimla, would he still have tried to reconcile it

 

Jaswant Singh: He had a great sense of humour. He could detense the tensest of sitations. Whether in parliament or in party meetings, he used to quip or so, just a little, some joke

 

Shekhar Gupta: I remember when Uma Bharti said, aapne mujhe ghar se nikaal diya so he said ghar se thoda kaaryalay se nikaal diya

 

Jaswant Singh: Because he was truly, he is truly, now he cant speak so clearly, what you said, quick-witted. He is very quick-witted

 

Shekhar Gupta: Do you remember any of those, when he defused a situation

 

Jaswant Singh: When you ask like that, it’s very difficult to suddenly remember because they come of their own. But he would have…..

 

Shekhar Gupta: He would have at least come in and be heard

 

Jaswant Singh: He would have permitted a discussion

 

Shekhar Gupta: Right

 

Jaswant Singh: What is wrong? What is it in the book that has troubled anybody? You cant have a situation in which to use the work Jinnah is somehow sacrilege? Sacrilege? My dear colleagues used the word great sacrilege. Astonishing! What are we, a mutt, a sect or a political party? A political party is a unity, where a group of people come together through free discussion. You don’t commit a great sacrilege….

 

Shekhar Gupta: Also interesting because the ban has come from somebody I am sure you and Mr Vajpayee has had a lot of discussion about. Intolerance has to reside some place and it’s the same whether it is to a religion, or an idea, or a book

 

Jaswant Singh: I am saddened, you know this irony, that the book has been banned in Gujarat. Tell you the irony of it is there are four very prominent personalities who played a very great role in the freedom struggle and independence and the partition of the country. Three out of the four were from Gujarat. Two of them were katyavadi, the third was a gujarati

 

Shekhar Gupta: Right

 

Jaswant Singh: They accommodated dissent, they disagreed, argued. You should read in this book the correspondents I have cited on the question of dominion status between Jawaharlal Nehru and Gandhi. And Gandhi is advocating, this is 1920s, it was a time when India could have got Dominion staus, independence in that day. Belford declared it. Gandhiji was all for dominion status because he had the experience of dominion status in south Africa. The entire organs, the instruments of governance, the courts of law, house of commons, al that were the dealings. Jawaharlal Nehru had just come back from a European tour, he was full of the fire of socialism, new found socialism. Madhulimay also writes about it

 

Shekhar Gupta: And sovereignty…full sovereignty

 

Jaswant Singh: Full sovereignty. Poorna Swaraj. There were only minor dissentions. But that series of letters is marvelous to read now. I wrote a letter and I am found fault with. Gandhi and Jinnah sat together for three weeks in Bombay. And yet, discussing throughout the day, in the evening they might exchange a note or a letter

 

Shekhar Gupta: Right. And you got punished for writing one

 

Jaswant Singh: Yes

 

Shekhar Gupta: You know the ban in Gujarat, Narendra Modi is alos a Gujarati leader, a very prominent Gujarati leader

 

Jaswant Singh: Indeed, without doubt

 

Shekhar Gupta: Let me, may be little bit out of context, but not fully out of context. Let me take you back to that one moment when Mr Vajpayee came close to sacking him and what happened? Did I remind you of that flight to Goa?

 

Jaswant Singh: I know, I know

 

Shekhar Gupta:…for the BJP executive meeting

 

Jaswant Singh: you see the difficulty people like me face who are expelled, expelled, school boys expelled

 

Shekhar Gupta: You may well have a class of expelled school boys, you may not be the only one

 

Jaswant Singh: We were in the aircraft together because Atalji had asked me to accompany him, there were somet things to discuss, so had he asked Advaniji and if I remember correctly, because Arun Shourie, because some issues were to be finalised, and in that Advaniji very kindly shared with me thinking on who was to succeed Janakrishna Murthy as BJP President and a consesnsus was arrived at between three of us that it should be Venkaiah Naidu. And the procedure of how we do it, etc and Janakrishna Murthy must be told and the courtesy must be shown to him fully etc. a courtesy I though I might hadve had, bnut that is a different matter. And decisions were taken about who should be the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh because that was to be changed

 

Shekhar Gupta: Uma Bharti was chosen

 

Jaswant Singh: Uma’s name then came up and we all agreed. All that was Raje’s game, I suggest it was Raje’s game

 

Shekhar Gupta: In Rajasthan? As leader of the party?

 

Jaswant Singh: Yes because elections had yet to come. But we said we should announce in advance and I said you announce

 

Shekhar Gupta: I think Mr Vajpayee was worried you were sending to a minefield

 

Jaswant Singh: He was, he said kaahaan bej rahi hein vasu kho. Bade gaadh bhaiten hein. If I remember his exact words

 

Shekhar Gupta: Almost like it is a crocodile pit

 

Jaswant Singh: That’s right. And then of course he said that

 

Shekhar Gupta: It’s come so tryue now

 

Jaswant Singh: After a few moments of silence he said, “Gujarat ka kya karna hein?” because the incidents in Gujarat were….

 

Shekhar Gupta: The riots were in fact were very fresh at that point

 

Jaswant Singh: They were burning in the hearts of the people

 

Shekhar Gupta: That’s right

 

Jaswant Singh: Both ways. The burning of the bogie, the killing of other citizens, the sectarianism of it, the communal nature of it. So there was silence for some time and when we said Gujarat ke bare mein sochna chaahiye. Atalji had a way of never directly, other than me, he often told me, aisa hoga. I would disagree ye teek nahin, aap galat kar rahe hein, aapko teek nahi laga, tho kyo kehte ho mujhe. Because what I am saying is right. He would agree. There was silence…

 

Shekhar Gupta: So he allowed you to disagree with him

 

Jaswant Singh: He always allowed me to disagree. Even in cabinet meetings, in cabinet committee on security, I don’t what to say those issues I disagreed on because that is a different matter altogether. But on this particular issue, then Advaniji went to the bathroom or something…

 

Shekhar Gupta: on the plane..

 

Jaswant Singh: yeah on the plane…

 

Shekhar Gupta: It’s a tiny 737

 

Jaswant Singh: It’s not very big. Atalji then said, poochiye kya karna which he implied I went and asked Advaniji. Advaniji said only one phrase bawaal kada ho jaayega

 

Shekhar Gupta: You mean there’ll be rebellion in the party if you sack Modi

 

Jaswant Singh: Bawaal means commotion. Bawaal kada ho jaayega party mein. But when we landed there was already a certain kind of atmosphere prevailing so this issue, on that occasion, did not get taken

 

Shekhar Gupta: So would it be correct to say that Mr Vajpayee would have been inclined to act on Modi but Mr Advani said if you act there would be commotion in the party which may be uncalled for so lets not do it

 

Jaswant Singh: Factually, factually, to the best of my recollection, yes, this was the conversation and this would be the interpretation

 

Shekhar Gupta: So Vajpayee would have liked to sack Narendra Modi as Chief Minister

 

Jaswant Singh: I might not use the word sack

 

Shekhar Gupta: to take action…

 

Jaswant Singh: But certainly for the party to reflect, take some corrective measure

 

Shekhar Gupta: But Mr Advani came to Narendra Modi’s defence

 

Jaswant Singh: I think that is correct, that is correct

 

Shekhar Gupta: Right

 

Jaswant Singh: That is correct

 

Shekhar Gupta: And who do you think was right, instinctively as a politician, Mr Vajpayee or Mr Advani

 

Jaswant Singh: I think when Atalji spoke of raj dharm. Some months later he spoke of Raj dharm. That is the fundamental litmus test. If you ask me what is right or wrong, the only litmus test is raj dharm

 

Shekhar Gupta: Once again I am pushing it, so Atalji’s instinct you think in retrospect was correct. Or you think then also it was correct?

 

Jaswant Singh: No, no. not in retrospect. I thought that was correct

 

Shekhar Gupta: Then alos..

 

Jaswant Singh: Then also…

 

Shekhar Gupta: So he was hobbled

 

Jaswant Singh: No, he never pushed beyond a point. I don’t think hobbled is the right phrase. But he never really pushed his views beyond a certain point

 

Shekhar Gupta: So he gave Mr Advani that space

 

Jaswant Singh: Oh, absolutely, always. He always did and Advaniji also. Advaniji also deferred to Atalji. I just, circumstances had given me great responsibility and access. But he never really, am relatively a much younger man than him, I could disagree, thump the table and say Atalji aap galat kar rahe hein

 

Shekhar Gupta: And he never expelled you from his cabinet or household

 

Jaswant Singh: For example, I was shifted from South Block to North Block and for 15 days I kept saying humko kahaa bhej rahe hein Atalji humne kabhi bheithe rakhe nahi, I don’t keep accounts. Then people started saying it’s not good policy to keep arguing with prime ministers beyond a certain point. He permitted free discussion. He permitted free discussion inside the cabinet. I remember as Finance Minister, one particular point, I wont say what it was if you don’t mind I disagreed vehemently in the Cabinet meeting. With Atalji and Advaniji, both of them pleading. Ultimatley Atalji said, concluding the discussion, unless the Finance Minister assents, I cannot give this decision.

 

Shekhar Gupta: But going back to the Modi issue. It’s become relevant today because he’s the first off the block

 

Jaswant Singh: First off the block for what?

 

Shekhar Gupta: for banning the book because more might follow.

 

Jaswant Singh: Common, please

 

Shekhar Gupta: Who knows, this is India. Congress party in Gujarat has backed the ban, so what is one to say in this?

 

Jaswant Singh: They’ve backed the ban?

 

Shekhar Gupta: Backed the ban, so…

 

Jaswant Singh: Oh heaven. You know what this demonstrates is yet again, if I might put it, in vernacular Hindia, vote aur vichaar ko aap kharaju mein rak kar ke, paladon par, vote ko kahi bhaari banaade aur vichaar kho bilkul halka banaade

 

Shekhar Gupta: Tho desh ka diwaara niklega

 

Jaswant Singh: Niklega. Jahaan vichaar shoonya ho gaya hein vaha raj kaaj kaise hoga

 

Shekhar Gupta: So Mr Vajpayee was deeply disturbed, I also met him many times those days in the Gujarat riot days, he was deeply disturbed, he did not sleep well

 

Jaswant Singh: No he continued to remain disturbed. I mean…it’s over, let’s forget it.

 

Shekhar Gupta: But it was there. This is also history, it’s a bit contemporary, but it’s history

 

Jaswant Singh: Of course

 

Shekhar Gupta: That’s why I am not pulling away from this. Were you witness, I am sure you were witness to a situation where out of sheer exasperation, he actually wrote out his resignation?

 

Jaswant Singh: Oh yes

 

Shekhar Gupta: He did – Mr Vajpayee

 

Jaswant Singh: He did. Pramod was there, late Pramod

 

Shekhar Gupta: In his office?

 

Jaswant Singh: This is Prime Minister’s parliamentary office

 

Shekhar Gupta: When Parliament was in session

 

Jaswant Singh: It was in session. I don’t remember the exact context but he wrote it. Pramod called me from the House. Jaldi aayiye Jaswantji. I didn’t know what had happened but if am summoned to the Prime Minister’s office, I would naturally leave. So I went in, I was told sambhaaliye, sambhaaliye istifat de rahe hein. You don’t mind my speaking in Hindi?

 

Shekhar Gupta: Not at all

 

Jaswant Singh: So I went in, he’d called in his secretary but ideally I told the secretary to go away and I told him not to come back. He asked me kya kar rahe hein, rather sternly, which he never was ordinarily

 

Shekhar Gupta: He asked you?

 

Jaswant Singh: Asked me. Yein kya kar rahe ho?

 

Shekhar Gupta: He was determined to resign at that moment?

 

Jaswant Singh: no, it was a very impertinent thing on my part to go inside the Prime minister’s office and tell the PM’s secretary would you leave. So he pulled a piece of paper and he started writing his resignation by hand. Do you know Shekhar…

 

Shekhar Gupta: Because he was dictating it to his secretary and you had shooed him away

 

Jaswant Singh: He started writing by hand and god is my witness, there is no exaggeration, I held his hand and he looked at me severely and he said kya karre ho. I said Atalji aap math kariye. Chod dho. And somehow I persuaded, went to his house, we were somehow able to defuse the situation

 

Shekhar Gupta: And where was that resignation?

 

Jaswant Singh: No it was torn up

 

Shekhar Gupta: Did you tear it up?

 

Jaswant Singh: oh I forget it

 

Shekhar Gupta: Did you ever talk to Mr Vajpayee and did you joke about this? That you were doing it in a fit of anger

 

Jaswant Singh: Subsequently I did tell him. He wouldn’t comment, but he would laugh

 

Shekhar Gupta: He was not given to emotional outbursts or reactions like Nehru sometimes was

 

Jaswant Singh: He is a very deeply emotional man. He is given to outbursts of emotion

 

Shekhar Gupta: He’ll be unhappy about what’s happened now

 

Jaswant Singh: I don’t know. Why involve him? He’s now retired from

 

Shekhar Gupta: But I am sure he will be. You know he might have problems speaking but his mind is very alert

 

Jaswant Singh: Anything that is damaging to the party will trouble him. Before going to Shimla, I had gone to call on him and I had presented him with a Hindi and English edition of my book. And he had looked at them with great curiosity and interest

 

Shekhar Gupta: And you are going to see him again now?

 

Jaswant Singh: Yes, yes. I am not going to go and talk about Shimla or anything

 

Shekhar Gupta: Have you and Mr Advani talked over the past 4-5 days since the book came out

 

Jaswant Singh: No, I am sure he did not because that is one of my great regrets. Rajnathji only called to say don’t come to the meeting and I said if you like I’ll go back. That’s about 10.30 in the morning and, no, I’ll call you, I’ll call you and about 1 o’clock or so he called to say aapko party se nishkarshit kar diya hein. That is all. So I said Acha hota, aap ya advaniji mujhe bulaathe bath kar lethe. Phir kabhi baat kaarunga

 

Shekhar Gupta: But before Shimla did you and Advani have a conversation since the book came out

 

Jaswant Singh: Oh yes

 

Shekhar Gupta: Did he have a view on the book

 

Jaswant Singh: I presented his the book

 

Shekhar Gupta: Did he have a view

 

Jaswant Singh: I don’t know. He never said anything to me. I invited him to the launch of the book on 17th. So in fact we had a meeting on some issue or the other on the 16th in the party meeting. I don’t remember what it was, perhaps it was the Rajasthan issue and some issue relating to selecting candidates for Arunachal. First we discussed Rajasthan issue, and then Arunachal candidates. But I had a doctor’s appointment so I couldn’t stay beyond a point, so I bid Rajnathji, I sought his permission and I bid Advaniji good-bye and as I was leaving he said I am sorry I cant come at the launch tomorrow, I am going to Chandigarh. I said but I’ve sent you the copies, you got them and he said yes I got them. It’s not as if, there was no secret

 

Shekhar Gupta: Would you say and do you regret that he did not assert his authority at this expulsion

 

Jaswant Singh: No I don’t, and frankly I am beyond regret

 

Shekhar Gupta: Not regret, analysis

 

Jaswant Singh: I am sorry. He is the seniormost in the party. Not for me personally, not necessary, not at all necessary. But it would have been good if he had asserted the morality of the whole question. Advaniji is himself an author. I was present at the launch of his book. I was one of the speakers. At that dais I had announced, Mohanji Bhagwat everybody, that I am writing a book on Jinnah. This was not a secret

 

Shekhar Gupta: So you wish that he had at least read the book and taken a

 

Jaswant Singh: I don’t know if he read the book but he knew Rajnath Singh ji said

 

Shekhar Gupta: Does it diminish himself by being a silent spectator

 

Jaswant Singh: Don’t ask me

 

Shekhar Gupta: No, I have to

 

Jaswant Singh: you have to…Then I have to say it is morally diminishing and that one line of Urdu shahir, saahil par baite, baite majdaan ki batein karti thi. You cant sit on the shore and talk of the mid-stream

 

Shekhar Gupta: That means, if I translate this, this is very subtle Urdu, that if you want to be a big leader you have to take a tide at the flood

 

Jaswant Singh: No, that is one. But I think a big leader, if you have to lead the nation, then you cannot avoid or evade questions of morality. I think it is immoral..

 

Shekhar Gupta: Or any tough question

 

Jaswant Singh: But my dear Shekhar governance is a choice always a choice between two extremely tough questions. A tough right and a tough slightly right. Or tough right and tough wrong.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Or a tough right and a tougher more right

 

Jaswant Singh: That’s right

 

Shekhar Gupta: Did you see this in Mr Advani’s personality

 

Jaswant Singh: Advani’s personality earlier I did see it. I had great admiration for that personality. It slowly got corroded

 

Shekhar Gupta: And something changed?

 

Jaswant Singh: Yes

 

Shekhar Gupta: In the run up to this election?

 

Jaswant Singh: This was a very badly handled election. I think Advaniji became, I go back again to chaahamitti chintha katti, perhaps he aspired too much

 

Shekhar Gupta: Just the allurement, the real possibility of the prime ministership

 

Jaswant Singh: It would be to anybody

 

Shekhar Gupta: But are you saying that blunted is basic instinct

 

Jaswant Singh: I don’t know. It’s not a question, it’s judgemental

 

Shekhar Gupta: We can be judgemental or make too many compromises

 

Jaswant Singh: He certainly did. Because what came in, in the party was a kind of sycophancy, sickeningly so, which robbed the party of the backbone of its moral authority

 

Shekhar Gupta: Do you remember any instances of that?

 

Jaswant Singh: Don’t ask me that?

 

Shekhar Gupta: When you asked why has this happened, why has this happened? Did you ever point this out to Mr Advani

 

Jaswant Singh: Oh yes I did

 

Shekhar Gupta: That this is going too far

 

Jaswant Singh: I did

 

Shekhar Gupta: Did you say we are becoming like the Congress

 

Jaswant Singh: Oh yes, that also I have said. But there were occasions when I was very very deeply disturbed

 

Shekhar Gupta: Why don’t you tell us one odd?

 

Jaswant Singh: Like this whole instance of bringing money into Parliament….and there was some strange fellow, I don’t recollect his name, he was introduced and he was going to find out and what is this called

 

Shekhar Gupta: Sting operation….So who was this strange fellow

 

Jaswant Singh: Some Muslim…something…some Hindustani, some pseudonym and he came here

 

Shekhar Gupta: To your place?

 

Jaswant Singh: Yes, yes. With Sudheendhr..

 

Shekhar Gupta: Kulkarni?

 

Jaswant Singh: yes. I remember very well Arun Shourie also called in, Arun this is disaster. He said let’s go and tell Atalji

 

Shekhar Gupta: Aap ne…you said its wrong to carry out this sting operation

 

Jaswant Singh: Absolutely. And I told Advaniji please don’t associate yourself with it, I went to the extent of going to his house and saying…I never drink before sun-down….

 

Shekhar Gupta: I’ve been very fishy of your hospitality

 

Jaswant Singh: I am an advocate, if I drink, I don’t pretend that I don’t drink. That’s why I pleaded the cause of whisky drinkers. Actually I was so disturbed and I told Advaniji

 

Shekhar Gupta: This was before the sting, this was when the sting was being planned

 

Jaswant Singh: That’s right and Advaniji I am so disturbed by the sheer personality of this man that I have today taken a drink in the day time before coming to meet you. I said so

 

Shekhar Gupta: But you don’t remember who the man was?

 

Jaswant Singh: Arey baba, it’s a very funny name he said. You’ll find his name if you go back on those records. Something Hindustani, Raja Hindustani or some such thing. This is the only time I’ve met him

 

Shekhar Gupta: So let me get this clear. Mr Advani and all of you knew beforehand that a sting was being carried out, the bjp leadership

 

Jaswant Singh: No, no I don’t know about all of you

Shekhar Gupta: No, no, you knew it, you told Arun Shourie

 

Jaswant Singh: Arun knew, because we met here

 

Shekhar Gupta: Right, and Sudheendhr was here, and you went and cautioned Mr Advani that this is not a wise thing to do

 

Jaswant Singh: I did so also in his own parliament office

 

Shekhar Gupta: Right

 

Jaswant Singh: Ye math kariye

 

Shekhar Gupta: And what was his response

 

Jaswant Singh: He kept quiet, he kept quiet

 

Shekhar Gupta: So now Congress party will not turn around and say, look we always said that this was a BJP sting, a BJP-blessed sting

 

Jaswant Singh: But I don’t know the sting, who organized the sting, whether it was BJP

 

Shekhar Gupta: But you knew, you were told that this was going to be done and you disagreed

 

Jaswant Singh: I was told this is happening and I disagreed

 

Shekhar Gupta: And you think Mr Advani made an error of judgment on this

 

Jaswant Singh: Oh yes, I think it was a gross error

 

Shekhar Gupta: At that point, it brought the govt into disrepute

 

Jaswant Singh: Well, I don’t know if it brought us any…

 

Shekhar Gupta: It muddied the government’s victory

 

Jaswant Singh: Did it? It made no difference to the electoral result

 

Shekhar Gupta: No in fact it made the opposite difference? If you go into the election against an incumbent as a recent loser you are in trouble. Because you went into this election as a loser of this vote of confidence

 

Jaswant Singh: It was a great error of judgment

 

Shekhar Gupta: And was it discussed later? That what did we get from this sting?

 

Jaswant Singh: I think only casually. That’s why I say, somewhere in the essence of it the moral purity of the BJP which was earlier….

 

Shekhar Gupta: Because you know, you have been a soldier, an officer, there was a moral dimension to leadership

 

Jaswant Singh: Of course, there is. How else…

 

Shekhar Gupta: If you commanded a company as a major, why would 200 people follow you up a mountain not knowing what lies ahead?

 

Jaswant Singh: One of the most difficult questions to answer why does a soldier agree to die

 

Shekhar Gupta: Exactly. Because he trusts his leader

 

Jaswant Singh: That’s right

 

Shekhar Gupta: so that’s the moral dimension to leadership

 

Jaswant Singh: There is a moral dimension in politics…in political leadership. You have to inspire

 

Shekhar Gupta: Did your party fail that test on the sting, particularly?

 

Jaswant Singh: I think so

 

Shekhar Gupta: This is trick

 

Jaswant Singh: Well, that’s what it was . Why…. I am sure the media was also involved in this

 

Shekhar Gupta: Yes, but don’t judge us by the same standards as a public life

 

Jaswant Singh: No, I don’t. you are commentators on public life

 

Shekhar Gupta: There was a vigorous debate in the media, I mean, there is a vigorous debate in the media about stings. But we are going back to…

 

Jaswant Singh: No, no, I am not….

 

Shekhar Gupta: We are going back to the larger political issue

 

Jaswant Singh: There is a larger political issue

 

Shekhar Gupta: Errors of judgment being made, in this case by Mr Advani because of a certain haste or because of a certain desperation or because of a certain impatience to get power

 

Jaswant Singh: I don’t know, this is a question you must ask him

 

Shekhar Gupta: Since we talked about this? Chintha badi, phir galtiya badi?

 

Jaswant Singh: It’s a question of gaining electoral advantage

 

Shekhar Gupta: But let me oversimplify it. Did it come from Mr Advani allowing himself to be surrounded by too many people who believe in sort of “operations”

 

Jaswant Singh: I don’t know who the author of this sting was. I frankly don’t. because I wasn’t taken into confidence at the beginning stage. I just accidentally stumbled upon it

 

Shekhar Gupta: Because one way of winning elections is the old fashioned way of building an agenda and a campaign

 

Jaswant Singh: Yeah the old fashioned, as no longer fashionable

 

Shekhar Gupta: Because in this election campaign, although you were campaigning far away, but you were also campaigning all over India, it was quite evidentthat you never attacked the Prime Minister

 

Jaswant Singh: Why should I attack the Prime Minister? Why?

 

Shekhar Gupta: Weakest Prime Minister, real powere is in 10, Janpath. Which is now being seen as one of the fundamental errors of this campaign

 

Jaswant Singh: But they, don’t ask me about BJP. It’s their lookout

 

Shekhar Gupta: But you never attacked? So you had disagreement with that strategy

 

Jaswant Singh: I do. Bu then I was no longer being consulted, so I

 

Shekhar Gupta: but how can someone as senior as you not be consulted

 

Jaswant Singh: Ab kya zaroorat hei. The reality matters Shekhar. There is again a Rahim kirti – seek thakuth deejiye jaako seek sohay

 

Shekhar Gupta: Somebody doesn’t like your advice, why give it to him. You might get socked in the face for giving it to him…

 

Jaswant Singh: Good or bad…

 

Shekhar Gupta: But at least honest advice

 

Jaswant Singh: yes, but I was very deeply disturbed by that man. I still am. He says I have an apartment here, and members of Parliament come and I can…

 

Shekhar Gupta: So this is obviously some Delhi fixer, some disrespectable delhi fixer

 

Jaswant Singh: Delhi is full of fixers

 

Shekhar Gupta: Yeah, so he is one of those

 

Jaswant Singh: I think, I am not sure

 

Shekhar Gupta: Pitching is your strategy on a vote of confidence which you know you are going to lose

 

Jaswant Singh: On a fixer?

 

Shekhar Gupta: On a fixer who can turn the other side

 

Jaswant Singh: Idid really tell Advaniji you dissociate yourself from it

 

Shekhar Gupta: But he didn’t say yes or no, or did he?

 

Jaswant Singh: He didn’t.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Or did he say Jaswantji aap purane samaaneke hein

 

Jaswant Singh: He didn’t

 

Shekhar Gupta: aap koyi baat samaj ne aayegi

 

Jaswant Singh: No, he kept quiet and I cant push beyond a point

 

Shekhar Gupta: The very idea of that vote of confidence did the BJP push it too far?

 

Jaswant Singh: It’s over

 

Shekhar Gupta: No, strategically did the BJP push it too far?

 

Jaswant Singh: I think so

 

Shekhar Gupta: Because the whole opposition to the nuclear deal there seemed to be no intellectual heart in it

 

Jaswant Singh: No there wasn’t because there might be rationale upto a point and we were not the only ones, we didn’t have the strength to do it, electoral strength. Vote of no confidence, this was really a vote of no confidence on a foreign policy issue and foreign policy issues aare never straight line issues

 

Shekhar Gupta: Right. That’s the whole point. They are very nuanced.

 

Jaswant Singh: They are so nuanced that the phrase of it is important, every phrase

 

Shekhar Gupta: Every word because, every coma, every semi-colon. Di you have a straight line agreement with the parties opposing the nuclear deal or did you have a more nuanced position?

 

Jaswant Singh: Look everybody used to ask me I am committed to the sovereign decision making right of my country and I had shared this so often that I cannot consent to be a victim of nuclear apartheid

 

Shekhar Gupta: But you were assigned something broadly similar

 

Jaswant Singh: I DON’T know the details of the discussion or negotiation but I would have certainly tried and carried the entire parliament. If a little time was needed, I would have rushed it to the republican government. Now we face a different problem, the problem is it would reviewed next year

 

Shekhar Gupta: Again you will need everybody’s consensus

 

Jaswant Singh: Absolutely

 

Shekhar Gupta: I am coming back to this. Your disagreement then is so much fundamentally with the deal or the way the government tried not to take the whole parliament along

 

Jaswant Singh: Of course, unless you do the second you don’t correct the first. There’s the details of it which troubled, I don’t want to go into the details

 

Shekhar Gupta: But the fundamentals of it you don’t have an issue

 

Jaswant Singh: How can you today not work with the greatest military, technology, industrial, economic and sadly a cultural power? It is the American culture that invades us today – coco cola, all this music, what a sad thing

 

Shekhar Gupta: Television…

 

Jaswant Singh: but these are realities and certainly transfer of technology we cant continue to be, we

 

It’s good to keep talking

 

Shekhar Gupta: And to break the barriers

 

Jaswant Singh: Of course, don’t take what you cant adopt, accept or the price, not in money terms alone, but the cost of it. No country Shekhar today, no country, not even the superpower, not Russia

 

Shekhar Gupta: Can blackball any other country

 

Jaswant Singh: One. Two, go and occupy it. Three, is hundred per cent self-sufficient in military or strategic equipment

 

Shekhar Gupta: Even manpower

 

Jaswant Singh: Manpower

 

Shekhar Gupta: So now lets leave for the campaign

 

Jaswant Singh: Oh

 

Shekhar Gupta: Where were you when the Varun Gandhi speech happened

 

Jaswant Singh: I was in Darjeeling

 

Shekhar Gupta: And what was your first reaction

 

Jaswant Singh: I said what madness is in the young man. Why is he doing it? Somebody asked me, kyon kar rahe hein, I said my charitable interpretation is that he is trying to win the attention of the media. I don’t believe he was believing in what he was saying

 

Shekhar Gupta: And the way the party responded

 

Jaswant Singh: It was wrong

 

Shekhar Gupta: Back to battle stations,

 

Jaswant Singh: It was wrong. It should have been clear. It’s either this or that. it ended up being neither. You say no no we are with Vishwendra Kaushishkar, which I am not. Once they said I am not a Hindu, I’ve lived in a village, my family has lived there Shekhar since 1092, it’s a long time to live, and we faced all the, we are directly on the route of all the invasions. I don’t want any confirmant of the title Hindu from Vishwendra Kaushishkar. So if you want to be an extension

 

Shekhar Gupta: But it did damage the party in the election

 

Jaswant Singh: I think it lost us the support of about not just the Muslim vote, but alos the Christian vote. There was one of our candidates here in east Delhi also

 

Shekhar Gupta: All the minorities got fed up. Did you try to mention this to Rajnathji or Advaniji

 

Jaswant Singh: is pe behes huyi thi. Discussison lot of people expressed difficulty

 

Shekhar Gupta: But Mr Rajnath Singh carried the day

 

Jaswant Singh: I don’t think he….carried the day sounds…

 

Shekhar Gupta: In terms of party’s view

 

Jaswant Singh: Carried the day would suggest he scored more runs

 

Shekhar Gupta: Jus presidential authority?

 

Jaswant Singh: No, the party also said …

 

Shekhar Gupta: ab ho gaya

 

Jaswant Singh: Ab ho gaya, let’s proceed further and we’ll not let such things happen. This was the, there are, oh forget it…

 

Shekhar Gupta: You know, 4o years you’ve been in the party

 

Jaswant Singh: 30 years, 42 years in public life

 

Shekhar Gupta: How has the relationship of the party and the RSS evolved?

