August 25, 2009
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Month August 25, Edition 000280, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul
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1. RESOLVING RAJASTHAN
2. LAW UNTO THEMSELVES
3. FLAWED THESIS ON PARTITION-A SURYA PRAKASH
4. MARITIME EXCELLENCE BELONGED TO EUROPE-PRIYADARSI DUTTA
5. MAKE VOTING COMPULSORY-GAUTAM MUKHERJEE
6. SAVING THE GIRL CHILD-ANURADHA DUTT
7. SCRAMBLE TO CONTROL INDIAN OCEAN-RANJIT B RAI
8. GOVERNMENT APATHY KILLING LEATHER INDUSTRY IN KASHMIR-BINISH GULZAR & SYED RAKSHANDA SUMAN
THE TIMES OF INDIA
1. LOST HORIZON
2. OPERATION SHUTDOWN
3. OUT OF TOUCH-
4. LAB LIFE TO THE RESCUE
5. CREATION IS NOT A GAME-
6. MOMENT OF TRUTH-
7. ROAD TO A BETTER PLACE-
1. AN EAST WIND THAT’S BLOWING
2. A SAD ASHEN LOOK
3. IN DEFENCE OF THE PM-CHETAN BHAGAT
1. BANK ON IT
2. A MONTH LATER
3. TURNING POINT
4. WHY JINNAH MATTERS-SUGATA BOSE
5. NEPAL ABHORS A VACUUM-YUBARAJ GHIMIRE
6. A FEW EXTRACTS FROM THE BOOK-ARUN SHOURIE
7. WHY ARE OUR TV ANCHORS SUCH MANIC MOTORMOUTHS?-SHAILAJA BAJPAI
THE FINENCIAL EXPRESS
1. RBI, BANKS, WATER THE SHOOTS
2. PAINT AN EVEN BETTER PICTURE
3. WILL IFRS STOP COOKING OF BOOKS?-KRISHNAMURTHY V SUBRAMANIAN
4. IT’S TOUGH, BUT RATES MUST REMAIN LOW-INDRANIL PAN
5. WHEN IT RAINS, IT HALTS-JAYA JUMRANI
1. GRITTY TEAM EFFORT
2. WELCOME DEVELOPMENTS
THE ASIAN AGE
1. DO MORE TO END FREE TRADE FEARS
2. THE GOULDEN TREASURY-JAYATI GHOSH
1. CURBING BLACK MONEY
2. A FRUITFUL VISIT
3. INEFFECTIVE POLICING
4. NO LESSONS LEARNT-BY YASMIN ALIBHAI-BROWN
5. SECURITY: NEED TO SHED THE VIP SYNDROME-BY LT-GEN HARWANT SINGH (RETD)
6. DELHI DURBAR
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
1. BORDER MANAGEMENT
2. ENGLAND’S ASHES WIN
3. THE AGP-BJP MISMATCH-SAIKH MD SABAH AL-AHMED
4. CLIMATE CHANGE: THE BIGGEST THREAT TO HEALTH-DR ALAKANANDA GOSWAMI
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
1. THE NERVOUS FOUR
2. DIVESTING IN TRANCHES
3. LEARN FROM UNCLE SAM
4. GETTING RURAL TELECOM RITE-ROHIT PRASAD
1. DO MORE TO END FREE TRADE FEARS
2. IF BENGAL IMPLODES, INDIA IS ENDANGERED - BY SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY
3. ALL THE PRESIDENT’S ZOMBIES PLEASE STAND UP - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
4. THE GOULDEN TREASURY - BY JAYATI GHOSH
5. FARM ON EVERY FLOOR - BY DICKSON D. DESPOMMIER
6. BOOKER FOR CROMWELL? -BY JOHN PRESTON
1. WRONG TOOLS
2. LOSING FAITH
3. ADVERSE SELECTION -ASHOK V. DESAI
4. THEATRE OF THE ABSURD -MALVIKA SINGH
1. AFLOAT AGAIN
2. ROBUST, IF FUZZY
3. VM’S SPLENDOUR
4. HUMOUR IS AN ‘ACT OF AGGRESSION’
5. ELUSIVE FREEDOM
1. AFGHAN FIASCO HAS THE BRITS SQUIRM-COLIN TODHUNTER
2. CALMING THOUGHTS OF GHOSTS-KALPANA M NAGHNOOR
THE NEW YORK TIMES
1. RETIRED RACEHORSES
2. NEW YORK’S DISGRACE
3. REPLACING SENATOR KENNEDY
4. THE GOVERNMENT AND THE WEB
1. MINUS ONE?
2. AFGHAN UNCERTAINTY
3. PESHAWAR KILLINGS
1. LEARNING FROM CHINA’S AGRI SUCCESS
2. THAR COAL: SOME BEGINNING AT LAST
3. JASWANT SINGH: DEEP ANGUISH
1. CAPITAL CRIMES
2. POULTRY COLLAPSE
3. JUDGES: GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY…!-ROBERT CLEMENTS
1. AN OVERDUE END TO ASX SELF-REGULATION
2. MAN FOR THE MIDDLE
3. LIFE AFTER THE ASHES
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
1. PICKING CRICKET UP OUT OF THE ASHES
2. CANBERRA'S COURAGE FAILS ON SCHOOLS
1. WHITEHALL AND WESTMINSTER: FROM PUBLIC SERVICE TO OPEN RANCOUR
2. IN PRAISE OF… RICKY PONTING
3. LOCKERBIE CASE: WHEN MERCY IS MESSY
1. HOMEGROWN FOOD PRODUCTION
2. CRACKING A CASE THAT WENT AWRY
3. OPENING A REGULATED MARKET FOR KIDNEY SALES-BY PETER SINGER
4. JAPAN READY FOR 'NO NUKES'-BY SHINGO FUKUYAMA AND HIROMICHI UMEBAYASHI
THE KOREA HERALD
1. REGAINING CONFIDENCE
2. RUBBER STAMP
3. EU NEEDS EXTERNAL STABILITY PACT AGAINST FISCAL RISKS -SEBASTIAN DULLIEN/DANIELA SCHWARZER
1. INDEPENDENCE AND DEVELOPMENT
2. THE LAW AND LIBEL
3. A RUBBERY ISSUE WAITING FOR PALATABLE RESOLUTION
4. PROTECTIONISM WARS CAN'T THROW UP ANY WINNERS
THE JAKARTA POST
1. STOP HATE SPEECH
THE MOSCOW TIMES
1. BLOWING AVIATION SMOKE-BY ALEXANDER GOLTS
2. UKRAINE’S KHODORKOVSKY-BY ALEXEI PANKIN
LET VASUNDHARA RESIGN AT A TIME OF HER CHOICE
The BJP has done well by not pushing Ms Vasundhara Raje, Leader of Opposition in the Rajasthan Assembly and former Chief Minister of the State, into a corner and forcing her to resign immediately. Not only would that have been graceless and improper, it would have been grossly unfair. Ms Raje clearly enjoys majority support in the BJP legislature party of which she was elected leader after last winter’s Assembly election that the party lost narrowly. But for indiscipline and inner-party wrangling, caused by factors that are well-known to the BJP’s central leadership, the Congress would not have been in power in Rajasthan today. The central leaders of the party are also aware of the fact that Ms Vasundhara Raje is the most popular BJP leader in the State. There is no other leader in Rajasthan who can match her popularity; her biggest asset, as also that of the party, is her appeal among women voters. It must also be borne in mind that she is among the ‘Gen-Next’ leaders with an urbane face equally acceptable among rural voters who have served the party diligently and delivered results. Hence, the consequences of summarily dismissing her from the post of Leader of Opposition to ‘maintain discipline’ in the party would have been disastrous, not least because she has done nothing or said anything that is tantamount to flouting either the BJP’s rules of conduct or its core ideology. The central leaders may have a point in fixing responsibility and holding Ms Vasundhara Raje accountable for the party’s dismal performance in Rajasthan in this summer’s Lok Sabha election. But then again, she, too, has a point when she says that accountability cannot be restricted to State leaders alone; it must be applicable at all levels of the party’s leadership. Nor can she be faulted for demonstrating her support among the MLAs — she was elected to her post and politics is not entirely about renunciation. However, since a collective decision has been taken, Ms Vasundhara Raje should, in keeping with the tradition of discipline that Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia helped instil in the party, give up her current office and accept any new responsibility that is given to her by the BJP. That would be the most dignified thing to do; it would also set the bar for others in the party, especially those in positions of power and authority.
So, where does the BJP go from here vis-à-vis Rajasthan? How does it resolve the incipient problem? The first step towards that end has been taken by letting Ms Vasundhara Raje retain her post till the coming session of the Assembly is over. She deserves an honourable exit and it should be allowed to her by letting her resign at a time of her choosing. Second, she must have a say in deciding who will take over from her as Leader of Opposition — after all, she represents the majority of the BJP legislators. Of course, the next leader should be endorsed by the legislature party through a proper election. Third, the central party leaders should not try to influence the decision-making process of the legislature party by propping up one candidate or rooting for another. That would only add to factionalism and exacerbate existing problems. Fourth, Ms Vasundhara Raje is a senior leader whose services should be used for the party’s benefit. It would make eminent sense if she were made a national office-bearer with an important assignment. Anything less would be wrong and a disservice to the BJP.
LAW UNTO THEMSELVES
UTTARAKHAND COPS MUST BE REINED IN
The shocking incident in Uttarakhand where BJP leader and Kotabagh block pramukh Balwant Singh Kanayal was allegedly shot dead by a BSP politician on the premises of the Kaladhungi police station last Saturday, highlights the rot that plagues Uttarakhand Police. That such a crime could be committed right in front of officers of the law is unbelievable. There can only be three explanations for this horrific incident. First, the policemen were callously indifferent to the crime being committed, which is the most charitable explanation. Second, they were in collusion with the accused. Or third, the police think that they are not accountable to anyone. This is not the first incident in the State to cast aspersions on the Uttarakhand Police force. The latter recently came under the scanner for the death of a 22-year-old MBA graduate. According to the police, the victim was shot when he was running away after snatching the service revolver of a police officer. But the CBI, which is investigating the case, is believed to have established that it was a fake encounter wherein the victim was taken into custody, beaten and shot dead at close range. Given such incidents, there appears to be mounting resentment against police high-handedness in the State. Though the mob fury that followed the killing of the BJP leader — the police station where the crime took place was ransacked and set on fire — is condemnable, it was a product of the collective anger of the people towards the dysfunctional law and order establishment of Uttarakhand.
The police force in any State is an adjunct to the civil administration. It is when the civil administration abdicates its responsibility that aberrations take place. A classic example of this is West Bengal where a partisan police force has come to be loathed by the people. There have been hundreds of incidents in the State where the West Bengal Police has overstepped its authority and taken the law into its own hands while the civil administration looked the other way. In Uttarakhand, the problem is that the police appear to be running their own show. Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank must come down with a heavy fist and seen to be reining in a wayward police force. The civil administration must also be hauled up for the law and order situation in the State. No police force should act independently nor should it be seen becoming a law unto itself. Also, just a couple of suspensions here and there won’t do. The remedial action must be much more far-reaching. If there is a nexus between the police, the politicians and the criminals, it must be broken and exemplary punishment meted out to all who are guilty. The ghastly incidents in Uttarakhand should serve as a lesson to all State Governments as to how not to handle their police forces.
FLAWED THESIS ON PARTITION
A SURYA PRAKASH
Although Mohammed Ali Jinnah propounded the pernicious two-nation theory and forced the partition of India on the ground that Muslims constitute a separate nation, he is not wholly to blame. Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and other Congress leaders who failed to stop Jinnah ought to take the rap. In fact, Nehru is the draftsman of India’s partition! Further, even after partition and the emergence of a secular, democratic India, those Muslims who chose to remain in India find themselves abandoned and bereft of “psychological security” and so, by implication, the secular majority must take the rap!
These are some nuggets from Mr Jaswant Singh’s book, Jinnah — India, Partition, Independence, which has resulted in his ouster from the Bharatiya Janata Party. Mr Singh’s sympathetic treatment of Jinnah, the author of that sinister theory that pitted man against man and resulted in the bloodiest exchange of human populations, not only challenges some of the fundamental beliefs of the BJP but of all Indians. Jinnah claimed that Muslims constituted a separate nation and that they cannot co-exist with Hindus. Jinnah said this a thousand times between 1940-47.
Throughout this period, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad, Rajagopalachari and many others tried to talk him out of it. All the initiatives taken by these individuals to avert this tragedy are also fully documented (for key excerpts of all the letters and documents exchanged during those days, see Secular Politics, Communal Agenda by Prof Makkhan Lal, one of our leading historians). Eventually, when all else failed and when members of Jinnah’s Muslim League resorted to barbaric massacre of Hindus in Muslim majority areas, Nehru, Sardar Patel and others gave in to Jinnah’s demand in the hope of stopping the slaughter of the innocents.
The partition meant untold suffering for millions. Over 15 million people were uprooted on both sides of Jinnah’s inhuman divide and over half-a-million were butchered in the senseless communal frenzy. This was the largest killing of human beings instigated by a politician in this part of the world. While the killing of Hindus went on unabated,
Mahatma Gandhi and leaders of the Congress, all of whom were sufficiently indoctrinated in the most noble traditions of secularism and peaceful co-existence by the Mahatma, took firm measures to stem the violence against Muslims on the Indian side.
These are historical facts which are well chronicled. Yet, the burden of Mr Singh’s argument is that the leaders of the Congress must take the blame for partition. Secondly, Mr Singh seems to hold the Hindu majority responsible for the secessionist tendencies among Muslims prior to partition. Finally, lo and behold, even after partition, the Hindu majority must take the blame for the maladjustment of Muslims in democratic India!
We are all now sufficiently familiar with what has become of the Islamic state that Jinnah created and the road traversed by secular, democratic and liberal India. Pakistan is an Islamic Republic which constitutionally prohibits non-Muslims from holding certain public offices. The population of the Hindus in Pakistan has crashed from 25 per cent in 1947 to 1.6 per cent in recent times. For much of the last 62 years that have gone by since partition, Pakistan has been under military dictatorship.
Contrast this with India. The Muslim population in India has risen from around 35 million in 1947 to over 150 million. We have a secular, democratic Constitution that ensures equity and equality. Indeed, we are so secular that since 2004, those who call the shots in India (and this includes the Prime Minister) are non-Hindus. Yet, if you go by Mr Singh’s logic, we get no marks at all for our humanistic approach to life and nation-building.
Shockingly, Mr Singh says, “Those Muslims who remained or were left behind in India now find themselves as almost abandoned, bereft of a sense of real kinship of not being ‘one’, in their entirety with the rest. This robs them of the essence of psychological security”. This is not all. Mr Singh fuels the demand for reservations for Muslims when he says “having once accepted this principle of reservations, circa 1909, then of partition, how can we now deny it to others, even such Muslims as have had to or chosen to live in India? Which is why some voices of Muslim protest now go to the extent of speaking of a ‘Third Partition’.”
In short, Mr Singh’s thesis is terribly flawed. He is so enamoured of Jinnah that he even describes Nehru as “one of the principal architects, in reality the draftsman of India’s partition”. He is also contemptuous of leaders like Nehru and Patel when he says he was struck by “the petty preoccupations of most ‘leaders’ of those times”. His misplaced sympathy for Jinnah and antipathy for Nehru, Patel and other Congress leaders does violence to our secular, democratic ideals even as it treats the perpetrators of religion-based hatred with much compassion and understanding. This is a dangerous argument. Every citizen who values secularism and democracy and hopes for the extension of these ideals, specially into non-secular frontiers like Pakistan, must summarily reject Mr Singh’s formulation.
Equally extraordinary is his claim (despite the thousand cuts inflicted on us by Pakistan, including 26/11) that Pakistan is now “somewhat mellowed” and “accommodative”.
Therefore, our secular, democratic enterprise amounts to nothing but the Islamic state that has crushed religious minorities and is now the epicentre of terrorism is “accommodative”.
Finally, a word about the political fallout of this book. While it must be emphasised that no leader of a party has the right to shock and awe his party colleagues and workers, there is nothing in the book to warrant Mr Singh’s summary expulsion from the BJP. Further, there is hardly any ground for banning the book because there are no references to Sardar Patel or Nehru which warrant a ban. Sadly, the expulsion and the ban in Gujarat have given life to a book that would have otherwise gathered dust in the back shelves of book stores.
If the BJP had treated this book with the contempt it deserves, Mr Singh’s Jinnah — India, Partition, Independence, would have been another ‘weighty’ tome that would have been sold by weight by the publishers from their godowns in Daryaganj after a futile wait for customers. The party has, unfortunately for itself and for our country, given currency to a flawed and muddled thesis that glorifies Muslim communalism and separatism and condemns secular, democratic India and its great leaders.
MARITIME EXCELLENCE BELONGED TO EUROPE
Apropos “Living in the Past” by Debraj Mookerjee (Foray, August 23). The scientific greatness the writer has attributed to medieval Islam was not an independent phenomenon. It resulted from the transmission of Greek and Hindu sciences to the Arab world. He may find the books How Greek Science Passed to the Arabs by De Lacy O’ Leary and Zero is Not the Only Story by Premendra Priyadarshi as particularly illustrative.
It is difficult to agree with the writer’s viewpoint that Europe would never have ventured beyond its shores but for the contribution of Muslim scientists. Maritime pursuits of the Europeans date back to the days of ancient Greeks who had ringed their Mediterranean with beachheads. The Greek colonies in Italy and Sicily — collectively called Magna Graecia — had imparted the ‘land-bound’ Roman Republic with nautical expertise to take on Carthage (off modern Tunis) successfully in the First Punic War (264-241 BC).
The ships of Roman Empire conducted extensive maritime commerce with southern India and Gujarat. Periplus of the Erythraean sea, circa 1st century AD, is a description of a typical voyage on Indian Ocean between Roman Egypt and India by a Greek mariner. Several ‘maritime republics’ like Amalfi, Venice, Genoa and Pisa flourished in Italy during the medieval ages. They neutralised by 1091 AD the long-standing Muslim piratical ventures emanating from north African coasts.
The Crusades helped Venetian and Genoese mariners to gain extensive knowledge of eastern Mediterranean. Richard, the Lionhearted mobilised bulky ships during the Third Crusade (1189-1192) that came from England via Gibraltar.
In the 15th century Portuguese mariners sparked a great era of exploration and discoveries around the globe. Its visionary was Don Henry, or Prince Henry, the navigator. The Portuguese freed the entire Indian Ocean (Spice Route) from Muslim hegemony. Francisco the Almeida defeated a combined Egyptian and Gujarati force of Muslims at the Battle of Diu on February 3, 1509.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, when doughty Portuguese and Spanish mariners were exploring the contours of America, Europe was beset by a variant of Muslim maritime excellence. Barbary pirates plagued European coasts, islands, and raided ships, and enslaved men and women for ransom money. This ‘White Slavery’ in the Mediterranean was brought to an end by the Barbary Wars of the USA (1801-05; 1812), and ultimately by the French victory at Algiers in 1830.
MAKE VOTING COMPULSORY
IF EVERY ADULT IS MADE TO PARTICIPATE IN ELECTIONS BY VOTING, OUR POLITICAL PARTIES WILL BE FORCED TO CHANGE THE MANNER IN WHICH THEY OPERATE. THEY WILL HAVE TO COMPETE ON THE BASIS OF MERIT, COMPETENCE TO DELIVER AND DEVELOPMENT ISSUES RATHER THAN DEPEND ON THEIR VOTE-BANKS
The Roman axiom had it that the voice of the people was indeed the voice of god. They, along with the Greeks, practised a fairly direct form of city-state quasi-democracy.
And the Romans, even after the demise of their representational senate, tried to keep their imperial Caesars in check by constantly whispering “remember thou art mortal” in their ears whenever public enthusiasm for their proclamations or deeds got particularly enthusiastic.
But the Romans and Greeks defined ‘people’ rather narrowly — meaning only the original inhabitants of Rome, or Athens, or Sparta as the case may have been and not the slaves that served them, nor the inhabitants of the vassal kingdoms brought under the yoke of the Pax Romana or the conquests of Alexander the Great.
Unfortunately, for us, under the big tent of a democracy based on universal adult franchise, we cannot, legally, constitutionally, or logically pick and choose amongst our citizenry. Or listen to any section on a selective basis over the wishes of others; at least not on a theoretical basis.
Had we chosen a limited franchise after 1947, a knowledgeable, educated set of voters as it were, we might have also produced an oligarchy or even a dictatorship. But, thank god, we didn’t.
As things stand, we are certainly not meant to favour those amongst our citizenry who tend to be good voters, even block voters, citing the apathy of the others as reason to ignore them.
Of course, this kind of committed voter is what gets politicians elected and they tend to nurture their constituencies for the purpose. But by ignoring the others, who vote for rivals, or those who do not vote at all, the polity as a whole is not served.
This lop-sided representation would and does distort the intentions of our founding fathers. It not only mutates the polity into supporters and uninteresting others, but as all political parties imitate each other tactically, ends up working against its long-term survival. The political landscape becomes a morass of vested interest, caste, creed and demographic consideration and ends up causing a complete logjam in governance.
We are perhaps already too far down the road of cynical vote-bank politics, with about half or less of our voters actually voting. To remedy things now, the answer lies in the imposition of universal and compulsory adult voting.
No democracy practices compulsory voting at present; it is true, treating the option with alarm as some kind of infringement of fundamental rights. Though some, like the US, do use a military draft in times of need, and others, like Israel, have compulsory military service.
But then, weighted against the perils, the right to not vote is not worth upholding. After all, no other democracy of this size is as diverse and populous as India. And none in greater danger from its own centrifugal and fissiparous tendencies, let alone the machinations of its enemies.
China, increasingly being regarded as a rival in the South Asia domination stakes, recently allowed one of its serious think-tanks to post an inflammatory article on its website. It suggested that it should be possible by encouraging domestic separatists and dissidents and using inimical neighbours such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal to break India into some 20 or 30 independent states like Europe. The contents of the article written by one Zhan Lue were publicised in the Indian media but elicited a predictably muted official response.
By using compulsory voting as a strategic shift in the way we run our democracy, we would, at a minimum, ensure a proper reflection of the vox populi . And it would largely deprive politicians using their committed vote-banks to manipulate narrow electoral outcomes without much regard to the national consequences.
Also, just because every adult citizen is required to vote, it wouldn’t necessarily result in a jingoistic majoritarianism. In fact, recent electoral outcomes have clearly demonstrated Indian polity’s allergy to extreme political positions in favour of a steady centrism and a desire to ensure stability, economic growth and national security for all.
Though compulsory voting if instituted would not iron out all the lumps in the mattress
all at once. But it would have a substantial and holistic impact.
Electoral roll manipulations will have to be controlled, of course. But this is not as difficult as it seems in these days of super-computers. Perhaps the work being done by Mr Nandan Nilekani on the Unique Identification Number will do more than the abortive MAPIN, the proscribed PAN, and even the Voter Identification Cards.
It will take time for compulsory voting to manifest benefits on the ground and will prove to be more effective in some parts of the country than others. It will definitely cause an upheaval in the way political parties operate and cause them to overhaul their perspectives. They will have to compete on merits, competence to deliver and development issues rather than by the use of emotive hot buttons including fear and prejudice.
But it is eminently doable for politicians, political parties and even bureaucrats to change; just as long-protected business and industry in this country learned to cope with global competition, and in many cases, even managed to better it.
We have come a long way from the days of the Bombay Club demanding a “level playing field” and several of the club’s prominent members have actually led the way in making beneficial changes in their operations and methods.
But problems do lie ahead of us. At some places, rapid demographic shifts via unchecked illegal infiltration/immigration, as cited recently at the Chief Ministers’ Conference, can still affect not only national security but electoral outcomes too. This particularly over a period of time as illegal immigrants have demonstrated considerable ability to grab domicile status and wangle their way onto the electoral rolls.
But the key side-effect of universal and compulsory voting, apart from comprehensive representation, will be the automatic moderation of the politics of division and difference.
Development, even competitive development, would become the major focus of political parties instead. And voters would try to assess the merits of competing dream merchants in order to determine which option was more likely to deliver. It wouldn’t be Ram Rajya still, but it would be a good beginning towards that ideal.
SAVING THE GIRL CHILD
OFFERING MORE MONETARY INCENTIVES CAN PROVE VITAL
Devra village in Rajasthan’s Barmer district made history in 1997 when a baraat arrived there after a gap of 110 years. It was a momentous event as this Rajput-dominated village had a long tradition of female infanticide. The custom of killing female infants is widespread in western Rajasthan, especially among specific Rajput clans. Some villages in desert areas are reported to have less than a dozen girls against an estimated 400-500 boys. The killing of female infants is not known to have invited penal action against offenders, who cite convention to perpetuate the crime with impunity. Earlier, sati too was rampant but enforcement of the anti-sati Act, combined with social vigilance, has more or less put an end to the barbaric practice.
Brides are obtained from other clans, otherwise considered inferior. Those who eliminate female infants after birth — though now foeticide is common on account of the use of ultrasound for sex determination — are spurred to do so by the misguided notion that giving daughters in marriage lowers their social standing vis-à-vis grooms’ families. Moreover, marriage in India being largely a monetary transaction between allied groups, with the scales weighed heavily against brides’ families, female infanticide/foeticide is seen to preempt demands for dowry. It also prevents property disputes among farming communities such as Jats, who zealously guard their land holdings from claimants.
Midwives or some crone is usually around to quash the new life, either by snapping the neck with a jerk by holding the baby upside down by its head or stuffing its mouth with opium or placing a sandbag upon its chest or, less frequently now, drowning it in a vessel of milk. This gruesome reality is mirrored in other parts of the country, with better off Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Delhi and Chandigarh showing the most skewed male-female sex ratio, according to the 2001 population census. The shortfall in females may be gauged from a report about eight brothers in Gujarat’s Dang district being married to one woman. Similar stories concerning polyandry have emanated from interiors of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.
There are also reports of men in Haryana’s Rohtak district and Punjab’s Fatehgarh Saheb being forced to pay ‘bride price’ in order to get married, or even having to go as far afield as the northeast, West Bengal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and southern States to hunt for wives. The tables have turned because it is the men who have to pay money to obtain a spouse. It is a thriving business, involving middlemen. Wives so obtained do not always stay, with some escaping from their husbands’ homes. Sometimes the trade in brides degenerates into human trafficking, with hapless females at the mercy of the men who profit from them. For, bridal marts often lead them to brothels.
Devra was again in the news this August because its 12 surviving girls undertook to tie rakhis on the wrists of 250 boys, irrespective of whether they were related to them or not. Some boys reportedly even belonged to different castes. A television serial, exposing the malaise of female infanticide, is credited with this sudden awakening though the Government appears to be a mute witness.
Currently, the Delhi Government’s Ladli scheme to counter the bias against the girl child seems to have borne fruit, with the latest data showing that 19,000 more girls were born in 2008 than in the previous year. The sex ratio apparently is 1,004 girls for 1000 boys. The number of female babies exceeding males in Delhi is unprecedented in recent years. Possibly, more births are being registered. Or, the influx of migrants from other States may have caused the spurt in female births.
Some officials credit it to the financial incentives offered under the Ladli scheme. These, briefly, are that the Government deposits a sum of Rs 5,000-6,000 for every baby girl, born to a family with an annual income below Rs 1 lakh. Subsequently, in a bid to ensure that the child goes to school, the Government deposits Rs 5,000 at the time of admission, and when the girl enters Class I, VI, IX, X and XII. These sums mature in a fixed deposit till the beneficiary turns 18. She can then claim the amount. However, this scheme neither applies to nor influences higher income families, nurturing a bias against female progeny.
SCRAMBLE TO CONTROL INDIAN OCEAN
CHINA IS ACTIVELY PURSUING A POLICY OF MAKING ITS PRESENCE FELT IN THE INDIAN OCEAN REGION, BUT BEIJING CANNOT BE ALLOWED TO HAVE ITS WAY AS THAT WOULD BE AGAINST INDIA’S INTERESTS
RANJIT B RAI
Encouraged by the United States as a policy and buoyed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s oft-repeated statements that India’s growing stature places a responsibility on the Navy to maintain stability in the Indian Ocean region, there have been many bold steps taken by the Indian Navy in cooperation with the Ministry of External Affairs to build confidence and capacity in the IOR littoral. Many an activity have gone unnoticed in India, but Chinese researchers have been very perceptive and naval analyst Zhang Ming recently proclaimed that the Islands of Andaman and Nicobar Archipelago could be used as a ‘metal chain’ to block Chinese access to the Straits of Malacca. This has also been called China’s ‘Malacca dilemma’ as the Chinese word ‘Chi’ means access and is dear to the Chinese, even as a strategy in business, and is being used for China’s ‘Scramble for the Africas’ for its much needed resources, along with China’s ‘cheque book’ diplomacy. Deng’s adage, ‘the colour of the cat does not matter as long as it catches mice’, is still valid.
In a recent Malacca Straits conference in Kuala Lumpur organised in June by the Malaysian Maritime Institute which is headed by Admiral Dato Ramli Mohd Nor, Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Mohd Yassin standing in for the Prime Minister was clear that he did not want to see big power rivalry to impact the Malacca Straits, with the words, “Some maritime powers (India, China and USA) perceive the Straits in ‘hard security terms’. Our perception is somewhat different. We regard the Straits of Malacca primarily in soft security terms.”
Mohd Yassin elaborated that Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore as part of the Tripartite Technical Experts Group, which maintains the straits, will seek assistance to keep the straits safe secure and be developed in a sustainable manner, and did not want to see military activity or insurance rates rise as they did when the Indian Navy patrolled the Straits to escort US ships in Op Sagittarius post 9/11. In 2001 Malaysia and Indonesia denied the Indian Navy ships, port visits as they felt the sovereignty of their territorial waters was transgressed. They scored legal points as articles 18 through 25 of the UNCLOS permits innocent passage but patrolling in territorial waters is not covered and it akin to sovereign land. No wonder India Malaysia relations saw a low with Indian computer specialists in Malaysia being harassed.
In the last few years the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard have announced that over 44 and 45 vessels respectively, and aerial assets including nuclear submarines of varying sizes are on order, and the Chinese are seized with this. Well supported by the Government as a policy, the Indian Navy has charted a large foreign cooperation plan and presented it for financial and political clearances, to boost confidence and capacity in India’s littoral. Some of these have been cleared. The recent visit of Defence Minister AK Antony to Maldives to provide a Dhruv helicopter, 26 radars and surveillance cooperation to patrol the large Maldives Exclusive Economic Zone, contiguous to India, is a friendly gesture and is also meant to ward off the Chinese push to lease islands like Mura in the archipelago.
Less publicised in the last two decades, India has stealthily straddled its interests in the Indian Ocean Rim, which includes the islands of Mauritius, Maldives, Seychelles and Madagascar and the rim states of South Africa, Tanzania and Mozambique by very deft moves in foreign policy, economic sops like tax exemption treaty with Mauritius, and military inroads. This is the classical strategy of gaining influence by conjoining economic perks and power, with military diplomacy called ‘Showing the Flag’, so well perfected by larger maritime naval powers in the past.
The Indian Ocean holds importance for India’s development in the 21st century and the Chatham House paper states, India’s strategy is deepening not only commercially but due to concerns over its security and hegemony in the region, which are underpinned by India’s 2004 Maritime Doctrine. The Chinese view aired at the Kula Lumpur Conference was that “India is looking East and forming an Iron Curtain in the Indian Ocean”. The Chinese also view the Indian Navy’s gathering of 28 IOR Naval Chiefs a riparian state with invited US academics under one roof at the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium in February 2008 in New Delhi and Goa for a retreat, as ganging up in the IOR. The future of IONS looks uncertain. The Chinese explain their String of Pearls strategy as small change to poor nations like Burma, Pakistan and Sri Lanka for port development, which they claim India gets from the ADB and World Bank. Any naval strategist will know China’s String of Pearls has long-term implications for India.
India’s maritime strategy admittedly envisages a swath of area as its watch from Aden and the Straits of Hormuz, to the Straits of Malacca. K Santhanam, former Director of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis and one of the architects of India’s nuclear programme, has coined the C3IC theory — Coalition, Coordination, Communications, and Integration Centre — for India-China relations and needs heeding. It envisages that India and China will seek active cooperation as the latter has become former’s largest trading partner, and yet both will always be in competition. In the future confrontation cannot be ruled out as India has an unresolved border dispute with China, hence the C3. The ‘I’ stands for which nation will obtain superior intelligence and includes space and cyber warfare abilities, and finally the last C is advice that both nations must cope.
It was American strategist Captain Alfred Mahan who said “Whosoever controls the Indian Ocean, dominates Asia. In the 21st century, the destiny of the world will be decided upon its waters.” Mahan’s prophetic words seem to be ringing true in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean’s strategic importance as the most important oil and trade shipping route of the world will increase still further in the coming decades when the galloping energy needs of India and China will account for more than half the growth of world’s energy consumption, and impact climate change.
The writer is former director Naval Intelligence and Operations and author of A Nation and its Navy At War
GOVERNMENT APATHY KILLING LEATHER INDUSTRY IN KASHMIR
TRADERS HAVE EITHER GIVEN UP OR ARE SHIFTING TO OTHER STATES TO EARN A LIVELIHOOD, WRITES BINISH GULZAR & SYED RAKSHANDA SUMAN
As we strolled along the Abi-Guzar bund on the bank of river Jhelum, we caught a glimpse of a shop, Fine Art Furriers. We found it strange as we know that fur trade has been banned a long time back under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1978. The term ‘furriers’ is clearly applies to a person or organisation which sources and markets furs. How is it possible that such a shop exists in Kashmir? Peeping through the window pane we see a septuagenarian man stitching a leather coat, his frail hands moving effortlessly over the garment. A while later we are in conversation with the old man, who uncannily appeared to be waiting for someone to share his woes.
Gulam Hassan Pandit, with a frown on his face and a stiffening of his body, initially hesitates to speak to us. It almost seemed as if he felt betrayed. The first thing that he told us was that many people interviewed him in the past but his words and feelings were always misinterpreted.
Taking a glance at the shop we see that it is quite messy, with leather jackets scattered all over the floor; the walls are cracked and there is a dirty mannequin gorgeously dressed in long fur jacket. There is a pathos in the air, yearning for a time when life was full of hope. The fur jackets hanging around are the testimonial of the fact that this old man has dealt with fur business which has all but closed down.
While there is a hesitancy to open up, there also is an eagerness to talk, share his experiences. Responding quickly to a spontaneous question about the name of the shop, he says, “The shop has a history of more than 98 years and that the name was given almost 51 years back, when the fur business was in existence.” After the prohibition on fur, he has now taken to the leather business which though has promise but has not showed any progress in Jammu & Kashmir. The reasons are manifold.
According to available data, Kashmir leather industry has a potential to generate revenue of $ 1 billion annually but unfortunately it is losing its niche. Hassan says, “Since we don’t have leather factories here, we have to import the raw material from Chennai and other States at a very high price.”
The production of the leather products has reached its nadir. Artisans here are famous all around the globe, the reason being that most of the products are handmade and foreigners in large numbers are attracted to these. More than 5,000 Kashmiri artisans are working with various leather industries outside the State. “If they can generate value at other places, why not for our own State? Government negligence is costing the industry billions every year,” says Hassan.
Because of its climactic conditions, Kashmir is conducive to one of the best quality sheep leather. And since Kashmiris are known to consume meat voraciously — on an average 3.5 million sheep and goats are slaughtered annually for consumption — there is huge scope for utilisation of their skins for quality leather production, provided there are tanneries established here.
The absence of a tannery in Kashmir, however, pushes up the production cost and on the other hand forces local artisans and traders to sell their products at a very low price to traders outside the State. Environmentalists have always been against setting up tanneries in Kashmir, as it produces highly toxic effluents. The answer to this could have come from the Government, which is not showing any interest in setting of an Effluent Treatment Plant. This could have solved the problem and pacified the green lobby.
Tired of Government apathy, many aspiring businessmen have already given up and others have taken up other occupations. Few of them have started shifting to other States. An industry that is well suited to the region and could provide livelihood to thousands within Kashmir is gradually being snuffed out.
With a favourable environment for raw material and a pool of local craftsmen and traders already in place, the onus is squarely on the Government to set up tanneries so that a promising industry does not sink into atrophy.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
The recent special national conference of the Samajwadi Party (SP) was on expected lines - a lacklustre affair. However, the meet indicated that the party has set out on a process to transform its social base. The presence of former BJP leader Kalyan Singh at the conference - he is yet to become a party member - is a clear sign that the SP now intends to focus more on other backward castes (OBC) in UP even at the cost of alienating its Muslim supporters.
The process was set in motion ahead of the 2009 general elections when Kalyan's son was offered a party ticket. Predictably, the decision didn't go down well with the party's supporters among Muslims. The erosion in SP's Muslim vote could well be a major reason for its decline in the general elections: the party's tally in the Lok Sabha came down from 37 in 2004 to 23 in 2009. The SP leadership now seems to think that the party needs to expand its support among various OBC communities, who constitute more than 50 per cent of UP's population, and not depend exclusively on Yadavs and Muslims. The assumption seems to be that the latter have already moved over to the Congress.
The change in SP's political strategy is representative of the reconfiguration of caste equations in the Hindi heartland. Mandal politics has reached saturation in UP and Bihar and new social alliances are in the making. The Yadav-Muslim alliance that emerged in the wake of the demolition of Babri masjid has started unravelling in the two states. These are likely to impact SP in UP and Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in Bihar. The SP is better placed than the RJD since its political rivals, Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress, are unlikely to eat into its OBC base. Lalu faces a formidable challenge because both RJD and Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal-United are competing for the political legacy of Mandal. Nitish has used quota politics to split the backward castes and Dalits and prevent a consolidation of these communities in RJD's favour. The emphasis on governance has also helped Nitish to broadbase his support.
