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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

EDITORIAL 26.08.09

August 26, 2009

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Month August 26, Edition 000281, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

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Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal’s suggestion that the 41 school boards of the country adopt a “uniform core curriculum” for mathematics, science and perhaps commerce is eminently sensible. Multiple school boards are often justified as being representative of India’s cultural diversity. While this is understandable in terms of the social sciences — the same literature texts and history books cannot possibly be used in Assam and Uttar Pradesh — the alleged divergence in teaching the sciences and the principles of modern economics is mystifying. The abundance of boards has three consequences. First, since marking systems and curricula are different, it is impossible to standardise marks. Many States — West Bengal and Maharashtra are examples — have colleges resorting to positive discrimination in favour of State boards, on the grounds that they are more niggardly than all-India boards. This means that while in theory any Indian school graduate can go to college anywhere in the country, in practice this cannot happen. Second, the State boards are hugely uneven. According to Selected Educational Statistics: 2005-06, the compendium of Indian education numbers released by the HRD Ministry, in the year 2006, 5.02 million children appeared for class XII examinations under one or the other Indian board. Overall, 72.71 per cent passed. The range was wide — from a 94 per cent pass percentage at Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations schools to 36 per cent at Jammu & Kashmir State Board of School Education schools. Third — and this is at the heart of Mr Sibal’s concerns — there is simply no level-playing field for the plethora of admission examinations for engineering and medical colleges in India. Clearly some boards prepare their pupils better than others, or end up catering to provincial/State-level entrance examinations rather than an all-India standard. The upshot of this is medical and engineering education imparted in one State of the country could be colossally different in quality from that in the neighbouring State. While different methods of teaching and of pedagogy and different streams of specialisation and excellence are perfectly understandable, such discrepancies are not condonable. At the root of the problem is the high school system.

Education is a State subject under the Constitution. As such, State Governments are notoriously prickly when it comes to perceived intervention by the Centre. State Governments often see school education boards as vehicles for patronage. Key appointments and textbook contracts are motivated by political favouritism and in some cases kickbacks. It is unfair to expect the Union HRD Ministry to remain a silent spectator and not get involved only to protect the federal principle. If nothing else, it is incumbent upon the Central Government to bring about coordinated action to ensure that State boards provide conditions of equality to all school-leavers and potential college entrants wherever they may be in the country. This is the point Mr Sibal has been making. It cannot be wished away.

In recent years, much of the political focus when it comes to school education and curricula has been on the teaching of history. The debate over history is captivating but, for so many in the Indian middle class, rather redundant. It is a reality that engineering and medical seats are among the most sought after in India and seen as avenues for job security and mobility. It is time school boards, and the politicians who oversee them, recognised that.







In an appalling case of state apathy, orphaned children who lost their parents to terrorist violence in Jammu & Kashmir have been rendered homeless due to avoidable bureaucratic red-tape. The orphanage named Ankur that had been constructed by the Indian Army in Reasi district of the State has been closed down with the local administration failing to take over the establishment after June this year. As a result, at least 32 orphans aged between five and 16 years are without shelter, and in the absence of any alternative arrangement, are being forced to stay with their relatives. The biggest casualty has been their education. The children staying at Ankur under ‘Operation Sadbhavna’, which had given the Army sanction to manage the orphanage from January 2006 to June 2009, had been admitted into different private schools. Since Ankur shut down in the first week of August, the children have not been able to resume school after their summer vacation. The pathetic situation could have been avoided had the local administration taken over the orphanage in a timely fashion. It is tragic that the efforts initiated by the Army urging the Jammu & Kashmir State Government to take charge of the orphanage date back to February 2007 but till date haven’t borne fruit. On its part, the Army also sent a series of reminders to the State Government as follow-up of its initial communication on the subject. However, the State administrative machinery seems to have been least bothered to do anything to save the orphanage.

It is extremely unfortunate that things have come to this pass. The orphaned children deserve our compassion and support to be able to lead a normal life. The orphanage had given them a ray of hope. But the cruel indifference of the authorities has dashed their dreams. Bereft of a home, friends and school, their future has been thrown into a whirlpool of uncertainty. The entire episode not only reflects poorly on the local administration but is also a commentary on our attitude towards providing support to those who have suffered due to terrorism. For, intrinsic to fighting terror is the ability of the state to be able to take care of those who have lost the most in this fight. Given the incident in Reasi, this is an area that clearly needs work. What must be of immediate concern is the arrangement of alternative boarding and lodging facilities for the orphans and the resumption of their schooling. Whether it is the Army or the local administration, someone has to step forward, forget all bureaucratic nitty-gritty and be accountable for these children on the ground of compassion. Failing to do so would be shameful and tantamount to ruining 32 young lives.







The Union Ministry of Human Resource Development has been contemplating some bold measures, and these are in the right direction. Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal has come forth with a host of new proposals aimed at rejuvenating our ailing education system that has remained stagnant for decades. The new proposals were initially projected by the media as decisions, which created a considerable amount of confusion. Subsequent clarifications by Mr Sibal have set the tone for a national debate which, conducted without bias, prejudices and ideological compulsions, could certainly usher education reforms that are long overdue.

Mr Sibal’s reiteration at a recent conference on making board examinations optional indicates considerable seriousness on his part to bring about reforms. Everyone is familiar that wide variations exist in the standard and quality of education imparted by the various school boards. This is the main reason why CBSE schools are the most sought after. The latest proposal to move towards a uniform core curriculum must be seen as a bold initiative that could bring uniform quality and standardisation. Without this the most important role of our education system — to create equality of opportunities, access and success — can never be fulfilled.

Is a uniform curriculum really possible and feasible? It is a fact that the various boards would like to continue with the procedures they have been accustomed to for decades. When NCERT began preparing model textbooks, it was expected that this would ensure comparability of levels in teaching of every subject. It was also well understood and appreciated that in subjects like social sciences, relevant local elements pertaining to the subject would be incorporated. For example, environment studies for Class V cannot be the same in Tripura and Thiruvananthapuram.

In his latest comments, the Minister has rightly taken note of the fact and has recommended a core curriculum only for science and mathematics. Nonetheless, even in these subjects local elements do matter in terms of examples, illustrations and activities. The experience gained as to why the NCERT textbooks could not bring ‘level-equivalence’ will be pertinent in charting the way forward.

The one proposal that had caused a considerable amount of hue and cry was the abolition of the board examinations, particularly the Class X board exam. It was later clarified by the Minister that this was only an idea and that it needed to be discussed and debated before implementation. The public psyche finds it unimaginable to visualise a good life without a matriculation certificate given by one of the school boards. The matriculation examination is one of the most traumatic experiences for young boys and girls. It is equally traumatic for parents. Generally, the pass percentages in the examinations conducted by the State boards average around 40 to 50 per cent. It has been so for six decades.

The stress, strain, wastage and stagnation created by the board examinations are impossible to ascertain. These exams only assess students on the basis of their performance in school subjects and neglect their individual personality growth and value inculcation. Hence, the inadequacies of these exams have been taken under consideration by several committees and commissions.

The Kothari Commission wanted alternatives in examinations and evaluation practices. It had suggested that “a few selected schools be given the right of assessing their students themselves and holding their own final examination at the end of Class X, which will be regarded as equivalent to the external examination of the State Board of School Education”. The commission wanted a committee to be set up by each school board to select the schools for this purpose. If this recommendation had been sincerely implemented, school examinations would not have remained as stressful and torturous as they are today. The proposal could still be revived as a practical step in moving towards abolishing board examinations in due course of time.

Indeed, had the Kothari Commission’s recommendations been implemented, by now there would have been no need for board examinations. The Programme of Action 1992 very clearly indicated that “the predominance of external examinations (should be) reduced”. The issue has regularly surfaced in curriculum formulations but was equally regularly not implemented.

The much-maligned National Curriculum Framework for School Education prepared by the NCERT and released on November 14, 2000, had very strongly recommended grades instead of marks in all school examinations. It had also recommended that the system of pass and fail be completely abolished. This, unfortunately, was placed on non-academic considerations and consequently, a valuable educational innovation was lost without being properly tried out.

When Mr Sibal announced that he would like appearance in the Class X board examination to be made optional, he was only re-articulating a continuous process of bringing about reforms in examinations and evaluation practices. The panic reaction that has come from certain quarters could be because of lack of awareness, or alternatively, for reasons other than academic. Those familiar with the functioning of school boards know that they are never short of funds and facilities. Who would not like to maintain this? Several items of expenditure which otherwise could not be met from regular Government funds are passed onto the boards by the school authorities. But that is besides the point, though still very pertinent.

The idea of one common school board across the country at the Class XII level appears to disturb many. The proposal is nothing new. Once again, the Kothari Commission had suggested that the “Central Board of Secondary Education should conduct some high-standard examinations in Classes X and XII and it should be open to students of recognised schools to appear in these on their own will and get a certificate”. Such a certificate will on its own acquire a value in the market and gain in significance for admission into colleges. Obviously, after four decades, the articulation of the idea would be in a different idiom.

A major suggestion has come regarding the study of English and Hindi. Majority would appreciate this idea. One more Indian language is also a must for several obvious reasons. Fluency in at least three languages is essential. Learning one’s mother tongue helps in understanding one’s culture and learning Hindi contributes towards national integration. Whereas learning English is gradually becoming a pre-requisite in a globalised world. Any step that can check the mushrooming of poor-quality English medium schools is welcome.

One can say with certainty that the education system in post-independence India has not been deficient in envisioning policy changes. The resistance to change comes from vested interests and even the best of proposals get lost at the implementation stage. A new work culture, greater transparency and a determination to achieve goals are needed to push through the long-awaited reforms in education.







Joginder Singh cites Transparency International on corruption in India (“Let’s get rid of babudom”, August 24). Corruption index parameters reflect the priorities of those proposing them. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index is reportedly “determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys” and “the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians”.

The parameters are changeable and, for example, the ‘experts’ for 2005 were Columbia University, Economist Intelligence Unit, Freedom House, Information International, International Institute for Management Development, Merchant International Group, Political and Economic Risk Consultancy, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, World Economic Forum and World Markets Research Centre. The entire methodology is highly suspect, with a strong pro-Western bias (“nine out of every 10 developing countries” are considered corrupt), yet the index is popularly quoted around the world as an objective ranking.

In the 2008 index, India is listed at 85. The US ties with Belgium and Japan at 18. Certainly India is corrupt, and this is not a defence or exculpation of our corruption. But consider — and why not? —corruption as of the polity as a whole (and not primarily of sarkari naukars), take the amount of money that ‘experts’ assess as involved in the corruption and divide it by the population, and you'll get the country’s per capita corruption index, ie, a perception of the extent to which the culture as a whole is corrupt — surely as valid a perception as the one Transparency International uses. Then what would the rankings be?

Standard & Poor announced the global fall-out of Wallgate was $10,000,000,000,000. That is, this was the financial consequence (about a year ago; ‘experts’ estimate much higher now) of America’s Wall Street corruption alone. The US Government’s Department of Interior Inspector-General recently estimated as upwards of $ 24 trillion the cost to American taxpayers of the Wall Street bailouts. The human consequence (if only in terms of homelessness and job losses) is being ‘expertly’ assessed at higher than the ILO’s initial joblessness estimate of 210 million. In this corruption, the complicity of the US Government is undeniable.

Transparency International defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. Let us see how objectively it can rank the US in its 2009 index. India is corrupt, certainly, but the US must surely head the list.








Of late the controversy about Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s role in the partition of India has been the talk of the town. Jinnah was a self-made man who was a brilliant and fearless lawyer. In 1905, he vehemently opposed partition of Bengal on the basis of religion. He ably defended Bal Gangadhar Tilak in the famous sedition trial of 1905. He also defended Bhagat Singh. In his early years, he was both secular and nationalist. He was against mixing religion with politics and was averse to the Khilafat movement, so ardently espoused by Mahatma Gandhi. Sarojini Naidu called him the “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity”.

But the 1940s saw a complete transformation in Jinnah. He became a crusader for the pernicious two-nation theory. From a leader without any mass base, he became the ‘sole spokesman’ of the Muslims. He declared that he would have India ‘divided’ or ‘destroyed’. While announcing Direct Action Day, he asserted, “Today, we bid good-bye to constitutional methods. We have also forged a pistol and we are in a position to use it.” The ‘Great Calcutta Killing’ followed. Muslim mobs went on the rampage, killing thousands of Hindus. The Muslim League Government of Suhrawardy encouraged this killing. The calling out of the Army to restore order was deliberately delayed.

The Calcutta carnage lit the spark of the partition holocaust, in which millions were killed and millions displaced. People may trot out whatever justification they like in support of Jinnah but his encouragement of genocide to achieve his political aim is totally indefensible.

Almost single-handedly and with the benign help of the British, Jinnah carved out the state of Pakistan. He underwent another change after achieving his goal. His inaugural address to Pakistan Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947 provides a glimpse of the Jinnah of earlier days. He spelt out a vision of Pakistan as a secular, democratic, modern state in which all, irrespective of creed, would be equal citizens. During his last days, he even stated that partition was the biggest mistake of his life and he was willing to go to Delhi to meet Jawaharlal Nehru. Yet, with his approval the Pakistani Army launched the tribal invasion of Jammu & Kashmir on October 22, 1947. Hatred for India persists in Pakistan.

Based on the above facts, one may eulogise or demonise Jinnah. It is interesting that Jinnah’s inaugural address to the Constituent Assembly was kept under wraps in Pakistan for a long time. Gen Zia-ul-Haq had given special instructions to do so. It was just as well that Mr LK Advani on his visit to Pakistan referred to that address. A secular and democratic Pakistan is in the interest of India and the world.

Partition was an avoidable catastrophe. The people of the sub-continent are still suffering from its unfortunate results. There were three parties involved in what happened. These were the British, the Congress and the Muslim League. As part of their divide-and-rule policy, the British partitioned Bengal in 1905 on the basis of religion. In 1947, they followed the policy of ‘divide and quit’, partitioning the country on the same basis.

This served the strategic interests of Britain. Oil had become an important asset for both the military and the economy. Having a friendly Muslim country on the flank of the ‘wells of power’ in Muslim countries of West Asia had obvious advantage. Military bases in north-west India were of great importance in the new Great Game being played after World War II. The advance of the USSR to the south in Afghanistan and beyond had to be checked. Pakistan could also be part of the global containment ring round the USSR.

The Muslim League under Jinnah was most uncompromising, wanting partition at all costs. The Congress was opposed to partition till almost the end but some of its actions contributed towards it. Nehru’s refusal to accommodate the Muslim League in the UP Provincial Government in 1937, though constitutionally correct, fuelled Muslim separatism. His statement that the Congress would enter the Constituent Assembly unencumbered by any commitment became the last nail in the hope of retaining a unified India.

Nehru and Patel had always fervently opposed partition. Ultimately, they had to accept the inevitability of partition in 1947. Gandhi who had stated that partition would take place over his dead body was kept out of the loop of decision-making. He was presented with a fait accompli .

Nehru was a visionary who laid the foundation of a secular democracy and promoted the study of science, so essential in a modern society. He was the nation’s icon and provided stability to the country for 17 years as the head of the Government. However his disastrous management of national security in Jammu & Kashmir, Tibet and during the 1962 war with China, proved very costly.

Sardar Patel, the hero of Bardoli, surpassed Bismarck as the unifier of a nation. He was a practical leader with uncanny farsight and a remarkable capacity to take hard decisions. His experience in the Interim Government with the Muslim League and the communal tornado that had engulfed the nation convinced him that it was no longer possible to keep the country united. The nation was afflicted by a deep-rooted malignant cancer for which surgery was the only cure. He carried Nehru with him and the Congress accepted the demand for partition as an unavoidable evil.

Although India won its independence primarily through the non-violent movement led by Gandhi, the Indian Army also played a significant role. The INA galvanised the nation with a tremendous patriotic fervour and the naval and other mutinies sapped the confidence of a militarily exhausted Britain. The British now started having visions of 1857. The 1946 ‘Great Calcutta Killing’ was followed by Noakhali and the massive Hindu retaliation in Bihar. Both Hindu and Muslim troops of the Army maintained strict impartiality while restoring law and order.

However, as violence spread all over the country, by 1947 the Army began losing its impartiality. The Punjab Boundary Force, comprising soldiers of both communities, was a failure. A realist, Sardar realised that if Partition was not accepted the country would be plunged into prolonged civil war in which the Army would also be embroiled from both sides. The outcome of such a conflict would be disastrous. In recognising this reality, he did a great service to the nation.

The writer is former Governor of Jammu & Kashmir and Assam.







On the city’s edge there is a boutique spa, Vedic Village. It is not a new construction, having been around for almost a decade.

Kolkata, as everyone knows, is football mad. Therefore, tournaments, friendly and unfriendly, are routine affairs.

The carnage at Vedic Village was not a routine outbreak of football-related violence with bad losers causing havoc and the winners defending their triumph. It was a criminal attack, orchestrated by a local tough, whose meteoric rise measured in terms of the accumulated wealth is part of the pattern that rapid urbanisation via unscrupulous deals produces.

The carnage was one more incident in a growing list of episodic lawlessness. A shocked city has reacted out of fear and has blamed the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Government. The logic of the argument is that since the CPI(M)-led Left Front has been in power for over three decades, the birth and growth of criminal landsharks, described as ‘promoters’, is on account of the party. By extension, the Opposition parties are the refuge of the helpless, hapless and defenceless, in other words the exploited and oppressed.

Neither common sense nor facts matter in this situation. What matters is the perception that every ill that now befalls West Bengal originates from the CPI(M)’s uninterrupted reign of 33 years.

To argue that the boom in the realty business triggered by easier availability of credit, higher incomes from India’s growth surge and local entrepreneurship produced a volatile mix. It produced one Gaffar Molla. There are conflicting versions of who he is; security person, land shark, strong man.

Inevitably there are accusations and counter accusations about Gaffar Molla’s political affiliations. According to the CPI(M)’s daily, Ganashakti, he is a Trinamool Congress henchman. According to the ‘nonpartisan’ newspapers he is a product of the promoter raaj spawned by the CPI(M)’s reign. Dredging up the controversy over land acquisition for the new township at Rajarhat, adjacent to Salt Lake’s north-eastern fringe, it would appear that Gaffar Molla is one of many local toughs who made good via land deals.

That Gaffar Molla had political connections seems certain. That he was connected with land deals and the construction business is also certain. That he had the capacity to commit a spectacular criminal act, wrecking buildings and burning cars inside the Vedic Village, is certain.

There are many Gaffar Mollas in West Bengal as in the rest of the country. That these persons acquire patrons from within the political establishment is known. That these persons have no permanent political affiliations is also known. Therefore, the Trinamool Congress did not need to send its senior leaders, Union Minister of State Mukul Roy, MP Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar or Sabyasachi Dutta to the Vedic Village after the carnage merely to declare for the record that Gaffar Molla was not connected to the party and to imply that he was a goon nurtured by the CPI(M).

The connection between crime, politics and money is so old that expressions of shock and dismay seem a pathetic attempt at hypocrisy. Even if it is assumed that Gaffar Molla was spawned by the CPI(M), it is not implausible to assume that he may have switched loyalties (sic). If he and his ilk have not as yet dumped the CPI(M), they will no doubt do so if the Marxists lose any more elections.

This breed of entrepreneurs, that is persons who see an opportunity to make money and take it, do not require encouragement to be lawless, which is how the intervention of the Trinamool Congress and the CPI(M) can be interpreted with each side blaming the other. If the CPI(M) has bred them, the Trinamool Congress may need to contain them post-2011. Given that the Trinamool Congress is operating currently as the natural incumbent in West Bengal, the responsibility of dealing with problems like Gaffar Molla is as much theirs as it is of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.








Whenever I think that some Western country or institution has reached a low point, shortly thereafter, sometimes the very next week, another Western Government or institution proves me too optimistic.

A fortnight ago, it was the news that the Yale University Press will not allow any picture of Mohammed to appear in its forthcoming book on the Mohammed cartoons controversy. Not only will Yale not print the cartoons that are the subject of the book, Yale will not print any picture of Mohammed, no matter how respectful, no matter that a believing Muslim drew it, and no matter how long ago it was drawn.

Last week, it was Scotland’s turn to shame Western civilisation. And though it seemed impossible to outdo Yale, Scotland has.

The Scottish Government released Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the one person convicted in the mass murder of 270 people when Pan Am flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988.

As the Chicago Tribune noted in an editorial appropriately titled “Scotland’s Shame,” at al-Megrahi’s 2001 trial, the Scottish prosecutor pointed out that “400 parents lost a child, 46 parents lost their only child, 65 women were widowed, 11 men lost their wives, 140 lost a parent, seven lost both parents.”

But all these people and all their loved ones were not the recipients of Scotland’s compassion; the murderer was.

What the Scottish Government, its Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, and millions of others in the West do not understand is that, unlike justice, compassion cannot be given to everyone. If you show compassion to person X or group X, you cannot show it to person Y or group Y. Justice, by definition, is universal. Compassion, by definition, is selective.

That is why, generally speaking, Governments should be in the business of dispensing justice, not compassion. Individuals can, and often ought to, dispense compassion, not societies.

When Governments try to dispense compassion, they usually end up hurting people, as in the case of Scotland.

Allowing al-Megrahi out of prison was compassionate only to al-Megrahi, the individual least deserving of compassion, and it was an act of sheer cruelty to the ones who deserve all our compassion, his victims. The fact that al-Megrahi has terminal cancer is utterly irrelevant. He should have been allowed to die in prison. Allowing him, his family and his murder-loving supporters in Libya and elsewhere the joy of his last months/years in freedom mocks the dead, trivialises the suffering of the victims and their loved ones, and undermines justice.

The bigger tragedy, however, is that Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill and his Government are not aberrations. They are not just a few foolish individuals who happen to have power.

The Scottish Government had plenty of support, and not just among terror-loving Libyans who appropriately waved the Scottish flag alongside the Libyan.

The office of the UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, for example, had no comment. As The Scotsman pointed out, despite intense international pressure, and despite the fact that Mr Brown is hardly reticent about commenting on far less significant matters such as the death of a British reality TV star (Jade Goody), he remained silent on the Lockerbie murderer’s release.

As The Scotsman further reported, “Last night, the top story on the Downing Street website was a video message from Mr Brown to Muslims around the world for Ramadan. There was no mention of Lockerbie.”

A spokesman for the Church of Scotland, Ian Galloway, said the decision “sent a message to the world about what it is to be Scottish. ... We are defined as a nation by how we treat those who have chosen to hurt us. Do we choose mercy even when they did not choose mercy? ... I would say justice is not lost in acting in mercy.”

Galloway’s nihilistic and antinomian romanticism helps explain why so many European churches are empty.

Sir Richard Dalton, British ambassador to Libya between 1999 and 2002, also supported Scotland’s decision: “Appalling though the atrocity was that led to the deaths of 270 people, there are not good reasons why anybody convicted of that crime should be excepted from normal rules which apply for considering release on compassionate grounds.”

One can only wonder whether the morally confused are more likely to enter foreign office work or whether being in a foreign office is more likely to render one morally confused.

The BBC reports that “MacAskill accused the Libyan Government of breaking a promise not to extend a hero’s welcome to Megrahi on his return.”

That Mr MacAskill believed the Libyan Government of Muammar Gaddafi would keep a promise is just one more example of the naivete about evil that has characterised much of Europe since the end of World War I.








From time immemorial, the Ganga which enters Bihar at Chosa (Buxar) flowing through the villages of 12 districts and 52 blocks, defining the two distinct regions of north and south Bihar has been a life-giving source of drinking water and irrigation-sustaining livelihoods of millions along its 400 kilometres.

However, the picture has turned grim. Once considered a blessing, the water of Ganga with high arsenic content is now proving to be a deadly curse. According to experts, the quantity of arsenic in Haldichapra village along the banks of the Ganga is 1.8 mg/l way beyond 0.010 mg/l set by the World Health Organisation. The ground water tested at Bidupur, Vaishali district showed arsenic levels up to a staggering 7.5 mg/l, revealed another study. This was in villages within a radius of 5 kilometres of the river. In other words, the quantity of arsenic in the food chain of people has increased 50 folds.

The level of arsenic decreases with the depth of the water table. Till 60 metres, the level of arsenic is high which reduces till 200 metres below ground level and is found in negligible quantities at the level of 220 metres. It is negligible but not nonexistent.

Arsenic is a natural element found in minerals and rocks inside the earth. In rocks, it is takes the form of carbonic material which gradually gets deposited at the bottom of the river-bed through mud brought in by soil erosion. Microbes present in the muddied depths of the river bed create arsenate compounds, soluble in water. The arsenic-laden water is freely used for agriculture thus it finds its way into food cycles and eventually deposits in the human bodies.

Arsenic is not the only element which threatens human health around the region of the Ganga. In 11 districts of Bihar, water has fluoride higher than acceptable level. In other areas in northeast region of Bihar, iron content is unacceptably high in water sources.

In 38 districts of Bihar, around one crore population living in 24 districts is inadvertently consuming this lethal mix of one or all of the elements. And it is taking its toll. In vast tracts in Bihar, the prevalence of physical deformity is a chilling evidence of the presence of excessive fluoride in water. The bones of affected person are so fragile that activities, like standing, running, walking, become difficult to carry out. Dental fluorosis is another affliction, prevalent among children in the age group of 8-9 years, which attacks healthy teeth leaving them smeared with a yellowish hue. Even some adults and elderly people suffer from it with pain in gums, weakening of teeth and untimely loss of teeth.

Khaira village, Kharakpur Haveli block of Munger district, Bhupnagar village of Aamas block and Ismailpur Tola Chunavpur of Churi village panchayat in Gaya district are deeply affected. Here children are developing physical deformities. The quantity of fluoride in water sources of Kachariadeeh Muslim Tola has been found to be 2 ppm (parts per million) to 7 ppm, far higher than the surrounding villages. The number of people suffering from skeletal and dental fluorisis is the largest in these villages.

The problem, though accentuated in Bihar’s villages, is by no means is limited to the State alone. About 203 districts in 20 States, including Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, Rajasthan and West Bengal, are affected. About 66.62 million people in these States of whom about 6 million are children below the age of 14 years live their lives under this ominous shadow.

The effects of excessive fluoride in ground water first came to notice as dental and bone disease in cattle in Nellore district in Andhra Pradesh in 1930.

It has been nearly eight decades since and we have not been able to arrive at a conclusion much less a solution or a commitment to a process of finding one.

Experts now say that the water of the Ganga basin has been polluted during the last 200 years. If this is correct, then over the years we have only compounded the felony having made full use of land water for agriculture. We have, in fact, now added to the initial problem by going ahead mindlessly on a development path which is dependent on excessive use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, industrial toxins and effluents that find their way into the river.

An apathetic Government and its lack of will to find a solution have left people with no choice but to suffer.







In case developed countries attempt to shift the blame on large developing countries for their own failures on the climate change front, New Delhi needs to have a hedging strategy. And for that it would need to coordinate positions with Beijing. India's environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh, on a recent visit to China, met with Chinese authorities to discuss just such a strategy. That's timely in case the West should try to arm-twist emerging, developing countries like India and China to take on compulsory, time-bound emission cuts targets - under threat of trade sanctions and aid cuts. The recently passed US Climate Bill, for example, seeks to impose a carbon tax on goods imported from developing countries like India.

Western nations are calling for emissions reductions in developing countries but have not made credible commitments to do so themselves. This, despite the fact that the West bears both historical and current responsibility for the bulk of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Having achieved the fruits of industrialisation in more ways than one - albeit messing up the environment in the process - western nations ought to now get together to lend the less developed nations a helping hand even as they set about reducing their own emissions.

Nothing much has transpired on the promise made by developed countries to provide substantial financial aid as well as subsidised technology transfers to developing countries to help them leapfrog to cleaner development processes while simultaneously addressing poverty. In that context, New Delhi should continue with its own climate initiatives such as the solar energy project proposal and the plan to promote energy efficiency and conservation. The latter has been approved as part of the government's National Action Plan on Climate and the prime minister has declared India's intention to save 5 per cent energy annually by 2015. But it would also be wise to watch its back for unexpected ambushes by those who may wish to scapegoat it for climate change.