 

Jaswant Singh: I’ll tell you, somebody asked me this question, I contested my first election in 1967. that was the fourth genral election, this is the 15th general election that I contested. I must be among the veterans….

 

Shekhar Gupta: Absolutely. On way to the Guinness book

 

Jaswant Singh: No the Guinness book but the few who are 8 terms members, this is my eighth term. In a way we often comment decline in the conduct and quality of legislative, but there is a decline in the conduct of all organs of state. That is the reality. In a similar fashion, I say, ive said this to Shastriji and the leadership of the RSS that I see a decline in the RSS too. Suvidha bhoghi. We have all become used to convenience

Shekhar Gupta: Decadent

 

Jaswant Singh: Decadent is too strong. But suvidha boghis certainly. And that is a corruption of spirit

 

Shekhar Gupta: Soft

 

Jaswant Singh: Soft, preferring this or that and needlessly extreme in our way, not all, and that allegedly transferred itself to the BJP too. The BJP suffered from another deficiency too which was earlier it had purity of never having been in office. I think it was once in office

 

Shekhar Gupta: Did you have any exchanges with the RSS that you remember or cherish

 

Jaswant Singh: I would like to example many such conversations with Shastriji

 

Shekhar Gupta: But Mr Vajpayee came under extreme pressure from the RSS many times

 

Jaswant Singh: Yes, but he would not react and he would not resign from his position

 

Shekhar Gupta: He would do his thing

 

Jaswant Singh: He would do it quietly

 

Shekhar Gupta: Except one on Modi

 

Jaswant Singh: No also. I was not to take oath as Finance Minister. But that’s alright

 

Shekhar Gupta: That’s two. But that one you are willing to overlook?

 

Jaswant Singh: No I do overlook

 

Shekhar Gupta: Because Mr Vajpayee could take you for granted

 

Jaswant Singh: Of course, of course. That’s alright. It’s over

 

Shekhar Gupta: Because you know there is, I am a student of political history, a curious one, not as good as you, but a curious one and not a participant. There is one intriguing aspect of the dynamic of decision making, your relationship with Mr Advani, Mr Vajpayee, your world view that came out in Agra. What happened? Were we close to signing something, somebody opposed it?

 

Jaswant Singh: Of course, there was. The entire cabinet committee on security was there and the opposition really came on ground that the question of Gen Musharraf and the draft that we were preparing, terrorism was not included, had not been included upto that stage and I think objections came. The other difficulty that arose was the grand standing ….

 

Shekhar Gupta: At that breakfast meeting

 

Jaswant Singh: On that morning

Shekhar Gupta: But the impression that given the option you would perhaps have preferred to sign some draft

 

Jaswant Singh: Of course, everyone wanted. Everybody wanted

 

Shekhar Gupta: But you didn’t feel overruled by Mr Advani as

 

Jaswant Singh: No the entire Cabinet committee was . I couldn’t have signed, I was not going to sign in any case. I was simply drafting a piece of paper

 

Shekhar Gupta: But Gen Musharraf’s view that Mr Vajpayee was in agreement but Mr Advani blocked it, vetoed it

 

Jaswant Singh: Let me not comment on that because that is a diplomatic, who knows how the future goes

 

Shekhar Gupta: Right, but you were disappointed

 

Jaswant Singh: Oh yes, I would have wanted to, it’s a commitment that I have, you must learn to live together. Pakistan must abjure violence directly or indirectly. There is no place for terrorism

 

Shekhar Gupta: and second, sir, I know you have written something in your book and many people have said many things and we’ve talked about this many times and you promised me one day you would tell me exactly what happened. What happened on Kandahar? Especially the decision for you to go

 

Jaswant Singh: It was the decision for me to go, it was born of a fact that 166 are trapped there, they’ve been there for seven days, our intelligence informs us on the 31st of December. From 36 terrorists, we’ve littled them down to three, there was no question of money or anything

 

Shekhar Gupta: So no money was given?

 

Jaswant Singh: None

 

Shekhar Gupta: But what was the need for you to go?

 

Jaswant Singh: I’ll tell you. The need to me to go was there was officers of the MEA there, there were officers of the IB and R&AW. There was a whole plane load to be brought back. A rescue plane had been sent which contained doctors and others because when there is confinement for 7 days in a narrow capsule of an aircraft plus the officers said sir, if last minute hitch arises we will have no time to refer the matter to delhi and get clearances. What do we do? I volunteered to go in Cabinet and I went. I would have gone because one aircraft was sent. That aircraft, whatever reason went up in the air 20 minutes back it came back and saying we have technical fault

 

Shekhar Gupta: It’s one of the RAW aircraft, an ARC aircraft, gulf stream, whatever. But not a civilian aircraft

 

Jaswant Singh: I don’t want to….Pakistan then wanted a list of the XXXX which is never done because they feared we might be secretly planning a commando rescue. There was no aircraft because Kandahar was then a Taliban controlled airfleet. It was cluttered with tanks and the debris of warfare. There was no place to receive an additional aircraft. If I had to go….

 

Shekhar Gupta: Otherwise you would’ve gone…if that aircraft had not developed a snag, you would have gone in a separate aircraft

 

Jaswant Singh: Absolutely

 

Shekhar Gupta: But the question of did the CCS know that you were going to…

 

Jaswant Singh: Yes, yes they knew

 

Shekhar Gupta: Because there was some statement by Mr Advani that he didn’t know that you were going. He knew there was an exchange taking place

 

Jaswant Singh: See, I’ll tell you. I am sorry that Advaniji’s memory has not served him in this case. He had objections, to two of the cabinet colleagues had objections,

 

Shekhar Gupta: He and Mr Shourie

 

Jaswant Singh: In fact, Arun had the most severe objections

 

Shekhar Gupta: Arun Shourie. Because there are two Aruns

 

Jaswant Singh: I don’t know about the other being a minister

 

Shekhar Gupta: Arun Jaitley

 

Jaswant Singh: Perhaps he was. Let him 250 be killed. His view was like that. You can have a view point. But then it was the Cabinet said no because here, not far away, people were roaming on the streets…

 

Shekhar Gupta: You are pointing at 7 Race Course Road I know. Next-door neighbours

 

Jaswant Singh: They were rolling on the streets, crying. It was very demeaning, humiliating for India to be demonstrating this. No govt, no govt…

 

Shekhar Gupta: Could have ignored this

 

Jaswant Singh: Could have ignored this – one. Two, I don’t think any govt can possibly take a decision knowingly that 166 be killed. Three, the instance of Israel is often cited, there are hundreds of cases where Israel has exchanged. Most recently, to get 2 bodies back, just 2 bodies, bodies

 

Shekhar Gupta: of soldiers

 

Jaswant Singh: 200 hamas people have been killed. It’s not accommodating, and I argued within myself what is the right thing. Govts have a duty to save lives of citizens

 

Shekhar Gupta: So you are going on the same plane as then was out of compulsion

 

Jaswant Singh: It was a technical compulsion, there was no other way

 

Shekhar Gupta: But are you saying that maybe Mr Advani, as you said his memory may not be serving him right, that he was privy to the decision that you were going

 

Jaswant Singh: I was told by Atalji because he had earlier disagreed, he had gone somewhere, he was coming back, bata deejiye Advaniji kho ye nirnay lena hein , I told him

 

Shekhar Gupta: You told Mr Advani

 

Jaswant Singh: And how could people like Zargar and others been released without the signature of

 

Shekhar Gupta: That’s not the issue. The issue is that Mr Advani says he knew that the exchange was to take place, but he wasn’t aware that you were to go on the same plane

 

Jaswant Singh: I am astonished that his memory now…I certainly know….i announced it in the cabinet

 

Shekhar Gupta: In the CCS?

 

Jaswant Singh: Yes

 

Shekhar Gupta: And he was there

 

Jaswant Singh: Yes

 

Shekhar Gupta: so could it be something that he is mind has told him to start forgetting as he came close to the elections

 

Jaswant Singh: Oh common, you don’t expect me to answer that

 

Shekhar Gupta: As I said, pushing the envelope.

 

Jaswant Singh: I don’t want to be judgmental

 

Shekhar Gupta: Because his memory is very good

 

Jaswant Singh: So your question itself is answered, you answered the question

 

Shekhar Gupta: So before I ask you where you go from here, let me ask you where does the BJP go from here

 

Jaswant Singh: Isnt that a question the BJP ought to answer?

 

Shekhar Gupta: You were a senior statesman, citizen of the bjp?

 

Jaswant Singh: I think the BJP has to rediscover itself. It has to be a party that is exclusive. If it wants to be an exclusive party, that is its decision

 

Shekhar Gupta: But then it becomes a cultural organisation, not a party?

 

Jaswant Singh: Yeah, it is. For them to…

 

Shekhar Gupta: Like the RSS

 

Jaswant Singh: Why don’t they become a….. at this rate, what politics are they playing? I don’t accept that Hindutva becomes the foundational thought, the benefit to India and the citizen, yes. But we are not…why semetise, why semetize thought like Sanathan thought

 

Shekhar Gupta: So BJP is a party, like a walking wounded, in military terminology?

 

Jaswant Singh: You know walking wounded are those that get wounded by enemy fire. In this case, the BJP has shot itself in the foot. Sometimes that happens in services

 

Shekhar Gupta: Self-inflicted when you are afraid of going into battle

 

Jaswant Singh: That’s right. Self inflicted

 

Shekhar Gupta: And then you get court martialled for it

 

Jaswant Singh: No, time punishes you

 

Shekhar Gupta: And do you think BJP is heading in that direction unless it fixes itself

 

Jaswant Singh: Every additional day that it doesn’t is a day that is irretrievably lost

 

Shekhar Gupta: And what would you wish for the party?

 

Jaswant Singh: Oh I wish them very well

 

Shekhar Gupta: That they fix it or they muddle along

 

Jaswant Singh: I wish them very well. They must be of great relevance to India as a polity. They’ve been my colleagues for the last 30 years, I received great courtesy from them all these years. I’ve served them to the best of my ability. If I candidly say what is wrong, I don’t say it with enmity, I say it really as a companion

 

Shekhar Gupta: So you are telling them clean up your act now

 

Jaswant Singh: Yes

 

Shekhar Gupta: And everyday that you lose….

 

Jaswant Singh: is a day gone. Don’t limit your vision, don’t limit your vision, don’t limit your feel

 

Shekhar Gupta: Because you know now we talk of other possible expulsions, the whole tamasha with Vasundhara Raje, which was blamed on you sometimes, the Rajputs ganging up on her

 

Jaswant Singh: I think that’s really a false accusation and if I had so much to do with encouraging that she being the chief minister,

 

Shekhar Gupta: Right. Everyone on that plane ride to Goa

 

Jaswant Singh: And subsequently, this house, this very drawing room will bear on Sindhis all alone, so many evenings I spent with Vasundhara Raje, convincing her she should go, this is how it should be done and I would carry her worries and fears. I am saddened that…

 

Shekhar Gupta: So how would you hope the party handles such situation in Rajasthan

 

Jaswant Singh: It’s really for them to … I don’t want to comment on it

 

Shekhar Gupta: But will you be saddened if she is made to leave

 

Jaswant Singh: No, I told it’s really up to them. At one of the meetings, I said, look, let me go and do

what I can for Rajasthan. I assure you Vasu Raje and somebody else present in the party, I will be able to make them sit together, we must because we are losing

 

Shekhar Gupta: So you could reconcile the differences

 

Jaswant Singh: I am sure I could have. Now, it’s too late

 

Shekhar Gupta: it’s too late for many things, but we know you wish your party well

 

Jaswant Singh: I do, I do

 

Shekhar Gupta: And all of us fans and friends here wish you well because you are one of our most open, accessible, candid and thinking public figures

 

Jaswant Singh: Kind my dear to say this

 

Shekhar Gupta: So keep meanwhile thinking and writing more bestsellers

 

Jaswant Singh: I hope this is a bestseller because the authors make very little money

 

Shekhar Gupta: Well I think authors make impact, they don’t do it for money, they do it for impact

 

Jaswant Singh: I hope so, I told you what Hameed said

 

Shekhar Gupta: So thank you very much. I am always grateful to you for your time and patience

 

Jaswant Singh: Thank you very much Shekhar, thank you         

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE PROBLEM: TOO FEW ATMS

 

A few months back, ATM usage across banks became free. Last Friday, it became not so free. What’s happening? IBA, the bankers’ lobby, petitioned RBI and RBI agreed. Bankers have a point, however. Under the new rules, customers can withdraw upto Rs 10,000 per transaction at ATMs of other banks. Always-free ATM services will only be extended to a bank’s savings account holders. The number of free third-party transactions has been capped at 5 per month, that is, beyond this limit a customer’s account may stand debited to the extent of the interchange fee (the charge that a customer’s own bank pays to the third-party bank for every ATM transaction). This is usually Rs 20 per transaction. But inter-bank balance inquiry remains free. Before the freeing up of ATM use earlier this year, this fee was borne by the customer. Bankers argued their ATM networks had become overloaded and their costs have shot up because of the surge in the number of third-party transactions; the average value of each transaction has been falling. The national financial switch (NFS) that enables inter-bank transactions had to take some pretty heavy loads. Some big banks have been losing Rs 4-5 crore a month as majority of their own customers were using other banks’ ATMs. Bankers argued that in many cases their ATMs couldn’t give cash to their own customers. The cash withdrawal limit is expected to curb this problem. They also argue that the free service should not be extended to current account holders as customers holding such accounts undertake heavy withdrawals and don’t have any minimum balance requirement.

 

The biggest problem though is some banks were finding it cheaper to piggyback on other banks’ ATM networks and concentrate only on branch expansion rather than investing in ATMs. Currently, India has about 38,000 ATMs and this is too few. South Korea has 1,600 ATMs per million people; China 55; and India only 23. Globally, the ATM space is dominated by third party and ‘White Label’ ATMs, i.e. those not owned by any particular bank but set up by independent companies and sponsored by banks to share costs. In India, cost-benefit analysis of functioning of such a network is taking place. But right now, the number of ATMs is probably too small for completely free ATM use. Consumer groups have argued that the restrictions have come in too soon after making ATM use free and that banks should have reduced transactions costs instead. It looks in hindsight that more homework should have been done before the earlier change in ATM policy was announced. But till India has more ATMs, the compromise policy announced by RBI looks like the best bet.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SWEET TRUTH

 

Things are looking far from sweet when it comes to sugar. There is an almost 10 million tonnes shortfall in production in 2009-10—cane planting for the new season has not been good, largely due to poor rains in main sugarcane growing belts of western Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. As of August 6, sugarcane has been planted in around 4.25 million hectares of land, almost 1,30,000 hectares less than last year. The scarcity in rainfall is seriously threatening to pull down the per hectare yield of the already under planted crop. Industry observers are now estimating sugar output next year to be around 15 to 17 million tonnes, just 1-2 million tonnes more than this year’s output. This is a big drop from earlier projections of around 20 million tonne. This projection of a second consecutive year of low output, coupled with expectations of rising demand during the festival season, has sent retail prices spiralling upward. This time the situation is slightly different from the earlier spike of August 2008, as pressure from other crops like wheat, rice, pulses and edible oils will be more pronounced because of expected low kharif production. The government has of course allowed mills to import raw sugar—import of refined sugar is also permitted. But perversely, India’s decision to import 5-6 million tonnes, a very significant quantity, pushed international prices up making imports expensive for millers.

 

Of course, the entire problem in the sugar industry could have been avoided if there were not so many distortions in the first place. The sector is highly regulated and the government demands a certain allocation for the public distribution system. Also, the government, by giving generous MSPs to foodgrains has weaned farmers away from this crucial cash crop leading to loss of acreage in Uttar Pradesh and also to some extent in Maharashtra. Poor progress of cane development programme has kept sugarcane yields stagnant at around 67 tonnes to 71 tonnes per hectare. Consider also the logjam over state advised and statutory minimum prices, which have become a political tool. Even at the mill-gate, there are problems of misrepresentation of recovery levels. Too many mills are vying for too little cane in a restricted area. And there are delays on part of mills in paying back cane dues. Finally, at the marketing stage, excessive controls curb mills’ ability to operate in a proper market-driven environment, encouraging them to divert cane for other purposes like ethanol and power, further reducing supplies in retail market. Why do we persist with these multiple distortions?

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

NOW’S THE TIME TO REMEMBER ECONOMICS

MEGHNAD DESAI

 

The IMF has said that it thinks the recession is over. The Economist celebrates the resilience of the Asian economies. In the OECD countries, it looks as if Germany and France are recovering faster than the Anglo-Saxon twins—the US and UK. The delicious paradox here is that the two who have recovered did not agree with the large Keynesian packages which the US and the UK tried and urged on other countries.

If the IMF is right, then the deep crisis which started in the wake of the Lehman Brothers in September 2008 is over within a year. When the crisis broke last year, there were comparisons made with the Great Depression. It was said that modern economics was bankrupt. Keynes was needed to be back at the centre if we were to get out of the rut. Modern macroeconomics, Paul Krugman said, was living in the dark ages.

So what has happened? The 2008-09 crisis is shorter than either the 1970s or the 1980s recessions. It was during the 1970s crisis and the stagflation which followed, that Keynesian policies lost their lustre. Chicago displaced Keynesian economics with monetarism ( Friedman ) at first and then the New Classical Macroeconomics( Lucas).

 

There were heated battles between the MIT/Harvard and the Chicago/Minnesota schools about issues such as : Is the economy capable of being at a full employment equilibrium perpetually unaided by fiscal interventions as Chicago claimed or can it be at underemployment equilibrium unless government stimulus brings it back to full employment? Chicago claimed that a budget deficit if unfunded would lead to money creation and inflation negating the stimulus or if funded the taxpayers will see through it as it would only lead to future tax rises. The MIT/Harvard people argued that there was a slack and various lags and rigidities in the economy gave a role for intervention.

 

After a turbulent twenty five years from mid sixties to the end of the eighties, a compromise was reached. Chicago conceded that the built-in stabilisers which Keynes had urged were useful for macro policy. The MIT people agreed that the fiscal policy must be framed in a medium term context and the monetary consequences of deficits could not be ignored. Suddenly peace broke out all over macroeconomics. Central bankers were to look after inflation and treasuries were to run a responsible fiscal policy.

 

What neither side had theorised about was the financial sector. Macroeconomics has a very thin financial sector in its theoretical structure. Money yes, but banking hardly and finance not at all. Financial economics was exploding with innovations most of which allowed the agents to stretch liquidity over vast structures of debt creation. The stability assured by the macro compromise and the low inflation thanks to Asian manufacturing exports allowed the financial innovations to have a free play.

 

This happy scene broke up in disarray in 2007. At first the markets ran wild in marking up commodity prices to compensate for weak equity performance. Inflation reignited and the Central banks tightened their policies. Hence the fragile real estate markets reversed their upward march and assets based on sub-prime mortgages lost value. The real economy began to slide into recession in the US sometime in the middle of 2007. As of then the European economies were not affected. It was the beginning of bank collapse, first in the UK in September 2007, a full year before Lehman Brothers which brought in a financial crisis in addition to the output recession. At first no one panicked and for the next twelve months banks were bought and sold but without serious loss of asset values.

 

No one worried about the failure of economics yet. It was only after the Lehman Brothers that liquidity dried up and we were into a new world which we had not seen before. The Central Bankers responded superbly by pouring money down the hatches of banks which were technically bankrupt. The response was not prescribed by Keynes; indeed Keynes did not discuss this possibility.

 

Yet it was the economists who had honed their skills in the turbulent battles who had the sense to innovate and not be confined by orthodoxies. Thus modern macroeconomics was not at all useless as Krugman argued. The answer was not back to Keynesianism of the sixties but a sophisticated understanding of the crisis. The German and French policymakers had less of a financial hole to tackle and they showed restraint in reflating their economies relying instead on built-in stabilisers. The Anglo-Saxons poured money into their banks and on top of that reflated like there was no tomorrow.

 

The result seems to be that innovative bankers schooled in modern macroeconomics tackled the financial collapse but the fiscal conservatives of Germany and France managed to tackle the recession better.If economics needs redoing it is in integrating finance better into macroeconomics and not in going back to Keynes.

 

author is a prominent economist and Labour peer

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

COUNTRY ROAD WILL TAKE THEM HOME

P RAGHAVAN

 

A critical infrastructure that will be of immense help in tackling this year’s sharp deficiency in rainfall is the extensive length of rural roads built over the last few years. The length of rural roads constructed, mainly under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadhak Yojana (PMGSY), has steadily gone up from 15,464 km in 2004-05 to 52,404 km in 2008-09 and the number of habitation connected has gone up from 3,915 to 14,454 during the period. Overall, 1,62,700 km of new or upgraded rural roads has been added connecting 48,708 habitations over the last five years.

 

How can rural roads that have been built in the recent years be a big help in drought relief efforts? A World Bank study showed that rural road connectivity typically raises village income between 50-100%. That’s an income cushion for villages that didn’t exist before, when rains were patchy.

 

This income jump happens due to a number of factors. For one, good connectivity improves access to farm inputs such as high yielding seeds and fertilisers and improve farm yields. The income gains from this gets further maximised as the access to new markets also help farmers to shift to higher value cash crops like horticulture and also increase the intensity of cultivation. Faster transportation similarly adds to farm incomes as it helps reduce costs and minimise wastage, especially of perishable farm goods. Good roads also help farmers get rid of some or sometimes all middlemen. They can take the produce directly to the large retail markets, helping them reap even further gains.

 

Roads also help indirectly by increasing the farmers’ resource mobilisation abilities. The most important effect in this category is the increase in farm land prices that follow road building. According to the World Bank, land prices go up by 60% to 80% on an average. This along with the greater access to organised sector credit from banks multiplies farmer’s ability to raise resources—a crucial weapon for a farmer looking to open up new revenue streams.

 

Basically, roads open up new opportunities to earn income from non-farm activities. The most rudimentary among them is the ability to travel to larger habitations close by and hire themselves out for higher wages. New roads, the Bank study shows, also open up new non-farm employment opportunities within habitations. The more resourceful rural households diversify and invest their resources in new activities like food processing, transport and marketing.

 

A study made in the Indian context during the late nineties showed that each investment of a million rupees (at constant 1993 prices) on roads helped 165 persons to cross the poverty line. At a macro level it estimated that Rs 100 billion of investments in roads would increase productivity growth by more than 3%. These are impressive numbers. And more such studies are required.

 

Another interesting thing about rural roads is that states that have made progress are also mostly the ones being hit by drought. The number of habitations connected through new roads or through upgrade of old roads since 2000 is healthy. New rural roads helped connect 57,274 habitats, while road up gradate helped further improve connectivity of another 68,682 habitats. Together they accounted for 13.3% of the total habitations in the rural sector.

 

Leading the list of the states that successfully connected the maximum number of habitations is Rajasthan (10,713), followed by Madhya Pradesh (8,169), Uttar Pradesh (7,657), West Bengal (6,037) and Chhattisgarh (5,110), almost all of them among states most severely affected by poor rains. And states that have upgraded the maximum number of roads are also those that are particularly drought-hit. They include Uttar Pradesh (13,854), Andhra Pradesh (9,933), Karnataka (8,077), Maharashtra (7,615) and Madhya Pradesh (5,864).

 

Further, drought-hit states are prominent not only in terms of having connected or upgraded connectivity but also in terms of the share of villages that have benefited from the programme. States that have boosted new connectivity of habitations by extending coverage to the maximum levels include Rajasthan (26.9%), Chhattisgarh (17.7%) and Madhya Pradesh.

 

Of course, as always in India, there is a flip side. Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal figure in the list of most improved states in terms of rural connectivity but also states that have the largest number of rural habitations that are not connected by decent or even semi-decent roads. Bihar also figures in this list. These states have historically been the worst road builders. But at least they are playing catch up now. And that’s good news for the farmer.

 

p.raghavan@expressindia.com

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

INDIA’S INFRA CARD IN NEPAL

NISHA TANEJA

 

Nepal and India waited anxiously as the PM of India unveiled the package for Nepal during PM Madhav Kumar Nepal’s visit to India. Clearly, infrastructure geared towards greater connectivity between the two countries has come out as a winner. India has decided to put on fast track two of the Integrated Check Posts with dedicated passenger and cargo terminals. Apart from this, India has also committed to funding the Terai road project and setting up two rail links between the two countries. The infrastructure package is expected to be around Rs 20 billion.

 

The push to fund infrastructure projects is widely being perceived as a step to counter the growing Chinese influence in Nepal. The construction of the Chinese assisted road project linking Tibet with Nepal started in December 2008, and is expected to end by 2011. In addition to this, the extension of the Qinghai-Tibet railway from Lhasa to Shigatze, and from Shigatze to Nyalam, a county in Shigatze prefecture with Khasa (Zhangmu) as one of its towns bordering on Nepal, is on the agenda of the Chinese government. China is also planning to construct a dry port near Tatopani on the Nepali side. China has slowly made inroads into the South Asian region. Its strategy has been to first invest in transport infrastructure—including ports, road and railways ,which automatically paves the way for movement of goods at low costs. India on the other hand has focussed on tariff concessions in the South Asian region, which has been countered by the high cost of moving goods across borders.

 

India’s right but late decision to fund infrastructure projects seems to have missed the larger picture from Nepal’s perspective. Nepal has no sea port and has been receiving transit facilities from India to connect to the rest of the world through the ports of Kolkata and Haldia. Nepal has often complained about the cumbersome and time consuming transit procedures. It has often felt that India has carried out additional inspections on Nepali goods. Revision of the transit treaty has not always been automatic. We should recognise that Nepal as a transit country will benefit not only India, but also China and Nepal itself.

 

The author is professor, ICRIER

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

INFRASTRUCTURE: GET THE BASICS RIGHT

 

When it rains hard even for half an hour, India’s capital ceases to be a functioning anarchy, the metaphoric description of our governance supplied by sympathetic India watchers more than a generation ago. This was shown to be the case last week when Delhi was brought to its knees. Gushing water from the streets, mixed with the sewage system, swept into people’s homes even in upscale areas; many localities were converted into murky ponds; city arteries came to look like rushing rivulets; the electrical and telephone systems crashed bringing chaos in their wake; parts of the roof gave way in the newly built airport; and the choked traffic was ground to helpless inertia. Darkness in the afternoon is an apt description of what came to pass. Something similar had happened a week earlier. The trouble is this has been occurring year after year, and those paid to deal with city maintenance have taken no notice, literally letting our tax rupee go down the drain. What is true of the seat of the national government is also true of the country’s financial capital, Mumbai, although the famous city has to contend with the high tide factor, and other specifics such as the elimination of mangroves, that may make matters worse when combined with sharp showers. About the provincial towns, the less said the better.

 

The larger issue in question is of municipal governance. For some decades, standard urban services have virtually ceased to exist in the state capitals and mofussil towns. This is tied to a lethargic democracy characterised by an absence of elections in the local self-government tier of our laid-back system, and pervasive corruption which permits monies earmarked for urban maintenance and renewal to be misappropriated by local mafias of politicians and minor officials and private contractors. The new trend to be noticed is that the malaise that typified small towns and tier two and three cities has, in some ways, now come to engulf the nation’s capital, and no one is turning a hair as the buck is passed from one civic agency to another, the all too familiar phenomenon we encounter when those in authority are faced with questioning.

 

Delhi’s case is urgent as the city is to host the Commonwealth Games in a year’s time and virtually every element of modern infrastructure under construction has as its underlying basis the reliable functioning of basic city systems. While it will be a terrible loss of face for a high-profile emerging economy such as India to present a flop infrastructure show at an international sporting event, the fundamental issues to be addressed concern the life conveniences of our own citizens. India’s metropolises for decades have been attracting a huge work force from the hinterland in search of livelihood. City planners have clearly failed to factor in the internal economic migration. Of no less significance is our failure to gear our bureaucratic machinery to present-day needs. In its first term the UPA government had promised a thorough re-look at the working mechanisms of the various levels of government with a view to making it contemporary, efficient, responsible and accountable. Of this we have not heard much of late. Our claims and aspirations to be a significant player on the regional and world stages will remain a matter of wishful thinking if we don’t get the basics right.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

LAW AND THE PUBLIC GOOD

SHIV VISVANATHAN

 

Three of the most interesting ministries of the Manmohan Singh government are environment, health and education. It is not that the rest are not eventful but that the nature of events taking place here are different. They may not provide infrastructure in terms of roads and buildings, but what these sectors seek is to create the infrastructure of the imagination. They emphasise the need for new concepts, even a new ethics.

 

Consider the recent debate on the Ambani gas finds. The media raised the issue whether oil was a public good or a piece of private property. What was floated as a question is actually a bundle of major controversies.

 

Let us list them out. Chattrapati Singh the philosopher argued that Indian customary law distinguishes between stock and flow. Land is stock, it is immovable. Water is flow. Those who have water on the land can use it but cannot own it. Water belongs to the community.

 

The second issue concerns the nature of a public good. Firstly, a public good is not a public sector good. The latter is only a devious form of privatisation, where even the state as a public good has been privatised. A public good is not a commodity because a good is a form of being that resists commoditisation. A good is more than a thing. It is a matrix of being where welfare encompasses profit.

 

A good redefines the nature of any contract by positing the fiction of the third party. This third figure is the future as a community depending perpetual representation. A good cannot be defined purely in terms of market efficiency. It demands a sustainability over time. Renewability, diversity and justice are hallmarks of a good. A good is polyarchic in that it has to cater to a variety of problem-solving situations. Oil, water, air are "public goods" where the juxtaposition of the two words resists both privatisation and commodisation.