However, it remains to be seen if SP and RJD can remain in reckoning just by reworking the caste arithmetic. Other than providing political agency to the backward castes, Mulayam and Lalu couldn't provide a new vision to rebuild UP and Bihar. Social justice as political rhetoric has run its course and now must be injected with some substance to attract voters. The SP conference didn't point in that direction.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
When Australia lost the Oval Test match by 197 runs, they not only surrendered the Ashes but also for the first time their top spot in the ICC Test rankings. No doubt the Ashes loss would have hurt Ricky Ponting and his men more than their slide to fourth in the rankings. Despite other rivalries, most notably with India, gaining in prominence in recent years the Ashes still holds a special place for the Aussies. This was evident from Ponting's post-match comments when he said he would like to return to England in 2013 to atone for the series loss.
It will take the Australian team and the public some time to recover from their second successive Ashes loss in England. But for the rest of the world this was yet another reminder of the fallibility of the once-invincible Aussies. Australia has won just six of their last 16 Tests. The slide began with an away defeat to India in 2008. That was not so unusual considering that the Aussies under Steve Waugh had lost two away series to India in the past 10 years. But it was the home defeat to South Africa in 2008 which really signalled the end of Australian dominance.
The fall of the Australians cannot be ascribed to a single factor. However, it was too much to expect a team to lose players of the calibre of Shane Warne, Glen McGrath and Adam Gilchrist at one go and still maintain its winning ways. We shouldn't forget that the Australians, minus the injured Brett Lee, had a bowling attack without a single Test match in England. And the batting line-up boasted of only one player - Ponting - who had scored a century in England before this series. In spite of these limitations, the Australians matched and even played better than England for most of the series only to fail spectacularly in a few crucial sessions. One single statistic is telling: Of the 10 centuries scored in the series, eight were by Australians. And though there will be calls to replace Ponting, the Aussie captain looked in good touch scoring 385 runs at a respectable average of 48.
Australia's Ashes loss and slide in Test rankings adds plenty of spice to cricket. Instead of one dominant team, we now have at least five teams - South Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Australia and England - that can compete with each other on equal terms. This is sure to bring back excitement to Test cricket, which has lost some of its shine in recent times. The packed grounds for all the Ashes matches were surely the best advertisement for the game.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
OUT OF TOUCH
A fortnight ago, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged from the Budget session of Parliament quite upbeat. Despite the Congress wallowing in the euphoria of victory, the party fulfilled its responsibilities as a robust but responsible opposition, questioning the Manmohan Singh government at every stage and attacking it spiritedly on foreign policy blunders. The change of guard in the parliamentary party, it seemed, had tempered its recklessness, kept internal differences on hold and begun focusing on serious issues of public policy and governance. The retreat from "shrillness" had, it appeared, been put into operation.
Tragically, the events of the past fortnight have not merely undone the good work in Parliament but cast the BJP in the most unfavourable light imaginable. Following the peremptory assault on Vasundhara Raje, the ungracious expulsion of Jaswant Singh and the skulduggery over the leak of an unsigned internal report, the party has painted itself into a corner. To both its supporters and a bewildered public, it has appeared petty, cussed, illiberal, undemocratic and completely at odds with itself. Despite the farcical gloss of "jolliness" the party president inexplicably detected in L K Advani's demeanour in Shimla, the BJP shows distinct signs of imploding.
If the public relations disasters had been occasioned by mofussil unfamiliarity with image management and a show of low cunning, the BJP would have reasons to be irritated but not alarmed. Unfortunately, the present turbulence doesn't seem an isolated cloudburst. At the heart of the internecine war is the unresolved question: What sort of BJP?
Political parties, especially those devastated by electoral defeats, are naturally inclined to seek self-renewal and, occasionally, reinvention. For all its pretence of being grounded in ideological certitudes, the BJP is no exception to an innate desire to remain relevant in the battle for power. There is, after all, no percentage to paraphrase a self-deprecating republican song from the Spanish Civil War in the other side winning all the battles while the chosen ones had the best songs.
In evolving a strategy of recovery, the BJP has been hamstrung by a series of pre-conceived notions. The first is a communist-like belief in the supremacy of ideology. That a worthwhile political party must be grounded in a loose set of values and a sense of mission isn't in any doubt. The problem arises when there is an attempt to codify ideology into scripture. The BJP began its innings with a commitment to a nebulous cultural nationalism. This was a framework of Indian nationhood which, while intellectually contested, allowed the party to demarcate itself from the Congress's constitutional patriotism and socialism. Since the connection between cultural nationalism and governance was illusory, it also permitted the likes of Atal Bihari Vajpayee to embrace pragmatism without too much fuss. When in power, the BJP paid ritual obeisance to the party's distinctive facets and then proceeded to focus on issues such as robust foreign policy, an open economy and rapid modernisation.
A chunk of those who devoted themselves passionately to the BJP did so out of a conviction that it was a "Hindu party" committed to "Hindu interests". At the same time, the party's electoral advance (except in 1991) owed almost entirely to the fact that it was seen as a wholesome alternative to the Congress. It is not that the Hindu dimension of the BJP was disregarded but that Hindu identity took a backseat to more bread and butter issues. There was always a hidden tension between the BJP activist and those who voted BJP. Vajpayee exploited this to his advantage.
Recent attempts to codify political Hindutva and define an ideological "core" have contributed to the BJP reducing its political options dramatically. The charge of "ideological deviation" against Jaswant, for example, reveals a streak of regimentation. It negates the broad church approach and casts the party in the role of a sect, a move that fits uneasily with an increasingly self-confident Hindu youth and middle classes.
The second problem the BJP faces is its bizarre inclination to reduce political problems to organisational shortcomings. Till a year ago the party argued that a plethora of booth committees and multitudes of full-time pracharaks would see its candidates through. This "sangathanist" approach to politics is largely derived from the RSS tradition and may help explain why tensions between the organisation and mass leaders recur incessantly. Vasundhara is the latest victim of this uneasy relationship but she isn't going to be the last as long as organisation is seen as autonomous from politics.
A Times of India interview with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has fuelled frenzied speculation that the BJP may bypass its well-known public faces for a relatively low-key but ideologically sound person as the next leader. The search for an elusive Manohar Lal who personifies aam Hindutva may be an innovative way out of the present troubles. Unfortunately, it may not address the fundamental problem the BJP faces: estrangement from a young, impatient electorate which wants to combine glamour and glitz with quick-fix solutions. The party is still fixated on another India that is either disappearing or is in rapid retreat.
The writer is a political commentator.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
LAB LIFE TO THE RESCUE
US-based scientist Craig Venter's team claims to have crossed a critical hurdle to creating life in the laboratory. This is not the first time Venter's research has made news. Earlier, he broke away from the US government-sponsored slow-moving project that had set out to map the human genome in 1999. Venter subsequently established a private enterprise that undertook the same task, but at a faster pace. Eventually the two teams came together to synergise their efforts, thereby completing the daunting task in good time. Following the completion of the genome-mapping project, Venter turned to researching the re-engineering of micro-organisms that could clean up industrial waste and remove toxins from fossil fuels like coal and oil as well as help generate clean energy from algae.
It's not as though Venter and his team are "playing God". They've merely rearranged, re-engineered or modified the DNA in existing organisms to come up with new strains of bacteria - that did not exist earlier - that could serve as biological cleansing agents.
The current breakthrough being reported is the result of several years' research and setbacks suffered on account of immunity factors inherent in the DNA that inhibited the formation of the new bacteria. This hurdle has been overcome, says Venter, with biotechnological innovation using yeast cells and new procedures that have now made possible the creation of what is being described as "artificial life" created in the laboratory.
The new "friendly" bacteria could be part of the solution to dealing with problems arising out of polluting industrial processes, fossil-fuel burning, greenhouse gases and oil slicks - all of which are said to be major contributors to global warming. If Venter's lab-created micro-organisms could help create next-generation biofuels, remove toxins from the atmosphere and help treat poisonous wastewater, it could well be the most important breakthrough of our times. If lab-created organisms can help us clean up the world, there is no reason to not welcome the innovation.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
CREATION IS NOT A GAME
The news that scientists are on the threshold of creating artificial life - and could, indeed, be successful in their abominable task before the year is out - should come as no surprise for a species whose enormous hubris enables it to abuse science. Despite the cautionary tales that abound in all manner of popular literature, man persists in violating the laws of nature to commit the ultimate sin. Craig Venter's research is dangerous and profane. He should be stopped immediately.
Science and technology have been pivotal to human survival and prosperity. However, when scientists are allowed to use their skills to create life in a petri dish, they display arrogance towards the sanctity of life. All around us is the living perfection of creation, and scientists ignore it in their quest to become Frankenstein. That is the tragedy of modern times.
Is there any guarantee that when synthesizing life in a lab, scientists won't accidentally create something that will kill us all? If they are successful, what do we imagine governments around the world are going to do with the technology? Venter and his team might dream of becoming benevolent Geppettos who are curing the world of all its ills, but the first application of this research is likely to be military. And the consequences if the technology were to fall into the hands of terrorists would be so terrible as to be unimaginable. Yet, mankind persists in its endeavour to experiment with forces it does not fully understand.
Maybe God does play dice. But man's preferred form of gambling seems to be Russian roulette, which is what synthesizing life amounts to. If we continue down this road, sooner or later we'll point a loaded gun at our heads and happily pull the trigger. The chamber may come up empty a few times, but our luck will eventually run out. Then there'll be nobody left to clean up the mess afterwards.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
MOMENT OF TRUTH
Admitting weakness may well be a sign of strength in books of philosophy. But whatever possessed our outgoing Chief of Naval Staff to wax so philosophical as to proclaim that India had neither the capability, nor the intention to match the military strength of its most populous neighbour? One doubts if this key figure in the nuclear-armed military of a billion-plus people hasn't read Sun Tzu's advice in The Art of War, an ancient military treatise, which, curiously, hails from the very land that so overawes him: "In making tactical dispositions, the highest pitch you can attain is to conceal them; conceal your dispositions, and you will be safe from the prying of the subtlest spies, from the machinations of the wisest brains." For, as Tzu warned, "When your weapons are dulled, your ardour damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains (from across the border, in this instance) will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue."
So what exactly was our navy chief trying to achieve by the public parading of a skeleton from our military closet? Did he expect to pull off the Herculean task of stirring our powers that be out of their slumber by the stroke of a speech? Or was he so overcome by a bout of kindness towards our neighbours that he decided to cheer them up with a moment of wicked delight and self-adulation? Was he, by any chance, venting his disgruntlement at not being able to effect far-reaching changes during his tenure? Or was he acting, ahem, philosophical in acknowledging 'the enemy within'? Wait a minute! It could also be that he was, in Tzu's words, rousing the enemy to find out his vulnerable spots. "All warfare is based on deception," said Tzu. "Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him." But, alas, the possibility of our neighbour not having read this part of Tzu's book to sabotage our trick is only as fragile as the confidence behind such brash and morale-shattering bean-spilling. Truth was never so untouchable.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
ROAD TO A BETTER PLACE
Recent developments in the jurisprudence of motor accident claims validate some simple home truths. First, the letter of the law is of limited efficacy unless it is imbued with meaning sourced from real-life problems. Second, an institution is only as good as the person who mans it. Third, even seemingly insipid legal jurisdictions can be developed into dramatic instruments of social and economic change by creative judicial craftsmanship.
We can ignore frightening statistics regarding road accidents in India only at our own peril. All India accidents in 2004 were 4,21,910 involving 82,618 deaths in one year alone i.e., 254 persons per day. In 2007, that figure was 314 persons per day. The vast majority are poor pedestrians or bicycle/scooter riders. Most of the victims are also the sole breadwinners leaving behind large families. Illiteracy coupled with economic and social disability makes effective pursuit of compensation claims by legal representatives of the deceased largely illusory.
The bane of accident compensation litigation has been the humongous delay in disposal of claim cases arising from delays at every step. By creating a separate, exclusive roster for accident cases, the Delhi high court chief justice (AP Shah J) and the judge in charge of the roster (Midha J) have done yeoman service.
As many as 10 appeals are disposed by this roster every day and by mid-2010, the Delhi high court is likely to achieve the miraculous result of an arrears-free accident claims roster. Second, the scourge of huge delays at the level of the claims tribunal is now likely to be eliminated through path-breaking judicial orders between April and July 2009 in the Rajesh Tyagi case. Under these orders, within 30 days of registration of an accident, the accident-information-report (AIR) must reach the Claims Tribunal from the police. The AIR has to contain all details about the accident and must be accompanied with relevant documents, site plan, photographs, driving licence, insurance documents and so on.
An identical set must also reach the insurance company concerned within 30 days. The insurance company is obliged to investigate the claim and submit a copy of its report before the tribunal within a further 30 days. Absent any defence, the insurance company has to deposit the admitted amount with the tribunal.
By another order of April 2009, Midha J has created a special scheme for victims whereby the deposited amounts are kept in a special account with a higher interest rate in such a manner that monthly payments to the victims of road accidents increase 10 per cent every year to meet inflation.
Since almost 30 per cent of the Indian accident victims involve uninsured vehicles, there is an urgent need to adopt the South African paradigm of mandatory automatic 100 per cent vehicle insurance cover for third-party risk. Owners in South Africa are not required to take any third party policy. A surcharge is added to the cost of petrol/diesel and the amount is pooled in a Road Accident Fund managed by a commission. The commission lays down principles for computation and disbursement of compensation. The South African system is also significantly more equitable as those who use vehicles more contribute more to the fund by paying more premium. Each of these innovations deserves immediate incorporation into Indian law.
The proposed amendment Bill to the Motor Vehicles Act pending in the Indian Parliament should consider inclusion of rules similar to the Workmen's Compensation Act, which mandates prompt provisional payment by the employer to the extent of admitted liability. Delay in deposit by the employer beyond 30 days incurs minimum 12 per cent or higher prevailing bank rates. Insurance companies must be subjected to the same regime.
It is only such compassionate approaches which can provide the healing touch to the poor, needy and voiceless victims of road accidents, which snuff out far more lives than deadly diseases do.
The writer is a Congress MP and national spokesperson of the party.
AN EAST WIND THAT’S BLOWING
The major economies of Asia are recovering faster than those in the West. If they can sustain their present growth and eventually spearhead a global recovery they will have made history. For the first time in modern times, the world economy will have been pulled out of a hole by Asia rather than Europe or North America. The recent burst of growth in France and Germany, for example, has now been traced to a rise in exports to Asia. The brightest spark in an otherwise dismal US export story has been its trade with Asia. The stock markets that are determining global movements are in Asia. Which is why so many around the world are watching to see if Asia can keep it up.
The reason there is still a lot of wait-and-watch involved is the quality of Asia’s rebound. Half the Asian story in the present economic downturn has been China. The Chinese recovery has, so far, been a combination of stimulus and cheap credit. If this mix helps drag other economies out of their troughs, Beijing can claim to have held up half the sky. Even if it does not, China will have shown it counts in the world economy more than Japan, as much as the European Union and just a few point less than the United States. The US remains the biggest engine pulling the global economy: its economy is still three times China’s. But it is now recognised that the engines of the developed West need to work in tandem with those of developing Asia if the world is to see prosperity return. The latter may still be small, but their heft is disproportionate because of their minimal debt levels and sound financial sectors.
India’s primary accomplishment has been to survive the storm, contributing a little to global recovery but contributing nothing to the original meltdown. India still lacks China’s global impact: its economy is half the size and more isolated, its government is debt-laden. What makes India exceptional is the width and breadth of its private sector companies. The latter’s recovery and how they will leverage that is what makes India a potential game-player in a new Asian-ordered world system. It is obvious that Asia is an essential ingredient to a global recovery. The next few months will determine whether it is the only ingredient needed.
A SAD ASHEN LOOK
With the ‘Poms’ claiming the Ashes in style, one of the world’s greatest sporting rivalries seems to have come a full Oval. A historical face-off that began 107 years ago after Australia beat England on English soil for the first time, has thrown up another first — an Australian captain who has lost two series to England while at the helm. It’s not just the coveted urn and the top spot in Test cricket rankings that’s slipped out of the Australians’ grasp, but also dominance over a game that has been groaning under their supremacy for more years than other teams would choose to remember.
Unseated by the Brits in 2005 after a near two-decade reign over the series, another stunning loss to England seems to have tilted the balance of power in the Ashes — as well as warmed the hearts of millions tired of watching their teams lose to those indomitable men from Down Under. Could the bails finally be coming off to end the innings of yet another empire, this one led by a man called Ricky Ponting? With their previous triumph having been dismissed as a mere blip on the radar, after a 5-0 Australian recovery in the 2006-07 series, England have followed up on their 2005 shocker with a convincing win, giving many in the cricketing world reason to rejoice over the apparent decline of the Arrogant Aussies. Besides the tumble from the top spot, what must sting most for the boys from Oz is to have lost despite having a better team as well as history on their side.
From sparring headlines in both countries to controversies like bodyline bowling and the substitutes’ row more recently, the colourful rivalry has seen vicious battles both on and off the field, coloured by a colonial past. For now the English team’s riding the crest as the Aussies wallow in the trough of defeat. As they say in the rough and tumble world of international cricket: Ashes to Ashes, boom to bust.
IN DEFENCE OF THE PM
Recently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani and they made a joint statement de-linking terror and bilateral talks. A massive reaction followed. The media, desperate for sensational news items so they can compete with the reality shows, ran several stories on how we had not shown a ‘firm’ hand and the statement was seen as a loss of national pride. Our MPs, eager to leave Parliament like college students wanting to bunk classes, staged several walkouts (by the way, where do they walk out to?).
Our attitude shows we really don’t want to reconcile with Pakistan. Sure, we’d like relations to be better but deep down there is resentment and anger. More than anything else, we want to teach Pakistan a lesson. We want to put them in their place. Bashing Pakistan is considered patriotic. It also makes for great politics.
We may feel our PM made a mistake by agreeing to talk to them before resolving the Mumbai terror attacks case. However, let me tell you this — whether we talk to Pakistan or not, we are extraordinarily involved with them. We can cut off all contact; our leaders can exchange dirty looks with theirs and pretend they don’t exist. However, every single Indian’s future is linked to Pakistan and we all pay our dues in keeping the fight going. The reason is our defence budget. At Rs 140,000 crore (up to per cent this year), this is the most expensive government spending item, most of which is because of Pakistan.
For patriotic reasons, defence spends are never questioned. After all, how can you question spending money on soldiers who give up their lives on the border? However, the bigger question is, did they have to give up their lives in the first place? And the second issue we need to understand is, for the amount we spend on defence, what are we giving up?
Yes, there is idealism in saying — ‘we must have a strong army’. However, we are a poor nation. When you are poor, you need to be practical too. I think all Indians must have a re-think about three areas before we arrive at a consensus on our defence strategy.
Foreign policy: Our foreign policy document is not a statement of national ego. It is a document that should articulate how we can best use our relationships with the outside world for the benefit of the country. Forget politicians — I want to ask my fellow Indians — how badly do we want Kashmir? At the cost of making colleges for the young generation in the country? At the cost of not doing irrigation projects for our farmers? At the cost of not building roads and power plants? At the cost of living in high inflation forever? Because, even though it may not be obvious, these items are linked. The budget for defence is more than all the above items put together. Our government doesn’t have unlimited money, so what’s better? Keep the fight going and prevent progress — or, do what it takes to make peace, and use the money to build a stronger nation. The foreign policy document can play a big role in that.
Strategic defence alliance: The new globalised world has interlinked economies like never before. Nobody does it all by themselves. We can have an alliance with another nation if the aim of defence is to protect our borders. For instance, America has a big need to ensure safety of its own borders and cut global terrorism. We can work with them — yes, by giving them some access to our country. For us, it can save costs of protecting ourselves. For them, they have a better control over a volatile region. We may shudder at the presence of American involvement in our defence, but frankly what advantage could they gain against us if they help us protect our borders? In this technology-driven age, do you really think America doesn’t have the information or capability to launch an attack against India? Neither do they want to attack us. They have much to gain from our potential market for American products and cheap outsourcing. Well, let’s outsource some of our defence to them, make them feel secure and save money for us. Having a rich, strong friend rarely hurt anyone.
Good, old-fashioned peace: The land of Buddha and Gandhi seems to have lost its peace goals. We want talk to Pakistan — but more to put them in their place and shove our point of view down their throat. Frankly, such defiance may win claps from an audience in a cinema hall, but is no attitude for peace. We may think Pakistan is always wrong and we deserve Kashmir — but when we are in a negotiation, we have to give the other party some room. We may not be happy about it, but we can learn to live with it.
We need to have peace not only because it is a good thing — but also because we can’t afford to fight or stay prepared to fight for the next 20 years. We are hiring more security guards outside the house when there isn’t money to put the kids in school. The defence budget has to be controlled and with the right policies and attitudes, we can. Money spent on bullets doesn’t give returns, money spent on better infrastructure does.
And maybe that’s what our Prime Minister had in mind when he continued the dialogue. At least the optimist in me hopes so.
Chetan Bhagat’s latest book is The Three Mistakes of My Life
BANK ON IT
The current economic crisis could take a toll on Indian banks. Reserve Bank of India statistics reveal that while deposits grew at the rate of 21.8 per cent (till July 31), compared to 20.6 per cent last year, credit growth had in the same period decelerated from 25.6 per cent to 15.8 per cent. If the high growth in bank deposits and the low growth in bank credit continues, it will undermine the profitability of the Indian banking system and make banks weaker. One obvious solution to this difficulty is that banks cut deposit rates to reduce the growth in bank deposits. With lower deposit rates, banks will be able to reduce lending rates without hurting their margins. This will allow credit growth to rise. Lower industrial production and a fall in farm incomes due to drought will also pull down deposit growth. However, both developments will also imply a drop in the demand for credit.
While the interest rate mechanism should be allowed to function to create a balance between bank credit and deposits, the government should not direct banks to increase credit to risky projects at lower rates. Since the bulk of the Indian banking sector is in the public
sector, eventually the tax payer bears the brunt of bad loans. In a business-cycle downturn, lending is a risky business. The lack of development of the Indian financial system — which lacks, for example, as strong corporate bond market — means that the burden of financing investment falls disproportionately upon the banking sector. While there is a need to increase funding from there, there is equally a need to develop other elements of the financial sector to reduce the concentration of risk in banking.
The coming months will hopefully see an increase in business activity. However, they will also see an increase in government borrowing. The increase in interest rates on government borrowing in recent weeks has happened despite the fact that this is a time when demand for credit from the private sector is weak. When it picks up then there will be an overall increase in the demand for credit. With businesses struggling to get back to their feet it will be important that the cost of credit does not increase so much as to kill the recovery. It is therefore important to keep monetary policy loose. While there have been increases in food prices in recent weeks, raising interest rates will not pull down vegetable prices; nor will domestic interest rates affect international commodity prices.
A MONTH LATER
It is unfortunate that it has again taken extreme provocation for Manipur to attract national debate. Remember a group of women stripping in protest near the Kangla Fort in 2004? Now, the state has been almost paralysed in the aftermath of the alleged fake encounter on July 23 that killed a former militant, Chungkham Sanjit, and a pregnant woman supposedly caught in the crossfire. Protests and a 48-hour strike earlier this month that followed the publication of photographs capturing the incident, demanding Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh’s resignation, led to a judicial inquiry being ordered into the killing and the suspension of the policemen involved. This, when there is even a Ministry of Development of the North-East Region to bring the seven states into focus and trigger their development, on the assumption of course that insurgency would be curbed by security personnel and economic progress.
Thus, after Ibobi Singh returned with a fresh mandate in the state, his government began an aggressive crackdown on militancy, against a backdrop of increasing public anger with militants’ crimes. Sanjit’s death, irrespective of the right or wrong in this particular case, has exposed the dilemma that governments battling insurgency face — how to take necessary action against militants without committing excess or appearing to. This development, importantly, takes place amidst reports that underground rebels have infiltrated the Manipur Police, something for which the state government has been rebuked by the Union home secretary. The arrest of an India Reserve Battalion jawan for alleged involvement in a grenade attack in Imphal on Friday and reports of another’s role in murdering a professor some months ago raise serious questions about the recruitment process for state police personnel.
Ibobi Singh’s problems may have compounded but it is just as well in the larger context that the Centre has suggested making Naga-dominated Ukhrul the summer capital of the state, on the lines of the Union home minister’s proposal at the recent chief ministers’ conference. The Northeast needs a broad strategy and initiatives to tackle problems old and new. Integrating Manipur’s hills and plains, ensuring systematic elections and overall economic development are plans in the right direction. Whether some of this is achieved through the Ukhrul idea (based on the Jammu and Kashmir model) is a matter of detail.
Over the past sixty-plus years, the one civil institution that, in India, has consistently received public admiration for retaining its dignity is the judiciary. And the judiciary has earned that admiration and trust time after time, for standing up for basic values and resisting political pressure. But admiration of this sort, however long-lasting, is dangerously fragile. And that is the context in which we should view the brouhaha surrounding the divisions in the higher judiciary on the issue of the declaration of judges’ assets.
Chief Justice Balakrishnan has admitted that there is no consensus on whether judges’ assets should be made public. He says that “a consensus has to be developed”. But even the Chief Justice must recognise that this is now a big issue; keeping a lid on it, as it were, is no longer possible. Even if it were true that the first visible stirrings of dissent come from those members of the higher judiciary more comfortable with the putting things in the public realm — the writers of blogs, or of opinion articles — this does not in any way mean that it will continue to be so limited in the future. More likely, disagreement will be expressed more openly.
Simply put, then, this is a hot-button issue, one on which the public in general has a bias in favour of transparency, and which the judiciary needs to recognise has the potential to undermine its credibility. India’s judges have done an excellent job of keeping institutional pride and credibility going in an era in which concerns are continually expressed about almost every other major state institution. It would be a shame if something the solution to which is so straightforward were to cause that enviable record to receive a knock from which it might never recover.
WHY JINNAH MATTERS
On the death of Mohammed Ali Jinnah in September 1948 an Indian political leader paid him a rare, fulsome tribute describing him as “one who was great as a lawyer, once great as a Congressman, great as a leader of Muslims, great as a world politician and diplomat and, greatest of all, as a man of action”. Despite having serious differences with the Quaid-e-Azam, Sarat Chandra Bose recalled that Jinnah, initially along with Mahatma Gandhi, once lent support to a last-ditch attempt to prevent Bengal’s partition along religious lines.
On March 8, 1947, the Congress led by Nehru and Patel passed a formal resolution calling for the partition of Punjab. It went against all the principles the Congress had stood for — at least since 1929, when in Lahore India’s premier nationalist party had demanded a united and independent India. Then-Congress president Nehru explained that even though the resolution mentioned only Punjab, Bengal too may have to be partitioned. Partition seemed to be a price worth paying for untrammelled power at a strong centre. Gandhi sought an explanation from his erstwhile lieutenants, but was elbowed aside.
As one Bengali paper put it, the Congress as much as the Hindu Mahasabha, beset by Curzon’s ghost, was ready to raise the matricidal Parashuram’s axe to slice the motherland into two. As late as May 28, Mountbatten recorded two alternative broadcasts in London. Broadcast A was to be used if it appeared probable Bengal was to be partitioned along with Punjab and broadcast B if Bengal was to remain unified. The implacable opposition of Nehru and Patel ensured that broadcast B was discarded on Mountbatten’s return to Delhi on May 30, 1947. The partition of the provinces of Punjab and Bengal at Nehru and Patel’s behest, much like the partition of the province of Ulster in Ireland, permanently skewed subcontinental politics and left a poisoned post-colonial legacy. The refusal of the Congress high command to entertain a serious discussion on provincial rights also meant that the party’s Muslim supporters in the North West Frontier Province led by the Frontier Gandhi, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, were thrown to the wolves.History is a matter of interpretation and debate based on historical evidence; it is not a matter of opinion. While there may still be different points of view on the relative balance of forces that led to partition, and Jinnah is by no means blameless in this regard, the role of Congress majoritarianism in shaping the final outcome of August 1947 has been well accepted in the best historical scholarship. South Asian historical writing has shed its statist biases and reached a certain level of maturity and sophistication in the last quarter of a century. South Asian political discourse on historical figures and issues, by contrast, has remained utterly puerile six decades after independence.
India was fortunate to possess a galaxy of great political leaders in the pre-independence era with extraordinary accomplishments and all-too-human failings. Even those with magnificent contributions committed Himalayan blunders at crucial turning points of history. We do them no justice and fail to learn from their exemplary lives by replacing biography with iconography.
The reaction of the major political parties and a state government to Jaswant Singh’s healthy predilection for historical interpretation over political deification is cause for some concern about the quality of our nationalism and democracy. The apparent need of our political class to continue demonising the founding father of Pakistan reveals a sense of insecurity that sits uneasily with the self-confidence to which India could legitimately aspire. One can only hope that the political leaders are out of sync with the majority of the young population of this country.
The controversy over a book has also brought into sharp focus the strengths and weaknesses of India’s democracy. The major strength is revealed in the vigorous public discussion of the issue in the print and electronic media. The key weakness is evident in the lack of genuine inner-party democracy and an anti-intellectual attitude that refuses to tolerate any expression of dissent. A particular political party’s wish to self-destruct may to some extent be regarded as its own business. But the resort to an archaic law to ban a book affects the entire citizenry. The stance of both major parties in Gujarat is unworthy of the region which gave birth to Gandhi and Jinnah.
I am not in agreement with those who say that the parties are obsessed with a non-issue, 62 years out of date. The issue which revisiting partition brings to the fore is full of contemporary relevance. It is the search for a substantive rather than procedural democracy that protects citizens from majoritarian arrogance and ensures justice in a subcontinent where people have multiple identities.
Majoritarianism, whether in secular or saffron garb, continues to be a potential threat to Indian democracy. Regional rights were once thought to be a counterpoise to the anti-democratic tendencies of an over-centralised state. Regional parties run by petty and insecure dictators are proving to be as ruthless as the all-India partiepression of internal dissent. In such a scenario freedom of speech and expression remains the best guarantee of the future of Indian democracy.
Fortunately, this freedom has deep roots in history. The political parties in pursuit of their narrow interests and short-term electoral advantages have set themselves squarely against India’s long and weighty argumentative tradition. They are, therefore, bound to lose.
The writer is the Gardiner Professor of History at Harvard University firstname.lastname@example.org
NEPAL ABHORS A VACUUM
Political parties have not yet been able to elect the new chairperson for the constitution drafting committee of the constituent assembly. The post has been vacant for the two months since Madhav Kumar Nepal’s election as prime minister. Baburam Bhattarai, key ideologue of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) has already announced his candidature, while 22 other parties, part of the government coalition, insist they must have someone from their side. The election, slated for August 17, was deferred by a week till Madhav Nepal returned from Delhi, but the stalemate continues; no date has yet been fixed. Bhattarai is certainly more qualified than most others in the pro-democracy parties. But doubts about the CPN-M’s commitment to the peace and constitution-writing process — and Bhattarai’s public statements, implying that ultimately the Maoists alone will decide the content of the new constitution — have weakened his case. But almost every political party agrees that without the Maoists neither the new constitution nor the peace process can be pursued to a logical end. And the Maoists refuse to respond positively.
Prachanda, under pressure from political parties at home and resentment from India, retracted his recent speech that he made in front of 700-plus cadres in a closed-door training session that blamed an Indo-US conspiracy for his ouster as PM. But both he and Bhattarai have been repeating the accusation of destabilising Nepal openly, which is bound to have an effect. Although India’s Nepal policy is being perceived as a failure — the peace process it mediated is faltering, democracy in a practical sense has failed to take root — India did tell PM Nepal that it was ready to extend any help its northern neighbour wanted on the peace and constitution-writing process.
But what will this mean when the country gasps in a political vacuum? A heavy toll has already been taken on the government’s authority. People are asking questions: will the constitution be done by the stipulated deadline of May 2011? Will the peace process move smoothly? If not, what will be the consequences at home and abroad?
Nepali Congress leader and former PM G.P. Koirala, largely credited with bringing the Maoists to the peace process, recently warned Maoists they may have to face the wrath of the state as did the LTTE in Sri Lanka and as Islamists in Pakistan currently do. The Maoists declared then that now that the monarchy’s fallen, the Nepali Congress is their biggest enemy and needs to be eliminated. Just as they managed to get every other party on their side while eliminating the monarchy, the Maoists may also try to unify all parties of the Left for the limited purpose of going against the Congress — a trend of the past three years. Koirala had refused to allow any debate within the Congress on whether to keep supporting the “constitutional monarchy” after Prachanda asked him “How can you become the first President of the Republic of Nepal without first removing the king”? Having accomplished that, the Maoists are now exploring another political equation: exploring Left unity with Jhalnath Khanal, chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), the party that PM Nepal belongs to. It has moved far enough to, say, form a government together, as Khanal does not command majority support within his party. But that has already weakened PM Nepal enormously.
If at all that happens, that will mean total isolation of the Nepali Congress, and a much more marginalised role in the peace and constitution-writing process. What many Nepal-watchers, including India, did not realise was that the removal of the monarchy in haste, without securing the Maoists’ firm commitment to not fiddle with the independence of the judiciary or media and to not politicise or demoralise the Nepal army, would lead to the power vacuum we see today. Filling it up appears difficult, if not impossible.
On India’s part, despite the initiative it took in bringing Maoists and the pro-democracy parties of Nepal together for peace and stability in the neighbourhood that obviously goes in its own interest, it failed on four counts clearly. That the Maoists, once they signed the 12-point agreement, will act like pro-democracy forces and shun violence, and that G.P. Koirala who took power from the king in April 2006 will act like a statesman, were the two major miscalculations. Third, India also underestimated the likely strength of the Maoists in its pre-election estimate — that they wouldn’t win not more than 20 of the 601 seat — and clearly, India also failed to gauge the growing presence and interest of China in Nepal as the resultant power vacuum prevails. Madhav Nepal is back with assurance from India of any support in the peace and constitution-writing process, but the power vacuum and the imminent parting of the Maoists and pro-democracy forces — partners in the promised peace and democracy — make things more uncertain.
A FEW EXTRACTS FROM THE BOOK
Now, it so happens that I profoundly disagree with Mr. Jaswant Singh’s assessment of Jinnah. Ever since I read the multi-volume Jinnah Papers — brought out by the National Archives of Pakistan; the two-volume, Foundations of Pakistan, edited by Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada; and the four-volume History of Partition of India, edited by the Pakistani historian, K.K. Aziz, Jinnah has seemed to me a pinched, narrow-minded, diabolic schemer — one who used and was used by the British to divide India. To use his words, he ‘forged a pistol’, the armed thugs shoring up the Muslim League. He unleashed them in his ‘Direct Action’ against Hindus. He paralysed the Interim Government through Liaquat Ali. From 1937 onwards, he worked stealthily and continuously with the British to thwart every scheme that might have preserved a united India. His contemptuous characterisations of India, of Hindus, of our national movement and its leaders, make one’s blood boil to this day. That he talked Islam and drank whiskey, ate ham, and the rest, that he hardly knew the Quran to say nothing of living by it, do not prove his secularism to me, they make him out to be a hypocrite. In a word, far from being ‘attracted’ by Jinnah, as my senior Jaswant Singh is, I am repelled by him.
And book after book that I have read regarding those decades since I wrote about him and his stratagems twenty-five years ago has etched that image even deeper. My perspective also differs for another reason from the one that informs Jaswant Singh’s book, and that, if I may add, of those who still dream of a ‘grand confederation of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh’, of those who still talk of Akhand Bharat. Having waded through the writings of Islamic leaders and clerics of the period, and seeing the direction in which Pakistan and Bangladesh have evolved — have inevitably evolved, given the principles on which they were founded, principles that Jinnah articulated and insisted upon incessantly — I have come to realise that Girilal Jain was the one who was right. You are dead wrong, he told me, after reading what I had written about Jinnah. The best thing that has happened for us is the Partition. It has given us breathing time, a little time to resurrect and save our pluralist culture and religions. Had it not happened, we would have been bullied and thrashed and swamped by Islamic fundamentalists. So, my lament is the opposite of Jaswant Singh’s today. And it also so happens that I am an adorer of Sardar Patel as of the Lokmanya, and a worshipper of Gandhiji.
But first the book, and a few extracts.
A GLIMPSE OF THE CONTENTS
A chapter, ‘Compromise on national symbols’ — not by the British nor by Jinnah, but by the Congress leaders. By Congress leaders does the author mean, ‘Sardar Patel’, or even “Congress leaders, in particular Sardar Patel”?
A chapter, ‘Boost to Jinnah by Congress’.
A sub-heading: ‘Azad shocks Gandhi’ — when Maulana Azad, then Congress President, conveyed acceptance of the Cabinet Mission Plan, in particular of excluding non-League Muslims from the Cabinet, and his assurance to the British that he would carry the Congress with him, that they need not worry about any misgivings that some, including Gandhiji might have. All this without telling either the Congress or Gandhiji, and he ‘mis-stated’ the facts, to boot, to Gandhiji’s face, till he was confronted with the letter he had sent. The author sets out the ‘devastating effect’ of the episode on Gandhiji.