India has only just begun honing its negotiating skills at international climate change conferences where the tendency for long has been for large and formidable delegations from the West to take over the proceedings. Beijing, of course, could ditch New Delhi to arrive at its own climate understanding with the US or other developed western economies. But it's unlikely to sacrifice its own interests in the process. If that happens, New Delhi too could ask for a similar deal. But it needs to be clear about its priorities and develop bargaining positions on climate change, while hedging against all eventualities.







Opinions, they say, are like a certain part of the human anatomy: everybody's got one. And Web 2.0 offers everyone with an internet connection the chance to express their opinions. They can, and increasingly do, shout out on their blogs or social network profiles what they think of a book, a film or a new piece of legislation. Except for a tiny minority of opinion holders, most of these feelings, whether in the form of blogs, rants, ratings or recommendations, aren't of much use to anybody beyond the original writer and his acquaintances. Now, however, computer analysts are attempting to harness the wealth of such sentiments to figure out what consumers are thinking - or feeling - about different things. Every thought matters.

This fascinating new field of study, appropriately named sentiment analysis, attempts the more or less impossible in trying to translate human emotion into hard data. New forms of online expression offer computer scientists a tantalising window into the collective consciousness of internet users. The data they collect by analysing what people think could be used by businesses to understand what users think about their products, as well as to avoid missteps that would cause outrage online. A ticketing website reportedly used one such monitoring tool to avoid a public relations disaster, after a baseball game was affected by adverse weather conditions.

These real world applications notwithstanding, the entire exercise of quantifying human emotion remains imprecise. Most algorithms rely on simple binary analysis to decide whether people liked or disliked a product or service. For example, the word 'love' indicates a positive view, while the word 'hate' indicates, well, hate. But such analysis can't account for subtleties like irony or sarcasm. Cultural nuances and linguistic shades of grey are just so much unusable chatter to computer programs. Then there's the fact that what a computer program might identify as two distinct users is actually just one very motivated individual determined to make his point heard.

Still, sentiment analysis will only become more sophisticated from now on and might one day be able to parse human emotions into a reliable new filing system for the Web. As more advances are made in sentiment analysis, it is likely that the technology will become part of most search engines, which will make use of the aggregate sentiment of the internet crowd to yield radical results.








The excitement and euphoria of 2004 in Afghanistan has given way to resigned acceptance. Where once Hamid Karzai was the face of national unity and optimism, today he symbolises the loss of hope and momentum. His record is one of disappointment in extending the writ of the state, softening internal ethnic tensions, building durable political institutions, achieving measurable economic development, and lately even protecting basic women's rights.

Disenchantment, intimidation and attacks did not abort but did suppress voting this time around. The turnout is estimated to be between 40 and 50 per cent of the 17 million registered voters, down from 70 per cent of the 10 million in 2004. Few Afghans expect the result to change the chaotic structure of government, the ramshackle delivery of services, lack of public safety and human security, pervasive corruption, and Taliban militancy. The reality of a dysfunctional state will persist.

The liberal peace paradigm can collide with enduring local realities and with its own internal contradictions. By placing a premium on tribal mobilisation, elections can harden sectarian cleavages. This is particularly the case with the winner-take-all outcome of presidential governments. The country must be able and willing to install representative democracy through a regime change, which habitually supports a system that militates against power-sharing arrangements needed for post-conflict reconciliation.

The desire for presidential government among many Indians betrays a double frustration: with the lack of authority in New Delhi and the weakening of the central government under challenge from states. Cabinet government produces policy drift and incoherence; a presidential government, proponents believe, would help to restore order to a troubled country, and accelerate the pace of the country's development.

Collegial cabinets have proven incapable of taking decisive action when faced with urgent demands. The result has been an inefficient, lax and demoralised administration. The cabinet is incapacitated because it is subject to a multitude of pressures from contrary directions. The American president is more effective because power vests in one person. The executive, being independent of the legislature, can be more single-minded in its pursuit of the national interest free of the debilitating distractions of vested interests.

Such a picture of the US president is too idealised. The chief goal of the framers of the American constitution was not to create expansive and powerful government, but to limit it. Worries about paralysis of government were subordinate to fears of tyrannical government.


In fact, the US fractures the powers of government among the three branches of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. A decisive and politically skilled head of government has less checks on authority in a parliamentary than a presidential system: think of Indira Gandhi in India or Tony Blair in the UK. Cabinet governments are also more likely to have legislative majorities to implement policy programmes. Some presidents in the Philippines and Indonesia have not been notably more decisive and effective than the more ineffectual prime ministers in India.

In presidential systems, the president and the legislature can both invoke the mantle of democratic legitimacy. In the event of a clash between them, there is no democratic means of resolving differences of policy. This can be especially acute if the legislature is controlled by a different party. The president, claiming independent authority and popular mandate, has no reason to defer to the legislature, and indeed will be perceived as weak for doing so. He will be tempted to confuse executive-legislative clashes as a battle between the national interest of the president and the narrower interests of opposition legislators.

Another reason for the stability of parliamentary regimes in many European countries lies in the separation of the executive (head of government) and ceremonial (head of state) functions: In the language of the legendary British journalist Walter Bagehot, the separation of the ''dignified'' and ''efficient'' functions of government.

A fixed term makes presidential systems correspondingly more rigid. A president can be removed from office only by the uncertain, drastic and divisive process of impeachment. Parliamentary systems confer greater flexibility through the simpler expedient of votes of confidence on the floor of the House: Governments can be formed and re-formed to reflect changing political realities or alignments. Superficially, the constant changeover of governments might project an image of volatility and instability. In fact, such flexibility prevents the crisis of a particular government being converted into a crisis of regime: the ouster of a prime minister poses no threat to democracy itself.

Parliamentary democracy can be more stable especially in societies riven by deep social and political cleavages. Parliamentary regimes have built-in mechanisms for power-sharing in such circumstances, for example through coalition governments. They place a higher premium on the political skills of bargaining and consensus building. Coalitions can offer effective and continuous representation to a variety of interests that are shut out of a presidential administration.

The prime minister is first among equals; the president has no equal. Parliamentary systems are better protection than presidential ones against bad and incompetent heads of government. It may be time for another regime change in Afghanistan.


The writer is director of the Balsillie School of International Affairs, Waterloo, Canada.







What's been your experience with the government?

Unlike other abusive states, the Indian state is simply uncaring and takes the 'band aid' approach ignoring the problem till it erupts. There is a culture of impunity and of covering up. In Manipur, for example, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act has created a force, which believes it is not accountable.

In 2004, Manorama Devi was picked up by the Assam Rifles and found dead five hours later. The prime minister promised justice, and a repeal of the law. But nothing's happened. For a Manipuri, what does this mean? That the prime minister does not even remember his promise. Manipur has become a lawless state. In Kashmir, people defied boycott calls and voted; Kashmiri Muslims are still defensive about the Pandits. In Manipur, there's no such space. The state has lost its legitimacy because it can neither provide justice nor safety to its citizens. People are forced to seek the protection of militant groups.

Militants don't care much for human rights either.

In our Kashmir report, we did a section on human rights abuse by the militants. By and large, people find it difficult to criticise the armed groups in Kashmir and Manipur, both out of fear and loyalty. But it helps that we are an international organisation. Using us, people can get their view of the militants' brutalities across. But then there's a Shopian and a Sanjit encounter and we're back to square one. Both the CMs of Kashmir and Manipur initially accepted the police version of these cases, despite knowing the record of their forces. There needs to be a strong political message to the forces that they will be held accountable. That will only happen if those responsible are prosecuted.

Is that possible?


I'm hopeful. When we released our Kashmir report, the army called me for a four-hour meeting. While there was initial disagreement, in the end our allegations were accepted as fair. It's not as if abuse is inevitable. When a Rashtriya Rifles camp is set up, the commander is like a zamindar. If you have a professional commander, there are rarely any protests. The goodwill towards the uniform increases dramatically.

Now the Rashtriya Rifles are to counter the Naxalites in Chhattisgarh.

In Chhattisgarh, the state is completely responsible for the Naxalites having gained so much ground. What sort of government unleashes a vigilante group like the Salwa Judum? At least 80,000 adivasis were forced to live in camps, their lives destroyed. But the state's only response is we must deal with the Naxalites. They have no intelligence network, how will they get information about the Naxalites? Civilians are bound to suffer. But we must acknowledge that the Naxalites too have used civilians forcibly as cooks and porters, and to extract information.






I am building a memorial to myself. I have found no one else as worthy as i. The whole exercise is a little premature, but then, being a perfectionist, one would rather finish the work while still alive, possessing a brain and able to spend all that my government earns. After my death, the children are likely to fight amongst themselves and with distant relatives and forgotten friends. I have a good lawyer who has sorted out things free of cost, all for the love of me and my position. I have bought 300 acres of prime land just outside my village, at bargain price. The plaza has been paved with the finest granite and a landscaper has marked 15 spots for my and Taplu ke Papa ki moortis. We have not forgotten our cocker spaniel, Stella, whose likeness will be in black marble. Woh aur main are being sculpted in pink sandstone, for me, and red sandstone for him. I am unveiling a sample of each in the garden of my official residence tomorrow. Proper bandobast has been made by the concerned departments.

I shall arrive on an elephant, decorated and painted by mahouts from Rajasthan - the elephant, that is, not me. My spouse will hold a bejewelled umbrella over my head as he sits on the howdah behind me. My see-through dress is made by an ethnic designer whose name shall not be revealed. He hides all the imperfections of my body parts. I shall carry a Gucci bag on my arm. Officials will greet me with the largest sandalwood garlands, so as not to spoil my hair, specially flown in from Chennai. These will be held up by two strong men, encircling my face for photo finish by waiting photographers. I am waiting to be weighed in gold but as i am a little healthy, some more bags of the precious metal will have to be collected from volunteers. The dignitaries have been told not to sprinkle rose water on my hair as one is not sure if the gel is water resistant. Some one did suggest quick-fix, but with the milawat these days, one was not sure of its quality either. The stone miners and shilpkaars of Rajasthan have blessed me for turning them into crorepatis. The women of my state call me 'mata' as one has returned their 'looti huey maryaada'.









Despite belonging to the sangh parivar, does the BJP lack family values? And is it this that is responsible for its downfall? With Arun Shourie having joined the war within, the BJP seems to be on full self-destruct mode. Shourie - who reportedly likened the BJP to a 'kati patang' and its leadership to 'Humpty Dumpty' and 'Alice in Blunderland' - has called upon the Lotus's ideological mentor, the RSS, to take over the party. A vocal advocate of Hindutva and 'cultural nationalism' - the core philosophy of the RSS and, supposedly, of the BJP - Shourie may be barking up the wrong tree. The current schism within the BJP, seemingly precipitated by Jaswant Singh's book praising Pakistan's Jinnah, is less about ideology and more about personality.


Jaswant Singh's endorsement of Jinnah may indeed have raised saffron hackles. But was that in itself enough to expel him from the party? After all, hadn't L K Advani made similar commendatory remarks about Jinnah four years ago during a visit to Pakistan, and got away more or less unscathed?


This suggests that Jaswant Singh's ouster is based not on ideological grounds (his espousal of Jinnah) but on his personal equations in the ongoing power struggle within the BJP. Ever since Atal Bihari Vajpayee bowed out - or was made to do so by advanced age and physical infirmity - the leadership issue within the BJP has been a bone of contention. Even as Advani - Vajpayee's long-time rival and self-styled 'Iron Man' of the BJP - was anointed as party leader, and now leader of the opposition, younger elements within the organisation have long been jockeying for power.


Whatever the eventual outcome, the BJP's current plight carries one clear message: more so than ever before, in Indian politics today ideology counts for nothing, and the cult of personality counts for everything. Politics in India means the politics of personality. A similar lesson is being learnt at the other end of the political spectrum by the CPM, which along with the BJP got a drubbing in the last polls. The Marxists' anti-US, anti-free market ideological stance at the Centre (as represented by Comrades Karat and Yechury) was at total dissonance with Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's pro-industry and pro-capital misadventures in Nandigram and Singur. With no charismatic leader for it to rally around, the communists are a sinking ship. A ship, moreover, which has been scuttled by Mamata Banerjee, whose Trinamul Congress amply demonstrates that politics is not about ideology but idolatry, the object of veneration in this case being the fiery Mamatadi.


The Congress - the Grand Old Party of Indian politics - has long understood this fundamental truth. Since the time of Indira Gandhi - who split the party so as to make her faction her personal fiefdom - the Congress party's only ideology - never mind all that mumbo-jumbo about aam aadmi that sometimes has to be spouted for form's sake - has been preserving power within the Family. Consummate politician that she was, Indira (Indira is India and India is Indira) realised that the country was too economically and socially diverse for any abstract ideology (socialism, capitalism, Hinduism, secularism) to get its vote. The only thing which could do that was India's innate belief in family values, handed down in dynastic succession.


Forget ideology, whether it's Hindutva or Marxism; ideology doesn't work in Indian politics. What works is politics as family business, with a clear line of succession. Amma, who succeeded to the undisputed throne of the AIADMK after MGR, is proof of this. And even more so is the successor of Kanshi Ram, who has put up so many effigies of herself that her BSP should more properly be renamed Behenji's Statue Party.


The BJP should learn family values from these examples. The Bharatiya Janata Parivar, guys?









There is a Nero-like quality to the BJP as it grapples with how to portray its relationship with the phantom figure of Mohammad Ali Jinnah while the party is busy imploding. After steadying the boat somewhat during the last Parliament session by making itself visible as an opposition party, the BJP ship is on the brink of capsizing. If Jaswant Singh’s Jinnah book has become a lightning rod for individuals within the BJP to play defence counsels for their party’s ideology, the party’s chintan baithak (thought meeting) last week was significant for showcasing the BJP’s rudderless trajectory. Instead of dealing firmly with the likes of a rebellious Vasundhara Raje, the party leadership preferred a cover-up by making a brouhaha over Mr Singh’s book on Jinnah. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that expelling the senior BJP leader from the party was a move to digress from the party’s much more serious existential crisis.


The irony that L.K. Advani was also booed from the BJP gallery for his infamous ‘Jinnah is secular’ remarks in 2005 can’t be lost. The RSS leadership has openly been talking of sidelining Mr Advani since the BJP’s bad showing in the parliamentary elections earlier this year. The real problem with the BJP is whether it can agree on its own identity in a post-Hindutva, post-Advani scenario. Arun Shourie’s latest tirade against the BJP leadership is part and parcel of this severe identity crisis. Mr Shourie wants the RSS to clean up the mess and take ‘control’ of the party. The RSS itself is reportedly keen and ready to replace not only the  top leadership of the BJP, but also the ‘second rung’ with people it has already chosen for a ‘clean-up’ job. But what will such a notional ‘damage control’ entail for a party that has been hurtling away from its own support base that has traditionally seen the BJP as an anti-Congress, anti-Left force rather than a retrogressive one peddling ‘hard Hindutva’? An RSS ‘takeover’ will certain win shakha votes, but spell doom for a 20th century parliamentary political party that should be looking to establish its ground in 21st century India.


The country needs a strong national opposition party. The ‘party with a difference’ is now exposed as a collection of coteries and cabals fighting a war of personal survival. In this dire situation, the BJP seems less like ‘Humpty Dumpty’ or ‘Alice in Blunderland’ — Mr Shourie’s colourful descriptions of Rajnath Singh and the party leadership respectively — and looking more perilously like another famous Lewis Carroll character: the Cheshire Cat — the tubby cat that slowly disappears leaving nothing but its grin.












Sex, we learn from the Silvio Berlusconi episodes, is an addiction that can be cured in a clinic. The Italian premier is being nudged by his inner circle to go in for rehab, says the biography of Silvio’s long-suffering wife Veronica. Some would argue that Signor Berlusconi, at 72, needs a medal, not a cure. But they wouldn’t be fiery Latins, would they? The Berlusconi hind, after all, occupies a seat graced by the likes of Caligula. Have a heart, we say to all those clamouring for a pop at a sex clinic. Good old Silvio by descent, and periodic ascents, is a hostage of history.


The non-Roman world isn’t unfamiliar with this latest form of substance abuse either. Great leaders — from Ghengis Khan to Mao Zedong — have gone to great lengths to establish their greatness in the sack. What an anti-climax if the court shrink were to suggest to, say, Jalaluddin Akbar that he needed his head examined periodically. Think of the loss to architecture if there were no harems to house — the Forbidden City reduced to a two-bedroom flat.


Politicians prosecuting their art in an era of the Freudian slip are a harassed lot. The conduct of statecraft has, with equivocal wisdom, moved from the serene calm of the bedchamber to halls filled with very noisy people. All hope is not lost, however, as long as a Berlusconi, or a Clinton, or a Kennedy emerges among the grey flannel suits that run the affairs of mankind today.








The current drought affecting several parts of India is merely a symptom of a growing problem that this country must address with forward vision. Lack of access to good quality and adequate quantity of water for the citizens of India renders meaningless progress in all other fields. There are varying estimates of total useable water resources in the country, but the consensus clearly points to a quantity below 1,000 billion cubic metres, which translates into water availability per capita far below the scarcity benchmark of 1,000 cubic metres. Demand in the future will grow rapidly with increase in irrigation, rapid industrialisation and greater household consumption, particularly with rapid urbanisation.


While the current drought represents a large-scale crisis, several local emergencies have been occurring in India for some years now. Often, costly measures and temporary solutions are implemented such as transporting water by train to parched areas, water tankers plying in both rural and urban areas, often with massive leakages en route. It is unfortunate that we only wake up when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration informs us about declining water tables, while numerous studies in India highlighting this problem have largely been ignored.


Problems of water supply would be exacerbated further with climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) projected widespread loss of mass from glaciers and reduction in snow cover throughout the 21st century, reducing water availability, hydropower potential, and changing seasonality of flows in regions supplied by meltwater, including the Hindu-Kush and Himalayan range. Available research also projects a significant increase in heavy rainfall events in many regions, including some in which the mean rainfall would decrease. As a result, increased risk of floods would pose challenges to society affecting physical infrastructure and water availability.


India’s record of managing water resources does not cover us with glory. In 1995, Teri undertook a detailed exercise to evaluate how India had managed its natural resources in the first 50 years of independence. This massive exercise, which apart from evaluating the damage and degradation in key natural resources like water, forests, soil, air and biodiversity concluded that India was losing over 10 per cent of its GDP annually from environmental costs. When these results were presented in a major public function to the then Prime Minister,  I.K Gujral, he commented that these “should jolt us into action”.


However, over the years not enough has been done to deal with this growing malaise. Sadly, India’s major river systems are all dead, incapable of supporting any life, and actually lethal sources of disease. Despite several thousands of crores of expenditure our rivers remain sewers with depleted water flow.


Solutions lie in managing the uses of water rather than focusing only on enhancement of supply. In this regard, pricing of water for a range of uses including agriculture is of critical importance. Highly subsidised electricity tariffs not only promote inefficient pumpsets but also overexploitation of groundwater resources. TERI assessed groundwater resources several years ago and found that in districts like Mehsana in Gujarat and several in Karnataka the water table had dropped to a level that all drinking water wells had turned dry compelling villagers to look elsewhere for drinking water.


In towns and cities there is substantial wastage in transportation of water, and in the domestic, industrial and commercial sectors. Industrial recycling of water could be achieved through appropriate regulations as well as price incentives and disincentives. Research on new crops and practices should also be undertaken to make agriculture drought proof. There is also need for reviving indigenous water management practices and institutions. These institutions functioned effectively for several centuries prior to colonial times. Sadly, the country’s independence did not bring a turning point in this regard.

We have now reached a crisis, which can only be solved through focused attention at the macro level for the country as a whole, and going directly to the grassroots for workable solutions. It is essential for the government to adopt long-term measures, including water storage and transport structures and effect institutional changes by which such crises, which will become more serious in the future, do not lead to large-scale human suffering and social disruption.


R. K. Pachauri is Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Director-General, The Energy & Resources Institute (Teri)








How bad is the drought in India? Indicators of  a crisis in the countryside — distress sale of cattle, scarce water and fodder, failure of crops — have recently been vividly described by  P. Sainath, the eminent rural affairs editor of The Hindu newspaper and author of the bestseller Everybody Loves a Good Drought. Truckloads of cattle are leaving villages, a situation which the country has not witnessed in the last 25 years, while ten states have already declared 246 districts as drought-affected.


How the parameters of drought are defined in India, because of this crisis, has become a matter of discussion in university classrooms. History students, for instance, are deeply interested in how these parameters have changed. More than a 100 years ago, the Irrigation Commission had considered that the year in which the deficit of rainfall was upwards of 40 per cent would be a drought year.


Today, as economist Bibek Debroy explains, three types of drought are recognised: a meteorological drought when rainfall is either deficient (20 per cent below normal) or scanty (60 per cent below normal), a hydrological drought where there is a depletion of surface water, and an agricultural drought where there are crop shortfalls. Indices show that drought conditions of all three types can be seen in many parts of India.


If, on the one hand, changing definitions are being examined, a more serious issue is how the  government plans to deal with this drought. My colleagues in the Delhi School of Economics (DSE), for instance, have pointed out that while the drought is unlikely to be as severe as the drought of 2000-01, the government has reacted slowly. It needs to swiftly put specific measures in place — advice which they hope will be taken seriously by our economist prime minister who also taught at the DSE in 1970s.


But more than what the government proposes to do — and what has caught public attention — is how the Congress party aims to earn some brownie points from the drought. All national newspapers prominently carried a story on August 20 about the Congress ordering a 20 per cent salary cut for its elected functionaries because of drought conditions. This includes members of state legislative Assemblies and mPs belonging to the party. This austerity message was strongly underlined in newspaper reports which said that the party meeting decided that “the way we conduct ourselves in our private and public life must reflect our concerns for the less fortunate”.


Ironically, newspapers that published this story also carried advertisements issued by government ministries on the birthday of Rajiv Gandhi, which too happens to fall on August 20. Considering the obscenely extravagant scale of these advertisements — two of the leading English language newspapers carried as many as 15 and 11 such ads respectively — crores of public money must have come out of government coffers for the birthday blitz. It must have also cost much more than what the party-ordered salary cut can possibly save.


Perhaps it is time for Sainath to write a sequel called ‘Preaching Austerity and Practising Profligacy in the Time of Drought’.


Nayanjot Lahiri teaches at the Department of History, University of Delhi








The thunder of the powerful Ferrari engines, the smell of burnt rubber, the flash of colour, the tumultuous applause and those steely-eyed men in their speed machines. All this could have been an asphalt track away for us but for our ministry of sports.


No Formula 1 for India, it has decreed, so go rev up your engines elsewhere. Why pick on Formula 1, you might ask. Elementary, dear lover of elite sports, it is not purely sports, it is entertainment, says the ministry. So put that in your exhaust pipe and smoke it.


At the risk of being lynched by F1 lovers, we have to say the ministry has got its priorities right. We need to develop other sports and who better than our officials to do the trick. And, mind you, we have unique methods of developing sports. For a start, we will have none of that pusillanimous mollycoddling our athletes or talent spotting. Our way is to get the potential candidate to make the rounds of various sporting organisations at times when they are not engaged in such exercises as study tours to the Outer Hebrides and beg on bended knee to be given a try.


Okay, that over, the potential sportsperson must show evidence of grit and stamina and see to his own diet and training. As for accommodation, he or she can doss down in those havens provided by the sports authority, never mind that you may be sharing the room with others of your ilk and assorted furry animals. All the better to put some spine into you.


Keeping in mind that our sportspersons are our ambassadors abroad, a little training in etiquette is also imparted. This takes the form of sportspersons serving tea and snacks to visiting officials.


As for F1, it can wait. We are developing our own indigenous version on our roads. This involves far more daredevilry than some namby-pamby like Lewis Hamilton could dream of. To make a death-defying dash past hundreds of motorists on roads which are no more than six feet wide calls for skill, determination and several pithy abuses. Far more entertaining than some clinical F1 where you have to play by the rules. Care for a spin anyone?










Any cartoon aficionado knows the stock situation where someone’s falling off a cliff, and remains suspended until made aware of his situation. And then, Splat! The BJP seems to be trying very hard not to notice its own dire situation right now, its sudden disintegration from a daunting and credible opposition party to Farce Central.


Unable to process the hard knocks of this election, the party has lurched from non-issue to non-issue. Instead of playing the role that befits it as the second-largest party with 116 seats entrusted to its care, the BJP has passed up every chance to intervene on crucial matters of economy or foreign policy. Many thoughtful voices among the party faithful have spoken out about its manifest failure to forge a new governing philosophy, but they have immediately been identified as cranks and outliers, and sidelined by the party leadership. Jaswant Singh and Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha and well-wishers like Brajesh Mishra or Sudheendra Kulkarni are not out to gratuitously undercut the party — their rational disagreement is not treason, it is the productive tension that animates politics. The BJP has definitely got itself into an intellectual and political cul-de-sac if it cannot acknowledge these inputs, and instead, turns on them so destructively. The BJP’s brittleness is evident in the way it has lately disregarded institutional propriety (from Jaswant Singh’s unceremonious expulsion to the way the central leadership has appeared to abet state infighting, whether in Uttarakhand or Rajasthan). In Jaswant Singh’s case, it displayed its existential confusion by taking offence at a thesis that is in no way insupportable to its ideology. And by doing so, it displayed how frighteningly narrow its intellectual horizons are becoming. Contrary to the reform-oriented, constructive positions it pitched in its manifesto, the BJP seems to be systematically silencing every freethinking voice. If this is the lesson that emerged out of its long introspection, it seems patently wrong-headed.


The BJP steered a solid coalition by enlarging its vision and accommodating a spectrum of centre-right opinion, not by focusing tightly on a “core message”, whatever that might be in its view. The most damaging fact is that the BJP has not been able to communicate a cogent politics to anyone, not even erstwhile fellow-travellers and supporters. And this new paranoid, inward-looking avatar is certainly unlikely to win it any more political ground.









American Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to reopen about a dozen cases of alleged detainee abuse by the CIA, and the appointment of a special prosecutor to that effect, with the possibility of prosecutions has just begun a complex chapter in US history that is a political tinderbox. Barack Obama, despite making torture a campaign issue, has demonstrated a political pragmatism focused more on the future than the past. While his reluctance to deal with the Bush-era ghosts promised him bipartisan support on the economic battlefront, it was not going down well with his party’s left, who do not quite fear Republican investigations into Democratic administrations when power changes hands again. So Obama is now confronting that past.


At the heart of the matter is a 2004 CIA inspector general’s report that concluded that “unauthorised, improvised, inhumane and undocumented” interrogative methods were used on suspected Al-Qaeda members. The Bush administration didn’t quite read the report as raising moral and legal concerns about interrogative practices, but their effectiveness. The Obama administration has clarified that its interpretation is different; and ignoring CIA protests, partially declassified that report on Monday. Furthermore, it has decided to create a multi-agency interrogation unit under the FBI, stripping the CIA of its interrogative powers for important terror suspects, although CIA officials will still be involved. Ever since CIA Director Leon Panetta’s recent disclosure that former Vice President Dick Cheney had instructed the agency to hide a secret operation from Congress, the opening of the can of worms had seemed inevitable to many. The report reveals CIA agents threatening to kill a suspect’s children or sexually assault another’s mother, to say nothing of excessive use of “techniques” such as “waterboarding”.


The report also cites the lack of adequate guidelines as a cause of the excesses, guidelines which reportedly improved over time; but while it concludes that detention and interrogation prevented further terror, it’s not sure at all about the efficacy of the techniques. Panetta has told CIA employees that the “challenge is not the battles of yesterday, but those of today and tomorrow” in light of the report’s release. The investigation will be watched globally, and closely — for reasons technical, legal and political.