 

Unfortunately, the idea of the public good operates within a limited discourse. It lives within the gridlock of public and private. But the above opposition does not exhaust the world of community. The public operates within the horizon of the commons. Yet Indian law has turned the word obsolescent. The destruction of the idea of the common begins with the idea of the eminent domain in Anglo Saxon law where the state owns the land, rendering the tribal homeless. All it required to displace a few thousand people was some diktat centering around "development" or "national purpose". The commons came back as a specialised but limited term around the Internet community. But we need to go back to the original idea of the availability of resources, the access to them and the presence of skills and knowledge to utilise them. To make land minimally public, the community has to participate in decisions about its livelihood and food. Without that, nationalisation merely becomes another form of appropriation. If land is a public good, then the communities living on or near it need to have a say in what it is good for. Without the idea of the commons as a creative imaginary, the idea of the public good flattens out, becoming a fragment of a limited Homo juridicus.

 

The environmental debates centering around nature and land as a public good have been both subtle and sustained. One of the classic debates revolved around whether trees should have a standing? But to comprehend this, the language of nature and the anthropomorphic nature of rights has to change.

 

The Homo juridicus, the legal man like the Homo economics, the economic man, is a fiction that creates a framework of reality. Unfortunately the Homo juridicus is becoming subservient to the logic of the economic man, serving to create conditions for private property and legal contract. The juridical man is not yet an ecological man, at home in the notion of complexity and uncertainty. Its pervasive scientism has little understanding of the precautionary principles or the idea of uncertainty that pervades regulation in biotechnology or nanotechnology. But more interestingly, what law does is to aid the economisation of the world.

 

Take violence. Once one subjects it to a cost benefit, it obtains its own forms of legitimation. The economics of dams, which obtains its calculus of displacement, claims that the displacement of an entire people is a bearable cost of a dam. When a people or a culture become displaceable as a cost benefit justified by law, the Homo juridicus shrinks into a hand maiden of economics.

 

Death, particularly mass death, merely becomes a form of obsolescence regarded as necessary and inevitable in the inevitable idea of development. One can then read a riot or a disaster as a real estate operation, freeing land from old and cumbersome collectivities for innovation and entrepreneurship.

 

In fact, it is this particular notion of economisation that creates a contradiction between first and third generation rights. In a generational sense, the 1947 Universal Declaration was a first generation right, the socialist framework, a second generation "right", and the laws of innovation and intellectual property a third generation right. Third generation rights are property rights that seek to redefine life as property by creating the idea of intellectual capital. When you patent "life", you alter its very axiomatics. In that sense, life is secondary to property, creating an obscene contradiction at the centre of the rights discourse.

 

Zygmunt Bauman, the sociologist, in a classic book on waste points out that the economisation of rights went through two phases. The earlier idea of full employment, he shows, at least humanised man as a resource. Right to work was part of the dignity of man, even if the work itself was exploitative. Today men are seen as global waste. The displaced, the unemployed, the refugee, the marginal, the obsolescent are not even recyclable, only disposable. In economising law, we have destroyed the power and claim of human rights. Genocide then becomes an extension of cost benefit analysis, mass death an extension counter of development.

 

All one is arguing for is a return to the fundamentals of law. The Homo juridicus we have created is a narrow pre-ecolate creature. We need to examine our law and Western law as a set of fundamentalisms about science, the individual, contract and property. Otherwise the rule of law might be just a law of rules rather than the fluid that creates and seeds a more supple democratic imagination.

 

Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OP-ED

AYE MERE WATAN KE LOGON, ZARA...

S.K. CHATTERJI

 

When you go home, tell them of us and say,

 

For their tomorrow, we gave our today.

(Epitaph on WW II memorial for Allied soldiers killed in the battle of Kohima)

 

There is a huge disconnect somewhere between the voter and the voted. Only a few weeks ago the nation commemorated the 10th anniversary of India’s Kargil victory on July 26. The response on the streets and from the media was overwhelming. Kargil martyrs were remembered with reverence. Those who had fought and survived told the tales of those who died on those treacherous mountains — some tortured by their captors — to a nation that knows and feels the relevance of the sacrifice of their brave soldiers. And yet, till date, no government has thought it necessary to build a National War Memorial in Delhi.

 

The towering memorial we have at India Gate is a testimony to the honour bestowed by the Britishers on imperial India’s soldiers who fought for the Crown in World War I and the Afghan War. They found it necessary to erect the memorial as a symbol of gratitude to some of the best soldiers that ever fought under the Union Jack. Over 70,000 soldiers of Imperial India died in these wars. Built by the famous architect Edwin Lutyens, the bricks that have been used to construct the 39.62 metre-high and 27.43 metre-wide arch, have the regimental numbers of fallen heroes. The memorial recounts the valour of our boys who fought in France, Flanders, Iran, Mesopotamia, East Africa and in the North-West Frontier Provinces. Since 1971, a flame has burnt beneath the arches, as a mark of respect to our soldiers.

 

The armed forces’ proposal to construct a war memorial has been languishing in the file cabinets of the Delhi government for over three decades now. The plan of the armed forces envisages the construction of the memorial beneath the lawns of the India Gate. Except for a small wall, which too will be barely visible to the pedestrians in that area, there is no construction that will spoil India Gate’s visage. Beneath the surface will be a spacious memorial, a monument that will record the names of our martyrs; where citizens and bereaved families can visit in sombre silence to pay homage to those who gave their today for our tomorrow.

 

Memorials for soldiers and civilians who have died fighting to preserve their nations’ security and core values are common all over the world. In fact, these memorials are inevitably preserved with due care and memorial services are utilised to imbibe patriotism in the younger generation. As an example, school children constitute 70 per cent of the millions who have visited the Memorial Hall of China’s War of Resistance against Japan. The Americans have built their World War II Memorial in the most revered area of Washington DC. The memorial is flanked by the famous Washington Monument on one side and the Lincoln Memorial on the other. Opened in 2004, the memorial honours the 16 million Americans who took part in the war effort, of whom 400,000 died.

 

The Taukayyan War Cemetery in Burma is the largest war memorial in that country. It has the graves organised in four sectors, housing the remains of the dead in Meiktila, Akyab (Sittwe), Mandalay and Sahmaw sectors.

 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains cemeteries in 150 countries. The Debt of Honour Register of the Commission lists 1.7 million Commonwealth soldiers and thousands of civilians who died in the two great wars, their remains being buried in 23,000 burial sites. There are thousands of Indians listed in the register.

 

Six nations make the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, including India. However, back at home, we have reached a state where ex-servicemen have to go to the extent of returning their medals to the President for getting a fair pension deal. Concerns for Delhi’s visage are hardly obvious when one sees the new metro alignment coming up with no concern for blending it with the existing landscape. Paradoxically, those who fought to keep the Tricolour fluttering are yet to find solace even beneath the lawns of India Gate.

 

Brig S.K. Chatterji retired as the deputy director-general of the Army’s Directorate of Public Information

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

ASSETS OF JUDGES

PUBLIC DISCLOSURE WOULD BE RIGHT

 

Karnataka High Court Judge Justice D.V. Shylendra Kumar deserves to be commended for having stressed the need for judges to disclose their assets in national interest. Significantly, his views are at variance with those of the Chief Justice of India, Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, who had taken the position that throwing open the information to the public may lead to harassment of judges. Justifiably, Justice Shylendra Kumar has supported disclosure from the standpoint of the people’s fundamental right to know under Article 19 (i) (a) of the Constitution as also under the Right to Information Act. Interestingly, Justice Kumar dispels the CJI’s apprehensions of the judges’ “safety and security” in the event of their disclosing the assets and avers that the rule of law should operate “uniformly” — something which the Supreme Court itself had maintained in various judicial pronouncements over the years. The Tribune, too, has been commenting in these columns that judges, being constitutional functionaries, should not claim any immunity from the rule of law in the interest of transparency and accountability.

 

Though the Centre has deferred the introduction of the Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill, 2009, in the recent session of Parliament, one cannot but recall the controversial Clause VI of this Bill which required judges to declare their assets to their superiors but spared them from being made public. Had the Bill been passed, it would have served little public interest. No wonder, many members had opposed it.

 

The need for asset disclosure has become far greater today because of the increasing cases of corruption involving the members of the judiciary. There is also a growing public perception that there is lack of accountability and transparency in the judiciary. Moreover, when most judges are known to be just and impartial, command people’s respect and have nothing to hide, they should not be reluctant to disclose their assets. Instead, they should come forward and support the cause of transparency as Justice Shylendra Kumar has done.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

                   EDITORIAL

THE AFGHAN POLL

SOME RELIEF THAT IT WENT THROUGH

 

THE very fact that the presidential elections in violence-torn Afghanistan could be held successfully last Thursday is an achievement in itself. Most of the country’s nearly 7,000 polling stations remained open all day despite 20 people losing their lives in 73 incidents of terrorist violence reported on the polling day alone. The Taliban threat failed to hit the electoral exercise as badly as was feared. There is nothing surprising in the low voter turnout. It is, in fact, encouraging for those engaged in establishing order in Afghanistan that a large number of people risked their lives to express their faith in democracy.

 

All eyes are now fixed on the results, which will be known in a few days. The incumbent President, Mr Hamid Karzai, seems to have an edge over his most formidable challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, but the situation this time has been totally different from that in 2004, when democratic Afghanistan went to the polls for the first time. Then Mr Karzai had trounced his challengers by winning 55 per cent of the votes cast. Today there are fears of a second round of polling because the Karzai government has miserably failed to come up to the people’s expectations. His five-year rule has been known for rampant corruption and inefficiency at every level.

 

The Afghanistan government’s failure to deliver has led to the resurgence of the Taliban in most parts of the country. There has not been enough development activity to prevent the Taliban from remaining a force to be reckoned with. Mr Karzai’s alliance with warlords like Abdur Rashid Dostum for winning the elections may further embolden the forces of instability. Mr Karzai may come back to power, exploiting his Pashtun background and US support, but the country will have to pay a heavy price for his desperate acts, though guided by political expediency.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

‘HONOUR’ KILLING

AMRITSAR BOY THE LATEST VICTIM

 

THE gruesome murder of Harpreet Singh who was killed by the relatives of his beloved at Amritsar recently is yet another manifestation of the medieval mindset that continues to sanction murder in the name of protecting family honour. In the prosperous states of Punjab and Haryana, young couples that dare defy tradition and parental pressure are often hounded, hacked, shot dead or strangled by enraged family members. In Haryana, khap panchayats have been making a mockery of law and have openly passed “death verdicts” against couples.

 

Boys and girls are targeted for marrying out of caste, for belonging to the same gotra and in one case for hailing from the same village. Honour killings are taking place in Punjab and Haryana with shocking regularity. According to the All-India Democratic Women’s Association while six or seven cases are reported every month in Haryana, several go unreported. Recently, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, who called honour killings a national shame, suggested various measures, including sensitising police officials to deal with the deplorable practice. A pilot scheme of “safe houses” — the first to be set up in Rohtak — where the newly wed will start their lives under police protection, too, is on the anvil.

 

While all these are welcome steps, there can be no substitute to stringent enforcement of the law. Until the guilty are treated and punished like ordinary criminals, the cold-blooded murder of young innocent couples will continue. The Home Minister has rightly held that “honour killing is murder and has to be tried and dealt with as murder.” This message has to be driven home loud and clear. The answer doesn’t lie in creating a new law as demanded by some but to ensure that the present one is implemented with rigour.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

            OP-ED

MORE SUICIDES

FARMERS STILL HAVE TO LOOK UP

BY NIRMAL SANDHU

 

Twenty-four suicides in 40 days in Andhra Pradesh alone are shocking enough, reflecting the level of desperation the farming community is faced with. There is no coordinated effort countrywide to assess or prevent farmers’ distress before they are driven to the edge. Farmers’ plight is revealed in the number of suicides the media reports. The government response comes in packages.

 

Andhra farmers are killing themselves despite the state government giving them free power, waiving and subsidising their loans and offering a rehabilitation package on the recommendations of a commission that studied the state’s agrarian crisis during 1997-2004.

 

To help them cope with the drought, the state government has given farmers subsidised seeds to sow paddy-alternative crops like maize, groundnut and soyabean, provided fodder for cattle and drinking water wherever required apart from rescheduling loans.

 

Such preparedness is missing in other states. Punjab has no plan or money to help farmers, whose production costs have spiralled due to deficient rains. Political leaders here do not think beyond clamouring for Central aid and a higher MSP for paddy. Mercifully, the situation here is not that critical.

 

Farming is a labour-intensive, slow-growing, whole-time engagement, offering hand-to-mouth living to some 60 percent of the 1.1 billion Indians. Despite huge state subsidies, agriculture is unrewarding even when the monsoon is normal. But deficient rains exacerbate the pain.

 

About 1,50,000 farmers have reportedly killed themselves since 1997. Most suicides have occurred in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Punjab. The media has highlighted the issue. Academics have debated it. The government has reacted. But the problem has defied a solution.

 

Why farmers in relatively better-off states like Andhra Pradesh and Punjab end their lives unlike their counterparts in the poorer states of Bihar, Orissa and UP needs to be studied.

 

Widening economic disparities might be contributing to growing despair. Funding ostentatious lifestyle, expensive social ceremonies, rising costs of healthcare and education, buying expensive farming inputs and tractors are also often blamed for the farmers’ deteriorating plight.

 

In the absence of ready cash flow and cumbersome banking procedures, farmers turn to private moneylenders in case of an emergency and thus expose themselves to exploitation.

 

To address some of these issues, the UPA government first announced a Rs 25,000-crore package for the families of indebted farmers who had killed themselves and then a Rs 65,000-crore debt waiver. But reports indicate such state help has not stopped farmers’ suicides.

 

That is partly because real causes of slow agricultural growth are not addressed. How can anyone dependent on agriculture hope to grow faster when the farm sector itself is growing at not more than 2 per cent annually?

 

The share of agriculture in the GDP has declined, but is still high. According to a study by Morgan Stanley, agriculture accounts for 17.5 percent of the economy, down from 30 percent in the 1990s. In China agriculture forms 10.6 percent of the economy and in Indonesia its share stands at 13.5 percent.

 

Too many people in India depend on farming, which is unsustainable. Small, fragmented land-holdings make the use of latest inputs and farm machinery unviable. If small land-owners find it hard to survive, imagine the plight of the landless and farm workers!

 

There is need to wean surplus labour and farmers from land, equip them with skills in demand and retrain them for fast-growing sectors of the economy.

 

Second, India’s next Green Revolution can happen if the focus is shifted to dry land farming, which the panel under M.S. Swaminathan has studied in detail, but his recommendations are gathering dust in official cupboards. Sixty percent of India’s cropped area is without irrigation.

 

Exhausted by intensive farming, Punjab, Haryana and western UP, perhaps, need a break from fertilizers and pesticides to recoup soil nutrients.

 

Third, paddy has played havoc with the water resources of Punjab and Haryana. Farmers in the two states are over-exploiting groundwater, for which the coming generations may have to pay a heavy price. Traditional ponds have dried up and the rivers and canals carry much less water than before. Rainwater goes waste.

 

Instead of encouraging a shift from paddy to low water-consuming crops, political leaders ask for higher minimum support prices for paddy and supply free power and subsidized diesel to farmers to encourage more and more pumping out of groundwater.

 

Fourth, there is a wide gap between the prices that farmers get and what consumers pay for fruits, vegetables and other farm produce. According to a Reuters report, India has 120 million farmers and their produce is sold at 7,500 regulated markets by five million middlemen.

 

While buyers usually pay 20 percent more price for a farm commodity, growers get as little as 25 percent of the final price of their raw produce against 40-60 percent in the US and Britain.

 

In India middlemen and taxes add to the high cost as also lack of storage space and pilferage during transportation. Fruits and vegetables worth Rs 65,000 crore go waste annually in India.

 

The Punjab government is still drafting a Bill – started in 2006 – to save indebted farmers from the clutches of private moneylenders. After much dithering, the government has ordered direct payments to farmers instead of routing these through arhtiyas.

 

Political leaders make announcements more for headlines than for helping the needy. Without counting the dead or probing reasons for suicides, the Punjab government announced Rs 2 lakh relief for the family of every farmer who had committed suicide between 2000 and 2008. Then it backtracked and quietly decided that only the suicides committed between 2006 and 2008 would be compensated in the initial phase.

 

The Punjab government has just asked three state universities to count farm suicides in the state, obviously to claim Central aid, which was denied in the last package as the state leadership could not offer credible proof of indebted farmers killing themselves.

 

Instead of taking preventive steps to stop suicides and making proactive plans to build rural infrastructure and boost villagers’ incomes, the government focusses on post-operation care when the patient is already dead. Politics is played even with lost lives.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

            OP-ED

HANG ON – CRISIS ISN’T OVER YET

BY STEVEN PEARLSTEIN

 

You’ve probably heard that the nation’s financial system is out of the intensive care unit but still requires enough support that it’s not ready to be released from the hospital. A big reason: the fear of a relapse caused by the collapse of the commercial real estate market.

 

To understand the problem, think back to the height of the credit bubble in 2007, when $230 billion worth of office buildings, hotels and shopping centers were financed through the magic of securitization — that process in which loans were assembled into packages and sold off in pieces to investors.

 

The credit bubble has burst. Commercial property values have fallen an average of 35 percent, with further declines expected as the recession drives more tenants out of business or puts them behind in their rent payments. The process of securitizing new loans has ground to a complete halt, and the limited financing that’s available now comes from banks and insurance companies on much tougher terms.

 

Loans now are typically for no more than 60 percent of a property’s current value, with an interest rate four percentage points above the Treasury rate. Borrowers must also repay principal, which is like adding another two percentage points to an interest-only loan.

 

All of this has been wrenching for the industry — particularly for some of the biggest names, such as General Growth Properties, Maguire Properties and Tishman Speyer, which bought at the top of the market. Not only has their equity been pretty much wiped out, but those who financed their bubble purchases have lost anywhere from 35 cents to 100 cents on every dollar lent.

 

Unfortunately, this isn’t just a tragedy for rich developers, bankers and investors. It’s also a problem for the rest of us.

 

For starters, local and regional banks have so many souring commercial real estate loans that they have begun to fail at a rate not seen since ... well, you know. The latest was Colonial Bank of Alabama, which was rescued last week at a cost to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. of about $2.8 billion, the sixth-largest bank failure in history.

 

And over the coming year, it will be a rare Friday afternoon that the FDIC doesn’t announce the takeover of some bank that lent too much to local builders and commercial real estate developers despite abundant evidence that a bubble had developed. It’s a good bet the agency will have to replenish its coffers by drawing on its line of credit from the U.S. Treasury.

 

Then there’s the matter of half a trillion dollars in securitized loans that were made during the bubble and will be coming due over the next few years. These will need to be refinanced. Unless the securitization machine can be cranked up again, there’s simply not enough lending capacity at the banks and insurance companies to fill the gap. Moreover, there can be no refinancing until the current owners of the buildings come up with billions of dollars in fresh equity to make up for what has already been lost.

 

So how does all this get resolved?

 

In the case of buildings that still generate rents sufficient to pay the monthly interest charges, the lenders — that is the holders of the mortgage-backed securities — will probably agree to extend the loan for a few years in the hope that property values quickly rebound and the market for securitized loans revives. “Amend, extend and pretend,” as my friend Arthur, the real estate maven, put it.

 

In the case of projects with rising vacancies and falling rents, however, the more likely scenario is that the lenders would foreclose on the property and sell it for whatever they can get. The problem is that if too many buildings are dumped on the market at the same time, it would trigger a self-reinforcing downward cycle that could depress property values even further, leading to more foreclosures and causing even more banks to fail. That’s what happened back in the savings and loan crisis.

 

This is why commercial real estate is now a top priority for policymakers in Washington. Earlier last week, the Treasury and the Federal Reserve quietly extended until next June their program to offer low-cost loans to banks, hedge funds and other investors willing to purchase mortgage-backed securities.

 

While $3 billion has now been lent for the purchase of securities issued before the crisis, there’s been no lending for newly issued securities, because no new securities have been issued. Government and industry officials say this reflects a continuing distrust of the securitization process and widespread concern among investors that property values still have further to fall. They also cite the difficulty in finding the additional equity capital necessary to make refinancing possible.

 

Hang on — this financial crisis isn’t over just yet.

 

By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

 

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THE TRIBUNE

CHATTERATI

DRAMA AT AIRPORT TO PROMOTE FILM?

BY DEVI CHERIAN

 

Shahrukh Khan’s detention for two hours by American immigration officials has been blown out of proportion. It gives the feel of a scene right out of his new film “My Name is Khan”.

 

What’s the big deal? If former US Vice-President and Noble Prize winner AL Gore can be frisked and detained at a US airport, why can’t an Indian star? Gore was, in fact, pleased and commented, “Good, now things are improving here.”

 

The world’s lone superpower has the inalienable right to secure itself against any threat. If religious or racial profiling is one of the methods, we really cannot change or challenge that, can we?

 

However, Americans are not fanatics or zealots. I do agree with the tit-for-tat policy though. We also have the right to secure ourselves by all means. But we insist on bending rules for our politicians, celebrities and other public figures.

 

The wait for Shahrukh was because of his baggage being delayed. Many of our leaders, including President Abdul Kalam, have over the years been frisked by the US authorities, but never such ruckus was created. So was this incident used to promote Khan’s new film? After all Karan Johar and Shahrukh are both great marketers.

 

MAYA MEMSAAB GETS BIRKIN BAGS

There is no end to Mayawati and her whims. At a huge cost to the exchequer, Mayawati’s statues all over Uttar Pradesh is a story in itself.

 

We all know that Mayawati has developed a fetish for designer bags. After somebody commented on how in one of her statues the bag in her hand looked a plastic imitation of Hermes’s Birkin bag, she learnt all about the bag in question.

 

Then, of course, the leader was very offended. So with the help of her latest columnist best friend, Mayawati is said to have ordered directly from Paris a Birkin bag in every colour.

 

The only other lady in the world who is known to have the famous Birkin bag in every colour is super model Victoria Beckham, wife of David Beckham, the world’s number one football player.

 

Each bag has a waiting for months before delivery and costs Rs 3 lakh onwards, depending on the colour and size.

 

But, of course nothing is either too expensive or too difficult to get for our Maya Memsaab. She is, once again, having a makeover. She has lost weight, got a new haircut and a new wardrobe. After all, Bhenjis do turn modern, we all know.

 

Pramod Mahajan’s ‘secrets’ out

 

Written and published in 10 days, a 102-page Marathi book, priced at Rs 120, is the new best seller. It is a book written by Pravin Mahajan, brother of the late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan, from inside the jail.

“Maja Album”, published by his wife Sarangi, has been a best seller even without a single review. The author has made some stunning “revelations” about his successful brother, which will, no doubt, embarrass both the family and the BJP.

 

Pravin’s many secrets have led to this book becoming a best seller. It is going to be published in English soon. The Sangh Parivar and the BJP clearly are very upset about how controversies keep springing up these days.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAl

THREAT TO GUWAHATI

 

Because of its cosmopolitan nature, Guwahati city is fast becoming a preferred destination for the militant groups based in the neighbouring States, while, the militant groups of Assam always target the city to gain maximum publicity to prove their strength. Of course, in recent times, the city police achieved considerable success in the operations against militants as a number of militants were either arrested or killed in the city. But it is virtually impossible to nab militants from other States taking shelter in the city if they do not indulge in any act of violence. Thousands of students from the neighbouring States are in the city for studying in different educational institutions and it will be impossible to ascertain if any militant comes to the city in the guise of a student. In recent months, the city police apprehended a number of militants belonging to Manipur based groups and it is reported that the militants from the neighbouring States also come to Guwahati for treatment. To deal with the situation, the Assam police should maintain regular contact with the police forces of the neighbouring States and effort should be made to keep a watch on the hospitals and nursing homes. Vigil on the inter-State bus terminus, railway station and airport should also be increased to prevent entry of militants from the neighbouring States to Guwahati and there is urgent need for regular interaction between the intelligence wings of the police forces of all the North Eastern States to monitor inter-State movement of militants.


On the other hand, the militant groups of Assam have always been targeting Guwahati city as any explosion in Guwahati attracts maximum publicity. Over the years, Guwahati city experienced a number of blasts, particularly in the areas like Ganeshguri, Fancy Bazar and Athgaon. Apart from trying to gain publicity and prove their existence, the militants may also be trying to scare the business community to force them to pay the money demanded by the militant groups. Despite repeated appeals by the police, some rented house owners are not complying with the request to provide detailed information about the tenants, which is very unfortunate and the Government should consider bringing in a legislation to force the owners of the rented houses to provide all the details of the tenants to the nearest police station as there have been instances of militants staying in rented houses, particularly in the hills and outskirts of the city. The Government should also force the owners of the private hostels to provide details of the inmates to the police so that the credentials of the inmates can be checked to prevent militants from staying in such hostels. Efforts should also be made to activate all the citizens’ committees as such committees can become force multipliers and increase the strength of the police force.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAl

WOMEN UNEMPOWERED

 

For the few who know it is a shame, for those who do not it would come as a shock. Decades after Independence, lives of scores of female workers in the tea estates of Assam are scarred by the ravages of illiteracy, ignorance and ill health. The women whose labour is indispensable for creating the perfect brew that generates huge revenue find themselves in a cycle of excruciating anguish. Recent reports based on field investigations have established facts that the Assam Government or tea estate owners can overlook only at their own peril. Most of the women work for a pittance — they cannot hope to earn more than Rs 60 a day, an amount that appears more ludicrous when compared to benefits available to other tea garden employees. The meagre earnings are indeed inadequate to acquire food items that could form a nutritious diet. It is not just wages which make their lives difficult, the facilities available in the form of healthcare is equally appalling. Most tea gardens have been functioning without proper healthcare, others with a single doctor. Not surprisingly, ailments such as anaemia, dysentery, high blood pressure are rampant among the population. Some experts have rightly observed that women grow old faster in tea gardens compared to their neighbours living outside the estates.


The fact that illiteracy is common in the tea gardens adds to the tribulations of female workers who endure superstitions, early marriage and multiple child births. Till today, elementary education is all that girls can aspire for inside the estates, as owners perceive no advantage in opening high schools in their domain. It is also known that the scope for establishing Self-Help Groups comprising female tea garden workers has not been fully explored. Lack of basic amenities like electricity, sanitation and running water is evident in many tea estates, creating great inconvenience to female workers both young and old. Successive State Governments have been unable to recognise the needs of the women workers and to make appropriate interventions suggesting the lack of political will to achieve social objectives. Government response to the needs of female workers is a travesty of the notion of equitable development as the most fundamental rights of the group remain inaccessible. The time to plan and act has arrived; unless the Assam Government makes specific interventions in crucial areas such as health, education, micro-finance and skill training, women in tea estates will not emerge from their unempowered existence.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAl

UNHEALTHY INDUSTRY-POLITICIAN NEXUS

PRAFUL BIDWAI

 

Regardless of what happens to the contentious dispute, also called epic battle, between the Ambani brothers over the supply of natural gas from the Krishna-Godavari Basin, three things are crystal-clear. One, the dispute’s huge political dimension dwarfs its legal or commercial issues such as the agreement signed between Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries and Anil Ambani’s Reliance Natural Resources on the purchase of gas at a particular price. Battle-lines stand drawn between political parties over whom they’ll back. The Supreme Court hearing scheduled for September 1 will further polarise opinion.


Second, the natural gas sector remains under-governed despite its importance—not just financially, but as a key fuel in India’s much-needed transition to a low-carbon economy. There have been about 100 discoveries of natural gas and oil since the new exploration licensing policy was launched 10 years ago. The value of these stocks is estimated at a substantial 15 per cent of India's GDP. But the government has generally adopted a “hands-off” approach to the gas business–only , to intervene at critical junctures in a partisan manner.


Third, there is no clarity in policy on the use or pricing of gas, and on different options including conservation, pace of production and its alternative uses as chemical feedstock and fuel. Excessive concentration and monopolies/oligopolies are emerging in gas production and downstream industries. These will raise costs across-the-board, and harm the larger economy.


Although the government says it will intervene in the Ambani case only to defend the “public interest” and assert the national ownership of gas, it isn’t easy for the public to believe it’ll act impartially and fairly, given its recent record of caving in to powerful industrialists.


Meanwhile, in another scandal, India’s private airlines are arm-twisting the government to rescue them as their losses skyrocket from Rs 4,009 crores to Rs 10,000 crores. They even threatened to go on strike. Although that call has been withdrawn, this cartel’s pressure hasn’t eased. It’s demanding a reduction in the price of aviation turbine fuel (ATF), which is 40 percent higher than in many Western/Gulf countries. It also wants airport user-fees lowered.


While the airlines have a point on the high fees charged by private airport developers, they’re silent on their own default—dues of Rs 3,000 crores-plus to the National Airports Authority and public sector oil companies. ATF prices are high in India because of cross-subsidies on diesel, kerosene and LPG. The airlines got into the aviation business fully knowing this.


Pampered for years, the private airlines are in trouble for two reasons. First, they expanded recklessly in their rush to grab as big a market share as possible. Second, the government deregulated the sector wholesale, jettisoning norms of prudence like adequate capitalisation, and allowing carriers to set their own routes, flight schedules and time-slots. All kinds of fly-by-night (literally) operators entered aviation. They abused their “freedom” to rig fares and slots and corner the public-owned Indian Airlines (since merged with Air India).


Furious expansion led to a 30 to 50 percent overcapacity in aviation. But carriers kept ordering more aircraft to retain market shares, thus aggravating overcapacity and losing more money. They nurtured the illusion that air travel would become affordable for “the common man”. Many airlines set their fares predatorily low to lure passengers away from rail travel. Yet, at the peak of the ultra-low fare regime, only three percent of the Indian population was flying!


By 2007, many airlines had become unviable. Jet bought out Sahara and Kingfisher acquired Deccan in anti-ccompetitive mergers, which shouldn't have been allowed in the first place. Then came the economic slowdown. The private airlines, which are products of, and glorify, “free enterprise”, now want the state to rescue them with public money! The state should do nothing of the sort. Those who live by the free market should die by the free market.


This is a good occasion to ask some questions about business-politics relations in India. Contrary to the claim that liberalisation, launched in 1991, would end much-abused “licence-permit raj” and make the government irrelevant in economic decision-making, the state’s importance remains unaltered although its site and focus have changed. Businessmen have become increasingly cynical in manipulating the state, often in criminal ways, to corner scarce resources and earn rent and super-profits. They have developed this into a fine art.