CITATIONS FROM SARDAR PATEL
He recalls how the Congress Working Committee, in spite of the strenuous, indeed broken-hearted opposition of Gandhiji, accepted the British proposal to divide Punjab and Bengal. He quotes the letter that Sardar Patel wrote to a member of the Working Committee, and points out how very unrealistic the Sardar was in this case:
“If the League insists on Pakistan,” the Sardar wrote, “the only alternative is the division of the Punjab and Bengal... I do not think that the British Government will agree to division. In the end, they will see the wisdom of handing over the reins of Government to the strongest party. Even if they do not, it will not matter. A strong Centre with the whole of India — except East Bengal and part of the Punjab, Sind and Baluchistan — enjoying full autonomy under the Centre will be so powerful that the remaining portions will eventually come in.” The author remarks,
“Both Nehru and Patel surmised that by this counter-strategy Jinnah would be paid in his own coin; he would be made to realise that his argument would be turned against him; that what would be left to him ultimately was the ‘truncated, mutilated, moth-eaten Pakistan’ which he had scornfully refused to look at some years ago.”
Recounting subsequent events, the book records, “Patel was so fed up with the League’s tactics inside the Interim Government that he saw nothing but endless intrigue and troubles ahead in any kind of working with the League; it was better to have a clean separation rather than have pinpricks every day. Nehru too had lost all hopes of joint action with the Muslim League in any kind of arrangement; the League would never see eye to eye with the Congress on any of the issues. He felt, despairingly, that there was no way out except Partition. Rajendra Prasad came out with the same explanation: ‘It was the Working Committee, and particularly such of its members as were represented on the Central Cabinet, which had agreed to the scheme of Partition... (They) did so because they had become disgusted with the situation then obtaining in the country. They saw that riots had become a thing of everyday occurrence and would continue to be so; and that the Government... was incapable of preventing them because the Muslim League Ministers would cause obstruction everywhere... It had thus become impossible to carry on the administration.’”
“With Nehru and Patel finally acquiescing to the demand for Pakistan, the atmosphere, especially in the north, began to hot up as never before”, the book records, and elaborates what followed.
‘BENUMBED MENTAL STATE OF CONGRESS’
The book turns to what it calls “Benumbed Mental State of Congress”, and cites Acharya Kripalani’s admission to nail it. Kripalani, then the president of the Congress, wrote about the crucial meeting in which, unknown to Gandhiji, the Working Committee met, and endorsed the Partition Plan: “The Working Committee met in a tense atmosphere. Everybody felt depressed at the prospect of the Partition of the country. The Viceroy’s proposals were accepted without much discussion. As a matter of fact, Jawaharlal and Vallabhbhai were already committed to the acceptance of the proposals. There was no critical examination...” Kripalani noted the manifest infirmities in the Plan that had been drawn up, and which the CWC approved, and wrote, “It was quite natural for our foreign masters to ignore all these inconsistencies in order to favour the League; one cannot understand why we of the Working Committee did not even draw their attention to these important details.”
The Plan had been accepted behind Gandhiji’s back. He was dead-set against it even after Panditji and Patel told him that they had already agreed to it in their meeting with the Viceroy, and had already got the Working Committee to endorse it. Gandhiji was torn — telling his closest associates one moment that he would put up a last fight, telling them the next that he was helpless. At the crucial moment, he told Congressmen that, as their leaders had already accepted the Partition Plan, they should do so also. The book quotes Panditji sort of placing the responsibility on this falling in line by Gandhiji! Panditji told Leonard Mosley, “But, if Gandhiji had told us not to accept Partition, we would have gone on fighting and waiting.”
The book records that, given the extent to which it had been weakened by the Second War, the British had come to realise that their time was up, that there was no way they could impose their conditions on the Indians. So, they set about their fallback option — to divide India so that they would have a strategic foothold in Pakistan. Having documented the mirages and miasmas of the Congress leaders, the book remarks, “the Pakistan demand assumed prestige mainly because of the Congress vacillation on that issue and pampering of the League...”
The book shows how the rationalisation the Congress leaders advanced — that the only alternative to Partition was civil war — is blown by the massacres that followed. It recalls Panditji telling a New York audience two years later, that if they had known the terrible consequences of Partition in the shape of killings etc., they would have resisted the division of India. It recalls, Rajendra Prasad exclaiming, “If only we had known!” “As for Acharya Kripalani,” the book records, “his choicest epithets in later years were reserved for those in the Congress High Command on whom he put the entire responsibility for Partition — so far had his own mind traveled from the position he had taken (of defending the June 3 Plan) in that fateful session of the AICC meeting in June 1947.”
The book records Pyarelal’s telling assessment: “Pandit Nehru’s speech revealed — what had all along been suspected — that it was the Interim Government’s helplessness, owing to sabotage from within by the League members in the Government and retention of control by the British, to cope with the spreading anarchy that had driven the Congress High Command to desperation, so that they were glad to escape from the intolerable situation they found themselves in, even by paying the price of Partition. The Congress leaders were past the prime of their lives. After a quarter of a century of wandering in the wilderness they had come within sight of the Promised Land. They were doughty warriors and were not afraid, if necessary, to take the plunge once more. But they were afraid that it might not be given them to see another successful fight through, and the fruit of their struggle and the countless sacrifices of a whole generation of fighters for freedom might slip through their fingers when it seemed almost within their grasp. If the hour of decision had come earlier when the Congress was in the wilderness, when they were young and before their experience in the Interim Government and the exercise of power had coloured their thinking and outlook, their choice might have been different.”
But that was not just Pyarelal’s assessment. Panditji’s own assessment was harsher. The book records what he told Leonard Mosley in 1960: “The truth is that we were tired men, and we were getting on in years too. Few of us could stand the prospect of going to prison again, and if we had stood out for a United India as we wished it, prison obviously awaited us. We saw the fires burning in the Punjab and heard every day of the killings. The plan for Partition offered a way out, and we took it.”
A FEW QUESTIONS
I can go on reproducing extracts, but the main theme of the book’s thesis will be evident. According to the book, while the British had the manifest design to partition India; while Jinnah and his Muslim League subordinates were manifestly working for Pakistan, neither of the two would have succeeded but for the vacillations, mistakes and compromises of the Congress leaders.
To assess the anger that the Gujarat government has worked up, ask three questions:
• Is it just this book alone that asserts that mistakes by Congress leaders contributed to the outcome? Was that fact not acknowledged by the Congress leaders themselves?
• When the book speaks of the vacillations, mistakes and compromises of the Congress leaders does it mean, “the vacillations, mistakes and compromises of the Congress leaders - excluding Sardar Patel”?
Manifestly not. So, is the author guilty of insulting Sardar Patel or not? Should the Gujarat government not, therefore, ban the book? And so, the final question:
• Whose book are we talking about?
The book is The Tragedy of Partition by one of the longest-serving and most revered pillars of the RSS, H.V. Seshadri. It is the standard text of the RSS on the Partition. It is sold at every RSS bookshop, and read, its message is internalised, by every RSS swayam sevak.
Now that the Gujarat government knows the name of the author, two further questions:
• Is there one passage in Jaswant Singh’s book, even one passage that casts the Sardar’s role into graver doubt than Seshadri’s book?
• Is the Sardar’s reputation, in the view of those prancing about to shield it, so fragile that such references as there are in Jaswant Singh’s book or Seshadri’s will undermine it?
Nor is Seshadri’s book alone in documenting the lapses of the Congress leaders. Professor R.C. Majumdar nailed the lapses extensively in lectures that the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan published. He nailed them in his three-volume study, History of the Freedom Movement in India. The lapses are nailed even more firmly in Struggle for Freedom, which forms Volume XI of the great series, The History and Culture of the People of India, ‘prepared under the direction of’, as the cover of each volume says, that other distinguished son of Gujarat, K.M. Munshi — one of the closest associates of the Sardar himself. And they are nailed — not as lapses, but as inexcusable blunders — in the work on the Partition of India of the greatest constitutional scholar we have had since Independence, H.M. Seervai. The self-serving speeches of the Congress leaders are available in Mitra’s Annual Register. The anguish of Gandhiji, his torment at what Congress leaders, in particular the two closest to him, Panditji and the Sardar, had done is recorded from day to day in his addresses at the daily prayer meetings and in Pyarelal’s searing volumes, The Last Phase — “The purity of my striving will be put to the test only now,” Pyarelal records him saying as he lay in bed, having awakened earlier than he was meant to. “Today I find myself all alone. Even the Sardar and Jawaharlal think that my reading of the situation is wrong and peace is sure to return if Partition is agreed upon...They wonder if I have not deteriorated with age... Nevertheless, I must speak as I feel if I am a true and loyal friend to the Congress and to the British people as I claim to be...”
As all these books, as well as many more, can be stretched to cast the same doubts on the role of the
Sardar, as one of the principal leaders of the Congress, how many of them will the Gujarat government ban?
(To be continued)
The writer is a BJP MP in the Rajya Sabha
WHY ARE OUR TV ANCHORS SUCH MANIC MOTORMOUTHS?
Jaswant unplugged: Here, there and everywhere. Not a channel was ignored, nobody went disappointed as Jaswant Singh spread himself out across last week. Like a magician he managed to appear on three, even four news channels simultaneously, dropping little bombshells along the way. The good part is that he spoke in driblets, sometimes not extending himself beyond a phrase.
Anchors uninterrupted. They could learn two from Jaswant Singh. Once they open their mouths, they remain open. They’re talkathons, allowing their words to ‘Bolt’ out of their mouths faster than Usain. In a nation where everyone speaks at the speed of light, they’re speech lightning.
They believe that we, the TV audience, like and want anchors who shout at us (and at their guests) and who never stop talking. Of course we exaggerate (not). They seem to imagine that since they are in the same box, they’re also in the same room crowded with other anchors, all of whom are speaking rapidly at the same time, so they must yell in order to make themselves heard above the din. What they forget is that we are not in that room with them, that we watch them one at a time and can hear them perfectly well when they speak at room temperature. Well, you know what we mean.
On the day that the BJP rewrote its own history with the expulsion of Jaswant Singh, the top anchors on English news channels were out there, on air at 9 pm debating what since the general elections has become the news channels’ seasonal favorite: BJP, going, going, gone? On the night, Arnab Goswami (Times Now) spoke the longest, the loudest, the fastest and Prannoy Roy (NDTV 24x7) the slowest and the softest with Rajdeep Sardesai (CNN-IBN) somewhere in between. This is typical of most nights, although Sardesai can give Goswami a run for his tongue. In the company of his two younger, excitable colleagues, Roy, always composed, sounds almost inaudible (is that their intention?).
Interestingly, younger anchors who appear either alongside them like Suhasini Haider (CNN-IBN) or before them, like Rahul Shivshankar (Times Now) and Sonia Singh (NDTV 24x7) to name just three evening regulars, are calmer and keep a lid on the word countdown. They’re also less opinionated. Perhaps the older and wiser anchors could learn from them?
Hindi news channel anchors have stopped yelling at us. Perhaps because much of what they talk about — Bollywood, bhoots, bhavishya and badmash or religious observances like Ganesh Chaturthi on Sunday — isn’t news and does not excite a sense of urgency. Their defining characteristic is the need to stand and — deliver. Don’t know if this is occasioned by the lack of studio furniture or out of respect for the news; it may have been inspired by CNN where anchors like Jonathan Mann think and speak on their feet. BBC World anchors prefer to be seated — at all times!
Cricket unbound. Have watched an enthralling Ashes series this summer which concluded Sunday on an autumn evening as Andrew Flintoff walked into the sunset of test cricket. But seriously annoyed by ESPN’s refusal to telecast replays of the fall of wickets at the end, just in case we missed the entire five and a half hours’ action. And why did we have to watch the World Athletics Championships on news TV? Because none of the sports channels relayed them. DD Sports where were you? Definitely not at soccer’s Nehru Cup which as playing on Ten Sports, so where were you?
Lastly, a salute to the Prince of performers who won the India’s Got Talent final (Colors). The Oriya dance troupe were outstanding and the show was a treat. Why, even the judges got into the act: Shekhar Kapoor displayed a talent for acting like a highly excitable schoolboy, Kirron Kher a talent for acting like a ‘fabulous’ schoolmistress, and Sonali Bendre a talent for being herself.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
RBI, BANKS, WATER THE SHOOTS
A CII-Ascon survey of Indian industry, covering 77 manufacturing sectors, for the first quarter (April-June) of financial year 2009-10 portends encouraging news for the green-shoots-of-recovery hypothesis. The survey shows that key sectors like automobiles, cement, consumer durables and fertilisers reported positive (excellent or high in the survey’s terminology) growth rates of up to 20% and beyond. To an extent, the results of the survey support the latest IIP figures, which also suggested strong growth in consumer durables, in particular. However, there is reason to be cautious about these numbers—we are still not out of the woods and policy, particularly monetary policy, may hold the key to where we end up at the end of the financial year.
First, let’s not forget that not all sectors are doing equally well. The CII-Ascon survey expresses concern about the negative growth rate of sectors reporting within the category of capital goods, some even contracting by 48%. The IIP suggests a turnaround in this category in June, but it is important to keep in mind that all figures until June (negative or positive) precede the adverse effects that a deficient monsoon will have on industry. That effect will show up in the second-quarter numbers. Until the monsoon season, there was much optimism about the buoyancy of the rural economy. Now, despite NREG, there will be an effect on rural incomes (half of which come from farming). The April-June quarter numbers are also likely to have been pushed up by the various fiscal stimulus packages (auto is a certain beneficiary) announced by the government in December 2008 and early in 2009. Add to that the one-time boost of the Pay Commission arrears and there was bound to be a positive effect on demand. But this is unlikely to sustain industry through the entire financial year. In the context of sustainability, the most worrying numbers are the ones on the sharply declining credit offtake this financial year, despite a continuous increase in bank deposits. The latest RBI figures (until July) show that credit growth has decelerated to 15.8% this financial year, compared with 25.6% in the previous year. Deposits, on the other hand, grew by 21.8%, compared with 20.6%. Even though interest rates have fallen, there are not clearly enough borrowers at the current price. Banks have also preferred the security of SLR to aggressive lending. This must change if the recovery is to be sharp and sustainable. There is a case for RBI to cut rates further and then for banks to follow the lead by slashing lending rates. Only when credit growth picks up, will we be able to pronounce a sustained recovery.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
PAINT AN EVEN BETTER PICTURE
Indian art appears to have had a good weekend. As the Art Summit drew to a close in the Capital, the chatterati were all aflutter about how well it had done in the midst of a global economic meltdown, how the summit that had only drawn three international galleries in its first edition now boasted 17 of them, how most participating galleries reported 40-50% sales, how the summit had drawn more footfalls in four days than many galleries put together get in a year and so on. This is indeed all good news, but we must ingest it with a bit of salt. If a central objective of the summit has been to raise awareness about art, the tens of thousands that trekked through it every day (many with children in tow) cried: yes, mission accomplished. But they also underscored an immense need to extend art appreciation beyond curators, critics, collectors and, of course, buyers. A broader community of enthusiasts is critical to deepen India’s art market. And that such depth is a long way away, even the most ardent summit fans will concede.
Even those who are celebrating that Rs 260 million worth of sales were notched up off a display worth Rs 400-500 million. This does not appear at all bad for a market whose total worth is estimated at Rs 1,500 million now, and more in boom times. But compare this to what happened over in Basel in June. Within the first hour of the Swiss art fair, a Takashi Murakami sculpture sold for $2 million: once again, that was one piece in one hour for Rs 100 million. Not that the Art Summit gallerists who stood smiling next to the red dots marking their works sold were likely to have had Takashi in their head. Better than critics, they knew where they were standing very well, in an emerging market. The bottomline: if it’s to move beyond the provincial league, this market must get more organised. Transparent balance sheets, for instance, are the norm for any organised sector, but not in Indian art galleries. Even how corporates invest in art is by and large unclear. Hence, the proliferating guestimates that are usually only in sniffing distance of each other. We appear to have climbed out of the rut where indexes like ArtTactic had seen confidence in Indian art dipping up to 90% (for contemporary work). That’sworth celebrating. But average sale prices at the summit were low (divide Rs 260 million by the 250 pieces sold). Overall, art prices in India still have to climb back to the pre-recession peaks. The big league, of course, beckons from even further away.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
WILL IFRS STOP COOKING OF BOOKS?
KRISHNAMURTHY V SUBRAMANIAN
As India Inc prepares its transition to financial reporting based on the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), shall we step back and ask a pertinent question: Will IFRS improve the quality of financial reporting done by India Inc? The Satyam, Enron and other scandals highlighted that managers and auditors can beat chefs hands down in being able to cook elaborately. Never mind the fact that managers and auditors used earnings and profit numbers while the traditional chefs use more edible stuff. Can IFRS put an end to or at the very least reduce this malaise? Though IFRS will harmonize our financial reporting standards to those employed internationally, I doubt if it will have a material effect on the quality of our financial reporting. Changing accounting standards is relatively easy. Achieving a high quality of financial reporting is not. Before discussing their impact, let us review what the IFRS is. The standards are accounting rules issued by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) and have become the mandated financial reporting standards for public companies in close to 70 countries.
To assess its impact, let us draw an analogy between IFRS and the metric system of uniform weights and measures. Necessitating all public companies to report using IFRS translates into requiring all butchers to use an internationally produced weighing balance instead of the locally made one. However, changing the measurement tool cannot preclude the slick butchers from cheating by cleverly applying the weight of their thumb. Similarly, adopting IFRS cannot prevent the ‘closeted Satyams’ from continuing to shame the traditional cooks with their accounting sleight of hand.
IFRS draw heavily on the current financial reporting regulations of developed countries such as the US and the UK. Despite their recent scandals, these countries have institutional infrastructures that complement the reporting regulations that have developed in these countries. Among these are (i) well developed markets for corporate control, i.e. an active market for takeover of poorly performing companies; (ii) a large and active base of institutional shareholders that are effective in monitoring and disciplining management; (iii) stronger investor protection laws that are enforced more diligently; (iv) tax authorities that can detect suspicious instances and ensure compliance with mandated financial reporting regulations; and (v) liberal rules governing stockholder and lender litigation combined with quick court processes to punish the guilty companies.
In contrast, India lacks such institutional infrastructure. Recall that the World Bank Indicators place India in the bottom half with respect to every measure that relates to conducting business, be it the quality of corporate governance, accounting norms, corruption, or the rule of law. In all these measures, the US and UK rank in the top deciles.
While these institutional features may take longer to develop, the quality of financial reporting can be improved nevertheless in the immediate future. To prevent the butcher from cheating on the weight that he reports for the meat, his incentives to fudge measurement need to be addressed. For example, his misdemeanour can be curtailed by the practised eye of the customer as well as if butcher is concerned about his reputation and in turn the long-run viability of his business. Also, his transgressions can be limited if he is monitored carefully and is penalised when caught employing his nefarious methods.
Similarly, the real problems lie with the incentives of those preparing the financial statements—the managers and the auditors. Improve these incentives and better financial reporting will follow. What steps will help in this regard? First, caveat emptor (buyer beware). The practised eye of the investors and equity analysts is a key in limiting accounting manipulation. As important is proficient oversight by auditors, members of the board’s audit committee and finally regulators. Therefore, adequate training of all these market participants on the intricacies of the IFRS system is essential. The second factor affecting the quality of financial reporting involves the company’s concern for its cost of capital and, in turn, its economic viability in the long run. Existing research in accounting highlights that companies that voluntarily report transparent financial numbers significantly expand access to financial markets and considerably reduce their cost of capital. For companies intending to raise capital in international markets, IFRS provide an opportunity to shun opaqueness and embrace transparency in their financial reporting. Such prudent changes can enable them to access international capital markets and lower their cost of capital. Last but not the least, accounting manipulation can be restrained by imposing severe penalties on those perpetrating such disreputable practices.
The author is an assistant professor of finance at Emory University, Atlanta, and a visiting scholar at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
IT’S TOUGH, BUT RATES MUST REMAIN LOW
Rainfall deficiency extended to a cumulative of 29% till the week ending August 12th and 377 of the 533 districts of India have received deficient rainfall. Under the circumstances, agro output—mainly food-grains—is likely to be much lower than was earlier expected with the area sown under rice down by nearly 19% from last year. Now, the time for the sowing of the summer crop is gradually running out. In addition, reservoir levels are running on the lower side which limits chances for the rabi output to cover up for the loss in the kharif output.
The net effect is a race to downgrade forecasts of GDP. Government sources are strongly holding on to their estimate of a 6% headline growth for the year and I think this is achievable. First and foremost, we need to realise that the development process in India, and now the huge share of the services sector in the GDP has enabled a structural shift in the economy. What I gather is that in 1980 almost 70% of the rural income was generated out of farming and an NCAER survey showed that by 2007 this has dropped significantly. The downside implications of a poor monsoon on industrial production are thus small. Further, whoever faces loss of agriculture income now has the opportunity to replace that through earnings under the NREG programme, which has seen a large increase in its outlay for this year.
Any slack in consumption demand from the rural sector could also be made up by the urban demand. The large dose of global liquidity, positive and stronger economic fundamentals in India compared to the rest of the world have kept the asset markets in India fairly stable and this is likely to push up consumption. Further, schemes that add to the personal disposable income are in plenty, such as the awards under the 6th Pay Commission and the removal of surcharge on personal income tax recently.
Clearly therefore, the worry from weak monsoons is not because of its impact on growth. The main worry arises out of its impact on price levels. True, the foodgrain stocks as of end-July are at 57.42 million tonnes which is 16.3% higher than last year. These levels are in excess of buffer norms and can be offloaded in the open market to stop the price rise. Apart from this the strategy is to allow for larger imports to arrest the price rise. Currently, international prices of wheat are lower than last year but rice prices are sticky due to the unfavourable rain forecasts in India. However, the FAO has projected a lower output of wheat this year compared to the last, that can start to push up the international price of wheat. Further, as the international markets start to face up to the reality of rising demand from India, prices could be driven higher. Thus, the price at which India is finally able to import food-grains could actually be much higher than the current levels. The recent increase in the MSP can help buffer the downside growth implications by putting more income in the hands of the farmers who have marketable surplus. However, this is not good from the inflation perspective as a higher MSP is most likely to set a floor for price movements.
Imports or no imports, India appears to be getting caught in a high inflation zone in the year ahead. Already the prices of cereals and pulses have moved higher by 15% with cereals up by 3.5% and pulses up by 18% compared with a year ago. The surfeit of global liquidity and the hopes of a strong recovery are once more pushing up the international commodity prices, including that of crude oil. I would personally look at average WPI inflation in the next year going up to around 5.5% (higher than RBI’s medium-term objective), compared to this year’s average of 2.5%.
And who would have forgotten the policy implications of rising price pressures of mid-2008. Supply-side and demand-side pressures on inflation are hard to distinguish in India as inflation expectations rise with wage indexation being linked to the CPI. Further, the easy fiscal policy and the large government borrowing programme would mean a continuation of the liquidity surfeit and higher M3 growth, thereby leading to fears of demand-side inflation. And experience shows that RBI could be swift in adjusting the policy rates upwards sharply once it starts tightening.
This could be disastrous. Interest rates have anyway started to firm up due to the large government borrowing programme combined with fears of additional borrowings in the wake of the drought-linked expenditures. Today, the fight is still on to ensure transmission of the earlier policy easing into the real sector. That must be allowed to happen.
The author is chief economist, Kotak Mahindra Bank. These are his personal views
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
WHEN IT RAINS, IT HALTS
It seems that it isn’t just Mumbai which is brought to a standstill by heavy rain. Delhi has suffered similarly this monsoon, most recently on Friday last week. It’s all to easy to blame nature’s fury but surely Delhi’s infrastructure should be better equipped to handle extreme weather. Must drains always clog up and overflow on the roads, causing multiple vehicle breakdowns, and bumper-to-bumper traffic even on the widest of roads? Surely traffic signals should continue to work even in a heavy downpour, and if they don’t, then the administration must ensure that suitably equipped police are out to ease the chaos.
This time around, however, there were more problems than the usual traffic jams. Most bizarrely, a part of the roof of a recently built and apparently sophisticated terminal building (worth Rs 500 crore) at the IGI airport collapsed. The officials stated that heavy rains and the wind’s velocity blew off the sheets of the roof, but is that an acceptable explanation for a city set to host the Commonwealth Games next year—after all this was no typhoon. Many roads also caved in—at Raisina Hill, hardly a kilometre away from the Parliament, a part of the road caved in. There were reports of roads and flyovers being damaged in other parts of the city also.
These incidents occur all too regularly whenever a heavy downpour hits the capital, as it has thrice in the past month and each time the authorities shirk away from managing the situation better. This Friday was the third instance when it rained substantially but the reponse from city authorities was as poor as it was the first time. Every time, the blame game begins for the chaos that prevails. The government blames the MCD (responsible for the upkeep of majority of the city), which in turn blames everyone else, including the fury of nature. The PWD and Delhi Police too share their portion of the blame for their failure in managing roads and traffic respectively. The authorities must stop passing the buck and work in coordination to make Delhi a world class city that is ready to host the Commonwealth Games in 2010.
GRITTY TEAM EFFORT
England’s triumph in the Ashes is remarkable for how unremarkable it seems when stripped of the bells and whistles. In contrast to the series of 2005, which was a battle rich in quality between two formidable sides, this was a modest affair. What is clear is that Australia — deposed from the top spot for the first time since the current ICC rankings were introduced in 2003 — has descended from its lofty heights. England hasn’t had pretensions of bei ng a world-beating team for a while now. What was expected to be a hard-fought contest between two good sides turned out to be just that. England won 2-1 because, as a team, it handled the defining passages of play better —traditionally an Aussie strength. The series statistics speak for themselves: six of the seven leading run-scorers and the three top wicket-takers were Australian, but England’s sum was greater than its parts. Crucially, the home team managed to do just enough when needed. Andrew Strauss, the England captain, put this felicitously: “When we were bad, we were very, very bad. When we were good, we were good enough.” The understated Strauss deserves high praise. England appeared fractured from within after the men in charge, Kevin Pietersen and Peter Moores, fell out. Strauss and Andy Flower, the new coach, began the process of resurrection, which, despite the victory over Australia, has been anything but straightforward.
Strauss has undergone a resurrection himself. He rediscovered his batting after a wretched 2007. It was his calm solidity at the top of the order that enabled England to set the agenda: in three out of five Tests, it gained the first-innings lead. Australian teams have a fondness for attacking the opposition’s leader, thus debilitating the side; Strauss not merely withstood Australia, he emboldened England with his grace under fire. His counterpart, Ricky Ponting, had a difficult series. Australia has been in transition since the retirements of Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Justin Langer, Adam Gilchrist and, more recently, Matthew Hayden. It has required all of Ponting’s considerable powers to handle the transition. While his batting has often stepped up, his leadership has been no more than adequate. A captain is believed to be only as good as his team. The great captains, however, get their sides to play above themselves, and Ponting hasn’t shown this quality. Acceptance that it is no longer alone at the top, but one among four or five closely matched teams, will help the transition. For Australia has appeared in denial at times. England, on the other hand, has much to be pleased with — not least the arrival of a genuine talent in Jonathan Trott. But the country bids farewell to the talismanic Andrew Flinotff. Perhaps the gifted all-rounder’s departure will introduce just the note of sobriety needed at a time when men are apt to lose their heads.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea, and the Republic of Korea, or South Korea, have recently taken significant steps towards the reduction of mutual tensions and differences. On August 17, North Korea announced it would relax border controls for South Korean business visitors and facilitate family reunions. The second move covers 10 million people affected by the partition of Korea, which in 1953 ended the Korean War. Reunions are to occur at t he eastern coast site of Mount Kumgang during the three-day Harvest Festival, when Koreans traditionally visit their home towns; this year’s festival starts on October 3. Tourist groups, consisting mainly of South Koreans, are also to be allowed to visit the historic city of Kaesong on the western coast — starting, according to North Korea, as soon as possible. These developments end the embargo on cross-border visits, which began when a South Korean tourist visiting Kumgang was shot by a North Korean border guard in 2007, in an incident very differently described by the two sides.
All the recent moves indicate a mutual willingness to strengthen substantive links. They serve as reminders that what external observers tend to see as bellicose talk by North Korea is often an understandable response to events elsewhere. The North Korean government is said to have been bitterly hurt by President George W. Bush’s 2002 comment that it was part of an ‘axis of evil.’ As a result, the annual six-party talks hosted in Beijing and involving North Korea, the United States, China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea have produced little of substance. In addition, North Korea expelled all nuclear inspectors following the U.N. Security Council’s condemnation of its failed satellite launch in April 2009. It has also threatened to leave the six-party group permanently. Pyongyang came up with an angry response to the current round of the annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises, only this time a North Korean spokesperson has called the response a routine denunciation. Relations between the two Koreas have been inconsistent and variable for more than half a century. They are likely to remain unsettled until a permanent peace treaty replaces the armistice that concluded the war. The hope is that the positive steps taken recently by the two states will constitute a decisive advance towards such a treaty.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
FAR FROM ASSUMING THE ROLE OF A FRUSTRATED DOMESTIC POLITICAL LEADER, HILLARY CLINTON HAS TAKEN ON HER NEW RESPONSIBILITIES WITH GREAT VERVE.
United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent grand tour of Africa — seven countries in 11 days — was a significant signal to the continent. Following President Barack Obama’s visit to Ghana, it became the earliest African visit in a U.S. administration made by the President and the Secretary of State.
Typically, it was decried by some as another instance of Ms Clinton being relegated to the fringes of U.S. foreign policy and to “tour refugee camps, meet rape victims and make the case for women’s equality in the developing world,” while Mr. Obama contends with the “macho” issues — the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. Shortly before, Tina Brown, in her own inimitable style, asked Mr. Obama “to let Hillary take off her burqa.”
This is nonsense: not only has she not been in any kind of hiding or confined to the margins of U.S. diplomacy, Ms Clinton has been cutting an impressive swathe across the world — kicking off with a big tour of East Asia, following with another of India, and now in Africa, plus assorted travels in between. Far from taking on the role of the frustrated domestic political leader who would rather stay in Washington to continue to play “inside the Beltway” games, while paying desultory attention to her duties abroad as the U.S. chief diplomat, she has taken on her new responsibilities with great verve.
The criticisms of her African sojourn are especially gratuitous because in these first seven months of her stewardship, she has proceeded to redefine not only U.S. foreign policy, but also the very manner in which the ancient art of diplomacy is practised — about which more below.
Many were surprised, even shocked, when Mr. Obama offered the then Senator Ms Clinton the seniormost position in his Cabinet. One had to go back almost a century-and-a-half to find a U.S. President who would do something similar with his main rival for his party’s presidential nomination. “Big mistake,” many said. To appoint somebody who got 18 million votes in the Democratic primary — moreover, one that would come joined at the hip with former President Bill Clinton — would be a source of constant friction. Some of the biggest differences between the two contending candidates in the primaries had been on foreign policy. “He will never be able to rein her in,” was one comment, often followed by “A President must never appoint someone he cannot fire” — the assumption being that her position within the Democratic party was so strong that she would become a bit of a loose cannon.
Seven months on, how is she doing?
The first thing to underscore is the enormity of the task Ms Clinton faced as she took up her position at the State Department — a ceremony attended by President Obama, something very few Presidents do, and in itself a potent symbol of the enhanced role diplomacy is supposed to play under his watch.
We all know the all-time low international standing of the U.S. at the end of the Bush administration, to the point where, in many countries, President Bush himself was considered a greater threat to world peace than Osama bin Laden. The very election of Mr. Obama — in many ways Mr. Bush’s polar opposite as far as his exposure to and understanding of the world existing beyond the U.S. borders — led to some changes in this negative perception, but expectations need to be followed by actions.
The world changed from 2000 to 2008, and many countries distanced themselves from the U.S., in disagreement with the policies emanating from Washington. This was as much a matter of substance as of style. It is difficult to make friends if you start from the premise that you don’t need them (as Charles Krauthammer, the neoconservative commentator, put it: “it would be nice if we had more allies rather than fewer. It would also be nice to be able to fly”).
The enormity of the task abroad is in many ways matched by the one at home. Not surprisingly in an administration that did not believe in diplomacy (as the short-lived U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, put it, “I don’t do carrots”), the State Department in early 2009 found itself in dire straits. One quarter of all positions were unfilled. There are more lawyers in the Pentagon than U.S. Foreign Service Officers. There are more musicians in military bands in the U.S. Armed Forces than diplomats manning the 260 missions and posts the U.S. has abroad. Morale in the foreign service was at an all-time low. Even such traditional diplomatic tasks as the management of development aid has largely been taken over by the Pentagon, given the State Department’s meagre resources.
To some extent, this is part and parcel of the broader crisis of diplomacy in our time. But it is especially dramatic in what is, after all, the only superpower left standing.
Ms Clinton has repeatedly said that Mr. Obama assuaged all her concerns about the autonomy she would have in running the State Department, and that at one point, “she ran out of excuses” not to take the job. But although the President is mostly focussed on his domestic agenda, he knows a thing or two about international affairs and has set some parameters. Strong special envoys like George Mitchell on the Middle East or Richard Holbrooke on Afghanistan have, to a certain degree, taken some significant files out of her portfolio (though they are both old Clinton hands). A close Clinton aide and confidante, Sidney Blumenthal, was vetoed by the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, for a top State Department job.
But that is par for the course. The real question is: how did Secretary Clinton respond to the enormous task she faces?
In a major address to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, she outlined her views. The phrase that encapsulates it is: “from a multipolar to a multi-partner world.” The basic idea is that the main international challenges are common ones, something underlined by the global financial crisis. They demand collective action, and the U.S., instead of unilaterally bullying its way around, can exercise its leadership to convene other nations to put their shoulder to these tasks and push together in the same direction, be it on climate change, international trade or human trafficking.
Working together with key emerging powers like China, India, Russia and Brazil and regional powers like Turkey, Indonesia and South Africa, Washington would thus lead with diplomacy, putting development front and centre among the priorities of U.S. foreign policy, while banning to the dustbin of history (where they belong) the practice of torture and detention camps such as those of Guantánamo.
This is not some starry-eyed, idealistic view of world affairs. As she told The Wall Street Journal, she starts “from the conviction that countries act from their own self-interest as they define them. Part of diplomacy is to open different definitions of self-interest.” Engaging partners is how you go about doing it. And you do so through “smart-power,” the new buzz word around Washington, one that combines the most salient features of “hard” (like military force) with those of “soft” power (like values and ideas) into a seamless web.
It remains to be seen whether this will work, and whether the BRICSAM countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa and Mexico) will be responsive. The next G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh in September should give us an initial response. But there is no doubt that the trip to Africa, where 36 of the 50 least developed states are, is seen in a different light under such a perspective. Far from a “meet and greet,” this was to put some key issues on the table: bringing South Africa, the biggest economy in the continent, on board to deal with key global challenges; improving relations with Angola, Africa’s largest oil producer, in a continent poised to supply a quarter of all oil imported by the U.S.; press for joint regional action on Zimbabwe so that the coalition government can actually deliver; and denounce corruption in countries like Kenya and Nigeria.
Yet, what may be most striking about all this is the way Ms Clinton has gone about it. Moving seamlessly from meetings with heads of states to TV variety shows and to dancing in shanty towns, as she did outside Cape Town, she is “reshaping diplomacy by tossing the script” as The New York Times put it. By connecting with people personally, she is convinced she can mould public opinion which, in turn, can influence governments.
There is only one Hillary Clinton, and few other politicians, let alone diplomats, can match her drawing power and celebrity status. But there is a lesson there, for all those who want to see it, as to what diplomacy will look like in this new century, if it is to survive.
(Jorge Heine holds the Chair in Global Governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and is a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in Waterloo, Ontario. His latest book, Which Way Latin America? Hemispheric Politics Meets Globalization is published by United Nations University Press.)
Buying forgiveness with “blood money” is old hat. These days, it seems, “compassion” comes wrapped in lucrative business deals and petro-dollars as the furore over the release of Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi (the ailing “Lockerbie bomber”) suggests.
Critics say that the decision to free Mr. Megrahi, a former Libyan spy jailed for life in 2001 for his role in the 1988 Lockerbie air crash that killed 270 people, was part of a trade deal with Libya. It has been reported that Tripoli had threatened to freeze out British businesses if Mr. Megrahi was not released.
Indeed, it is almost official. Much to the embarrassment of the British government Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi’s elder son and putative heir apparent, Saif al-Islam Qadhafi, has publicly stated that Mr. Megrahi’s release was linked to business discussions with Britain.
“In all commercial contracts for oil and gas with Britain [Megrahi] was always on the negotiating table,” he told Libyan TV.
An immediate beneficiary of Mr. Megrahi’s release, it is believed, will be BP (British Petroleum) which has invested heavily in Libya but had reportedly been facing bureaucratic hurdles there.
“If industry insiders are to be believed, al-Megrahi’s release will unlock all the obstacles hampering BP’s $900 million Libyan gas project… BP’s only one of a vast number of foreign investment opportunities in Libya’s energy sectors,” The Times reported speculating that Britain would be “eager” to ensure that its “favours” would not be forgotten in Tripoli when it came to handing out business contracts to foreign companies.
The British government has dismissed as a “slur” suggestions linking Mr. Megrahi’s release with business deals, but then they would do that. Wouldn’t they?
It is important to point out that Mr. Megrahi always protested his innocence and an appeal against his conviction was due to be heard soon. There is a strong view among some legal experts that he was a victim of “miscarriage” of justice as his conviction was based wholly on circumstantial evidence, much of it rather flimsy. Family members of some of the victims, too, suspect that he was made a “fall guy” in order to protect the real culprit(s).
Mr. Megrahi (57), who has terminal prostate cancer, was freed after doctors said he had less than three months to live. Strictly in legal terms, the Scottish government acted within the framework of its justice system which gives it the discretion to release a prisoner in such circumstances. It is on moral grounds that the decision has sparked fury drawing even U.S. President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton into the row.