In case you didn’t know it already, scriptwriter, lyricist and poet Javed Akhtar can do many things with words: entertain, enthral, entrap. “If Muslims were to fear Allah even 10 per cent of the fear they have of fellow Muslims, it would make them better Muslims and more sensible human beings too,” I have heard him say in public gatherings of Muslims in Mumbai, Delhi, Lucknow, Kanpur, Allahabad, Hyderabad, Aligarh Muslim University. The spontaneous response to this apparently provocative statement everywhere is assenting nods, sheepish smiles, loud guffaws.


What Javed Akhtar keeps saying in public, a top drawer maulana from the Jamiat-ul-ulema-e-Hind told me in private last year. “The biggest hurdles before us,” he said, “are the Urdu press (read Muslim media) and Muslim leaders.” In the name of Islam anything goes. And he who dares utter the dissenting word had better beware!


But if Muslims are so terrified of fellow Muslims, what so frightens the Law Commission of India as to prefer public embarrassment to plainspeak? The commission’s 277th report, recently made public, observes that the “traditional understanding of Muslim law on bigamy is gravely faulty and conflicts with true Islamic law in letter and spirit”. Well said. But look where it goes from there. It proposes a new clause in Hindu family law to abort sham conversions purely for bigamy’s sake but, mindful of something called “religious sensibilities”, stays totally mum about what must necessarily be done with the country’s Muslim Personal Law.


Dr Tahir Mahmood, a jurist specialising in Islamic Law, Hindu Law, Religion and Law and Law Relating to Minorities, is one of the commission’s members. There can be no doubt that he is party to if not the prime inspiration behind its observations on bigamy in Islam. Spare a thought for the man: it has been more than apparent for some years now that he is torn between his conscience and his community. His knowledge of Islam tells him that sections of the Muslim Personal Law are anything but Islamic. His knowledge of the Muslim world including the Islamic states also tells him that country after Muslim country has introduced wide-ranging reforms, often with the concurrence of the mullahs, in recent decades.


For example, the minimum age for marriage for a girl is 16 years in Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia and Malaysia; 17 years in Lebanon, Syria and Tunisia; and 18 in Algeria, Morocco and Jordan. But the All India Muslim Personal Law Board in its wisdom demanded some years ago that Muslim girls in India be exempted from the provisions of the law restraining child marriage.


Polygamy is banned in Tunisia, Turkey and Lebanon (for some sects) while it is severely restricted in others. Pakistan permits second marriage under certain conditions but only after following specified procedures that include convincing the Union Council that the husband has the prior consent of his current wife. In Malaysia, a man may marry again only with consent from a Shariah Court. In Indonesia, women who are public servants are prohibited from becoming a second wife. In addition to following regular permission procedures, a male government servant must obtain the permission of his superiors before marrying a second wife. Formal court procedures are obligatory for second marriages in Bangladesh, Singapore and Philippines. In the early ’90s, a division bench of the Dhaka high court comprising of two Muslim judges ruled that, read in the modern context, the Quranic injunction on marriage can only have one meaning: monogamy. In a changed political climate however, the judgment was set aside by the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. The privileged Indian Muslim male, however, is under no constraint whatsoever. To top it all, a fatwa issued in Hyderabad two years ago held that it is perfectly Islamic for a Muslim male to marry four women in one go!


Algeria, Indonesia and Tunisia do not recognise talaq (a husband’s unilateral right to end a marriage). Divorce is possible only through the courts. In Morocco, talaq is subject to strict judicial control. In Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia and Syria you have to apply for permission to divorce. Besides, in most of these countries, a reconciliation attempt is mandatory prior to divorce. In Iran, two witnesses are essential for a talaq. Only in India does the Muslim male enjoy the unquestioned right of instant (triple) talaq. Whether sober or dead drunk, in a fit of anger or on a mere whim, he can do so when he likes, how he likes: orally face-to-face, letter, telegram, telephone, fax, e-mail or SMS.


In Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey, both parents have equal rights in child custody and guardianship on divorce. In India, however, the father enjoys the “natural right” over children. In terms of gender justice, Morocco, a hereditary monarchy, is perhaps the best place for a Muslim woman today. With the new family code, introduced by King Mohammed VI in October 2003 and unanimously adopted by the parliament in February 2004, Moroccan men and women are now equal partners in marriage. The husband is no longer “head of the family”; both husband and wife now have joint responsibility for the family.


In short, paradoxical as it sounds, in secular India Muslim women have far less rights than their counterparts in numerous Muslim countries. Being a learned man and a believing Muslim, Dr Mahmood cannot but be painfully aware of this rampant male-centrism in Islam’s name. What can he do? In the midst of so many Muslims either blissfully ignorant of the faith they adore or sworn to the Hypocrisy Oath, he thinks it prudent to measure his words.


India’s Mr Muslim proudly proclaims there is no place for the clergy in Islam. Yet, he is happy to “outsource” all knowledge of Islam to the very clergy whose existence he questions. As a result he knows little about Islam except that it is the only valid passport to paradise. Armed with this certainty, he is content being a hostage of the maulvi sahib and his male chauvinist Islam. This gender unjust Islam, Mr Muslim, is something to be ashamed, not proud, of.


The writer is co-editor, ‘Communalism Combat’, and general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy









Dissolving the legislature and calling for fresh elections is always a calculated risk for a ruling party. In Haryana, Bhupinder Singh Hooda has done so, but the word “risk” hardly fits the political equation in the state. The race to the Haryana assembly isn’t really an open race and the Congress’s sweep in the recent parliamentary elections raises questions about the conventional wisdom, which stated that the Congress tends to lose when there is a strong alliance against it. It’s true that since the first election held in the state in 1967, all anti-Congress alliances performed very well — Janata Party in 1977, Lok Dal-BJP alliance in 1987, HVP (Haryana Vikas Pary)-BJP alliance in 1996 and the INLD (Indian National Lok Dal)-BJP Alliance in 2000. But in 2009, despite a fairly well-tuned INLD-BJP alliance, the Congress swept the state. The National Election Study 2009 (NES 09) conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies reveals that majority of voters in Haryana express a high level of satisfaction with the Hooda government. His government is rated much better than the previous Om Prakash Chautala led INLD-BJP government and the general perception is that the state government has delivered.


This, along with the personal popularity of the chief minister, gave the Congress an excellent opportunity to counter the logic of anti-incumbency; early elections come as no surprise.


However, there are larger shifts taking place in the politics of Haryana that have facilitated the Congress’s consolidation. Politics in Haryana has traditionally been dominated by Jats, who constitute more than one-fourth of the electorate. Till about a decade ago the INLD, and before that the Lok Dal, got a majority of the Jat votes, while the Congress depended on a consolidated non-Jat vote. Even popular Jat leaders like Bansi Lal could not pull Jat votes from the Lok Dal under the leadership of Devi Lal. An alliance with the BJP, a party with a very limited urban and upper caste vote base in Haryana, gave the INLD the necessary edge over the Congress.


This gradually started changing from the 2004 parliamentary elections as the gap between the Congress and INLD among Jat voters started narrowing. This gap further narrowed in the 2005 assembly election, which was the first state election in which the Congress registered a two-thirds majority.


An analysis of the NES 09 data reveals that in the 2009 parliamentary election the gap between the Congress and the INLD-BJP alliance came down to just four percentage points. The alliance’s lead among upper castes was only 5 percentage points — too small for a core support base. Other than Jat and upper caste voters the INLD-BJP alliance trailed behind the Congress in all communities.


The data also indicates that the INLD and BJP could not transfer enough votes to the alliance. When respondents in NES 09 were asked whom will they vote for in the forthcoming assembly election, 47 per cent said the Congress, 5 percentage points more than the parliamentary election. The INLD seems to be set to get 18 per cent, over 2 percentage points more than what it got, while the BJP might suffer marginal losses. This could mean a clean two-thirds majority for Hooda.


This might give a further boost to the already high spirits of the Congress, and the breaking of the INLD-BJP alliance will certainly add to the party’s momentum. Nevertheless, the Congress needs to watch out for the HJC (Haryana Janhit Congress) and BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party). The HJC has a strong presence in the Bhiwani region and its leader Bhajan Lal draws considerable support from upper castes and Upper OBCs. The HJC could play spoiler in a few seats there. The BSP is a formidable threat to the Congress, as nearly 63 per cent of Jatavs in the state reported that they would vote for the BSP in the coming assembly elections. In the recent parliamentary election the BSP got nearly 16 per cent which means that it has crossed the threshold of viability. In seats with a substantial Dalit population the BSP could play spoiler.

The BJP still has a long road ahead in Haryana and it needs to move beyond its traditional urban and upper caste support base in order to be a strong player beyond playing spoiler. Meanwhile, the INLD needs to look at newer social and political alliances. Its alliance with the BJP has ceased to do it any good. With its presence among Jats, the INLD could seriously look towards the BSP as a potential ally. Given the degree of social tensions between Dalits and Jats at the ground level, it might be difficult to transfer votes to each other, but such an alliance is the most viable way to challenge the Congress’s dominance, if not in this election then in the years to come.


The writer is director, Global Research & Analytics Corporation. He is based in Delhi









Shekhar Gupta: My guest is one of my most illustrious predecessors at The Indian Express, one of our leading public intellectuals of all times... at a very interesting time, juncture for yourself and your party. Arun Shourie, welcome to Walk the Talk.


Arun Shourie: It is a pleasure.


Shekhar Gupta: The Chinese say ‘May you live in interesting times’. Are these interesting times for you and the party?


Arun Shourie: Actually, I feel quite distant from the party. I must confess that like all other parties it’s now, a party of three, four persons for the projection of three, four persons. There is a line of Firaq (Gorakhpuri), ‘Ab woh yaad bhi kam aate hain, ab dard bhi kam hota hai’.


Shekhar Gupta: The line you like to use all the time, ‘Raat gaee, baat gaee’?


Arun Shourie: Haan, woh kal ke baad.


Shekhar Gupta: Why the disillusionment?


Arun Shourie: From Atalji’s (Bihari Vajpayee’s) departure, his withdrawal and what you see now... In every sphere of life, there is a great pygmyisation, not just diminution, of leadership... That makes a great difference. And then artificial controversies — Hindutva and so on. If you ask what Hindutva is, the Supreme Court has already said it is a way of life. Is Islam not a way of life? Is Christianity not a way of life? Is the addiction of a drug addict not a way of life? So, what is this? People who can’t spell the word, probably in going from one dinner party to the other, keep saying, ‘I am committed to Hindutva’. So these artificial controversies are coming up and are contrived, only to give a signal somewhere — ‘See this man stands by our ideology’, or it is to put somebody else in the wrong and on the defensive.


The Arabs have a phrase: I talk so that my neighbours can hear. Here, so that my uncles can hear. That is a Shekhar Gupta phrase.


Shekhar Gupta: Well, I said it in a different context. I said the history of the Express shows that it had more uncles than parents. So, has this been building up?


Arun Shourie: Yes, of course. The way decisions came to be taken from time to time... things became confined to fewer and fewer persons. When the leaders also feel comfortable talking to fewer and fewer persons, they lose hearing because they don’t want to hear something contrary. And this has happened not just here, not just this party, but in every party, at every level. Therefore, everybody has a factional line in every unit at each level. And when he gets some information from somewhere and gives it to the central leadership, in every party, they have no way of cross-verifying that information.


Shekhar Gupta: So coteries are also shrinking. Coteries, caucuses...


Arun Shourie: Absolutely. In all parties.


Shekhar Gupta: Yours included?


Arun Shourie: Yes, yes.


Shekhar Gupta: So what changed with Vajpayee’s, sort of, quiet retreat from the scene?


Arun Shourie: Everything changed. You see, he is an inclusive person. Firstly, the most important feature I felt about him always was that he is a good man. He will not hurt another person. And, that came through to the country. Second, he won’t get distracted by these foolish contrived controversies. And third, he was a very, very shrewd judge of men. And fourth, he has a code — there are certain things, whatever the costs you show him, he will do them.


Shekhar Gupta: And certain things that he will not?


Arun Shourie: Not do, whatever the advantages you show him. But then (there are) people who listen to the last man who met them and change their view. This used to happen in the government too. For instance, in telecom, a proposal would be put forward and some friend will go and meet some X and Y and suddenly the view would be changed. Are, you have approved it and today you and the Cabinet say something else. So many instances happened and Vajpayee would then stabilise things. And he has a natural scepticism, a very important quality of a leader. That is, if you tell him something, he will say ‘why is he saying this?’, ‘why is he saying it now?’, ‘what would happen if I do the opposite?’.


He will reflect on it and then when he takes a decision, you will not be able to shake it. But all that is missing now. There is no ballast. And so, when your authority goes on eroding, then you suddenly feel, ‘I must show, me Tarzan, me Tarzan’. So, get rid of Jaswant Singh, get rid of...


Shekhar Gupta: Vasundhara Raje Scindia...


Arun Shourie: Vasundhara. And, then not only that. You take a decision and don’t own it — ‘What can I do? So and so pressed me’. On every matter this is happening, maybe in the Congress too. At least there is one Supreme Court, people fear there is a Supreme Court. This is unfortunately the reality and unless they come out of it, a very valuable institution will be just going... Jaise woh patang kat jati hai na... So it is a kati hui patang. The string breaks off the kite. Then it just, sort of...


Shekhar Gupta: Goes into oblivion or people come and grab it...


Arun Shourie: Grab it or whichever jhonka, whatever breeze comes... The BJP is, in my view, a kati patang today and unless it is got hold of swiftly... I don’t see many people within the party at the moment who have the moral authority left to be able to do it. If anybody can do it now, it is only the RSS people. When they come in, then there will be other consequences also.


Shekhar Gupta: And these may not be all good?


Arun Shourie: Well, could be, maybe. It is to be seen how the RSS itself evolves. But I have been pleading with them for a long time that you please stay out of policy. You are not in touch with policy affairs. You watch the conduct of individuals. After all, the BJP is the most visible face of the RSS parivar, so called, in public eye. If a BJP person is caught taking cash for questions, then the whole thing becomes suspect. Just imagine BJP people in Parliament to be showing rupees, and people say, ‘Nahin yeh inka apna kaam hai’. That is the credibility!


Shekhar Gupta: So, the real role of the RSS is to be the moral police of the BJP?


Arun Shourie: Yes, that is one point. The second point... but the situation now is much worse. They have called me and I have said this to them. Now the situation is much worse and unless they just do what Mao Zedong had said, ‘Bombard the Headquarters’, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. Unless you say, ‘Here are 10 persons from the states, 10 honest persons, competent persons, persons dedicated to the country. Bring them and start reconstructing from the headquarters. Not one person from Delhi should be there’... Then you can probably salvage the whole thing. Because there is not time to start rebuilding from the ground. That is a 25-year process.


Shekhar Gupta: Did you find some sympathy for this view when you talked to them?


Arun Shourie: Yes, but I don’t know what will be done... They are very polite, they listen.


Shekhar Gupta: Are some of them also cautioning you to be patient, wait...


Arun Shourie: Yes, they do that, but half-heartedly.


Shekhar Gupta: Are they disillusioned as well?


Arun Shourie: I should not speak for them, but who will not be? I think people who are not even members of the BJP will today be disillusioned and greatly disappointed. After all, the party stood for various things and the memory of Vajpayee’s period is very fresh in people’s mind. They don’t want that party to just disintegrate. Therefore, we can presume, without disclosing anything, that the RSS leadership will also be not disillusioned, but certainly concerned. And certainly Mohan Bhagwat’s interview recently does not express great satisfaction with the way things are in the BJP.


Shekhar Gupta: Vajpayee to Advani — was it just a change of style, or change of substance in the very beginning?


Arun Shourie: I don’t want to comment on the comparison, but there is no comparison.


Shekhar Gupta: I am not saying better or worse, but was there a change of style and substance?


Arun Shourie: Yes, of course... But I told you my prescription is only two-fold. First integrity and conduct of individuals; second, bring people from the states. There must be, there are honest people.


Shekhar Gupta: Because they are fighting elections?


Arun Shourie: Not only that. There are persons of substance in states. Bring them to the Centre, but not one at a time. The whole group and then clean it up and then say we are beginning again... No voluntary thing. ‘Get out. We are bringing in other people’.


Shekhar Gupta: There should be immediacy to it?


Arun Shourie: Absolutely. And not halaal but jhatka.


Shekhar Gupta: But that is not the way anything is done in India.


Arun Shourie: Well, then, my friend, the consequences are also no different in India than from what you see. But I personally feel that the time is coming when events will force the hand of the RSS to act in this surgical, jhatka way.


Shekhar Gupta: And the sooner they do it, the less the damage?


Arun Shourie: The damage is now done but at least the chance of survival, resurrection will once again be there.


Shekhar Gupta: And the more they delay it...


Arun Shourie: The chance becomes less and less.


Shekhar Gupta: Have you been saying this in a sort of inner counsel to the party?


Arun Shourie: Yes, of course, many times, and to these leaders, individual leaders... Everybody is very polite. Everybody agrees. Par kya karen, laachar hain... Are bhaiya, humne to itne laachar Rajput nahin dekhe jitney yahaan hain.


Shekhar Gupta: I know that is true. You have a strong Thakur leader in control of your party.


Arun Shourie: He has a very good voice. All India Radio voice...


Shekhar Gupta: RSS people are not stupid...


Arun Shourie: Not at all. They know what is going on. Everybody keeps saying ‘Fascist, Fascist’. I think they are too democratic. That was my complaint to Advaniji also. You are too democratic. Arre bhaiya, exercise leadership, authority. Forget Advaniji, but in the case of the RSS, I feel they are too patient and too considerate.


Shekhar Gupta: Are they shy of being seen to be intervening?


Arun Shourie: I think that has also put them on the defensive. Everybody is saying they are running rings and so on, but there are other considerations. You cannot begin such operations until you decide that I will now devote three years to reconstructing the party. They feel committed to their other work also. So it is a hesitation, ‘Should I take the plunge or not?’.


Shekhar Gupta: But if they move in tomorrow, nobody will be able to resist them in the BJP.


Arun Shourie: Nobody. Actually, much of this thing that you are seeing today, Jaswant Singh’s book, Jinnah winnah, actually is because of the nervousness of the current leadership, trying to give signals to the RSS — ‘See I am standing up for national ideology’.


Shekhar Gupta: They don’t even know whether he praised Jinnah or not, more than what some of the others may have done.


Arun Shourie: Well, actually I can tell you. I have written articles for you, and you will see in one of those that the standard textbook of the RSS called The Tragedy of Partition, by one of the longest and firmest pillars of the RSS, H V Seshadri — a scholarly book — has a much stronger thesis against the Congress, including Sardar Patel, than Jaswant Singh could ever be able to write.


Shekhar Gupta: How would Vajpayee have handled the situation?


Arun Shourie: Vajpayee would just have said ‘it is a book’. Actually there is a very good incident, I will tell you. You know there was a book on Shivaji by an American (James Laine). Nobody had read it. And some, I think the Shiv Sena or BJP, people went, broke things and destroyed manuscripts at the Bhandarkar Institute (in Pune), a great institute for Indian studies. What happened was that Atalji was going to Bombay for unveiling Shivaji’s statute at the airport and I was the minister to accompany him. He had asked me to come with him. He said there, with Balasaheb Thackeray sitting there, all the Shiv Sena people sitting there, he said the answer to a book is a book, not to destroy and agitate. So the answer to a book is a book. You write a different book.


Shekhar Gupta: You don’t have to write a book of the same length... If Rajnath had to counter Jaswant’s book, it would be challenging. But he (Vajpayee) would have defused it?


Arun Shourie: I will give you many instances. For example, you remember (the time) Jayalalithaa’s government was in office and some policeman entered M Karunanidhi’s home and hit him... I remember in the Cabinet everyone was for the dismissal of Jayalalithaa... I am one of the very few persons, actually I don’t remember another person, who opposed it. Then somebody said, ‘Bhai, hamare ally hain. The DMK is part of this government and they are saying how can this happen and we must be seen acting on their behalf’. Atalji said, ‘Hamare ally hain, hamara kartavya hai unhen samjhana. Unki baat par chal kar talwaar chala dena, yeh to nahin’.


So his approach would be, ‘You don’t like it, please write another book’. And actually he would have also told them, ‘No, no, first read Seshadri’s book’.


Shekhar Gupta: Were you surprised by the impatience, by the speed at which the BJP moved (to expel Jaswant)?


Arun Shourie: No, not at all. I think there are several factors which combined. The speed was not even minutes. They just gathered... these 25 fellows get together for the chintan thing (baithak) and a person for whom I have very high regard because of his development work, Narendra Modi, he says, ‘Mere liye to badi aafat padi hai. Das September ko mere saat Assembly elections aa rahe hain aur is kitab ke baad main kaise Gujarat wapas jaoon ga. To action hona chahiye’. And Ananth Kumar, ‘What do you mean by action? Nothing short of expulsion’. So this is all sort of orchestrated. And then the others were told ‘dekhiye jo parliamentary board ke member nahin hain woh zara bahar chaley jayen’. (Then) they are told ‘You can come back. The Parliamentary board has decided that Jaswant Singh should be expelled’. So this is one factor, the apprehension after Junagarh elections...


Shekhar Gupta: Where Modi did badly.


Arun Shourie: Yes... That is why Sardar Patel was made the issue. He is not the issue. As Express has published every single paragraph in which Patel is mentioned... there is not one derogatory reference at all. You read Seshadri’s book and you will find much more on Congress leaders, including Patel, and Patel’s own unrealistic assessments at that time. I am an adorer of Patel... but the second thing was that you make Patel the issue. ‘See, I have protected the prestige of Gujarat, the good name of our leader’. Third thing was, ‘Don’t make Jinnah the issue’. Why? Then people will say what about the person who praised Jinnah earlier.


Shekhar Gupta: Mr Advani in Pakistan...


Arun Shourie: Haan. My friend Arun Jaitley says this was for tactical reasons. Are, what was it? To confuse the Pakistanis so that you can vanquish them? What is tactical about it? ... And he said that what Jinnah said about secularism is an ideal for India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. How does that square with Hindutva? So Hindutva is also secularism by birth and name. So you have to start explanation for that thing. So, that was the reason. ‘Make Patel the issue, and don’t make Jinnah the issue’. Another was the publicly expressed conclusion of the head of the RSS that ‘You people are not exercising authority. Put your house in order and do it swiftly. Had se badh gaya hai’. So, all these things combine, and Jaswant Singh becomes the occasion.


Shekhar Gupta: So the message to the RSS was, ‘Since you asked for blood, I am giving you blood’.


Arun Shourie: No, not since you asked, but independently I am giving you blood. So I have authority. ‘Tarzan, me Tarzan... therefore, Jane should be happy with me’.


Shekhar Gupta: Modi, is he the future?


Arun Shourie: I feel as I said during the election period also... His work in development has really been very, very good. You go to Gujarat, see the difference... So, he certainly can be, but at the moment he is a bit apprehensive and many people in the BJP in Delhi would be happy to see him get ensnared in the Supreme Court, SIT etc.


Shekhar Gupta: What is he apprehensive about?


Arun Shourie: I think (he fears), ‘Are the people with him as much as they were?’, ‘Whether the SIT will ensnare him?’.


Shekhar Gupta: But somebody did get away in Gujarat with what happened in 2002.


Arun Shourie: You see, what happens is that, as in Delhi, the administration looks the other way... Because we must remember it is not just the senior leaders, because we keep blaming Arun Nehru or P V Narasimha Rao as home minister or somebody (for the 1984 riots), police and all are a part of society. And when society is enraged, then the policeman is also the same fellow.


Shekhar Gupta: Unless you have the level of statesmanship where you can go and control it...


Arun Shourie: Then you have to be Sardar Patel. That you are just waving your finger, ‘stop it’, and the policeman stops.


Shekhar Gupta: But that he (Modi) did not prove to be?


Arun Shourie: Well, that is to be inquired into.


Shekhar Gupta: Jaswant Singh mentioned that you were also on the flight where Vajpayee was deliberating on this.


Arun Shourie: Actually, I have a much extended knowledge of that... Atalji, you remember, went to those refugee camps (of Gujarat riot victims). There were very emotional scenes. Immediately after that there was an earlier scheduled visit to Singapore and Cambodia, and I was the minister accompanying him. It is in the aircraft itself, I think either Ranjan (Bhattacharya) or Brajesh Mishra, we were sitting in the front portion. Atalji was in his cabin. One of them told me, ‘Ja kar baat karo, woh bahut udaas, akele baithe hain’. So I went and Atalji was sitting there and I sat next to him and he just kept his head down, and after a while I said, ‘Sir, aapko itna dukh kis baat ka hai?’. He said — I have never forgotten it — he said, ‘Mujhe kyun yahan bheja ja raha hai? Main kis munh se utroonga? Is kalank ko mere munh par laga diya’. Then I pleaded with him...


It is indescribable, his condition, because he is a very sensitive man. He has a poet-type sensitivity. So I said, ‘Sir, there is no problem, we are landing very soon and when we go to the hotel, you ring up Advani and say this should happen before you come back’. He kept quiet. The conversation continued and we went into many things. That evening passed, then the next day, the whole day, we met this minister, that minister. One or two days we were there and then we went to Cambodia, we went to Angkor Wat. Every afternoon, the question would be, ‘should I ring up Advani this evening?’. But as Jaswant Singh rightly says, it is not Atalji’s nature to press beyond a point. So anyhow, he did not ring up. Then when we came back here...


Shekhar Gupta: And that call would have been to do what?


Arun Shourie: That Modi should resign. Immediately after we came back we had to go to the meeting of the national executive in Goa and I was told you must be on the flight. I said, ‘No, that is not right. Only Advaniji and he (Vajpayee) should be there. They should thrash it out and finish it. Whatever they decide, whether Modi stays or go’. And frankly, I must say, I was more affected by Atalji’s pain than by what had happened in Gujarat. Maybe this is my inhumanity or something. I can’t claim that I was that great liberal. The second thing happened was that this person, who was saying that you have to go there, said ‘You don’t know, they will not talk. The two of them will just sit, two hours will go and they will not talk... So, Jaswant is going there. The two of you would be there and this subject must be brought up and concluded’. So we sat down but nobody would talk. After a while Atalji picked up a newspaper and opened it. Then Advaniji picked up a newspaper and opened it. So they are sitting like this (face-to-face) and each is holding a newspaper, shutting out the other. So I took the newspaper from Atalji. I said ‘Sir, please you have to decide this issue’. The conversation first went to Jana Krishnamurthy, who was the BJP president at that time, a very nice person... it was decided that Venkaiah (Naidu) would be the president.


Then second, ‘Modi ka kya karna hai?’. I think my recollection is more, what you would call, extended than Jaswant Singh’s. So, this was discussed and it was decided, it was definitely decided that when we get down, Advaniji will ring up Modi and say that in the meeting in the evening, offer to resign. Then the meeting starts, speeches start. Atalji, Advaniji and all are sitting on the stage and Modi got up and said, ‘Mujhe kuch kehna hai’, and he offered to resign. He said, ‘Main nahin chahta ki party should have any difficulties because of me’. And as if on cue, people from different parts of the hall started saying ‘absolutely no... koi galti nahin hai...’. I was sitting at the back... and I saw Atalji’s bewilderment because he thought this was a done deal. This was like an orchestrated coup against him.


So I got up and I said, ‘Narendra Modi ne abhi jo yeh kaha hai, it’s in pursuance of the decision which these senior leaders have taken in the flight... I was present’. There was consternation, but immediately again the chorus started and eventually somebody said, Atalji said or the president of the party said, ‘Abhi to public meeting ka time ho gaya hai, kal decide karenge. Logon ne kaha nahin nahin, nahin hoga’. So there is absolutely no doubt, and I can give you much more details of this, that Atalji was completely thwarted.


Shekhar Gupta: Thwarted? Everybody got together?


Arun Shourie: I am not sure that everybody got together simultaneously, but I must say that I was not all the time for this, that Modi has to go because of the killings, because in my view such things happen as a reaction, as happened in Delhi as a reaction to (Indira) Gandhi’s brutal killing. You can’t then prevent those things. Nobody can prevent those things.


Shekhar Gupta: Or you need to be an extraordinary leader like Patel to prevent it.