Historically, Indian businessmen have used three methods in this enterprise: bribing or buying up ministers, and increasingly bureaucrats, to secure exemptions from the rules, to get permits or receive other favours; second, getting nominated to advisory bodies such as the Prime Minister’s Council on Trade and Industry and various state-level committees; and third, influencing, if not determining, the appointment of ministers and senior officials in various departments of the government to rig high-level decision-making directly.


The first, well-established, route includes the creation of income-earning opportunities for politicians/bureaucrats and their relations and sharing of kickbacks on contracts, especially those generally shielded from public scrutiny such as defence deals. The favours sought are increasing in their sophistication. In place of illegitimate licences or overnight changes of rules, businessmen want alterations in the terms of auctioning processes. Many businessmen have become MPs to access classified information on and influence policy on their industries.


The second method was inaugurated by the National Democratic Alliance, which nominated industrialists with a stake in particular fields (e.g. infrastructure, textiles, aviation, information technology) to head policy advisory committees. The United Progressive Alliance has continued this, albeit less blatantly. The scope of industry-dominated committees has been expanded to regulation too—as with the just-created Food Safety Authority.


Once Big Business captures the regulatory heights, it’s virtually impossible to control or monitor its activities and bring it to book. That’s just what’s happening to the environmental impact assessment and clearance process. That’s also true of the Satyam scam, which exposed the failure of all supervisory bodies, including the statutory auditor, independent directors, Institute of Chartered Accounts of India and the Securities and Exchange Board of India.


The third method is particularly pernicious because it means directly infiltrating the government. Yet, its use is growing. It’s well known that certain business houses determine or veto appointments to crucial ministries, from the director or joint secretary level upwards. Their nominees always ensure that their narrow interests are protected.


And now, the UPA has established a fourth method by inducting business executives into minister-status jobs. The nomination of Infosys co-founder and ex-CEO Nandan Nilekani as chairman of the new Unique Identification Authority of India with Cabinet rank and that of management consultant Arun Maira as a Planning Commission member set a bad precedent.


The danger of a corporate capture of government isn’t imaginary. It’s a growing phenomenon. Sections of the media celebrate it as a great advance—only by ignoring the clear conflict of interest that’s involved. Corporations represent the narrow profit- seeking self-interest of businessmen whose forte is not Constitutional values. But politics is a contestation about just those values and public morality. It must not be suborned by business interests.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAl

MANIPUR: A BOILING CAULDRON

RANI PATHAK DAS

 

Separatists in Manipur must be having their last laugh. Once again, the armed forces in Manipur have provided the militants a reason to celebrate by committing gross human rights violation on July 23 when they killed Chongkham Sanjit, a 27-year-old youth in a so called ‘encounter’ which is allegedly fake. Since 1980, when the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) 1958 was actually applied in Manipur to tackle insurgency, the success of counter-insurgency operations has been minimal. Instead, it has only given way to civil unrest as is seen in several cases, including the Monorama Devi murder at the hands of security forces in July 2004 and the naked protest that rocked the nation. Such mass agitation against security forces on the other hand only help the militants to draw public sympathy. The impact of the enforcement of AFSPA in Manipur has, if anything, been questionable.


The people of the region have been suffering at the hands of both militants and security forces for decades, but the substantial rise in alleged fake encounter cases in Manipur since 2008 has become a matter of serious concern. This is reflected in the present widespread protest against the killing of Chongkham Sanjit, a former People’s Liberation Army (PLA) militant, along with Rabina Devi, a pregnant woman, by a heavily-armed detachment from Manipur’s Rapid Action Police Force in Imphal on July 23. The citizens living in Manipur today are seen sacrificing the very Fundamental Right to life in the name of counter insurgency exercised by the armed forces.


Since 2008 till July 2009, the number of “fake” encounter cases registered by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) shows that Manipur reported the second highest number of such incidents. Compared to Uttar Pradesh – a state much bigger than Manipur – which has consistently been reporting the highest number of alleged fake encounter cases, Manipur has witnessed a substantial rise - from only one case during 2007-08 to 16 in 2008-09 and six during the first four months (April-July) during 2009-10. The statistics is really alarming.


On August 2, people came out to the streets against trigger-happy cops in Manipur demanding a probe into the July 23 ‘fake encounter’. The flare-up was triggered by the reproduction of photographs, first published in Tehelka, a Delhi-based portal, then in Imphal-based newspapers showing policemen leading Chongkham Sanjit to a pharmacy and emerging with his body. Joining the protest, Apunba Lup, a conglomerate of more than 30 civilian organisations demonstrated its first phase of agitation with a 48-hour general strike paralysing Manipur on August 3 and 4. Curfew was imposed at 10 pm on August 4, and it was declared for an indefinite period since August 5. Organisations across Manipur, including leaders of Manipur People’s Party (MPP), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Congress and CPI(M) separately called on Governor Gurbachan Jagat on August 4 and urged him to intervene and stop killings of civilians in “fake encounters”. Representatives of Apunba Lup submitted a memorandum to the Governor on August 11.


The Government’s reaction came with an order of magisterial enquiry, then a judicial probe into the incident and suspension of six commandos of the Manipur Police involved in the incident. But can such action stop fake encounters in the State? It seems that the Government is more keen on dousing the movement rather than dealing with the root cause. As the Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh said, “Considering the public outcry and the Opposition’s demand, we have decided to hold a judicial inquiry into the incident.”

The action by the security personnel on July 23 is not without precedence in Manipur. In 2000, Irom Sharmila started a fast after the killing of 10 civilians, including an 18-year-old National Child Bravery Award winner, by Assam Rifles. Since then, she has been protesting against the draconian AFSPA. Sharmila is still continuing with her fast. In the most striking agitation against AFSPA, on July 15, 2004, forty women congregated on the main entrance of Kangla Fort, the headquarters of the Assam Rifles ’9 Sector protesting against the custodial killing of Thangjam Manorama who they alleged was raped before being killed. Of them, a dozen elderly women shed their clothes in broad daylight and held banners that read, “Indian Army take our flesh”, “Indian Army rape us”. It was an unprecedented instance of fury and frustration at the excesses by security forces in the name of counter-insurgency measures. The massive protest spread all over the State cutting across communities demanding repeal, or withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 from Manipur.


The Government’s response was not satisfactory. For the masses, the authorities were simply out to crush their democratic rights. The government ruled out the possibility of repealing or withdrawing the Act and maintained a wait and watch policy. The response of the government to such public outcry in the past cases has only raised the belief among the public that security forces in the state are not there to secure their lives, but to put their lives in jeopardy. As the deceased Sanjit’s mother, Inaotombi Devi, said, “Life is very cheap in Manipur.”


In December 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that the Government is considering to amend the controversial law and remove its most stringent provisions. The announcement came after the clear advice of the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee, which reviewed the Act. The Review Committee said: “The Act, for whatever reason, has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness.”


At a time when the use or misuse of the Act has become a serious matter of public concern and the source of a sustained mass agitation, the Centre’s assurance that the Act would be modified and re-emerge with a ‘human face’ should act as an antidote to the public hysteria against it. Moreover, when such counter-insurgency activities like fake encounters are being exploited by the insurgents to their own advantages, the big question remains as why the Government is not hurrying up to modify the AFSPA and have it in a new avatar.


(The writer is a Research Associate with the Centre for Development and Peace Studies.)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

ENVIRONMENTAL CLEARANCE

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s call to ease the problems with environmental clearance provides entrepreneurs the hope that the Centre would soon take measures to address their concerns. Several projects involving thousands of crores of investment are stuck for want of clearances from environment ministry or other concerned departments.


These include mega power projects, airports, mining projects, national highways, townships and low-cost housing. All of which contribute to improving the infrastructure necessary to raise economic growth and provide people a better quality of life. The PM has rightly alluded to environmental clearances becoming a new source of licence raj and corruption.


As the PM stressed, there is need to remove these hurdles with a sense of urgency, while balancing development and environmental concerns. An attempt to ease some of the conditions for environmental clearances stipulated in September 2006 notification of the ministry of environment and forests is already in public domain for discussion.


Many of these suggestions have drawn sharp reaction from the green lobby, some which are in order as the cost of development, disregarding concerns of the local people and the ecology, can prove to be heavy later.

Yet, maintaining the status quo on procedures for environmental clearances will not do the country any good. No one disputes that every project, particularly those that are intrusive in nature or produces significant amount of pollutants or effluents, needs to be assessed for its impact on the ecological balance. That is why we need to have an efficient environment impact assessment (EIA) processes in place, with clearance being granted within the stipulated time period.


Sadly, many states are yet to establish state EIA authorities that would take on this responsibility. There is also the need to establish an effective coordination mechanism between the Centre and states to pave way for a credible and efficient system of assessment and clearance as environment falls in the Concurrent List, and states exercise control over many natural resources. In any case, policies should be geared towards pulling people out of poverty without compromising the country’s environmental security.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BE FLEXIBLE ON PUBLIC FLOATS

 

The government has reportedly decided that listed companies that have less than 25% public holding must divest 5% annually till they achieve the minimum threshold. It is desirable that companies have a certain minimum public float which brings more transparency, increases liquidity, reduces volatility in share price, and ensures greater public participation in wealth creation.


However, having allowed companies to list with as little as a 10% public offer, the government must show flexibility while asking them to come up to a minimum 25% limit. As argued by us repeatedly, public float is not just about issuing new shares.


If the increase happens through fresh equity, as opposed to a dilution by the promoters, the capital structure of the company gets altered. This may not always be in the interest of the shareholders, the very constituency government is trying to protect through this measure. A company forced into issuing fresh equity could well be saddled with extra cash, apart from depressing returns, and such cash could tempt it to make sub-optimal investments or expensive acquisitions.


Its debt-equity structure would also get altered, affecting shareholder returns. Therefore, it would make sense to provide some flexibility to companies in complying with this requirement, let us say over a 2-3-year period, allowing them to increase public stake at the time they find most appropriate. Besides, we are talking about share sales running into lakhs of crores. The market should also have the depth to absorb this kind of equity issuance.


Instead of prescribing that companies maintain at least 25% public shareholding at all times, it should be an average of 25% over a period, say, a year. This will again give listed companies leeway in managing their capital. For instance, if a company found its shares hugely undervalued and had excess cash, it could then buy back shares even if it meant coming below the 25% limit for some time. The company could subsequently issue shares at an opportune time and go beyond the 25% limit, allowing it to maintain an average 25% over a period. Needless to say, such flexibility would have to be within limits.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BULB FICTION

 

Nearly a century ago, British foreign secretary Lord Grey is said to have commented on the eve of the first World War: “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall ever see them lit again in our lifetime.” There is no indication of any impending mass conflict of that kind on Europe’s horizon now, but this prescient remark is ringing true again, albeit in an entirely different context.


Come September, all conventional frosted incandescent lightbulbs will be banned by the European Union, in an effort to cut carbon dioxide emissions and trim energy bills. That means those pearly fancy tulip and golfball-shaped bulbs, as well as the clear 100-watt versions with conventional shapes, have been outlawed in favour of low energy CFL ones. Only clear 60 watt bulbs have got a minor lease on life, till September 2011.

In one fell stroke, the EU has thus extinguished the work of a long line of luminaries from Humphry Davy who engineered the first electric light in 1809 to Thomas Alva Edison who made a carbon filament incandescent bulb that lasted 40 hours to William Coolidge’s tungsten filament and onward to the long-lasting ‘ordinary’ light bulb of today.


Governments of member nations are quite thrilled with their guillotine move — Britain estimates that each household will save nearly £40 a year by switching to CFL and halogen bulbs, and the country as a whole will reduce carbon emissions by five million tonnes — but the same cannot be said of Europe’s residents.

Old habits die hard and people are inherently suspicious of CFLs, unwilling to pay more for them, and unsatisfied with their quality of light. All of these are concerns in India too. One popular reaction to the diktat can be easily predicted: hoarding. It has already begun in Austria, Hungary and Germany, with retailers reporting huge hikes in sales of ordinary incandescent bulbs. It is only to be hoped that the Indian government will address these misgivings before even contemplating switching off an era of enlightenment.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WILL THE RECESSION REALLY GO AWAY?

 

Most analysts have attributed the current recession in the developed countries to the greed and impropriety of leading financial institutions. However, a broader review of international economic trends during the last three decades would reveal that the recession was inevitable and the subprime mortgage crisis only hastened its arrival.


The recession stems from two basic trends in the developed economies. The first is a near saturation of demand for new manufactured goods because most households have the basic appliances, automobiles, apparel, etc, that they need.


This has been a consequence of the steadily growing consumer affluence over the post-War decades with increasing wage levels. This deceleration of demand growth has brought in its wake a stagnation of industrial growth. This is best illustrated by the trends in steel consumption, since steel is a constituent of a host of modern manufactured products.


Steel consumption in the US rose in the post-War boom years from 50 million tonnes in 1946 to peak at 110 million tonnes in 1975 and then started declining to reach around 90 million tonnes last year. More significantly, employment in the US steel industry has gone down from over 500,000 in 1974 to less than 150,000 now.


The second fundamental structural change has to do with a decline in the cost competitiveness of western manufactured goods arising from a steady increase in the wage costs. This has caused a shift to low wage countries in the east, first of manufacturing and, later on, even of services. Ironically, the unionised labour in the west, which was responsible for the high wage spiral, has been the worst hit by job losses in the current slowdown.

 

For a while, the increase in wage costs was compensated in the developed countries by improved productivity through the deployment of superior technologies and more efficient systems. However, as the east caught up with these tactics the west lost the productivity advantage. There was a time when microprocessor fabrication, a highly complex process, was wholly centred in the west. But countries like South Korea and Taiwan soon picked up the threads and now account for a majority of the devices made.


To some extent, the advanced countries have countered the flight of manufacture of conventional products to the east by leveraging their strength in cutting-edge research and innovating new products based on the spin-off technologies such as nanotechnology, biopharma, robotics, micro-motor systems and the like. But these are few and far between and the turnover from their sales is a fraction of what has been lost in the conventional product market.


The employment potential of these new industries is far lower than the declining conventional ones. Moreover, with their now enhanced capabilities in engineering and manufacture, it does not take the developing countries long to invade the new product space.


There are some products, like commercial jet liners, in which the developed countries maintain their stranglehold. But even these once impregnable niche areas are being successfully invaded by the developing world, as the success of Brazil’s Embraer has proved.

Perhaps the one sector where the advanced countries still maintain their edge is in defence equipment. This is because security concerns have forced them to pour in government funds in maintaining a lead in this area and keeping the technologies close to the chest. Thanks to the unrelenting spread of strife in the world, the global arms bazaar remains a good outlet for western industry. But it cannot make up for the loss of the civilian market.


The high incidence of unemployment in the G8 countries during the current recession can be attributed more to the circumstances detailed above than to the failure of banks. There is a vicious cycle operating here, with loss of market causing more unemployment which in turn further reduces demand. Since there is a fundamental structural shift here, the mere appearance of green shoots in the banking system will not lead to a major revival of the job market. I am afraid we may never see employment figures in the US or western Europe going back to the pre-recession levels.


This discomfiture of the west can offer no comfort to us, even though we have gained from the shift of manufacturing and services to the east. This is because the developed countries were the major customers for our exports. With those economies in decline, our exports have been badly hit.


And, if the unemployment rate there continues to remain high, as seems likely, our export sector, which churns out mainly consumer goods like apparel and jewellery, will remain in the doldrums for a long time to come. This is bad news for us, not just on the foreign exchange front but also the employment front, since many of our export industries are manpower-intensive. Perhaps, the strategy now adopted by the Indian jewellery industry to open manufacturing outlets in China, which looks likely to become the new consumer hub of the world, shows a way out.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

CLIMATE CHANGE TALKS: ANY HOPE?

PRASHANT GOYAL

 

The climate change negotiations are increasingly clogging the headlines as the Copenhagen deadline draws close. Is there really any hope for a Kyoto II deal? The developed countries (DdCs) seem to suggest at every conceivable occasion that the developing countries (DCs), in particular China and India, must undertake emission reduction commitments, forgetting that the current climate crisis is largely a result of the cumulative impact of accumulated greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted by DdCs . The US has still not ratified the Kyoto Protocol (KP) and Japan wants to shift the base reference for emission reduction under KP from 1990 to 2005.


India’s stand is not difficult to understand. India cannot compromise on its ambition of ensuring a decent life for its citizens, especially when teeming millions are still very poor. It has to make the obvious choice between livelihood needs of millions today and a climate crisis, say 50 years hence. Historical responsibility for the current crisis lies with DdCs and they should finance the DCs to adopt mitigation measures and assist them by way of transfer of technology (ToT). The DCs can at the most be held liable for their current carbon emissions and India is already undertaking voluntary action under its National Action Plan for Climate Change.


India accounts for around 4% of global emissions, as against 20% each for the US and China and 15% for EC. India’s per capita emissions of 1.8 tonnes/ annum are much lower than 20 tonnes/ annum of US. India has committed to not allow its per capita GHG emissions to exceed the average per capita emissions of DdCs. This effectively puts a cap on India’s emissions, which will be lower if DdCs choose to be more ambitious.

The Bali Action Plan called for Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action “supported and enabled by technology, financing and capacity building”. The DdCs claim that they have little say on ToT since most of the technologies are privately held. However, they are quite active in pushing a deal on elimination/ reduction in tariffs on environment goods as part of the Doha round, despite knowing that there are few purely environment goods and most of such goods, such as pumps, imported at zero/ low tariffs could easily be diverted to non-environment uses and disadvantage fledgling industries in DCs. The objective could possibly have been addressed through FDI in critical sectors in DCs, along with ToT and finance support.

If the climate issue is so critical, the DdCs should support an amendment to the TRIPS Agreement to facilitate compulsory licensing of critical patented climate-friendly technologies. The DCs, including India, may find difficult to work with the current compulsory licensing provision in TRIPS for they hardly have domestic industries with manufacturing capabilities to receive a compulsory licence for such critical technologies.


The Doha Declaration on TRIPS & Public Health is a way out since it allows countries without manufacturing capabilities to issue compulsory licence to foreign firms and import from them. However, as yet that Declaration has been used just once since 2001 and requires further refinements to deliver. Alternatively, to avoid any loss to innovators, competitive bidding for such technologies through multilateral funds could be undertaken and these publicly-funded technologies could be pooled and shared at affordable prices. Besides, large-scale capacity building in DCs to enable successful absorption and application of climate-friendly technologies is necessary.

As regards finance, are DdCs willing to commit, say 1% of their GDP for the purpose? Instead, there have been suggestions India and China be denied the benefit of Clean Development Mechanism under the KP. The provision has helped Indian firms invest in clean technologies and earn revenues from sale of carbon credits to firms in Annex I parties that need to reduce carbon emissions — a win-win situation.


The latest salvo from DdCs has been the proposal of border measures on imported goods as part of their climate change legislation. Such measures under the EU Emission Trading Scheme (from 2013) and American Clean Energy & Security Act (from 2020) are expected to avoid competitive disadvantage for their domestic producers vis-a-vis manufacturers in other countries and prevent production and jobs migration to less regulated countries, such as China and India.


This, despite studies that have generally concluded that the cost of compliance with domestic caps in DdCs has as yet proved to be a relatively minor component of the overall costs, which include transportation cost, energy prices and labour costs. The border measures would seek that either the exporting countries’ units conform to similar emission reduction norms as units in EC or US or suffer a carbon tax/ requirement to surrender emission allowances under the cap-and-trade regime. This would be akin to an additional tariff on imported products and thus a severe cost disadvantage for SMEs that account for bulk of DCs exports.


Such unilateral border measures may not only be incompatible with WTO rules but also difficult to administer on an industry and product-specific basis. Importantly, these would undo the UN Framework on Climate Change Convention’s (concluded at the historic Rio Summit in 1992) guiding principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility (CDR) and respective capabilities’ by equating the domestic and imported products at the customs border. Unilateral trade-restrictive measures are prohibited by the UNFCCC and the KP.


The UNFCCC clearly states that “measures taken to combat climate change, including unilateral ones, should not constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination or a disguised restriction on international trade”. The KP provides that its parties “shall strive to implement policies and measures in a way as to minimise adverse effects, including effects on international trade.”


International trade is not the root cause of global warming and using the trade route to address it is suspect. Trade is rather a recognised vehicle to generate economic surplus for sustainable development. Climate change is a global problem and requires a global cooperative response. Massive costs involved in stabilising and eventually reducing GHG emissions need to be shared among countries in accordance with the CDR principle. Any unilateral solution sought to be imposed on DCs in Copenhagen in derogation of the equity principle is likely to be thwarted by the combined might of the G-77, the DC grouping plus China.

(The author is a civil servant. Views are personal.)

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

INFRASTRUCTURE: GET THE BASICS RIGHT

 

When it rains hard even for half an hour, India’s capital ceases to be a functioning anarchy, the metaphoric description of our governance supplied by sympathetic India watchers more than a generation ago. This was shown to be the case last week when Delhi was brought to its knees. Gushing water from the streets, mixed with the sewage system, swept into people’s homes even in upscale areas; many localities were converted into murky ponds; city arteries came to look like rushing rivulets; the electrical and telephone systems crashed bringing chaos in their wake; parts of the roof gave way in the newly built airport; and the choked traffic was ground to helpless inertia. Darkness in the afternoon is an apt description of what came to pass. Something similar had happened a week earlier. The trouble is this has been occurring year after year, and those paid to deal with city maintenance have taken no notice, literally letting our tax rupee go down the drain. What is true of the seat of the national government is also true of the country’s financial capital, Mumbai, although the famous city has to contend with the high tide factor, and other specifics such as the elimination of mangroves, that may make matters worse when combined with sharp showers. About the provincial towns, the less said the better. The larger issue in question is of municipal governance. For some decades, standard urban services have virtually ceased to exist in the state capitals and mofussil towns. This is tied to a lethargic democracy characterised by an absence of elections in the local self-government tier of our laid-back system, and pervasive corruption which permits monies earmarked for urban maintenance and renewal to be misappropriated by local mafias of politicians and minor officials and private contractors. The new trend to be noticed is that the malaise that typified small towns and tier two and three cities has, in some ways, now come to engulf the nation’s capital, and no one is turning a hair as the buck is passed from one civic agency to another, the all too familiar phenomenon we encounter when those in authority are faced with questioning. Delhi’s case is urgent as the city is to host the Commonwealth Games in a year’s time and virtually every element of modern infrastructure under construction has as its underlying basis the reliable functioning of basic city systems. While it will be a terrible loss of face for a high-profile emerging economy such as India to present a flop infrastructure show at an international sporting event, the fundamental issues to be addressed concern the life conveniences of our own citizens. India’s metropolises for decades have been attracting a huge work force from the hinterland in search of livelihood. City planners have clearly failed to factor in the internal economic migration. Of no less significance is our failure to gear our bureaucratic machinery to present-day needs. In its first term the UPA government had promised a thorough re-look at the working mechanisms of the various levels of government with a view to making it contemporary, efficient, responsible and accountable. Of this we have not heard much of late. Our claims and aspirations to be a significant player on the regional and world stages will remain a matter of wishful thinking if we don’t get the basics right.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

USE NREGS TO FIGHT PRICE-RISE, DROUGHT

BY BY ARJUN SENGUPTA

 

The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, has called for urgent action to respond to the drought situation created by deficient monsoon this year. As delayed rainfall is being recorded even now, exact extent of the damage is still unclear. But nearly 200 districts, if not more, have already suffered, resulting in shrinking paddy cultivation that may leave us short by more than 10 million tonnes of rice production this year. However, complementary production programmes can be promoted as part of monsoon management, and it is prudent for us to prepare for the drought and the consequent increase in the prices of cereals.


There is now a call for increasing the production of rabi crops with increased minimum support price for wheat, tur dal and other foodgrains and pulses. As a part of short-term programmes, these efforts have not been very successful in the past and are unlikely to be a great success now.


It looks as if we are all set for the rise in foodgrain prices that will lead to a high rate of inflation. And I doubt that this can be controlled by anti-hoarding measures or by regulating or banning future trading. We have no alternative but to face the situation of inflation headlong.


But there is another line of response that needs contemplation if we are faced with a sharp increase in prices. We have been told that there is no risk of anybody dying of hunger from this year’s drought as we have a substantial stock of foodgrains from last year’s production and that it can more than compensate for the projected shortage of 10 million tonnes this year.


Taking into account the buffer stock of foodgrains we have, there should be no shortage and, therefore, no fear of death due to hunger. But we seem to have lost the lesson that Mr Amartya Sen has often repeated in the context of the great Bengal famine of the 1940s, when millions of people died in spite of storage godown overflowing with food supplies. Mr Sen developed the theory of entitlement according to which famines are caused not by shortfalls in availability of food articles but by the loss of purchasing power. Millions of farmers and poor peasants died because they had no purchasing power and there was no mechanism to provide them with income that would enable them to purchase foodgrains.


Something very similar is happening today — drought will not only reduce agricultural output but will take away the income and purchasing power of millions of farmers and their dependents. There will be a sudden surge in food shortage. And even if we are able to to expand the public distribution system to fully cover this population, it will remain a partial solution. Unless mechanisms are created to provide our poor people with sustainable job opportunities, and therefore purchasing power, food shortage will persist.
The recent drought situation has exposed the vulnerability of our economic development model. The poor people in India have no jobs worth the name. They are recorded in our statistics as “employed” but without a few hours of daily work they would not survive even if they take to begging, patty work or any short-term job.


The poor people in India are not just unemployed but also unemployable — without education, health, sanitation or minimum proper conditions of living. They form the country’s the so-called vulnerable group which the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) identified was 77 per cent of our population. The average income of this population is Rs 20 per day. No matter what the poverty line, they are the India’s poor — unfed, unclad and uneducated. They cannot be sustained if they do not have jobs and purchasing power.


It is the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) which has provided us with a mechanism to overcome this situation. Fortunately, we have already made some progress in implementing NREGS throughout the country.


Shelves of work has been prepared that can employ unskilled rural workers at minimum wages that can be paid out with minimum leakages. There are methods of monitoring and social auditing which would allow NREGS to expand massively, if there is political will and financial support. In a drought year, this is also the instrument most suitable to protect the drought-affected people.


The government has decided to extend this scheme by allowing coverage of jobs in small and marginal farmers’ land if they add to their productive capacity. A case can be made to further extend it to privately-owned land, if it helps increase irrigation facilities, water development projects or constructing ponds in private farmer areas. The NREGS can be used as wage subsidy for workers hired by private landowners if the work can be connected in some way to a local area development project or panchayat planning.
Without such subsidies, private employers would postpone their projects to a future, normal period. Examples of such projects include housing and construction, land development or feeder channels for irrigation.
NREGS can thus become a very effective instrument in planned development, creating jobs and purchasing power for the millions of unskilled and semi-skilled people in rural areas. It can be executed entirely as a public sector programme or as an example of public-private partnership.


There are several other programmes that can effectively transfer purchasing power to the poor. For example, a social security scheme, with public provisioning for sickness, accident, maternity, death and other health-related issues can help people save money they will have to otherwise spend. The purchasing power thus released can be spent on other goods and services.


Expanding public works programmes has been the classic instrument in all economies for meeting drought or famine-related conditions. Indian policymakers now have an effective instrument for extending public works, but the government needs to show enough will power to use that instrument effectively, not only as anti-poverty programme but also as a major instrument for development planning.

 

Dr Arjun Sengupta is a Member of Parliament and former economic adviser to
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

CONNECT NATURE’S DOTS TO SAVE THE PLANET

BY BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

 

Jao Flats, Botswana

 

Who knew that deep in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, where there are no paved roads, phones or TVs, you could find the morning paper waiting for you every day outside your tent, with the latest news, weather and sports? Who knew?


True, this is no ordinary journal. The newspaper here on the Jao Flats of the northwest Okavango flood plain is published on the roads — literally. The wetlands are bisected by hippo trails and narrow roads made from pure white Kalahari Desert sand. And every morning, when you set out to investigate the wilderness, it is not uncommon for a guide to lean out of his jeep, study the animal and insect tracks, and pronounce that he’s “reading the morning news”.


We were lucky to be accompanied by Map Ives — the 54-year-old director of sustainability for Wilderness Safaris, which supports ecotourism in Botswana — and it was fascinating to watch him read Mother Nature’s hieroglyphics.


This day’s “news”, Ives explained, studying a stretch of road, was that some lions had run very quickly through here, which he could tell by the abnormal depth of, and distance between, their paw prints. They were in stride. The “weather” was windy coming out of the east, he added, pointing to which side of the paw prints had been lightly dusted away. Flood waters remained high this morning, because the nearby hyena tracks were followed by little indentations — splashes of water that had come off their paws. Today’s “sports”? Well, over here — the hyenas were dragging a “kill”, probably a small antelope or steinbok, which is very obvious from the smooth foot-wide path in the sand that ran some 50 yards into the bushes. Every mile you can read a different paper.


It is mentally exhausting hanging with Ives, who was raised on the edge of the Okavango Delta. He points out the connections, and all the free services nature provides, every two seconds: Plants clean the air; the papyrus and reeds filter the water. Palm trees are growing on a mound originally built by termites. Yes, thank God for termites. All of the raised islands of green in the delta were started by them. The termites keep their mounds warm. This attracts animals whose dung brings seeds and fertiliser that sprout trees, making bigger islands. Ives will be talking to you about zebras and suddenly a bird will zip by — “greater blue-eyed starling”, he’ll blurt out in midsentence, and then go back to zebras.


“If you spend enough time in nature and allow yourself to slow down sufficiently to let your senses work, then through exposure and practice, you will start to sense the meanings in the sand, the grasses, the bushes, the trees, the movement of the breezes, the thickness of the air, the sounds of the creatures and the habits of the animals with which you are sharing that space”, said Ives. Humans were actually wired to do this a long time ago.


Unfortunately, he added, “the speed at which humans have improved technology since the Industrial Revolution has attracted so many people to towns and cities and provided them with ‘processed’ natural resources” that our innate ability to make all these connections “may be disappearing as fast as biodiversity”.