The White House “deeply regretted” that a convicted ``mass murderer” had been set free despite protests from the families of the crash victims on both sides of the Atlantic while Robert Mueller, chief of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, called it a “mockery of the rule of law” that would give “comfort to terrorists.”
Scenes of Mr. Meghrahi receiving a “hero’s welcome” back home, with Col. Qadhafi being shown publicly hugging him on Libyan television, have further inflamed anger.
The Scottish government insists that it did the right thing in allowing a dying man to spend the last days of his life with his family and that it is not responsible for the behaviour of Col. Qadhafi and the Libyan public.
So, what is one to make of all the sound and fury that has followed Mr. Megrahi’s release?
Leaving aside the understandably emotive reaction of the victims’ relatives the whole Megrahi saga (his conviction as well as his release) really turns on the politics (or rather the economics) of international relations that has seen Libya, once regarded as a terrorist state by the West, being embraced by western leaders in return for Libyan business contracts . Business and politics was as much at the heart of the process that led to Mr. Megrahi’s conviction as it is in relation to his release.
It all started when Libya, in a bid to mend fences with the West, agreed in 1999-2000 to hand over Mr. Megrahi and another suspect, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, for trial at a specially convened Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands. Libya also agreed to pay millions of dollars in compensation to the victims of the Lockerbie crash. This paved the way for a rapprochement process that saw Col. Qadhafi renounce terrorism and abandon his nuclear programme in exchange for lifting of sanctions and resumption of trade sparking a race among American, British and European companies for Libyan contracts.
For Britain, the key moment was the then prime minister Tony Blair’s visit to Libya in 2007. It not only opened the doors for British companies to invest in Libya’s bourgeoning energy sector but, significantly, it was also during that visit that he negotiated a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya which, according to critics say, was really meant to facilitate Mr. Megrahi’s transfer to a Libyan jail. Had Mr. Megrahi not been stricken by terminal cancer, Libya would have invoked the agreement to have him transferred to Libya, it is stated.
The British government claims that it had nothing do with the devolved Scottish administration’s decision but it has now emerged that the Scottish government did consult the Foreign Office and was advised that there was no legal impediment to the release. Intriguingly, while denying any role in the decision London has not stated what its own view on the issue is — fuelling speculation that quietly it agrees with Edinburgh.
THE ASIAN AGE
DO MORE TO END FREE TRADE FEARS
The free trade pact agreement with Asean signed earlier this month has been widely welcomed in this country as India becomes part of one of the biggest trade blocs in the world. But there is also disquiet in certain quarters, and the government would do well to assuage these concerns before hostility towards the deal, particularly in Kerala, begins to snowball. Had these been normal times, trade between India and the Southeast Asian countries would have witnessed a quantum jump, but with world trade down in the dumps at present, its full benefits might take some time to be evident. India’s trade with the 11-member bloc — which includes Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam — has jumped from $6.90 billion in 2004 to $39.4 billion in 2008. This agreement was due to be signed in December last year, when Kamal Nath was commerce minister, but had to be delayed due to rioting at Pattaya; next in February this year, but was put off as New Delhi sought some further changes. There is now a feeling that India has given greater ground because while Asean will bring down duties from five per cent to zero, India will lower them from 15 per cent to zero. The government says this shortfall will be offset by investments and services, for which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to make a strong pitch at the October Asean summit.
Opposition to the India-Asean FTA has been simmering in Kerala, which relies heavily on plantations, pepper, coconut and fisheries. It is feared that millions who depend on coconut and fish farming as well as pepper cultivation will lose their livelihood and become impoverished. The unions and outfits which represent them say while it is all very well for the government to say India should improve its quality and production levels; these are easier said than done. They note that the huge difference in productivity, labour and input costs puts Kerala at a great disadvantage. For instance, while pepper production is just 380 kg/hectare in India, where pepper originated, it is 1,000 kg/hectare in Vietnam and 3,000 kg/hectare in Indonesia. Some Asean nations are giants in certain products: Thailand is the world’s largest exporter of shrimps; Vietnam eighth largest in seafood exports and Malaysia the world’s largest vegetable oils producer. With little or no help from the government, Kerala’s farmers are in no position to better productivity levels on their own. Several pepper cultivators are learnt to have already committed suicide; one dreads what might happen once the FTA comes into force in January 2010.
The Centre has said tariffs will be removed in phases: in 10 years it will be 60 per cent for pepper and 50 per cent for coffee. This is hardly likely to assuage the fears of farmers and cultivators. The very fact that Pranab Mukherjee, who heads the GoM looking into the problems of those opposed to this FTA, as well as Vyalar Ravi, a member of this group, rushed to Kerala on a firefighting mission indicates the government is aware the situation is serious. Kerala has bitter memories of Safta, the South Asian free trade agreement which came into force in 2006, when Sri Lankan coconuts began to flood the local markets. While Mr Mukherjee has promised to take note of the state’s concerns, the government needs to do much more to ensure that farmers in Kerala and elsewhere are not left in the lurch when the Asean FTA comes into force next January. This is particularly important as farmers in many parts of the country continue to commit suicide.
THE ASIAN AGE
THE GOULDEN TREASURY
The Canadian pianist Glenn Gould had something like cult status in the late 20th century musical firmament. This was not only because he was an extraordinary performer who provided many new insights into the music he performed, but also because he just so very eccentric.
Gould, who was born in 1932, was a musical wunderkind who was already performing at major concert halls with internationally renowned orchestras by the age of 20. He quickly achieved superstardom and was widely feted for his highly proficient but very unique musical approach. Even then, his personal idiosyncracies were much talked about, but even so the musical world was startled when, in 1964 after just nine years of an amazingly successful concert career, he abruptly announced that he was withdrawing completely from live concert performances and henceforth would only make recordings.
This decision appeared inexplicable to many, but Gould explained that this was a logical culmination of his approach to music and indeed to life. As a perfectionist, he disliked the inherent imperfection, the impossibility of correction, in a live concert experience. He also hated the hectic life of the itinerant performer. In a comment on Yehudi Menuhin (a violinist) he would speak of how "futile and irrelevant" it could be, with "the banal drudgery of its routine… the constancy of its anxiety, the certainty of its frustration". He complained that "at concerts I feel demeaned, like a vaudevillean".
He also had a distaste for the competitive nature of such events, since he abhorred competition as the source of all true evil. He even had a problem with the concerto form, because of his perception of it as a form of competition between soloist and orchestra!
This rejection of the public concert was accompanied by a positive embrace of the enabling possibilities of technology, which allowed for exploitation of broadcast media and playback recording. In a typical Gouldian intervention — a review by Glenn Gould of a biography of Glenn Gould by Geoffrey Payzant — he spoke of "his almost mystical belief that technology possesses a mediative power which can minimise or even eliminate the competitive follies which absorb so large a share of human activity".
His subsequent discography is naturally, therefore, of immense interest. It too, much as his live concerts did earlier, has achieved cult status, with fervent admirers and detractors in almost equal proportion, and has even survived his tendency to sing rather loudly while he played. His early recording of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations has become a landmark, while his subsequently huge recording output is bound to remain as stimulating for future generations as it was for those who first heard it. His early death (at just 50 years) came when he was still at the peak of his powers as expressed in his recordings of the time.
Glenn Gould almost seemed to revel in controversy, in cocking a snoot at the most established and pious musical traditions. Many of his assessments are not merely surprising but downright shocking and inexplicable. Thus he described Mozart’s piano concertos as "unfixable" and declared himself to be "absolutely at a loss" as to how some of Beethoven’s best-known works such as the Emperor Concerto, the Violin Concerto and the Fifth Symphony ever became popular or retained their appeal. For him, Frederic Chopin was not a very good composer, and "the whole central core of the piano recital repertoire is a colossal waste of time". He claimed an affinity for composers of the baroque period, but even here his favourite composer was not the obvious master Johann Sebastian Bach, but the little known Orlando Gibbons!
But some of his philosophical insights into musical activity can become a useful guide to an attitude to life itself. In a speech given at a graduation ceremony of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Gould argued that "the most impressive thing about man, perhaps the one thing that excuses him of all his idiocy and brutality, is the fact that he has invented the concept of that which does not exist". He found the principle of negation to be the most important concept in the history of human thought, because it teaches restraint, and "is the concept which seeks to make us better — to provide us structures within which our thoughts can function — while at the same time it concedes our frailty, the need that we have for this barricade behind which the uncertainty, the fragility, the tentativeness of our systems can look for logic".
How does this relate to music? It relates deeply, because according to Gould, "the more one thinks about the perfectly astonishing phenomenon that music is, the more one realises how much of its operation is the product of the purely artificial construction of systematic thought". This is not meant as criticism of music, since the artificiality itself springs from the wellspring of human invention. But it is important always to be conscious of that artificiality and not be overwhelmed by what Gould called "the dangers of positive thinking", so as not lose sight of its more significant other.
As with music, so with much else in life. This is why Gould’s argument on the importance of imagination is so persuasive: "What it can do is serve as a sort of no-man’s land between that foreground of system and dogma, of positive action, for which you have been trained, and that vast background of immense possibility, of negation, which you must constantly examine, and to which you must never forget to pay homage as the source from which all creative ideas come".
CURBING BLACK MONEY
TAX EVADERS MUST BE DETERRED STRONGLY
It is regrettable that there is unfettered growth in the black money economy year after year and newer means of cheating the public exchequer are being found, with public integrity at a low ebb. Despite all efforts by the Finance Ministry to plug avenues of tax evasion, the parallel economy has touched ghastly proportions. It had been surmised that mandating the use of permanent account number (PAN) in all high-value transactions would curb black money. But even this has proved of no avail. According to the Annual Information Return filed with the Income Tax Department as reported in the media, while high-value transactions more than doubled to Rs 55.7 lakh crore in 2007-08 over the previous year, almost 30 per cent of these were without PAN being cited, giving rise to suspicion of tax evasion. Clearly, with the integrity quotient being low, laws and rules are not deterring the evaders enough.
While the public exchequer is being brazenly denied its due within the country, a huge chunk of unaccounted money is being stashed away in Swiss banks which protect the money-stashers with secrecy laws that shield these evaders. It is unfortunate that while these banks have turned over client details to the US upon Washington’s insistence, they have rejected India’s plea for information about the secret accounts of Indian clients.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had made a welcome assertion in Parliament recently that India was committed to unearthing black money within and outside the country. It is indeed imperative that the matter of Swiss banks’ refusal to divulge information be pursued with new vigour and seriousness. The Indian tax authorities need to do their homework more thoroughly. The Swiss authorities have said that they are prepared to look at specific cases in which criminal complaints have been filed and a request for information is made through official channels. While this path must be followed relentlessly, it is equally vital that within the country, non-compliance with tax laws be punished severely so that an effective deterrent is built into the system.
A FRUITFUL VISIT
INDIA-NEPAL TIES GET A BOOST
Nepal Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal’s five-day visit to India that ended on Saturday may infuse new life into relations between the two neighbours. The achievements of the visit can be seen at least on political, trade and security fronts. As Mr Nepal wanted, he got India’s clear support for his policy of non-inclusion of Maoist combatants into the Nepal Army. Any induction of the former rebels on a mass scale into the armed forces is bound to adversely affect the Army’s professional character. The two sides reached agreement to launch various development-related projects in Nepal with India’s financial and technical help. These projects are related to the development of rail and road network particularly in Nepal’s Terai region, setting up of a police academy, a big medical institute, among others.
India and Nepal have initialled the revised Treaty of Trade and Agreement of Cooperation to Control Unauthorised Trade. This will help enhance bilateral trade between the two countries, particularly when Nepal improves its rail and road connectivity in the areas bordering India. There is considerable scope for the two neighbours to benefit from each other, but they need to work together without doubting each other’s intentions. Nepal will obviously be a major beneficiary with various concessions that India will offer. India has already agreed to consider removal of the ban on the export of essential commodities to Nepal.
But Nepal will have to take care of India’s sensibilities too. For the past few years Nepalese territory has been used by Pakistan’s ISI to create trouble in India. The Nepalese Prime Minister has promised that anti-India forces will no longer be able to use Nepalese soil for implementing their destabilisation schemes. If he shows sincerity in honouring his word this may help create a new climate for greatly fruitful India-Nepal relations.
UGLY REALITY OF CITY BEAUTIFUL
The recent spate of crime incidents across Chandigarh and its suburbs, Panchkula and SAS Nagar, is a cause for concern, especially since vulnerable sections of society, the old, infirm and poor, are being targeted. The recently-released figures regarding the overall fall in criminal cases notwithstanding, murders are on the increase and there is a sharp rise in the number of vehicle thefts. The rise in rape cases is also a cause for concern. Robberies involving violence are making headlines with distressing frequency. The sheer brazenness of the criminals leaves one wondering about the efficacy of the police force and of the criminal justice system. There are three administrative jurisdictions in the area and coordination among them is lacking. Much of the force is, in any case, deployed on VIP duty, which entails guarding the roads and checking the shrubs for such visitors.
Criminals in Chandigarh can be broadly divided into two categories — VIP-brats who operate with a feeling of impunity derived purely from the genealogy of power that they have access to through their family and friends, and ordinary desperados. Both operate with relatively little interference, in the first case because of lack of will, and in the second because the police force is stretched and too busy attending to duties other than preventing crime.
The Punjab Governor also heads the Chandigarh Union Territory administration and there should be close coordination between the two, especially when the safety and well-being of citizens is concerned. The Haryana government, too, is a stake-holder in City Beautiful and must do its bit for law and order in Chandigarh. The officials concerned need to work out and implement a join strategy to curb crime in the tri-city area and ensure that the citizens live without fear of criminals.
NO LESSONS LEARNT
THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN DRAGS ON
BY YASMIN ALIBHAI-BROWN
Unlike many others on the left, I am not a total pacifist and not a proponent of laissez faire foreign policy. I was absolutely against the war in Afghanistan. Sometimes intervention is the only option, often a lesser evil.
Ultra-nationalist Serbs in Bosnia and Kosovo would have successfully exterminated or driven out indigenous Muslims from those lands had NATO not intervened. Too many died as a result, a terrible tragedy and agonising, but the alternative would have been worse. Today it is hard, even impossible to affirm that interventionist position as the war in Afghanistan drags on and on, killing both people and the hopes many of us held when first our troops went in.
In the last few weeks I have questioned the wisdom of that stance and may well have to eat my views. No bad thing, bitter though the taste.Much worse would be to fanatically cling on, become like William Shawcross, Chris Hitchens and others in that sad gang of deluded vocal supporters of the Iraq war.
On September 10, 2001, the day before the Al-Qaeda attacks in US cities, I pleaded on these pages, asked Muslims and the western world to wake up and step in before the Taliban annihilated the life and soul of that troubled yet proud region that is Afghanistan : “...thousands of Afghanis are appearing as asylum-seekers around the world to be humiliated, perhaps even to die, a reminder of just what life can be under the Taliban... the Taliban is the bastard child of the Cold War in Afghanistan, and, even now, I hear Western money makers are happily doing business with it... girls and woman are being beaten, oppressed, denied health and education, hanged and stoned for the smallest transgressions.” What happened the very next day traumatised and roused the US and the west.
Violent Islamicists indoctrinated in Afghanistan had dared to blow up Americans, moved from domestic intimidation (easily ignored) to international terrorism.
On October 7, 2001 the US went in, under the banner Operation Enduring Freedom and most of the world cheered. (How hollow that ambition sounds today.) When that audacious and brave Afghani activist Malalai Joya, who knows she will soon be killed by misogynist warlords, says foreign troops should leave immediately, who are we not to heed her call? If one thing has pushed me to where I stand today, nervous, feeling naive and stupid, guilty too, it is this extraordinary woman.
She ran secret schools for girls, defying the men who want to slaughter female teachers and pupils. She also set up clinics for women who were dying needlessly because they were not allowed to be seen by male medical staff. She got herself into parliament in the last election and confronted the men who were mass murderers. Since then they have been looking to do away with her.
But she still is adamant: “I say to Obama n in my area, 150 people were blown up by US troops in one incident this year. If your family had been there, would you send in even more troops and even more bombs? Your government is spending $18m to make another Guantanamo jail in Bagram. If your daughter might be detained there, would you be building it? Change course or otherwise people will call you another Bush”.
There are other realities too that are leading to a reassessment of our presence in Joya’s country. In 2008 the UN expressed its concern that there had been a 40 per cent increase in civilian deaths. This year the figure will be higher. The Taliban kill the people indiscriminately but so to do our troops. No lessons have been learnt from the parts of Iraq where the allies treated local populations savagely and made enemies of those who were victims of Saddam and should have been their supporters.
An article in The New York Times described an American gunship attack in Azizabad in Afghanistan last August which wiped out 90 people, 75 of whom were women and children. Syed Mohammed from Kabul, a humble old man says Afghan and American soldiers shot his son, pregnant wife, and two grandchildren, one aged one, the other two. The stories are endless and endlessly sad. And what is it all for? In 2001, the two objectives were to neutralise Al-Qaeda and destroy opium farming and trade. Neither has been achieved.
The country has been bleeding from war wounds for far too long. Yet our presence in that country gives the worst men of Afghanistan kudos and status. The Taliban, petty dictators and villains cast themselves the latest heroes in the foundational legend of that land, the “graveyard of empires”, where no foreign rule can survive, not the once invincible British Empire, not the militarily mighty old Soviet Union and now not the best armed armies in the world.
That myth bewitches millions from disenchanted young British Muslims to the lawless and aimless angry young men of Somalia. Ironically, the war to end Islamicist terrorism may be turning into perfect propaganda for the followers of Bin Laden, himself of course a foreigner in Afghanistan. This summer has brought the bloodiest three months ever for the allies. Over 200 young men gone, many more disabled. Grief spreads and sometimes anger.
The government thought it would be good for national resolve if more visible public ceremonies marked the arrival back of dead soldiers. This is backfiring. Each incredibly sorrowful individual story makes people ask why we are there, soldiers included. This is seen now as a quagmire, as squalid and misguided as Vietnam was. Public opinion the world over is falling. Polls show dropping support in France and Germany.
A recent worldwide PEW survey found that only 46 per cent of Brits want to carry on. The figure for the US is 57 per cent. The country which most supports the war is Israel. In 2002, 6 per cent of Americans were against the action. Today that figure is above 40 per cent. Key figures in the Obama Administration admit the American people are tiring of this adventure. Labour’s Kim Howells senses the same fatigue: “I don’t think the public are up for it any more.” It has cost British taxpayers (pounds sterling) 2.5 billion and that figure is expected to rise fast. The inept and ineffable Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth, says it should take one more year while a number of army chiefs think we need to be planning for decades of engagement.
Does anyone know really or do they just make up the lyrics as they go along? So now we have had a dodgy election not worth the “indelible” washable ink on the fingers of voters. Hundreds of girls and women self immolate rather than succumb to this surge against them. After eight years, their ashes are a sign-off, the verdict on an abysmal military expedition. And I am not sure at all I should ever have supported it.
By arrangement with The Independent
SECURITY: NEED TO SHED THE VIP SYNDROME
BY LT-GEN HARWANT SINGH (RETD)
One may wonder why there has been no terrorist attack on the US since 9/11 whereas India has had a string of terrorist attacks since the attack on Parliament. What is so special in the security laws and their implementation in the US which we Indians do not have or are unable to enforce? Is it that the American security machine works conscientiously and by the book: without any exception, where as we live by the ‘chalta hai’ mantra?
The print and electronic media and the political class in India went overboard on Shah Rukh Khan’s ‘ordeal’ at Newark airport. A Union Minister has demanded a ‘tit for tat policy’ with the Americans! It is stated that Shah Rukh was subjected to interrogation.
For us, the word ‘interrogation’ conjures up visions of interrogation by Indian police. What he was asked were some simple questions, such as, persons he knows in America, the purpose of his visit, etc. This was obviously so because there must have been some inputs in the immigration official’s computer software, that required questioning him. Such a procedure is followed by the security staff at American airports and there can be no exception.
Earlier, Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was subjected to search at Palam by an American airline staff. This aroused much indignation and protests in the country. It is to the humility and sanguinity of Dr Kalam that he submitted to body search without any fuss. Dr Kalam is on the Government of India’s list of high dignitaries who are exempt from search at Indian airports. Whereas the American government order makes it mandatory that all passengers boarding American airline flights at foreign airports and headed for the US will be searched.
This practice by US airlines ought to have been known to the authorities. Therefore, it was incumbent on them to take up this issue of exemption from search of listed Indian VIPs with the American government. Evidently, this simple action was not taken.
The Indian government, instead of hauling over the coals, those who had failed to resolve this issue with the American government, went ahead with the act of filing FIRs against the American crew for merely carrying out their duty!
Our former Defence Minister George Fernandes was detained at an American airport, because the computer put him down as a terrorist. He was involved in the Baroda dynamite case! Similarly, former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee was detained for nearly an hour at an American airport because the computer showed him as a Communist, etc. The staff at the airport had to follow the laid down procedure without exception.
Had the security staff carried out its mandated duty and checked the identity of occupants of the car with red beacon at the entry point, there would have been no attack on Indian Parliament. Similarly, had Indian Airlines crew subjected passengers to body search before boarding its aircraft at Kathmandu, the highjacking of this aircraft to Kandahar would not have taken place.
In 2005, the Home Ministry allotted Rs 463 crore to coastal states and mandated them to establish 55 police stations along the coastline. How far was this project carried through and where did the money disappear? Absence of police post at the harbour, terrorists disembarked without being intercepted and Mumbai attack followed, where in addition, security functionaries at various levels failed to carry out their duties.
Ted Kennedy is a respected senator and is well known throughout the country. Twice he was denied entry into an American airport to take the flight, simply because the security computer, perhaps due to some bug, did not clear his name. He took these mishaps in his stride and there was no commotion in the Senate, public or the press.
In the US, there is no compromise on security and no VIP gets worked up over such drills or demands short-circuiting the security procedure. That is how the Department of Home Land Security in America has ensured no terrorist strike since 9/11.
In India we need to shed this VIP and celebrity syndrome and let the security staff carry out its duties diligently and faithfully.
BJP CMS NOT INCLINED TO FOLLOW MODI
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi might have rushed to ban Jaswant Singh’s book on Jinnah to stake further claim to Sardar Patel’s legacy and perhaps persuade more Gujaratis to call him ‘Chhote Sardar’. However, all BJP states are not as eager to impose this ban. The most reluctant of all is Himachal Pradesh. It was in Shimla that the BJP expelled Singh and Modi ordered the ban of his book.
This single act made Jaswant so well known to the average Shimla resident that two major book stores at the fashionable Mall immediately displayed his book along with a huge poster of the book jacket which depicts the life-size portrait of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The book continues to do brisk business in Shimla.
Privately someone disclosed why Himachal Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal was reluctant to follow suit, despite his loyalty to L.K. Advani. “Who knows Sardar Patel here these days? Why create a controversy when none exists?” said a BJP leader from Himachal. So much for BJP’s claims of its ideology being non-negotiable.
WHY SUJATA PUT NEPAL IN A FIX
Nepal Prime Minister Madhav Nepal faced some embarrassing moments during a visit to India. His foreign minister Sujata Koirala opted out of his entourage at the last minute, citing health reasons. Her hosts in Delhi had booked a room for her at the five-star Oberoi Hotel and also arranged adequate security.
It now turns out that Sujata, daughter of Nepalese Congress chief G.P. Koirala, was miffed with her Prime Minister for not making her Deputy Prime Minister before the start of the visit to India as was apparently promised to her. Therefore, she preferred to show her displeasure by refusing to be a part of the PM’s team.
India also wanted the trade treaty with Nepal to be signed during the visit. Arrangements were being made for the signing of the treaty on Saturday amid fanfare. But the Nepalese PM was hesitant on two counts: his is an interim government which should better avoid inking any major agreement that would provide ammuntion to the Maoists to turn the heat on him back home at a time they are already fanning pro-China sentiments in the Himalayan state. Anyhow, the two countries have concluded talks on the treaty which would be formally signed sooner than later.
E-MAIL FRAUD ON MOBILES
Not long ago, many were lured into committing money over e-mail by fraudsters promising huge rewards in return. After the police crackdown on these cheats, especially from African countries, these fraudsters have now evolved a new method to attract people through their mobile phones.
In many instances, especially with those who have not registered for unwanted calls, mobile phone customers have been getting messages on their phones to the effect that their number has been selected for a million dollar award in an international mobile phone contest, seeking to know their mobile phone and other details.
No complaint has been filed as of now, but officials are wary that it could be the start of another fraud campaign. Just beware!
Contributed by Faraz Ahmad, Ashok Tuteja and Girja Shankar Kaura
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
Though the threat posed to the security of India by the anti-India forces including fundamentalist elements based in Bangladesh has been highlighted time and again, the Centre and the concerned State Governments have so far failed to take positive steps for ensuring proper border management. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi also admitted in a recent meeting on internal security that Bangladesh has become a hub of fundamentalist forces, but unfortunately, the State Government also failed on its part to extend helping hand to the Border Security Force (BSF) to improve border management. It is primarily the responsibility of the BSF to guard the international border with Bangladesh and the strength of the force along the border is being increased in a phased manner in recent times, while, the troops are also provided modern gadgets to improve vigil. However, the Centre and the Governments of the States having international border must play their parts to improve the situation and to prevent infiltrators and elements of anti-India forces from sneaking into the country. It is the responsibility of the Centre to ensure that the process of construction of fencing along the international border is expedited, but so far the progress remains very slow and no one knows as to when the work will be completed. Construction of the fencing in Assam started in late 1980s and it is yet to be completed and the poor quality of the fencing, constructed in the first phase, had to be replaced with a new one, which resulted in wastage of time and money. The condition in Meghalaya is even worse as the State Government is yet to give sanction for construction of fencing in a stretch of more than 130 kilometres along the international border. The Government of India must take up such issues with the concerned State governments to ensure that the fencing is completed within a specific time frame.
The State Governments must also play their parts to improve border management. For example, the BSF has been harping on the need for providing photo identity cards to the Indian citizens living near the international border as because of the ethnic similarity of the people living on both sides of the border, it is almost impossible to detect who is an Indian citizen and who is not. The BSF is also of the view that a second line of defence should be created so that anyone who manages to sneak past the BSF men posted along the border can be apprehended. A decision was taken way back in 1999 to create a second line of defence of Assam Police personnel, but the force is yet to become fully operational because of the failure of the State Government to provide necessary infrastructure and to appoint requisite number of personnel. The failure of the Governments of the States having international border to take steps for the development of the border areas also posed a hurdle in the way of border management as the poor condition of the roads leading to the border often affects movement of troops and some posts of the BSF cannot be reached by road during the rainy season.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
ENGLAND’S ASHES WIN
England’s successful Ashes campaign has made it a defining moment for English cricket. They deserved to win the Ashes this time and they have done it in a magnificent way. The series had a fairytale ending for them as the deciding Test saw Australia capitulate to a humiliating 197-run defeat and lose the No. 1 spot in Test rankings. The Oval Test will be remembered for special performances by some England players. Stuart Broad ran through the strong Aussie line-up in the first innings and this proved to be decisive after England put up a not-too-impressive 332. Broad’s career-best five wicket haul in the first essay was the most significant performance, as it turned the match on its head and helped England skittle out the Aussies for a paltry 160. But off-spinner Swann’s match haul of eight wickets, skipper Strauss’ two crucial fifties, Ian Bell’s first-innings heroics and debutant Jonathon Trott’s classy and fighting century under tremendous pressure in the second knock, were also memorable contributions. Although Flintoff did not contribute much with bat or ball, his mere presence acted as the team’s inner strength. The Ashes win therefore is a dream parting gift promised to him by his teammates and Freddie himself probably couldn’t have asked for a better farewell, having helped his team win the coveted Ashes urn in his swansong Test.
While Strauss, the man of the series, has emerged as a man of great leadership qualities, knives will certainly be out against his counterpart back home in Australia. In this Test, however, the selection gambles paid off very well for England, while the four-pronged pace attack on a turner failed the Aussies miserably. But it was the batting which let Australia down, not the bowling. Ponting will have a lot of explaining to do for the pathetic display in the first innings. The pitch was a crumbling one, but there was no demon in it either as the centuries by Trott and Hussey aptly demonstrated. Pointing’s leadership qualities have been under the scanner for a while, with some legends pooh-poohing the tally of wins under him. Yet, he may not be replaced immediately as Test skipper by Michael Clarke, the Australian man of the series. But becoming only the second skipper to lose two consecutive series in England in the 132-years of Ashes history, Ponting has no doubt hit a very low point as captain.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
THE AGP-BJP MISMATCH
SAIKH MD SABAH AL-AHMED
In Bhagavata Purana, which is one of the Maha Puranic texts of Hindu literature, King of ‘elephants’ Gajendra held a ‘lotus’ flower in its trunk and prayed to Lord Vishnu to save Him from the fatal clutches of Makara (the crocodile), which had caught hold of His leg. Lord Vishnu immediately responded to His devotee’s prayer, killed the crocodile with His chakra (disc) and rescued the trapped King. This hallowed anecdote from a very revered Hindu text, was symbolic of a sort of an amalgam between an ‘elephant’ and a ‘lotus’ flower, which seems to have in a way, boomeranged hard on the ever recurring disastrous political alliance between the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Assam.
When the ‘elephant’ (AGP) and the ‘lotus’ (BJP) aligned together politically for the first time in the 2001 Assam Assembly polls, the alliance was ruthlessly trounced by Congress. Congress was definitely not the Makara but its ruthlessness was none the less palpable, as was clearly evident from the results. The nascent BJP-AGP alliance was always shaky, to say the least, even before the eventual results were out. The BJP unit in Assam had alleged on May 11, 2001, just two days before the results were known, that “the AGP did not vote for BJP candidates”. State BJP leaders, including Rajen Gohain, opposed an alliance with the AGP, but were overruled by BJP central leaders, particularly Lal Krishna Advani, then Union Home Minister. A section of angry BJP leaders in Assam quit the party to protest at not being consulted about the BJP’s alliance with AGP. The Congress Party won 71 out of the 126 Assam Assembly seats, compared to 28 for the AGP-BJP alliance.
The AGP and BJP once again went on to forge an alliance in the just concluded 2009 Lok Sabha polls to erase the bitter memories of 2001. For the 15th Lok Sabha polls, both the parties had ‘agreed’ on a seat-sharing formula where the BJP and AGP would contest from eight and six consistencies respectively, out of the total stipulated 14 Lok Sabha seats from Assam. This ‘dichotomy’, as is clearly evident, was indeed a ‘loaded’ one. BJP undoubtedly, was always the eventual gainer right from the very moment this alliance started to take shape. This apart, a seemingly rumbustious AGP president Chandra Mohan Patowary had commented just prior to elections that “the alliance with BJP this time was at the ‘grass-roots level’ unlike the 2001 Assembly elections and hoped that the ‘people of Assam’ would give a fitting reply to the Congress”. But the ghosts of 2001 once again came to haunt their alliance, this time though, with far greater ramifications, particularly for the AGP. The AGP on its part was the worst sufferer, managing to win only a solitary seat at Tezpur, with both its sitting MP's from Dibrugarh and Lakhimpur losing to the Congress. The BJP on the other hand managed to increase its tally to four seats, as compared to two seats in 2004. It retained the Mangaldoi and Nagaon seats, while managing to regain the prestigious Guwahati and Silchar seats.
But were they ‘third time lucky’! That’s a vain hope! A damp squib! This `political marriage’ was certainly not made in heaven, nor could it have been solemnised on Earth. They were unfortunately ‘third time unlucky’. The AGP-BJP again forged an amalgam, grossly oblivious of the fact that a ‘hat trick of disasters’ were approaching them. In the recent civic body polls for election of commissioners of municipal boards and town committees across Assam held on July 31, 2009, the ruling Congress completed an emphatic victory, capturing 424 of the 673 wards across the State. The AGP came a distant second bagging 87 seats while the BJP won in 66. The AGP cut a sorry figure in a majority of the boards and committees, winning only in Bongaigaon. In Dhubri, the AGP-BJP combine bagged eight of the 16 seats.
But dogmatic psephological and stasiological analysis apart, it would be an even more prudent exercise to carefully diagnose in some detail, the crux of the entire frenzied matter, especially in relation to the present AGP-BJP alliance in Assam vis-a-vis potent Assamese regional aspirations. If one strictly goes by the rumblings of the ‘truncated honeymoon of 2001’, where the AGP was left in the cold to lick its wounds all alone, it really comes as a total paradigm shift defying conventional wisdom as to how these two parties with conflictingly contradictory ideologies can cobble up an alliance. The AGP on its part had really made a mockery of its hallowed regional principles, as soon as it had blundered to align with the saffron party.
Ironically in its manifesto highlights for the 2004 parliamentary polls, that it had once posted on its website, AGP’s views on BJP reads: “Like the Congress party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too has come to be known as another self-styled 'national’ party that is also bent upon causing further damage to Assam by way of carrying forward the policy of neglect, stepmotherly treatment and exploitation of Assam and its people. Like the Congress, the BJP too has been identified by the people as being driven by a policy of militant Indian nationalism that refuses to recognize the numerous sub-nationalities that constitute this great nation. BJP’s policy has been driven by a militant Hindu fanaticism that threatens the very existence of India as a secular nation that respects every religion and faith.” After going through such strong-worded views of the AGP against BJP, it really proves the old maxim right that “politics is really a theatre of the absurd”. This apart, this ‘mockery’ clearly smacks of the inherent contradictions of a redundant regional ideology.
The AGP would have been much better off had it gone the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) way in Orissa. Naveen Patnaik’s gamble of going alone in both the 2009 Assembly as well as Lok Sabha elections paid rich dividends with the party bagging 14 out of 21 Lok Sabha seats and 103 of the 147 Assembly seats, far ahead of rivals Congress and BJP. He broke the 11-year-long alliance with BJP just before the polls calling it “communal”, owing to “the brazen Kandhamal pogroms against Christians, allegedly by Sangh Parivar ruffians”. He was rewarded by the voters handsomely and was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Orissa on May 21, 2009, for a third consecutive term. What was really lacking on the part of the AGP was a sense of political bravado and brinkmanship. Hypothetically speaking, had the AGP ‘Successfully gone on its own, just as they did on their political debut in 1985, things would have been totally different. This apart, a couple of things badly dented the AGP’s ‘political armoury’ vis-a-vis their campaign. First, the AGP sorely missed stalwarts like Late Bhrigu Kumar Phukan, Late Dinesh Goswami, Atul Bora (Sr), Brindaban Goswami and even Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, who were instant crowd pullers. Second and most importantly, the AGP-BJP alliance was forged just at a time when all the erstwhile breakaway factions like the TGP and AGP (P) had finally reconciled once again under one big regional umbrella’. Both the timing as well as the alliance itself, was wrong; to say the least.
All said and done, it needs no exaggeration to assert the fact that regional sensitivities in Assam have an innate sense of mawkishness attached to it. Contrary to any make-believe notions of euphoria, it was axiomatic that this incompatible alliance would come a cropper. Moreover, the AGP seems to be grossly oblivious of the fatal fact that its much-hyped political intercourse with the BJP since 2001, has been nothing short of a ‘recurring political disaster’. Coalition politics, as it seems, itself stands diluted in the overall present political dispensation. This apart, destructive factional squabbles with senior leaders taking jabs at each other and ‘guinea pig experiments’ have dealt a severe blow to the overall image of the AGP, reflecting the face of Assamese regionalism. It's high time the AGP engaged itself in some serious soul-searching from within, or else the time is not far when its hallowed regional slogans like Bhumi Putra (sons of the soil) and Sonar Asom (golden Assam), would forlornly be relegated to a mere catchphrase and nothing else!
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
CLIMATE CHANGE: THE BIGGEST THREAT TO HEALTH
DR ALAKANANDA GOSWAMI
The effects of climate change on health are likely to be significant. Managing the challenge will greatly depend on an effective adaptation mechanism being drawn up at the forthcoming 15th Conference of Parties discussing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held from December 7 to 18, 2009 in Copenhagen. Denmark. Higher global temperatures are expected to have both direct and indirect effects on health. Given that a 2-degree Celsius rise in temperature by the end of the century is considered inevitable, it is time to prepare for the fallout. Morbidity and mortality from vector-borne diseases, for instance, could spread to newly-warming areas because some insects and pathogens benefit from temperature changes. Access to clean water will be compromised by severe droughts, and more intense monsoon events such as cyclones and floods could lead to epidemics. Adapting to the health effects of climate change will require a strong global policy framework combined with similar action at the national and sub-national levels. Adaptation can have a strong foundation only if a good funding mechanism exists. Optimistic assessments have it that an accrual of $ 1-5 billion a year is possible under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol. Going by forecasts on climate change effects, these funds are almost certain fall far short of what is needed-running into tens of billions- to meet the challenges faced by low-income and developing nations including India.
In India, a clear need exists to raise both funding and institutional capacity to prepare for the anticipated health effects of climate change. An increase in public spending on health at the national level should be the starting point, because that will improve resilience to climate ‘consequences, besides conferring benefits all-round. Such investments must ideally be matched by other programmes that influence social, ecological and economic determinants of health. It is useful, in this context, to consider a set of important climate-related areas identified for study and action by a commission constituted by the University College, London, and the Lancet. These include changing patterns of disease and mortality, food, water and sanitation, urbanisation and extreme weather events. Also imperative is the need for a sound national disease monitoring and surveillance system. Not such structured data exists, for example, on heat wave-induced mortality in India, while detailed studies are available from Europe and the United States of America (USA). Climate change is an important concern to factor in, as the incoming United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government gives shape to its health-care agenda.