Arun Shourie: Yes. But that is a very rare person.


Shekhar Gupta: But that is what leadership is all about, to do the right thing at the right time.


Arun Shourie: But there is another point to leadership. That is moral authority. You can’t run around

behind every policeman and say, ‘No, no you are not checking the riot’. So you must have moral authority... Unless you have that, you cannot control police persons or anybody in such situations.


Shekhar Gupta: I do know that this always rankled with Vajpayee, that he was thwarted.


Arun Shourie: Yes, no doubt about that.


Shekhar Gupta: And I think he finally accepted with resignation that maybe this was too central to the party’s core, he was not able to defy it.


Arun Shourie: Well, either it is the party’s core or it may be his understanding of society. In my view, it is not so much about party as this is about humans... After all, in Delhi it was not the party, it was Congressmen. That is how societies react. If the state abdicates its authority, the state will take its revenge.


Shekhar Gupta: Kandahar... there are two points of view of what happened.


Arun Shourie: There are two expressed points of view, there is only one truth. I think one reality was okay, the plane was hijacked from Kathmandu. You get the information immediately and our systems as they are, the Crisis Management Group is not able to meet. It was an incredibly good fortune that the plane landed in Amritsar.


Shekhar Gupta: And still nobody shot its tyres?


Arun Shourie: K P S Gill has educated me that a constable will finish the tyres and you don’t even require firing. You put a tractor in front and at the back and deal with the terrorists. He says the Punjab Police could have handled it. I can’t understand why that order was not given. Then it flies off. After that, the media is as responsible because I was all the time in this group of four-five persons who would meet all the time. The media is only focusing on the relatives who are just (grieving) ... Anyhow, that was a big factor on Atalji’s mind. TV had just begun, everybody was on that. Second is you have to have that capability. If you want to be like Israel you have to build up that capacity over 20-30 years, and that iron in your soul. We have not got that, whether it is to deal with the Lashkar-e-Toiba, whether to deal with the Taliban hijacking... Then in the end the question was whether you should negotiate with them, barter with them or not and unrealistic people like me can always take a view that no, we should never deal with them. Probably Advani was of the view also at the time that we should not deal with them, but in the end he went along like everybody else. I was a nobody there.


You can imagine it, it is a dramatic situation for three days. Everybody is in touch with everybody. Even an outsider to the group like me is in touch with everybody. Certainly everybody was in touch with Advani also. I mean, it is impossible to conceive... he is the Home Minister, he is the second-most powerful man in the government... so, every step that was taken was within his knowledge. And I would think, I don’t know about these minutes or so or how detailed they are, but many of these decisions would be recorded in the Cabinet.


Shekhar Gupta: So you would rather go by Jaswant Singh’s explanation of what happened, his recollection that Advani was present in the Cabinet Committee on Security when the decision to send him to Kandahar was taken.


Arun Shourie: There were actually two decisions. The first was the exchange and to release the prisoners. On that also Jaswant Singh has pointed to a good circumstantial factor that such important terrorists in an Indian jail cannot be released without the concurrence of the (Union) home minister. And then Farooq Abdullah has testified that he (Abdullah) himself argued with Advani, don’t do it. So that means Advani knew the prisoner exchange is going to take place... Whether Jaswant Singh (would go) or not on that... I can’t imagine that such a big decision would be taken without that small group not knowing. And there is a very interesting point that Yashwant Sinha told me... You see the CCS is meeting, Jaswant Singh gets up and says, ‘Sorry, I have to catch a flight and go with them’. Advaniji was present. Yashwant Sinha says ‘I personally remember that’, but maybe Advaniji has forgotten. These things are such, they move so rapidly...


Shekhar Gupta: Yashwant Sinha was the one who raised the first questions along with Jaswant Singh after the Parliament election. He was immediately made to pay for it.


Arun Shourie: I felt (it) was wrong at that time... because I felt he must keep every forum at hand. He said, ‘No, I don’t want them to have this sword over me that they can remove me from anything, so I am giving up all posts’.


Shekhar Gupta: But you still feel sort of bold enough to raise the questions that you are raising now.


Arun Shourie: Yes, of course. What is happening now is that raising these questions has become indiscipline. Rather than those who have brought the party to this pass... they are the fellows hurting the party’s interests. Who has been planting stories for five years against each one of these characters, including Advani and especially Rajnath Singh? Who? In the press by six journalists. That is discipline? But you want to call this indiscipline, okay, call it. But we feel it is an important institution, the party is an important institution and... See, I keep raising the issue with you, you are my boss... You don’t do anything. In the end I write you a letter. Till today, you don’t know the letter that I wrote. No paper has published the letter I wrote. That is true.


Therefore, I acted in a disciplined way... I wrote that I am not sending this copy to anybody. But you say “this is indiscipline, indiscipline”. So you want to be Humpty Dumpty and make words mean what you say, and act. Then I must presume that you already have it in your mind to act against me or anybody, so okay, act.


Shekhar Gupta: So from Tarzan to Humpty Dumpty to Alice in Wonderland...


Arun Shourie: To, like your phrase, Alice in Blunderland.


Shekhar Gupta: I hope your voice is heard because nobody wants a one-horse race in politics.


Arun Shourie: But I feel that if there are two voices, the other voice must be responsible. It must be thoughtful. It cannot be anti-intellect, it cannot be sound-byte journalism. It must study those issues.


Transcript prepared by Mehraj D Lone








The book denigrates the Sardar,” said a spokesman of the Gujarat government on the first day, giving the reason for banning Jaswant Singh’s book, “and that is not acceptable to the state.”


No one could point to a single, not one single reference in the book that could be taken to denigrate Sardar Patel. Someone must also have realised that not being ‘acceptable’ to a state is not a ground on which a book can be banned under our Constitution and laws.


Nonetheless the ban was notified — even as the seniormost officials of the state government were testifying that they did not know the reasons for the ban. The Indian Express (August 23, 2009) reported a senior official of the state’s home department as saying, “The legal department must have gone through the book. I have not read it.” “When contacted, state law secretary M.H. Shah also expressed ignorance about the reason for the ban,” the paper reported. But a ban nonetheless — The moving finger having writ…


But, lo and behold! In the notification banning the book, there is no reference to the Sardar at all! The notification declares, “the contents of the book are highly objectionable and against the national interest... the contents of the book are misleading to the public and are against the tranquility of the public and against the interests of the state” — hence the book is to be forfeited and its publication, display, sale and distribution “and any kind of its use” are prohibited.


The 669-page book was released in Delhi late in the evening on August 17. The ban was announced on the 18th by sojourners in Shimla. The notification by an undersecretary in Gandhinagar is dated August 19. Talk of speed-reading!



Apart from the fact that the ban was manifestly announced before the book was read, the question that arises is: Does a government in India have the right to ban a book because it finds its contents


• “highly objectionable” — obviously in the present case in regard to facts, for no one is alleging that the contents are pornographic;

• “against the national interest”;

• “misleading to the public”;

• “against the tranquility of the public”; and

• “against the interests of the state.”


And can a government ban a book on these grounds without giving any particulars at all?


Most of the grounds that have been listed are so ridiculous that, even a moment’s consideration will show them up. The government of Gujarat thinks that the contents are ‘misleading to the public’? Were that to be a valid ground, the government of Gujarat would have had license to ban almost all newspapers since the post-Godhra riots as it has been deeply convinced that their contents have been grossly ‘misleading to the public’.


‘Against the interests of the state’? Consider a report that calls into question the claims on which a state government has attracted foreign investors. Were it to be circulated, investors would pack up and leave. The report, howsoever well researched, would be ‘against the interests of the state’, would it not? Hence, ban and prohibit and forfeit!


‘Against the national interest’? The lie to this is given by the fact that chief ministers of other states that are under the BJP itself have stated categorically that they are not going to ban the book. Are they oblivious of the national interest?


‘Tranquility of the state’? Now, that is a catchphrase: agitations and skirmishes can always be, and ever so often are whipped up, especially if a state government backs them or looks the other way — recall the shameful destruction of the Bhandarkar Institute’s priceless manuscripts over Laine’s book; recall the frenzy that was whipped up in two coastal districts of Karnataka by completely distorting a few words in a textbook for little children, a textbook that had been in use for forty years, a textbook that had been authored by one of the greatest littérateurs of our country, Shivaram Karanth. How very contrived such furies were. But we can go beyond instances of this kind: as judgement after judgement of our courts deals with this assertion of governments, we should turn to them.



The notification banning Jaswant Singh’s book does so under Sections 153A of the Indian Penal Code, and Section 95 of the CrPC. Hence, let us start with a judgement dealing with a ban under these very sections — and one concerning an extreme case.


Gopal Vinayak Godse, the brother of Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, wrote a book. The theme of the book was that Gandhiji had been assassinated for his policy of appeasing the Muslims, which in turn had led to the Partition of India. The Delhi administration passed an order banning and forfeiting the book. The case came before the Bombay High Court. The judgement of the Court shows that it had no doubt at all about the import of the book: citing the book’s arguments and narrative, the Court noted that through these, the assassination had not just been explained, it had in a sense been ‘extolled’. Yet, the Court held in favour of Godse’s brother and, not only held the forfeiture to have been wholly unjustified, it decreed that the administration shall pay the costs of litigation to Godse.


The Court went to great pains to examine the passages in Godse’s book which the administration had asserted were objectionable. In instance after instance we find the Court examining the veracity of the passage and concluding that other accounts, for instance those of Pyarelal, of Maulana Azad etc., showed that the author had sufficient grounds for saying what he had said; and this was one of the main reasons on account of which it struck down the order of forfeiture. These passages include Godse’s assertion to the effect that Pakistan had been given cash balances at Mahatma Gandhi’s instance, that men and women had been moved by Nathuram Godse’s deed, that they had offered great and spontaneous support to him and his relatives after the assassination, that Sardar Patel had opposed Gandhiji on the payment of cash balances and so on.


Again and again, the Court points out that the book must be read as a whole and that its purpose must always be kept in mind. Again and again it holds that the book in question deals with the policies which led to the Partition of India and that it does not deal with any current communal issue. It holds that to ascertain the purpose for which the book is written, apart from the contents of the book itself, things that are said in the preface etc. should be examined.


In fact, the Court holds that even if in a particular case the facts turn out to be at variance with the assertions in the book, one cannot deduce automatically that the intention of the author is to create enmity and hatred, the offences which fall under Sections 153A and B. As the Court puts it:


“Pyarelal’s book bears out the petitioner in a large measure and in any event no charge can be made against him that in regard to the events surrounding the fact history has been distorted by him. It is also necessary to remember that if the claim of an author that he is an historian is not fully borne out, one cannot infer from that alone that the author had an oblique intention in straying from the strict path of history. Much less can one infer that such an oblique intention was of the nature mentioned in Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code.”


It repeatedly dismisses the pleas of the prosecution regarding several passages by affirming that sentences and passages cannot be torn out of context to make a fanciful charge stick. As the Court puts it: “A passage here or a passage there, a sentence here or a sentence there, a word similarly, may, if strained and torn out of context, supply inflammatory matter to a willing mind. But such a process is impermissible. We must read the book as a whole, we must not ignore the context of a passage and we must try and see what, reasonably, would be the reaction of the common reader?”


It places emphasis on that last point: namely, the passages must be assessed in the light of what a common reader can reasonably be expected to do upon reading the passages. Obtuse and strange constructions are not to be the guide in these matters, nor the reaction of hypersensitive minds. Furthermore, it holds that in judging the likely consequences of the book, we must go by the depth of contents, the language, and the class of readers who are liable to read it: while noting that Godse’s language is powerful, that he has written the book with a definite purpose, the Court holds that the language is so Sanskritised that the ordinary reader will not be able to find the incendiary material in it which the government is claiming marks the whole book.


But even if stray incendiary material be found upon searching for it, says the Court, that is no ground for forfeiting the book under Section 153A: “There is no doubt that Gandhiji’s murder has been extolled and one cannot possibly appreciate it. But the question before us is not whether the book is bad for that reason. Our task is to see whether the glorification of Nathuram or the justification of his dastardly act can be said to be reasonably connected with the problem of Hindu-Muslim amity...”


Even in such an extreme case, the order banning the book was struck down. Indeed, as I noted, the government was directed to pay the author the cost of litigation. And the point transcends the specific book at issue in such cases: whether the ban was reimposed and upheld later in regard to a specific publication, the criteria that were set out in the Godse case are the ones that have been reaffirmed in judgment after judgment.



Another well-known case, M/s Varsha Publication Pvt. Ltd. vs State of Maharashtra, provides an even more exact. What the Court said in this case has a direct bearing on a book such as that of Jaswant Singh, a book that advances a thesis that is at variance with much of what we have been brought up to believe. The Court held,


“We have already observed that the very purpose of writing the article is a sort of historical research and it is based on a number of reference books and other material. It is true that sometimes in a given case even a truthful account may come within the mischief of S. 153A. But this will be too broad a proposition. Different considerations will prevail when we are to consider a scholarly article on history and religion based upon research with the help of a number of reference books. It will be very difficult for the state to contend that a narration of history would promote violence, enmity or hatred. If such a convention is accepted, a day will come when that part of history which is unpalatable to a particular religion will have to be kept in cold storage on the pretext that the publication of such history would constitute an offence punishable under S. 153A of the IPC. We do not think that the scope of S. 153A can be enlarged to such an extent with a view to thwart history. For obvious reasons, history and historical events cannot be allowed to be looked upon as a secret on a specious plea that if the history is made known to a person who is interested to know the history, there is likelihood of someone else being hurt. Similarly, an article containing a historical research cannot be allowed to be thwarted on such a plea that the publication of such a material would be hit by S. 153A. Otherwise, the position will be very precarious. A nation will have to forget its own history and in due course the nation will have no history at all.”


Transpose these observations to Jaswant Singh’s book — the endnotes of which alone, listing sources and explanations for each observation and event, traverse sixty-seven pages. The Court continued,


“This result cannot be said to have been intended by the Legislature when S. 153A of the IPC and S. 95 of the Cr. P.C. were enacted [exactly the two sections invoked in the Gujarat government’s notification!]. If anybody intends to extinguish the history (by prohibiting its publication) of the nation on the pretext of taking action under the above Section his act will have to be treated as a mala fide one.”



We saw, how the Gujarat government order just makes some general assertions — “against the interests of the state,” “against national interest.” It gives no specific evidence at all. The Supreme Court has held this to be impermissible.


The Supreme Court’s judgment in Gajanan Visheshwar Birjur vs Union of India deals with an instance that our activists will find particularly interesting, even as it nails the Gujarat notification. A distributor of Marxist literature imported some books of Mao. The Customs confiscated them, and banned their distribution, etc. The Supreme Court came down heavily on the Customs and its notification. It observed,


“It would be seen immediately that the confiscation orders are totally bald and devoid of any findings in terms of Notification No. 77. The order does not say which of the books fall within the mischief of which clause of the notification. It is not as if the notification proscribes these books by name, i.e., by title. It only says that import of books containing matter of the nature mentioned therein is prohibited. The books imported are writings, speeches and works of Mao, besides the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin. If they were proposed to be confiscated, it was obligatory upon the authority to say which book contained words of the nature mentioned in the notification.”


How does the Gujarat government’s notification banning Jaswant Singh’s book stand against this requirement?


In Jaswant Singh’s case the notification banning the book has come without any inquiry, to say nothing of even the semblance of a show cause notice. In the case we are considering, a show cause had been issued. The Court came down on it for the same reason — it had nothing specific in it. The Supreme Court held,


The show-cause notices themselves are bald and drawn up in a casual manner. It must be remembered that the order of confiscation affects not only the fundamental right of the petitioner to carry on his occupation and business but also his fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression (including his freedom to propagate the thoughts and ideas which he thinks are in the best interest of this nation). In such a case, it was required of the officer to point out which book contains words, signs or visible representations which are likely to incite or encourage any person to resort to violence or sabotage for the purpose of overthrowing or undermining the Government established by law in India or in any State thereof or its authority in any area or that they attract any of the other clauses in Notification No. 77. Absence of such specification both in the show-cause notices and the final orders must be held to vitiate the action taken.”


And when, far from the show cause notice not recording any particulars, the notice itself has not been issued at all?


Nor was that all. What the Supreme Court went on to say has an even more direct bearing on what the Gujarat government has done. It held,


“Before parting with this case, we must express our unhappiness with attempts at thought control in a democratic society like ours. Human history is witness to the fact that all evolution and all progress is because of power of thought and that every attempt at thought control is doomed to failure. An idea can never be killed. Suppression can never be a successful permanent policy. Any surface serenity it creates is a false one. It will erupt one day. Our Constitution permits a free trade, if we can use the expression, in ideas and ideologies. It guarantees freedom of thought and expression - the only limitation being a law in terms of clause (2) of Article 19 of the Constitution. Thought control is alien to our constitutional scheme?”


Need we cite more?



But what about the apprehension of the government that disorders may break out because some people are offended by the book, whatever the intentions of the author might have been? This is what the Gujarat government has tried to insinuate with its assertion that the book is ‘against the tranquility of the public’.


The complete answer to this has been given in several judgments by High Courts and by the Supreme Court. To begin with, the Supreme Court has held time and again that the test has to be not the mere inference that a publication is liable to cause ill will, hatred or enmity in some persons. The test has to be that the ill will, hatred and enmity that the publication is liable to cause will be such as to threaten public order. Furthermore, the courts have repeatedly held that public order cannot be deemed to be jeopardised merely because it is liable to cause some breach of peace, or because a law and order problem is liable to arise. As the Supreme Court put it in the well-known case Ram Manohar vs. State of Bihar, and scores and scores of other judgments, the public order which is sought to be safeguarded entails “the prevention of disorder of a grave nature.”


Almost a textbook case that refutes the Gujarat government’s assertion occurs in the Supreme Court’s judgment, S. Rangarajan vs P. Jagjivan Ram. A film was produced, Ore Oru Gramathile. It was cleared by the Censor Board. Looking for an issue, some commenced agitations, charging that the film was against reservations. They threatened to burn down theatres that exhibited it. Citing the threat of violence and disorder, the government of Tamil Nadu banned it. The Madras High Court upheld the ban. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment in ringing terms.


The court declared, “It is our firm belief, nay, a conviction which constitutes one of the basic values of a free society to which we are wedded under our Constitution that there must be freedom not only for the thought that we cherish, but also for the thought that we hate.” And this is not to be an abstract commitment. The Court held that the danger which is alleged to be liable to follow the dissemination of an idea must not be remote, conjectural or far-fetched; it must be proximate and it must have a direct nexus with what is being said or exhibited. To warrant restriction by the state, “The expression of thought should be intrinsically dangerous to the public interests. In other words, the expression should be inseparably locked up with the action contemplated like the equivalent of a ‘spark in a powder keg.’”


Second, while the Tamil Nadu government and others had been pleading that the exhibition of the film would create very serious law and order problems in the state, while they had been citing the threats held out by several groups and their warnings that they would proceed to damage theatres screening the film, the Court observed: “We are amused yet troubled by the stand taken by the state government with regard to the film which has received the National Award. We want to put the anguished question, what good is the protection of freedom of expression if the state does not take care to protect it? If the film is unobjectionable and cannot constitutionally be restricted under Article 19(2), freedom of expression cannot be suppressed on account of threat of demonstrations and processions or threats of violence. That would tantamount to negation of the rule of law and a surrender to blackmail and intimidation. It is the duty of the State to protect the freedom of expression since it is a liberty guaranteed against the State. The State cannot plead the inability to handle the hostile audience problem. It is its obligatory duty to prevent it and protect the freedom of expression.”


The Court concluded its judgment with words which apply in particular to the sort of circumstances which we are considering. It said:


“Freedom of expression which is legitimate and constitutionally protected, cannot be held to ransom by an intolerant group of people. The fundamental freedom under Article 19(1)(a) can be reasonably restricted only for the purposes mentioned in Article 19(2) and the restriction must be justified on the anvil of necessity and not the quicksand of convenience or expediency. Open criticism of government policies and operations is not a ground for restricting expression. We must practice tolerance to the views of others. Intolerance is as much dangerous to democracy as to the person himself.”


That is the law. That is the mandate of the Constitution. How does the ban by the Gujarat government look in their light?


(To be continued)


The writer is a BJP MP in the Rajya Sabha.








India’s healthcare sector has just seen its largest deal to date, with Fortis Healthcare saying it will shell out Rs 909 crore to acquire ten hospitals from Wockhardt. The latter has been undergoing intensive debt restructuring following huge losses on derivatives. A public issue to that end failed spectacularly last year. If the deal will enable Wockhardt to retire Rs 500 crore in debt, it will gain Fortis hospitals (the first of which opened as recently as in 2001 in Chandigarh) in Bangalore, Mumbai and Kolkata metros. Trying to build such capacity from scratch would have taken Fortis years. Wockhardt, meanwhile, still retains some key facilities and now even has enough money in the kitty to expand. Expansion is indeed the name of the game for all major corporate players in Indian healthcare. The country’s largest hospital chain, Apollo (which also made a play for the Wockhardt facilities), is even looking to expand beyond national borders into West Asia and north Africa, for example. It’s already followed Fortis into Mauritius. As per plans, scale translates into profits. Had Wockhardt pulled off its public issue last year, it would have used that to prowl for more hospitals, too. What’s behind this impulse? Health’s share of the Indian wallet is fast growing; public facilities just can’t deliver to satisfaction and, therefore, private providers can safely bet on hearty returns. The more they consolidate and expand, the more their professional managers can ensure that standardised practices and bulk buys drive down costs—and drive up revenues.


One commentator has called this a happy collision of need and greed. The need is indisputable: India only has 0.6 physicians per 1,000 people compared with China’s 1.4, only 0.9 hospital beds per 1,000 people compared with the global average of 3.0, only 1.3 midwives and nurses per 1,000 people compared with Brazil’s 3.8, and so on. Perhaps corporates have hitherto focused on affluent India—stridently demanding better services than the government facilities dish out. But the future is as clear to them as to the agencies that specialise in projections—that future growth will come as much from emerging towns and cities as from the established ones. On the greed front, one report estimates that healthcare in India will grow from $40 billion in 2008 to $323 billion in 2023. These odds are better than good; both Fortis and Wockhardt know this. Beyond the immediate context, both players are reasonably confident that India’s future lies with them, rather than with its many standalone vents. This ought to drive them towards more innovation and more economies of scale. That should only translate into good things for the consumer.






The move to extend the New Pension Scheme (NPS) to approximately 400 million workers in the unorganised sector through a low-cost plan, aimed at relaxing the current annual contribution threshold of Rs 6,000, is a significant step. It can potentially form the core of a social security scheme for millions who remain outside its fold or cannot currently afford it. The innovative plan requires self-help groups and non-government organisations to open the main account with the NPS, choose the investment option and pay fund management and other fees that still remain too expensive for individual workers. These workers will hold sub-accounts. If it works out, this plan will boost the prospects of the NPS that has been now languishing without much public interest—just 1,800 subscribers have signed up after it was thrown open to all citizens in May. Though the effort being made by the PFRDA to include the Indian Postal Services to supplement the efforts of public and private sector banks in selling the scheme is laudable, one needs to be cautious about expecting any sharp increase in the popularity of the scheme as distributors are unlikely to sell it aggressively to the public in the absence of any substantial financial incentives.


One has only to look at the progress of the Public Provident Fund scheme, another voluntary social security scheme that was floated decades ago in 1968. Most recent numbers show that the Public Provident Fund scheme, which currently allows individuals to invest between Rs 500 and Rs 70,000 in a fiscal year, had covered only 0.8% of the labour force by the turn of the decade. Even the Employees’ Provident Fund, which has the maximum coverage, barely touches 6% of the workforce. This gives some indication of the challenges that distribution agencies face in motivating the huge unorganised sector workforce into the NPS. Other improvements like the introduction of the NPS with withdrawable accounts at the beginning of the next year will also further improve its attractiveness. But such minor innovations alone cannot provide the critical mass required to push the programme onto a faster track. This can take place only if the regulator and social welfare arms of central and state governments act in tandem and try to incorporate the message in other large government programmes like the NREG to improve awareness. The regulator would also have to ally with employers and workers’ organisations and start a concerted drive to push up enrolment rates.









In the first quarter of this year, SKS Microfinance securitised Rs 2 billion of loans it had lent to the weaker sections of the society. These loans, whose average loan size was about Rs 9,500, were extended to more than 2 lakh families none of which had any access to formal source of finance. Securitisation, in this example, aided the process of financial inclusion. Likewise, it can facilitate significant objectives. However, as with any potent weapon, it needs to be employed judiciously to reap its enormous benefits.


Through the process of securitisation, SKS was able to raise upfront cash equal to the net present value (NPV) of the cash flows from the loan. It also transferred the risk of the loans to the investor of these securities. Using the cash received upfront, SKS could provide more loans to other needy borrowers without having to wait till it collected the cash proceeds from the loan, which would have taken considerable time. Moreover, SKS was able to transfer the risk of these microfinance loans to investors who were comfortable bearing that risk.


Securitisation is typically done for financial assets that generate predictable and periodic cash-flows. Loans are a good example of such an asset. However, securitisation could also be undertaken for any asset that provides steady foreseeable cash flows. Typical candidates for securitisation include leases, accounts receivables, highway tolls, and even music royalties. The first securitisation transaction dates back to 1985 and was originated in the United States. Sperry Corporation, now Unisys, created securities backed by the cash streams that it would have received from leasing computer equipment. Leases, similar to loans, involve predictable and periodic cash flows.


Though securitisation enables financial institutions to raise new financing, it can be hazardous if used without proper discretion. For instance, if the originator remains certain that it would be able to securitise the loans and thereby transfer the risk, it may become lax while issuing loans. For instance, the originator may not screen the borrowers adequately. The investor himself would not be able to glean through the details of a large number of individual loans. It would have to trust the diligence of the originator and probably a third party like a rating agency, which might rate the securities. If the rating agency is getting paid by the originator during the securitisation process, such an arrangement generates a conflict of interest. In any case, all losses would be borne by the investor. At worst, the rating agency could lose some credibility. As has been evidenced during the subprime crisis, if the disintermediation process does not appropriate risks and rewards suitably, such an arrangement could be disastrous for the financial system as a whole. To harness the benefits of securitisation, the distribution of gains and losses, both monetary and non-monetary, should be such that all the players do their part well so that all get the desired benefit; no more and no less.


In the current process of securitisation, there is very little skin in the game for the originator and much less for the rating agency. The risk is almost entirely borne by the investor. If the originators and rating agencies face some monetary risk apart from the potential loss in credibility and reputation, they would have greater incentives to get the origination and risk rating right. To align their incentives, a good portion of the fees that rating agencies charge could be tied to whether they get the rating right or not. For example, the rating agencies could also be paid a bonus if they get the rating correct but be charged a penalty if they get it wrong. Currently, the pay-offs of rating agencies are similar to that of a government agency, i.e., more or less constant irrespective of how good a job they do.

This is not to suggest that the rating agencies don’t add much value currently; just that that they don’t have as much at stake as they should so that their incentives are better aligned. The rating agency adds value by providing its expertise in risk analysis and by objectively assessing the risk of the financial product. This benefits both the originator and investor. The investor brings the advantage of having access to substantial funds, which the originator may lack. The originator’s core competence, in this case, was in being able to provide credit in a commercially viable and sustainable manner. The process of securitisation pools the best competence and resource of each of the parties to the transaction, which the parties may not possess individually. If the gains and risk transfer is done more appropriately, the benefits from the disintermediation process can be significant. Securitisation needn’t necessarily be a dreadful word in the post-subprime era.


The author, formerly with JPMorganChase’s Global Capital Markets, trains finance professionals on derivatives and risk management. His book on credit derivatives is due to be published








One of the highlights of the Fortis-Wockhardt deal, where the former has bought ten hospitals of Wockhardt for Rs 909 crore, is its valuation. Valued at around Rs 52 lakh per bed, Fortis is considered to have made an offer Habil Khorakiwala, chairman of Wockhardt, could hardly refuse. Why did Fortis decide to pay such a nice sum for the hospitals, despite the fact that Khorakiwala was in a dire need to find a buyer at the earliest to pay off his company’s debts? What does this deal, the largest in the Indian healthcare sector, suggest about the present state and potential of Indian healthcare?