Which leads to the point of this column. We’re trying to deal with a whole array of integrated problems — climate change, energy, biodiversity loss, poverty alleviation and the need to grow enough food to feed the planet — separately. The poverty fighters resent the climate-change folks; climate folks hold summits without reference to biodiversity; the food advocates resist the biodiversity protectors.
They all need to go on safari together.


“We need to stop thinking about these issues in isolation — each with its own champion, constituency and agenda — and deal with them in an integrated way, the way they actually occur on the ground”, argued Glenn Prickett, senior vice-president with Conservation International.
“We tend to think about climate change as just an energy issue, but it’s also about land use: one-third of greenhouse gas emissions come from tropical deforestation and agriculture. So we need to preserve forests and other ecosystems to solve climate change, not only to save species”.


But we also need to double food production to feed a growing population. “So we’ll need to do that without clearing more forests and draining more wetlands, which means farmers will need new technologies and practices to grow more food on the same land they use today — with less water”, he added.


“Healthy forests, wetlands and grasslands not only preserve biodiversity and store carbon, they also help buffer the impacts of climate change. So our success in tackling climate change, poverty, food security and biodiversity loss will depend on finding integrated solutions from the land”.


In short — and as any reader of the Okavango daily papers will tell you — we need to make sure that our policy solutions are as integrated as nature itself. Today, they are not.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OP-ED

LAW AND THE PUBLIC GOOD

BY BY SHIV VISVANATHAN

 

Three of the most interesting ministries of the Manmohan Singh government are environment, health and education. It is not that the rest are not eventful but that the nature of events taking place here are different. They may not provide infrastructure in terms of roads and buildings, but what these sectors seek is to create the infrastructure of the imagination. They emphasise the need for new concepts, even a new ethics.


Consider the recent debate on the Ambani gas finds. The media raised the issue whether oil was a public good or a piece of private property. What was floated as a question is actually a bundle of major controversies.


Let us list them out. Chattrapati Singh the philosopher argued that Indian customary law distinguishes between stock and flow. Land is stock, it is immovable. Water is flow. Those who have water on the land can use it but cannot own it. Water belongs to the community.


The second issue concerns the nature of a public good. Firstly, a public good is not a public sector good. The latter is only a devious form of privatisation, where even the state as a public good has been privatised. A public good is not a commodity because a good is a form of being that resists commoditisation. A good is more than a thing. It is a matrix of being where welfare encompasses profit.
A good redefines the nature of any contract by positing the fiction of the third party. This third figure is the future as a community depending perpetual representation. A good cannot be defined purely in terms of market efficiency. It demands a sustainability over time. Renewability, diversity and justice are hallmarks of a good. A good is polyarchic in that it has to cater to a variety of problem-solving situations. Oil, water, air are “public goods” where the juxtaposition of the two words resists both privatisation and commodisation.


Unfortunately, the idea of the public good operates within a limited discourse. It lives within the gridlock of public and private. But the above opposition does not exhaust the world of community. The public operates within the horizon of the commons. Yet Indian law has turned the word obsolescent. The destruction of the idea of the common begins with the idea of the eminent domain in Anglo Saxon law where the state owns the land, rendering the tribal homeless. All it required to displace a few thousand people was some diktat centering around “development” or “national purpose”. The commons came back as a specialised but limited term around the Internet community. But we need to go back to the original idea of the availability of resources, the access to them and the presence of skills and knowledge to utilise them. To make land minimally public, the community has to participate in decisions about its livelihood and food. Without that, nationalisation merely becomes another form of appropriation. If land is a public good, then the communities living on or near it need to have a say in what it is good for. Without the idea of the commons as a creative imaginary, the idea of the public good flattens out, becoming a fragment of a limited Homo juridicus.


The environmental debates centering around nature and land as a public good have been both subtle and sustained. One of the classic debates revolved around whether trees should have a standing? But to comprehend this, the language of nature and the anthropomorphic nature of rights has to change.
Homo juridicus, the legal man like Homo economics, the economic man, is a fiction that creates a framework of reality. Unfortunately Homo juridicus is becoming subservient to the logic of the economic man, serving to create conditions for private property and legal contract. The juridical man is not yet an ecological man, at home in the notion of complexity and uncertainty. Its pervasive scientism has little understanding of the precautionary principles or the idea of uncertainty that pervades regulation in biotechnology or nanotechnology. But more interestingly, what law does is to aid the economisation of the world.


Take violence. Once one subjects it to a cost benefit, it obtains its own forms of legitimation. The economics of dams, which obtains its calculus of displacement, claims that the displacement of an entire people is a bearable cost of a dam. When a people or a culture become displaceable as a cost benefit justified by law, Homo juridicus shrinks into a hand maiden of economics.


Death, particularly mass death, merely becomes a form of obsolescence regarded as necessary and inevitable in the inevitable idea of development. One can then read a riot or a disaster as a real estate operation, freeing land from old and cumbersome collectivities for innovation and entrepreneurship.
In fact, it is this particular notion of economisation that creates a contradiction between first and third generation rights. In a generational sense, the 1947 Universal Declaration was a first generation right, the socialist framework, a second generation “right”, and the laws of innovation and intellectual property a third generation right. Third generation rights are property rights that seek to redefine life as property by creating the idea of intellectual capital. When you patent “life”, you alter its very axiomatics. In that sense, life is secondary to property, creating an obscene contradiction at the centre of the rights discourse.
Zygmunt Bauman, the sociologist, in a classic book on waste points out that the economisation of rights went through two phases. The earlier idea of full employment, he shows, at least humanised man as a resource. Right to work was part of the dignity of man, even if the work itself was exploitative. Today men are seen as global waste. The displaced, the unemployed, the refugee, the marginal, the obsolescent are not even recyclable, only disposable. In economising law, we have destroyed the power and claim of human rights. Genocide then becomes an extension of cost benefit analysis, mass death an extension counter of development.


All one is arguing for is a return to the fundamentals of law. The Homo juridicus we have created is a narrow pre-ecolate creature. We need to examine our law and Western law as a set of fundamentalisms about science, the individual, contract and property. Otherwise the rule of law might be just a law of rules rather than the fluid that creates and seeds a more supple democratic imagination.

 

Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OP-ED

NO PLACE FOR WAR MEMORIAL

BY BY S.K. CHATTERJI

 

When you go home, tell them of us and say,

For their tomorrow, we gave our today.

 

(Epitaph on WW II memorial for Allied soldiers killed in the battle of Kohima)

 

There is a huge disconnect somewhere between the voter and the voted. Only a few weeks ago the nation commemorated the 10th anniversary of India’s Kargil victory on July 26. The response on the streets and from the media was overwhelming. Kargil martyrs were remembered with reverence. Those who had fought and survived told the tales of those who died on those treacherous mountains — some tortured by their captors — to a nation that knows and feels the relevance of the sacrifice of their brave soldiers. And yet, till date, no government has thought it necessary to build a National War Memorial in Delhi.
The towering memorial we have at India Gate is a testimony to the honour bestowed by the Britishers on imperial India’s soldiers who fought for the Crown in World War I and the Afghan War. They found it necessary to erect the memorial as a symbol of gratitude to some of the best soldiers that ever fought under the Union Jack. Over 70,000 soldiers of Imperial India died in these wars.


Built by the famous architect Edwin Lutyens, the bricks that have been used to construct the 39.62 metre-high and 27.43 metre-wide arch, have the regimental numbers of fallen heroes. The memorial recounts the valour of our boys who fought in France, Flanders, Iran, Mesopotamia, East Africa and in the North-West Frontier Provinces. Since 1971, a flame has burnt beneath the arches, as a mark of respect to our soldiers.
The armed forces’ proposal to construct a war memorial has been languishing in the file cabinets of the Delhi government for over three decades now. The plan of the armed forces envisages the construction of the memorial beneath the lawns of the India Gate.


Except for a small wall, which too will be barely visible to the pedestrians in that area, there is no construction that will spoil India Gate’s visage. Beneath the surface will be a spacious memorial, a monument that will record the names of our martyrs; where citizens and bereaved families can visit in sombre silence to pay homage to those who gave their today for our tomorrow.


Memorials for soldiers and civilians who have died fighting to preserve their nations’ security and core values are common all over the world. In fact, these memorials are inevitably preserved with due care and memorial services are utilised to imbibe patriotism in the younger generation. As an example, school children constitute 70 per cent of the millions who have visited the Memorial Hall of China’s War of Resistance against Japan.


The Americans have built their World War II Memorial in the most revered area of Washington DC. The memorial is flanked by the famous Washington Monument on one side and the Lincoln Memorial on the other. Opened in 2004, the memorial honours the 16 million Americans who took part in the war effort, of whom 400,000 died.


The Taukayyan War Cemetery in Burma is the largest war memorial in that country. It has the graves organised in four sectors, housing the remains of the dead in Meiktila, Akyab (Sittwe), Mandalay and Sahmaw sectors.


The Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains cemeteries in 150 countries. The Debt of Honour Register of the Commission lists 1.7 million Commonwealth soldiers and thousands of civilians who died in the two great wars, their remains being buried in 23,000 burial sites. There are thousands of Indians listed in the register.


Six nations make the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, including India. However, back at home, we have reached a state where ex-servicemen have to go to the extent of returning their medals to the President for getting a fair pension deal. Concerns for Delhi’s visage are hardly obvious when one sees the new metro alignment coming up with no concern for blending it with the existing landscape.
Paradoxically, those who fought to keep the Tricolour fluttering are yet to find solace even beneath the lawns of India Gate.

 

Brig S.K. Chatterji retired asthedeputy director-generalof the Army’sDirectorate of Public Information

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OP-ED

THE LAST EMPRESS OF EXCESSIVE SPENDING

BY MAUREEN DOWD

 

The Devil does wear Prada.


I ended up sitting a stiletto’s throw away from Anna Wintour at the Monkey Bar, after the Museum of Modern Art screening of the new documentary about her. Nuclear Wintour looked summery in a floaty print Prada dress so au courant it hasn’t yet hit the stores.


Just like Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, Wintour can be seen in the new film clutching a Starbucks cup in her office and the back of her chauffeur-driven car.


It seems to be her only sustenance, so I was curious to get the skinny on what the Skinny One eats.
“I’ll have what she’s having”, I told a startled waiter, who assumed I was kidding and pointed me to the part of the menu he thought suited me better: Chasen’s chilli and Mrs Carter’s butter tart.
“Anna eats steak and burgers, protein, and drinks a little wine”, said the Vogue editor Andre Leon Talley, mesmerisingly mountainous in a navy Armani with a white sabre-toothed tiger tooth necklace and Manolo framboise velvet Woodstock sandals.


The documentary by R.J. Cutler chronicles Anna and her courtiers compiling the September 2007 issue of Vogue. Setting a record at 840 pages, 727 of them ads, and weighing as much as a preemie — four pounds, nine ounces — that issue is now detritus of the Golden Age of excessive spending.


So the question invariably arises: Behind those bangs and dark glasses, is Anna human?


Or did she tie Hermes scarves together and make a daring escape from District 9 in a getaway car driven by Oscar de la Renta?


On CBS’s Early Show on Thursday, Talley said it was a misconception that “she’s an ice floe or an iceberg and that she has no human flesh or bones”. Tom Florio, the publisher of Vogue, concedes in the documentary that “she’s not warm and friendly”.


At the screening Wednesday, towering with gorgeous girls in bondage gladiator heels and threaded with famous designers, one designer not favoured by Anna muttered that she was a sartorial Star Chamber who smothered creativity.


David Letterman will probe Monday night to find out if Wintour is as frigid as we think. But there’s no need for her to drop the Cruella de Vil guise. Moviegoers want to see a brittle Anna belittle, Simon Cowell-style. We enjoy the editrix as dominatrix.


She’s a sacred monster, an embodiment of the highest standard of style, and we don’t expect our monsters to be nice.


“She’s the Sun King and you don’t want the Sun King to act like the mayor”, says Gioia Diliberto, a fashion writer for the Huffington Post.


Just like Miranda Priestly, who dismissed her assistant with a cold “That’s all”, Anna frostily murmurs “That’s it? There’s nothing else?” as she surveys photos and clothes and prods a staffer: “It’s Vogue, OK?

Please, let’s lift it”.


She dresses down one editor for “sameness”, deems a Sienna Miller cover photo too toothy, and tells designers they should “edit” and be more exciting.


Looking at a picture of a slender Jennifer Garner, Anna says ominously, “She looks pregnant”.


Her lovely daughter makes light of the gravity at Vogue, saying, “Some of the people act like fashion is life”.
Indeed, the Vogue priestesses choosing glamour spreads in The September Issue seem just as intense as the soldiers in Iraq defusing bombs in The Hurt Locker.


There is friction in the Mick Jagger-Keith Richards relationship between the 59-year-old Anna and her closest collaborator, the 68-year-old flame-haired creative director and former model Grace Coddington, who is the only one willing to tweak “the Pope”, as Anna is dubbed by a staffer. Coddington tells French Vogue, “We have a real mutual respect for each other, even though sometimes I feel like killing her”.


The Vogue team and moviemakers didn’t know they were dancing on the deck of the Titanic.
This September, ad pages in Vogue plummeted 36 per cent and a Wall Street Journal story trumpeted “Thick Fashion Magazines Are So Last Year”.


The real question about Anna is not whether she’s warm — she has her furs for that — but whether she can stay relevant in a more down-market age and stay happy if she can’t continue to throw away $50,000 photo shoots that are not up to her exacting standards.


In the new issue, there’s a small bow to democratisation. A piece called “What Price Fashion?” allows that “overpriced fashion no longer makes sense” and features an Oscar de la Renta dress for under $2,000 and a Proenza Schouler executive touting the “very best skinny stretch-twill pant you’ve ever seen” for $550.


Anna herself continues to resist egalitarian impulses. As Keith Kelly wrote in the New York Post, Conde Nast may be slashing costs, but Anna is not scaling back at the upcoming fall fashion shows in Europe. She’s keeping her suite at the Paris Ritz, her chauffeured Mercedes sedans and her entourage of 10 that costs a quarter of a mill.


That’s all.

 

By arrangement with the New York Times

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

WORDS AS SIGNS

 

If words could make for industrialization, then West Bengal today would be twice industrialized. There was first the rhetoric of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and the effort, now failed, to bring industry to the state. At present, there is the rhetoric and the promise of Mamata Banerjee, who, with every good reason, sees herself as the chief-minister-in-waiting. Words, however, are good vehicles for sending out signals. Mr Bhattacharjee’s words, three or four years ago, had completely altered perceptions about West Bengal among potential investors. This was replaced by despondency after the departure of Tata Motors from Singur. Despondency is again turning into hope with the words of Ms Banerjee. She is making it very clear that she is not against industry. Behind her words and promises perhaps lies the realization that without industrialization there cannot be any growth or progress in West Bengal. Mr Bhattacharjee, in his time, had also arrived at a similar conclusion. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that this is the reality of West Bengal that has to be accepted by anyone who wants to lead the state out of the morass.

 

The critical question is the mode of making words into action. Or the issue of implementation. It goes without saying that industry needs land. To this extent, industry and agriculture are incompatible. Land for industry cannot but come from what is today agricultural land. Ms Banerjee has taken a political stand against the forcible acquisition of farmland by the State. She will have to devise a policy to facilitate the transfer of land from agriculture to industry. The preponderance of small and fragmented holdings and the proliferation of land rights have hindered the growth of a proper land market in West Bengal. Any industrialist will always need a consolidated unit of land to build a manufacturing plant. He may find it impossible to purchase the land required for such a venture from innumerable small holders and to cope with innumerable holders of usufructuary rights. Ms Banerjee, despite her best intentions and promises, will have to face some tough decisions. More importantly, society in West Bengal has to decide on the premium it places on industrialization and its inevitable price. In the beginning is the word, but it has always to be followed by the deed. Without the latter words come back to haunt those who utter them.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

LITTLE COMFORT

 

There are very few who would agree that the just concluded presidential elections in Afghanistan are going to take the country anywhere closer to real democracy. However, most should concede that this was the best thing that could happen in a bad, if not the worst, situation. Afghanistan has travelled almost half the full circle to pre-2004 conditions before the fall of the Taliban, and the journey is not what its people had set themselves upon when they elected Hamid Karzai with an overwhelming mandate. The country’s current predicament has a lot to do with Mr Karzai’s bad politics and governance and his backers’ — particularly, the United States of America’s — confused goals. The 2009 elections could take place only after the fog in the US mind about its role in Afghanistan had finally cleared. These elections are the first move in the exit strategy that the US has framed for itself and the allied forces, and the last step in Mr Karzai’s strategy to dig in his heels in office. Of course, the upheaval it has set off in the country — in terms of the popular interest generated in the democratic process and in bringing together a formidable number of challengers to the regime — is a collateral effect that has spruced up the image of both the US and Mr Karzai. Unfortunately, the complex scenario in Afghanistan may not easily provide the simple solution that both are looking for.

 

For one, Mr Karzai may not, ultimately, win the decisive 51 per cent of the vote. And this notwithstanding his nod to gender-discriminatory legislation, the placating of the opium lobby, the wooing of Opposition members, the welcoming home of supportive former warlords or the extra mile that he walked to talk to the Taliban. If such is the outcome of the polls, then there would have to be a second round of polling and further delay. There is little guarantee that a run-up would provide a definite verdict for either Mr Karzai or his main opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, given the stepped up voter-intimidation by the Taliban. But even if the results are in favour of Mr Karzai, he may not have much reason to rejoice. Too many fingers have been pointed at his integrity. Mr Karzai may still retain substantial support among the Pashtuns and win the loyalty of other ethnic groups, but he is likely to reap a bitter harvest if he does not dig up the seeds of discord and disquiet he has sown in the past few years.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

HOBBY OR BUSINESS?

 PRIVATE AIRLINES IN INDIA RUN ON FLAMBOYANCE AND IMPULSE

COMMENTARAO - S.L. RAO

 

Airlines in India were started either by keen hobbyists of the air (J.R.D. Tata), drifters from related travel businesses (Naresh Goyal), or industrialists who wanted an airline to add to their diversification (Birla), and rarely on clear commercial considerations. In 1953, there were eight private airlines founded by J.R.D. Tata (hobby pilot), G.D. Birla (ambitious industrialist), Biju Patnaik (pilot, politician and adventurer), and some others. Nationalization, in 1953, was for financing the development of airlines in India.

 

Particularly from 1991, state-owned airlines have been in constant crisis. Pawan Hans, the helicopter service, has almost closed down. Indian Airlines and Air India made modest profits even when others in the world were making excellent profits and periodically approached government for support. In 2008, they were merged without a plan for integration, cost reductions and efficiency improvement.

 

Air India today includes Indian Airlines. But staff and crew are separate; neither maintenance nor routes are integrated. The last nonbureaucrat chairman-cum-managing-director of Air India was Y. Deveshwar, the successful chief of ITC, under whom Air India did pretty well commercially and in customer service. Since then, the chairmen of Air India have been joint-secretary-level IAS officers.

 

Indian Airlines was worse off. Serving bureaucrats and defence officers have headed it almost all its life. Their concern is not with customer service and consistent commercial success, but pleasing the political bosses. Ageing and poorly maintained aircraft put off many customers who prefer the new craft of the private airlines. Decision-makers are said to have been handsomely compensated for procrastinating aircraft purchases by the Indian Airlines Corporation.

 

The government says that no senior manager from the private sector is interested in heading state-owned airlines because of the meagre remuneration. The real reasons are constant pressure from ministers and bureaucrats for favours, and little authority to take any major decisions. Pilots, cabin crew, ground staff and others do not respond to training or discipline, backed by powerful unions. Purchases of aeroplanes are by government decision, not the airlines’, and are delayed for years, giving first-mover advantage to private airlines.

 

For J.R.D. Tata or Y. Deveshwar, in Air India, the customer was the focus of the airline. Tata is a mythological figure in Air India. Governments were respectful and left him free to run the airline. Stories abound of his personally serving passengers, checking aeroplane toilets for cleanliness and odour, disciplining cabin crew for being overweight. His example was electric on all employees. However, as a small airline from exotic India, with educated, upper-class women as cabin crew, it could attract a small loyal clientele. Air India’s Maharajah was promoted as a symbol of luxury and service. Bobby Kooka’s inspired and hilarious, but pointed, advertising and booklets for passengers enriched the image.

 

Air India has declined since then. Soon it had to share its monopoly over government business with other carriers and then the skies were opened to foreign airlines. Air India lost business. Years of delay in replacing aircraft kept passengers in dilapidated craft while competitors offered the latest versions. Maintenance was given the go-by especially with passenger cabins. Overhead lights that did not work, toilets without water, smelly and unclean, and poor food and drinks were common complaints. Unlike in many private airlines, cabin crew never entered toilets after a passenger had used it, to spray it with air freshener and, perish the thought, clean it. The enchanting Air India hostesses gave way to sloppily dressed, mostly unkempt, overweight, ageing stewards and hostesses, with little training in customer service. On-time performance has been poor and baggage-handling worse.

 

Indian Airlines had every ill of Air India, and more. There was no attention to detail, no manual for different staff to follow. Thus the IAC’s dinner service in business class starts with lukewarm soup with bread (but served only after all have had the soup). The food is either cold, or overheated and dry. There is little training in spoken English. Announcements are inaudible or unclear. If there is video entertainment, it rarely works. The cabin music is always played at maximum volume. Newspapers are rarely fresh and with pages in sequence. Choice of magazines is limited. Cabin crew take their own time in responding to calls. Baggage is late at all airports. Priority labels serve no purpose. Disabled passengers asking for wheelchairs do not have the message sent to onward airports. Jackets are almost always hung in the open. Passenger buses at airports are old and rickety, with uncomfortably high steps and poor seating. Spasmodic improvement in performance is never sustained.

 

Employees of the overstaffed state-owned airlines do not care if passengers like the airline or return to fly on it. Their jobs are secure and for them, the customer does not count and there is no desire to offer a friendly image of the airline.

 

In this messy situation, the entry of private airlines with brand new planes and well-trained cabin and ground crew made a difference. At the time they entered, overseas funds were cheap and easily available. Borrowing and lease charges seemed low. Since then, the declining rupee has made repayment and interest very expensive. With many new aircraft on order, others on lease, foreign pilots at high salaries, higher wages to attract experienced airlines staff, commercial viability demanded high economic and passenger growth. India’s economy and passenger traffic had to keep growing annually at 9 per cent and over 20 per cent. Delusions of grandeur made both Jet and Kingfisher buy with borrowed money the weak Sahara and Deccan, both unprofitable airlines with high debts. This additional capacity came just before the economy began to tank, and growth of passenger traffic dropped.

 

Low-cost airlines destroyed airline market viability by excessively low pricing. The major cost factors of truly low-cost airlines (Ryanair, Asian Air) are reasonable airport charges, alternative cheap airports (for example, Newark instead of JFK in New York), alternative cheaper terminals, cheap aviation fuel and fast turnaround times of aircraft so that each craft spends more productive time in the air. None of these exists in India. Our airport charges are higher than most airports of similar size. There are no alternative neighbouring airports, nor cheaper terminals. Aviation fuel is very expensive because of high state taxes. Airport turnaround time is slow and each aircraft is less in the air than possible.

 

To launch airlines or buy them with borrowed money (like Deccan, Sahara, Jet and Kingfisher) is highly risky. To aim for more passengers with tariffs comparable with railway fares is untenable, even stupid, and certainly un-commercial. Full-fare airlines were forced to reduce tariffs in response. Airline economics became untenable for Jet, Kingfisher and Air India. The subsequent decline in traffic made things worse.

 

Airlines the world over are a cyclical business. Profitability requires tight management, discipline, efficiency, reasonably priced airport and fuel charges, alternative airports and terminals, and well-run airports. Yet, in many years, losses are inevitable. Airlines are a poor business proposition, and more so in India. Air India and Indian Airlines are poor investment propositions even if they integrate, combine routes, cut staff dramatically, improve efficiencies, invest in regular training, inculcate customer orientation and impose discipline. The bureaucrats and (even) businessmen-politicians, who run it directly and in the ministry, do not demonstrate a business culture. Privatization with a blank cheque to the buyer to rationalize on every count might help survival.

 

For the airlines industry in India to be viable, airports must be made to offer cheaper terminals and greater efficiency in their operations, while the government must cut aviation fuel prices. The industry must be run as a business, with tough managers, on commercial lines, without too much flamboyance and impulsiveness.

 

The author is former director-general, National Council for Applied Economic Research

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

LEARNING CURVE

GWYNNE DYER

                     

It’s still a nest of terrorists around here, but nobody worries about it much. These days, when you hear a helicopter at night, it’s only the medevac chopper bringing some urgent case down to the main hospital at Bayonne on the coast. In the bad old days, the helicopter you heard would have been using infrared detectors to spot Basque terrorists heading across the mountains at night into Spain. This south-western corner of France is just as Basque as the much larger Basque-speaking provinces of Spain, but Euskadi ta Askatasuna (Basque Land and Liberty) always used France as a safe rear area and did its actual killing across the frontier.

 

The terrorists are still around, and they enjoy a certain amount of local support. On August 15 was the summer festival in the local town, Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, and everybody for miles around was drinking and dancing in the square below the citadel, waiting for it to get dark enough for the fireworks to begin. Suddenly banners were unfurled on the city walls: “Kidnapped? Tortured? Murdered? Where is Jon?” So you ask, and it turns out that everybody knows who Jon is. He’s a local man, universally believed to be an ETA member, who got on a train to Toulouse, but never arrived. Everybody also believes that he was carrying a large sum of money for the ETA that leads nasty cynics like myself to contemplate several other possible reasons for his disappearance, though local opinion is convinced that it was the State that got him.

 

Yet local opinion is not really very upset about it. Most people don’t care much if the French police seized or killed Jon, or if somebody else robbed and killed him, or even if he just decided to disappear and live on the proceeds. It’s all part of the game that some play on the fringes of society; they’re welcome to play it as long as they don’t frighten the horses.

 

Across the border in Spain, where the killing happens, people take the ETA more seriously, and there is less sympathy for the killers among Spanish Basques. Yet there is also irreducible support for the extreme nationalist option. Spain does not let political parties that openly support terror run in national elections. But when a radical Basque party was allowed to run in the June elections for the European parliament, it got 140,000 votes.

 

DELAYED LESSON

That’s only five per cent of the population in those provinces. The terrorist struggle for Basque independence has so few supporters because the Basque provinces of Spain already have almost complete control over their own affairs. But that tiny minority of hardliners is enough to sustain the armed struggle forever.

 

The French police now cooperate closely with their Spanish counterpart to catch the ETA militants who shelter in the French Basque provinces. Even when they didn’t, nobody in Spain suggested invading France to stamp out the terror sanctuaries. That would be grotesquely disproportionate.

 

The ETA story teaches us three things. First, you don’t need a terror “base”; an isolated farmhouse or an anonymous city apartment will do. Second, you should treat terrorism like any other crime: use the police to track the perpetrators down, and don’t inflate the whole problem by getting the army involved. Third, you must not expect a decisive victory. When we talk about a ‘war on crime’, we do not expect all the criminals to come out one day with their hands up, after which there will be no more crime. Success is defined in terms of keeping the crime rate down. Success in anti-terrorist operations has to be seen in similar terms.

 

Eight years of the ‘war on terror’ have created a huge military, corporate and bureaucratic lobby in the United States of America whose livelihood depends on a highly militarized approach to terrorism; so it will be a long time before a saner strategy prevails in Washington. But people generally do the right thing in the end — after they have exhausted all the alternatives.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

PARENTAL ‘REWARD’~ CISF RECOGNISES A PROBLEM

 

APPRECIATION is due to the CISF for dipping into its welfare funds and making an ex gratia award of Rs 250,000 to the parents of personnel killed fighting Maoist insurgents at Nalco. It is more than a money matter; it is recognition of a problem thrown up by changing social mores. One that, however, will require more comprehensive addressing than the ad hoc payments that were a “first” for a paramilitary organisaton. The army too has taken similar sort of action but even it needs a fresh look at procedures and systems whose shortcomings were first exposed after the Kargil conflict. The social revolution that made the Indian woman aware of her rights has also had some spin-off.


It had been the practice for all compensation to the fallen soldier to be paid to his widow, and in principle there can be little dispute with that. Not that the system did not have its drawbacks: widows were often pressured into re-marriage with their husband’s kinsmen so that the money stayed “within the family”, some docile women were ill-treated by their in-laws who cornered all the money, and that resulted in several women seeking the protective/productive environment available at the war widows hostels at many a regimental centre. Then came a twist as aam auraat asserted herself. Armed with the enhanced financial compensation (for example, each of the CISF widows under focus got Rs 20 lakhs) many women “broke” from their husband’s family and struck out to rebuild their lives. Again, little cause for dispute. There is, alas, a seemingly-valid “but” that is not easy to wish away. The parents of some martyrs contend that when their son’s widow departs they are left empty-handed. Their rustic logic (most jawans still come from peasant stock) argues that they had “invested” in their sons’ education, “sent” him to the forces and in return expected him to care for them in their old age, particularly necessary since the joint-family system is breaking down. The “widow-takes-all” system left them financially constrained ran the argument. Clearly the problem is complex and requires active involvement of experts in women’s welfare, social justice, legal authorities and the military and paramilitary to work out a new compensation formula. Maybe at the time of induction, personnel could be asked to nominate their proportionate beneficiaries, should the worst happen. What is imperative is that an ad hoc arrangement is replaced by a substantive regime.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

‘FAKE ENCOUNTERS’~ THE ALBATROSS THAT HAUNTS IBOBI 

 

MAKING a statement in the Manipur Assembly on the 23 July incident in which a former People’s Liberation Army activist, Chungkham Sanjit, was killed in an “armed” encounter with police commandos, chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh reportedly said “extermination is the only way left”. But he later denied having said anything to this effect. Surely the local media could not have put those words into his mouth to malign him for if they did, it does them little credit. But it would not be difficult to learn what the chief minister actually said since every word spoken in the Assembly is recorded, unless expunged. Even if Ibobi gets the benefit of the doubt on this count, he cannot escape responsibility for the killing of several innocents over the past few months in what have come to be known as “fake encounters”.