Meanwhile, senior doctors in the United Kingdom (UK) recently published a report warning that climate change is the biggest threat to global health of the 21st century. Rising global temperatures would have a catastrophic effect on human health the doctors said, and patterns of infection would change, with insect-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever spreading more quickly. Heat waves such as occurred in Europe in 2003, which caused up 70,000 “excess” deaths, will become more common, as will hurricanes, cyclones and storms, causing flooding and injuries.
Richard Horton, Editor of the Lancet, which published the report commissioned from University College, London, says: “This has not been an issue on the agenda of any professional body in health in the last ten years in any significant way. This report is one of the stepping stones in changing that culture within the health sector. It is the biggest employer in Great Britain and it should be a leading voice in the debate.” The lead author of the report, Professor Anthony Costello, a paediatrician who works on maternal and newborn health in the developing world, said his own views had changed. “I thought there were other priorities 18 months ago”, he said. Now, he believes that mitigating the impact of rising temperatures was urgent. “Every year we delay, the costs go up. We are setting up a world for our children and grandchildren that may be extremely turbulent.”
The Lancet report says that the poorest people in the world will be worst affected. Although carbon footprint of the poorest billion people is about 3 per cent of the world’s total foot print, loss of life is expected to be 500 times greater in Africa than in the rich countries. Despite improvements in health, 10 millions children still die every year, more than 200 million children under five are not developing as well as they should, 800 million people are hungry, and 1500 million people do not have clean drinking water. All those things could worsen very significantly, the report says.
The impact of heat waves, flooding and global food shortage will be felt in the United Kingdom too, the authors warned. “This is an immediate danger. It is going to affect you and it will certainly affect your children. While there is the injustice that the poorest will be worst affected, you will be affected too”, said Professor Hugh Montgomery of University College London’s institute for human health and performance, who was one of the authors of the report.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THROUGH THE THIRD EYE
THE NERVOUS FOUR
RSS boss Mohan Bhagwat has set the cat among the BJP pigeons by declaring that there “are not just four” (Modi, Sushma, Jaitley and Naidu) but “70 to 75 party leaders” competent enough to lead the BJP. Well, pretenders to the BJP throne are now labouring hard to humour Big Brother.
The striking ‘saffron’ kurta Arun Jaitley wore while defending Jaswant Singh’s expulsion at the Shimla press conference might be just one sign of the precautions the aspiring lot are taking after the Bhagwat comment. But how could Jaitley remain indifferent, especially after Sushma Swaraj took the lead in targeting Jaswant by pronouncing his book “anti-Sardar Patel”.
Narendra Modi, as usual, tried to beat everyone else by banning the book. That left Venkaiah Naidu with just one option: warning the country against believing what Jaswant is saying about Advani these days. Here’s to hoping all that creative hard work by the foursome doesn’t go waste, especially since the ways of the RSS brass, of late, have been making some of them nervous and edgy.
PRESSING FOR TROUBLE
AICC general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi is known for his desperation to make a mark as an effective media manager. So, a goof up was bound to happen. Dwivedi, the AICC media cell head, recently thought it’d be a great opportunity to show off his connections with the Fourth Estate by arranging a meeting between some Delhi Press Club office bearers and Sonia Gandhi last week.
Soon after Dwivedi played the master of ceremonies at the 10 Janpath meeting, came the news of some party leaders questioning the political correctness of his action, saying the Press Club office bearers were facing charges of corruption and mismanagement and a raging in-house campaign for their ouster.
Some leaders are now questioning Dwivedi’s suitability as a prudent 10 Janpath gate-keeper. Meanwhile, the club chaps who met Ms Gandhi have, of course, pasted the photos of their meeting with the Congress chief all over the club as part of their campaign for the ensuing office bearers’ election.
For the Congress brass, who battled the daily ’pull-out’ threat from the Left, dealing with the Samajwadi Party’s “empty gun” is proving to be kids play. The SP’s Agra conclave, once again, exposed the UP outfit’s lack of credible options while being sandwiched between a bulldozing Congress and a merciless BSP.
Every time the SP threatens to withdraw support to UPA-II, the Congress lot just laughs it off, saying nobody from their side ever sought the crumbling UP party’s support. In fact, Congress leaders say the SP is putting up a facade of being a supporting party due to its own insecurity in ’Mayaland’. By now the AICC is so used to the SP’s ways that Congress leaders openly aver Mulayam’s outfit will next ‘threaten’ to contest all the assembly seats in Maharashtra.
The SP’s Amar Singh is playing quite the dedicated leader. Recuperating after a kidney transplant in Singapore, the man still didn’t miss a chance address the party during its Agra meet last week. There have been mutterings that Singh’s long absence from the hurly burly was marginalising him or that his health would prevent an active political role henceforth.
Well, Singh came up with a riposte by beaming his address via video link to the conclave on giant screens at the venue. And yes, he spoke from his bedside with a medical mask covering his face. The things one has to do ....
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
DIVESTING IN TRANCHES
The government’s reported plans to restrict the quantum of shares of a public sector enterprise that can be sold through a public offer seem intended primarily to make disinvestment politically palatable. Granted, divestment in tranches could maximise gains for the government but imposing arbitrary caps on how much of the government’s stake can be sold in a year and how much of fresh equity can be raised doesn’t really help.
Many politicians and trade union leaders contend that public offers of state-owned companies are only a smokescreen for their ultimate privatisation. The government’s proposed method of divestment in tranches would prevent any sudden, sharp decline in the government’s equity holding in a state-owned enterprise and ensure the enterprise remains in the public sector.
The proposal being considered by the finance ministry involves restricting the quantum of shares the government can offload to 10% at a time. State-owned enterprises are also to be asked to limit expansion of their paid up capital through issue of new shares to 15%. However, there really is no need to impose such caps, as most state-owned enterprises have large equity bases — due to periodical infusion of capital by the government over the years — and public issues exceeding 10% of the paid up equity could face problems attracting adequate interest.
In any case, most offers for sale from the government in the past have involved divestment of about 10% of the paid up capital. For instance, the government offloaded 10% each in GAIL and ONGC in 2004. Conversely, the proposal can impede fund raising plans of smaller public sector enterprises or those that have a small capital base. Likewise, where a public enterprise has already been sold to a strategic investor in the private sector, it may make little sense to ask the government to sell its residual holding (usually about 26%) in two tranches.
The world over, there are plenty of examples of large state owned enterprises such as Nippon Telegraph and Telephone in Japan or British Telecom in the UK where governments sold shares in tranches to maximise gains. Undoubtedly, the measure helps better price discovery and also develop equity markets.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
LEARN FROM UNCLE SAM
There are few issues guaranteed to turbo-charge Indian politics and politicians more than the subject of black money stashed away in Swiss bank accounts. But as with many issues in our public life, it is a subject that waxes and wanes with a regularity that is hard to comprehend.
So it was not surprising that the heated debate about black money and Swiss bank accounts that we saw in the run-up to the last elections should have died once the elections were over. The matter might have ended there but for reports that the Swiss authorities had summarily dismissed India’s request for details of bank accounts held in that country by Indians.
As also reports that Indians head the league tables, with about $1,500 billion (more than the amount held by the residents of the next three countries taken together) in Swiss bank accounts. Even more damning, the amazing success of US authorities, and earlier the Germans, in prising open some of the famed Swiss secrecy in pursuit of their tax offenders. Just last week the US government signed a landmark agreement with the Swiss to turn over details of 4,450 accounts to US tax authorities.
Juxtapose that with our spectacular failure to make any headway at all with the Swiss authorities and it’s the old familiar story: of our not doing our homework properly. There can be only two explanations for this. One, we are not really serious. It strikes too close home to those in power, perhaps. So we go through the formality of seeking information but fail to establish clear evidence of wrongdoing to compel the Swiss authorities to disgorge the information being sought.
Yes, we do not have the clout of a United States or Germany so the Swiss authorities may be far more brazen with us, dismissing our demands as ‘fishing expeditions’. But if we are able to establish a proper audit trail to back our claim of wrongdoing — tax evasion, smuggling and the like — the Swiss government will be hard put to deny us access. The question is do we really want to know or are we content to live on in a world of smoke and mirrors. Quite possibly the latter!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
GETTING RURAL TELECOM RITE
In April, Indian telecom experienced its highest ever monthly growth with the addition of 14 million subscribers. Even though rural penetration is only 13%, one out of every two subscribers added in India today comes from a rural area. It may appear as if the issue of rural diffusion is a thing of the past and the goal of universal access is within reach.
However, it is important to note that only 20%, or 60 million people in urban areas lack a cell phone. On the other hand 87%, i.e., 600 million people in rural areas lack cell phones. If despite having ten times greater unaccessed population, rural India is only able to achieve parity with urban India in terms of new subscribers, it is cold comfort and speaks of the continued inhospitability of the rural market for telecom services.
In fact, the rural-rural divide is very much a reality in the pattern of telecom penetration. In January 2009, the top five states in terms of rural population, UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra, and AP, did not figure in the top five states in terms of the diffusion of rural telecom services. The top performers were the usual suspects: HP, Kerala, Punjab, TN, and Haryana. HP had a penetration rate of 38% and Bihar only 8%. In other words rural diffusion is happening in relatively well-off pockets and once these pockets are covered, diffusion is likely to hit a roadblock unless new policy frameworks and business models are conceived.
This article proposes a unified framework to view rural telecom. The elements of this framework are relevant applications, infrastructure, technology, and entrepreneurship (RITE). A holistic approach encapsulating these elements is particularly necessary in the context of the geographies which represent the next frontier of telecom diffusion.
Relevant applications: Even with speeds provided by 2G, the mobile phone can be a cost effective platform for services like education, health, and banking. Linking the scheme for universal access to existing schemes that aim to provide basic services would result in a reduced cost of those schemes along with the achievement of the USO goal. Further, the diffusion of mobile phones offers an opportunity to empower the masses by making them aware of their rights and facilitating the exercise of those rights through an easy mobile interface. The relevant ministries must work together to identify mobile applications in local languages and develop public private partnership models.
Infrastructure: The high dispersion of rural demand increases the infrastructure cost of operators and makes the provision of rural telephony unviable. The USO Fund needs to move away from granting subsidy based on bidding, which led to a winner’s curse in Phase I, to a cost based subsidy that selects recipients on the basis of other factors like time to build.
Moreover, the highly dispersed nature of the market, to an extent greater than the clusters covered in Phase I of the USO infrastructure scheme, makes a small tower approach more viable than a large tower approach. This also makes renewable energy sources attractive. Thus there is a happy coincidence of economic and environmental interests, and the government must capitalise on the opportunity by releasing specifications and mandating the use of small rural towers, wherever appropriate.
Currently seven lakh km of optical fibre are present across India of which almost six lakh km are controlled by the government operator. It is in the interest of economic efficiency that the existing infrastructure is made fully available to private operators at reasonable terms.
Technology : Prevailing standards yield a low cost of handset which is a prerequisite for the rural market. New technologies are being developed to reduce the cost of infrastructure and the carbon footprint. The policymaker needs to support these new approaches as it releases funds for infrastructure build-up. Further, it must catalyse R&D for commercial applications through seed funding of telecom product startups targeted to the rural sector.
Entrepreneurship: Studies by the World Bank have shown that entrepreneurship is a powerful force driving the diffusion of rural telephony. The promotion of entrepreneurship includes the creation of a level playing field between the public and private operators, setting an equitable mobile termination rate for the use of the cell towers of other operators, and licensing the right number of operators.
Moreover, the policymaker must work towards developing local entrepreneurs to act as franchisees of large operators. Local entrepreneurs are in touch with local needs, and understand local power structures. They can be selected on the basis of skills and economic status to act as franchisees of the telecom operators. The creation of such entrepreneurs would require training, and credit provisioning. An entrepreneurial environment will lead to the kinds of innovative business models that have boosted urban penetration like micro prepaid cards.
The DoT should release specifications for small rural towers, and the USO administrator should invite operators to demonstrate coverage within a specified period of time. Up to three operators who are able to meet the requirements should be given subsidy, as a percentage of costs. This percentage would differ in clusters of differing market viability and based upon the number of successful operators meeting the coverage requirements. A new licence for a niche rural operator should be set up to allow telecom operators to adopt the franchisee model.
A sample tripartite agreement between the telecom operator, the niche operator and the USO Fund should be drafted. The upper cap on rural tariffs should be fixed. As a long-term activity, an inter-ministerial task force should be created to plan the use of telecommunications access in facilitating the provision of basic services.
The groundwork for the new approach should take no more than four months. The time taken to build should be about eight months. In a year’s time the rural market will be ready for takeoff. Since the actions require the USO administrator to coordinate activities within different divisions of DoT and with different ministries, a new organisation structure for the USO Fund may need to be developed.
(The author is associate professor, MDI Gurgaon)
DO MORE TO END FREE TRADE FEARS
The free trade pact agreement with Asean signed earlier this month has been widely welcomed in this country as India becomes part of one of the biggest trade blocs in the world. But there is also disquiet in certain quarters, and the government would do well to assuage these concerns before hostility towards the deal, particularly in Kerala, begins to snowball. Had these been normal times, trade between India and the Southeast Asian countries would have witnessed a quantum jump, but with world trade down in the dumps at present, its full benefits might take some time to be evident. India’s trade with the 11-member bloc — which includes Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam — has jumped from $6.90 billion in 2004 to $39.4 billion in 2008. This agreement was due to be signed in December last year, when Mr Kamal Nath was commerce minister, but had to be delayed due to rioting at Pattaya; next in February this year, but was put off as New Delhi sought some further changes. There is now a feeling that India has given greater ground because while Asean will bring down duties from five per cent to zero, India will lower them from 15 per cent to zero. The government says this shortfall will be offset by investments and services, for which the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, is expected to make a strong pitch at the October Asean summit. Opposition to the India-Asean FTA has been simmering in Kerala, which relies heavily on plantations, pepper, coconut and fisheries. It is feared that millions who depend on coconut and fish farming as well as pepper cultivation will lose their livelihood and become impoverished. The unions and outfits which represent them say while it is all very well for the government to say India should improve its quality and production levels; these are easier said than done. They note that the huge difference in productivity, labour and input costs puts Kerala at a great disadvantage. For instance, while pepper production is just 380 kg/hectare in India, where pepper originated, it is 1,000 kg/hectare in Vietnam and 3,000 kg/hectare in Indonesia. Some Asean nations are giants in certain products: Thailand is the world’s largest exporter of shrimps; Vietnam eighth largest in seafood exports and Malaysia the world’s largest vegetable oils producer. With little or no help from the government, Kerala’s farmers are in no position to better productivity levels on their own. Several pepper cultivators are learnt to have already committed suicide; one dreads what might happen once the FTA comes into force in January 2010. The Centre has said tariffs will be removed in phases: in 10 years it will be 60 per cent for pepper and 50 per cent for coffee. This is hardly likely to assuage the fears of farmers and cultivators. The very fact that Mr Pranab Mukherjee, who heads the GoM looking into the problems of those opposed to this FTA, as well as Mr Vyalar Ravi, a member of this group, rushed to Kerala on a firefighting mission indicates the government is aware the situation is serious. Kerala has bitter memories of Safta, the South Asian free trade agreement which came into force in 2006, when Sri Lankan coconuts began to flood the local markets. While Mr Mukherjee has promised to take note of the state’s concerns, the government needs to do much more to ensure that farmers in Kerala and elsewhere are not left in the lurch when the Asean FTA comes into force next January. This is particularly important as farmers in many parts of the country continue to commit suicide.
IF BENGAL IMPLODES, INDIA IS ENDANGERED
BY BY SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY
“What Bengal thinks today, the rest of India thinks tomorrow”. Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s aphorism of an era long bygone rings bitterly ironical in the context of today’s West Bengal. Never much in the news except in the bottom paragraphs of inside pages, and not rating high in size or economic prosperity relative to its peers, but nevertheless, acre for acre, the state is perhaps one of the most vital chunks of geostrategic real estate in the country, deserving of far more focus than is generally accorded to its affairs.
Consider the following. West Bengal stretches from the sub-Himalayas in the north to the Bay of Bengal in the south, by itself unique, but more significantly, with international borders that run contiguous with the entire western periphery of Bangladesh on one flank and with eastern Nepal on the other, where both jihadis and Maoists have active strongholds and seek to export their terrorist ideologies further into India. The hyper-sensitive land isthmus of the Siliguri Corridor connecting the rest of the country with its entire northeastern region also falls within the state, in close proximity to sensitive international borders. West Bengal is also the northern cornerstone of India’s eastern seaboard, with its southern districts fronting the Bay of Bengal, again adjoining Bangladesh, raising issues of coastal security in the aftermath of 26/11. The Kolkata complex of estuarine ports (extending down the Hooghly to Haldia and further down) are the closest maritime outlets of any kind to the Tibet region of China, via the traditional trading routes of Nathu-La and Jelep-La, which were recently opened for cross-border trade. Kolkata, the state capital, is one of the original metropolises of India, and the only such city within marching distance of any international border.
West Bengal thus qualifies eminently as a first line of defence and its strategic significance demands national attention.
The ground realities, however, do not match up with this overall perspective. Externally, international borders in the eastern region have traditionally remained porous, never being accorded the requisite priority in resources or even overwatch by successive governments at the Centre. Internally, West Bengal has been in the grip of a malignant political virus over decades, driving the state towards self-implosion, totally oblivious to wider consequences, and steadily pushing it towards a fractured and dysfunctional anarchy. The ongoing administrative paralysis is expected to last at least till the Assembly elections of 2011, and possibly persist thereafter as well, because the winners will certainly not be allowed to enjoy the fruits of power undisturbed by their political opponents. Political violence has been endemic, creating a semi-permanent environment of social fermentation regulated not by the administration, but by political warlords and lumpen enforcers. All indicators are that irrespective of whichever political party wins in the next election, governance in the state will remain the principal loser.
Superimposed on this hyper-chaos, three fairly severe internal conflicts are playing out concurrently: Gorkhaland in the sub-Himalayan northern region of the state, the Maoist “red corridor” in the forested Adivasi districts in the southwest adjoining Jharkhand, and cadre civil wars between the government and the Opposition in the run-up to 2011. The fallout has been generic lawlessness, which the state’s widely-respected governor described as tandav as he tried to draw the attention of all political parties to their follies. They, of course, were not amused (or ashamed).
The West Bengal Police, the state’s primary bulwark in times of disorder and distress, and its metropolitan counterpart, the Kolkata Police, both carry a great and glorious heritage of excellence, in keeping with the state and metropolis they serve, but have been struggling to keep their footing on a slippery downslope. Both forces have been politicised and damaged almost beyond repair, with sections converted into active party cadres, under instructions not to intervene in any situation unless cleared by the local political apparatus. Politicisation has created internal rifts within the force, leading to further loss of efficiency. Denied the initiative to respond with professional impartiality and competence, the police force is naturally overwhelmed by a rising intensity of political and criminal violence and have lost the confidence of the state’s citizens — this at a time when West Bengal and Kolkata are emerging as the preferred conduits and hideouts for a wide variety of jihadis, spies, infiltrators, drugs and arms smugglers and other assorted criminals from within and outside the state, as well from neighbouring countries.
Also to be factored in is the permanent habitat of illegal migrants from Bangladesh in the border districts of the state, roughly estimated to be in the region of six million, though the figure is merely an educated guess because no agency is really aware of the actuals. Illegal migration has been promoted over several decades by the vested interests of all political parties in West Bengal, who have provided shelter, support, and documentation to the intruders to build up votebanks. In the process, the demographic balance in a belt several kilometres deep along the West Bengal-Bangladesh border has been irretrievably altered by pseudo-legalised aliens, where the BSF itself is seen as an alien antibody only geographically located in India, but demographically in Bangladesh in respect of the surrounding population. This does not appear to have been of any particular concern to political parties in West Bengal in the decades since Independence, who ostentatiously raised slogans of secularism whenever pressed for action in this context.
The internal and external situation in West Bengal is a cause for concern with serious implications for overall national security. Meanwhile, body counts are mounting in the state, and even if the Union home minister, Mr P. Chidambaram’s comment about the “killing fields of West Bengal” was inspired by a desire for political one-upmanship, it is nevertheless factually correct, even though applicable to many other states as well. The storm signals over West Bengal have been hoisted for some time, and unless political sanity dawns, India may well have a failed state on its eastern frontier.
Gen.ShankarRoychowdhury (Retd) is a former Chief ofArmy Staff and a former Member of Parliament
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S ZOMBIES PLEASE STAND UP
BY BY PAUL KRUGMAN
The debate over the “public option” in healthcare has been dismaying in many ways. Perhaps the most depressing aspect for progressives, however, has been the extent to which opponents of greater choice in healthcare have gained traction — in Congress, if not with the broader public — simply by repeating, over and over again, that the public option would be, horrors, a government programme.
Washington, it seems, is still ruled by Reaganism — by an ideology that says government intervention is always bad, and leaving the private sector to its own devices is always good.
Call me naïve, but I actually hoped that the failure of Reaganism in practice would kill it. It turns out, however, to be a zombie doctrine: even though it should be dead, it keeps on coming.
Let’s talk for a moment about why the age of Reagan should be over.
First of all, even before the current crisis Reaganomics had failed to deliver what it promised. Remember how lower taxes on high incomes and deregulation that unleashed the “magic of the marketplace” were supposed to lead to dramatically better outcomes for everyone? Well, it didn’t happen.
To be sure, the wealthy benefited enormously: the real incomes of the top .01 per cent of Americans rose sevenfold between 1980 and 2007. But the real income of the median family rose only 22 per cent, less than a third its growth over the previous 27 years.
Moreover, most of whatever gains ordinary Americans achieved came during the Clinton years. President George W. Bush, who had the distinction of being the first Reaganite President to also have a fully Republican Congress, also had the distinction of presiding over the first administration since Herbert Hoover in which the typical family failed to see any significant income gains.
And then there’s the small matter of the worst recession since the 1930s.
There’s a lot to be said about the financial disaster of the last two years, but the short version is simple: politicians in the thrall of Reaganite ideology dismantled the New Deal regulations that had prevented banking crises for half a century, believing that financial markets could take care of themselves. The effect was to make the financial system vulnerable to a 1930s-style crisis — and the crisis came.
“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals”, said Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937. “We know now that it is bad economics”. And last year we learned that lesson all over again.
Or did we? The astonishing thing about the current political scene is the extent to which nothing has changed.
The debate over the public option has, as I said, been depressing in its inanity. Opponents of the option — not just Republicans, but Democrats like Senator Kent Conrad and Senator Ben Nelson — have offered no coherent arguments against it. Mr Nelson has warned ominously that if the option were available, Americans would choose it over private insurance — which he treats as a self-evidently bad thing, rather than as what should happen if the government plan was, in fact, better than what private insurers offer.
But it’s much the same on other fronts. Efforts to strengthen bank regulation appear to be losing steam, as opponents of reform declare that more regulation would lead to less financial innovation — this just months after the wonders of innovation brought our financial system to the edge of collapse, a collapse that was averted only with huge infusions of taxpayer funds.
So why won’t these zombie ideas die?
Part of the answer is that there’s a lot of money behind them. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something”, said Upton Sinclair, “when his salary” — or, I would add, his campaign contributions — “depend upon his not understanding it”. In particular, vast amounts of insurance industry money have been flowing to obstructionist Democrats like Mr Nelson and Senator Max Baucus, whose Gang of Six negotiations have been a crucial roadblock to legislation.
But some of the blame also must rest with President Obama, who famously praised Reagan during the Democratic primary, and hasn’t used the bully pulpit to confront government-is-bad fundamentalism. That’s ironic, in a way, since a large part of what made Reagan so effective, for better or for worse, was the fact that he sought to change America’s thinking as well as its tax code.
How will this all work out? I don’t know. But it’s hard to avoid the sense that a crucial opportunity is being missed, that we’re at what should be a turning point but are failing to make the turn.
In my column, Swiss menace may be good for America (August 18), I made a joke about the Swiss that fell flat with some readers. Also, the Swiss don’t wear lederhosen.
THE GOULDEN TREASURY
BY JAYATI GHOSH
The Canadian pianist Glenn Gould had something like cult status in the late 20th century musical firmament. This was not only because he was an extraordinary performer who provided many new insights into the music he performed, but also because he just so very eccentric.
Gould, who was born in 1932, was a musical wunderkind who was already performing at major concert halls with internationally renowned orchestras by the age of 20. He quickly achieved superstardom and was widely feted for his highly proficient but very unique musical approach. Even then, his personal idiosyncrasies were much talked about, but even so the musical world was startled when, in 1964 after just nine years of an amazingly successful concert career, he abruptly announced that he was withdrawing completely from live concert performances and henceforth would only make recordings.
This decision appeared inexplicable to many, but Gould explained that this was a logical culmination of his approach to music and indeed to life. As a perfectionist, he disliked the inherent imperfection, the impossibility of correction, in a live concert experience. He also hated the hectic life of the itinerant performer. In a comment on Yehudi Menuhin (a violinist) he would speak of how “futile and irrelevant” it could be, with “the banal drudgery of its routine… the constancy of its anxiety, the certainty of its frustration”. He complained that “at concerts I feel demeaned, like a vaudevillean”.
He also had a distaste for the competitive nature of such events, since he abhorred competition as the source of all true evil. He even had a problem with the concerto form, because of his perception of it as a form of competition between soloist and orchestra!
This rejection of the public concert was accompanied by a positive embrace of the enabling possibilities of technology, which allowed for exploitation of broadcast media and playback recording. In a typical Gouldian intervention — a review by Glenn Gould of a biography of Glenn Gould by Geoffrey Payzant — he spoke of “his almost mystical belief that technology possesses a mediative power which can minimise or even eliminate the competitive follies which absorb so large a share of human activity”.
His subsequent discography is naturally, therefore, of immense interest. It too, much as his live concerts did earlier, has achieved cult status, with fervent admirers and detractors in almost equal proportion, and has even survived his tendency to sing rather loudly while he played. His early recording of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations has become a landmark, while his subsequently huge recording output is bound to remain as stimulating for future generations as it was for those who first heard it. His early death (at just 50 years) came when he was still at the peak of his powers as expressed in his recordings of the time.
Glenn Gould almost seemed to revel in controversy, in cocking a snoot at the most established and pious musical traditions. Many of his assessments are not merely surprising but downright shocking and inexplicable. Thus he described Mozart’s piano concertos as “unfixable” and declared himself to be “absolutely at a loss” as to how some of Beethoven’s best-known works such as the Emperor Concerto, the Violin Concerto and the Fifth Symphony ever became popular or retained their appeal. For him, Frederic Chopin was not a very good composer, and “the whole central core of the piano recital repertoire is a colossal waste of time”. He claimed an affinity for composers of the baroque period, but even here his favourite composer was not the obvious master Johann Sebastian Bach, but the little known Orlando Gibbons!
But some of his philosophical insights into musical activity can become a useful guide to an attitude to life itself. In a speech given at a graduation ceremony of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Gould argued that “the most impressive thing about man, perhaps the one thing that excuses him of all his idiocy and brutality, is the fact that he has invented the concept of that which does not exist”. He found the principle of negation to be the most important concept in the history of human thought, because it teaches restraint, and “is the concept which seeks to make us better — to provide us structures within which our thoughts can function — while at the same time it concedes our frailty, the need that we have for this barricade behind which the uncertainty, the fragility, the tentativeness of our systems can look for logic”.
How does this relate to music? It relates deeply, because according to Gould, “the more one thinks about the perfectly astonishing phenomenon that music is, the more one realises how much of its operation is the product of the purely artificial construction of systematic thought”. This is not meant as criticism of music, since the artificiality itself springs from the wellspring of human invention. But it is important always to be conscious of that artificiality and not be overwhelmed by what Gould called “the dangers of positive thinking”, so as not lose sight of its more significant other.
As with music, so with much else in life. This is why Gould’s argument on the importance of imagination is so persuasive: “What it can do is serve as a sort of no-man’s land between that foreground of system and dogma, of positive action, for which you have been trained, and that vast background of immense possibility, of negation, which you must constantly examine, and to which you must never forget to pay homage as the source from which all creative ideas come”.
FARM ON EVERY FLOOR
BY BY DICKSON D. DESPOMMIER
If climate change and population growth progress at their current pace, in roughly 50 years farming as we know it will no longer exist. This means that the majority of people could soon be without enough food or water.
But there is a solution that is surprisingly within reach: Move most farming into cities, and grow crops in tall, specially constructed buildings. It’s called vertical farming.
The floods and droughts that have come with climate change are wreaking havoc on traditional farmland. Three recent floods (in 1993, 2007 and 2008) cost the United States billions of dollars in lost crops, with even more devastating losses in topsoil.
Changes in rain patterns and temperature could diminish India’s agricultural output by 30 per cent by the end of the century.
What’s more, population increases will soon cause our farmers to run out of land.
With billions more people on the way, before we know it the traditional soil-based farming model developed over the last 12,000 years will no longer be a sustainable option.
Irrigation now claims some 70 per cent of the fresh water that we use. After applying this water to crops, the excess agricultural runoff, contaminated with silt, pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers, is unfit for reuse.
The developed world must find new agricultural approaches before the world’s hungriest come knocking on its door for a glass of clean water and a plate of disease-free rice and beans.
Imagine a farm right in the middle of a major city. Food production would take advantage of hydroponic and aeroponic technologies. Both methods are soil-free.
Hydroponics allows us to grow plants in a water-and-nutrient solution, while aeroponics grows them in a nutrient-laden mist. These methods use far less water than conventional cultivation techniques, in some cases as much as 90 per cent less.
Now apply the vertical farm concept to countries that are water-challenged — West Asia readily comes to mind — and suddenly things look less hopeless. For this reason the world’s very first vertical farm may be established there, although the idea has garnered considerable interest from architects and governments all over the world.
Vertical farms are now feasible, in large part because of a robust global greenhouse initiative that has enjoyed considerable commercial success over the last 10 years. There is a rising consumer demand for locally grown vegetables and fruits, as well as intense urban-farming activity in cities throughout the US.
Vertical farms would not only revolutionise and improve urban life but also revitalise land that was damaged by traditional farming. For every indoor acre farmed, some 10 to 20 outdoor acres of farmland could be allowed to return to their original ecological state.
Abandoned farms do this free of charge, with no human help required.
A vertical farm would behave like a functional ecosystem, in which waste was recycled and the water used in hydroponics and aeroponics was recaptured by dehumidification and used over and over again.
The technologies needed to create a vertical farm are currently being used in controlled-environment agriculture facilities but have not been integrated into a seamless source of food production in urban high-rise buildings.
Such buildings, by the way, are not the only structures that could house vertical farms. Farms of various dimensions and crop yields could be built into a variety of urban settings — from schools, restaurants and hospitals to the upper floors of apartment complexes.
By supplying a continuous quantity of fresh vegetables and fruits to city dwellers, these farms would help combat health problems that arise in part from the lack of quality produce in our diet.
The list of benefits is long. Vertical farms would produce crops year-round that contain no agrochemicals. Fish and poultry could also be raised indoors.
The farms would greatly reduce fossil-fuel use and greenhouse-gas emissions, since they would eliminate the need for heavy farm machinery and trucks that deliver food from farm to fork.
Vertical farming could finally put an end to agricultural runoff, a major source of water pollution. Crops would never again be destroyed by floods or droughts. New employment opportunities for vertical farm managers and workers would abound, and abandoned city properties would become productive once again.
City dwellers would be able to breathe easier. Vertical farms would bring a great concentration of plants into cities. These plants would absorb carbon dioxide produced by automobile emissions and give off oxygen in return.
So imagine you wanted to build the first vertical farm and put it in New York City. What would it take? We have the technology — now we need money, political will and, of course, proof that this concept can work. That’s why a prototype would be a good place to start. I estimate that constructing a five-storey farm, taking up one-eighth of a square city block, would cost $20 million to $30 million.
Part of the financing should come from the city government, as a vertical farm would go a long way toward achieving Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s goal of a green New York City by 2030. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has already expressed interest in having a vertical farm in the city. City officials should be interested. If a farm is located where the public can easily visit it, the iconic building could generate significant tourist dollars, on top of revenue from the sales of its produce.
But most of the financing should come from private sources, including groups controlling venture-capital funds. The real money would flow once entrepreneurs and clean-tech investors realise how much profit there is to be made in urban farming. Imagine a farm in which crop production is not limited by seasons or adverse weather events. Sales could be made in advance because crop-production levels could be guaranteed, thanks to the predictable nature of indoor agriculture.
When people ask me why the world still does not have a single vertical farm, I just raise my eyebrows and shrug my shoulders. Perhaps people just need to see proof that farms can grow several stories high. As soon as the first city takes that leap of faith, the world’s first vertical farm could be less than a year away from coming to the aid of a hungry, thirsty world. Not a moment too soon.
Dickson D. Despommier, a professor of public health at Columbia University, is writing a book about vertical farms
By arrangement with the New York Times
BOOKER FOR CROMWELL?
BY BY JOHN PRESTON
Hilary Mantel lives in a lunatic asylum. Admittedly it hasn’t been a lunatic asylum for a while — the site was converted into flats 20 years ago, and Mantel and her husband are up on the top floor in a scrupulously ordered apartment with views over the treetops of Woking.
Nonetheless, there’s something apt about her choice of home. It’s not that Mantel herself comes over as remotely mad. With her china-blue eyes and her chalk-white skin, she looks like a figure from a Dutch painting, and exudes a similarly contained, watchful air. But just as some of the building’s grim history seems to seep up from below, so darkness is never far below the surface of her fiction.
In Wolf Hall, her huge (651-page) account of the life of Henry VIII’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, the elaborate formality of Henry’s court cloaks endless serpentine scheming. Plotters whisper in candlelit corridors, women compete to hurl themselves into Henry’s lap, while all the time relations with Rome slip ever deeper into the mire. The book is the favourite to win this year’s Booker Prize.
Mantel, now 57, had been toying with writing about Thomas Cromwell ever since she was in her 20s. But always something — nerves, ill health, other projects — held her back. When she did finally start, the book took her four years to write. By the time she finished, she says, “I was completely in tatters. I remember the day I finished it, I felt so cold I was shivering. I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to anything I’ve written before”.
She’d first come across Cromwell as a Roman Catholic schoolgirl in rural Derbyshire. In her textbooks, Cromwell was invariably portrayed as a humourless, amoral chancer — a black-blooded Mr Nasty to Sir Thomas More’s saintly Mr Nice. Mantel, however, had other ideas.
“When someone is so systematically vilified, you get curious as to how it started. And if you’re brought up with someone in a stained-glass window, as I was with Thomas More, you find yourself wondering if perhaps he had feet of clay”.
Mantel’s Cromwell is not without unscrupulousness, but he’s also affable, sensitive and wry. More, on the other hand, is a vain, sanctimonious, ravenously keen heretic-hunter. “I don’t think my portrait of More is wholly unsympathetic, but it’s amusing that people are shocked by it. What people tend to forget is the people whose businesses More ruined and who he locked up until their health was broken”.
Mantel is the most supple, distinctive and richly imaginative of novelists, and in Wolf Hall she set out to do something that was as ambitious as it was daring: to breathe new life into the historical novel.
“One of the things that always strikes me about historical novels is that the characterisation is rarely as satisfactory as it is in a modern novel; the people aren’t as layered and real. I wanted this to be the exception, and I wanted to try to reconstruct Thomas Cromwell’s memories for him, so that you got the texture of a lived life — not just something that was flat on the page”.
Where possible, she stuck to verifiable fact, but she did allow herself a few speculative flourishes — for instance, she has Cromwell nursing romantic feelings for Henry’s future bride, Jane Seymour. “I completely invented that, although it’s not inconceivable”.
When Mantel was 11, her father moved out, never to return, and she ended up taking her stepfather’s name, Mantel. In her 20s she suffered from endometriosis that for several years was misdiagnosed as depression. As she relates in her memoir, Giving Up the Ghost, she had surgery that made her unable to have children and was put on steroids that doubled her weight. She became, she wrote, “a sad sack enclosing a disease process”.
By the time she started Wolf Hall, Mantel had already written 10 books. But while her work had brought her considerable acclaim — along with a CBE — she’d never felt that confident as a writer. Ill health, she feels, played its part here too.
“I’ve had a lot of health problems over the years. That’s probably the main reason why I didn’t begin Wolf Hall earlier. I was probably right in thinking that I didn’t have the energy to carry it through before — because when you’re physically weak, it saps your mental energy and takes away your confidence. Really, it took me until my mid-fifties to start gathering my confidence again. And when I did, it was as if I had to call upon my bold young self, the one who wasn’t fazed by anything. It really did feel like putting on a suit of armour and getting on my warhorse”.
By arrangement with the Spectator
Jobs for the boys is a flourishing industry under the present government. The board of trade is an utterly superfluous body. It had not met for a long time, and no one had noticed its absence. Many of its members had gone on to other things. But having pleased the prime minister in the first term, Anand Sharma has been rewarded with the commerce ministry. Being a man of diligence, he asked his commerce secretary what was waiting to be done. He was rewarded with a pile of files. He picked up the first one to discover the somnolent state of the board of trade. He found new members, called a meeting, and dealt out almonds and tea. The members of the board of trade know their business; it is to ask for more. They wailed about the catastrophic fall in exports, which were 30 per cent down in April-June vis-à-vis last year. That gave him something to worry about. He opened the next file, and found that no trade policy had been issued for 500 days. He asked his bureaucrats to produce one immediately; it is scheduled to be inaugurated in front of flashing camera bulbs on September 1.