For one, Fortis has an ambitious target of reaching $1 billion (around Rs 5,000 crore) in revenues by 2012, with 40 hospitals and 6,000 beds. Fortis, which had bought Escorts in 2005 for over Rs 585 crore, already operates 28 hospitals across the country. So with the ten hospitals from the Wockhardt stable, Fortis has, at one stroke, come comfortably close to its target much ahead of the planned time period. The Wockhardt buy also gives it a total of 5,180 beds. It is estimated that Fortis would have had to shell out Rs 70 lakh to Rs 1 crore a bed, had it gone in for building up such a capacity from scratch.


Second, the deal helps Fortis, which was largely focused on the northern sector, to create a national healthcare delivery network. The ten hospitals are spread across Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata. With the acquisition, Wockhardt has ensured its presence in some of the key states like Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.


A third aspect is the current state of healthcare in India. The Economist Intelligence Unit has estimated the Indian healthcare sector (including pharmaceuticals) could grow to $82.5 billion by 2011, accounting for 4.5% of the GDP. It is estimated that there are 13 lakh private healthcare providers in India, of which 97% are unorganised and fragmented. Healthcare expenditure as a percentage of the GDP has been increasing, with the growth being driven by an increase in private expenditure. According to a study by Ernst & Young and Ficci, the percentage of private healthcare expenditure in India is the highest among Bric countries. It has been estimated that in India, the percentage of private healthcare spend in total healthcare expenditure is 81%, whereas it is 56%, 61% and 38% for Brazil, China and Russia, respectively.


Next comes the unmet needs of a majority of the population when it comes to access to healthcare. For the six states that comprise 37% of India’s population, hospital beds per thousand population are less than two-thirds of the current national average of 0.86, which is one-third of the world average. The growth in infrastructure has not matched the rise in the population and the increase in reported ailments.


Sadly, India lags behind other developing countries in terms of key healthcare indicators. The country’s disease burden was 37% higher than that of Brazil’s and 86% higher than China’s.


Yet as many as 68% of Indians do not use public facilities since they feel these are sub-standard in quality, while 47% cannot use these facilities since they are not located nearby, according to the All India National Family Health Survey of 2004. Most of the people opt for private treatment, although it is costly compared to public treatment (20-40 times for out-patients and 2-3 times for in-patients).


This high cost of healthcare can be a growing concern, considering that as much as 70% of India’s healthcare expenditure is financed out of pocket. According to a 2008 study, only 12% of the Indian population is covered by health-related insurance schemes.


The growth of the private sector has been attributed to a host of government policy changes following the economic reforms in 1986. While public health expenditure has remained more or less stagnant between 0.9% to 1.2% of the GDP, private expenditure has increased from 60% in 1990-91 to 80% in 2000-01.


While large private healthcare chains can tap into these avenues that open up domestically, medical

tourism from abroad is another lucrative area that some of these firms are looking to cash in on.


With the country offering highly cost-competitive and technologically advanced treatment in the areas of cardiology, joint replacement, orthopaedic surgery, gastroenterology, ophthalmology, transplants and urology, this is an area that is poised to become a $2 billion industry by 2012, according to a joint study by CII and McKinsey. Although opportunities abound, it will be interesting to watch how existing players spread their services pan India and even abroad, and how much they will be able to penetrate the rural population with innovative, affordable health delivery mechanism.








Just when the dust over Nandigram and Singur appeared to have been settling down with state land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah making it clear that the government would put a stop to haphazard land acquisition, another violent flare-up over land, this time in capital Kolkata’s north-eastern fringes, has come back to haunt the government. The mob violence at the city’s best-known 5-star spa and resort, Vedic Village, that destroyed at least 10% of the 125-acre property, was another shocking reminder of the state of lawlessness prevailing in West Bengal.


More importantly, it also points at the simmering discontent over land acquisition in the state. In fact home secretary Ardhendu Sen linked the arson to disgruntlement over land grabbing. But then the government itself has been leaning on the promoters of Vedic Realty, which set up a joint venture (Akash Nirman) with Webel, the state’s key IT agency, to get land for an IT project adjacent to the deluxe spa and involving majors Infosys and Wipro. That land sharks have been harassing farmers to give up their land is common knowledge. In a hurry to expand, there doesn’t seem to be enough transparency in the system, a point Mollah has made time and again. Recently, state IT minister Debesh Das even announced that the state government would be ready to hand over land (90 acres each) to the two IT majors by December. Now, that project appears to be in doubt. And though officially the IT majors say there’s no change in Kolkata expansion plans, everyone is not so sure.


What the incident will do to the hospitality sector is anybody’s guess. Already, foreign bookings are down due to swine flu advisories, the downturn and so forth.


The torching of Vedic Village, which had a high foreigner interest, will severely impact business—and future projects. Located as it is in Rajarhat, which is being developed as a new township, the incident may even lead people away from the area, and that’s the real scare for realtors, already battling a bad year.








It was in deep crisis mode that the Bharatiya Janata Party went to Shimla last week. There were so many problems plaguing the party that the Chintan (thought) Baithak might have been more appropriately called a Chinta (worry) Baithak. Consider the line-up of miseries: Vasundhara Raje’s rebellion, the Jaswant Singh expulsion fiasco, and more vexingly, the virtual quit notice issued to the party’s leadership quartet — Lal Krishna Advani, Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, and Sushma Swaraj — by the Rashtriya Swayam Sevaksangh supremo, Mohan Bhagwat. Then came Arun Shourie’s ‘Alice in Blunderland’ literary fireworks, call for ‘bombard[ing] the headquarters,’ and appeal to the RSS to take over the party, which sounded very much like a cry for extreme unction. The BJP will no doubt adopt the posture that individuals are wholly dispensable, yet its leadership must ask itself whether its conduct has not been spectacularly akratic — especially after the 2009 general election debacle.


To the consternation of its cadre, the party rewarded central campaign managers with key posts while punishing defeated State leaders. Mr. Rajnath Singh refused to acknowledge that the Shimla meet discussed a critical internal report, which he claimed did not even exist. The needless obfuscation and the rumours it fuelled gave the Shimla proceedings a cloak-and-dagger air, causing further damage to a party that once boasted of openness and inner-party democracy in contrast to the dynastically led Congress. The RSS of course has acted in character: declining Mr. Shourie’s invitation to take over the BJP, and insisting it had no role to play in the party’s internal affairs. But who can forget that Mr. Jaswant Singh was ordered out of the 1998 Cabinet by a midnight decision of the Sangh, which later oversaw Mr. Advani’s resignation from the party chief’s post and his subsequent elevation as shadow Prime Minister? Mr. Bhagwat has gone further down this road, suggesting that the BJP’s leadership quartet should vacate its posts in favour of candidates made available by the Sangh. Lest the ideological overlord’s message should escape the party, Mr. Bhagwat let it be known that he has an army of 70 loyalists to choose from. Clearly, the day of reckoning cannot be far away: the BJP must either take the Sangh bull by the horn or drift along without hope of political advancement, making a Jhandewalan takeover a fait accompli. India needs a strong and credible opposition at the national level. As matters stand, unnerved by defeat, a mentally and morally confused BJP is caught between its ‘core’ and a hard, indefinable place — a trap from which escape seems way beyond the capabilities of its present leadership.







Since the current global recession is fundamentally different from run-of-the-mill recessions, the turnaround will not be simple. Nor will it be easy this time to fix supply and demand side problems of the global economy. Conventional approaches such as easy monetary policy and exchange rate depreciation will have to be used in conjunction with other policy measures for an extended period. In its latest report, the International Monetary Fund, which from the beginning has been less pessimistic than the World Bank and other global institutions, says that although the recovery has started, sustaining it will require “delicate rebalancing” acts both within and across countries. On the supply side, financial intermediation — the allocation of resources that is central to growth — will be impaired in many developed countries. Their financial systems have been rendered partly dysfunctional. In emerging economies, capital flows that have decreased sharply may not revive fully in the next few years. On the demand side, even though the global economy will very likely resume its trend growth rate, the growth will not be strong enough to reduce unemployment at least in the near-term. Besides, all recovery forecasts are predicated on a combination of fiscal stimulus and inventory restocking by firms rather than on strong private consumption and spending on fixed investments.


Sooner or later, fiscal stimulus will have to be phased out and inventory adjustment will come to an end. Global recovery can be sustained by two rebalancing acts. First, there has to be a shift from public to private spending. Secondly, aggregate demand across countries needs to be rebalanced, with a shift from domestic to foreign demand in the United States and a reverse shift from foreign to domestic demand in the rest of the world, especially Asia. In many countries, including India, there is a realisation that fiscal stimulus, and along with it high fiscal deficits, cannot continue indefinitely. The U.S. was not only at the centre of the crisis but is also central to world recovery. For recovery to take place, its net exports must increase, thereby reducing the current account deficit. That would automatically mean that several Asian countries led by China decrease their surpluses by, for instance, buying more from the U.S. However, the outlook, both economic and political, is beset with uncertainties. The rebalancing as visualised may not take place easily. Looking to the immediate future, there ought to be a reasonable degree of coordination among countries to sustain the nascent recovery.









Mother Teresa, the diminutive nun who straddled her century as one of its most towering personalities, was at one level a very simple person and at another a complex enigma. In modern management parlance, she could well be projected as a management guru who could have presented to the world’s best business schools her uniquely evolved model for success. With 4,000 nuns, she created a multinational enterprise of service that encompassed 123 countries by the time she died in 1997.


She would however have rejected such a proposition because her model was not based on material achievement, but on its spiritual quotient that sprung from and was nurtured by her faith. It required no banks of computers, no army of accountants, no bureaucrats. Her Order was rooted to a unique vow of “wholehearted free service” to the abject poor and marginalised.


As her biographer, I found there were several mysteries that lent themselves to no easy answers. Mother Teresa was hardly qualified in academic terms. She never went to university and her studies were largely confined to the scriptures. And yet she set up hundreds of schools that lifted poor children from a desolate life on the streets. She provided a safety net for the homeless by opening feeding centres and soup kitchens and also started Shishu Bhawans for infants her sisters found abandoned in the streets. There were homes for the terminally ill, so that they were not alone when they died. Not all these centres were in the poorer parts of the world; many were in the affluent west where loneliness and despair was a sickness she likened to leprosy.


Her coming to India itself was a mystery, a word I use in its mystical sense. Born in 1910 in Skopje, then a small town in what was Albania at the time, Agnes was raised in relatively frugal circumstances by a fiercely Catholic mother, the youngest of three children. As a young girl, her imagination was stirred by stories of Yugoslav Jesuit priests who worked in distant Bengal. At the age of 14, barely a teenager, she asked her mother for permission to join the Church and work in India. At 18, she had her way and when she bade her mother goodbye, she was never to see her again.


We might well imagine Kolkata from an Eastern Europe standpoint in 1928. The journey from Albania to India would itself have seemed inconceivable to most. In those days missionaries hardly ever returned home and India was a world apart. To leave her tightly knit family for a most uncertain future in a land of whose language, customs and traditions she knew nothing was, at the very least, foolhardly. But young Agnes never recorded any doubts about this decision, even in her later years.


She had learned that the only way to India was through the Loreto Order of teaching nuns headquartered in Kolkata. Her route however lay through the heart of the Order in Ireland. From Zagreb she travelled by train and ship to Dublin, where she spent six weeks learning a smattering of English, a language unknown to her but which she would need in India. Her ship journey to Mumbai would have exposed her for the first time to peoples and climate so different from her own. And, finally, when the Bombay Mail steamed into Howrah station in Kolkata on a January morning in 1929, an 18-year-old had taken a major step that covered geography and time zones into a world that would gradually unfold itself. But of her decision, she was even then not in doubt.


She had said to me, as she had said to others before, that it was a lesser wrench for her to leave mother’s home than it was for her to leave the Loreto Convent in Entally. In her 20 years as a Loreto nun, first a teacher and later Principal, she developed the discipline of an Order; in its most simplistic sense, her life was regulated by the ringing of the school bell. Here there was order and security, but also some exposure to the disadvantaged, as many of her wards were orphans and children of poor parents, with whom she could speak in Bengali with ease.


She was happy in her work, but restless too. The world she glimpsed from her classroom window was made up of slums and abject poverty: it seemed to be the real world, and she slowly sensed that her vocation belonged there. She began to attempt this almost impossible transition from convent to street, but with her vows intact: a Catholic nun within the Church order, yet outside of it. This was inconceivable in the Church’s rigid framework. Her Superior General of Loreto gave her the nod to try. But the Archbishop of Kolkata forbade it.


In these many divides of life, she resorted to prayer that deepened her faith. I often found that she faced dilemmas by first a retreat to prayer, and then renewed attempts, until the object was achieved or otherwise. Two years later, surprisingly but perhaps not, the Vatican made its first exception of this kind.


Her early steps, too, were a mystery. What a strange sight she would have presented on the streets of Kolkata in 1948. A European not in a familiar western habit, but in a cheap sari similar to what the municipality sweepresses wore, her feet encased in a pair of rough leather sandals: a nun in her belief but not in appearance.


She was alone. She had no helper, no companion and carried no money to speak of. She stepped into a city in which she had taught long years but of which she knew nothing. She taught herself to beg, the ultimate humiliation for one whose life had not been luxurious but it had been secure. In her only diary, which I was privy to, she wrote of her struggle between her faith and the temptation to return to the security with convent walls.


Between occasional bouts of tears and longing to get back to Loreto, she set up her first school in the very slum she saw each morning outside her classroom. It had no classroom, no table, no chair, no blackboard. She picked up a stick and before a group of curious children who had never seen the inside of a school, she began to write the Bengali alphabet on the ground.


Within a few days, some rickety furniture appeared; someone donated a blackboard and chalk. Lay teachers from the Convent soon volunteered to teach. Her little school in Motijhil became reality. And soon there was a school in Entally. A tiny dispensary followed, stocked with a few basic medicines cajoled from chemists. Bengali-speaking Teresa discovered she could multi-task, and her disarming charm and directness moved people to want to help her.


Her early admirers included the legendary Chief Minister B.C. Roy’s family members. In later years the equally legendary Jyoti Basu lent her his shoulder. Till the end she invariably prefixed the words ‘my friend’, whenever she spoke of the latter. In the years in between, the Calcutta Statesman began to follow her activities. Her name became known outside Kolkata when the Indian government awarded her the Padma Shri at a ceremony where she arrived matter-of-factly in a van and at which she moved many to tears.


As a Hindu, armed only with a certain eclecticism, I found it took me longer than most to understand that Mother Teresa was with Christ in each conscious hour, whether at Mass or with each of those whom she tended. It was not a different Christ on her crucifix and a different one who lay dying at her hospice in Kalighat. Neither existed without the other; they were both one. There could be no contradiction in her oft-repeated words that one must reach out to one’s neighbour. For Mother Teresa, to love one’s neighbour was to love God. This was what was essential to her, not the size of her mission or the power others perceived in her. She explained this to me simply but meaningfully when she said, “We are called upon not to be successful, but to be faithful.” In her life, Mother Teresa exemplified that faith: faith in prayer, in love, in service, and in peace.


(Navin Chawla is the Chief Election Commissioner of India and the biographer of Mother Teresa.)









There is a hilltop east of Jerusalem with striking views down into Jericho, across the dry slopes of the West Bank and on to the Dead Sea. From the red ochre of the rock came the name Ma’ale Adumim, Hebrew for the Red Ascent.


Today it is a city of more than 30,000 people, with red-roofed apartment blocks, shopping malls, a public swimming pool and ancient olive trees sitting on neat roundabouts. A major highway runs down the hill, across the valley up into the centre of Jerusalem and beyond, connecting conveniently to Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean coast.


The extraordinary rise of Ma’ale Adumim captures the success of Israel’s vast settlement project and the extent of the challenge posed to any future Palestinian state by the settlements and the often overlooked infrastructure of Israel’s occupation.


In March 1975, there was no Ma’ale Adumim. After Israel captured and occupied the West Bank in the 1967 war, the site had been proposed as a possible industrial park. A group of young activist settlers from the Gush Emunim — the Bloc of the Faithful — arrived one morning and built a water tower and a simple concrete hut. They were removed that day by soldiers, but in December that year the first settler families moved in for good. The settlement city then grew exponentially.


The site is a compelling example of how infrastructure is used to extend Israel’s reach around and well beyond the settlement. Ma’ale Adumim’s buildings seem to cover one main hilltop, but the municipal area of the settlement is over 50, the size of Tel Aviv. Then there are the Israeli-built roads connecting Ma’ale Adumim with nearby smaller, satellite settlements, as well as a major highway running further east past Jericho and cutting across the West Bank until it reaches the Jordanian border. Israel is now building its steel and concrete West Bank barrier around Ma’ale Adumim and the other smaller settlements, effectively incorporating them on the “Israeli” side and by doing so taking another 24 square miles of the West Bank.


To the north and south of Ma’ale Adumim stretches a swath of land that is a closed military area, where access for Palestinians is prohibited. Just across the valley is an area known as E1, where a police station has been built, hillsides have been terraced and roads laid in preparation for a further 3,500 settler housing units, as well as offices, sports centres, 10 hotels and a cemetery. Other land nearby is designated Area C, a creation of the Oslo accords of the early 1990s, meaning Israel has full administrative and security control. In effect that means no Palestinians can build.


So while the apartment blocks of Ma’ale Adumim seem to have a limited though strategic footprint, Israel’s actual control extends much further and deeper into the West Bank. It is a pattern repeated again and again across the West Bank.


None of this should be a surprise. It becomes quickly obvious to those who have ever travelled through the West Bank. There are also countless reports from the U.N., the World Bank and Israeli and Palestinian groups documenting the reality on the ground.


Then there are the often striking admissions from within the establishment. Two years ago Haggai Alon, an adviser to the then Israeli Defence Minister, Amir Peretz, told the Ha’aretz daily that Israel was using the West Bank barrier to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state and that the Israel Defence Force was carrying out an “apartheid policy” in emptying the city of Hebron of Palestinians, setting up roadblocks across the West Bank and co-operating with settlers. “The actual policy of the IDF, especially in recent years, is creating profound changes that threaten to make it impossible to leave the West Bank,” Mr. Alon said. “We cannot allow the executive ranks to get us stuck in an irreversible binational situation.”


Or look at what Ariel Sharon, former Prime Minister and self-described pragmatic Zionist, wrote of his post-1967 plans for the Palestinian territories and the importance of control: “What I thought was that, regardless of whatever political solution the future might hold, we would have to keep the high controlling terrain — to protect and give depth to the tiny heartland along the coast, to be able to defend ourselves on the line of the river Jordan, and to secure Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish people forever. That was an indispensable, necessary minimum.”


In the 42 years since Israel captured the land, its control has grown apace. There are 149 settlements, together with at least another 100 “outposts” — smaller settlements unauthorised even by the Israeli government. Nearly 5,00,000 Jewish settlers now live in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In order to protect the settlements and, as Israel argues, to impose law and order, came a series of what the U.N. calls “multi-layered restrictions”: Checkpoints, trenches, earth mounds, road gates, roadblocks and a large restricted road network which Palestinians cannot use. Put together they seriously inhibit ordinary life for millions of Palestinians.


Then there is the West Bank barrier, begun at the height of the violence of the second intifada and today nearly 60 per cent complete. When finished, it will be 725 km, running inside the West Bank for 86 per cent of its length.


It effectively attaches many of the major settlements to Israel and in doing so places nearly 10 per cent of the West Bank and East Jerusalem on the “Israeli” side. When finished it will leave 35,000 Palestinians living in “closed areas” cut off from the rest of the West Bank and caught between the 1949 armistice line and the barrier.


Added to that are the large nature reserves and military closed areas, which Palestinians cannot enter and which are mainly in the Jordan Valley or near the Dead Sea. There are also 48 Israeli military bases. Beyond that, Israel has full control over Area C, which makes up nearly two-thirds of the West Bank. Planning restrictions are tight: 94 per cent of building permit applications have been refused between 2000 and 2007, according to the U.N. Today, there are around 3,000 pending demolition orders across the West Bank.


Instead, the Palestinians are confined to their fragmented urban areas, often behind checkpoints and where talk of a future contiguous, viable Palestinian state seems ever more remote. The effect of this political geography is so striking that even George Bush, who was perhaps the U.S. President most supportive of Israel, was moved early last year to say of a future Palestine: “Swiss cheese isn’t going to work when it comes to the outline of a state.”


Others are more direct. In their study Lords of the Land, Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar, an Israeli academic and a journalist, write: “The Jewish settlement, at God’s command and at the government’s will, has thus caused continuing and extensive damage to the basic human rights of the Palestinians who live in the territories, among them the rights to personal liberty, freedom of movement, and property; it has also thwarted any possibility for the realisation of the collective rights of those who lived in the territory before the intrusion of the Israeli forces, such as the right to national self-determination, including statehood.”









Attorney-General Eric H. Holder Jr. named a veteran federal prosecutor on Monday to examine abuse of prisoners held by the Central Intelligence Agency, after the Justice Department released a long-secret report showing interrogators choked a prisoner repeatedly and threatened to kill another detainee’s children.


Mr. Holder chose John H. Durham, a prosecutor from Connecticut who has been investigating the CIA’s destruction of interrogation videotapes, to determine whether a full criminal investigation of the conduct of agency employees or contractors is warranted. The review will be the most politically explosive inquiry since Mr. Holder took over the Justice Department in February.


The decision was a significant blow to the CIA, and Mr. Holder said he would be criticised for undercutting the intelligence agency’s work. He said that he agreed with President Barack Obama’s oft-expressed desire not to get mired in disputes over the policies of the former President, George W. Bush, but that his review of reports on the CIA interrogation programme left him no choice.


“As Attorney-General, my duty is to examine the facts and to follow the law,” Mr. Holder said in a statement. “Given all of the information currently available, it is clear to me that this review is the only responsible course of action for me to take.”


The Attorney-General said his decision to order an inquiry was based in part on the recommendation of the Justice Department’s ethics office, which called for a new review of several interrogation cases.


Mr. Holder said he was also influenced by a 2004 report by the then-CIA Inspector-General, John L. Helgerson, on the agency’s interrogations. The report was released on Monday under a court order in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.


Although large portions of the 109-page report are blacked out, it gives new details about a range of abuses inside the CIA’s overseas prisons, including suggestions about sexually assaulting members of a detainee’s family, staging mock executions, intimidation with a handgun and power drill, and blowing cigar and cigarette smoke into prisoners’ faces to make them vomit.


The report found that the interrogations obtained critical information to identify terrorists and stop potential plots and said some imprisoned terrorists provided more information after being exposed to brutal treatment.


But the Inspector-General’s review raised broad questions about the legality, political acceptability and effectiveness of the harshest of the CIA’s methods, including some not authorised by the Justice Department and others that were approved, like the near-drowning technique of water-boarding.


“This review identified concerns about the use of the water-board, specifically whether the risks of its use were justified by the results, whether it has been unnecessarily used in some instances,” the report said, and whether the frequency and volume of water poured over the prisoner’s mouth and nose exceeded the Justice Department’s legal authorisation.


In what appeared to be a response to the Justice Department’s release, the CIA, later on Monday, released previously secret agency reports from 2004 and 2005 that detailed intelligence produced by the interrogation programme.


One of the reports calls the programme “a crucial pillar of U.S. counterterrorism efforts” and describes how interrogations helped unravel a network headed by an Indonesian terrorist known as Hambali. The other report details information elicited from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, chief planner of the September 11, 2001, attacks, saying it “dramatically expanded our universe of knowledge on al-Qaeda’s plots.”


Those reports, which the former Vice-President, Dick Cheney, had sought to have released earlier this year, do not refer to any specific interrogation methods and do not assess their effectiveness.


The Inspector-General’s report, by contrast, offers details of abusive methods. During one session, a CIA interrogator threatened Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri, charged with plotting the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, by saying that if he did not cooperate with his captors, “we could get your mother in here” and “we can bring your family in here.”


According to the report, the interrogator wanted Nashiri to infer for “psychological” reasons that his female relatives might be sexually abused.


In another questioning, the report said, one CIA interrogator told investigators that Mohammed was told that if there was another attack on American soil, the CIA would “kill your children.” Mohammed’s young sons were in the custody of Pakistani and American authorities at the time.


Among a litany of CIA tactics, the report describes the “hard takedown,” when a detainee was grabbed and thrown to the floor before being moved to a sleep-deprivation cell. It details baths given to Nashiri, saying he was sometimes scrubbed with “the kind of brush one uses in a bath to remove stubborn dirt” to induce pain. In July 2002, the report says, a CIA interrogator grabbed a detainee’s neck to restrict the prisoner’s carotid artery until he began to faint. Another officer then “shook the detainee to wake him,” and the “pressure point” technique was repeated twice more.


Interrogators also staged a mock execution in 2002 to intimidate a detainee. CIA officers began screaming outside the room where he was being interrogated. When leaving the room, he “passed a guard who was dressed as a hooded detainee, lying motionless on the ground, and made to appear as if he had been shot to death.”


In 2003, CIA officers began using another technique — called “water dousing” — that involved laying a detainee on a plastic sheet and pouring water over him for 10 to 15 minutes.


According to the report, an interrogator believed this was an effective technique, and sent a cable back to CIA headquarters requesting guidelines.


A return cable explained that a detainee “must be placed on a towel or sheet, may not be placed naked on the bare cement floor, and the air temperature must exceed 65 degrees if the detainee will not be dried immediately.”


Such detailed guidelines reflected concern throughout the CIA about the potential legal consequences for agency officers. Officers “expressed unsolicited concern about the possibility of recrimination or legal action” and said “they feared that the agency would not stand behind them,” the report said.


The CIA director, Leon E. Panetta, issued a statement to employees Monday that carefully avoided defending the brutal treatment while expressing support for the agency’s efforts.


Mr. Panetta wrote that he was not “eager to enter the debate, already politicised, over the ultimate utility of the agency’s past detention and interrogation effort.” He said the programme had produced crucial intelligence but added that use of the harsh methods “will remain a legitimate area of dispute.”


Members of Congress from the left and the right criticised Mr. Holder’s decision.


Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, criticised the potential focus on interrogators, suggesting that ignoring Justice Department lawyers and senior Bush administration officials in the investigation had echoes of the Abu Ghraib scandal, when “lower ranking troops who committed abuses were hung out to dry.”


But Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said the Justice Department inquiry risked disrupting current counterterrorism operations. He said abuse charges have already been “exhaustively reviewed.”











People who persist in swapping copyrighted films and music will have their internet connections cut off under tough new laws to be proposed by the British government on Tuesday.


The measures also include taking the power to target illegal downloaders away from regulator Ofcom and giving it to ministers to speed up the process.


The decision to cut off peer-to-peer file-sharers is unexpected since it was ruled out by the government’s own Digital Britain report in June as going too far.


In the report, the then communications Minister, Lord Carter, said illegal file-sharers should receive letters warning them their activities could leave them open to prosecution. If that failed to reduce piracy by at least 70 per cent, Ofcom would have the power to call on internet companies such as BT to introduce so-called “technical measures” to combat piracy. The most draconian of these measures was to slow down a persistent file-sharer’s broadband connection, but it would not appear until 2012.


But the government will take the unusual step of proposing much stricter rules midway through the Digital Britain consultation process. Illegal file-sharers will still get warning letters but if they continue to swap copyrighted material they could have their internet connection temporarily severed, though it may be possible to retain basic access to online public services.


A similar law in France under which file-sharers could be cut off for up to a year was recently kicked out by the country’s highest court as unconstitutional. In the U.K., privacy groups are likely to challenge any similar legislation as contrary to human rights law.


The power to introduce technical measures, meanwhile, will rest with the Secretary of State, not Ofcom and their introduction will not rely upon an arbitrary 70 per cent reduction in piracy but be up to the Minister’s discretion as he tries to secure the future of the U.K.’s creative industries. “The previous proposals, whilst robust, would take an unacceptable amount of time to complete in a situation that calls for urgent action,” according to a draft of the government’s new plan.