Such is the peculiar nature of law and order in Manipur that no matter how volatile or alarming the situation may be, the Centre will think twice before clamping President’s rule, more so if it happens to be a Congress-run state. The magisterial inquiry into the incident, later upgraded to a judicial one, has failed to soothe public anger and Ibobi has already earned the sobriquet of “killer chief miinister”. Did Ibobi really include the “fake encounter” clause in his fight against militants? At least one local daily has rightly questioned this and suggests that the judicial inquiry must ascertain whether the six commandos involved in the incident and who are under suspension should be asked whether they actually followed the state diktat on “fake encounters”. Unless this is cleared, “fake encounters” will hang around Ibobi’s neck like the proverbial albatross! What with the spate of killings, bandhs and strikes in protest and demanding the chief minister’s resignation on moral grounds, July and August have been particularly cruel for Manipuris. A day’s bandh or one lasting a few hours to highlight grievances is understandable and tolerable, but crippling normal life for hours at a stretch or days, and that too in a landlocked state which has to import essential commodities, is cruel and indefensible.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

BELATED BAILOUT ~ LOAN WAIVER CALLS FOR A PROBE

 

Having announced a raft of schemes last Thursday for the benefit of the farmer, the union home minister rather diplomatically skirted a query on whether another waiver of farmers’ loans was on the anvil. A possible reason for the ducking and diving is that the waiver hasn’t quite lessened the privation in the countryside after it was introduced with considerable fanfare in 2006. Suicides are still endemic in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra’s Vidarbha, this year not among the cotton-growers but among the kharif farmers. The home minister’s plea that “I am only the former finance minister; I don’t know” is neither here nor there. It begs the question: Did he announce the hike in the Minimum Support Price of cereals and pulses to bail out the farmer as the “former FM”? The incumbent is hardly relevant to the context; the nub of the matter, with half of India reeling under the withering effects of the drought, is that the farm loan waiver has done but little to assuage the suffering primarily because farmers across the country are still overwhelmingly at the mercy of the mahants. Indeed, the drought ought to provoke an examination of the failure of this budgetary index of welfare. It was Mr Chidambaram’s brainwave, after all.
The ominous trend towards a dry spell was manifest in early July. But the crisis being countenanced by the farmers would not have reached a grim ~ when not mortal ~ pass had the government formulated a bailout package earlier. Of course, a hike in the MSP is an “appropriate response”, as the present home minister reckons. Kharif seeds have gone to waste on the parched earth in Vidarbha and Andhra, and the 43 suicides since July may arguably have stirred the Centre to act.


A plan of action ought long ago to have been devised and a “step by step” approach, as Mr Chidambaram favours, may not match the enormity of the crisis. Despite assurances of adequate food, the rabi crop needs urgently to be saved, with subsidies given on diesel and power should the need arise. The Open Market Sale Scheme is a positive move, but one that has met with a response only from Delhi, J & K, Jharkhand and the Andamans. Any action to hold the price line will hinge largely on the drive against hoarders. An artificial scarcity and jacked up prices will only deepen the crisis of agricultural India. A 20 per cent cut in the salaries of ministers and legislators can at best be a symbolic gesture; notice that the cut is in salaries, not income.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

EXPANDING WAISTLINE MAY SHRINK YOUR BRAIN

 

New York, 23 AUG: Here’s another reason why you should shed the flab ~ expanding waistline could shrink your brain, says a new study.


Researchers in the USA have carried out the study and found that brain regions important for cognition are smaller in obese people, making their brains look up to 16 years older than they are.
As brain shrinkage is linked to dementia, the study adds weight to the suspicion that piling on the pounds may up a person's risk of the brain condition, according to them.


Moreover, as increased body fat ups the chances of having clogged arteries, that can reduce blood and oxygen flow to brain cells, the resulting reduction in metabolism causes brain cell death and the shrinking seen, the researchers said.


“The brains of overweight people looked eight years older than the brains of those who were lean, and 16 years older in obese people,” lead researcher Mr Paul Thompson of the University of California was quoted by the New Scientist.


For the study, the researchers selected 94 people in their 70s who were still “cognitively normal” from brain scans initially carried out for a different study five years back. They then transformed the scans into three-dimensional maps. People with higher body mass indexes had smaller brains on average, with the frontal and temporal lobes ~ key for planning and memory respectively ~ particularly affected, the study, in the Human Brain Mapping journal, revealed. The researchers also found that the brains of the 51 overweight people were 6 per cent smaller than those of their normal-weight counterparts, on average, and those of the 14 obese people were 8 per cent smaller. In an as yet unpublished study, Thompson's team has shown that exercise, which improves cardiovascular health and blood flow, protects the very brain regions that had shrunk in the current study. “The most strenuous kind of exercise can save about the same amount of brain tissue that's lost in the obese. This indicates that it is blood flow that drives brain health, not the other way round.,” he was quoted as saying. PTI

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

NATURE SERVES NOTICE~II ~ FUTURE WARS WILL BE WARS OVER WATER

ASHOK KAPUR


THERE is another drawback in many of the Western models of “development” that are being followed by developing nations and relentlessly so by the international aid agencies. This is the concept of technology-led growth. Of course, it is the engine of growth, but all new technology needs to be evaluated and its impact on mass employment examined carefully before it is adopted.


In Punjab, in the sixties and seventies, international aid agencies succeeded in pushing giant harvester combines to ‘modernize’ agriculture. In a state where there was already a growing surplus labour, this turned out to be disastrous. Such technology may have been appropriate in a country like the USA where only around five per cent of the population is engaged in agriculture. But to transplant this technology in a developing country where seventy per cent of the population is engaged in agriculture, could only have proved counter-productive.


Long before the modern technology-led models were the rage in the developed world, Mahatma Gandhi had cautioned against aping Western technological and economic models unquestioningly. Some critics had dubbed him as anti-modern and his economic philosophy as outdated. More than half a century later, the First International Commission on Environment and Development ~ the Bruntland Commission ~ was to prove the Mahatma prophetic. It admitted that modern technology has the power both to enhance and to degrade.


TECHNOLOGY & ECOLOGY

AS a leading Western expert has acknowledged: “Modern technology owes an apology to ecology.” The current environmental crisis is too overwhelming to be tackled by state action alone. All citizens are vital stakeholders in this venture ~ the government, civil society, business and industry, women and children. All sections of society must eco-educate themselves for effective implementation of eco-friendly technologies and a simple lifestyle that limits man’s demands on an increasingly fragile environment.
Gandhism is arguably the most ‘scientific’ development model that preaches a sustainable lifestyle, a point missed by the Bruntland Commission when it spoke of ‘sustainable growth.’ It overlooked the fact that in the long term, ‘sustainable development’ could only result from a sustainable lifestyle. The two are inter-dependant. Gandhism stresses ‘experimential investment’ over material acquisitions. In the Western economic models, man acquires possessions today with tomorrow’s income. Gandhian economics teaches us to acquire possessions tomorrow with today’s income. As a result, man is the proud possessor of the goods. Under the Western model, the goods come to possess the man.


That the Gandhian model is rooted in the traditional Vedic wisdom of India, is a point that has been noted by Al Gore. The latter has acknowledged that unique amongst civilizations, the Indian tradition teaches man to treat the natural resources as a precious heritage. Take the case of water. Fresh water is treated as sacred and not just another natural resource. The Ganga has been revered as Mother Ganges from time immemorial. As per conventional wisdom, the sacred river flows from the matted locks of Lord Shiva. In other words, fresh water is a divine dispensation.


One major fallout of climate change is shrinking fresh water sources worldwide. The UN environmental agencies have unanimously warned that ‘future wars will be wars over water.’ The projected rate of the rise of temperature is 0.2 Celsius every decade. As a consequence, more people will die of thirst than of hunger.
There is another glaring example of the way in which ‘modern’ technology sometimes proves counter-productive. During the sixties and the seventies of the last century, ‘taming’ of rivers through large dams was common in the West. These were touted as near-permanent assets for development. Apart from controlling floods, these would provide for power, fisheries and irrigation. We have now realised that most of the large dams have proved to be mixed blessings. Their disadvantages outlast their advantages. So much so that the Bruntland Commission, which conducted a comprehensive study of the mega river dams, concluded that ‘undamming’ existing large dams is a sign of progress, rather than building new ones.


This ‘modern technology’ is in contrast to the traditional wisdom of India; to dam free and flowing fresh water is to damn it, in a manner of speaking. In the Vedic tradition, flowing water is referred to as ‘live’ and stored water is referred to as ‘dead’. Modern irrigation experts tell us that it is only flowing river water that is suitable for regular irrigation. Stored water reduces both the fertility and productivity of land over time, by denying it micro-nutrients that flowing water provides.


“Water wars” have already begun. None would know it better than we do in India. It is another matter that Indian military experts have overlooked the strategic implications of the issue altogether. They have instead been harping on the political aspects. It is just as well that the looming threat of climate change has refocused our attention.


TIBET’S GLACIERS

THE first ‘water war’ of the twentieth century was the Chinese occupation of Tibet in the fifties. China has been chronically short of potable water. The folklore of Tibet refers to their land as the ‘Third Pole’ or the ‘Water Tower’ of Asia. The Tibet plateau contains more than 45,000 glaciers, the largest ice mass in the world, apart from the two uninhabited poles. It supplies fresh water to four of the largest rivers of Asia. Tibet’s glaciers meet the water needs of around fifty per cent of the world’s population in countries as far apart as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan , Vietnam and Cambodia, besides China.
In sum, the threat of climate change is the greatest challenge facing humankind today. Conventional response to a very unconventional challenge may well spell the doom of humankind. Although solutions, based on expertise, are certainly required at the micro level, a macro level philosophy of a simple lifestyle will alone provide a workable ‘model’ in the long run. A holistic concept that incorporates essential Gandhian values is the crying need of the day. As Bacon said: “There is only one way to command Nature, and that is to obey it.”

 

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DECCON HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE ROAD TALK

NOT JUST THE PEOPLE, BUT THEIR STYLE OF COMMUNICATION IS COSMOPOLITAN IN BANGALORE.

BY ARUN BHATIA


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!

 

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DECCON HERALD

EDITORIAL

A NEW PARLIAMENT

PEOPLE WHO WATCH PROCEEDINGS OF OUR TWO HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT ON TV MUST HAVE NOTICED HOW DIFFERENT THEY HAVE BECOME FROM THOSE IN THE RECENT PAST.

BY KHUSHWANT SINGH


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.


LEELA NAIDU

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.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

 

WHO WANTS TO YELL NEXT?

 

The cacophony at town hall meetings on health care has startled too many members of Congress into passivity and pandering. But not Representative Barney Frank, who did not shrink last week from a woman loudly demanding to know why he supported President Obama’s “Nazi policy.”

 

The Massachusetts Democrat responded with a question of his own: “On what planet do you spend most of your time?” None of the I-respect-your-opinion razzmatazz being mouthed by more timorous politicians.

 

Mr. Frank could have been more civil. It is time for everyone to remember that town hall sessions were invented for rational discussions of differences, not as an outlet for self-therapy caperings à la “The Gong Show.” But it was certainly refreshing to hear him try to jolly or shame his audience into a serious debate, asking, “Which one of you wants to yell next?”

 

If only similar backbone were shown by politicians like Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican principal in the Senate’s Gang of Six health care negotiations. Instead of helping to educate his constituents or move the debate ahead, he provided more red meat for fulminators, erroneously insisting that the rival House health care bill features “a government program that determines if you’re going to pull the plug on grandma.”

 

Mr. Grassley now insists he never uttered the “death panels” canard at the heart of Sarah Palin’s health care diatribe. But he said what he said. He and the rest of us are stuck with the grandma line, even as he supposedly is pursuing reasonable compromise in Washington. Back home, the senator also conveniently overlooks his support for the 2003 Medicare drug subsidy that included the sort of counseling for end-of-life issues and care found in the current House bill.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

FOR NEW YORK CITY COMPTROLLER

 

New York City’s comptroller has one of the most important and least recognized jobs in the city. The comptroller is the city’s accountant, the official whose job it is to make certain budgets are balanced, contracts are valid and workers’ pensions are safe. The sums involved are huge. The comptroller oversees the city’s $60 billion budget and $83 billion in pension funds for city workers.

 

Four strong Democrats are running for the nomination in the Sept. 15 primary. The one most suited to do the job, with skill, intelligence and independence, is David Yassky, a City Council member from Brooklyn.

 

We are particularly impressed with Mr. Yassky’s ability to think creatively and then implement his ideas. Mr. Yassky, who taught at Brooklyn Law School earlier in his career, has a somewhat professorial manner. But in his years at City Hall, he has successfully fought to control guns in the city, to lessen pollution from taxis and to ban illegal dumping in the waters around the city.

 

He has pushed for help for small businesses and for more affordable housing. His campaign has set up an inventive Web site — ItsYourMoneyNYC.com — that opens the city budget to more scrutiny, a preview of his promise for more transparency for city finances.

 

The other main Democratic contenders are Council members from Queens, and all have sound records. David Weprin, who runs the Finance Committee, has been an able Council member but is less creative in his thinking about how to do this job effectively. John Liu has represented his constituents intelligently and with great eloquence, but too much of his strength is at the microphone. Melinda Katz has been a smart, dynamic leader of the Land Use Committee, but we are less enthusiastic about her connections to the real estate community.

 

Of the four, Mr. Yassky makes the best case for making better use of the powerful tools handed a city comptroller. He promises to use the audit powers — including new ones overseeing the city’s education contracts — to increase productivity and efficiency.

 

We have seen in New York State the temptations and corruption that come with managing a multibillion-dollar pension fund — with huge fees handed out to political cronies and contributors. Mr. Yassky has promised to stand up to special interests and has embraced new S.E.C. rules that would block campaign contributors from doing business with the fund. For all of these reasons, we endorse David Yassky for comptroller.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

A REAL FISH STORY

HERE IS AN UNUSUAL FISH STORY. AND A POSITIVE ONE.

 

On Thursday, Gary Locke, the secretary of commerce, approved a plan that would prohibit commercial fishing in a huge swath of American waters in the Arctic that have never been actively fished and that nobody is much interested in fishing now.

 

That sounds odd, but it’s a smart move based on the assumption that the rapid melting of Arctic sea ice caused by climate change will someday make the area more accessible and commercially more attractive.

 

This was also the first time the United States shut down a fishery because of climate change rather than overfishing. Mr. Locke’s objective is to buy time to get a fix on the area’s resources and develop a sustainable fishing plan that would assure lasting protection for a fragile and poorly understood ecosystem.

 

The plan was developed jointly by environmentalists and the Marine Conservation Alliance, a consortium of Alaskan harvesters and processors. Conservationists and industry do not, as a rule, agree on how quickly fish should be taken from the sea. Here they agreed not to take any at all — until it seems safe to do so.

 

The prohibition covers nearly 200,000 square miles north of the Bering Strait. These waters are believed to be rich in cod and snow crab, among other species. In time, they could well provide a new home for cold-water species like pollock and salmon that are already moving north as global warming increases water temperatures in their normal habitats.

 

The hope in Alaska and Washington is that the plan will send a signal to other Arctic nations — including Russia, Canada, Norway and Denmark — that are also eyeing the potentially huge resources beneath the thawing Arctic icepack. Fish migrate long distances, and care little for international borders. International cooperation will ultimately be required to protect them.

 

Closing American waters tells the world that the United States is putting its own house in order until science determines that fishing can be allowed in a responsible and sustainable manner.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

ABOUT YOUR 401(K)

 

Even before the financial crisis, most Americans were not saving enough for retirement. But the crisis has highlighted, and heightened, the risk of coming up short, as is clear to anyone who has dared to open his or her 401(k) statements in the past year.

 

Even with recent stock market upswings, account balances are roughly 25 percent lower than before the crash. Such losses are especially harmful to employees who are near retirement and will not have enough time to rebuild their accounts; they will either have to work longer, if they can, or make do with less.

 

Market losses aren’t the only danger. Some employees will end up with smaller account balances because they reduced contributions when times got tough. Fidelity Investments, which manages 11.2 million 401(k) accounts, reported recently that from mid-2008 through the first quarter of 2009, more employees reduced their contributions than increased them. That trend reversed in the second quarter, but over all, employees are still contributing less of their pay than they did last year.

 

To make matters worse, some employers have cut their 401(k) matches as the economy has tanked. So both employees and employers pulled back, just as stocks were getting cheaper.

 

In good times and bad, account balances are wiped out when job-changers, including laid-off workers, decide to cash out when they leave an employer. And younger workers tend to borrow from their 401(k), slowing the account’s growth and risking big losses — plus taxes and penalty — if they can’t repay the loan in full.

 

As a result of risks and mistakes, most American workers who are relying on 401(k)’s fail to amass anywhere near what they will need for a secure retirement.

 

That is not to say that the 401(k) system must be dismantled. But reforms that once seemed far-reaching — like automatically enrolling employees in 401(k)’s unless they opt out — now seem quaint. A more thorough revamping is needed.

 

Tax incentives must be changed. Under current law, high-income employees receive the biggest tax subsidies, and low-income employees the smallest. Replacing the current tax deduction for contributions with a tax credit would still give everyone a tax break, but would shift the benefit down the income scale, presumably boosting the savings of low-income workers.

 

The Obama administration should also push for comprehensive retirement coverage. Less than half of employees have a retirement plan at work. The so-called universal I.R.A. advocated by President Obama during the campaign would help make a retirement account available to all workers. Pre-retirement payouts from 401(k)’s and universal I.R.A.’s should be discouraged except in cases of real hardship, like disability. One way to do that would be to require employers to roll over a 401(k) to a new account when an employee changes jobs.

 

A thornier problem is that even someone who steadily contributes to a 401(k) and makes sensible investments can end up with too little — depending on whether the markets are up or down as retirement nears.

 

A calculation by Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institution showed that a 401(k) participant who retired in 2008 after contributing 4 percent of pay over 40 years and investing in a conservative mix of stocks and bonds would be able to replace a fourth of his pre-retirement income. That is only half as much as a similar worker who retired during the bull market in 1999, but far better than retiring in 1974 when markets were in a swoon.

 

The only way to avoid wide variations in outcomes would be to develop a savings plan in which the government shared the risk — say, by providing a guarantee that returns would not fall below a certain level. The issue is complex and deserves further study and debate.

 

The effect of these and other proposed retirement reforms would be to shift risk that is currently borne by individuals onto corporations and the government. That would be anathema to some entrenched corporate interests and their political supporters. But as the recent crisis has so amply demonstrated, having each and every American bear all of the risk is not the path to a secure retirement.

 

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I. THE NEWS

 EDITORIAL

CONVERGENCES

Two very different figures have recently made convergent statements. President Zardari has talked of extremists in NWFP as being ‘defeated and scattered’ and said the operation will continue until the writ of the government is re-established. He spoke of nobody being allowed to take the law into their own hands and said that extremism would be defeated. Our president may have failed to notice that people take the law into their own hands in Pakistan with complete impunity every day, and it is widely tolerated and even condoned. Despite this ingrained sense of unreality common to most politicians, he did point to a hard reality in the fight against extremism – namely that it was going to be long and hard and that extremism presented an existential threat to the state. “It is a fight for survival ... we must win it” he said, and he is correct in saying so. There are signs of a significant shift in the public attitude to extremism generally and the Taliban specifically. If this attitudinal shift can be consolidated and the government is able to capitalize on it then we may be on the road to recovery.


Almost alongside the president’s remarks we have a statement from Hilary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, that appeared in the New York Times on Sunday. There was an almost uncanny harmony between what the president said and what Mrs Clinton had to say on the matter of extremism. She said that the battle against extremism would have been ‘in better shape’ if historically the US had invested more in the education system, particularly for girls, rather than focusing on keeping the military happy. The US has given $7 bn to the military since 9/11 and US lawmakers have voted to give a further 7.5 billion dollars to Pakistan over the next five years; most of that to support social development projects which includes the building of schools. Clintons’ statement is as close as the US is going to come to admitting that it made a mistake in the way it funded its relationship with us historically. The failure to recognise that education was as much a key to advancement as were guns and bombs played no small part in the creation of the difficulties we face today. We can defeat extremism if we educate our people – but it will be the work of a generation, not a single government.

 

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I. THE NEWS

 EDITORIAL

EGOS COLLIDE

 

Much as the bare-knuckle prize-fighters of old would square off for a bout of fisticuffs we have a couple of grizzled old battlers hard at in the boxing-ring of Punjabi politics. The prize they are fighting over is the appointment of new judges to the Lahore High Court and the scrap is beginning to look very dirty indeed. Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif are trading citations in this matter, with Mr Sharif citing Article-105 of the Constitution under which the governor is bound to act on the advice of the chief minister in performance of his functions – in other words ‘accept my recommendations for the appointment of the new judges’. ‘Not likely’ cries Mr Taseer as he hurls back Article-193 of the Constitution which says that any judge of a High Court shall only be appointed by the president after consultation with the chief justice of Pakistan, the relevant governor, and the chief justice of the High Court of whichever province. Take that!


The referee in the form of the Punjab government intervened on Friday last by taking the unusual step of issuing a handout to the press on the matter – unusual because the recommendations of the chief minister regarding any issue are never made public; and most certainly not publicized in the form of a handout to the Fourth Estate. The referee had a citation to hand as well – Article 05 of the Constitution, the Punjab government’s Rules of Business and a 1996 judgement of the Supreme Court concerning the appointment of judges. Article 105 speaks of recommendations being made on the basis of the proposed judges’ character, conduct and reputation. Counterpunching, Governor Taseer said that only he had the constitutional authority to advise the president on the appointment of judges under Article 193 and the president is the competent authority to appoint judges in any provincial high court with the chief minister featuring nowhere in the process. The combatants are now back in their corners being fanned with towels and their foreheads sponged. The bell for the start of round three will ring early next week.

 

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I. THE NEWS

 EDITORIAL

UN-SWEETENED

As a nation we have a sweet tooth. We like our cakes and sweetmeats and put far more sugar in our national cup of tea than is good for any of us. Sugar is a staple and a significant part of kitchen expenditure in household’s rich and poor year-round. Also coming around every year, generally coincident with the start of the holy month of Ramazan is a scam or scandal associated with sugar, its price, its availability and the profits made from it by – in particular – the sugar mill owners. Nobody begrudges a business-man their share. Where the common man has a grumble – and this year he has every right to indulge himself in a very big grumble indeed – is when the mill-owners and the government collude together to manufacture a ‘sugar crisis’ from which the rich, as ever, profit at the expense of the poor.

The overlap between mill-ownership and the political classes is inevitable. Poor people do not become politicians in Pakistan, rich people do; so there is little surprise that some mill-owners are sitting members of parliament and that they have this year manipulated the system to their best advantage. At the time of writing sugar now costs 70Rs per kilo in the Panjgur and Mastung districts of Balochistan, 58-60Rs in Quetta, 55-58Rs in Bahawalpur, 57Rs in Islamabad and 50Rs in Karachi. The government has directed that utility stores sell sugar at 38Rs per kilo but there are widespread reports of its unavailability in these government shops. Somebody, somewhere, is making a packet out of sugar. The government has admitted that although there were clear indications of an impending shortage of sugar in the country, it could not take a decision on buying sugar because of the influence of powerful industrialists in the administration. ‘Powerful industrialists’? Mill-owners-cum-politicians, perhaps? The sugar-supply chain nationally is disrupted and the common man waits in line; un-sweetened and embittered that once again his pockets have been picked.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

 

ACCOUNTABILITY OF CORRUPTS AT ALL COST

 

PRIME Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has stated that a new Accountability Bill will be introduced in the National Assembly with the consensus of the Opposition in line with recommendations in the Charter of Democracy. He was of the view that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has been weakened and that it was used in the past for victimisation of political opponents.


There is no doubt that all the previous governments, whether democratic or military, victimised political opponents for the attainment of their objectives to prolong their rule and the reality now is that the word of accountability has lost its meanings among the masses in Pakistan. According to details the draft of Holders of Public Offices(Accountability) Act 2009 would have an inbuilt provision barring prosecution of public office holders after three years of the expiry of their term. That would mean automatic exemption to the corrupt if their secret corrupt deals could not be unearthed in three years. People believe that it would give a free permit of corruption as those doing so in the first two years of a political government would not be touched by their leaders in the next three years and the bar of prosecution after a certain period would allow them to go scot-free. Such a legislation, we warn the Prime Minister, who is an upright and thorough gentleman, would make the PPP and its government a laughing stock on the ground that it would open the flood gates for corruption rather than its elimination. There are accountability systems being practised in many countries and some experts could be tasked to go through them and come up with a comprehensive law that could help stamp out this menace from the society, which is on the increase with each passing day. Another aspect of the new legislation is that it applies to only the ruling class, makes all corruption offences bailable and also protects the accused corrupt from being arrested on the orders of the Chairman of the Accountability Commission. Reports in the media suggest that the bill enjoys backing of the PML-N as it is in line with CoD signed by Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif. We expect the honourable members of the Parliament that they would not allow any legislation that is against the interest of the country, go through the new Accountability Bill minutely and ensure insertion of provisions that secure across the board accountability of corrupts without any time bar.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

ALARMING RISE IN EXTERNAL DEBT

 

THE government since assuming power has been relying heavily on external borrowing including from the IMF and friendly countries to meet its budgetary needs. According to the IMF assessment country’s external debt would touch an alarming proportion of $ 75 billion by the fiscal year 2015-16.


There is no harm in financial terms to get loans for development purposes to add value to the economy and generate timely repayment capacity. Pakistan‘s foreign debts would climb up to $ 57.4 billion by the end of the current financial year. That is a very worrying development because in addition to getting loans from the IMF, the government is looking at over $ 5 billion from the Friends of Pakistan during the next two years. Yes due to international recession, internal law and order situation the economy suffered but it appears that we have found an easy solution to seek loans under one pretext or the other from international financial institutions or friendly countries rather than making efforts to generate more revenue from indigenous resources. For any country, excessive external debt is a negative sign and with Pakistan’s economy in dire straits, it would be difficult to repay these loans. IMF funding is always short term because it is for structural adjustment, not for development projects. The idea behind such a borrowing is that the country should tighten its belt to squeeze its trade and fiscal deficits but in the case of Pakistan it is required to cut government’s current expenditure which is constantly on the rise. Lending by the IMF with tight conditions make the life of the common man difficult and in many developing countries, there is a considered opinion that these conditionalities have increased the problems rather than addressing them. In the case of Pakistan, while the IMF bailed us out last year but what will happen when this facility is paid off. The rupee is at a new historic low, exports are not picking up as we have nothing surplus except the textiles and imports are witnessing unchecked increase. Therefore we would suggest that our leadership, rather than time and again requesting for international assistance must do some homework and take practical measures to increase indigenous revenue resources. Mere chairing of meetings would not resolve the problem and it is time to do practical work to create a balance between income and expenditure. It is easy to borrow and spend but it hurts a lot when it comes to repay. Therefore the advice for the government is to tighten its belt, avoid wasteful and unproductive expenditure and stabilize the economy to get out of the difficult situation.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

AN UNENDING ISSUE OF MISSING PERSONS

 

THE Interior Minister Rehman Malik has confirmed that about 1291 persons were missing in the country and a joint investigative team has been constituted to probe the issue.


The relatives of the missing persons have been raising the issue for quite sometime. It is a humanitarian issue and needs to be looked into on urgent basis. Families of the missing persons had in the past complained that they were picked up by the intelligence agencies and after that they were unable to know their whereabouts. Information about some persons who had gone missing was given when the Supreme Court intervened. Now the Interior Minister has confirmed the figure of about 1300 persons missing and indicated that even some of them might have gone abroad or be involved in criminal activities without the knowledge of their families. Most of the complaints about missing persons are from Balochistan and Punjab. While some of them would be in the custody of the law enforcement agencies for their involvement in anti-social and anti-national activities, it is a fact that majority of them have gone to tribal areas and Afghanistan for training in terrorist activities. We would suggest that the Government must try to find them out where-ever they are, release those not involved in serious crimes and keep a close watch on activities of others as they could become very dangerous once released or facilitated to return to their homes.

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

EDITORIAL

OPERATION CLEAN STREET

 

The launching of a special drive codenamed 'operation clean street' by the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) is welcome because it seeks to deal with the oppressive traffic gridlock as experienced daily in the city. In the month of Ramzan each year, traffic jam takes a turn for the worse. So the launching of the drive on the first day of the holy month is a clear indication that the authorities are alive to the situation.
However this is not for the first time that such a special drive has been taken to deal with the deplorable traffic congestion of the city. We are not sure if this time the drive will be any different from those of the past. If past experiences are any guide, not much could be achieved by such much-hyped moves. In fact, checking unfit and unlicensed vehicles should be carried on regularly and on a sustained basis for taking legal actions against them. Why should vehicles unworthy of roads be allowed to ply almost throughout the year only to be singled out for action for a week or fortnight during such a special drive? If the traffic police and other authorities concerned perform their regular duties and within legal parameters, the need for such special drives can be ruled out.

 

There are legal provisions against illegal and haphazard parking but there is no authority to implement those. Now mobile courts, we are told, will be ready to enforce laws if vehicles are found to have violated those. This cannot be an issue of occasional attention by the authorities.


Sure enough, to ease the capital's traffic congestion there is need for a comprehensive plan, much of which falls within the long-term category, but within limitations a few short-term measures can presently do the trick. For example, the city centre can be kept off-limit to private cars or left with limited access through introduction of road toll. Then there should be designated bus lanes. The bottom line is strict enforcement of law and thus bringing discipline in the movement of people and vehicles in the crowded city.    

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

REAL ESTATE CRIME

 

In a bizarre incident real estate developers allegedly kidnapped eight members of a family to force them to give away their 100-year old house in the old city for development. Later, police rescued the kidnapped ones.  Many real estate companies were accused of being land-grabbers in the past but this is for the first time a case has been reported where landowners have actually been kidnapped to satisfy the greed of a developer. The fact that the victims belong to the minority community has an additional implication to the whole incident.


Thankfully, the police was prompt enough to interfere before further deterioration of the situation. But it would have been better if the police would have acted pre-emptively as the developer, Anandadhara Housing, had reportedly been intimidating these people for quite some time. The incident is also indicative of how social values have deteriorated and the greed of some businessmen has reached a point of the grey area between business and crime. There are allegations against land developers or real estate companies that they feel no qualms about resorting to arms-twisting tactics or even outright illegal eviction of land-owners when the latter do not fit into their scheme.