Amongst other things, the policy is expected to give export incentives — a polite name for subsidies — to labour-intensive export industries like textiles and gem-cutting. This would be a mistake. For one thing, a new trade policy is not necessary at all. The policy was scheduled for last April. But since the government was absorbed in winning a general election, it had no time for a trade policy. And no one even noticed the lapse. The trade policy has been turned into doing favours to the government’s favourite industries. These are only a few; the rest of industry never gives the trade policy a thought.
To his credit, Mr Sharma is not obsessed with the trade policy. He has promised to reduce transaction costs. There he faces his most formidable enemy, for the foremost producer of transaction costs is customs, with its insensitive, labour-intensive procedures. Knowing how difficult it is to move customs to do anything, Mr Sharma has thought of an interministerial committee. He is wasting his time. There have been interministerial committees before; the customs department has ignored them, and continued to do its worst. No finance minister, not even Manmohan Singh or P. Chidambaram, had the courage to take it on. Pranab Mukherjee is perhaps different. He has done everything, seen everything, and has no further expectations; he may be prepared to take the risk. If he is persuaded, he could set up an entirely internal mechanism to bring customs into the 21st century, and to convert them to functioning as customs departments in industrial countries do — entirely in the background, relying on software. Converting the finance minister to customs reform is the biggest service the commerce minister can render.
Politics is not the only passion that ignites mob violence in West Bengal. The torching of a resort on the outskirts of Calcutta shows that just about anything can push a mob to turn violent. That a soccer match could lead to the tragic death of a young man and then the burning of the resort, however, points to a deeper malaise. The incident shows yet again the threat of lawlessness that haunts the state. In this particular case, the public anger apparently had nothing to do with politics or the government. But the mob’s reaction clearly captures the people’s loss of faith in the rule of law. The people who invaded the resort and torched it obviously had no fear of the law. Even if the killing of the young man was sad and provocative, no civilized society will accept the way the mob reacted to it. It may be useful, though, for the government and the society to try and understand the reasons behind such outbursts of mob violence. Such reactions are also expressions of anger at the government’s inability to ensure the rule of law.
It has been suggested that the grievances over land acquisition in Rajarhat could have prompted the attack on the resort. True, many among the local farmers who had lost their plots to the urbanization project in the area felt betrayed. But it may be wrong to attribute the violence to the land question. First, the mob attacked the resort only after some criminals responsible for the death of the young man had taken shelter there. Second, there had been no incident of public anger directed at the resort since it was set up. It is possible that criminal gangs in the area enjoy the patronage of one political party or the other. But it is unlikely that such criminals would be under the parties’ control. Land brokers, who operate like criminal gangs, are very much their own masters. The incident has a lesson for entrepreneurs too. They must guard against crime syndicates.
THE US SHOULD AIM AT A FREE NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE
WRITING ON THE WALL - ASHOK V. DESAI
Americans devote twice as much of their income to medical treatment as Europeans, and are still considerably less healthy. This fact has attracted much notice and, recently, analysis. The American healthcare system uses more private enterprise than the European systems, many of which are fully State-owned. So devotees of capitalism, of whom there are many in the United States of America, belittle the difference and try to find innocuous reasons for it. Barack Obama was the first politician to contemplate doing something about it, and asked his vice-presidential candidate, Joseph Biden, to draw up a plan. Now that they (I will call them Barjos for brevity) are both in power, we may see some of it implemented. What does it involve?
In the US, as in India, someone who feels sick goes to a doctor, the doctor asks him to go and get tests done, he gives his blood or urine, and takes the test results to the doctor. This happens every time he gets sick. Barjos propose that the results of whenever tests are done be fed into a website. Then when a patient seeks out a doctor, the doctor will seek out his test records on the web, and if they are not too old, the tests will not be repeated; so much testing will be prevented.
As people get old, they acquire diseases that are a nuisance but do not kill quickly — diseases like heart trouble, obesity and cancer. The longer they live, the more do they need treatment for such chronic diseases. Some of the diseases reduce people’s ability to look after themselves; they then need care. In the US, where labour is expensive, such care costs a lot. Barjos want to reduce the cost of chronic disease treatment by persuading people to live physically more active lives and to avoid harmful habits like smoking and gluttony, so that they will suffer less of chronic diseases for fewer years.
Most Americans’ medical costs are paid out of private or public insurance. Still, many are not covered; for them, Barjos want to start a government insurance company or devise an insurance policy. But this company or policy will not pay doctors for the number of patients seen or laboratories for the number of tests done; it will pay them on outcomes — that is, how sick or healthy the doctors and labs leave their patients.
American patients can collect millions by suing their doctors for wrong or inappropriate treatment. So doctors take out expensive malpractice insurance. Barjos think that insurance companies are overcharging doctors, and will sue the insurance companies under anti-trust law for profiteering. They will also sue insurance companies that give health insurance policies if there is not enough competition amongst them, and force them to reduce their profit margins. They will start a government insurance exchange which will advise people on what insurance to buy, and perhaps bargain for them with insurance companies. Insurance companies often exclude from policies diseases that the insured have contracted before they were insured; Barjos will force them to stop this practice.
The US is home to the world’s biggest pharmaceutical firms. They spend huge amounts on research and development, patent the drugs they thus develop, and use the monopoly that patents confer to make big profits. Apparently, they make bigger profits out of Americans than others; they charge Americans 67 per cent more for the same drugs than they charge Europeans. A simple solution would be to reduce or abolish patent protection, and to import the drugs from India. Barjos will not do such radical things; they will import the drugs from “other developed countries”; that is, Europe and Japan, if they are cheaper there.
The big drug companies file expensive patent infringement cases against generic drug companies like ours, and often bribe the companies not to enter the US market. Barjos will “prohibit” the companies from doing such things; just how, I do not know.
The drug companies used their influence with Congressmen to get legislation passed that prohibits the government’s Medicare organization to bargain with the companies over drug prices. The department of veteran affairs runs a similar healthcare programme for ex-soldiers. It faces no such prohibition, and freely bargains and brings down drug prices. Barjos want the constricting legislation repealed, so that Medicare too can bargain.
The most interesting and least clear of the Barjos proposals is one for a national health insurance exchange. It is not clear whether this exchange will be an insurance company, or will help everyone to get insurance; probably both. It will introduce a benefit package similar to what employees of the federal government get; presumably, the government has negotiated with private insurance companies to provide this common benefit package to government employees, and will similarly negotiate for the rest of the population. So the Barjos plan is to give to all uninsured Americans the choice of getting an insurance package similar to that of government employees. But they will not get it free; they will have to pay for it. Those who pay taxes will get tax rebates on the premiums. Premiums will be “fair”, co-payments (the proportion of his medical costs a patient has to pay himself because the insurance company will not pay it) will be “minimum”, paperwork will be “simple”, and the plans will be “easy” to enrol in. This is all admirable, and vague.
Barjos face a problem — that they cannot touch the current business of the private insurance companies. They want to extend coverage to those whom insurance companies have avoided because they cannot afford the premiums or because they have ailments and conditions that the insurance companies do not want to insure against. Barjos cannot simply use the government to cover these uncovered people and conditions because insurance companies would then weed out even more people and make even more money out of healthy people. This is a classic case of what economists call adverse selection.
So Barjos are split between helping the uninsured people and conditions directly, and forcing insurance companies to insure the uninsured. There is no ideal balance between the two, and whatever balance is decided, it will be difficult to achieve it. Barjos should stop trying to repair a dysfunctional market. Instead, they should start at another point. They should aim at a basic, fully government-funded, entirely free national health service. It would consist, first, of a doctor within reach of every American whom they could see without paying; these doctors should be full-time employees of the government, and groups of them would be backed by free laboratories. Second, the drugs prescribed by the doctors would also be free provided they fall within a government list of generic drugs. Third, the government doctors should give every American a check-up once a year, and if it shows that they are fit and are living healthily, they should get a reward. Finally, for those who need hospital and nursing care and cannot afford it, the government should negotiate with private hospitals to have a certain proportion of beds at its disposal. What the government should ensure is not the probability of treatments given by insurance, but certainty of specific treatments guaranteed by itself.
THEATRE OF THE ABSURD
There was also the unpleasant and wholly unnecessary ‘sting’: the cash-for-vote scandal, which attempted to point fingers at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress on the nuclear deal that was being opposed by the Left and by some other parties. Other minor incidents were addenda to this larger narrative, which was being played out.
Intelligent, unbiased watchers of the unfolding political reality have been puzzled as to why the BJP leadership was committing errors with every move. The saga reached its most silly point when Advani kept referring to the prime minister of India as a nikamma. It showed him as a vulnerable puppet, unsure of his tread as well as of his immediate future, knowing well that the moment then, at election time, was possibly his last hope to make it to the top job. The negative rhetoric, the tacit support to Varun Gandhi and his campaign and other inappropriate actions all came together and worked against the party. The Indian electorate called the shots, took almost everyone by surprise, and the Congress dominated the result.
However, the BJP continues to have a constituency that has diluted somewhat. The Congress, without allies, had an 80-seat lead over the next largest party. This put it in a win-win situation, and the party formed the government. Advani had lost his chance, and five years from now there is bound to be a change in the leadership.
Witnessing the internal fight for power, the free-for-all strategy without subtle nuances, it is clear that the BJP has made a spectacle of itself, giving viewers a glimpse of an ongoing theatre of the absurd. The characters seem to be in search of a leader, and are all waiting for Godot. As the end game advances, ‘who-did-what-to-whom’ is becoming more vivid and the players, who may have sung in the chorus till now, are about to walk in from the wings on to centre stage.
A careful analysis of each ‘act’ is beginning to show up the conniving protagonists, their allies and the vociferous lead players who are fast moving to the rear of the stage to replace the missing members of the chorus. The pied piper is determining the dance, and hopefully, the true manifesto will be unveiled. This will allow the amorphous position and, therefore, the weak disposition, to rectify and strengthen itself and help renew a party that disintegrated because it tried to be something it was not.
Contrastingly, the Congress has an opportunity, yet again, to regroup, rid itself of those who carry the past on their shoulders and falter every now and then, and move forward so that it can take an enormous lead over all the other dispensations. Unfortunately, there are too many of those in the grand old party who do not want to pass the baton, change the status quo and retire to their constituencies to do shram daan and kar seva. With their enormous fund of experience, they will be able to transform the neglected, exploited hinterland. As the Youth Congress begins to bud, the Aged Congress can return to the roots.
VIRAAT MUST SOLDIER ON
THERE’S the proverbial kick in a dying horse. So too in the Indian Navy’s sole aircraft-carrier. While preparations ought to have been made for a farewell party to the 50-year-old INS Viraat, now there is much expectation that she will rejoin service a couple of months hence. Refurbished of course, the carrier has recently been re-floated after a long spell in dry-dock at Kochi and the finishing touches are being given to the project to extend her operational life for another five years. Hopefully this will be her final re-fit, and the Vikramaditya (Gorshkov) and the home-built carrier will be in service before she is required to sail into history ~ which, tragically for the sentimental, means setting course for the breaker’s yard. It is true that INS Viraat will not find the same place in naval folklore as the first carrier, Vikrant, which also played a key role in the eastern theatre in 1971, but the integral air cover that she provided the fleet and her potential reach and punch were ever critical to naval strategy. Thus any satisfaction at her impending return must be tempered by the regret that the three-carrier doctrine ~ one each for the eastern and western fleets, a third in reserve or under maintenance ~ has never been put into practice. Nor will it for at least a decade to come, and that is presuming that there are no further slippages in the indigenous building programme that must work up to serial production. Remember that despite the controversy over cost and time overruns, the Gorshkov is only a “bridging” scheme.
Indian dockyards and their workforce have proved adept at really stretching the tenures of warships but age inevitably takes a toll. Little purpose would be served repeating the sad story of how it came to pass that the navy had been forced to makedo with one ageing carrier, often without her for maintenance requirements, except to assert that the story must not repeat itself. Funds do not seem to pose too much of a problem these days but there is no sign of urgency in the defence establishment to maintain adequate momentum to long-term modernisation and re-equipment programmes. Only after some kind of a military “situation” does that get a temporary, perhaps superficial, boost. A pity that our politicians and bureaucrats do not scan the littoral seas carefully, they just might see the Chinese navy testing the waters.
ROBUST, IF FUZZY
MISS BANERJEE’S INTERFACE WITH INDUSTRIALISTS
THE Trinamul victories in the Bowbazar and Sealdah assembly by-elections have gift-wrapped Mamata Banerjee’s performance over the weekend. In a simulated expression of bonhomie - reminiscent of their reception to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in 2005-06 ~ industrialists appeared to be tripping over each other to impress the Railway minister-cum-CM-in-waiting as she spoke the language of a gung-ho buccaneer at Friday’s interaction with the chambers of commerce. A dramatic metamorphosis since last August when she derailed the Nano project with perfectly cogent reasoning, paradoxically couched in disruptive negativism. The presentation was robust if markedly presumptuous and the response as gleefully enthusiastic as it could be. Most notably that of Prasun Mukherjee, the pointman of the Salim group and one-time acolyte of the Left dispensation who has promised to lend support to Mamata’s efforts. Which at once begs the very pertinent query whether the Trinamul leader is confident of reviving the Barasat-Raichak highway project ~ of tremendous economic importance ~ if and when she takes over. But she was diplomatic enough not to go into specifics, aside from a somewhat generic assurance that “no industrialist will be killed, no one’s life will be in danger and there won’t be any disturbance”. So far, so comforting. The implicit reference was to Singur and Nandigram; but it would be instructive to know whether any industrialist was killed in the CPI-M’s pursuit of the new economic policy. It is an open question though whether she will succeed in effecting the second Industrial Revolution. Suffice it to reckon that she has almost stepped into Mr Bhattacharjee’s shoes though the contours of her agenda are still largely fuzzy.
The tendency to emulate is manifest no less in her overtures to the cultural notables and friends of the Trinamul. This would normally have raised no cavil if the gestures weren’t offered at the cost of the national exchequer. It thus comes about that Thursday’s railway national awards programme was used as an occasion to dole out lifelong first class rail travel passes to a bevy of literary/cultural worthies who had backed her to the hilt before the Lok Sabha elections. It is quite another story that a few of them were known Left fellow-travellers before Nandigram figured in the “breaking news” tag. One must give it to her that she has raised two critical queries with pointed reference to the industrialists concerned: a) Why has Pawan Ruia failed to reopen Dunlop’s Sahaganj factory? and b) Why is Jagmohan Dalmiya’s Bantala leather complex still not in place? These are issues close to the bone. They relate to jobs, social security and the environment... in contrast to such relative trivials as her appeal for a “big cricketing event”. To summon the metaphor of the game, Miss Banerjee was able to stump both Mr Ruia and Mr Dalmiya on issues that the ruling Left doesn’t seem to be overly bothered about.
CALCUTTA HIGH COURT TO THE RESCUE
QUEEN Victoria would have been delighted; so too the angel atop the memorial, when it revolves which is not always. A Division Bench of Calcutta High Court (coram: Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Tapan Kumar Dutta, JJ) has come to the rescue of Victoria Memorial, British India’s period museum, which still retains its resplendent glory long after Bengal’s first United Front government craned off the statues of Governors-General and Viceroys. The authorities have their backs to the wall with the court ruling that “no further structure is to come up within the complex”. This is a resounding message that underscores the importance of the preservation of greenery. It is irrelevant whether the London-based Calcutta Tercentenary Trust had agreed to raise funds for a three-storied cultural complex and art gallery. The funds would be better utilised on the conservation of paintings and other artefacts, indeed the raison d’etre of the Trust, when it was set up in 1990. In a stinging indictment of the administration, the Bench has observed: “The sole object of the Memorial authorities is to make the campus a place of brisk activities and entertainment without caring for the protection of the monument itself”. Victoria Memorial, above all, is a monument to history which ought never to have been overshadowed by society weddings, sound-and-light programmes and jugalbandis by classical artistes. Implicit in the ruling is that another building, whether to run the administration or to promote cultural evenings, doesn’t necessarily have to come up within the Memorial complex. Taking note of the fact that the Rs 1-crore project on DL Khan Road hasn’t materialised, the court has rightly held that “there is no bar on acquiring new property elsewhere”. The VM complex can’t be home to another complex, however convenient it may appear after the DL Khan Road project fizzled out. In the context of the court order, it is fervently to be hoped that Victoria Memorial will be able to retain its splendid isolation.
HUMOUR IS AN ‘ACT OF AGGRESSION’
LONDON, 24 AUG: It’s often said that life without a sense of humour isn’t a life at all. Yet, a new study claims that humour is nothing but an act of aggression.
Researchers in Germany have carried out the study and found that the role of humour is not to make others laugh as much as it is to make others know who is in charge ~ in fact, telling jokes is a method of reinforcing a social hierarchy.
According to lead researcher Ms Helga Kotthoff of the Frieburg University of Education, the study explains why until recently it has been extremely rare for women to tell jokes in front of men.
“Those “on top” are freer to make others laugh. They are also freer to be more aggressive and a lot of what’s funny is making jokes at someone else’s expense.
According to the researchers, the differences between men and women’s ability to become comedians starts very young. Boys as young as four or five tell more jokes while girls tend to be the ones doing the laughing.
But in later age women tend to become funnier because they feel freer to not be seen as ladylike.
AUTONOMY was first granted to St Xavier’s College in March 2006, and then to the two Ramakrishna Mission colleges in Belur and Narendrapur. However, the privilege still eludes Kolkata’s Presidency College. The demand was renewed by the students in July this year when the Principal had to face a raucous demonstration. Two years ago, the higher education minister, Sudarshan Roychowdhury, declared in the Assembly: “Presidency College has been given complete financial and administrative autonomy; but Calcutta University will still control the reins. Presidency remains within the university’s affiliating system.”
This implies that the college is not in a position either to introduce a new course or change the content of a course without the university’s approval. An academic council, comprising representatives from Calcutta University and the college, will examine the changes in syllabus or the introduction of a new course. Unless the university representatives approve the changes, the college will not be able to give effect to them.
FEAR OF LOSING
FEW may be aware that the idea of granting autonomy and then conferring a Deemed University status to Presidency was first mooted in an unsigned article in the college magazine in 1972. The identity of the author ~ the iconic professor of economics, Dipak Banerjee ~ was made public in 2007 by the then magazine secretary. The thrust of Prof Banerjee’s argument was on decentralisation. “The present state of the University of Calcutta ~ with its burden of 225,000 students in nearly 200 colleges ~ is such that some degree of decentralisation is being recommended by nearly every authority in the field of higher education,” he argued. Much later, the National Assessment and Accreditation Council gave Presidency the highest rating A+, scoring 90 and 95 points out of a total of 100. A recommendation to grant autonomy was duly furnished to the government. It was buttressed by the Bhabatosh Datta Commission on higher education. The UGC has also been consistently advocating such a step.
The role of an unwieldy institution like Calcutta University should be reduced and colleges made independent. But in a state where the party and the government are synonymous, the stubborn refusal to grant autonomy to Presidency appears to have stemmed from Alimuddin Street’s fear of losing its control over higher education. Pressure from the teachers’ lobby, instrumental in retaining the party’s social-political power-base, is also an important factor. Once autonomy is conferred, the CPM-backed teachers’ association will lose its grip over the transfers and posting of teachers. The Principal and the heads of departments will have the final say~ as it used to be till the early sixties.
There is no denying that political and governmental interference has severely affected the pursuit of excellence in Presidency College. This only strengthens the case for autonomy. The report of the government-appointed seven-member committee, that was submitted on 30 May 2007, was able to influence the government and thereby keep the real issue unresolved. It is ironical that though all the committee members are distinguished alumni, the suggestions are very different from the nature of autonomy granted to colleges by the UGC. The striking difference is that while the autonomy granted by the UGC gives colleges the right to detach themselves from the parent university, Presidency College has been asked to continue functioning under Calcutta University’s umbrella. Unlike other autonomous colleges, it will not be able to frame its own syllabus. Neither will it be able to conduct its own exams. The report states that Calcutta University is more famous than Presidency College and if the college is delinked from the university, then it will face impediments in its functioning.
The report, however, suggests that if the college wants to produce meritorious students, the government must not transfer the best professors to other government colleges. Some teaching posts should be created for talented teachers who will never get transferred. The college should also be given the privilege to create some professional posts. The departments will have the right to invite distinguished academics to join as chair professors.
The report of the expert committee was widely resented as it denied academic autonomy. It has been succinctly summed up by a distinguished alumni: “In early May 2007, seven former students of Presidency College, acting as pall-bearers, lowered the coffin of Presidency College into an undistinguished grave. The padre who performed the ceremony was a Communist, another alumnus who had studied Bengali honours and has since been elevated to the position of chief minister of West Bengal. It is difficult to think of another group of former students of the college who have acted collectively and deliberately to harm and kill the college. They have betrayed the college’s long and illustrious history.”
TRUE, a government order on the college’s financial autonomy has since been issued. The college will now be able to fix its own tuition fees and revise the earlier fee structure. It will have the freedom to keep the money collected from fees for its own utilisation unlike in the past. The order also clarifies that faculty members can now take up consultancy services as well as projects sponsored by the private and public sector. They will be entitled to keep 60 per cent of their earnings from a project and deposit the remaining 40 per cent in the college fund. The college is also now free to start short-term certificate courses and can rent out its space, the playground, the seminar and conference halls and equipment to generate revenue.
For all that, the issue of excellence remains unaddressed. With or without autonomy, excellence is contingent on the quality of the teachers, the taught and the ambience, including infrastructure. It is a disconcerting trend that several seats in various disciplines are still vacant this year. A total of 106 students have left Presidency this year for other institutions. It will not be incorrect to suggest that the pursuit of excellence has ceased to be on the agenda of the college ever since its functioning has been taken over by the education cell of Alimuddin Street.
Professor Subimal Sen, chairman of the seven-member committee, has justified the partial autonomy granted to the college. “The chances of getting full academic autonomy is not lost altogether. The college shall be granted full autonomy after the periodic review that takes place every two to three years. The prestige of Calcutta University and that of Presidency College were integral to each other.” (Kolkata Plus; The Statesman, 12 July; 2007).
The issue calls for a relook. Presidency College is considered by academics abroad as the Indian equivalent of Harvard ~ both in terms of tradition and academic standards. It is rather unfortunate that those who could never have dreamt of entering its campus have scripted the fate of this great institution. Still more distressing is that at least three prominent alumni allow themselves to be influenced by the party’s diktat. And they happen to be West Bengal’s Chief Minister, the finance minister and the higher education minister.
AFGHAN FIASCO HAS THE BRITS SQUIRM
IN THE UNITED KINGDOM, PUBLIC PRESSURE IS BUILDING FOR THE TROOPS TO GET OUT OF AFGHANISTAN.
Ever heard of a place called Wootten Bassett? No, neither had I until recently. Wootton Bassett has a long history, but few people in the UK had heard of it till a few months ago.
Now, it’s well and truly on the map, due to regular coverage of events there by the British media. This sleepy, picturesque market town in the south of England has become synonymous with the UK’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan.
The sight on British TV screens of dead service personnel arriving by plane from the conflict in Afghanistan has become a common phenomenon. Shortly after arrival at the nearby air force base at RAF Lynham, they pass through Wootten Bassett on their way to John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, in readiness for the coroner.
Local people gather along the edge of the road in silent tribute as the formal procession of flag draped coffins makes its way past. The mainstream media also gather and report on proceedings. With over 200 dead British service personnel from the conflict, this has in recent months become a familiar event.
We are urged by the government and media not to forget that these men were killed fighting for freedom — ‘our’ freedom and that of the people of Afghanistan. The solemnity conveyed by TV reporters as the coffins move through the town resembles the tone used by commentators when the state commemorates the fallen of two world wars who repelled Hitler.
But, increasingly, the sanctimonious jingoism that characterises much of the media’s reporting does not wash with sections of the British public, many of whom are confused or angry about the loss of life in a far away place. And it’s no surprise that confusion abounds. Officialdom seems just as confused. At various stages, the official line over the invasion of Afghanistan has shifted from regime change to protecting women’s rights, from defeating the Taliban to eradicating the drug trade, from encouraging economic and social development to preventing terror on the streets of Britain, or to the task of creating a western style democracy within just a few years. Take your pick. The reason for the Brits being in Afghanistan seems to shift from month to month.
And, as the coalition sets out to ‘civilise’ Afghanistan by bringing a good dose of western values, the Left has argued all along that the invasion is illegal and smacks of neo-colonialism. Many figures within the UK, including MP George Galloway and the veteran UK politician Tony Benn, point out that the conflict has less to do with attacking terrorism or high minded notions of democracy, but more to do with geopolitics and US state-corporate self interest and regional domination.
Ordinary people are now increasingly questioning what the UK is doing in Afghanistan and are aware that there is no end-point in sight, despite the rhetoric of Gordon Brown and his ministers who claim that ‘we are winning’ and making Britain a safer place.
Perhaps in saying this, Brown et al are trying to convince themselves because they are certainly failing to convince the public.
As ministers are asked with greater frequency what victory in Afghanistan would look like, they flounder for a clear answer. Their words imply that ‘winning’ is ‘not losing’ and that ‘not losing’ would somehow constitute be a momentous victory. But that’s politicians for you.
In one respect, in the UK, the events in Wootten Bassett have become symbolic of the ideological and moral battleground of the conflict. For some, egged on by the media and government, there is glory in the death of ‘our boys’ in Afghanistan who are fighting for our and Afghanistan’s freedom and democracy. They urge us all to be patriotic by supporting the troops and the war effort, regardless of whether one agreed with the invasion in the first place.
For others, however, this is a futile waste of young life, including the tens of thousands of Afghans who have been killed, which are too often overlooked by the media.
In the UK, public pressure is building for the Brits to get out of Afghanistan. Reading between the lines and despite the official message, the government wants out too, given that there is no end in sight, the loss of British life and the need to tighten public expenditure purse strings after having pumped so much of the nation’s wealth into the ailing banking system. But, having tied much of the UK’s foreign policy to the US in recent times, this will not be an easy thing to accomplish. Being caught between a rock and a hard place is not the best situation to find oneself in. Just ask Gordon Brown.
CALMING THOUGHTS OF GHOSTS
GHOSTS ARE SUCH PEACE LOVING FOLKS, UNLIKE HORN-BLARING TAXIS.
KALPANA M NAGHNOOR
I would have said the clock struck one had I been at home and possibly lived in a mansion and had what we all called as kids, a grandfather’s clock. But instead I was out on Queen’s Road, glad that the name still remains and doesn’t prove costly for the penuries we suffer augmented by the expenses of rubber stamps, marking and regaling fanatics who are wont to change history by changing names of roads, for no rhyme or reason as Shakespeare would aver and whom the fanatics have not read.
Traffic was as sparse as it would have been at 8’O clock 20 odd years ago, when you paid the entire sum of the cost of a vehicle, a fiscal policy which hadn’t expanded the economy to choke the roads, and when banking pace and civic amenities seemed in harmony. You could actually see the features of the road and that of the others as I drove past at that unearthly hour! Boy! Bangalore is sure beautiful. She looked calm, serene and rightly populated with a flicker of a tail light in the distance.
It was in that moment I was wont to lament. If it weren’t for the multitudinous vehicles on the road, dangerous drivers who blatantly defy all traffic rules and norms, BBMP authority’s lacadisikle efforts at street maintenance, bridges left unpainted, footpaths untenable, the trees come in the way, or the stone slab is broken and a perilous gape awaiting to ensnare an unsuspecting pedestrian, horror of horrors!
Another thought strikes, me as there were quite a few vehicles yet on the road.
Whatever do ghosts do to walk in solitude and venture out into our terrestrial? Twelve would be the deadline in all the ghost stories I read as a child. Now, half past one and some of us had yet places to go. I unleash the ghosts out from all those books. The white ethereal and luminescent hooded images, slowly take to the streets. The night is still yet with that hush of breeze. There is an odd feeling of calm; ghosts are such peace loving folks, unlike horn-blaring taxis, infuriatingly gesticulating auto drivers and bullying buses drivers! Ghosts just haunt you with calm; a promise of how bliss is to follow if …
THE NEW YORK TIMES
The story of Tour of the Cat — as reported in Monday’s Times — illustrates all too clearly the fate of retired racehorses. Tour of the Cat was one of the lucky ones, a winner at the track and, ultimately, a winner in retirement. Most retired racehorses are not nearly as fortunate. They are often treated as worn-out investments, abandoned or shipped out of the country to slaughterhouses in Canada or Mexico.
The trouble begins at the beginning. Far too many racehorses are bred each year simply because they are regarded as disposable once their short racing careers are done. The racing industry needs to make an enduring commitment to these animals, one expensive enough to help curtail the overproduction of foals.
A fee needs to be extracted at every level of racing — from breeders and owners as well as from bettors — to pay for the retirement of the very horses the sport depends on. (The same idea should be applied to the quarter horse world as well.) So far, efforts to do so have been voluntary and paltry at best. The Jockey Club, which maintains the thoroughbred registry, has instituted a voluntary checkoff program. The New York Racing Association has a voluntary $2 starting fee.
There is no national racing body to impose retirement fees, and the industry has made it clear over the years that it must be forced to regulate itself effectively. In the end, a small tax on the entertainment of betting on horse races will almost certainly need to be imposed by Congress. After all, the Jockey Club has a foundation to provide for needy members of the thoroughbred industry. Surely, it is not asking too much to create a nationwide fund for needy thoroughbreds themselves.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
NEW YORK’S DISGRACE
The Justice Department has sued several state juvenile detention systems for subjecting children to neglect and abuse. The department is now threatening to sue New York for the same reasons, and rightly so. A recently completed federal investigation has documented unsafe and, in some cases, heartbreaking conditions in several New York state detention facilities.
This problem has been festering for decades. Elected officials who have ignored it will need to clean house as swiftly as possible, closing down the worst institutions and ensuring that children in custody are protected from abuse in compliance with federal law.
In an angry letter to Gov. David Paterson, the department describes a hellish environment where excessive force is commonplace and children risk serious injury — concussions, knocked-out teeth and fractured bones — for minor offenses like laughing too loudly, getting into fistfights or “sneaking an extra cookie” at snack time.
The investigators focused on four facilities — including the infamous Tryon Boys Residential Center, in upstate Fulton County, where an emotionally disturbed 15-year-old named Darryl Thompson died in 2006 after being pinned face down on the floor and held there by two grown men. Three staff members who were trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and required to administer it failed to do so. The medical examiner labeled the death a homicide, but the grand jury declined to indict the two men involved.
The report notes that the physical restraints used just before Darryl died have been banned in many parts of the country. But at the time of the investigation, it says, staff members in New York facilities were still being trained to use dangerous restraint techniques and used them, often at the slightest provocation.
The report further suggests that acts of violence and abuse against children have been routinely covered up. Officials fail to act in a timely fashion, or at all, when cronies are caught violating policy in dangerous ways. A 300-pound staff member who slammed a young woman to the floor, causing a concussion, is a vivid example.
The section of the letter on mentally ill children, who make up a significant part of the incarcerated population, is enough to make the reader weep. Psychiatric services, such as they are, are shamefully inadequate. Children often get several different diagnoses within the same institution, which makes it impossible to treat them effectively. Medications appear to be handed out almost at random, without proper monitoring or clear therapeutic goals. Although many detained youths have drug problems, treatment programs are in a shambles.
The Justice Department report fully vindicates Gladys Carrión, the reform-minded commissioner of New York’s Office of Children and Family Services, who assumed office in 2007. Ms. Carrión has closed many facilities, downsized others, and is working to emphasize treatment and rehabilitation instead of force.
She has faced resistance from lawmakers, who want to keep juvenile centers open in their districts at all costs, and the unions, which are committed to some of the practices the Justice Department finds unconstitutional. Her opponents must now contend with the federal government, which was bound to intervene.
The Justice Department lays out a list of steps the state must take to bring its system into compliance with federal law and basic standards of decency. For starters, it must protect children from excessive force, and provide mental health care and rehabilitative treatment. If not, the state will almost surely be sued.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
REPLACING SENATOR KENNEDY
Senator Edward M. Kennedy has asked the Massachusetts Legislature to change state law to let the governor, currently a fellow Democrat, fill vacant Senate seats. Abandoning the current system, in which voters choose, would be undemocratic, even at the request of such a respected lawmaker.
With the health care battle heating up in Washington, every senator’s vote is critical. It is not hard to imagine that Mr. Kennedy, who has made national health care a high priority, wants to make sure Democrats will not lose a vote if he is unable to keep serving because of his terminal brain cancer. Under current law, an empty Senate seat can be filled only by special election, which could leave the seat open for more than five months.
Massachusetts governors used to fill Senate vacancies. But in 2004, the Democratic majority in the State Legislature changed the law to require a special election. The leaders were concerned that if Senator John Kerry was elected president, Gov. Mitt Romney would appoint a fellow Republican. To change back now would look like an unseemly amount of partisanship in setting the rules for who goes to Congress.
Special elections put the power where it should be in a democracy — with the people. Too many senators today are selected in elections of one, with the governor casting the only vote. New York just went through this in filling Hillary Clinton’s seat, Delaware in filling Joe Biden’s seat, and Illinois in the disastrous process of filling Barack Obama’s seat, which contributed to the impeachment of Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
According to FairVote, a voting-rights group, if and when the governors of Florida and Texas fill impending vacancies in those states, almost 27 percent of the population will be represented by at least one unelected senator. Once someone is appointed, he or she has an enormous leg up in the next election.
The best solution would be to amend the Constitution to require that all Senate vacancies be filled by election. Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, has a proposal, which has bipartisan support, to do that.
To his credit, Mr. Kennedy has suggested that the Massachusetts governor should appoint only someone who makes a personal commitment not to be a candidate in the special election. That would reduce the antidemocratic impact of the appointment, but it would not eliminate it.
It might be possible for Massachusetts to shorten the campaign, so a new senator could be elected more quickly. But states should be moving away from gubernatorial appointment of senators, not toward it.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE GOVERNMENT AND THE WEB
The Obama administration is considering new rules to make it easier for government Web sites to use “cookies” and other technology to track visitors. There are valid reasons for using such tools, but the government has to build in robust privacy protections.
The Clinton administration adopted a rule severely limiting tracking on federal Web sites. Tracking could be done only if officials could prove a compelling need and the agency head had personally authorized it.
Tracking technology can help improve the quality of Web sites by monitoring how many people are visiting and how they use the site, and by personalizing the experience. For example, the Parks Service could offer information based on where a user lives.
Browser makers have made it easier for users to remove cookies or even reject them wholesale. But tracking technology can still present a real privacy risk, especially for the uninitiated. If users give personal information on one government Web site, the government could track visits to its other Web sites, like one offering information on drug addiction or H.I.V./AIDS. It could do this with cookies, or by keeping track of users’ IP addresses, which may be tied to specific individuals.
In recent years, the government has monitored some Americans’ library use and illegally eavesdropped on telephone calls and e-mail. Privacy groups are concerned that the new rules could pave the way for third parties to collect large amounts of data through government sites — for example, if an agency site posted a YouTube video carrying its own cookies.
The Office of Management and Budget is developing the new rules. Officials say they recognize that people must be told that their use of Web sites is being tracked — and be given a chance to opt out. More is needed. The government should commit to displaying such notices prominently on all Web pages — and to making it easy for users to choose not to be tracked.
It must promise that tracking data will be used only for the purpose it was collected for: if someone orders a pamphlet on living with cancer, it should not end up in a general database. Information should be purged regularly and as quickly as possible. These rules must apply to third parties that operate on government sites.
The Obama administration is working to better harness the power of the Internet to deliver government services. That is good. But it needs to be mindful that people should be able to get help and be assured that their privacy is being vigilantly protected.
I. THE NEWS
As conjecture continues to build over the possibility of a plan to dump the president, while keeping the present setup intact, the prime minister has denied that any 'minus-one' formula exists. He has also termed rumour on this count to be nothing more than a conspiracy against the PPP government in the centre. Till now, criticism of the so-called plan had come mainly from supporters of President Zardari. The prime minster's words suggest that the much talked-of rift within the ruling party could be based on nothing more than rumour and that no definite divide between his office and that of the president exists. This, in many ways, is good news. Whereas there are undoubtedly many in the country who have lost all faith in the president, there is a need to follow some principle. Mr Zardari was elected, in a clear-cut victory, by all four provincial assemblies. For this reason he has the right to complete his tenure. This is especially true as his ouster would involve forces outside the elected setup, and their role would amount to a grave blow for democracy.
This having been said, there is a need to create greater stability and to give people a sense of order. The prime minister has said on several occasions that parliament can do away with Article 58(2)(b) and that the PPP government is indeed committed to this. Such a move could solve two problems in one go: It would restore the parliamentary system as laid down in the 1973 Constitution and end the damaging dichotomy of power that has been a constant source of instability. And if the presidential office becomes, once more, a ceremonial one, this could help satisfy those who believe Mr Zardari is damaging the country or intervening in decisions at all levels. In this sense the prime minister's comments are welcome. What we need desperately at the moment is calm. Further turmoil would act only to add to the damage our economy and our politics have already suffered. The focus of everyone who wishes to contribute to the future welfare of Pakistan must be to discourage internal conspiracies and instead focus full attention on the major problems that need to be solved.