The surprise move will intensify speculation that Lord Mandelson reached a secret deal to protect the film and music industries with Hollywood mogul David Geffen earlier this month.


The Business Secretary met Mr. Geffen, founder of Asylum Records and the man who set up DreamWorks with Steven Spielberg, at a private dinner with members of the Rothschild banking dynasty at the family’s holiday villa on Corfu.


Following that meeting with Mr. Geffen, a long-term and outspoken opponent of online piracy, Mr. Mandelson instructed officials at his Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), charged with tackling online piracy by June’s report, to clampdown even harder on the pirates.





Last night, a BIS spokesperson said there was no discussion of online piracy when Mr. Mandelson met Geffen and there is no connection between that meeting and the government’s new proposals on illegal file sharing.


The music and film industries had campaigned hard to have measures introduced earlier than 2012 and the fact that persistent pirates can be cut off is likely to be welcomed. The U.K.’s internet service providers, however, will be less pleased by the plans. Several have made it quite plain they have no desire to police the web on behalf of another industry.


They will be particularly annoyed that the government reckons the cost of technical measures should be borne by the ISPs and it wants that enshrined in the autumn’s Digital Economy bill. The content industry, meanwhile, will continue to pick up the tab for identifying illegal file-sharers and preparing enough information for them to be targeted by the ISPs, while the costs of the letter-writing campaign will be split equally.









U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday will nominate Ben S. Bernanke to a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve, administration officials said.

The announcement is a major victory for Mr. Bernanke, a Republican who was appointed by President George W. Bush almost four years ago and who had briefly served as chairman of Mr. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers.


A top White House official said Mr. Obama had decided to keep Mr. Bernanke at the helm of the Fed because he had been bold and brilliant in his attempts to combat the financial crisis and the deep recession.


“The President thinks that Ben’s done a great job as Fed chairman, that he has helped the economy through one of the worst experiences since the Great Depression and that he has essentially been pulling the economy back from the brink of what would have been the second Great Depression,” the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, said on Monday night.


Mr. Obama will announce his decision, with Mr. Bernanke at his side, at 9 a.m. at an appearance at Oak Bluffs School on Martha’s Vineyard, where the Obama family is vacationing this week.


White House officials said that Mr. Obama had effectively decided four or five weeks ago that he wanted Mr. Bernanke to continue, and that he formally discussed the job with him last week at a meeting with the Fed chairman in the White House.


The senior official said Obama did not offer the job to anyone else, even though a number of high-powered Democratic economists were considered potentially strong candidates to replace him.


Mr. Bernanke, who spent most of his career as a professor of economics, most recently at Princeton, took over the Fed in February 2006. His current four-year term as chairman will expire January 31.













Human resources development minister Kapil Sibal, with an eye on making India a producer of knowledge at the international level, has thrown up a useful proposal about establishing a core curriculum in mathematics and science for all school boards in the country to follow. This could aid the process of scholars attaining a certain basic level of proficiency across boards in these areas of study that act as building blocks for many branches of learning at the university level. Speaking to the annual conference of the Council of Boards of School Education in India on Monday, the HRD minister also returned to the theme of abandoning the system of awarding marks in favour of the grades system. This suggestion too is likely to be received well by students and the community of parents, and possibly also by educationists. However, Mr Sibal’s views on the teaching of Hindi by all schools in the country are likely to be met with less enthusiasm.


Although details are not available at this stage, by referring to the need to acquire "fluency" in Hindi, the minister may have left the impression that the teaching of the national language be made compulsory up to a certain level so that children may gain more than a nodding acquaintance with it. A distinction needs to be made here between scholars being familiar with the national language, in addition to being proficient in their mother tongue and in English, and possessing higher order capabilities in handling Hindi. The former is a helpful idea, just as much as it is for school students from the Hindi region to learn a language from another part of the country. The larger process of national integration, which Mr Sibal invokes in his espousal of Hindi, will undoubtedly be well served if people of this diverse country were familiar with languages and cultural practices other than their own. It is altogether another matter to say that schools across the country should insist that students should have attainments of a higher level in Hindi than is the case at present.


Since the three-language formula came into play across India after considerable debate, discussion and agitation, it has worked well on the whole. At the practical level there is no resistance to learning Hindi in any state and children from non-Hindi regions actually go through a basic level of Hindi in their school curriculum. On the other hand, it is children whose mother tongue is Hindi who are not always taught another Indian language in school. It will be well to cover this lacuna. As for national integration, Mr Sibal will appreciate that we are far better off today than a few decades ago. Besides, it is not the Hindi question that is standing in the way. Learning any language opens our mind to a new universe. It is only when perceptions of discrimination and compulsion enter the picture that trouble is encountered.









The term "genetically-modified (GM) foods" refers to crops produced for human or animal consumption using the recombinant DNA techniques. Crop plants are modified in the laboratory to enhance desired traits, mainly biotic and abiotic stress tolerance, improved nutritional content, etc. These traits were earlier carried out through conventional plant breeding, but these breeding methods are very time-consuming and often not very accurate. However, with recombinant DNA technology, plants with the desired traits can be produced, very rapidly and with greater accuracy. For example, we can isolate a gene responsible for conferring drought tolerance, introduce that gene into a plant, and make it drought tolerant. One of the best-known examples of using non-plant genes to transform crops is the use of Bt genes, in cotton and many other crops. Bt, or Bacillus thuringiensis, is a naturally occurring bacterium that produces crystal proteins that are lethal only to insect larvae. Bt crystal protein genes have been transferred into cotton, soya, corn, brinjal, enabling the plants to produce its own pesticides against insects such as the American bollworm, European corn borer. Bt genes are lethal only in the acidic, insect gut environment and do not get activated in an alkaline environment, prevalent in humans and other animals that feed on these plants.

Benefits of GM foods


The world population has crossed six billion and is predicted to double in the next 50 years. Ensuring an adequate food supply for this booming population is a major challenge in the years to come. GM foods promise to meet this need in a number of ways:


l Pest resistance: Crop losses from insect pests are staggering, resulting in devastating financial loss for farmers, sometimes starvation in countries such as ours. Indiscriminate use of pesticides is also a potential health hazard, and the run-off of agricultural wastes from excessive use of pesticides and fertilisers poisons the water supply and harms the environment. Growing GM foods such as Bt brinjal helps reduce the application of pesticides substantially, as 80 per cent of brinjal crop are infested with pests.


l Disease resistance: There are many viruses, fungi and bacteria that cause plant diseases and thereby contribute to yield loss. Plant biologists are working to create genetically engineered plants with resistance to these diseases, such as developing sheath blight resistance in rice.


l Cold/heat tolerance: Climate change is a reality and farmers are facing the vagaries of weather, like unexpected frost or excess heat. Researchers have identified an antifreeze gene from cold-water fish and introduced it into plants such as tobacco and potato to study the efficacy of the plant to withstand extreme temperatures. Also, research is on to identify plants that can survive excess heat, submergence tolerance etc.

l Drought tolerance/salinity tolerance: As the world population grows and more land is converted for housing instead of food production, farmers need to grow crops in non-arable land, previously unsuited for plant cultivation. Creating plants that can withstand long periods of drought or high salinity in soil and groundwater will help people to grow crops in large, barren wetlands/drylands in our country.


l Nutrition: Malnutrition is rampant in our country where people rely on a single crop such as rice as their main staple food. However, rice does not contain adequate amounts of all necessary micro and macronutrients. If rice could be genetically engineered to contain additional vitamins, iron and/or minerals, nutrient deficiencies could be alleviated. For example, we, at MSSRF (M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation), are working on improving the iron content, with encouraging results.

l Phytoremediation: Soil and groundwater pollution continues to be a problem in many parts of the world. Plants such as poplar trees, brassica spp are being genetically engineered to clean up heavy metal pollution from soil contaminated with metals like lead, arsenic, and cadmium.


Environmental activists, religious organisations, non-governmental organisations, have all raised concerns about GM foods and criticised agribusiness for pursuing profit without concern for potential hazards, and criticised the government for failing to exercise adequate regulatory oversight. Most concerns about GM foods fall into three categories — environmental hazards, human health risks, and economic concerns. Unintended harm to other organisms; reduced effectiveness of pesticides; gene transfer to non-target species are some of the concerns of the environmental concerns of GM crops. There is no scientific evidence to prove any of these concerns as real, since commercialisation of transgenic crops over the past 10 years, in the world. Allergenicity; unknown effects on human health are some of the main health concerns. All GM crops are subjected to thorough regulatory processes and toxicology and allergenicity tests data needs to be shared with the regulatory authorities prior to commercialisation.


Bringing a GM food to market is a lengthy and costly process, and agri-biotech companies want to ensure a profitable return on their investment. Many new plant genetic engineering technologies and GM plants have been patented, and patent infringement is a big concern of agribusiness. This is a genuine concern and therefore it is important for governments such as ours to fund and support public sector research in reputed universities or agriculture institutes to ensure quality research and also keep prices under check. I would like to emphasise that after weighing in all the hazards, environmental, health and economic concerns, only then decisions are taken to commercialise a GM product. So, while there can be ambiguity while conducting the research, or during trials, once they get regulatory approval, it simply means that they have been subjected to stringent scrutiny and are safe for commercial release.


Governments around the world are hard at work to establish an effective regulatory process to monitor the effects of and approve new varieties of GM plants. In India, very soon, we will have in place a very effective, independent credible regulatory authority to ensure safe release of GM products. GM foods have the potential to solve many of the world’s hunger and malnutrition problems, and to help protect and preserve the environment by increasing yield and reducing reliance upon chemical pesticides. Yet there are many challenges ahead for governments, especially in the areas of safety testing, regulation, international policy and food labelling.


M.S. Swaminathan is the chairman of the National Commission on Farmers. He is considered to be the father of India’s green revolution.










THE shooting incident at Ludhiana railway station involving the death of one person and injuries to two policemen on Tuesday morning is a serious matter. The assailant, Balbir Singh Bhootna, was arrested after a fierce gun battle between him and the police. A proclaimed offender, Balbir is believed to be a Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) activist by the police. He has also been involved in some other firing incidents. On June 30 the Ludhiana police took in custody three persons after the recovery of 32 gelatin sticks and six detonators from their possession. They were part of a module belonging to the Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF). Police investigations revealed that the three were getting different kinds of assistance from Ranjit Singh alias Neeta, a terrorist operating from Pakistan. The KZF had also owned up responsibility for the killing of Baba Niranjan Dass, head of Dera Sach Khand, in Vienna recently.


These are not the only incidents indicating that on occasions attempts are still made to revive terrorism in Punjab. In June 2008 the Punjab police had arrested a woman operative of the KZF on charges of planning to assassinate Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. Four BKI activists were nabbed in Delhi last year for being engaged in a plot to eliminate Dalit godman Piara Singh Bhaniarawale.


These arrests provide enough proof that vestiges of the forces of terrorism in Punjab are trying to raise their head again. They may not be in a position to threaten the peace in the state in a big way today, but the fact that they are getting active again is definitely a cause for concern. There is a need to keep a close watch on the activities of the BKI, the KZF and other terrorist outfits, which had wreaked havoc during those dark days of Punjab terrorism. Terrorist outfits must not be allowed to regroup themselves again at any cost. Vigilance is the price of peace in Punjab. 








THE BJP was yet to recover from the Jaswant Singh salvo when it has been hit by an Arun Shourie missile. While Mr Jaswant Singh had gone into blast-BJP mode fully after he was unceremoniously shown the door, Mr Shourie has done that perhaps pre-expulsion — and in far more castigating terms. He has not only described the present state of the party as “Kati patang” — certainly an apt description of a party adrift — he has castigated party president Rajnath Singh as “Humpty Dumpty” (a nincompoop). The interesting thing is that he has done so with the RSS shield in hand. Mr Shourie has come to the conclusion that the party has no cure for itself, but to believe that the RSS can save the party is not convincing either. By suggesting that the RSS should swiftly take over the reins of the party, he has perhaps made sure that the counter-fire will only come from the direction of the BJP and not the Sangh Parivar.


Whatever happens in the days to come, the ugly internecine war in the party makes a sad spectacle. The erstwhile ruling party will be only debilitating itself further through such self-inflicted wounds. The fight for supremacy that is currently on among various groups may end up in mutual harm. If things degenerate this way, the next insider-outsider taking potshots at it might very well be Mr Yashwant Sinha who had already made his intentions clear through his remarks critical of the Advani camp soon after the party’s general election debacle.


Mr Arun Shourie has been an outspoken and forthright journalist, and it might not be right to say that he is lashing out only because his Rajya Sabha term is coming to an end and he has nothing to gain from the party. His words may be biting, but he is not off the mark. The present leadership has proved that it is incapable of applying the necessary correctives. But handing over the reins to leaders handpicked by the RSS may also prove counter-productive. Mr Shourie must be knowing this, but he too has not suggested a cure for the party as it is. He could be asking himself why he did not realise earlier that he was in the wrong company all along.








IT is shocking that Punjab has been selling off over Rs 400 crore of its government securities each month this financial year due to a precarious economic situation, as reported by The Tribune on Tuesday. That it has auctioned state development loans worth Rs 1,743 crore in four months and has plans to raise Rs 5,000 crore in the whole year shows how starved the state is for funds. One would have expected a degree of fiscal prudence from a state whose finances are in bad shape. But there seems no realization of this in the corridors of power. Indeed, the Prakash Singh Badal government has shown appalling myopia by notching up a massive subsidy bill of Rs 4,500 crore this year to curry favour with vote banks. At the same time, its failure to raise resources by imposing no fresh taxes in this year’s budget speaks of grave irresponsibility.


Significantly, the power subsidy bill has been growing with no commensurate increase in revenues. The Badal government has also been subsidising the local bodies department for octroi, sewage and house-tax besides a heavy outgo on the populist ‘atta-dal’ scheme. That such economic recklessness is not having the desired impact on the voter was clear from the Akali Dal-BJP alliance’s performance in the recent Lok Sabha elections. The helplessness that State Finance Minister Manpreet Badal showed during his budget presentation, hinting that he was facing huge pressures within the coalition not to raise more resources through taxation showed that expediency rules supreme in economic decision-making in the state. Adding to its woes, the 5th State Pay Commission has saddled the state with an additional expenditure of Rs 3,000 crore on Government salaries during this fiscal


Clearly, Punjab, which was traditionally one of the country’s richer states, is sliding. Industrial growth is at a standstill and agriculture is still dependent on the vagaries of weather. New initiatives that are required to pull the state out of morass have virtually dried up in a dispensation that lacks drive and dynamism.









India is facing the worst drought this year. The Centre’s concern was reflected in the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s address to the nation from the ramparts of Red Fort on Independence Day. He said that the Centre was committed to tackle drought on priority.


The Prime Minister also took stock of the situation at the Chief Ministers’ conference. In all, 177 districts have been declared drought hit. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, Haryana, Assam, Manipur, Himachal Pradesh and parts of other states are likely to be affected by the deficient rainfall. Manipur and Himachal Pradesh have declared drought in all districts.


The monsoon deficiency has dropped to 29 per cent of the normal and the situation is grim. In different regions, northwest is 43 per cent deficient, northeast 36 per cent, central India 19 per cent and south peninsula is 23 per cent rainfall deficient. According to the Indian Metreological Department, annual rains are likely to be 87 per cent of the normal LPA (long period average). Deficient rainfall will result in 20 per cent decline in sowing of kharif crops.


According to the latest data of the Agriculture Ministry, the paddy coverage is 57.1 lakh ha less than the last year. There is also a deficiency of 1.17 lakh ha in area under total coarse seeds and 1.29 lakh ha in sugarcane. However, pulses have been sown in around 6 lakh ha more and cotton around 11 lakh ha more.


Good rains have been received in Orissa and West Bengal and have normal sowing of major crops. In 2002 also, the country had disastrous monsoon that fell to 83 per cent of the normal. That year the worst-drought compressed economic growth to 3.7 per cent, drove inflation to a two-year high, and led to a 19 per cent fall in output of summer-sown crops, including a slump in the oilseeds harvest that drove up imports.


In major announcements, the Centre has decided to postpone the date for repayment of farmers’ bank loans and provide additional support to farmers for payment of interest on short-term crop loans. In the long-term measures, the Prime Minister has exhorted the people to give more attention to programmes for water collection and storage. ‘Save Water’ should be one of our national slogans. To put the concerted action on the ground, the Centre has constituted a high-powered Group of Ministers under the chairmanship of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to suggest immediate measures to help the farmers.


The Centre has taken many steps to help farmers face the drought and protect the standing crops from further damage. A diesel subsidy of 50 per cent has been provided to farmers with a maximum of Rs 1000 per hectare to facilitate supplementary irrigation in drought affected and rainfall deficient areas.


Additional power has been made available from the Central pool to the affected States such as Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Assam. The aim is to ensure that all agricultural operations are carried out in time to arrest loss in production. Against a total seed requirement of 110.96 lakh quintals required by different states, availability of 126.50 lakh quintals of seed has been ensured.


Procurement and distribution of Truthfully Labelled seeds has also been permitted as a special measure for kharif, 2009. Distribution of mini-kits has also been included as an admissible item under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) and age relaxation of seed varieties has been permitted under the National Food Security Mission (NFSM).


State agricultural universities and Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) have been directed to ensure timely dissemination of advisory services to the agricultural extension staff and farmers. In areas where crop status is good either due to good rainfall or developed water sources for irrigation, supply of needed inputs, especially fertilisers and pesticides would be ensured to maintain and protect the crop health.


Schemes such as the RKVY, the NFSM, the National Horticulture Mission (NHM), Macro Management in Agriculture (MMA) have been provided with additional funds and flexibility to use the available funds for crop development to support alternate crops. The government has also placed special emphasis on improving the availability of farm credit through increased coverage and renewal of Kisan Credit Cards.


Though the buffer stocks of the Central Government are enough to feed the nation for 13 months, the drought will make people more prone to hunger and malnutrition due to less availability of foodgrains and rising prices of commodities. However, the Public Distribution System (PDS) is one of the most important instruments in providing food and nutritional security in India.


There is an urgent need to further strengthen the public distribution system to ensure the availability of some more essential commodities like pulses in addition to wheat, rice, sugar, kerosene oil and edible oils to meet all the nutritional requirements of the public. The supply of foodgrains and other commodities in the drought-hit districts should be ensured.


The Mid-day Meal scheme is well targeted to cover the children. It should be monitored closely in drought-hit areas. In some long-term measures, the Centre and the states should facilitate the setting up of local level community food banks comprising locally grown grains and legumes so that the availability of food articles is ensured in the hour of need. In such food banks, food articles should be loaned as per the need and should be realised after the surplus harvest.


Setting up of food buffers at Gram Panchayat and Gram Sabha level are a must for regular and timely supply to the needy.


The network of crop insurance should be increased to cover more crops and areas to avoid distress among the farmers and also lessen their debt burden.


In this critical period, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) will be a great buffer to mitigate the miseries of the drought-affected people. It will, certainly, enhance the access of more than four crore households to food. The Centre should help farmers purchase inputs for the next rabi crop. It should take every possible measure to instil faith in the farmers.


The writer is Scientist, Mycology and Plant Pathology, Dr Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, Nauni (Solan)







Francis Maina is hunched over a tree stump. He secures a rusted chain around it and signals for the tractor to start earth like a tooth from a jaw. As he works, the nearby standing forest soaks up a gentle afternoon rain, pulling it into the soil. In Maina’s razed field the water runs down the cratered hillside in channels of black mud.


The 60-year-old farm labourer stands in the midst of an ecological rape scene: scorched earth scattered with the burnt stumps of centuries-old trees. He is one of thousands of Kenyans who have settled inside this supposedly protected forest that stretches from the Mau escarpment down to the Maasai plains and up to the central highlands.


The largest forest in East Africa acts as a water tower for an otherwise arid land, feeding its lakes and rivers, regulating the climate and refreshing its underground acquifers. But an epic drought has plunged Kenya into an ecological crisis and its dried up rivers can no longer turn the blades of the hydro-electric turbines. Power rationing is switching off the lights in the capital Nairobi for days at a time.


Which means the fate of the forest has finally caught the attention of Kenya’s warring politicians who have vowed to evict the “squatters” from the Mau. While they argue over land claims and compensation demands, Maina and hundreds like him are finishing the job of killing the forest.


“The politicians have their own land,” Maina says with a scowl. “Now they want to move the poor people so they can take our land.”


Turqa Jirmo, a senior warden with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), is heading a task force set up last year to save the forest. He still hasn’t recovered from his first task which was to fly over the land for four days to assess the damage. “I was amazed. I never believed the destruction had gone so far. I couldn’t see the forest because of the charcoal smoke coming from the ground.”


Charts on his office wall map out the complexity of 12 forest blocks that make up the Mau’s 400,000 hectares. Mr Jirmo estimates as much as 40 per cent of it has already been destroyed. The challenge of saving what’s left is complicated by illegal loggers or “wood poachers” as he calls them; a flourishing illegal charcoal trade, and the deeply politicised issue of the settlers. The green lines of the protected areas on his maps are marked with red zones where past governments have doled out woodlands to their supporters in a blatant example of land for votes.


While the politicians haggle over compensation in their Nairobi offices lit by petrol generators, speculators are using the hiatus to slash and burn as much profit as they can ahead of possible evictions.


In February, the Mau complex was engulfed in flames, with an inferno that destroyed thousands of hectares and burned for four days. “People deliberately set the fire,” Mr Jirmo remembers. “There are confusing signals from the politicians and people are trying to harvest as much of the forest before the government can evict them.” The head of the Mau task force sees any failure in his mission in the starkest terms. “The forest is a lifeline for Kenya. Without it Kenya has no future.”


The disaster is already present in Lake Nakuru, renowned for its spectacular flamingoes. The two rivers that feed the lake have dried up and the KWS is having to pump water from deep underground to keep the animals alive.


Kenya’s vital tourist industry would buckle, he warns, as already the spectacle of the Great Wildebeest Migration has been ruined by the historically low levels of the Mara river. World-famous parks, like Kenya’s Masai Mara and Tanzania’s Serengeti would also be at risk.


Conflict between humans and wildlife will rise as “rivers no longer flow to pastoral areas.” And urban centres will not escape. Sondu Miriu, one of the country’s major hydro-electric stations that lies downstream from the Mau, is already running at one-tenth of capacity.


And competition for water could even re-ignite the ethnic clashes that last year killed as many as 1,500 people and displaced tens of thousands more. “This is going to be a security problem,” Mr Jirmo warns.


Kenya’s Nobel prize-winning environmentalist Wangari Maathai is orchestrating the ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign to halt the destruction and identify the culprits. Underneath the environmental catastrophe, she asserts, is a political scandal as venal as Kenya’s notorious public financial frauds.


The small Ogiek tribe of traditional forest dwellers have found themselves at the unwitting centre of the sting. “The Ogiek were used as a way to get access to the land,” explains Christian Lambrecht from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which is based in Nairobi.


One of the most heavily populated illegal Mau settlements is Sierra Leone, given its name after being handed out to army officers returning from peacekeeping operations in West Africa. Entire stretches of the Mau are carved into lucrative wheat farms openly owned by ministers who served the former president Daniel Arap Moi.


And when current Prime Minister Raila Odinga set out to name and shame land-grabbers in the Mau he found half of his own political allies among them. The poor that have cleared, rented or bought plots here now offer cover to the bigger interests who stand to benefit from any government compensation.


Godana Guyo is a KWS ranger with 18 years of experience and admits that he is pessimistic about the chances of saving the forest. 


 By arrangement with The Independent






Sattan Bai’s joy knew no bounds when she received the first monthly pension of Rs 200 in Maniya in Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh. This was not part of any government scheme but the result of a bold step taken by the village community though its Gram Sabha.


Maniya village probably becomes the first village in the state where Gram Sabha has started its pension scheme for destitutes, the most vulnerable and for those who are physically unable to do any work for their living”, says Ajab Singh Maravi, Sarpanch, Chhatarwada Gram Panchayat.


The Madhya Pradesh Rural Livelihoods Project, which works through Gram Sabhas, took this initiative for promotion and protection of livelihoods of the rural poor. It found quick takers amongst the village body in Maniya, predominantly comprising the Gond tribe.


“The Gram Sabha has taken a radical decision to give pension to the most vulnerable persons” says Pramod Singhai, member of Zilla Panchayat. The step, according to Sukirti Bhushan, programme coordinator of Tagore Shiksha Samiti working in 14 villages in the district, was a direct result of the strengthening of the Gram Sabhas.


The Gram Sabha is aware that it cannot be a substitute for a more expansive government policy to cater to the needs of the underprivileged. Sukhchain Singh Chicham, Gram Panchayat Secretary, says that the pension will continue till the government benefits under similar schemes reach people like Sattan Bai. He acknowledges that government social protection schemes do exist but procedural complexity becomes a hurdle.


Lamu Singh Maravi, social worker, says that access to welfare schemes is difficult for the poor specially in remote tribal villages. Villagers hear about the schemes but no official visits or guides them through the procedures. As a result, they remain bereft of its benefit.


Another lacuna is that many deserving families do not meet the eligibility criteria. And this is where the Maniya Gram Sabha has stepped in to protect the people. Lamu Singh Maravi says, “We are happy to have taken this decision because we have Rs 1.50 lakh in our Gram Kosh (Village Fund).


This sentiment finds resonance across the village community. Nainvati Bai, member, Social Protection Committee, says “the Gram Sabha has evolved a set of rules sanctioning the pension which makes the entire process methodical and transparent”.


The entire process of the Gram Sabha reflects a flexibility to go beyond the confines of a set criterion defined for beneficiaries and respond to their needs directly. Sattan Bai’s is a case in point. “We found that Sattan Bai in our village deserves help as she is 96 years old and her widow daughter works in a crusher unit”, says Adan Singh Up-Sarpanch, Chhatarwada Gram Panchayat.


Shiv Prasad, who heads a self-help group, is worried about how long this can continue. After all, he says, the Gram Kosh will exhaust some day. The members of the social protection committee, however, believe that government help is inevitable and the mechanism at the Gram Sabha level is only for an interim period. Once the government scheme meets the need of an individual, having fallen within its eligibility criterion, the Gram Kosh pension will be discontinued. The Gram Kosh will function as a safety net so that no one is left out in the cold.


 Charkha Features








A recent decision of the Assam State Information Commission exempting the Fair Price Shops and the Co-operatives operating as Fair Price Shops from the purview of the Right to Information Act, 2005 has rightly shocked the RTI activist like Akhil Gogoi of Krishak Mukti Sangram Sammittee, who is fighting relentlessly to expose the corruption in public distribution system in some districts. The Fair Price Shops and the Co-operatives engaged in distribution of essential commodities are all appointed by the State government and they act as agents of the government unlike the cooperative housing societies of Karnataka. The Registrar of Societies has correctly notified the Secretaries of the Cooperative Societies as Public Information Officers liable to furnish information sought by the citizens under the Right to Information Act, 2005. This decision of the Assam Information Commission negates the spirit of the RTI Act which aims at transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority to contain corruption. It appears that the Assam Information Commission instead of helping citizens in getting information had shut the door to information in an important activity of the government.

What is more surprising is the fact that the Assam State Information Commission had advised Akhil Gogoi to submit a review petition praying for review of the above controversial order. It is also learnt the a review petition has already been entertained by the Commission. Orders of the State Information Commission is binding unless set aside by a higher court. There is no provision of review of an order by the Commission under the RTI Act. The only course open to the aggrieved party is to approach the High Court to set aide the order of the State Information Commission. It has also been made clear by the Union Government that the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission must hear the appeals with full commission sitting together and not hear appeal sitting in benches. Therefore there is no scope for the State Information Commission to entertain a review petition and review its own orders which would be perverse and travesty of justice. A quasi-judicial body like the State Information Commission must not only deliver justice but also follow the law in its true spirit.