No matter whether the issue was one of crime for profit or for hate, the fact remains that urban congestion is becoming a serious one and people are not only becoming desperate but also resorting to crime. The government and the market leaders have to think seriously of restructuring the real estate sector, not only to stave off would-be criminals but also to save their own reputation.

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

BOB’S BANTER

MAKING A SPECTACLE OF YOURSELF...!

ROBERT CLEMENTS

 

It was a few years ago I realized it wasn't the print that was getting fainter but my eyes getting weaker and I ordered myself a pair of reading glasses. They were the type that rested on the tip of your nose and when you looked at what you had to read you looked through them and otherwise looked over them at the world at large. They were half glasses; telling the world you aren't really the glasses wearing sort but the half glasses wearing sort, whatever that meant. But they kept slipping off your nose, especially at times when I didn't need them to, so I picked up, or rather my wife picked up a real pair for me, and also the eyes grew a little weaker, which brings me to where this piece is about to begin: A courier boy rings the doorbell, you rush to the door, and as you know most landings are dark during the day and lit up during the night, but then courier boys don't come in the night do they, and he points to a space on his sheet for you to sign, and you sign holding sheet against the wall and find you've signed on your wall; you aren't wearing your glasses, because who picks up his glasses to open the door? "Sir sign here sir, on the sheet, next to your name!"


"My name, yes, yes, my name, one minute let me get my glasses!" I rush into the house leaving the door wide open and look for those suddenly very evasive spectacles, who've suddenly decided to play truant with me. There's a scream at the door, I rush back, without my glasses of course and find my dog pinning poor courier boy against the wall. "Sir!" he shrieks in agony as you get the dog down and in, "Sir you haven't signed as yet!"


"One minute, my glasses!" But there's no sign of them and with the help of the courier boy who takes your hand, like a blind man being led down a busy road, he puts it where the signature is required and you sign sheepishly and he goes away. "Where the hell have those glasses gone?" And you find them, there on your pillow, where you left them when you fell asleep last night. Why don't they invent either mechanized glasses that walk to you when you need them, no I don't need them to climb up and perch on my nose, I'm not that lazy, don't get me wrong, but at least come to me when I call out for them? The local Albert Einstein says that would be difficult. Okay what about a beeper on the glasses that will beep when you press the remote. Good idea he says and makes one. Courier boy comes, you open door and smile at him, because now you are in control, you go in and search and search for the remote, which has the switch that activates the beeper that beeps on your glasses. But there is no remote, because you can't search without your glasses, dammit!


And the courier boy laughs as I sign on the wall again..!

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

NATIONALS FREE TO RUN THEIR OWN RACE

IF SOME URBAN COMMENTATORS FIND IT HARD TO UNDERSTAND THE NATIONALS, IT IS HARDLY SURPRISING. THE PARTY'S NATURAL CONSTITUENCY IS THE ONE-THIRD OF AUSTRALIANS LIVING OUTSIDE OUR CAPITAL CITIES AND THE PARTY'S FOCUS IS NATURALLY ON REGIONAL COMMUNITIES AND DEFENDING REGIONAL JOBS AND SERVICES.

 

Charisma and a high profile are not his hallmarks, but party leader Warren Truss showed good political instincts during the party's weekend conference. Under his leadership, sensibly, the party has rejected the idea of amalgamating with the Liberals. Both partners need look no further than the problems of the LNP in Queensland to recognise the folly of such a move.

 

The conservative side of politics is continuing to struggle for a narrative in the wake of losing government to Kevin Rudd after almost 12 years. So far, however, the Nationals are doing better than the Liberals at staking their ground. In doing so, they are following in the tradition of an anti-Labor Party of rural Australia, founded 90 years ago when 11 members of parliament elected in December 1919 who supported the Australian Farmers Federal Organisation agreed to form an independent party. In 1921, Earle Page, the member for Cowper in NSW, became leader and the Australian Country Party, as it was known, won 14 seats and the balance of power at the 1922 election. From the earliest days, coalition arrangements were about wheeling and dealing. Page refused to form a coalition with the Nationalists, forerunners of the United Australia and later Liberal parties, while Billy Hughes was leader, but did so when Stanley Bruce replaced him, creating a non-Labor coalition in 1923.

 

The Australian has argued previously that in opposition, the best course for the Coalition parties is to maximise support by pursuing their respective constituencies. In government, the parties have operated an effective coalition for decades, with the Liberals, up to a point, curbing the Nationals' propensity for regional and rural pork-barrelling. Policy decisions in the joint partyroom are not decided solely on numerical strength, but on merit and, undoubtedly, on electoral appeal. At times, this has afforded the Nationals a weight in government greater than their numerical strength. At other times, they have fallen in with the broader interests of the Liberals.

 

Other issues, Mr Truss acknowledged, were so important for the minor party that it occasionally felt compelled to vote separately. Would-be leader Barnaby Joyce echoed this view in addressing the conference yesterday, pointing out that it was possible to run a coalition without 100 per cent agreement.

 

The strength of the Nationals' opposition to the Rudd government's emissions trading scheme reflects to some extent the sentiment in their heartlands. Voters tend to be more sceptical about global warming and are deeply conscious of the potential impact of an ETS on such industries as coal, especially given Australia's paltry 1.5 per cent contribution to overall world emissions. Mr Truss, Senator Joyce and senator Ron Boswell make the argument that driving such industries as cement offshore would not only export jobs, but increase world emissions as nations such as China are dirtier in their production processes.

 

However horrified city dwellers might be by the Nationals' stance, the party has nothing to lose. Labor will play up any divisions between the Coalition partners, but the Coalition is robust enough to survive. It is those within the Liberal Party that will give Malcolm Turnbull his worst headaches.

 

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

MERCY MISDIRECTED

SCOTLAND'S JUSTICE SECRETARY, KENNY MACASKILL, SAID HE AGREED TO RELEASE THE TERMINALLY ILL LOCKERBIE BOMBING TERRORIST ABDEL BASET AL-MEGRAHI BECAUSE COMPASSION AND MERCY WERE "ABOUT UPHOLDING THE BELIEFS WE SEEK TO LIVE BY, REMAINING TRUE TO OUR VALUES AS A PEOPLE". WHILE COMPASSION IS INDEED AMONG THE HIGHEST OF HUMAN VIRTUES, MR MACASKILL'S REASONING IS, NONE THE LESS, DEEPLY FLAWED.

 

Compassion is a cornerstone of civilisations founded on the Judeo-Christian ethic. But so are justice and the rule of law. Britain's humane justice system, unlike Libya's, which sanctions torture and executions, jailed Megrahi for life eight years ago for his part in the Lockerbie bombing in December 1988. Lockerbie was Scotland's worst mass-murder and Britain's worst terrorist attack. The explosion on Pan-AM flight 103 killed 259 passengers from 21 countries, mainly Americans heading home for Christmas. Eleven people died on the ground.

 

The centre-left Scottish National Party, led by Alex Salmond, holds 47 out of 129 seats in the Scottish parliament. Its releasing Megrahi, against the wishes of the British government, reflects the limitations of a party developed on the basis of a single issue - Scottish independence.

 

Its decision was another cruel blow to Lockerbie victims' families and friends, who have mourned their loved ones for two decades. In keeping with Mr MacAskill's professed credo, surely they, too, deserved compassion and consideration, ahead of Megrahi and his family. Leaving him to die in custody, with appropriate medical care, like many before him serving life sentences who received no such privileges, would not have contradicted accepted Western practices and values. His claims to be innocent, tested and answered in the negative in two appeals, is irrelevant.

 

His release sent an unfortunate message of appeasement to Libya and other would-be terrorists, whose track records suggest they are more than likely to interpret it as a sign of Western weakness. The Libyan regime was quick to thumb its nose at US President Barack Obama, who urged it not to give Megrahi a hero's welcome. As he stepped from Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's private jet in Tripoli, the cheering mob did precisely that, in what was a despicable display, without a smidgen of remorse or sensitivity for Megrahi's victims.

 

In Scotland, the decision to divert the plane away from airspace near Lockerbie was made out of respect for the townspeople. It also had overtones of authorities being unable to look them in the face.

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

ROCK SOLID ALLIANCE

DISAPPOINTED AS AUSTRALIANS MAY BE WITH THE ALL BLACKS SNATCHING THE BLEDISLOE CUP - AGAIN - THE STRENGTH OF THE TRANS-TASMAN RELATIONSHIP IS SOMETHING BOTH NATIONS CAN CELEBRATE. FROM THE BATTLEMENTS OF GALLIPOLI TO THE CLOSER ECONOMIC RELATIONS TRADE PACT OF 1983, AUSTRALIA'S RELATIONSHIP WITH NEW ZEALAND IS TRIED AND TESTED, WITH VALUABLE GAINS TO MADE FROM REMOVING REMAINING BARRIERS TO TRADE AND COMMERCE.

 

Last Friday's joint Australia-New Zealand cabinet meeting in Sydney arrived at several carefully negotiated agreements that will bring the nations closer still. The meeting was a success for Kevin Rudd and his New Zealand counterpart, John Key, who agreed to reinvigorate the Anzac spirit with an Anzac military contingent.

 

Economically, the most important agreement pending is an upgrading of the CER pact to a single economic market by 2015, the centenary of the Gallipoli landings. The sum of a single trans-Tasman market can be greater than its separate parts.

 

The threshold at which official approval must be sought for investment between the nations is to be increased five-fold to $953 million for New Zealand investments in Australia and to $NZ477 million for Australian investments in New Zealand. And joint, rather than competing, international trade promotions will be undertaken, with wide scope for promotion of high quality agricultural products.

 

Closer economic relations will be encouraged by streamlining travel procedures to and from New Zealand, turning it virtually into a domestic trip. A single clearance for immigration and customs will cut check-in times and allow passengers to simply walk out at their destinations. The reforms may cut the cost of trans-Tasman plane tickets by as much as a third, and new air routes may open up as tourism numbers increase. Processing times for sea freight are also to be pared back.

 

In an increasingly competitive world economy, Australia, a medium-sized nation, and New Zealand, a smaller nation of about 4.4 million people, have strong incentives to maximise co-operation and trade to build prosperity and jobs. The Prime Minister and Mr Key are investing a new energy into the relationship, which should produce tangible benefits for commerce and individuals.

 

The ball is rolling, and their challenge is to ensure it continues to gather momentum.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

A LEAGUE TABLE FOR SUPER FUNDS

 

SUPERANNUATION is too important to be left to the superannuation industry. It has become a large and critical part of the economy, a source of national savings and investment, a safety valve, and critical to the net worth and self-worth of millions of Australians.

 

The super industry, therefore, can do with more scrutiny and transparency than it has so far offered. Companies that have high fees and low performances need to be named and shamed in order to maintain the integrity, efficiency and competitiveness of the sector. Superannuation cannot be a fee factory for the financial planning industry. Society expects fairness and demands professionalism. Consumers need choice. A league table of the funds, with winners and losers, helps on all these fronts.

 

We therefore welcome the introduction of an official league table that ranks the performance of superannuation funds. The first such table, published last week, was developed by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority. It compares data gathered over five years and can be accessed by the public.

 

The table reveals that, overall, not-for-profit funds charging low fees offer the best value for investors. Some big names have been bruised by this first APRA table, notably Macquarie Group, National Mutual and AMP, which have funds that featured near the bottom of the table.

 

Not surprisingly, the table has come in for criticism from the for-profit superannuation sector, including the Association of Superannuation Funds. The criticism is that it is too broad, well out-of-date, and fails to differentiate between the array of options offered by retail funds, which range from high-risk to low-risk funds with a multitude of differing investment mixes. The table's data ended in June 30 last year, so is a year behind the times.

 

The federal Opposition spokesman on financial services, Chris Pearce, has chimed in with criticism, too, claiming the methodology of the league table is fundamentally flawed. The table could be refined and made more up-to-date, but Pearce sounds like someone more interested in the welfare of the financial planning industry than the welfare of voters, the majority of whom are counting on their super fund to perform.

 

In contrast, the federal Superannuation Minister, Chris Bowen, has said the Government is willing to introduce legislation to limit excessive fees. The more transparency and comparative data available to the public, the better. Even an imperfect but still helpful super league table is an important step in this process.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

WAITING FOR A TAINTED VERDICT

 

THE presidential election on Thursday in war-torn Afghanistan went off about as well as expected. Given how low the expectations were, this is not saying much. True, it is no small thing that a national election could be held at all in the face of concerted efforts by the resurgent Taliban to prevent it or, failing that, to disrupt and discredit the vote. Despite Taliban rocket and grenade attacks, intimidation, and the lopping-off of the ink-stained forefingers of a few voters, foreign and Afghan security forces were able to keep the bloodshed relatively low. What is more remarkable, even inspiring, is that millions of Afghans put their lives on the line to have their say on who should govern them.

 

Even so, all but the incurably credulous will be sceptical about claims by the United Nations, the Obama Administration and the European Union that this was a "credible" democratic process. We do not yet have figures on how many Afghans voted - or, rather, on how many were counted as having voted. Nor do we know which of the two fancied candidates, the incumbent president, Hamid Karzai, or the former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, will be declared to have come out on top, nor whether he will be judged to have achieved the 50 per cent necessary to avoid a second ballot against the runner-up on October 1. Preliminary official figures are not expected before tomorrow, and the final results are not due for weeks.

To independent observers, the turn-out was not only low - probably less than 50 per cent of eligible voters - but also patchy. Voters turned out in droves in the north of the country, but in predominantly Pashtun southern areas, where the Taliban is strongest and US, British and Australian forces are based, attendance at some polling stations was estimated at between 5 and 10 per cent. Some did not open.

 

On the face of it, this is bad news for Karzai, whose support base is in the south. However, there are other reasons why the official election results are likely to distort the intentions of the Afghan people. These include disenchantment over his regime's corruption, deals allegedly done with Islamic extremists and drug-funded ethnic warlords to garner votes, intimidation of potential women voters, the widely reported falsification and sale of voter registrations, ballot box stuffing and multiple voting (the "indelible" finger ink was removable by bleach). Australia's Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, was right to warn whoever wins that the world's patience is wearing thin.

 

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                                                                                                                      THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF… MAESTROCAM

 

It is better to conduct with the ear instead of with the arm, Richard Strauss advises in his Ten Golden Rules for aspiring wavers of the baton. To audiences for whom the art of orchestral conducting remains a mystery, however, there is now the enlightenment of MaestroCam. At five televised Proms this summer, if you press the red button on your remote control, you can spend the whole evening focused entirely on the man on the podium. Even better, you get a discreet and informative commentary from experts like Matthew Rowe, Peter Stark and Jason Lai – who featured as conductor-mentors in Maestro, the BBC series for stickwaving wannabes and who all belong to the Richie Benaud school of commentary and only speak when they have something that needs saying. Last week Daniel Barenboim became the latest conductor to have his technique dissected by the bar-by-bar experts. This week it is David Robertson's turn. All the MaestroCam broadcasts, however, can still be seen and studied on the Proms website. Particularly recommended is Mr Rowe's commentary on Sir Charles Mackerras – drawing attention to the way he holds his baton, to the "rolling action with his elbow" and the precision of his beat. "Now, a tricky bit," warns Mr Rowe at one point in Elgar's Cockaigne, but Sir Charles passes that test, as he does all others. "Wonderful to see so much energy from a man of 83," Mr Rowe observes. Indeed it is, and almost as wonderful to have Mackerras's mastery so compellingly explained.

 

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

NEWS FROM 1959: MANCHESTER GUARDIAN

 

On an August Monday 50 years ago today Manchester slipped from this paper's masthead and the Guardian, plain and simple, was born. "The omission of Manchester implies neither a change of policy nor any disrespect to our home," a leading article explained, though it clouded that latter promise by adding "ours is undeniably an ugly city".

 

Five decades on Mancunians no longer have cause to be ashamed of their city's appearance, the Guardian's editorial offices are in London (where they have been since 1964, despite a promise five years before that "we shall on no account abandon our northern home") and the Guardian has many more readers than it did, in print and online. In 1959, the leader admitted, a circulation of 183,000 was "tiny when compared with Fleet Street's millions. But they are satisfactory enough for a newspaper intended for people who want to give their minds seriously, though with a sense of tolerance and humour, to the day's affairs". That intention, at least, has not changed.

 

Much else has changed about Britain, of course, though the final edition of the Manchester Guardian reports a half-familiar land. No paper now would put news of a government scheme to scrap 46,305 cotton spindles (and associated carding machines) on the front page, and not only because there is no Lancashire spinning industry left to support. But there was cricket at the Oval (where England were bowling badly against India), chaos on the railways (after London's stations were flooded) and traffic jams on holiday routes. The Edinburgh festival was under way. A consumer society was also emerging, but in 1959 advertisements in the paper were mostly brief and serious – the exceptions coming from car-makers and, unexpectedly, the Conservative party.

 

The striking thing about reading the Guardian then and now is how much about the country has improved in the last 50 years, and not just the standard of Test cricket at the Oval. It is worth remembering that things we now think of as modern social ills existed in 1959 too – in Liverpool, the paper reported, "terror children" were hurling rocks at trains and drivers were refusing to work on some routes. Against that, much else has got better; Britain is more tolerant, better educated, healthier, more cultured and richer. No paper now, especially this one, would attempt a comic column about the arrival of the advertising industry in Africa under the headline "White man's burden". In 1959 the Saturday night Proms concert was reported to be "thinly attended"; last weekend it was sold out. News can attract pessimists. But the Guardian, from Manchester and London, has reported progress as well.

 

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

SCIENCE: COLLISION COURSE

 

Chiefs at Cern in Geneva have now confirmed that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – switched on last autumn and hailed as the scientific breakthrough of the year – will run at only half of its intended energy when it resumes in November. The LHC came to a catastrophic halt nine days after the switch-on, and even after repairs will stay at half its planned energy during 2010. The magnificent instrument – hailed as the fastest thing on earth, the hottest property in the solar system and the coolest machine in the galaxy – will indeed accelerate hydrogen nuclei to velocities that approach the speed of light in a vacuum, but until the people with spanners and screwdrivers are sure that they have fixed everything, half energy is the best anyone can hope for.

 

Particles will accelerate in two directions around the 27 kilometre tunnel with energies of 3.5 tera-electron volts to achieve collision energies of 7 TeV, rather than the 14 TeV the LHC was designed to generate. This is still more powerful than any other particle-smasher in existence, and it takes the machine to levels that should produce discoveries. But the collider, bedevilled by technical problems, so far falls short of the original dreams. Theoretical monsters such as mini-black holes, dark matter, gravitons, quark-gluon plasma, super‑symmetric particles and the Higgs boson will remain elusive for a little longer.

 

Does half power mean half-cocked? Has the world's most expensive laboratory been a waste of money? The answer is a confident no. The $6bn enterprise is already a success. For the last decade 7,000 physicists from more than 80 nations have worked together to complete an instrument that can only be described in superlatives. They have done so on the basis of steady funding and support from the 20 nations in the Cern partnership. The purpose of the quest has been the ultimate in selflessness, and practical uselessness too: to find out what the universe was like when it was about the size of beach ball, in the first trillionth of a second of time.

 

To get this far, the Cern researchers have had to pioneer new techniques and design new technologies at almost every step of the way. The last great Cern instrument, called the Large Electron–Positron Collider (LEP), produced so much data that one of the team invented the world wide web to share the research around the planet. Nobody yet can be sure of spin-off from the LHC, but there will be wider benefits: if knowledge is power, then the LHC has already begun to deliver. In 10 years, the project has delivered skills and experience to thousands of engineering businesses and maintained tens of thousands of jobs, and all for a fraction of the $33bn that US bankers paid themselves in bonuses in 2008 alone, while losing money and closing down businesses everywhere.

 

But the greatest benefit of the LHC may simply be that it exists: that under the right political and economic arrangements, scientists and technologists around the world can and will co-operate in selfless achievement. In the next few years, governments that repeatedly failed to take steps to reduce carbon emissions, and thus made global warming ever more potentially disastrous, will start dreaming of geoengineering solutions: big, dramatic and possibly half-baked plans to reduce the impact of climate change by burying carbon or manipulating the clouds, by churning up the oceans or altering the incidence of sunlight: in short, by tinkering deliberately, instead of accidentally, with the complex machinery of climate. But confident understanding of the global system will require sustained, focussed and concentrated effort, monitoring and discovery by scientists from all nations, and any so-called technofix, to have even the slightest hope of success, would require the same wholehearted, dedicated co-operation. The great lesson from Geneva is that the world's scientists can work together. Could politicians do the same?

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

PROMOTING RENEWABLE ENERGY

 

To combat global warming, the government has a middle-term goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels. To achieve this goal, it will be important to spread the use of renewable energy. As part of this effort, the government plans to increase solar power generation output by around 20 times by 2020 from current levels. In January, it resumed subsidies to households that have installed solar panels, after it had stopped such subsidies in 2005.

 

A standard solar panel, with an output of 3.5 kW, costs about ¥2 million, including the cost to set up the panel. The central government provides a subsidy of ¥70,000 for each kW. Many local governments are also offering subsidies.

 

At present, power companies buy surplus power from solar power generation at ¥24 for each kW. To promote solar power generation, a panel of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has decided to raise the price of surplus power from solar power generation to ¥48 per kW. Within this year, power companies will start buying such surplus power at the new rate not only from households but also from business enterprises, schools, hospitals, etc.

 

Power companies will be allowed to pass the cost of purchasing surplus power to electricity charges. This means that power users have to shoulder a surcharge. The inclusion of the surcharge in electricity charges will start in April 2011. METI estimates that an average household will have to pay ¥30 more a month than now in the first year.

 

But the average surcharge is expected to increase to ¥50 to ¥100 a month in five to 10 years. METI says that the surcharge system will be designed so that the more electricity a user uses, the higher the surcharge will be. This means that if a household saves electricity, its financial burden will decrease.

 

Even so, many people may be unaware of the fact that they will have to pay the surcharge. The surcharge may be a considerable burden for low-income people. The government and the power industry will need to sufficiently explain the surcharge system to gain understanding from people.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

CONSUMER AGENCY CHALLENGE

 

The government has picked Sept. 1 as the start date of the Consumer Agency — two days after the Lower House election — by moving up the original schedule. Whichever political party comes to power, the new agency will face many difficult problems.

 

Strengthening of consumer service centers is urgent because they play an important role in collecting information on problems consumers have encountered. At present, there are 586 such centers at the prefectural and municipal levels. The government's goal is for each municipality with a population of 50,000 or more to have at least one consumer service center.

 

The Cabinet Office says that while there are 562 such municipalities, only 348 of them have such centers. Therefore more than 200 new centers must be established. The central government has secured about ¥26 billion to set up new centers and pay for salaries of consumer life counselors. Because the centers' operation is under the jurisdiction of local governments, the central government's policy does not automatically lead to an increase in the number of centers.

 

At present, there are about 2,700 consumer life counselors across the nation. But their status is unstable and their salaries are low, although they play important functions. They give advice to consumers and often mediate between consumers and sellers or producers when troubles crop up. They will also serve as eyes and ears of the Consumer Agency.

 

Because 98 percent of them are irregularly employed, their average annual income is only ¥1.65 million. The annual income of 70 percent of them is less than ¥2 million. Ninety percent of them work under a one-year contract. It is imperative that the central government take measures to stabilize the employment situation of consumer life counselors.

 

In their election manifestos, the Liberal Democratic Party calls for strengthening the consumer life consultation system at the local level, and the Democratic Party of Japan calls for drastically improving the salaries and other working conditions of counselors. They must live up to their promise after the election.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

AFGHAN HEALTH CRISIS DEFIES AID EFFORTS SO FAR

BY CESAR CHELALA

 

NEW YORK — Afghanistan is going through a serious public health emergency, exacerbated by the unstable political situation in the region. Food shortages could leave 8 million Afghans — 30 percent of the population — on the brink of starvation, unless more effective aid is provided soon. Lack of food is an actual threat not just in the remote regions of Afghanistan but also in its urban areas.

 

Price increases in basic foods, particularly wheat, have adversely affected millions of Afghans, primarily in rural areas where domestic production cannot satisfy people' needs. For example, in 2005 an average household was spending 56 percent of their income on food. Now that figure has risen to 85 percent, according to Susannah Nicol, a spokeswoman for the World Food Program (WFP).

 

More than 1.6 million children under the age of 5 and thousands of women could die in 2009 as a result of the lack of food and medical care, according to the Afghan Ministry of Health. These are troubling figures not only because of the human suffering involved, but because they indicate that the millions of dollars poured into the country to date have not reached its most vulnerable citizens.

 

Children are not only affected by lack of food, but diarrhea, acute respiratory infections and vaccine-preventable diseases. Diarrhea and acute respiratory infections account for approximately 41 percent of all child deaths in this desperately poor nation of 26 million people, while vaccine-preventable diseases — such as measles, polio and diphtheria — account for another 21 percent, according to UNICEF.

 

Eighty to 85 percent of these diseases can be avoided by implementing preventive measures and appropriate and timely health care.

 

Afghanistan rates low in practically all health indicators. As a result, it has one of the world's highest infant and maternal mortality rates. Hospitals in most of the country are in deplorable condition, and lack enough trained doctors or medical equipment for even the most basic surgeries. Life expectancy is 42 years, according to figures from the World Health Organization (WHO).

 

A survey of 800 Afghan households, led by Dr. Barbara Lopes Cardozo of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), shows that a majority of Afghans, including children, suffer from depression and anxiety, and almost half from posttraumatic stress disorder.

 

The researchers also found that although violence and war were important factors in the Afghans' deteriorating mental health situation, so were the daily stresses of dealing with shortages of food, water, shelter and lack of medical care.

 

In spite of this evidence, mental health remains one of the most neglected public health areas in the country. WHO's Project ATLAS showed that in 2001 there were only eight psychiatrists for the entire country.

 

The number of disabilities caused by failing medical conditions must also include those injuries caused by millions of land mines and unexploded ordnance that contaminate the country. During continuing hostilities, several previously de-mined areas have been re-mined. In addition, the dumping of industrial and medical waste in the Kabul River is raising concerns about its impact on the population, most notably children, who swim in it.

 

Although health care has been one of the main focal points for much of the humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, the country's health situation remains serious. Women and children, particularly, have seen a dramatic deterioration of their psychological, social and family life for the past two decades. Despite the government's avowed interest in improving the maternal health situation in the country, the maternal mortality rate (1,600 per 100,000 live births) is one of the highest in the world. It is estimated that every 20 to 30 minutes a woman dies because of pregnancy-related complications.

 

Since the U.S. invasion in 2001, the U.S., Japan, Britain and Germany have invested billions of dollars in Afghanistan's reconstruction, including the country's health system. In spite of that, the health situation in the country remains dire. Improving the Afghans' health situation remains one of the most serious and unresolved issues confronting the new Afghan government and international aid agencies.

 

Cesar Chelala, M.D., Ph.D., is an international public health consultant and a cowinner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

PARTY SHAKEOUTS UNLIKELY IF THE DPJ WINS BIG-TIME

 

The latest major opinion polls seem to indicate that the general election on Aug. 30 will bring about a change of government in Japan, with the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) unseating the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Prime Minister Taro Aso as the predominant force in the Lower House. One is left with the question of whether there will be a new alignment of political parties and politicians.

 

Only until a couple of months ago, there was much speculation that a number of LDP lawmakers, fed up with the growing unpopularity of Aso, would revolt against the party and form new groups. Especially after Aso fired Internal Affairs Minister Kunio Hatoyama on June 20 over the latter's opposition to the re-appointment of the postal services chief, Hatoyama was thought to be preparing to form a new party. The bid failed as he was able to gain support from only a handful.

 

This shows how incumbent LDP lawmakers are reluctant to leave the party even though its rate of approval has been dwindling. For one thing, leaving the party would deprive them of monetary and other crucial support needed for winning in the upcoming election. Moreover, even if one loses in a single-seat constituency, he or she could make a "comeback" by winning in the proportionate representation sector of the election if he remains a party member.

 

Yoshimi Watanabe, a former Cabinet minister who left the LDP, managed to form a mini-political party to oppose the LDP. But he learned a lesson the hard way when the candidates he supported in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election in July failed miserably.

 

Attention then focused on Takeo Hiranuma, who was thrown out of the LDP by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for opposing the latter's pet theme of privatizing the postal services. He failed to gain sufficient support.

 

Such reluctance to revolt against the LDP is in stark contrast with the situation in 1993, when Morihiro Hosokawa formed the first non-LDP government in nearly four decades with the support of those who dared to abandon their affiliations with the LDP. They included big names like Masayoshi Takemura, who retired from politics in 2000; Yukio Hatoyama and Ichiro Ozawa, leader and acting leader, respectively, of the DPJ; and former Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata.

 

According to political observers, the most likely outcome of the Aug. 30 general election is a resounding victory for the DPJ, which they say will win about 270 seats in the 480-seat Lower House, far exceeding the simple majority of 241.

 

If this happens, the number of seats held by the LDP, which stood at 306 when the Lower House was dissolved on July 21, will dwindle to about 160 — a far cry from the more than two-thirds majority it had enjoyed in coalition with its junior partner, Komeito.

 

There are a number of signs that point to such an election outcome. Early in June, the LDP conducted a secret survey on the prospects of 50 incumbent Lower House members who were said to be on the border line. The result showed that only three of the 50 were expected to win, while the remaining 47 appeared doomed to lose. This came as a big shock to those in charge of election campaigns who had hoped that if the result had been an even split, the LDP-Komeito coalition could have a reasonable chance of retaining a combined majority.

This dismal outlook for the Liberal Democrats showed no sign of improvement when their party suffered a crushing defeat in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election on July 12 at the hands of the DPJ. With the Aso Cabinet's rate of approval hovering at around 20 percent, opinion polls by leading newspapers showed the DPJ with a commanding lead over the LDP. Asked which party they would cast their ballots for in the proportionate representation sector, twice as many voters answered "DPJ" as "LDP."