I. THE NEWS
There are up to 225 allegations of irregularity in the Afghan election held last week and the outcome is still unknown – but hotly contested on all sides. Some of the allegations are of sufficient substance and gravity as to have a bearing on the final result. Currently, both the incumbent Hamid Karzai and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah claim to be ahead in the vote count, and some of Karzai's supporters are saying that their candidate has had a landslide victory capturing 70 per cent of the vote. Abdullah has made claims on national and international media that the vote was rigged and that fraud was widespread. The preliminary results of the presidential election are expected in a few days, but will be subject to Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) investigation. The turnout was low, there was intimidation and violence and 'irregularities' were expected by those monitoring the process.
It is becoming clear that Hamid Karzai may have to share power. This is a less-than-ideal outcome for the sponsors of this exercise in democracy – Britain, Canada and Germany plus the US – who will view with concern a protracted post-electoral wrangle. They will want to 'move on' as swiftly as possible as uncertainty or dispute about the outcome of the lection will inevitably read across to the poor and deteriorating security situation. For the US and Britain they are facing an increasingly sceptical public, who are less and less likely to 'buy' the war as days go by. An ABC news/Washington Post poll released last week showed that US public support for the war in Afghanistan has declined sharply, with more than half the US for the first time saying the war is not worth fighting – 51 per cent say it isn't, 47 per cent say it is. For the coalition that has invested lives and treasure in the Afghan conflict; having a contested or provably corrupt election will make justification of involvement to their own electorates increasingly difficult. It is going to come down to either a 'clean' second-round victory for one of the candidates or a deal between Karzai and Abdullah. The run-off if it happens will be in October; but a deal could be struck earlier than that and perhaps be a better outcome for all – except, perhaps, Hamid Karzai.
I. THE NEWS
The suicide bombing that killed three people, including two women, in Peshawar breaks from past pattern. It appears to be the result of rivalry between two militant organizations. The toll could have been far greater had the bomber not been spotted as he neared the house where the funeral of a militant killed previously in a car-bomb incident was taking place. Even so, as this is written, small children who were among the 15 injured continue to lie at Lady Reading Hospital. The gang war that has broken out involving the Taliban-backed Ansarul Islam and the Lashkar-i-Islam led by the Bara-based Mangal Bagh, which is believed to be behind the latest bombing, is a deadly development. It threatens to turn Peshawar and other places into areas where criminals run virtually amok with access to suicide bombers whom they can apparently unleash at will, creating much greater mayhem each time.
This situation is of course an outcome of the failure of those at the helm to act in the past against militant militias in various parts of the country. Many familiar with the chain of events are convinced Mangal Bagh and others like him were creations of agencies that wished to use them for their own purposes. Such men have today broken away from central control. The breakdown of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, with three different names put forward from various quarters as the new leader of the group, suggests there may be a still bigger process of splintering. A similar sequence led to the emergence of nearly a dozen groups in Punjab over the past decade, some of them locked in bitter hatred for each other. The killings in Peshawar point to the need for urgent action. We must prevent one of our biggest cities from turning into a theatre of war where two ruthless forces engage in a power tussle. The ban imposed on these groups must be enforced and their leaders apprehended under the law. Otherwise we will see no end to the cycle of death that has already destroyed too many lives and threatens to claim yet more in the future.
LEARNING FROM CHINA’S AGRI SUCCESS
IT is inspiring to see that President Asif Ali Zardari is taking a lot of interest in Chinese research and achievements in agriculture sector and has hinted that Pakistan would like to benefit from the Chinese experiences. During a visit to South China Agriculture University the President spoke of the need for Pakistan to adopt better agriculture practices as the country needed to feed a burgeoning population of around 170 million.
During the visit the President took keen interest in highbred seeds that are disease resistant and high yielding and also best suited to Pakistan to overcome food shortages. Pakistan has all the ingredients to become a success story in agriculture with more emphasis on provision of resources for agriculture research and emulating from the successes of friendly countries like China. In his earlier visits as well the President had taken keen interest in agriculture development of the friendly country and his interest in highbred seeds indicates that he wants to introduce it in Pakistan. It is satisfying that at the present the Agriculture Research activities are being looked after by prominent and committed experts like Dr Zafar Altaf who is all out for developing high yielding and disease resistant varieties of major crops and for introducing modern agricultural technology among small farmers for agricultural development of the country. There is particularly wide scope for achieving maximum per acre yield and for this Pakistan needs assistance and expertise from Chinese side. Increase in agricultural yields has become vital in the backdrop of global food crisis and already countries concerned and institutions were putting together all possible efforts in this regard. Agriculture sector suffered a lot over the past about 20 years from neglect and under investment though it can play enormous role in spurring economic growth, employment generation and poverty eradication. We expect that by learning from the Chinese experience in agriculture, the government would come up with a dynamic agenda of “agriculture for development”. The sole purpose should be to boost agriculture production that in turn would provide the much needed raw material to our industry, improve the lives of the downtrodden and get the country out of food shortages like sugar that we are faced with today.
THAR COAL: SOME BEGINNING AT LAST
AT long last, some progress is visible towards exploitation of the world’s largest coal reserves at Thar in Sindh. A meeting of the Thar Coal Energy Board, held under its chairmanship and Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, has approved four power projects based on Thar Coal. The first one — a pilot project of coal gasification will generate fifty megawatts of electricity and will become operational in one year. It will be followed by two projects of 1000 MW each and a 400 MW power plant to be executed by PEPCO and the private sector.
It is good that a solid foundation has been laid for utilization of the Thar Coal, which has the potential to help the country get rid of the curse of load-shedding that is affecting not only the common man but also economic progress of the nation. It is also a welcome decision to establish the first plant as pilot project in the public sector, as this will lend necessary confidence to the private sector to come forward and invest in Thar Coal based plants. Though some foreign companies had already expressed their keen desire about setting up of coal-based plants, yet apart from other things, the progress was marred because of reluctance of the private sector to invest in gasification projects. It is hoped that technological barriers would be removed and successful model would be developed for replication in future. As Thar Coal is enough to meet domestic requirements for centuries, it would be in the fitness of things if indigenous technologies are developed for cost-effective and best utilization of this asset of great magnitude. We hope that this time there would be no backward looking and all concerned would work hard and with full dedication to ensure expeditious utilization of these reserves. We have already lost much time and cannot afford the luxury of wasting more when the country was facing worst kind of energy crisis. Once a model is developed, power generation from coal would be cheaper than that produced by oil or gas fired plants that are pushing the cost of per unit price for the consumers to unbearable limits. Similarly, hydel power is no doubt cheaper but such projects take much longer time to complete and this is particularly so in our case where things are politicised by vested interests. Under these circumstances, the Federal and Provincial Governments should give priority to Thar Coal Project by creating necessary infrastructure, ensuring appropriate funding and offering incentives to prospective investors.
JASWANT SINGH: DEEP ANGUISH
ANOTHER stalwart of the BJP has resigned from the party membership to record his protest over the expulsion of Jaswant Singh on his remarks about Quaid-i-Azam. A close aide of L K Advani in the BJP Sudhindra Kulkarni said the firing of Jaswant Singh was a wrong step.
The decision of Mr Kulkarni shows that there is a lot of resentment over the move to oust Jaswant even within the party, which is rightly perceived to be an extremist Hindu outfit. It also proves that there are also moderate and saner elements in the ranks of the party who have the moral courage to call a spade a spade. The decision to expel Jaswant Singh for his praise of Muhammad Ali Jinnah has again confirmed the extremist credentials of the BJP, which became vivid on different occasions including demolition of the historic Babri mosque. Jaswant Singh himself has said that his expulsion from the party reflected narrow mindedness of the BJP and that Jinnah indeed was a great man, unduly demonised in India. And in a related development, PML (N) Quaid Mian Nawaz Sharif told an Indian newspaper that Pakistan-India must build trust and move forward. This shows the magnanimity of the Pakistani leadership towards the issue of relations with India and compares significantly with the hard-core approach of parties like BJP. The recent Gojra incident also showed that Pakistani people are more liberal and bright minded, as almost all sections of the society were unanimous in condemning violence against minorities by some elements. In this backdrop, it is regrettable that some Indian circles were unable to digest genuine praise of the Quaid-i-Azam, who worked hard for Hindu-Muslim unity and the goal of independence from British rule.
The issue of RAJUK (Capital Development Authority) has once again become the focus of public attention as the parliamentary standing committee on public undertakings asked the organisation to explain much of its activities including the fact that it has not submitted its annual report for a decade or so.
In addition, the committee set a six-month deadline for the organisation to provide a list of plots cancelled and allocated during the period 2001-2008. Hopefully, this will expose the secrets of the country's premier real estate development agency and also reveal the beneficiaries during that period. The standing committee's work is certainly laudable and we hope it will be followed up seriously and the nation will know where the capital's real estate sector went wrong all these years. But then the problem is of an unusual type where even the minimum administrative norms like submission of the annual balance sheet has been violated. What is the penalty for such an offence? By default, RAJUK has proved that they have misappropriated for nine years. It is a serious offence calling for immediate explanation.
For a long time it was known to journalists, and the huge number of reports about RAJUK and its irregularities that surfaced in the media over the years bear adequate testimony that as a development authority it possibly is one of the most corrupt organisations of the country. Yet, the administration took no notice of it, all these years.
The parliamentary committee has also asked RAJUK to undertake satellite township schemes that the private sector would develop and build houses for the poor as in Singapore. Perhaps, this is too much to expect from an organisation that cannot even account for its activities every year. What probably needs to be done is restructuring - maybe by beginning with the separation of the regulatory and development functions of the organisation. But then the manpower problem needs to be taken care of, too. After all, at the end of the day, it is the people who matter and not an abstract entity.
The country's poultry industry is going through a bad patch now. Reports are coming in from different parts of the country that one after another poultry farms are closing down. Apparently, the farm owners are not getting enough profit or incurring loss; therefore, they are losing interest in the business. The main reason for the increase of cost in the farms is that the price of one-day chicks has increased, unusually. Also the number of hatcheries in the country are too few in number and capacity compared to the colossal poultry industry and its demand. The price of poultry feed, vaccines and other inputs has also increased. Besides, repeated avian flu epidemics of the recent past have considerably weakened the financial health of the industry and increased the risk factor.
This is in stark contrast to the flourishing poultry industry of the 1990s, when we had hoped that the country could earn foreign exchange by exporting poultry and eggs very soon, after meeting local demand. It is an irony that a decade later far from exporting poultry products we are considering its import. In the local market a dozen eggs is now selling at Taka 96. Indeed, when not even half the potential of a sector is utilised, short supplies and foreclosures are to be expected.
In spite of all the bad news, we believe the poultry industry has a prospect in Bangladesh. The finance adviser of the last caretaker government, Mirza Azizul Islam, during his tenure, repeatedly said that 20 per cent subsidy can make any industry in this country viable. Considering the poultry industry's importance, both locally and otherwise, the administration could provide that much-needed support to this strategic sector until the bad times are over.
JUDGES: GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY…!
"…A Punjab and Haryana High Court Judge has made public his family's assets saying, "I have nothing to hide."... Hindustan Times, August 23rd I still don't understand why our judges are making such a fuss about declaring their assets and fighting the Judges Assets Bill. I mean more than the legislators, more than other government servant's shouldn't it be judges who should be declaring their assets to the people at large so as to help us to believe what they I am sure are trying to tell us all the time that, "I am a fair judge!" And the people will whisper back, "If you say you are fair, let us know how you live?" Judge, "How I live?" People, "Yes your honour, whether you live within your means, whether your relatives also live within their means, what property you have in your name, your son's name and your wife's name!" Judge, "But that is not your business!" People respond, "It is your honour, because if you say you are honest in your judgements, than there has to be honesty in your life right?" Judge firmly, "I can be both!" People, "Both your honour?" Judge explains, "Yes I can de-link my personal life from my professional life!" People, sceptical, "You can?" Judge firmly, "Oh yes I can, I can deliver a judgement that is fair yet live a life that is dishonest! It's all part of being professional you know!"
"Your honour, when you put a murderer on the stand do you have witnesses speaking for and against the character of the accused? Do you have his neighbour coming and telling the court of his bad temper, of other incidents when the man displayed such characteristics that showed he had the tendencies of committing a murder?" Judge, "Yes of course!"
"Your honour when a man is accused of being a cheat, do you have his mother, father and relatives saying how honest a man he was during his childhood, as a son and as a husband and father?" Judge, "Yes that is part of the procedure!" People, "Then your honour we the people would also like this to be part of the procedure!" Judge asks, "This?" People, "Yes your honour this! That you who judge us should first prove to us that you have the ability to judge, that you open your lives inside out, show each paisa you have earned and say, 'here am I, this is what I am!" Judge startled, "I would feel naked and vulnerable!" People puzzled, "You will if you had assets disproportionate to your income, if your wife drove a Mercedes, if your son lived in a fancy house! But otherwise, the truth would make you strong and your judgements would never be questioned!"
"I can't declare my assets!"
"Then take another job! Today you are being judged by the people of India: Guilty or Not Guilty...!"
AN OVERDUE END TO ASX SELF-REGULATION
TBE AUSTRALIAN SECURITIES EXCHANGE HAD CONFLICTING ROLES
THE Australian Securities Exchange has long made money on the volume of trading, regardless of whether the bulls or bears are making the running. And it has always acted to encourage more legal activity that increased its profits. Last year, it promoted high-risk investment products such as Contracts for Difference, which the Australian Securities & Investments Commission warns are less an investment than a blind bet for ordinary investors. And even when insiders create rumours or rely on insider information to manipulate share prices, the ASX profits, without knowing of the wrongdoing, by clipping the ticket of each trade. Yet the ASX is charged with regulating the trading process, making the listed company something like a police force that also runs a private profit centre. But not for much longer, with the Rudd government's decision to hand all of the regulatory function to ASIC. This not only ends the ambiguity over the ASX's functions, it should also mean closer attention to what is occurring on the market and quicker action against apparent illegality. At present, the ASX spots a problem, which it refers to ASIC. Under the new system, the public regulator will monitor trading activity itself and have power over all traders, including brokers and investment bankers.
The ASX is one of few major exchanges that has such dual functions, and the decision to end the arrangement has been a long time coming. While the ASX has honestly undertaken its regulatory role and attempted to manage its apparent conflict of interest, its contradictory functions were demonstrated during the last boom, when international investment funds bid the Australian market up and down and financial engineers created complex mechanisms to speculate on the market, with little regard to the fundamental values of the company share prices they speculated in. It was an arrangement that could not continue in the aftermath of the financial crisis last year and local controversies, such as the controversies over short-selling, and the collapse of sometime market darlings such as Babcock & Brown. Even before the slump, investors in companies such as ABC Learning, Allco Finance and Opes Prime had a right to wonder whether they were kept properly informed about what was occuring on the market. It is also essential for ASIC to have industry-wide authority, because the number of securities markets is likely to increase. If, or more likely when, Canberra's emissions trading scheme begins, there will be multi-billion-dollar derivative markets in greenhouse emissions. There would be no case for a new market to be regulated by ASIC while similar business occurred on a self-regulating ASX.
In demonstrating a commitment to transparent trading, Canberra is signalling its commitment to the integrity of the market to small investors. In the aftermath of casino capitalism on Wall Street, this is important if Australia is to develop as a shareholder democracy where small savers have a stake in the system and are confident that markets exist as a means for businesses to raise capital and manage their financial risk. This will not happen while people assume the markets are a club run by, and for, insiders. Markets work best when everybody interested can acquire the same information and trade on equal terms. This is not a case of government interfering in the private sector; rather, it is a demonstration of the way the state is obliged to ensure the law applies equally to all - whether they are stockmarket insiders or ordinary investors.
MAN FOR THE MIDDLE
THERE IS NO SHAME IN CHOOSING THE ALLEGIANCE THAT FITS
SUCH is the centrist nature of contemporary Australian politics that it is not beyond imagination to see Malcolm Turnbull as a Labor leader and Kevin Rudd as a Liberal. It is not that the ideologues have departed the scene, just that today's political parties are driven by policy and pragmatism rather than the blind tribalism of earlier decades. In this context, it is easy to see the Opposition Leader being courted by, or courting Labor.
Weekend reports "outed" him as having flirted with Labor a decade ago. Mr Turnbull has denied lobbying for a seat. Yet Australians have long seen him as a policy moderate who could easily have gone either way. Indeed, for years as he led the Republican Movement, many Australians assumed he was batting for Labor. And in 1994 it was reported he talked to then Democrats leader, Cheryl Kernot, about using that party as the basis for a socially progressive and pro-business party.
This is not a story about a politician who has shifted his beliefs from Left to Right - although there would be no shame in that. Rather, Mr Turnbull's story is of a talented Australian committed to making a contribution - and looking for the right political channel for his energy and ideas. It is not so unusual. Tony Abbott was one MP who reminded voters yesterday that a few years ago he was courted by the great NSW Labor kingmaker, Johno Johnson, to join Labor. For one so talented, Mr Turnbull is having a dreadful time of it - although our Newspoll today suggests that things are looking up marginally for both him and the Opposition.
In so many ways, Mr Turnbull is the sort of person we need in politics - smart, articulate and with an open mind on a range of issues important to the nation's future. Take climate change. He has studied the issue closely and far from being a climate-denier, believes strongly in the need to do something about it. In so many ways he stands shoulder to shoulder with the government on this issue.
Australian politics has sometimes been deeply divided along ideological lines, but our general temperament is more centrist. These days, voters are keen on conviction and competence in their politicians, not outdated ideological positions. Mr Turnbull may be having trouble with his colleagues and the electorate but it is not because he may have once toyed with joining Labor.
The Opposition Leader blamed Labor gossip-mongering for the weekend reports. What is clear is that the Prime Minister and his team are in danger of going over the top in their continual hectoring of Mr Turnbull. It raises the question of whether they fear that, given time, he just might recover from the OzCar debacle and gain traction with their own centrist constituency.
LIFE AFTER THE ASHES
BEYOND THE SERIES LOSS, IT'S TIME TO REFLECT AND REBUILD
WE had the batsmen, they had the bowlers. Two draws and a win each going into the final Test. It could not have been closer, yet finally it could not have been clearer. Ricky Ponting's side - and it was his side, whatever might be said about selectors' choices - did not play as well at the crunch.
Arguments about our lack of a spin bowler; the decision not to take another batsman on tour; the decision not to play Stuart Clark at Lord's; the decision not to play Nathan Hauritz at The Oval - these are all part of the necessary post-series analysis. Some argue that it came down to one more wicket we should have taken at Cardiff. And, of course, that lousy pitch. Perhaps. There are valid questions to be asked, too, about the selectors' failure to show faith in our spin bowlers. But let's not lose sight of a persistent England team, showing spirit that would have seemed impossible a decade ago: Andrew Strauss led his side well.
The real lesson here is that Test cricket is cyclical. Teams rise and fall like mini-empires. Our run for a decade until we lost the Ashes in 2005 was remarkable. A team is greater than the sum of its parts, but a country cannot lose players of the calibre of Shane Warne, Steve Waugh and Glenn McGrath and expect life to go on as before.
Ricky Ponting, who on Sunday was stylish and brave before being run out, has the unenviable role of bearing responsibility for losing twice to the old enemy in England. He is a conservative captain whose critics say lacks the innovation of a Warne or the leadership of a Mark Taylor or a Steve Waugh. But Ponting remains a competent captain. If he did decide to focus on the bat, his replacement would not be easy to name, given Simon Katich is seen by many as too old and Michael Clarke as too young.
The good news for Australia is the emerging talent in the side, and the wonderful tenacity shown in the run chase on Sunday night. England has signalled it will avoid the exaggerated victory celebrations of 2005. Equally, Australia would do well to avoid a national orgy of blame after such a closely fought and entertaining series.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
PICKING CRICKET UP OUT OF THE ASHES
Australia has now lost the Ashes in England on consecutive tours. Its captain on both occasions, Ricky Ponting, showed a striking magnanimity in defeat. Where last year Ponting led Australia to a nadir of ugliness against India in the Sydney Test series, on this tour his sportsmanship and good-natured refusal to be baited by English crowds have won him a respect he has craved but hitherto not deserved.
England is fifth in the International Cricket Council rankings, and its future looks to be, if not bright, then brighter than it has been since the last time it defeated Australia in 2005. On the other hand, Australia, the supreme power in world cricket since the mid-1990s, has not only lost its No.1 ranking to South Africa, but has plummeted to fourth, below Sri Lanka and India. This is the first time Australia have not been top of the rankings since they began in 2003. In one-day cricket Australia is third, and in Twenty20, sixth.
It is a habit of mind for cricket followers to attribute Australia's poor results to the departure of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and others. The national team is in a temporary rebuilding phase, the argument runs. But the problem runs deeper. Whereas English cricket, from the village green to the Long Room at Lord's, is peopled by players from a wide spectrum of cultural backgrounds - British, Indian, Pakistani, South African - Australian cricket, at the top level, is almost exclusively monocultural.
This is not so in other sports. AFL, rugby, soccer, and rugby league are populated by players coming from richly different backgrounds; their names - Porplyzia, Palu, Petrovski, Smeltz, Fevola, Folau, El-Masri - are a rollcall of modern Australia. True, James Phathanak, a right-handed top-order district batsman in Sydney, has said in these pages he aims to be the first Laotian-Australian to pull on the baggy green. The NSW all-rounder Moises Henriques was born in Portugal. But they are rarities.
Of course, recent migrants from Greece or China may find cricket as many of their fellow Australians find it: uniquely unfathomable. But what about those from the subcontinent? Thousands of young migrants from India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan play cricket in Australia. However, when Usman Khawaja opened the batting for NSW against Victoria last year he was the first player of Pakistani Australian background to play first-class cricket in Australia.
Australian cricket must draw on the deepest well of talent available. We do so only up to a point. There are increasing numbers of players at grassroots level from southern Asia. Yet they do not continue in the sport. Are all Australians getting a fair go?
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
CANBERRA'S COURAGE FAILS ON SCHOOLS
KEVIN 07 left a difficult legacy for Kevin 09. Campaigning for office against John Howard, Kevin Rudd tried to be as unthreatening as possible - to mimic the incumbent and allay voter fears of change. He made a big show of confirming virtually all Howard's tax cuts. He did something similar with private school funding. Both promises are now haunting his Government following the global financial crisis. Both areas need reform, but perhaps the unfairness the Rudd Government is content to perpetuate in school funding needs it more, because it is the more glaring.
As the Herald reported yesterday, in the four-year cycle that has just started, schools will be funded according to the formula inherited from the Howard government. In fact formula is the wrong word, but it is hard to find a term that fits precisely the bizarre and inequitable combination of rules and exceptions used to calculate how much a school will receive. Without the exceptions, the rules would probably work reasonably well. The rules calculate a school's funding based on the socio-economic status of the community it serves.
But when the Howard government devised the formula in 2001 the Catholic Church and others lobbied successfully for a guarantee that Catholic systemic schools would not be disadvantaged under the new rules. Other schools obtained a short-term arrangement under which their funding did not decline. There is a subtle difference between these two exceptions, but their effect is wholly disastrous: more schools are funded as exceptions than are funded according to the rules. If the rules guarantee fairness, the exceptions entrench unfairness. The exceptions covering Catholic systemic schools do not cover, for example, Anglican or Islamic schools. The system has been corrupted by special interests.
But the Rudd Government has decided the system will not be reformed before at least 2013, if then. Rudd Labor - never the bravest political party - fears voters will punish a government that cuts funding to their children's school. That is possible. Mark Latham's hit list of private schools in his disastrous 2004 election campaign as Opposition leader is frequently cited here. But that lesson can be learnt too well. Governments that do nothing to correct serious deformities in public policy lose support, too.
The global financial crisis provides a convenient pretext for change that happens also to be true: Australia can no longer afford to waste education funding on schools which do not need it.
WHITEHALL AND WESTMINSTER: FROM PUBLIC SERVICE TO OPEN RANCOUR
Many, perhaps most, senior civil servants looked forward to Labour's victory in 1997. Margaret Thatcher's government had been hostile to Whitehall tradition, while John Major's administration had become a shambles. In the early Blair days, some mandarins felt their high hopes were justified. Robin Butler, then the cabinet secretary, was reported by the late Hugo Young in 1997 as saying that New Labour's new centralism, with ministers relegated to the margins by No 10 and cabinet committees largely meaningless, was "wonderful".
The truth was that New Labour did not have much confidence in the mandarinate, for a mixture of good and bad reasons. A dozen years on, with the Labour government poised above the executioner's trapdoor, the two sides have long ago fallen out of love, and the long retired Lord Butler has turned into a scathing critic. Giving evidence with other former mandarins to a House of Lords committee this summer, he said that the Blair-Brown years have put cabinet government and collective responsibility more at risk than ever. Arguing for "the old system", Lord Butler favours more counterweights against prime ministerial centralism. In particular, he wants the Cabinet Office to remain an independent support for ministers – not absorbed into the Prime Minister's Office as an enforcement department of No 10.
Many of the criticisms are well judged and well made. Labour has always been preoccupied with dominating the daily news agenda rather than governing consistently and well. Nevertheless it is important not to blame all the ills of the state on Labour. Not even Lord Butler argues that cabinet responsibility was alive and well before 1997; its role had diminished through the postwar years, he says, and Labour inflicted a steep change in an already declining process. He also believes ministerial special advisers have a role to play.
The cheap response to the mandarins' evidence is to damn New Labour and all its ways. The more honest one is to admit that not everything about the old system was wonderful and that Labour's changes should not be jettisoned wholesale by a new government. As another former cabinet secretary, Lord Turnbull, points out in evidence, the Downing Street machinery inherited by Labour in 1997 was not up to the job. The strengthened role of the prime minister is also an irreversible reality of modern government, he argues. When experts like these disagree, wise observers should recognise that the issues are not simple and that there is strength in both arguments. If the Lords committee can cut through the disagreements and produce a blueprint for future governments, it would be a huge achievement.
IN PRAISE OF… RICKY PONTING
It won't much improve Ricky Ponting's mood, after becoming only the second Australian captain to concede the Ashes twice on English soil, to be praised by a Pom paper. He is hardened enough to know that some of the standing ovation as he came out to bat at the Oval on Sunday was offered under the reasonable assumption that Ponting, in possibly his last appearance in the Ashes in England, was heading for defeat. But staring down the barrel of a loss that must have hurt more than any other in his career, Ponting showed what a class act he is in two ways that matter. First, his batting: at least two sublime pulls, quick in eye, feet and thought, arguably the most attractive shots of a desperately tense test match. Over this series Ponting became the highest run-scorer in Australian history, now at 11,345. In his country's batting pantheon, there may only be Bradman above him. While he was at the crease there was still a chance that his side could pull off the most remarkable final-innings score of all time and it took a stunning runout to remove him. And second, in the aftermath: in a post-match interview, with a (mostly) ecstatic crowd listening on, an unflinching, honest assessment. Yes, the pitch was poor – but no excuses; and yes, his side scored six more centuries, and they should have won in Cardiff – but no self-pity. And praise from the heart for Andrew Strauss, the England captain, at the end of a hard, good-spirited series. Ponting understands that winning is everything but not the only thing.
LOCKERBIE CASE: WHEN MERCY IS MESSY
Goodness knows the world could use more mercy. It is a virtue that wins few plaudits in the press or politics, so there was something heartening about hearing Scotland's justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, explain his decision to release Abdelbaset al-Megrahi purely in terms of compassion. The terminally ill man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, Mr MacAskill explained to the Holyrood parliament, may have shown Scotland no mercy, but that did not free Scotland of its obligation to show some mercy to him. On the face of it this was a brave and civilising argument, and yet the seeming purity of the appeal could not dispel the feeling that something was not quite right about the decision that had been made.
The Scots character, the Scottish churches and even the words woven into thistles on the Scottish parliament's mace were all invoked in support of the case for compassion, and the Scottish Nationalist party administration has attracted some support from outside its own ranks for the clemency it has shown. But as Holyrood yesterday experienced the unfamiliar sensation of the world's glare being upon it, the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaderships joined ranks to question the causes and condemn the consequences of Megrahi's release. They pointed to the oddity of Mr MacAskill's needlessly paying him a prison visit, and the irony of a nationalist administration stumbling into the reserved field of foreign affairs, only to decry the lack of direction from London as soon as things get complicated. Above all, though, they pointed to the grotesque circus in Tripoli, where a man convicted of mass murder was welcomed home by a Saltire-waving crowd. Unless there is a presumption that the onset of terminal illness should automatically trigger early release in all cases where reoffending is not an issue – and Mr MacAskill stopped well short of spelling such a presumption out – then this ugly outcome cannot be squared with justice for the 270 people whom Megrahi stands convicted of killing.
The perception that the mercy shown to Megrahi was arbitrary is especially serious as there were no other sound arguments at all for allowing his release a mere eight years into his 27-year life tariff. The burgeoning trade between the UK and Libya cannot be compared with the reconciliation between Northern Irish communities which provided the explicit rationale for releasing terrorists early under the Good Friday agreement. In that case, grieving families were led to understand that forgiveness was a precondition for peace; in the current situations victims' relatives are instead being told by Edinburgh that there is no connection to international relations, and are receiving stony silence from London. The possibility that there might have been a miscarriage of justice – with doubt cast on the reliability of the prosecution's chief witness – may have weighed with Mr MacAskill, but it only makes things worse for the relatives since Megrahi's release has been accompanied by the terminating of his outstanding appeals. He is now free to put a one-sided story to the court of Libyan public opinion, instead of having his case tested in a Scottish court. That, surely, can only inhibit the prospects of the truth coming out. Unlike the English, the Scots retain a "not proven" verdict in their criminal courts, and the unappealing prospect in sight is of this being the effective outcome of the Lockerbie case.
Mr MacAskill's mercy might have been commended without reservation if it were channelled into wider reforms. Some countries allow sick prisoners to go before a judge and seek early release, while others automatically release the very old. Scotland and England alike would do well to learn from such arrangements: humanity is not advanced but retarded by keeping dying men in jail. But to release one convicted mass murderer – without proposing a general rule – is to subject his victims to inhumane injustice.
THE JAPAN TIMES
HOMEGROWN FOOD PRODUCTION
Japan's food self-sufficiency rate in calorie intake improved by about 1 percentage point to 41 percent in fiscal 2008, for the second straight annual rise. But, as farm minister Shigeru Ishiba said, one cannot hail the rise once various factors are taken into consideration.
Of the 1.1 point rise, 0.4 percentage point came from a rise in the self-sufficiency rate for sugar cane. This was because Okinawa Prefecture, a major grower of sugar cane, suffered less damage from typhoons than in the previous year. Meanwhile, the rate for animal-derived products increased 0.3 percentage point after high prices reduced cheese imports. Thus, actual improvements in Japan's competitiveness are not apparent.
The food self-sufficiency rate in calorie intake stood at 73 percent in fiscal 1965 but fell to 37 percent in fiscal 1993. After holding to about 40 percent from fiscal 1998 to 2005, it dropped to 39 percent in fiscal 2006 but recovered to 40 percent the next year. In contrast with Japan, the rate was 128 percent for the United States and 70 percent for Britain, in 2003.
The food self-sufficiency rate in calorie intake has tricky aspects. The figure for vegetables is relatively low because high-calorie items such as rice, potatoes and sweet potatoes carry a large weight. And a production increase in the livestock industry causes a decline in the self-sufficiency rate because of substantial reliance on imported feed for animals.
The self-sufficiency rate in terms of economic value fell 1 percentage point to 65 percent in fiscal 2008, for the third straight annual decline, while the rate for staple diet cereals went up by one percentage point to 61 percent.
Since there are several ways to measure the self-sufficiency rate, the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito's call for increasing it to 50 percent is almost meaningless. At least, the Democratic Party of Japan's call for attaining full self-sufficiency in main cereals appears more feasible.
Since trade liberalization is almost inevitable, the government and political parties should strive to boost domestic agricultural production in the face of competition from imported food.
THE JAPAN TIMES
CRACKING A CASE THAT WENT AWRY
About two months have passed since the Tokyo High Court decided to retry Mr. Toshikazu Sugaya, who served 17 years of a life sentence until a new DNA test suggested that he was innocent. But the date of the retrial has not yet been set because the defense counsel, the prosecution and the Utsunomiya District Court — the venue of the retrial — disagree on how the retrial should be held.
Mr. Sugaya was arrested in December 1991 in the May 1990 murder of a 4-year-old girl in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture. Although he retracted earlier confessions of guilt toward the end of his first trial, the Utsunomiya court sentenced him to life imprisonment in July 1993 on the basis of DNA test results. The Tokyo High Court recommended a new DNA test in December 2008 and decided to retry him on the basis of the test results.
The prosecution does not plan to try to prove the guilt of Mr. Sugaya because it wants to close the case as soon as possible. But the defense counsel believes the retrial should be used to find out why the false charge was made. This is reasonable.
Lawyers for the defense demand that a forensic expert of the National Police Agency who conducted the original DNA test, third-party experts on DNA tests, and investigators of the Tochigi prefectural police testify in the retrial.
Recently it surfaced that the Utsunomiya District Public Prosecutors Office and the Tochigi prefectural police possess separate recorded tapes of confessions that Mr. Sugaya made in connection with two other cases involving the disappearance and murder of girls. No indictments have been issued in a August 1979 case or in a November 1984 case, both in Ashikaga. In the latter case, the body was found in March 1986.
It is believed that the tapes reveal the process in which Mr. Sugaya first admitted guilt but later retracted his confessions. If people concerned testify and the recordings are examined at retrial, the information gathered will go a long way toward preventing false charges in the future. Understanding how and why Mr. Sugaya was indicted is especially important now since most Japanese citizens may serve as lay judges at some point.
THE JAPAN TIMES
OPENING A REGULATED MARKET FOR KIDNEY SALES
BY PETER SINGER
PRINCETON, N.J. — The arrest in New York last month of Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum, a Brooklyn businessman whom police allege tried to broker a deal to buy a kidney for $160,000, coincided with the passage of a law in Singapore that some say will open the way for organ trading there.
Last year, Singapore retail magnate Tang Wee Sung was sentenced to one day in jail for agreeing to buy a kidney illegally. He subsequently received a kidney from the body of an executed murderer — which, though legal, is arguably more ethically dubious than buying a kidney, since it creates an incentive for convicting and executing those accused of capital crimes.
Now Singapore has legalized payments to organ donors. Officially, these payments are only for reimbursement of costs; payment of an amount that is an "undue inducement" remains prohibited. But what constitutes an "undue inducement" is left vague.
Both these developments raise again the question as to whether selling organs should be a crime. In the United States alone, 100,000 people seek an organ transplant each year, but only 23,000 are successful. Some 6,000 die before receiving an organ.
In New York, patients wait nine years on average to receive a kidney. At the same time, many poor people are willing to sell a kidney for far less than $160,000.
Although buying and selling human organs is illegal almost everywhere, the World Health Organization estimates that worldwide about 10 percent of all kidneys transplanted are bought on the black market.
The most common objection to organ trading is that it exploits the poor. That view received support from a 2002 study of 350 Indians who illegally sold a kidney. Most told the researchers that they were motivated by a desire to pay off their debts, but six years later, three-quarters of them were still in debt, and regretted having sold their kidney.
Some free-market advocates reject the view that government should decide for individuals what body parts they can sell — hair, for instance, and in the United States, sperm and eggs — and what they cannot sell. When the television program "Taboo" covered the sale of body parts, it showed a slum dweller in Manila who sold his kidney so that he could buy a tricycle taxi to provide income for his family. After the operation, the donor was shown driving around in his shiny new taxi, beaming happily.
Should he have been prevented from making that choice? The program also showed unhappy sellers, but there are unhappy sellers in, say, the housing market as well.
To those who argue that legalizing organ sales would help the poor, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, founder of Organ Watch, pointedly replies: "Perhaps we should look for better ways of helping the destitute than dismantling them."
No doubt we should, but we don't: Our assistance to the poor is woefully inadequate, and leaves more than a billion people living in extreme poverty.
In an ideal world, there would be no destitute people, and there would be enough altruistic donors so that no one would die while waiting to receive a kidney.
Zell Kravinsky, an American who has given a kidney to a stranger, points out that donating a kidney can save a life, while the risk of dying as a result of the donation is only one in 4,000. Not donating a kidney, he says, thus means valuing your own life at 4,000 times that of a stranger — a ratio he describes as "obscene." Most of us still have two kidneys, and the need for more kidneys persists, along with the poverty of those we do not help.
We must make policies for the real world, not an ideal one. Could a legal market in kidneys be regulated to ensure that sellers were fully informed about what they were doing, including the risks to their health? Would the demand for kidneys then be met? Would this produce an acceptable outcome for the seller?
To seek an answer, we can turn to a country that we do not usually think of as a leader in either market deregulation or social experimentation: Iran. Since 1988, Iran has had a government-funded, regulated system for purchasing kidneys. A charitable association of patients arranges the transaction, for a set price, and no one except the seller profits from it.
According to a study published in 2006 by Iranian kidney specialists, the scheme has eliminated the waiting list for kidneys in that country, without giving rise to ethical problems.
A 2006 BBC television program showed many potential donors turned away because they did not meet strict age criteria, and others who were required to visit a psychologist.
A more systematic study of the Iranian system is still needed. Meanwhile, developments in Singapore will be watched with interest, as will the outcome of the case against Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum.
Peter Singer is professor of bioethics at Princeton University and laureate professor at the University of Melbourne. © 2009 Project Syndicate
THE JAPAN TIMES
JAPAN READY FOR 'NO NUKES'
BY SHINGO FUKUYAMA AND HIROMICHI UMEBAYASHI
As the Obama administration contemplates major reductions to its nuclear arsenal, Japan's commitment to nuclear disarmament is being tested as never before.
In his Prague speech on April 5, President Barack Obama said, "We will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same." He went on to say, "we will begin the work of reducing our arsenal."
But in between these two landmark pledges he said, "as long as these weapons exist, we will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies."