Technology has always been a double-edged weapon. The rapid advancement in the field of science and technology has made life much easier. Today it is almost unthinkable to imagine life without the latest gadgets and tools. The new gizmos no doubt have considerably improved the quality of life and have catapulted almost everyone in the fast track. The sheer speed of change has in turn made today’s novelty obsolete tomorrow. Modern technology has ushered in manifold benefits for mankind. But in spite of all its positive aspects, there is a flip side of it too. It all depends on its application. There is always the lurking danger of misuse of the scientific marvels. And this danger is very apparent in the information technology sector. The IT sector has over the years has developed at a break neck speed. The information super highways have shrunk the world like never before. The internet revolution in its wake have heralded a new dawn in information gathering and communication. Today internet has become all pervasive and life without it would be slow and cumbersome.

But the positive aspect of the internet has been to some extent negated by the spurt in the incidences of cyber crime. Almost in all the domains where the internet facility is being used are now being dogged by the cyber criminals. The internet has become a convenient tool in the hands of the unscrupulous elements to dupe the unsuspecting people. Many have lost their investments at the financial markets, online trading by entering into deals unknowingly with the cyber criminals. Not only investments, a section of the unseen cyber criminals are using the net to invade ones privacy and in tarnishing the reputation. With the social networking sites being very popular, more so among the young generation, the hackers and users of it with a criminal intent are having a field day. The social networking sites are being used to make unwelcome contacts with the young impressionable minds, more so with girls. Some of the incidents which have come to light in Guwahati have left the victims traumatised. They have become vulnerable as were conned and shared their personal information in the net. These stalkers are increasingly using the social networking sites to make advances to the young women and tarnish their reputation by doctoring the pictures and information posted in those sites. It is not the easiest of task to crack down on the faceless cyber criminals. Being vigilant while using the net can help in keeping these criminals at bay. Considering the proliferation of such crimes, stringent laws and its enforcement is a must to tackle it. Cyber crime fighters round the globe must coordinate their activities to make the net safe.








Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh acknowledged that cross-border terrorism remained the most pervasive threat to the country and that there were credible intelligence inputs from across the border that the terrorist groups were planning fresh attacks. For this the present UPA government had adopted several additional measures following the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, stressed on the need for continued vigilance, as there were signs of revival of overground militant activities. Terming left-wing extremism as a complex problem, Dr Sing said the State should discharge its responsibilities and obligations and reestablish the rule of law in areas dominated by naxalites and simultaneously work to remove the causes for alienation of the people. Thus the Prime Minister identified the most important reason for increasing act of terrorism and new recruitment by the militant outfits by manipulating the fact of all-pervasive poverty as well as lack of sustainable development including the inability of the administration to make the distribution system proper so that it can touch all sections of people. This is undoubtedly a humble recognition by the Prime Minister that gave a clear message that all the governments both at the Centre and in the States cannot shy away from this accountability. At the same time the Prime Minister hinted at the possibility of fresh attacks by Pakistan-based terror outfits, sending a calibrated message to both his domestic audience and to interlocutors in Islamabad.

In fact, Dr Sing chose not to make any reference to this in his Independence Day speech, but he was quite forthright in indirectly slamming the Pakistan government during the Chief Ministers’ meet for its failure to rein in terrorist elements operating from its soil. Thus it is plausible to detect in Dr Sing’s speech on internal security an effort to turn his back on the Sharm el-Sheikh joint statement that created controversy in internal politics. But Dr Singh saw it fit to sound a terror alert, urging the top executives of diverse hues from the States that India simply cannot afford to drop its guard. He was quite right as terrorist acts from Pakistan have been so numerous and so persistent for a quarter-century as to form a dark line. It is an established fact that the Pakistani military establishment has shadowy relationship with the terror outfits. This shows that Islamabad has done little to destroy the terrorists’ infrastructure and training facilities. Despite the assurance given by the Pakistani rulers on more than one occasion, the terrorist groups working against India are apparently being allowed to operate unhindered. No serious action has also been taken against the plotters of the Mumbai terrorist strike. Pakistan’s duplicity must be exposed in the interest of stability in South Asia. At the same time, India must remain ever-watchful.

The much awaited Chief Ministers’ meet failed to evolve a consensus on tackling the scourge of terrorism and exposed the sharp political divide as the BJP-ruled States hit out at the Centre for blunting the edge of anti-terror campaign by rejecting the tough anti-terror laws mooted by them. While the Congress-ruled States sought more financial assistance to fight a sustained war against terror, nearly all the seven northeastern States expressed serious concern over Bangladesh emerging as the nursery for anti-India terrorism. Slamming the UPA Government, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi accused the Centre of playing politics while dealing with terrorism and said he failed to understand why it returned the anti-terror Bill proposed by his State. Echoing similar sentiments, Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh Shivraj Singh Chouhan, accused the Centre of not providing adequate support to the State Government in strengthening the security mechanism. On the other hand, the left Front-led West Bengal Government representative asked the Centre to immediately launch an anti-Maoist operation in Jharkhand in tandem with the ongoing joint operations in West Bengal, saying the Left extremists were using their bases in the neighbouring State to launch attacks in West Bengal.

Speaking at the conference, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi rightly expressed concern over the cross-border support that terrorist groups in the State are enjoying as Bangladesh has emerged as the hub of fundamentalist elements facilitating cross-border terrorism. The unholy nexus that exists between militant outfits of the region and the radical elements of the neighbouring country that have their common mentor in a foreign intelligence agency, is adding a new dimension to the internal security scenario of the State. Gogoi also rightly pointed out that Assam has also become a gateway for the HuJI and expressed concern over the influx of arms and people from neighbouring countries like Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal into the northeastern States. Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu who said the State was facing many problems along the inter-State boundaries and the highly porous border with Myanmar also echoed this. But in a scathing remark on handling of the insurgency situation by the northeastern States, Union Home Minister. P Chidambaram questioned the practice of bending over backwards before the insurgents. Even the Prime Minister, described the situation in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland as worrisome. On the other hand, admitting the reality Dr Singh made a shocking revelation that in Assam, the Centre had sanctioned an amount of Rs 750 crore for development of Bodo areas. But the utilisation of these funds remains unsatisfactory. According to the Prime Minister the resettlement and rehabilitation of those affected by violence in the Bodo areas and North Cachar Hills is a matter of concern. Interestingly enough the ruling BPF, an ally of the ruling UPA Government at the Centre and also in the State Government has been demanding another amount of Rs 500 crore for developmental works. The BTAD for the past five years has been getting Rs 100 crore annually from the Centre according to the terms of the Bodo Accord. So the Centre had asked the states hit by Maoist violence to formulate rehabilitation and surrender packages for Naxalites. The government will also review its existing surrender policy for insurgents in the northeast, including Ulfa, This follows demands by some northeast Chief Ministers for an increase in the existing financial package offered to surrendered insurgent groups to “make it more attractive”.

The message from the Chief Ministers’ Conference was very loud and clear. On the one hand, it discussed very frankly the constant security concern because of cross-border terrorism as well as the increasing act of Naxalite, insurgency in various parts of the country including the problem of insurgency facing by the northeastern states. But on the other hand, Dr Singh highlighted the failure of the State governments and the autonomous councils to utilise central funds and implement the development projects, which is the root cause of the problem of insurgency. But it is not clear what lessons the Chief Ministers took home from the conference as the they did not make any effort to rise above political line for the better interests of the nation.








Thanks to the better wisdom that prevailed on the private aviation companies the proposed strike in the sector was called off. The strike was to protest against the government’s alleged indifference to the private airlines’ demand to cut in heavy taxes on aviation fuel and high airport charges.

Since the low cost carrying affair attracted the full fledged airlines to join the fray, the industry witnessed the era of cut throat competition. Captain Gopinath made the common man’s dream to fly in the sky true. Many new players joined the game. A fare war began. In this flying spree, even the commonest of the common enjoyed air travel. Companies flew their aircrafts even sometimes packed to their capacities. It was not surprising that the common man’s national carrier, the Indian Railways, at one point of time had to slash its fare for upper classes to outperform in the fiercely competitive market.

Finding the low cost carrying business more lucrative, many players joined the flock. The full service carriers rose to the occasion by streamlining their service. time schedule and introducing various schemes to woo the customers. The open sky policy of the Government of India provided conducive environment where the aviation industry could grow. The boom in the economy necessitated air travels. The rise in the income enabled common man to purchase air tickets. This way the aviation sector had soaring flights till the after effect of the sub prime crisis was felt.

During their hey days the full service carriers in private sector unleashed price war. The concept of apex fare evolved and refundable as well as non-refundable tickets came into existence. Besides. the full service carriers in private sector merged acquisitioned low fare carriers. Jet Airways acquisitioned Air Sahara and operated it as its low fare subsidiary christened as Jetlite. Kingfisher Airlines went into a strategic alliance with Air Deccan and subsequently acquisitioned it as Kingfisher Red. The national carrier had, in order to compete, joined the fray. It was reorganised as Air India by merging Air India and Indian Airlines.

The Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA) is the representative body of airliners operators in India. With active support from some key players like Kingfisher, and Jet Airways, the Federation made a move for calling a strike in the industry. State owned Air India, also a member of this federation, opted out of taking part in proposed strike. Some major low cost airliners did not support the move. Spicejet was one of them. While announcing the strike, secretary general of FIA Anil Baijal said the suspension of services would not be a strike. It was designed to focus attention on the mounting problems of an industry that was down by losses of over ten thousand crore by March, 2009.

Initially eight members of FIA, all private carriers supported the strike. They, however kept their international flights out of the purview of the proposed strike. In civil circle the idea of the strike could not get favour. Even a section of the industry did not support the strike. The strike was seen as a form of blackmailing the Government of India. It was feared that if the government agreed to offer some bail out package it might set a bad precedence. There is considerable number of industries that are facing serious crises. They may also pose similar threat. Moreover, bailing an industry out from the taxpayers’ money was a matter of public policy. While assuring the industry its intention to discuss the reasonable and fair issues the Government of’India made it clear that it is riot going to bail the industry out not even to the Air India.

For the past one year or so, private airlines were finding it difficult to smoothly operate their services. The trouble surfaced when one of the major high profile private airlines’ cheque was bounced. This was the period when the fuel bills in favour of various airlines began to swell. Alarmed by the situation thereafter, the fuel supplying companies began serving reminders to clear the dues to many airlines. In stray cases the oil companies even went to the extent of threatening to stop obliging the airlines who do not clear their bills in a specified period. Appreciating the difficulty in clearing the dues with oil public sector companies, the Gol agreed to accept the dues in six interest free instalments. In case of Air India the deadlock was resolved only when the government intervened.

Declining number of passengers in the face of global slowdown, mounting fuel prices and escalating airport charges besides expenses on manpower landed the operators in an unprofitable runway. During the first quarter of the current financial year Jet Airways suffered a loss of Rs 225 crore and Kingfisher had to bear a loss of Rs 240 crore. Air India was no exception. During 2008-10 Air India lost Rs.7,200 crore. A couple of months ago the Air India management had expressed its inability even to clear the pays and perks to the employees. Reacting to the situation the Government of India advised the national carrier that unless it undertakes a restructuring exercise and submits a revival plan, no assistance can be provided to them.

It is a fact that the aviation sector is passing through the most critical times since the dawn, of liberalisation. On account of the recent slowdown in world economy the aviation sector, domestic as well as international, has lost substantial business. According to one estimate, even if the airlines achieve ideal 80 per cent of load factor, profit is difficult to make out of that since the pricing is not rationalised.

Issues of uneven rate of VAT being charged by the States on aviation turbine fuel (ATF) and airport as well as navigation charges have been raised by the representatives of the industry before the government. According to them, low fares, high fuel costs and sharp decline in passenger traffic have added to the woes of an already bleeding industry. Tax on ATF is the State subject. The FIA demands that the ATF be made declared goods so that States cannot charge VAT thereon beyond 4 per cent.

So far as VAT on ATF is concerned the States have objected to any attempt to make ATF declared goods. States are unhappy with the private airlines for their sudden snap of service on uneconomic but strategic sectors. Here Air India fares well. It operates even on the unviable sectors as a part of its obligation to the nation. In addition to that the VAT is a major chunk of their revenue. In spite of that Ministry of Civil Aviation has informally taken up the matter with Ministry of Finance to find some way out.

But there is the other aspect. The Airlines are also responsible for creating this depressing situation. Buoyant with the rising global market and Shining India image many of the private airlines failed to apprehend the future. Jet Airways and Kingfisher made huge expansions by way of merging other airliners. Some of them added additional capacity and placed orders for expensive new generation aircraft. Besides, for brand building and similar other exercises the airlines made huge expenses. Air India, too, could not resist its temptation to acquire new aircraft to expand its fleet.

Meanwhile, passenger traffic statistics has shown a trend of growth in doestic air travellers. According to a recent press report nine domestic airlines have registered 5.35 growth in domestic traffic. This is a welcome sign.








Things look black, or shall we say grim, for those who are not mindful of what they say, at least in Britain. Already hamstrung by strict smoking and drinking laws, the average Briton will be further straitjacketed by the pundits of political correctness (PC) in the all-pervasive NGO or quango sector, who have mandated, err....decreed, that henceforth many everyday terms of speech will be deemed inappropriate, on the grounds of colour and gender discrimination.

No longer will the common man, err, person, be allowed to say ‘mankind’ for instance; humankind is a, well, kinder and more inclusive way to describe our species. How they will deal with the Latin denomination of humankind — homo sapiens or wise man — is less certain.

Some words and phrases to be blacked out, err, proscribed are ‘right hand man’ (to be substituted by ‘second in command’ ) and ‘black sheep of the family’. If the movement gains currency, it may not be long before all phrases including the words black and white (may even others) will be out of bounds, besides those using ‘man’ as a suffix or prefix.

Even quaint, old world phrases like ‘gentleman’s agreement’ fall foul of this new correctness, not to mention once-kosher terminologies such as ‘ethnic minority’. The use of words in the latter phrase is now thought to ‘diminish’ the importance of that group. The implications of the spread of PC flu for India are manifest, err, evident.

The Congress , for instance, would have to rethink its aam aadmi catchphrase and Gandhiji could no longer be revered as the ‘father’ of the nation and would be put into the gender-neutral grouping of the ‘founders’ of the country. Unless restrained by common sense, the bells will toll for any words that, in effect, differentiate one thing from another.

By restricting expression, the world would be heading inexorably towards making George Orwell’s fictional language in 1984, Newspeak — “the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year “ as he put it — a reality.







The lack of a proactive policy seems to be worsening the power supply situation. The growth in power trading and exchange is flat as a chapati. The low ceiling on trading margin seems squarely to blame. We need an active power market pan-India, given the overall scenario of shortages, and availability of nominally surplus electricity in certain areas and regions.

Yet while the volume of power traded added up to 20,965 million units (mu) in 2007-08, the figure crept up to 21,917 mu in 2008-09. Besides, just Maharashtra and Gujarat account for 80% of the trading. The trading margin, that remains unrevised at no more than Rs 0.04 per kwh, disincentivising cross-country sales, needs to be reviewed to shore up exchange.

With the panoply of rigidities in power we, of course, do need regulatory oversight on tariffs, including trading margins. The four-paise ceiling may well have made sense years ago. But keeping it unchanged by fiat despite the rising costs and overheads appears questionable. Latest data show that the weighted average purchase price of power was Rs 4.47/unit in 2006-07.

It has since gone up to Rs 7.25/unit in 2008-09. Yet the trading margin remains pegged at four paise/unit. Now it is welcome that several power producers are setting up large merchant power plants to meet the growing demand. The business plans of such players would involve meeting short-term supply.

The idea is to have market-driven prices in power, to plug shortages. But unrevised trading margins may well nip in the bud the potential for power exchange and so short-circuit the reform envisaged in merchant plants. What’s required is forward-looking norms to rev up evacuation, with multiple producers and suppliers seeking custom.

Trading margins do need to take into account rising tariffs, for realistic ceilings. To provide the required flexibility, the margin needs to be a percentage of the average purchase/sales price. Not to use surplus power capacity is a massive waste of resources.







The tumultuous months following the global financial meltdown last year have been very painful for companies, but they also threw up some astounding success stories that defied the odds.

Yet, the independent jury for the ET Awards for Corporate Excellence 2008-09 did not have to think much as it declared Hero Honda the ‘Company of the Year’. The motorcycle manufacturer had an outstanding run even as the corporate world was reeling from the worst global recession in decades. The company managed to improve its market share through impressive sales.

Anand Mahindra was the obvious choice for the ‘Business Leader’ of the year, for showing courage in going against the tide and bidding successfully for the scam-tainted Satyam Computers. Indeed it was a leap of faith which seems to be paying off.

Vinita Bali, on the other hand, earned the jury’s nod for Businesswoman of the year as she successfully transformed the tired-looking Britannia, which she inherited in 2005, into a fighting-fit unit. Idea Cellular, ‘Emerging Company’ of the year, not only caught the country’s attention through its “what an idea sirjee” campaign but also managed to translate the interest into hard subscriber numbers, taking it close to the erstwhile leader, BSNL.

G V Krishna Reddy’s ability to diversify the GVK group into different businesses and grow them successfully won him the ‘Entrepreneur’ of the year award from the jury that give high points to corporate governance.

Bihar CM Nitish Kumar was the unanimous choice for the ‘Business Reformer’ of the year for doing enough to put the beleaguered state on the path of development and good governance. He has also managed to get best of bureaucrats to return to the state and restore a modicum of governance, which bodes well for the future.

The NREGA is a breakthrough legislation that can wipe out poverty through nation-building employment programmes. It is the first ever social safety net legislated in rural India. Jean Dreze, an economist of Belgian origin and an ardent campaigner against poverty was, among others, instrumental in fleshing out the idea of NREGA for the Congress party.

He richly deserves the ‘Policy Change Agent’ of the year award for his tireless role played in the design of the NREGA. Teri gets the award for ‘Corporate Citizen’ for making corporate India see economic sense in running sustainable businesses.







The second anniversary of the beginning of the virtual collapse of the global financial markets leading to the bankruptcy of several marquee names in business is a good time to take stock and assess if there have been any positive outcomes at all from the crisis.

The human cost borne by creditors, investors, entrepreneurs and employees, as also society at large has been unprecedented, at least over the last few generations, in sheer scale and intensity. The received wisdom now is that the worst of the crisis is probably behind us thanks to the massive doses of liquidity pumped into markets by central banks around the world.

While the negative effects of the crisis have been well documented it is probably now the opportune time to examine the lessons that need to be learnt from the experience of the crisis years, though it may be a bit too early to use the past tense here.

The lessons from the crisis have of course been learnt by investors and creditors alike but more importantly, our understanding of macro economics and the dynamics of a unipolar world have undergone momentous changes over the last couple of years. For nation states, the notion that the issuer country of a widely accepted global currency like the US dollar is somehow largely exempt from the normal laws of economics has been demystified.

After the tumultuous past two years, it is now obvious that the good old virtues of thrift and balancing of trade have not really become passé and nations including the US need to save because there are clearly limits up to which a nation can live out of others’ savings and continue to indulge in unbridled consumption.

The other realisation is that economics is far from being an exact science and the rigorous econometric models linking factors like GDP growth, level of indebtedness, credit growth, inflation, monetary and fiscal policy, etc., may not be entirely reliable, much less have precise predictive capabilities. Since macroeconomics ultimately deals with human behaviour and their myriad economic decisions which may not be always rational, the outcome from any policy action may not necessarily be the most obvious logical one that snugly fits into our rigorous and well thought out econometric models.

As far as markets are concerned, the crisis years have helped conclude that the rational assumption that market prices incorporate all available information may not be always true. On a more general note, it is now clear that factoring in a high enough probabilistic confidence level while constructing financial models by ignoring potential outliers or tail risks — whether in risk management policies or in credit rating — is fraught with unacceptable levels of danger.

The concept that offered a measure of comfort to generations of investors and creditors alike, the concept of “too big to fail” has eventually ended up in some cases as “too big to save” resulting in the bankruptcy of some of the largest global investment banks and automobile companies. Another take away from the crisis years is that irrespective of the most rigorous risk management techniques, prudential limits to financial leverage need to be respected even in the case of the mega investment banks that appeared to be exceptions for several years before the crisis hit us.

It is also about time that market participants reconcile themselves to the fact that the world is not entirely a fair place because when it comes to government largesse in bailing out failing businesses, a Lehman Brothers is allowed to go bust whereas several others of the same ilk are bailed out with tax payers’ money.

The starkest lessons from the crisis years are reserved for creditors. A lesson well learnt is that lending requires superior skills in assessing and monitoring the creditworthiness of borrowers on a continuous basis. The realisation that one cannot reduce the credit risks of a pool of debt obligations only by slicing them into segments with different risk characteristics is certainly a key takeaway from the crisis. Emerging facts on the ground relating to the borrowers and the broad economy need to be factored into credit assessments and this cannot be entirely substituted by an abject reliance on credit rating agencies.

It is worth reiterating that lending on the basis of an assumption of continuous appreciation of the underlying collateral at the expense of an assessment of the creditworthiness of the borrower was essentially at the root of the global meltdown.

Getting back to the basics of investing is the simple lesson for investors from the crisis. Irrespective of liquidity surges and raging bull markets, the inexorable fact is that valuations do eventually matter and “reversion to the mean” — despite extreme swings on either side — is a salutary guiding principle in investment.

Bubbles may grow for extended periods but are ultimately meant to burst and investors need to be wary of specious theories and post facto efforts at rationalising market excesses.

Equities offer value to investors only when they generate cash flows with an embedded growth option usually thrown in. It is time investors recognised that the financial world does not represent a stable and predictable terrain and the intellectual framework for forecasting the future with any degree of confidence is quite simply weak.

It is essential to do a reality check on typical bull market terminologies like increasing eyeballs and footfalls, the immense size of the business opportunity, replacement cost valuations, etc., because in the final analysis they should lead to decisions that generate superior investment returns within a finite time frame.

Hoping to find a greater fool who will buy worthless stock at ever higher prices cannot be the basis of an intelligent investment philosophy. A serious appraisal of the ability of a company to leverage on the three basic drivers of value — expanding the top line, increasing margins and reducing asset intensity — should be at the root of every investment decision.

It is worth recalling Warren Buffet’s investment adage that one should aim to buy stocks that are worth holding even if the stock markets were to close immediately after the purchase.














The Human resources development minister, Mr Kapil Sibal, with an eye on making India a producer of knowledge at the international level, has thrown up a useful proposal about establishing a core curriculum in mathematics and science for all school boards in the country to follow. This could aid the process of scholars attaining a certain basic level of proficiency across boards in these areas of study that act as building blocks for many branches of learning at the university level. Speaking to the annual conference of the Council of Boards of School Education in India on Monday, the HRD minister also returned to the theme of abandoning the system of awarding marks in favour of the grades system. This suggestion too is likely to be received well by students and the community of parents, and possibly also by educationists. However, Mr Sibal’s views on the teaching of Hindi by all schools in the country are likely to be met with less enthusiasm. Although details are not available at this stage, by referring to the need to acquire “fluency” in Hindi, the minister may have left the impression that the teaching of the national language be made compulsory up to a certain level so that children may gain more than a nodding acquaintance with it. A distinction needs to be made here between scholars being familiar with the national language, in addition to being proficient in their mother tongue and in English, and possessing higher order capabilities in handling Hindi. The former is a helpful idea, just as much as it is for school students from the Hindi region to learn a language from another part of the country. The larger process of national integration, which Mr Sibal invokes in his espousal of Hindi, will undoubtedly be well served if people of this diverse country were familiar with languages and cultural practices other than their own. It is altogether another matter to say that schools across the country should insist that students should have attainments of a higher level in Hindi than is the case at present. Since the three-language formula came into play across India after considerable debate, discussion and agitation, it has worked well on the whole. At the practical level there is no resistance to learning Hindi in any state and children from non-Hindi regions actually go through a basic level of Hindi in their school curriculum. On the other hand, it is children whose mother tongue is Hindi who are not always taught another Indian language in school. It will be well to cover this lacuna. As for national integration, Mr Sibal will appreciate that we are far better off today than a few decades ago. Besides, it is not the Hindi question that is standing in the way. Learning any language opens our mind to a new universe. It is only when perceptions of discrimination and compulsion enter the picture that trouble is encountered.









One of the significant results of the general elections 2009 is that it has exposed the weaknesses of the political leadership in various parties, both national and regional. For most political parties, this is the season for introspection and many parties have been engaged in exercises like chintan baithak, reviews by the high commands or core groups of the parties. While self-analysis is useful, it will be a great mistake if it does not cover some basic factors which have contributed to the election debacle of some of these parties. Political parties are relatively new in India and frankness in self analysis and readiness to correct the mistakes of the past are indispensable for building a healthy party system in any country. Before I identify some of the basic factors which should engage the priority attention of political leaders, a brief reference to the evolution of political leadership in the country will be necessary in order to assess the extent of the decline which political leadership has undergone in recent years.

The founding of the Indian National Congress in 1885 can be said to be the first step in the development of political leadership in India. However, political leadership had its real origin only with the advent of Mahatma Gandhi on the political scene in 1915. Gandhiji, besides transforming the Congress into a party of the common people of the country, had brought about radical changes in the concept of political leadership. The greatest change introduced by Mahatma Gandhi was to give political leadership a moral dimension. While the liberation of India from the colonial yoke of the British became the main agenda of the Congress Party, he insisted that the means for achieving the end should always be as clean as the end itself. Gandhiji’s other important contribution to redefining of the concept of political leadership was that power was to be used for the service of the people by the leaders and not for personal benefits or for favouring those close to them.

Gandhiji did not stop with inspiring the rise of a new class of eminent national leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Maulana Azad, Rajagopalachari and others at the top, but he had created a network of political leadership in every province, district and even at village levels. Unfortunately, the strict moral dimension insisted upon by Gandhiji for leadership in politics did not last very long. A new class of political leaders started emerging both at the Centre and the states for whom power was the “be all” and “end all” of political activities. In this process, corruption started creeping into politics, bringing great discredit to the political class as a whole.

While wrong selection of candidates, alliances with wrong parties and leaders or malpractice in elections like massive use of money and muscle power would have contributed to the defeat of some candidates at the polls, it would be a great folly on the part of the political leaders if they fail to understand the true impact of certain developments which have been taking place during the last few years in India. I will identify a few which I consider as very important.

The first is that the people of India whether literate or illiterate have been rejecting extremism either of the Left or of the Right in political ideologies. This is not a new lesson. The failure of the Hindu Mahasabha, one of the oldest political parties in India and of the various Left parties which have adopted Communism as their ideology, in their attempts to get a substantial share of the votes polled in the elections had clearly established this fact. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s alliance with extremist political groups like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal and the people’s reaction at Mr Varun Gandhi’s warning about cutting the hands of the enemies of Hinduism have reinforced the truth that the average Indian doesn’t like the politics of extremism. The humiliating defeat of the Left parties in 2009 elections has again served to prove that there is very little interest in this country for any extremist ideology.

The second lesson is that there is no substitute for good governance for winning the trust of the people. Some political parties have tried to explain their poor performance in the elections by claiming that the anti-incumbency factor has been responsible for their election reverse. They conveniently forget that anti-incumbency did not stand against the re-election of their governments in states where the people were satisfied with the governance they had received after the earlier elections.

Thirdly, a political party can hope to get the votes of the people only if there is an active unit of that party led by political leaders elected by the party members in the constituency. Many political parties are active at the headquarters of the party, but a vacuum of leadership exists at the constituency level. Top leaders of the party may descend on the constituency by helicopters and special planes and address vast gatherings who shout slogans in their support, but such slogans can be converted into votes for the party candidate only if there is a democratically-elected and active party leadership in the constituency. In many states the party units in the constituency go into action, if they exist at all, only at the time of the election campaign. People may attend such gatherings in large numbers and demonstrate their enthusiasm for a party, but often such demonstrations are “command performances” where money and not loyalty to the party is the driving force.