 

If the DPJ scores a resounding victory as is generally predicted, there will likely be no major reorganization of political parties. It is true that the DPJ is made up of lawmakers a wide spectrum of political ideologies — from hawkish groups favoring a review of Japan's long-established policy of not making, not possessing and not allowing the bringing in of nuclear weapons to leftists staunchly opposed to any attempt to revise the war-renouncing Constitution. Moreover, some members detest former party president Ozawa, who was forced to resign after his secretary was indicted for violating the election funding law.

 

Insiders point out, however, that once the DPJ takes control of the government, its members will come to experience the invaluable benefits accruing from running the government, and that with the chance of assuming Cabinet posts, they will forget about their ideological differences and unite themselves under the party leadership, just as the Liberal Democrats have done for the past half a century.

 

The only shakeup that could conceivably take place would be for certain Upper House LDP members to shift their affiliations to the DPJ under Ozawa's maneuvering. He may just exercise his influence in order to secure a majority for his party in the Upper House. Even if his party wins big on Aug. 30, the number of DPJ seats in the 242-seat Upper House remains only 112, making it necessary to continue teaming up with the Social Democrats and other small groups.

 

It will take almost a miracle for the LDP to win a majority in the impending Lower House election. Even in the unlikely event the LDP takes full advantage of the unusually long lead time and wins close to 200 seats, the DPJ and other opposition parties will almost certainly gain more seats than the LDP-Komeito coalition.

 

Such an outlook all but precludes the possibility of initiatives for regrouping politicians across party lines being taken by Hiranuma and Watanabe, who left the LDP long ago, or by people like former LDP secretaries general Hidenao Nakagawa and Tsutomu Takebe, who follow Koizumi. To make matters worse for these heavyweights, they are fighting uphill battles for their own re-election.

 

Two years ago, Ozawa, who headed the DPJ, and then Prime Minister and LDP president Yasuo Fukuda agreed to form a "grand alliance" between the LDP and the DPJ. But the scheme proved abortive as Ozawa's lieutenants vehemently opposed it. This time around, nobody seems to expect that such a drastic idea even to be considered.

 

This is an abridged translation of an article from the August issue of Sentaku, a monthly magazine covering Japanese political, social and economic scenes.

 

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THE KOREA HERALD

EDITORIAL

KIM'S LAST GIFT

 

The state funeral of former President Kim Dae-jung, who was buried in the National Cemetery yesterday, appears to have provided an occasion for a thawing of inter-Korean relations. That may prove to be the last gift Kim made to the divided nation as a champion of inter-Korean reconciliation.

 

On the sidelines of the funeral, top aides to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il met senior South Korean officials -- the first high-level contact since the inauguration of President Lee Myung-bak's administration in February last year.

 

It was a truly encouraging development that North Korea's funeral delegation brought Kim Jong-il's message to President Lee. Dialogue seemed to be opening at the summit level.

 

It is too early to determine where the dialogue is headed. No breakthrough may come anytime soon, given the past experience of cumbersome, protracted inter-Korean negotiations.

 

Nonetheless, the South will have to strive to keep an open channel of dialogue with the North. It cannot be belittled even if it fails to help settle disputes in the short term. To borrow from Winston Churchill, "to jaw-jaw is always better to war-war."

 

Kim Ki-nam, secretary of the Central Committee of North Korea's Workers' Party, who headed the funeral delegation, indicated the communist state desires rapprochement with South Korea. In meeting with Unification Minister Hyun In-taek, Kim said he would like to have "candid talks."

 

Previously, the North declined direct contact with the South Korean government. It even boycotted a South Korean offer to provide food aid. President Lee's administration, which aims at negotiating from a position of power, has since ignored the North.

 

The South Korean tactic apparently worked when the North signaled a change in attitude earlier in the month. Kim Jong-il invited the chairwoman of Hyundai Group to visit Pyongyang and promised to lift restrictions the North imposed on inter-Korean business exchanges. In addition, the North released a Hyundai employee held in custody since March.

 

Kim Jong-il also took similar action toward the United States, inviting former President Bill Clinton and releasing two U.S. journalists held in the North. The North recently proposed to hold direct talks with the Obama administration on its nuclear program.

 

If it is worthwhile for South Korea to keep a channel of dialogue with the North, it should be the same with the United States. Washington does not necessarily have to insist on the format of six-way talks in dealing with the North's nuclear program. One-on-one talks are an option.

 

It does not take a genius to conjecture why the North has changed course all of a sudden and calls for talks with South Korea and the United States. The communist state, feeling international sanctions unbearable, is apparently attempting to find its way out through dialogue with South Korea and the United States.

 

But the North should be reminded that no substantial progress will be made unless and until it commits itself to the complete, verifiable and irrevocable dismantlement of its nuclear program. North Korea, which conducted its second nuclear test on May 25, deserves the sanctions being administered under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1784.

 

The nuclear test was "deplorable," as the late Kim Dae-jung said in the May 25 entry in his diary. He said, "We should never accept this."

 

As Kim claimed, the Obama administration may have erred when it did not engage North Korea when it sought dialogue with Iran and Syria. But that did not justify the nuclear test by any means. The only way it can undo its egregious mistake is to abandon its nuclear ambitions once and for all.

 

By doing so, the North will be able to extricate itself from its economic hardship with the massive support President Lee has conditionally committed himself to, in addition to freeing itself from international sanctions.

 

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THE KOREA HERALD

                                           EDITORIAL

OUT OF CONTROL?

 

Fears are running high that the H1N1 flu is getting out of control, as the number of flu patients is growing exponentially. The number of people testing positive to the flu each day is now in the hundreds. The most urgent task at the moment is to keep that number from reaching the thousands.

 

According to one estimate, the number of H1N1 patients in Korea would explode to up to 8 million four months after the flu turned itself into a pandemic. The public health authorities will have to forestall such a disaster by all means.

 

But the efforts to put the disease under control are ruefully inadequate, as evidenced by complaints filed by medical doctors out in the field. According to a recent survey, 96 percent of the respondents claim that they are not being provided with sufficient information about the flu virus by the public health authorities.

 

Moreover, private hospitals complain about inadequate funding for the treatment. They also accuse the Ministry of Health and Welfare of issuing policies without prior consultations with them.

 

This is not to say that the ministry and other health agencies are standing idly by. In an interagency conference last week, the administration decided to increase the stockpile of antiviral drugs -- they plan to store enough to treat 7.8 million patients, up from 5.3 million.

 

The administration also decided to spend an additional 108.4 billion won on vaccines and start vaccinations in November. But the administration will do well to advance the schedule, given that nothing is better than vaccination in preventing further infection.

 

The measures that the administration is taking now may not be sufficient to controlling the flu. The administration will have to keep itself placed on alert and take action immediately when the flu shows signs of spreading at a faster pace than anticipated.

 

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THE KOREA HERALD

                                           EDITORIAL

NORMALIZATION OF GUERRILLA MOVEMENT

DAOUD KUTTAB

 

RAMALLAH - Fatah, the leading guerrilla movement within the Palestine Liberation Organization, has moved one step closer to becoming a normal political party. Its just concluded sixth congress was held for the first time in the occupied territories, which meant that former guerrillas from Lebanon and Jordan were allowed entry by Israel. The conference, it appears, succeeded in reuniting and reinvigorating the movement, which has suffered since the death of its founder and long-time leader, Yasser Arafat.

 

More than 2,000 delegates, representing former Fatah fedayyin (guerrillas) and intifada activists, voted to continue all forms of resistance for the liberation of Palestine. Yet the term "armed resistance" was missing from all the documents approved at the conference. Mahmoud Abbas - unanimously elected as Fatah's leader and commander-in-chief - made clear that while all options remain available for ending the occupation, the preference is still negotiations. While some (such as Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak) took the resistance rhetoric of some delegates seriously, Fatah spokesman Nabil Amr officially assured all concerned that Fatah is committed to "peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict."

 

Any organization that has not provided democratic mechanisms for change and renewal tends to age and become monotonous and ineffective. This aging and dullness became most evident in the past few years, as Fatah first lost the 2006 legislative elections to Hamas, and then its presence in the Gaza Strip.

 

Signs that Fatah is moving towards becoming a normal political party were ample. Gone were the khaki suits and militaristic paraphernalia, replaced by business suits and proper conference IDs for delegates. Backroom decisions and top-down guidance was replaced by a democratic free-for-all that saw many of Fatah's historic leaders fall to the wayside, making room for younger, locally popular leaders. Prisoners held in Israeli jails were granted 20 seats in the enlarged 100-member revolutionary council. A jailed intifada leader, Marwan Barghouti, was among the highest elected new leaders to the central committee, the movement's executive body.

 

Naturally, the 20-year hiatus since the last congress created a huge gap that was quickly filled by intifada veterans rather than old-style guerrillas, who had dominated the movement since its establishment. Fourteen of the 19 elected members of the central committee are first-time members, most of whom represent the leadership of the 1987 uprising in the occupied territories. The shifting age and geographic location of the Fatah membership was the reason for the failure of some of Fatah's historic leaders, such as Ahmad Qureia and Intisar Wazir, the widow of the late Abu Jihad.

 

Moreover, holding the congress in Palestine ended the role of many Fatah leaders who had opposed the Oslo accords, such as Farouk Qaddoumi and Mahmoud Jihad. Sidelining men like Qaddoumi, whose accusation, on the eve of the congress, that Abbas and Mohammad Dahlan had helped Israel poison Arafat, also distances Fatah from its one-time alliance with hard-line Arab countries such as Syria and Libya.

 

While the old guard had to strike a balance between the different Arab countries that backed the PLO, the new guard will have to find a workable solution with their rivals in Hamas if a viable compromise agreement with Israel is to be found. Opinions vary, with some calling for a tough position towards Hamas and others advocating a softer approach.

 

Another major challenge facing the new Fatah leadership will be how it deals with the duality of holding party posts while also holding ministerial positions within the Palestinian Authority. Some are calling for Fatah leaders to abstain from ministerial roles, whereas others see no reason why one can't be a leader of a party and the government simultaneously.

 

In his acceptance speech, Abbas referred to the leaders of the first Intifada, telling the congress that they drew the guidelines that have become the movement's political platform. Leaders like Barghouti, former preventative security chief Jibril Rajoub, and Gaza's Dahlan are now in the driver's seat of the Fatah movement.

 

Dahlan, accused by some of being responsible for the loss of Gaza to Hamas, gave a strong speech accusing the previous Fatah leadership of having lost Gaza long before it actually fell to Hamas in June 2007. Dahlan detailed how the former Fatah leadership repeatedly ignored his warnings and his pleadings with the central committee members to come to Gaza and see for themselves the situation on the ground.

 

The Fatah congress also dealt a blow to the abuse and corruption that have plagued the movement in recent years, especially since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. Speaker after speaker insisted that the movement's weakness was brought about by the fact that its leaders succumbed to the temptations that come with government positions. Thus, for example, Ahmad Qurei (Abu Ala'a), a former prime minister and senior negotiator who is accused of owning shares in a Palestinian company that supplied cement for Israel's construction of the hated wall that cuts through Palestinian territory, lost his position within Fatah's leadership.

 

The Fatah movement has a long way to go before it becomes a full-fledged political party. The delegates overwhelmingly agreed that the movement must keep open the option of returning underground if negotiations for statehood fail, while being ready to become a political party if a Palestinian state is born. Nevertheless, the results of the Sixth Fatah Congress reflect a clear bias in favor of becoming a party rather than an armed resistance movement.

 

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and former professor of Journalism at Princeton University. - Ed.

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

CARE FOR PUBLIC VOICES

 

The municipal authorities in Beijing have reportedly been experimenting on a risk evaluation mechanism that previews a government policy's potential of causing letters and visits of complaints, or xin fang.

 

Alongside consultation with the public, the outcome of such evaluation, it is said, will determine whether or not a particular policy of public concern will be carried forward to implementation.

 

This should not have been in the news. It would be ridiculous if a "people's government", as each government in this country is officially named, enacts policies without due regard to people's feelings.

 

Yet considering that we are just relieved of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology's wrong-headed attempt to force filtering software on personal computers, this is not bad, either. At least, again, if it truly works, a design like this may help the municipal decision-makers avoid similar embarrassments. Honestly, the MIIT is not alone in churning out ill-fated policies. And, in fairness to the MIIT, its courage to admit to and correct the wrong is laudable.

 

In the pilot project of the Dongcheng district, for instance, such major decisions or projects as urban planning, demolition compensation, and residents relocation are subject to preview by a panel consisting of experts, lawyers, representatives of competent authorities and those of the people to be affected.

 

This is no deliberative democracy, but an attempt to engage those who are directly involved and those likely to be affected. The latter are no longer people at the receiving end who have to accept whatever is delivered to them. Even better, they are assigned a seat at the policy assessment table. You cannot deny it is progress.

 

Authorities in charge of xin fang in the city reportedly plan to review the pilot projects in the districts prior to the National Day and modify technical specifics. Which means we may see the risk evaluation mechanism become a municipal policy quite soon.

 

That the xin fang authorities have been the initiator and driver of the process reveals an eagerness to reduce public dissatisfaction with government policies. For that purpose, producing sensible decisions is an important step. Yet it is only one step.

 

Looking back at the plethora of complaints that upset governments at all levels, there are grievances about ill-conceived policies. The majority, however, involves abuse of policies that are fine in principle. In too many cases, we have seen good policies get distorted and became bad in the wrong hands.

 

So unless backed up with faithful implementation, the risk evaluation in advance is no guarantee that the municipal government of Beijing will hear fewer complaints.

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

COMPROMISED JUSTICE

 

The recent high-profile case in Southwest China's Chongqing municipality calls for closer scrutiny of our judicial and law enforcement teams.

 

Wen Qiang, director of the Chongqing municipal judicial bureau and former deputy director of the Chongqing public security bureau, was arrested on charges of serving as a "protective umbrella" for local gangs.

 

In fact, a total of 1,544 suspected gang leaders and members, and 50 government officials accused of corruption were nabbed during the last two months of raids on the Chongqing underworld.

 

It would be wrong to think that Wen Qiang has always been providing protection to gangs. He made a name in 2000 for capturing the country's most wanted criminal, Zhang Jun. But he has himself degenerated over the last nine years to a point where he was colluding with the underworld.

 

It would be equally wrong to think of the gangs in Chongqing as comprising people holding guns and wielding knives. Far from that, many of them are celebrities - the rich and famous in the country's most populous city. Their ranks include deputies to the local legislature - the People's Congress; or, a member of the local political advisory body of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference; or, heads of various local trade associations.

 

But, these are the same people who resort to organized crime, murder, extortion and bribery of government officials to develop their business. With people like Wen Qiang as protector, these gangsters are as bold as ever in their criminal acts.

 

While we are used to seeing undercover police penetrate and bust criminal gangs, we are appalled by the hard facts of how the underworld has infiltrated and compromised our judicial and law enforcement teams.

 

We are also shocked by the fact that some leaders of criminal gangs have been elected members of the legislative and political advisory bodies.

 

These hard facts call for close monitoring or even immediate investigation of our judicial and law enforcement teams as well as other government departments and institutions. For example, gang leaders reportedly prevailed in certain village elections - endangering the experiment of grassroots democracy in the country. It is also no secret that a number of property developers have colluded with both local police and gangs to evict people from their homes by force.

 

Although the busting of criminal gangs and corrupt officials in Chongqing has been regarded as a great victory, there is no room for complacency. The fact that judicial and law enforcement teams in such a big city can be compromised shows that it is a serious matter.

 

The Chongqing crackdown should be the start of an unrelenting campaign to ensure that judicial and law enforcement officials are always on the side of justice and the people.

 

Under no circumstances should they be allowed to compromise their sense of duty and side with the gangs.

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

CARBON TAX'S SMOKE AND MIRRORS

 

The carbon tariff proposed by the United States is not only an excuse for protectionism dressed in green drag, but also an act of provocation that will spur a trade war. The tariff would hamstring the rebound from the global recession and hurt the interests of developing countries.

 

The US House of Representatives in June approved the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act, which included a provision that would let the US levy duties on imports of carbon-intensive goods from countries which do not have a binding target to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

 

Imposing carbon duties on imported goods from developing countries will help the US strengthen its competitiveness in international markets and weaken the trade advantages of big manufacturers in China, India and Brazil. Emerging economies more dependent on manufacturing will bear the brunt of the cost of the duties, as their low-carbon technologies are not as advanced as those in richer countries.

 

High energy-consuming and carbon-emitting industries have shifted away from the US into developing countries that are now in the unenviable position of having to purchase the high-priced technologies to meet environmental standards set by the US.

 

As the crucial international talks on climate change to be undertaken in Copenhagen approach, Washington's change of heart on climate change from negative to decidedly green will help the country beautify its international image and put the US delegation in an advantageous position at the negotiation table.

 

In reality, the US way of offsetting the cost of its own carbon use is unfair to the developing countries and will meet wide resistance.

 

Levying carbon duties defies World Trade Organization principles of free trade and most-favored nation status. The WTO agrees countries cannot normally discriminate against their trading partners. Lowering trade barriers is an obvious mean of encouraging trade. The barriers concerned include customs duties, import bans and selective quotas.

 

Carbon tariffs, in essence, erect barriers to imports into the US. If the carbon tariff is levied, it will complicate the duty system among countries, disturb the international trade order and eventually provoke trade wars.

 

A carbon tariff does not abide by the common but differentiated principle established by the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty, to define the varied responsibilities of developing and developed countries for mitigating climate change.

 

Considering that rich countries have released much more greenhouse gases throughout history than developing countries in per-capita terms, the Kyoto Protocol agrees that developed countries should take a step toward reducing their GHG emissions from 2009 to 2012, while the developing countries lack a binding quantified target for cutting the emissions.

 

However, the levying of carbon taxes places an undue onus on developing countries, which will see an economic loss. Currently, most developing countries are engaged in the process of heavy industrialization, which demands high energy consumption and large releases of greenhouse gas. Rich countries, having already finished the process of industrialization, have even outsourced some highly polluting industries to developing countries, leaving the less fortunate with both more pollution and the burden of reducing those emissions.

 

China should intensify its participation in international trade rulemaking and prevent carbon tariffs to be written into international trade rules.

 

The international community should separate carbon tariffs and climate change into separate issues to be negotiated by the WTO and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

 

China, as one of the world's biggest GHG emitters, has adopted a positive attitude and taken action to reverse climate change.

 

Still, the country must speed its transition to a low-carbon and sustainable development mode, because the shift is driven more by demand from China's economic growth than by international pressure. The country should strengthen its research and international collaboration on technology development, especially on clean energy and improvements in energy efficiency.

 

As a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, China abides by the convention and is actively pushing forward the post-2012 negotiation. China released its National Action Plan on Climate Change in 2007 as the guideline to mitigate global warming.

 

The author is a researcher with the Institute for International Economic Research affiliated with the National Development and Reform Commission

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

US BONDS REDUCTION NORMAL

 

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

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

SBY’S DREAM TEAM

 

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono today faces a historic opportunity of creating a legacy for himself, following his recent re-election for a second five-year term in office beginning October 20.

 

His state of the nation address on Aug. 14 sets out a grand vision that takes Indonesia further than the one envisaged by our founding fathers. He added self-reliance, globally competitiveness and civilization to Soekarno-Hatta’s vision of an Indonesia that is just and prosperous.

 

Yudhoyono and running mate Boediono will need to assemble the best team to put this vision of Indonesia into reality. They have literally around 240 million people to choose from to create this Dream Team, and less than two months to go through the selection.

 

SBY has the political capital that would be the envy of any democratically elected leader anywhere: 60 percent of the votes in the July 8 election. His Democratic Party controls more than 25 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives and has forged a coalition that brings their combined strength close to 60 percent of the seats.

 

Yet, somehow we get the impression that SBY is about to make the same mistake that he did in 2004 when he included a number of problematic figures in his first-term Cabinet and gave away seats more than he should have to his coalition partners. He virtually squandered the huge political capital he had then within less than a year and many members of his Cabinet became a political liability.

 

In a speech last week accepting his election victory, SBY indicated that he will again include politicians from the coalition partners as rewards for their role in getting his re-election, as well as professionals, in his next Cabinet. His party is even open to the idea of one of the other two nationalist parties, either the Democratic Party of Struggle or Golkar, joining the camp that would allow the coalition to control over 70 percent of the House seats.

 

One could almost predict that his next team would be named The United Indonesia Cabinet II as a sequel to the first. But his fixation with unity could come at the expense of the effectiveness of the government in doing its duties and in pursuing the SBY vision.

 

If 2004-2009 yielded any lessons, it is that national unity could not be assured by forging the biggest coalition in government or in parliament. On many occasions in the last five years, the staunchest opposition to SBY’s policies came from his coalition partners in parliament while their representatives in the Cabinet became Trojan Horses.

 

Lessons from more mature democracies show that unity is assured by having a credible government and healthy relations with the oppositions in parliament. Indonesia’s political system is already built to accommodate divergent views and these differences should be settled through democratic means, including periodic elections.

 

A much bigger threat to Indonesia today is in having a democratically elected but ineffective government that cannot deliver on its promises. This is the story of the United Indonesia Cabinet and could be the story of the next government, unless SBY plays his cards right this time around.

 

Instead of going for a united government, he should go for a strong and effective cabinet. He should pick people because he truly trusts them first and foremost, and who have the expertise and the capacity to contribute to his endeavor. If trust is the most important criteria, then he can almost eliminate politicians from his coalition partners, who contributed little to his re-election campaign anyway.

 

The next five years will be a defining time for SBY to leave behind his legacy. How will the nation, who twice gave him the opportunities, remember him? He could be the leader that translates his dream into reality, but he could just end up like one of those big-talk phony leaders who let the nation down.

 

The answer lies to a large extent on how SBY picks his next Cabinet.

 

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THE MOSCOW TIMES

EDITORIAL

REAL BENETTON, FAKE IKEA, NO FUEL

BY MATTHEW COLLIN

 

A lot of people have lost money — lots of money,” a despondent official told me in Abkhazia last week after Georgian coast guards seized a ship carrying fuel bound for the disputed coastal region. Georgia said the Turkish tanker, which was crossing the Black Sea under a Panamanian flag, had broken a law banning any commercial activity in Abkhazia without Georgian permission. The Georgian authorities have been trying to put the squeeze on the recalcitrant Abkhaz secessionists by punishing them economically, although it has been argued that this is not exactly the best way to convince people that they want to be part of your country.

 

In the Abkhaz capital, Sukhumi, there was anxious talk of gasoline stockpiling and imminent shortages, while on the road from Sukhumi to Gali in the north, none of the gas stations had any fuel to sell. The Georgians’ strong-arm tactics seemed to be having an effect: Abkhaz taxi drivers were cursing them as devils and degenerates. “They just don’t want us to live,” one snarled as he searched for a gasoline refill. The Abkhaz authorities called the ship’s seizure “piracy” and threatened to use force to prevent it happening again.

 

Several ships carrying goods across the Black Sea to and from Abkhazia have been impounded for alleged smuggling this year. “The Turks don’t care about politics,” the Abkhaz official told me. “They just want to do business.” But the economic lifeline is precarious, and this isn’t the first dispute about Turks doing business under an Abkhaz regime, which the Georgian government considers to be a cabal of ethnic cleansers and Russian puppets. Earlier this year, workers at Benetton fashion stores in Georgia went on strike after the Turkish arm of the company opened a franchise in Sukhumi. The Georgians even raised the issue with Turkey at the diplomatic level, as they sought to frustrate Abkhaz desires for chic Italian knitwear.

 

In what initially appeared to be a resounding victory for the government in Tbilisi, the shop was quickly shut, causing the Abkhaz to accuse the Georgians of trying to suffocate them. “Any initiatives and any positive changes in our republic cause anger in Georgia,” the mayor of Sukhumi, Alias Labakhua, said at the time. But as I was informed by a gleeful Abkhaz recently, the Benetton store is now trading again, in what looks like a single-digit salute to Tbilisi.

 

There are also shops in Sukhumi bearing the corporate logos of IKEA and the Mango fashion chain, although these appear to be fakes. Russian firms are investing, however, and the Abkhaz argue that Georgia is effectively pushing them into Moscow’s embrace by preventing them from establishing economic relations with European countries across the Black Sea.

 

“It’s understandable that Russia’s role here is strong, but it’s not entirely our choice,” insists independent Abkhaz journalist Inal Khasig. Moscow already controls the disputed region’s borders, its railway and its airport, and there are fears that Abkhazia could effectively be assimilated if the Russians buy the aspiring republic wholesale.

 

One Turkish firm has now announced that it will stop supplying fuel to Abkhazia because it’s no longer worth the risk, but other sanctions-busters remain undaunted. At the Sukhumi docks a couple of days after the tanker was seized, cargo was being unloaded from another Turkish ship. This is a sign that although Georgia’s blockade might be hurting Abkhazia, devious businessmen will continue trying to break the embargo as long as they can still make some money out of it.

 

Matthew Collin is a journalist based in Tbilisi. Richard Lourie is on vacation.

 

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THE MOSCOW TIMES

EDITORIAL

FICTIONAL SOVEREIGNTIES

ROBERT SKIDELSKY

 

A year ago, tiny Georgia tried to regain control over its breakaway enclave of South Ossetia. The Russians quickly expelled the Georgian army, to almost universal opprobrium from the West. South Ossetia (with a pre-war population of 70,000) and Abkhazia (about 180,000 people) promptly declared their “independence.” They created two new fictional sovereignties and acquired in the process all the official trappings of statehood: national heroes, colorful uniforms, anthems, flags, frontier posts, military forces, presidents, parliaments and, most important, new opportunities for smuggling and corruption.

 

So far, only Russia and Nicaragua recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian recognition was widely seen as retaliation for Western recognition of Kosovo (population 2 million), the breakaway province of Serbia, earlier last year.

 

About 1,500 kilometers to the west of Georgia is Moldova (population 3.5 million), which lies between Romania and Ukraine. Annexed by tsarist Russia in 1812, joined to Romania in 1918 and re-annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, it seized its independence from Moscow in 1991. It is a member of the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the World Trade Organization, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and various other prestigious international bodies.

 

Moldova’s main claim to fame is King Stephen the Great, who defeated the Ottomans in a great 15th-century battle. It also produces rather good wine. To get to Moldova from Odessa, Ukraine, you must drive through the self-proclaimed “republic” of Transdnestr (population 700,000), a sliver of land on the north shore of the Dnestr River. A clump of peeling buildings, rusting wire and a filthy lavatory mark the start of Transdnestr sovereignty.

 

Progress through this squalid but well-manned frontier post involved the stamping of lots of documents and a liberal scattering of bribes, a process repeated on leaving the republic. A shadowy mafia-style company called Sheriff owns most of the economy. It is said to have close links to the president and his family. It has built a giant football stadium in the capital, Tiraspol, which seems to be some kind of symbol of Transdnestr virility. Unrecognized by the rest of the world, Transdnestr “independence” is secured by a Russian garrison.

 

The world’s population is about 6 billion. Suppose that it was divided into independent political units of 2 million people each. That would mean 3,000 microstates, each refusing to accept any sovereignty superior to its own. Of course, this would be a recipe for global anarchy.

 

Yet the trend over the past century has been toward a continuous increase in the number of small states, mainly owing to nationalist revolts against multinational empires. The latest bout of state creation followed the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Even long-established states like Britain now have strong separatist movements. In its political life, the world has been regressing to a form of tribalism, even as its economic life has become increasingly globalized.

 

The equation of state with nation is the arch-heresy of our time. A “nation” is, at root, an ethnic and linguistic — occasionally religious — entity. Since it is through language and liturgy that culture is transmitted, each nation will have its own distinctive cultural history, available for use and misuse, invention and discovery.

 

The state, however, is a political construction designed to keep the peace in an economically viable territory. There are simply too many “nations” — actual or potential — to form the basis of a world system of states, not least because so many of them, having been jumbled up for centuries, cannot now be disentangled.

 

Microstates can never be made small enough to satisfy their advocates’ exalted standards of cultural integrity. So the unraveling of multinational states is a false path. The way forward lies in democratic forms of federalism, which can preserve sufficient central authority for the purposes of statehood, while respecting local and regional cultures.

 

Today’s upsurge of micronationalism is not just a consequence of the revolt against empires, it is also a revolt against globalization. There is widespread resistance to the idea that the chief function of modern states is to slot their peoples into a global market dominated by the imperatives of efficiency and cheapness, heedless of the damage to noneconomic activities. This feeling is strengthened when the global economy turns out to be a global casino. National assertion is a way of combating impersonal forces and remote authorities.

 

Globalization promises too much in terms of welfare gains, particularly to developing countries, to be abandoned. But the lesson from the current crisis is that we will have to develop styles of global economic governance to manage, regulate and mitigate the creative but often disruptive forces unleashed by the global market. In the absence of an actual world government, this can be done only through cooperation among states. The fewer “sovereigns” there are, the easier it will be to secure the necessary cooperation.

 

The Bretton Woods Agreement of 1944, which laid the institutional foundation for the post-World War II economy, was made possible because the United States and Britain called the shots. When objections were raised to Cuba being put on the drafting committee, Harry Dexter White, the U.S. representative, remarked that Cuba’s function was to provide cigars.

 

Such a cavalier attitude to the demands of lesser powers to be heard is no longer possible. But all this means is that the facades will have to be more subtle and the fictions more elaborate. Provided we do not deceive ourselves about where real power lies, let presidents and parliaments be three a penny if that is what makes people feel good about themselves.

 

Robert Skidelsky, a member of the British House of Lords, is author of a prize-winning biography of the economist John Maynard Keynes and a board member of the Moscow School of Political Studies. © Project Syndicate

 

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Project By

SAMARTH

a trust – of the people by the people for the people

An Organisation for Rastriya Abhyudaya

(Registered under Registration Act 1908 in Gorakhpur, Regis No – 142- 07/12/2007)

Central Office: Basement, H-136, Shiv Durga Vihar, Lakkarpur, Faridabad – 121009

Cell: - 0091-93131-03060

Email – samarth@samarth.co.in, central.office@samarth.co.in

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Gorakhnath Road, Gorakhpur – 273 015

 

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