The goal that Obama articulated of "a world without nuclear weapons" was overwhelmingly supported by the Japanese public. Yet, the way the Japanese government views U.S. extended nuclear deterrence, otherwise referred to as the "nuclear umbrella," is turning out to be a key sticking point, which may end up blocking progress on nuclear disarmament.
Reportedly, the specific reduction in the role of nuclear weapons that is being contemplated is that they would be retained for only one purpose. Their sole purpose would be to deter the use of other people's nuclear weapons. This is sometimes referred to as a policy of "No First Use" (NFU).
The Japanese government has long taken a different undeclared view that the U.S. nuclear umbrella should also cover potential threats from biological weapons, chemical weapons and even conventional weapons.
At a press conference Aug. 9, on the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Prime Minister Taro Aso criticized demands for nuclear powers, including the United States, to pledge not to be the first to use nuclear weapons. He said, "I wonder if that's a realistic way to ensure Japan's safety." Likewise, Foreign Ministry officials have repeatedly made unofficial comments opposing NFU.
The key test for the vision spelled out by Obama in Prague is the Nuclear Posture Review, now being prepared. We understand that a substantial reduction in the role of nuclear weapons in national security strategy is being considered.
It is distressing to note that Japan is being used as an excuse to prevent Washington from making an important policy change that would be a step forward toward a world without nuclear weapons. Some argue that a reduction in the role of nuclear weapons would weaken the U.S.-Japan security relationship.
Others, for example former U.S. Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, even suggest that Japan might choose to acquire its own nuclear weapons.
In fact, there are signs of greater flexibility than these people acknowledge. It is widely predicted that there will be a change of government after the Aug. 30 elections and that the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), currently the largest opposition party, will win. The attitude to NFU by the DPJ and its potential coalition partners is likely to be quite different from the LDP.
DPJ secretary general Katsuya Okada has suggested that Japan work with Washington to achieve a NFU policy. In response to a questionnaire sent recently to Japanese political parties by disarmament nongovernment organizations, the DPJ said that NFU was an issue that should be discussed with the U.S. government.
The Social Democratic Party, a potential coalition party in a new government, and the Japanese Communist Party also supported an NFU policy. Even New Komeito, which is a member of the current government, supported an NFU policy if there is an international consensus.
Opposition to NFU within the LDP is by no means universal. So the picture of monolithic Japanese opposition to NFU, presented by some U.S. commentators, is really quite misleading.
As for the argument that Japan will go nuclear if Washington reduces the number and missions of U.S. nuclear forces, this is nonsense. Japanese political leaders are intelligent enough to know that going nuclear would have huge ramifications that would not be in Japan's national interest. No political party in Japan supports acquiring nuclear weapons.
Sixty-four years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the anti- nuclear sentiment in Japan remains strong. Over 1,400 local authorities (about 80 percent) have made nuclear-free pledges. These local authorities represent the spirit of nuclear abolition in Japanese society far better than the LDP-led central government.
If the Obama administration moves decisively to get rid of "the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War." the joy of the vast majority of the Japanese people will overwhelm the reservations of an unrepresentative clique in the Japanese bureaucratic system. So, Mr. Obama, act boldly. Grasp the opportunity that is before you. Japan is ready.
Shingo Fukuyama is secretary general of the Japan Congress Against A- and H-Bombs (Gensuikin). Hiromichi Umebayashi is special adviser to Peace Depot, a nonprofit organization.
THE KOREA HERALD
The Korean economy is recovering fast. Its growth rate, which stood at 2.3 percent in the second quarter of this year, was the highest among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Should it keep the momentum in the months ahead, Korea will certainly be one of the first countries to pull itself out of the global economic crisis. Better still, it will generate the highest growth rate among OECD members next year, if the OECD's prediction in June proves to be correct.
In leading the OECD pack, Korea is regaining self-confidence. It is evidenced, among others, by the increase in its assets' value.
Apartments are gaining in price so fast that regulatory agencies are already concerned about property speculation. The stock markets are rallying, too. The Kospi benchmark index has gained more than 50 percent since March.
Also encouraging is the accumulation of monthly trade surpluses, which contribute greatly to replenishing
the nation's foreign exchange reserves. Experts project that the reserves, which stood at $237.5 billion at the end of last month, will have topped $270 billion by the end of this year. Moreover, chances are high that Korea's status will change from debtor nation to creditor nation by year-end.
No wonder pessimism among Koreans is receding fast when it comes to Korea's economic outlook, as evidenced by surveys conducted by the Worldwide Independent Network of Market Research, an international pollster. According to the opinion polls, 70 percent of the Korean population believed in December last year that the nation's economic conditions would worsen. But the portion dropped to 44 percent in March and then to 27 percent in June.
At a time when Korea is recovering its self-confidence, representatives of Standard & Poor's, an international credit-rating agency, are set to have consultations with Korean economic policymakers. The outcome will determine whether or not the agency will readjust Korea's sovereign creditworthiness.
Though an upgrade is desirable, it may be too early to expect Standard & Poor's to ratchet up Korea's credit grading, as some senior Korean officials acknowledge. Still, an early reversal from contraction to growth, current account surpluses and growing foreign exchange reserves should count in the rating agency's evaluation of Korea's economic performance.
But this is not to say the path to full recovery has few pitfalls. On the contrary, it has many. A fundamental problem with the Korean economy is that it is not growing on its own. Instead, it is growing because the government is spending its way out of the crisis.
Now that it has succeeded in jump-starting a recovery with deficit spending, what it needs to do in the near future is devise a way to restore a fiscal balance. Replacing public spending with corporate investment should be a big part of the exit strategy. At the same time, the central bank will have to siphon off excess liquidity from the markets if it is to put consumer prices under control.
There are many other problems that the government needs to address in its post-crisis economic management plan. Most serious among them is a drop in employment.
In July, the number of people with jobs declined by 76,000 from a year ago. What was shocking was that employment fell by such a big margin when the government had already launched a 1.7 trillion won emergency project to provide 250,000 people with jobs.
Ultimately, it is the private sector that will have to create jobs through investment. But spending on plant and equipment is projected to drop 10 percent this year unless action is taken. The government will have to encourage corporate investment with such strong incentives as tax cuts and deregulation. It may be too early to consider phasing out temporary tax deductibles for corporate investments.
THE KOREA HERALD
The appellate court has recently upheld a lower court's decision in favor of disclosing information on members of a committee reviewing candidates for presidential pardon. The ruling, if upheld by the Supreme Court, should help push the president to exercise greater prudence in granting pardons.
A petitioner, citing his right to information, called on the minister of justice in July last year to provide him with the list of committee members and information on their credentials. But his request was denied on the grounds that committee members could expose themselves to abusive remarks and threats to their lives if their identities were to be disclosed.
But the ministry was misguided in withholding the information, as noted by the ruling, which said that the chances were slim that committee members would become targets of an attack from the disgruntled because the minutes are required to be held confidential for 10 years.
Back in November 2007, the Grand National Party initiated the process of revising the relevant law to install a committee reviewing presidential pardons. In doing so, it aimed at putting in check then President Roh Moo-hyun, who it believed was planning on a "politically motivated" massive pardon.
But the committee, established in March last year under the law revised the next month, has failed to check the president, as evidenced by the latest presidential pardon. Ahead of Liberation Day on Aug. 15, President Lee Myung-bak granted amnesty to as many as 1.52 million offenders, including drunk drivers. The committee proved to be little better than a rubber stamp.
What the committee needs to do is to check the president, instead of giving him a free hand, in exercising his privilege of granting pardon to criminal offenders. The court ruling should serve to remind the committee of what it should do in reviewing all cases involving candidates to the presidential pardon.
THE KOREA HERALD
EU NEEDS EXTERNAL STABILITY PACT AGAINST FISCAL RISKS
SEBASTIAN DULLIEN/DANIELA SCHWARZER
BERLIN - The current economic crisis has exposed two fundamental problems in the design of the European Monetary Union. The first concerns the sustainability of public finances in a number of euro-zone member states. Second, inadequate macroeconomic policy coordination has resulted in divergences in the international competitiveness of euro-zone members, threatening the very existence of the euro.
Countries whose public finances seemed fundamentally sound as late as last year have come under severe fiscal pressure. Ireland's government debt is expected to rise to almost 80 percent of GDP by 2010, whereas just a year ago the European Commission projected that Ireland's government debt would be below 30 percent of GDP. Likewise, whereas Spain was expected to decrease its debt ratio, its debt-to-GDP ratio is now likely to double between 2007 and 2010, to more than 60 percent.
The EU's fiscal surveillance mechanisms failed to predict these developments because they neglect a crucial variable: the dynamics of private-sector debt. Given the high economic costs of a banking crisis, governments are likely to take on the liabilities of their financial sector when a crisis hits - as recently occurred in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and in financial crises in Latin America and Asia in the 1990s. The same is probably true when key business sectors near insolvency. A country with sound public finances can thus become a fiscal basket case practically overnight.
Given the increasingly close financial and economic linkages between euro-zone members, rising government debt in even one EMU country can have serious consequences for all members, because no member state will allow another to default. Thus, EMU members indirectly share the liability for fellow countries' private-sector debt, which for this reason should be monitored within the EMU's surveillance framework.
Another apparent problem is that EMU member states - at least until now - do not coordinate their economic policies effectively. Even before the crisis, this resulted in divergences in competitiveness and in the business cycle. The persistent loss in competitiveness over the past decade is one reason why the crisis is hitting some southern European EMU countries such as Spain and Italy so hard.
The inefficiency of fiscal-policy control and the lack of economic convergence are a matter of increasing concern to both the European Central Bank and euro-zone finance ministers. While no initiative for coping with these problems has been tabled so far, the issue is certain to become a matter of debate within the EMU.
One way to tackle the problems associated with government debt, as well as to improve economic policy coordination, is through a simple extension of existing rules: an "external stability pact" could be introduced to complement current EMU regulations. This pact would monitor current-account imbalances and penalize excessive deficits or surpluses in the external account.
Monitoring external balances can be an effective tool to measure future default risks, since sustained current-account deficits lead to a growth in net foreign debt. Moreover, there is a direct relationship between the EMU countries' private-sector debt dynamics and their current-account imbalances within the euro zone. So long as a national government is not running more than a modest deficit, a current-account deficit reflects the private sector's borrowing from abroad (or the sale of previously accumulated foreign assets). If the current-account balance is assessed together with the fiscal position, it becomes possible to draw conclusions about risky debt trends within the private sector.
The mathematics of debt dynamics suggest that no euro-zone country should have a current-account imbalance, whether a deficit or a surplus, of more than 3 percent of GDP. Exceptions could be granted for countries with large inflows of foreign direct investment in greenfield projects. The rule should apply both to debtor and creditor countries. After all, payment imbalances always have two sides, and the burden of adjustment should not be borne only by deficit countries.
Such a pact would oblige governments to use fiscal and wage policies as well as overall economic policy to achieve external balance. It would also lead to broader economic-policy coordination, particularly with respect to wage-setting, because governments would be compelled to use national legislation and public-sector wage settlements to influence wage policy in such a way that imbalances among euro-zone countries are reduced.
Furthermore, an external stability accord would oblige governments to take into account the consequences for other member states when designing national economic reforms. If a "surplus country" such as Germany wanted to lower non-wage labor costs and increase value-added tax in order to boost its competitiveness, it would simultaneously have to adopt an expansive fiscal policy to compensate for the negative effects on its partners' foreign trade.
Within the framework of these rules, individual countries would retain the authority to design their policies. The Spanish government, for example, could have met Spain's building boom and foreign-trade deficit with tax increases or by urging domestic wage restraint. Alternatively, it could have intervened by instituting planning regulations or imposing limits on mortgage loans.
An external stability pact would not only detect risks to fiscal stability early on; it would also help make a reality of a fundamental principle of EU law, namely that member states finally treat economic policy as a "common interest."
Sebastian Dullien is a professor for international economics at the University of Applied Sciences HTW in Berlin. Daniela Schwarzer is head of the research unit "EU-integration" at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, in Berlin. - Ed.
INDEPENDENCE AND DEVELOPMENT
Editor's note: Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on China's diplomatic achievements over the past 60 years since the founding of the People's Republic.
Since the outbreak of the international financial crisis, China, while endeavoring to maintain steady and relatively fast growth of its own economy, has been actively involved in the international cooperation to tackle the crisis. We have put forward many important proposals, which were highly acclaimed by the international community. Through these efforts, we have not only gained an enabling external environment for meeting our central task of ensuring growth, people's well-being and social stability at home, but also boosted the confidence of the international community to overcome the crisis and contributed significantly to promoting world economic recovery and international financial stability.
Over the past 60 years, China's diplomacy has played an important part in upholding the country's sovereignty, security and development interests and in promoting world peace, development and cooperation. We have worked closely with other countries to address various international disputes with a responsible manner. We have vigorously conducted economic, cultural and public diplomacy and achieved fruitful results. The number of countries having diplomatic relations with us has increased from 18 in the early days of the People's Republic to 171 today.
China has entered into new types of cooperative relations or constructive partnerships with the world's major countries. China and Russia have established a strategic partnership of coordination and relations between the two countries have enjoyed sustained, sound and steady progress at a very high level. It is the common aspiration of both the Chinese and Russian people to build stronger relations between the two countries. Sino-US relations have reached an unprecedented level in terms of both depth and breadth over the past 30 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties. The two countries have agreed to build a positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship for the 21st century and have put in place the China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogues mechanism. The growth of China-US relations serves the fundamental interests of the two peoples and is conducive to peace, stability and development in the Asia Pacific and beyond. We have established a comprehensive strategic partnership with the EU and a strategic relationship of mutual benefit with Japan. We have been actively engaged in the "BRIC" dialogue and the dialogue among the "five developing countries" and enjoyed ever stronger cooperation with the major emerging economies.
Since the founding of the People's Republic, we have given top priority to fostering good relations with neighboring countries in our overall diplomacy. Though our specific policies toward these countries may have featured differently at different times, the fundamental policy of building good-neighborly relations has never unchanged. We have been committed to building a harmonious surrounding environment featuring durable peace and common prosperity. Since the beginning of the new century, we have been pursuing the policy of building amicable relations and partnerships with our neighbors. We have jointly established the Shanghai Cooperation Organization with Russia and central Asian countries, carried out dialogue with ASEAN and participated in the dialogue between ASEAN and China, Japan and ROK. Our trade and economic links with neighboring countries are growing closer. China is now the largest trading partner of Japan, ROK, India, Vietnam and Mongolia.
China has been enhancing solidarity and cooperation with other developing countries. After the founding of the People's Republic, the Chinese government provided firm support to the people of Asia, Africa and Latin America in their just cause to gain and safeguard independence and develop national economy. Since the launch of the reform and opening-up program, China's relations with developing countries of various parts of the world have made important progress. The Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, which China hosted in 2006, was a great success, and eight measures were announced at the Summit to assist Africa's development. China's exchanges and cooperation with African countries in the political, economic and cultural fields have now entered a new stage. We have also set up the China-Arab Cooperation Forum and our practical cooperation with Latin America and the Caribbean region has been moving ahead. Strengthening solidarity and develop mutually beneficial cooperation with the developing world is the foundation of China's diplomacy.
Since the founding of the People's Republic and, in particular, since reform and opening up, China has played an increasingly important constructive role in seeking settlement of major international and regional hot-spot issues, addressing global challenges and safeguarding world peace. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China is committed to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and the peaceful resolution of international disputes through dialogue and negotiations, and has carried out international cooperation in various fields. We support reform of the United Nations and its Security Council, vigorously work for the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals and actively promote reform of the international financial system. We are working closely with other countries to address climate change, energy security, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and other global challenges.
With the broadening of China's external exchanges and cooperation, it has become an increasingly arduous task to protect the safety and lawful rights and interests of Chinese citizens and enterprises overseas. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has set up the Consular Protection Center to handle consular protection cases. In the past few years, we have, on average, handled over 30,000 consular cases of various scale each year.
Chinese diplomats, like China's diplomacy, have weathered various vicissitudes over the last six decades and have grown stronger, become better educated and more professional.
The success of China's diplomacy in the last 60 years is attributed to two most important things. First, adhere to an independent foreign policy of peace. China will, as always, decide its positions and policies on international affairs on the merits of each case, bearing in mind the fundamental interests of the Chinese people and people of the whole world. We will continue to uphold justice in the world and work with others to make our world a better place to live. Second, take into consideration both the domestic and the international situations and focus on meeting the priority tasks of the Party and the government. There have been closer interactions between the situations at home and abroad and between domestic and foreign policies in the 21st century. We must therefore aim to serve the need of building a moderately prosperous society in all aspects in conducting diplomacy and foster a stronger sense of coordination and overall development so that our diplomatic work and work on other fronts will reinforce each other and achieve coordinated progress.
China will adhere to its path of peaceful development, pursue a win-win strategy of opening up, and make unremitting efforts for the building of a harmonious world of enduring peace and common prosperity.
THE LAW AND LIBEL
We know that things sometimes can get messier than imagined; that local officials sometimes forget there are limits to their authority; and, that the average citizen sometimes finds himself/herself defenseless in the face of abusive officials.
Still this appears too much. Eight villagers - seven, to be exact, for one is home on bail on ground of poor health - found themselves behind bars for disseminating information about alleged corruption by a village head. The charge is libel.
Libel as a criminal offense may qualify for imprisonment of less than three years, according to the Criminal Law. And the eight were sentenced to one to two years in jail. Which does not sound that bad.
But the verdict is untenable in the first place. In accordance with the criminal code, libel as a crime would not be investigated unless the victim files a lawsuit. An exception to the rule is permissible when the social order or national interest is seriously endangered.
We believe that charges against a village head, whether true or not, does not constitute a major threat to either the social order or national interest. Then there has to be a lawsuit registered by the "victim" (forgive us for the quotation mark), until he is proved innocent, at the court. Which never happened.
The village head did make complaints. But, to the police, and not to the court. Which is an important detail. Since there is no legal ground in this case for the involvement of public prosecutors, the court trial itself appears to us like a tree without roots. The "all-out intervention" by the local judiciary, as reported, is, therefore, quite unnecessary. It does not take a legal professional to see that here is a procedural problem.
We know the local administrators dislike troublemakers like the eight. And, in their eyes, they sabotaged "social order." But we, like most who find this case strange, have serious doubts about that judgment.
We also know that there was obvious exaggeration in the charges against the village head. In that sense, he was victimized. And, that there was a declared intention to destroy the village cadre's reputation and prevent him from being re-elected. Altogether, they accused the village head of 23 misdeeds, few of which have been confirmed by official probes. But nor do we see clear evidence that the accusations were all fabricated. The judgment cannot but be shaky and porous with lingering questions about evidence unresolved.
Yet the response from the local official in charge of legal affairs told us something about what was once unimaginable. If all villagers follow their example, the local election work will be in jeopardy, he was quoted as saying.
So, is it the same old trick of "killing the chicken and scaring the monkey"? Or, are we talking about the law here?
A RUBBERY ISSUE WAITING FOR PALATABLE RESOLUTION
US President Barack Obama has less than a month to decide whether to restrict the import of tires from China. The decision couldn't have come at a worse time, for the US administration has begun losing its popularity. Obama risks alienating a key ally at a crucial time no matter which side he supports: the unions or China.
The facts of the case are fairly straightforward and well known. The United Steel Workers union (USW) petitioned the US International Trade Commission (ITC), alleging that a spurt in tire imports from China had disrupted or threatened the US market. The USW alleges that the surge had already displaced 5,100 of its members. Interestingly, the petition was filed under a section of the US Trade Act - 421 to be precise - which was a negotiated quid for the quo of China's accession to the WTO in 2001. It is worth noting that the rubber industry has not been a party to the proceedings, and tire wholesalers and retailers have opposed the USW petition.
In June, the ITC sided with the USW with a 4:2 vote and recommended a regimen of tariffs over the next three years- of 55 percent, 45 percent and 35 percent. Under the rules, its recommendation was sent to the US president, who has until Sept 17 - one week before the G20 economic summit in Pittsburgh - to take a decision. It was at the last G20 summit in April that world leaders agreed to not raise any new trade barriers through 2010. So between now and Sept 17, Obama has three key political considerations to weigh: The politics of trade, domestic US politics and global politics.
The politics of trade: Four "421" cases reached George W. Bush's desk during his 8-year presidency. As a believer in free trade, he refused to act on any of them - a fact not lost on Obama as a presidential candidate. Obama promised more vigilance and campaigned mightily against Hillary Clinton in the manufacturing battleground states on a platform of a harder line on trade with China and the rest of the world.
While he lost Ohio and Pennsylvania to Clinton, he sharpened his message and attack on these issues in the general election and won both states over Republican John McCain. This was due in no small measure to the mass mobilization of the USW and their brethren. For their part, the unions were happy to at last have an ally in the White House.
Obama's campaign tapped into what has been a steadily rising tide of protectionism in the US over the past decade. These protectionist sentiments among the public, and the Democrats and Republicans have grown in the existing economic climate of greater job losses in the manufacturing sector.
On matters of trade, as with so many other issues, Obama is discovering that governing is more daunting and complex than campaigning. But with congressional elections next year, he cannot drift too far from his party's base.
US domestic politics: Obama is seeing his administration's popularity ratings drop as the chances of his comprehensive healthcare reform fade. Because of the rancorous debate on healthcare, climate change has been placed on the back burner. The healthcare fight is an intra-Democratic Party squabble, and Obama desperately needs to hold his party together.
Organized labor is the political linchpin of his party. But its top legislative priority - a bill to make it easier for workers to unionize - has been stalled and has received little push from the White House, much to the chagrin of the unions. One of the options being discussed in the healthcare debate is the taxation of healthcare benefits, a notion the unions vehemently oppose.
On climate change, manufacturing-state Senators (and unions) are getting more worried over the effect the legislation may have on jobs. Some liberal Democrats are threatening primary challenges for moderates in next year's congressional elections. And hence, Obama needs to keep the Democrats unified and organized labor happy, or risk the failure of his legislative program and harm the electoral prospects for his party in 2010.
Global politics: It is true that China is the US' biggest competitor. But it's also true that it is potentially its biggest partner and market. More importantly, China is the US' largest creditor, holding an estimated $1.6 trillion of US securities. Plus, China is central to any solution to climate change.
But all that pales in comparison with matters of national and global security. The Korean Peninsula nuclear issue looms large over the Obama administration, and China is the key in continuing to press the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to rejoin the Six-Party Talks. Against this backdrop, Obama must make the first major trade decision of his nascent presidency. Doug Palmer, of Reuters, lays out Obama's options well in his Aug 11 analysis. He says Obama could:
Follow the ITC's recommendations. This obviously would please his allies in organized labor, their members in the manufacturing states and the more protectionist-leaning, anti-trade Democrats in Congress. But it runs the risk of diminishing him on the world stage and angering China at a critical geopolitical time. Moreover, China may be able to contest this option before the WTO. Besides, by pursuing this course Obama could embolden other industries to file similar 421 cases, an unhappy prospect for him.
Follow in Bush's footsteps and reject the petition. This may please China but would infuriate organized labor. While it is not realistic to think organized labor would turn and support the Republicans, it could refuse to work on behalf of Obama's legislative and political agenda, thus virtually guaranteeing its demise.
Negotiate a deal with China. It is possible that the specter of tariffs may force the parties to negotiate as they have in the past to avert similar situations.
Palmer suggests the possibility that the parties cap imports at the current level. But it is doubtful whether that would be enough to assuage the USW.
There have been suggestions of a tariff "sweet spot", too - at a dramatically lower level - which would pare imports without driving up domestic prices of tires.
In his short political career, Obama has shown an ability to steer clear of divisive battles. He campaigned on a promise to bring a new era of cooperation to Washington. Weighing all these considerations, it is hard to believe he will make a decision that will alienate either a strong domestic or a global ally. At the end of the day, we can hope that back-channel diplomacy will prevail and a solution palatable to all sides can be found.
The author is Senior Vice-President of Public Affairs, Fleishman-Hillard's Washington DC office. He served in senior government roles in the Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush administrations.
PROTECTIONISM WARS CAN'T THROW UP ANY WINNERS
The US International Trade Commission's (ITC) recommendation to impose heavy tariffs on tire imports from China is a violation of free trade policy. The ITC ruling came after the United Steel Workers union (USW) filed a petition with it in April, alleging that a rise in tire imports from China had disrupted the US producers' market.
But the fact is there has been no sharp increase in Chinese tire exports to the US in recent years. China's official figures show that last year tire exports saw an increase of just 2.2 percent, and in the first five months of this year the volume actually dropped - by 17.7 percent year-on-year. US data, too, indicate that Chinese tire exports fell by 18 percent and 30 percent in January and February.
The USW alleges that five tire factories were shut down in the US and about 5,100 workers lost their jobs between 2004 and this year because of competition from China. The real reason for that, however, is the sharp fall in the demand for automobiles in the US since 2007 because of the economic crisis. This year, for example, tire sales is expected to drop by more than 40 percent to less than 10 million units.
Besides, the segment of the market the Chinese tires target is different from that of US products. US Manufacturers such as Goodyear, make high-end tires that go with new cars. On the other hand, Chinese tires are generally cheaper and used mostly as replacements, and thus do not pose a threat to those made in the US. In fact, major US tire makers decided to give up the low-end market years ago.
If there has been no sharp increase in Chinese tire exports to the US and if China-made tires target a segment different from that of US products how can they disrupt American manufacturers' market? No wonder, we have not heard any protests from US tire makers.
It seems Chinese tire producers are being targeted to fuel protectionist sentiments in the US, which is still struggling to recover from recession and battling with a 9 percent unemployment rate, the highest in more than a decade.
The ITC has sent its recommendations to US President Barack Obama, who has to make a decision on the issue before Sept 17, a week before the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh. Interestingly, world leaders decided against raising new trade barriers until 2010 at the last G20 summit in London in April. So if Obama approves of the ITC recommendations, it would be unfair on Chinese tire makers and American consumers both.
The existing tariff on Chinese tires is about 3.5 percent, which the ITC wants to be raised to 55 percent in first year, with a 10 percent drop in each of the next two years. If Obama sides with the ITC, he will virtually close America's borders to Chinese tires and render about 100,000 people employed in China's tire industry (not to talk about those working in related sectors) jobless. These are the workers who produced tires worth $2.2 billion that were exported to the US last year.
Moreover, the tariffs will force Americans to pay more for the tires. And since recession has made consumers more price-sensitive, they would defer replacing old tires, increasing the risk of accidents on roads.
It will not help create jobs in the US either because tires from other developing countries will quickly replace those being imported from China. Statistics show that for every job the protective measures may create, there will be a corresponding loss of 24 jobs, many of them in the distribution and retail chains.
In a recent interview with the 21st Century Business Herald, Mickey Kantor, trade representative in former US president Bill Clinton's administration, said: "The ruling of the ITC (against Chinese tire imports) is not consistent with facts. I believe President Obama will make a decision which is not only in line with the US economic, trade and political interests, but also conducive to US-China relations."
Kantor is not alone in hoping Obama will make the right decision of not adopting protectionist measures. US tire distributors and retailers do so, too. The US Tire Industry Association, American Coalition for Free Trade in Tires, American Automotive Trade Policy Council and the Retail Industry Leaders Association all are opposing the protectionist move.
Obama's decision by Sept 17, analysts say, will be the first major test of his trade policy toward China. But this is by no means only a trade issue. It will have a great impact on Sino-US ties in general.
It is possible that Obama will reject ITC's heavy tariff recommendation. After all, the US needs China to keep buying its Treasury bonds in order to fund its stimulus package, and work with it in many other areas for mutual benefits.
But there are some other factors that have made some analysts less certain about Obama rejecting the ITC recommendation straight away. The US is still trying to recover from the economic slump, and by rejecting the ITC tariff recommendations Obama, as a Democrat, could alienate labor unions, especially the USW, which campaigned for him during the presidential elections.
Therefore, China must prepare for the worst. Perhaps, Premier Wen Jiabao should talk with Obama about China's concern and drive home the logic of why the ITC recommendations are harmful.
If Obama imposes heavier tariff, China has the option of contesting it before the WTO. But the procedure is likely to take two to three years, during which time the Chinese tire industry will suffer a big blow.
China, it appears, doesn't have an option but to take countermeasures such as imposing high tariffs on US airplanes, beans and hi-tech products. But that's a scenario we dread to see because neither side will be a winner in such a trade war.
A US trade official at a Sino-US trade talks to prepare for China's entry into the WTO a decade ago referred to the Smoot-Hawley bill, which was passed in 1930 to raise tariffs to protect American manufacturers during the Great Depression. The bill was opposed by other major economies. As a result, international trade plunged by nearly two-thirds between 1929 and 1933, with perhaps the US suffering the most. We all know what followed after that.
At that time, the US wanted China to open its market and embrace free trade. Today, we want to remind Americans of the danger of blocking foreign products by resorting to protectionism.
As told by the author, a senior researcher at the Research Center of the Sino-US Relations at Tsinghua University, to China Daily's Yao Ying.
THE JAKARTA POST
STOP HATE SPEECH
As we welcome the police’s decision to drop their plan to monitor religious sermons for radical content, we are still left with one unanswered and fundamental question: What to do with hate sermons? We certainly can’t ignore them.
Some of the hatred and violent teachings that have led to young people becoming involved in terrorist activities, including suicide bombings, originated from mosques, hence the plan to monitor sermons. Police are simply trying to enforce article 156 of the Criminal Code that stipulates that anyone delivering hate speeches can be jailed for up to four years.
This inevitably brings us to the question of the freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the Constitution, and its limits, one of them being the law against hate speech. How do we enforce this law without violating people’s right to free speech?
Society certainly cannot remain silent in the face of the growing influence of violent ideologies that preach hatred and encourage people to attack others on the grounds of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual-orientation or economic class.
If there is one big lesson that we take from the devastating twin bomb attacks in two Jakarta hotels last month, it is that we as a nation have become too lenient in the face of such barbaric acts, and this has sent the wrong message to those engaged in hate speech and the spread of violent ideologies to continue on their radical path.
Instead of an outright condemnation, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono publicly claimed that he was being targeted by terrorists, while others tried to pin the blame on the deterioration of socio-economic conditions that make society a breeding ground for radical Islamic teachings and terrorism.
At the very least, police have been bold enough to claim that part of the problem can be sourced to mosques where violent ideologies and hatred are being freely discussed.
The idea of police vetting religious sermons however is as abhorrent as the violent messages they seek to prevent. During the Soeharto regime, many preachers were jailed for advocating hatred, not so much against other religions as against the government. The police then were nothing more than an oppressive tool used to sustain the violent regime.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with article 156 of the Criminal Code. Every nation – and especially one as racially, ethnically and religiously diverse as Indonesia –needs a law to deal with hate speeches. The article only became notorious because it was widely abused by Soeharto for more than 30 years.
Rather than relying on the police, this time around, members of the public should be encouraged to report hate speeches. This is part of their civic duty as much as their obligation to report on suspicious activities in their neighborhood. Let the court decide when free speech crosses the limit of tolerance and becomes hate speech.
Our best insurance against the spread of violent teaching and hatred is not the court, but our education system, and in a democracy, by using free speech to fight hate speech. Our society is mature and wise enough to tell what’s right and wrong.
THE MOSCOW TIMES
BLOWING AVIATION SMOKE
BY ALEXANDER GOLTS
As soon as a Russian military leader announces an ambitious weapons program for the next 10 or 15 years, you can be sure that it is little more than smoke and mirrors to create the impression that the military is modernizing its defense capabilities.
On Aug. 11, one week before the 2009 MAKS International Aviation and Space Show in Zhukovksky, Air Force commander Alexander Zelin said during a news conference that “air forces of foreign states — primarily the United States — will gain an opportunity to make coordinated, high-precision strikes on a global scale at practically all targets on the territory of the Russian Federation.” Zelin was referring to next-generation hypersonic jets that he believes are capable of flying both in space and the air at 5 kilometers per second.
But don’t be alarmed. Zelin assures us that by 2020, Russia will already have a unified system of air and space defense system — the fifth-generation surface-to-air S-500 missile — that will be able to hit enemy aircraft in both the air and space. The only problem is that a unified system is technically impossible. It defies the law of physics, according to which objects fly differently through the air and space.
But Zelin made his announcement in early August, and as everyone knows August is a cursed month in Russia. True to this tradition, a week after the general’s premonitions, two Su-27 jets collided in midair during rehearsals for MAKS. Although the pilots, members of the elite Russian Knights, were truly some of the country’s best, they were flying old Su-27 jets that date back to the 1980s. This accident says a lot about the state of the country’s “modern” military aviation.
Zelin’s pet project, the S-500, hinges on supposed U.S. plans to militarize space. But U.S. President Barack Obama recently gave his full support to Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ proposal for cutting huge, expensive military projects, including not only the F-22 fighter jet but also the quixotic space-militarization program that some U.S. hawks (and their lobbyists) had been pushing for. In his Aug. 17 speech to the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Phoenix, Obama criticized U.S. lobbyists and Congress for wasting tax dollars “with doctrine and weapons better suited to fight the Soviets on the plains of Europe than insurgents in the rugged terrain of Afghanistan. … Twenty years after the Cold War ended, this is simply not acceptable. It’s irresponsible.”
It seems that the fantasy about the U.S. ability to strike all Russian targets from space is needed only to justify spending billions of dollars in a huge, expensive air and space defense system.
As far as the MAKS air show is concerned, it seems on the surface that it produced some positive results. A contract was signed for the delivery of 64 fighters to the Air Force by 2015. Russia has decided to spend $2.6 billion on the modernization of its military aircraft. But this could hardly be called modernization. First, these fighter jets were designed in the 1980s, and they could be considered modern only in that they will be produced for the first time. But their technology and design are long outdated.
Then-President Vladimir Putin in 2006 created the United Aircraft Corporation, which combines all of the country’s civilian and military aircraft manufacturers under a government-controlled holding company, in an attempt to improve the quality and efficiency of Russia’s hobbling aircraft manufacturing sector. But during the MAKS show, Putin gave the country’s aviation industry poor marks. “Every single contract the United Aircraft Corporation has to supply aircraft to foreign and domestic customers has not led to profit, but losses,” he said.
The United Aircraft Corporation was doomed to fail from the start. Simply reshuffling a dozen or so unprofitable and highly inefficient aircraft manufacturers into one holding company alone does nothing to improve the individual enterprises within the group. It is like putting a fresh layer of paint on a decaying building. It is much easier to paint the outside of the building than to destroy the building and build a new, modern one in its place. By pitching his S-500 superproject, Zelin is just applying another layer of paint on the dilapidated building called the Russian armed forces.
Alexander Golts is deputy editor of the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal.
THE MOSCOW TIMES
BY ALEXEI PANKIN
Just as Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Viktor Yushchenko are firing angry letters back and forth at each other and Russia is refusing to send its ambassador to Ukraine, people in both countries are becoming more and more nostalgic for the socialist past.
I recently returned from Trikrata, a town of about 15,000 people in southern Ukraine that was home to a large quarry during the Soviet period. I spoke with the former workers of the quarry. While pointing out the barely visible remains of its grass-covered foundation, they said: “There were manufacturing facilities here in the Soviet days. A new cafeteria was built for the workers, and on the other side of the bank there used to be railroad tracks. But all the rails and crossties were stolen when the country switched to a market economy.”
But a couple of years ago, operations starting up again after the rainwater was pumped out of the flooded quarry. A relative of mine, a qualified engineer, was hired to work there for a monthly salary of only 700 hryvna ($90). His father-in-law, also a local resident, receives a pension that exceeds my relative’s salary threefold. When I share my impressions with other Ukrainian and Russian acquaintances, almost everyone has a similar story.
What do Ukrainian politicians think about the economic situation in the country? Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a presidential candidate in the January election, said, “Soviet health care and education were superior in quality to those in the world’s most developed countries. The Soviet system did have a lot of drawbacks, but it was effective. Now, we have nothing left to show for it but the remains of the economy and rudiments of the social sphere. If we don’t bring state health care back from the dead, the people will be deprived of their future.”
In short, it seems Yatsenyuk is setting the goal of re-establishing the standard of living that Ukraine had during the Brezhnev years by resorting to methods similar to those used by the Soviet Union to revive its ravished economy and infrastructure after World War II.
Yatsenyuk, 35, was a leading figure in the Orange coalition, former head of Ukraine’s Central Bank and foreign minister. Yatsenyuk, a liberal extremist turned preacher of a new type of socialism, is something like a Ukrainian version of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
But it will be an entirely different thing should he become president. He would realize very quickly that Ukraine cannot solve all of its problems alone. If I were in his shoes, I would unite Russia and Ukraine as one country in an Anschluss of sorts. Russians would welcome Ukrainians with open arms as their liberators from the liberal yoke. Belarus would have a role to play as well. President Alexander Lukashenko, in having saved his country from being economically destroyed under pressure from the West and East, would make an ideal foreign minister. Among Russians, Anatoly Chubais, a proven effective manager, would make an excellent chairman of the State Planning Committee, and Khodorkovsky could be in charge of social security. As for the liberal Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Medvedev, they would most likely be left without a job to speak of in this new government.
You might say that this is too utopian. But don’t forget that Yury Dolgoruky, the founder of Moscow, came from Kiev. He was the son of Vladimir II Monomakh, the great prince of Kievan Rus, under whom Kievan Rus reached the height of its power. Ukraine’s annexation of Russia would do a lot to set the historical record straight. And correcting historical injustices is quite a popular topic these days.
Alexei Pankin is the editor of WAN-IFRA-GIPP magazine for publishing business professionals.
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