Fourthly, no political party can survive in any democracy unless all members of the party are willing to observe the discipline of the party. Nothing can cause more demoralisation in the rank and file of the party than when they see indiscipline at the top levels. Many party leaders seem to be forgetting the truth of the dictum that those who do not learn to obey cannot learn to command either.


P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra








If you want to get a little bit of a sense of what the wars are like in Afghanistan and Iraq — a small, distant sense of the on-the-ground horror — pick up a book of colour photos called, 2nd Tour, Hope I Don’t Die. It’s chilling.


Most Americans have conveniently put these two absurd, obscene conflicts out of their minds. There’s an economy to worry about and snappy little messages to tweet. Nobody wants to think about young people getting their faces or their limbs blown off. Or the parents, loaded with antidepressants, giving their children and spouses a final hug before heading off in a haze of anxiety to their third or fourth tour in the war zones.

The book is the work of the photographer Peter van Agtmael, who has spent a great deal of time following American combat troops in both countries. One of the photos in the book shows an Army captain standing exhausted and seemingly forlorn on the blood-slicked floor of a combat support hospital in Baghdad. Mr Van Agtmael was sensitive to the heavy psychological load borne by the medical personnel, writing in the caption:

“Their humour was dark and their expressions often flat and distant when they treated patients. The worst casualties were given nicknames. One soldier melted by the fire caused by an IED blast was called ‘goo man’. But certain casualties would hit home, especially injured children. Some staff resorted to painkillers and other drugs”.

The war in Afghanistan made sense once but it doesn’t any longer. The war in Iraq never did. And yet, with most of the country tuned out entirely, we’re still suiting up the soldiers and the Marines, putting them on planes and sending them off with a high stakes (life or death) roll of the dice.
2nd Tour, Hope I Don’t Die.

Or maybe it’s the third tour, or fourth, or fifth. The book’s title came from graffiti scrawled on a wall at an Air Force base in Kuwait that was one of the transit points for troops heading to Iraq. America’s young fighting men and women have to make these multiple tours because the overwhelming majority of the American people want no part of the nation’s wars. They don’t want to serve, they don’t want to make any sacrifices here on the home front — they don’t even want to pay the taxes that would be needed to raise the money to pay for the wars. We just add the trillions to deficits that stretch as far as the eye can see.

To the extent that we think about the wars at all, it’s just long enough to point our fingers at the volunteers and say: “Oh yeah, great. You go. And if you come back maimed or dead we’ll salute you as a hero”.
And what are we sending them off to? There’s a photo of Nick Sprovtsoff, a sergeant from Flint, Michigan, lying awake in his bunk at a patrol outpost in Afghanistan. He looks like a tough guy in the picture, but he also looks worried. The caption says:

“On his third tour, he was there to advise a local platoon of the Afghan Army. The Afghan soldiers rarely wanted to patrol, preferring to watch DVDs and smoke hash. Their favourite movie was Titanic”.
(A Page one headline in Sunday’s New York Times read, “Marines Fight With Little Aid From Afghans”.)
A clear idea of the pathetic unwillingness of the American people to share in the sacrifices of these wars can be gleaned from a comment that President Obama made in his address last week to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “We are a country of more than 300 million Americans”, he said. “Less than one per cent wears the uniform”.

The President was not chiding those who are not serving, he was only intending to praise those who are. But the idea that so few are willing to serve at a time when the nation is fighting two long wars is a profound indictment on the society.

If we had a draft — or merely the threat of a draft — we would not be in Iraq or Afghanistan. But we don’t have a draft so it’s safe for most of the nation to be mindless about waging war. Other people’s children are going to the slaughter.

Instead of winding down our involvement in Afghanistan, we’re ratcheting it up. President Obama told the Veterans of Foreign Wars that fighting the war there is absolutely essential. “This is fundamental to the defence of our people”, he said.

Well, if this war, now approaching its ninth year, is so fundamental, we should all be pitching in. We shouldn’t be leaving the entire monumental burden to a tiny portion of the population, sending them into combat again, and again, and again, and again...










The term “genetically-modified (GM) foods” refers to crops produced for human or animal consumption using the recombinant DNA techniques. Crop plants are modified in the laboratory to enhance desired traits, mainly biotic and abiotic stress tolerance, improved nutritional content, etc. These traits were earlier carried out through conventional plant breeding, but these breeding methods are very time-consuming and often not very accurate. However, with recombinant DNA technology, plants with the desired traits can be produced, very rapidly and with greater accuracy. For example, we can isolate a gene responsible for conferring drought tolerance, introduce that gene into a plant, and make it drought tolerant. One of the best-known examples of using non-plant genes to transform crops is the use of Bt genes, in cotton and many other crops. Bt, or Bacillus thuringiensis, is a naturally occurring bacterium that produces crystal proteins that are lethal only to insect larvae. Bt crystal protein genes have been transferred into cotton, soya, corn, brinjal, enabling the plants to produce its own pesticides against insects such as the American bollworm, European corn borer. Bt genes are lethal only in the acidic, insect gut environment and do not get activated in an alkaline environment, prevalent in humans and other animals that feed on these plants.



The world population has crossed six billion and is predicted to double in the next 50 years. Ensuring an adequate food supply for this booming population is a major challenge in the years to come. GM foods promise to meet this need in a number of ways:

l Pest resistance: Crop losses from insect pests are staggering, resulting in devastating financial loss for farmers, sometimes starvation in countries such as ours. Indiscriminate use of pesticides is also a potential health hazard, and the run-off of agricultural wastes from excessive use of pesticides and fertilisers poisons the water supply and harms the environment. Growing GM foods such as Bt brinjal helps reduce the application of pesticides substantially, as 80 per cent of brinjal crop are infested with pests.

l Disease resistance: There are many viruses, fungi and bacteria that cause plant diseases and thereby contribute to yield loss. Plant biologists are working to create genetically engineered plants with resistance to these diseases, such as developing sheath blight resistance in rice.

l Cold/heat tolerance: Climate change is a reality and farmers are facing the vagaries of weather, like unexpected frost or excess heat. Researchers have identified an antifreeze gene from cold-water fish and introduced it into plants such as tobacco and potato to study the efficacy of the plant to withstand extreme temperatures. Also, research is on to identify plants that can survive excess heat, submergence tolerance etc.

l Drought tolerance/salinity tolerance: As the world population grows and more land is converted for housing instead of food production, farmers need to grow crops in non-arable land, previously unsuited for plant cultivation. Creating plants that can withstand long periods of drought or high salinity in soil and groundwater will help people to grow crops in large, barren wetlands/drylands in our country.

l Nutrition: Malnutrition is rampant in our country where people rely on a single crop such as rice as their main staple food. However, rice does not contain adequate amounts of all necessary micro and macronutrients. If rice could be genetically engineered to contain additional vitamins, iron and/or minerals, nutrient deficiencies could be alleviated. For example, we, at MSSRF (M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation), are working on improving the iron content, with encouraging results.

l Phytoremediation: Soil and groundwater pollution continues to be a problem in many parts of the world. Plants such as poplar trees, brassica spp are being genetically engineered to clean up heavy metal pollution from soil contaminated with metals like lead, arsenic, and cadmium.

Environmental activists, religious organisations, non-governmental organisations, have all raised concerns about GM foods and criticised agribusiness for pursuing profit without concern for potential hazards, and criticised the government for failing to exercise adequate regulatory oversight. Most concerns about GM foods fall into three categories — environmental hazards, human health risks, and economic concerns.


Unintended harm to other organisms; reduced effectiveness of pesticides; gene transfer to non-target species are some of the concerns of the environmental concerns of GM crops. There is no scientific evidence to prove any of these concerns as real, since commercialisation of transgenic crops over the past 10 years, in the world. Allergenicity; unknown effects on human health are some of the main health concerns. All GM crops are subjected to thorough regulatory processes and toxicology and allergenicity tests data needs to be shared with the regulatory authorities prior to commercialisation.

Bringing a GM food to market is a lengthy and costly process, and agri-biotech companies want to ensure a profitable return on their investment. Many new plant genetic engineering technologies and GM plants have been patented, and patent infringement is a big concern of agribusiness. This is a genuine concern and therefore it is important for governments such as ours to fund and support public sector research in reputed universities or agriculture institutes to ensure quality research and also keep prices under check. I would like to emphasise that after weighing in all the hazards, environmental, health and economic concerns, only then decisions are taken to commercialise a GM product. So, while there can be ambiguity while conducting the research, or during trials, once they get regulatory approval, it simply means that they have been subjected to stringent scrutiny and are safe for commercial release.

Governments around the world are hard at work to establish an effective regulatory process to monitor the effects of and approve new varieties of GM plants. In India, very soon, we will have in place a very effective, independent credible regulatory authority to ensure safe release of GM products. GM foods have the potential to solve many of the world’s hunger and malnutrition problems, and to help protect and preserve the environment by increasing yield and reducing reliance upon chemical pesticides. Yet there are many challenges ahead for governments, especially in the areas of safety testing, regulation, international policy and food labelling.


M.S. Swaminathan is the chairman of the National Commission on Farmers. He is considered to be the father of India’s green revolution.








Remember “peak oil”? It’s the theory that geological scarcity will at some point make it impossible for global petroleum production to avoid falling, heralding the end of the oil age and, potentially, economic catastrophe.

Well, just when we thought that the collapse in oil prices since last summer had put an end to such talk, along comes Fatih Birol, the top economist at the International Energy Agency, to insist that we’ll reach the peak moment in 10 years, a decade sooner than most previous predictions.

Like many Malthusian beliefs, peak oil theory has been promoted by a motivated group of scientists and laymen who base their conclusions on poor analyses of data and misinterpretations of technical material. But because the news media and prominent figures like James Schlesinger, a former secretary of energy, and the oilman T. Boone Pickens have taken peak oil seriously, the public is understandably alarmed.
A careful examination of the facts shows that most arguments about peak oil are based on anecdotal information, vague references and ignorance of how the oil industry goes about finding fields and extracting petroleum.

Birol isn’t the only one still worrying. One leading proponent of peak oil, the writer Paul Roberts, recently expressed shock to discover that the liquid coming out of the Ghawar Field in Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest known deposit, is around 35 per cent water and rising. But this is hardly a concern — the build-up is caused by the Saudis pumping seawater into the field to keep pressure up and make extraction easier.

Another critic, a prominent consultant and investor named Matthew Simmons, has raised concerns over oil engineers using “fuzzy logic” to estimate reservoir holdings. But fuzzy logic is a programming method that has been used since I was in graduate school in situations where the factors are hazy and variable and its track record in oil geology has been quite good.

But those are just the latest arguments — for the most part the peak-oil crowd rests its case on three major claims: that the world is discovering only one barrel for every three or four produced; that political instability in oil-producing countries puts us at an unprecedented risk of having the spigots turned off; and that we have already used half of the two trillion barrels of oil that the earth contained.

Let’s take the rate-of-discovery argument first: it is a statement that reflects ignorance of industry terminology. When a new field is found, it is given a size estimate that indicates how much is thought to be recoverable at that point in time. But as years pass, the estimate is almost always revised upward, either because more pockets of oil are found in the field or because new technology makes it possible to extract oil that was previously unreachable. Yet because petroleum geologists don’t report that additional recoverable oil as “newly discovered”, the peak oil advocates tend to ignore it. In truth, the combination of new discoveries and revisions to size estimates of older fields has been keeping pace with production for many years.

A related argument — that the “easy oil” is gone and that extraction can only become more difficult and cost-ineffective — should be recognised as vague and irrelevant. Hundreds of fields that produce “easy oil” today were once thought technologically unreachable.

The latest acorn in the discovery debate is a recent increase in the overall estimated rate at which production is declining in large oil fields. This is assumed to be the result of the “superstraw” technologies that have become dominant over the past decade, which can drain fields faster than ever. True, because quicker extraction causes the fluid pressure in the field to drop rapidly, the wells become less and less productive over time. But this declining return on individual wells doesn’t necessarily mean that whole fields are being cleaned out. As the Saudis have proved in recent years at Ghawar, additional investment — to find new deposits and drill new wells — can keep a field’s overall production from falling.

When their shaky claims on geology are exposed, the peak-oil advocates tend to argue that today’s geopolitical instability needs to be taken into consideration. But political risk is hardly new: A leading Communist labour organiser in the Baku oil industry in the early 1900s would later be known to the world as Josef Stalin.

Just as, in the 1970s, it was the Arab oil embargo and the Iranian Revolution, today it is the invasion of Iraq and instability in Venezuela and Nigeria. But the solution, as ever, is for the industry to shift investment into new regions, and that’s what it is doing. Yet peak-oil advocates take advantage of the inevitable delay in bringing this new production on line to claim that global production is on an irreversible decline.

In the end, perhaps the most misleading claim of the peak-oil advocates is that the earth was endowed with only two trillion barrels of “recoverable” oil. Actually, the consensus among geologists is that there are some 10 trillion barrels out there. A century ago, only 10 per cent of it was considered recoverable, but improvements in technology should allow us to recover some 35 per cent — another 2.5 trillion barrels — in an economically viable way. And this doesn’t even include such potential sources as tar sands, which in time we may be able to efficiently tap.

Oil remains abundant, and the price will likely come down closer to the historical level of $30 a barrel as new supplies come forward in the deep waters off West Africa and Latin America, in East Africa, and perhaps in the Bakken oil shale fields of Montana and North Dakota. But that may not keep the Chicken Littles from convincing policymakers in Washington and elsewhere that oil, being finite, must increase in price.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t keep looking for other cost-effective, low-pollution energy sources — why not broaden our options? But we can’t let the false threat of disappearing oil lead the government to throw money away on harebrained renewable energy schemes or impose unnecessary and expensive conservation measures on a public already struggling through tough economic times.


Michael Lynch, the former director for Asian energy and security at the Centre for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is an energy consultant.


By arrangement with the New York Times








Here is an experiment you don’t want to try at home.

Show a toy to a toddler and explain that it it’s something special you’ve had since you were little. Ask the child to be “very careful” with it. Hand over the toy, which appears to be in fine condition, except that you’ve secretly rigged it to break spectacularly as soon as the child handles it.

When your precious toy falls apart, express regret by mildly saying, “Oh, my”. Then sit still and observe the child.

The point is not to permanently traumatise anyone — the researchers who performed this experiment quickly followed it with a ritual absolving the child of blame.

But first, for 60 seconds after the toy broke, the psychologists recorded every reaction as the toddlers squirmed, avoided the experimenter’s gaze, hunched their shoulders, hugged themselves and covered their faces with their hands.

It was part of a long-term study at the University of Iowa to isolate the effects of two distinct mechanisms that help children become considerate, conscientious adults.

One mechanism, measured in other experiments testing toddlers’ ability to resist temptations, is called effortful self-control — how well you can think ahead and deliberately suppress impulsive behaviour that hurts yourself and others.

The other mechanism is less rational and is especially valuable for children and adults with poor self-control.

It’s the feeling measured in that broken-toy experiment: guilt, or what children diagnose as a “sinking feeling in the tummy”.

Guilt in its many varieties has often gotten a bad rap, but psychologists keep finding evidence of its usefulness. Too little guilt clearly has a downside. Children start to feel guilt in their second year of life, said Dr Grazyna Kochanska, who has been tracking children’s development for two decades at the University of Iowa.

Some children’s temperament makes them prone to guilt, she said, and some become more guilt-prone thanks to parents and other early influences.

“Children respond with acute tension and negative emotions when they are tempted to misbehave, or even anticipate violating rules. They remember, often subconsciously, how awful they have felt in the past”, Kochanska said.

In Kochanska’s latest studies, published in the August issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, she and colleagues found that two-year-olds who showed more chagrin during the broken-toy experiment went on to have fewer behavioural problems over the next five years.

That was true even for the ones who scored low on tests measuring their ability to focus on tasks and suppress strong desires to act impulsively.

“If you have high guilt, it’s such a rapid response system, and the sensation is so unpleasant, that effortful control doesn’t much matter” Kochanska said.

But self-control was critical to children in the studies who were low in guilt, because they still behaved well if they had high self-control. But what if your child lacks both self-control and guilt? What can you do? And should you feel guilty for doing a lousy job of parenting?

Well, you could blame yourself, although researchers haven’t been able to link any particular pattern of parenting to children’s levels of guilt, says June Tangney, a psychologist at George Mason University.
But Tangney, who has studied guilt extensively in both children and adults, including prison inmates, does have some advice for parents.

“The key element is the difference between shame and guilt”, Tangney says. Shame, the feeling that you’re a bad person because of bad behaviour, has repeatedly been found to be unhealthy, she says, whereas guilty feelings focused on the behaviour itself can be productive.

But it’s not enough, Tangney says, for parents just to follow the old admonition to criticise the sin, not the sinner.
She recommends focusing not just on the bad deed, but more important, on how to make amends. “Both children and adults can be surprisingly clueless about whether and how to make things right”, Tangney said.
“Little kids are overwhelmed by the spilled mess of milk on the floor. Parents can teach and support them to say ‘I’m sorry’ and to clean it up, maybe leaving the kitchen a little cleaner than it was before”.

That was the same atonement strategy, by the way, followed by the experimenters in Iowa who tricked the children with the broken toy.

After the 60 seconds of angst, the children were asked what had happened and then were told that the toy could be easily repaired. The researcher would then leave the room with the broken toy and return in half-a-minute with an intact replica of it.

The experimenter took the blame for having caused the damage, reassuring the children that it wasn’t their fault and that the toy was now as good as new anyway.

No harm, no foul, no guilt. If only the rest of their lives were so simple.


By arrangement with the New York Times









Letting go is easier said than done. In the Centre’s troubled relationship with the premier institutes of technology and management, what autonomy really means is yet to be properly resolved. Teachers at the IITs, with growing support from the IIMs, have brought their protest against the government’s new pay regime to the point of disruptiveness. The situation urgently needs to be thought through — not only for the sake of classes being conducted without interruption, but also as a matter of principle. Ever since the Union human resource development ministry got a new minister, there has been change in the air. That sense of movement and progress — with autonomy once again its buzzword — will turn out to be largely rhetorical if the issue of payments and funding is not settled once and for all. Kapil Sibal will have to confront the fact that a prestigious institution of higher education will never enjoy a real sense of being autonomous if its purse strings are controlled by the State — that is, if academics are made to feel that the valuation of their labour and quality are ultimately made by politicians and bureaucrats.


The sense of exciting new things about to happen in Mr Sibal’s ministry can become credible and real only if, together with the freedom to set and realize their own standards, the IITs and IIMs are also allowed to determine their own salaries and perquisites for the teachers. When it comes to money, the government can, at most, fix the floor, but the ceiling should only be determined by the market. And that is the only way in which these institutions could be made to trust the appearance of freedom that the Centre seems to be conjuring up for them. The teachers at the IITs are protesting against what they perceive and experience as a kind of “disrespect”. This feeling of being not properly valued can never be entirely dissociated from the question of pay and perks — the question of how the teachers are compensated for giving their best to these institutions. The IITs are plagued not only by vacancies but also by a constant exodus of teachers to better-paid jobs. Besides, these institutes also have to attract younger teachers before they opt for more lucrative opportunities abroad. On all these counts, and also for the sake of making these places truly autonomous, the Centre must extend its will to relinquish control to the monetary sphere as well.






All politicians squabble, but losers do so more than others. That perhaps explains why Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee cried foul over the programme that marked the extension of the Metro Railway in Calcutta. He could have justifiably complained about the way the state government was ignored at the opening of the extended line. After all, the state government bore 33 per cent of the expenses. But the chief minister was upset about the manner the names of Bengali icons were used at the programme. If this was meant to be a strategy to fight his bête noire, Mamata Banerjee, it is hopelessly flawed. The extension of the Metro has long been awaited, and its role in easing the transportation problem in Calcutta is beyond doubt. Mr Bhattacharjee should actually be happy, like ordinary Calcuttans, that the extended line has finally opened. What he said about it instead gives the impression that he used the event in order to settle political scores with Ms Banerjee. Yet, he had always accused her of sacrificing the state’s economic interest to tit-for-tat politics. This certainly is no way to win back popular support either for himself or his party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist).


Actually, Mr Bhattacharjee’s offensive could well end up having a very different effect. Given the electoral defeats his party suffered in the last Lok Sabha polls, it could project him as a bad loser. Worse still, such a strategy could add to Ms Banerjee’s popularity. In a reversal of roles, she could be seen as an achiever and he as a spoiler. The chief minister’s barb prompts a comparison with a similar miscalculation by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s leader, Lal Krishna Advani. During the Lok Sabha poll campaign, Mr Advani described Manmohan Singh as a “weak” prime minister and hoped to gain by the scurrilous debate that the remark caused. The poll results proved how wrong Mr Advani had been. The two cases show how a bad loser can queer his own pitch. It may be too much to expect West Bengal’s politicians to sink their differences over how to improve the state’s economy. There will always be some election or the other to keep the partisan spirit alive and kicking. It is understandable that the CPI(M) would draw up fresh strategies to boost the sagging morale of its cadre in the run-up to the 2011 polls for the state assembly. But its leaders seem to be losing their way even more.







The August 11 tripartite talks to discuss the Darjeeling situation decided that the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, as also the bill to provide greater autonomy to the hills under the Sixth Schedule, would be given a formal burial. It was only a matter of time before this happened: the DGHC had been non-functional for quite a few years. As for the bill, the state government itself had stopped talking about it even as Writers’ Buildings insisted that autonomy, and not statehood, would help the hill people. So, on paper, nothing really happened at the talks except for the decision to meet again in December. Expectedly, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha assured that it would stay quiet till then, a pledge that it has broken routinely in the past.

But there is reason for the GJM to feel happy. The Centre has decided that whatever might have happened in the past be forgotten and a new start towards a solution be made. This can always be interpreted in the hills as an indication that New Delhi is not averse to considering the demand for a new state. Earlier, the Centre had not given any such indication; indeed Pranab Mukherjee had even categorically rejected the idea. But now, it looks as if New Delhi is prepared to have a fresh look at the issue. This should cause concern in Calcutta, as also the talks of having an interlocuter. Who will that person be, to what extent will his recommendations, if any, be acceptable? The state has reasons to feel worried.


The concern should not only be about what happens ultimately, but more about the present. Today, there is practically no administration in the hills, the DGHC has ceased to function and the writ of Writers’ Buildings is not allowed to run. The GJM has been able to create a situation in which it is the only relevant force. The longer such a situation continues, the stronger will be its case that people have no faith in others. Such a contention can only be countered politically, but the ruling Marxists never had much of a political presence in the hills. Today, their district headquarters has been shifted to Siliguri. In the past, the late Ratanlal Brahmin was a force to contend with but only among tea-garden labourers. The trade union organization had never developed into a political force, and a ruling party without a political base can never hope to turn things its way through the administration alone.



The GJM has been able to convince the people that because the DGHC under Subash Ghisingh could not deliver the goods, autonomy is not the answer to the problems. What should have been pointed out was that if the DGHC failed, it was because of the leaders of the hills themselves and Calcutta cannot be blamed for this. The Marxists failed to do so because they are not present in the hills. This being the reality, is it not possible that their arguments against a separate state are not carrying much weight in the home ministry?


The only thing that may hold back the ministry is the fear that granting Gorkhaland will open a Pandora’s box all over India. Hence, its desire to prolong the talks. Yet, for how long can the present uncertainty continue? There is talk about extending the three-tier panchayat system to the hills, but how relevant will that be when the demand for a separate state has not been given a burial? Also, Darjeeling being a border area and Nepal itself in a state of uncertainty, a quick decision is required urgently. That decision should be guided by the ground reality in the hills. And even if that reality is given precedence over other issues, it should be kept in mind that the GJM has also sought to make common cause with divisive forces in North Bengal, and does not believe in allowing political rivals to function. This does not inspire much confidence in its ability to behave as a democratic force if it were to enjoy State power.








All the other passengers have gone, passed through immigration and customs without incident, but two US customs officers have taken the young South Asian man to one side. They make him open his suitcase, they make him take everything out and they spread it across the inspection table like entrails from a dead patient. As they feel through the man’s possessions they grill him, one officer passing the ball to the other, interrupting each other sometimes, interrupting the passenger often, changing tack, moving through different gears of aggression and insult. The young man is nervous, eager to go out and meet his girlfriend who he has no doubt is now waiting for him with growing anxiety. At some point one of the officers asks the man what he does and he replies that he is a freelance journalist. The officer picks up a new diary the man has bought in London, during his stop-over. “Journalist, hunh?”, “Yes, freelance.” The Boston Irishman fingers the obviously fresh diary. “So, is this for your thoughts? Can I read through this?” The fact that the dairy has only one paragraph of very personal writing jotted during the flight from London makes the Asian man go cold. But then the sneer loading the word ‘thoughts’ makes the man’s blood boil. “Sure.” He shrugs. “Whatever.” The customs guys don’t like this change of tone and they ignore the diary and ask the man to come to a separate room.


Inside the room, one of the officers lights up a cigarette and the man is grilled again, asked repeatedly whether he has any connection to the smuggling of drugs, whether he has any sort of illicit connections in the US at all. On the table in the interrogation room there is an unopened pack of surgical gloves; throughout the questioning there is a clear threat of an anal examination. Unsaid, but clearly stated is this: “Not only will you answer our questions but you will be polite to the point of servility unless you want to provoke us further.” Genetically unwise, the brown man stays with his seething anger but somehow keeps his English clean and crisp. Later, he will realize that his ‘Indian’ accent had a double function: that of provoking the hard-wired ire of working-class American Irish against anything remotely ‘English’ and ‘posh’, while simultaneously saving him from a ‘search with extreme prejudice’. The officers make the man take off his sneakers, one of them desultorily kicks the shoes over with his boot to see if they are loaded with contraband, but they stop at that. Clearly this passenger is less than slim pickings but they’ve met their quota of people examined. Their afternoon coffee-break beckoning, the Uniforms ask the man to pack his bag and be on his way. As the Asian guy stumbles off with his suitcase, he feels like a stick of sugar-cane that’s been put through the wringer. From behind him, one of the officers jovially calls out: “Welcome to the United States!”


Nearly twenty years later, this time I’m at Chicago airport, again flying in from London. It is now three years after 9/11 and the immigration area is crawling with flak-jacketed soldiers with sub-machineguns. In the queue, I’m just behind an old Sikh lady and a younger woman who’s escorting her. I have a clear view of the treatment the old lady receives from the Uniform behind the desk. There is a finger-print scanner on the counter and the maa-ji is having a hard time figuring it out — instead of placing her palm flat she thinks she has to push a button and she jabs at the scanner with a finger. The escort tries to explain but she’s not getting through, and the immigration man is losing his temper “Tell her to place her hand on the scanner! She has to place her hand and fingers flat on the scanner!” He snaps. Something, I’m not clear what, is stopping the escort from taking the old lady’s hand and placing it for her. The longer it takes the more shaken the old lady gets, and it continues. Finally, after seven or eight minutes of this, the quivering palm finds enough purchase on the glass to satisfy the thug stamping the passports.


I love being in America; I love my American friends; I am, once again, eager to get out and smell the gasoline clouds around the airport, to put my arms around the person waiting for me, but when my turn comes to face the officer I nearly give him a tongue-lashing. Luckily for him (and me) he has no questions and he processes me with minimum fuss. Collecting my suitcase, I’m already humming dated rock n’roll about summertime, open-top Mustangs and blondes, but my fun is waiting for me in the shape of a young dotard in customs uniform.


“Is this your only item of baggage, srrr?”




“Step this way please. I’d like to ask you some questions.”


I step that way and stand across a counter from the man. He starts asking me questions: the reasons for my visit, my profession, where I’m planning to travel inside the country, etc etc. I answer as clearly and neutrally as possible. At some point he asks about my visa and I reach down to my pocket to pull out my passport.


“Keep your hands on the counter where I can see them, srrr! It’s not a good idea at all, srrr, to remove your hands from my sight!”


As I comply, I look around me. I keep quiet but what I feel like saying is: “You automaton. Here you are, armed with your lightweight, high-calibre handgun, here you are, surrounded by dozens of trigger-happy soldiers and their weaponry, here I am arriving from London which has some of the best security in the world, here I am, having passed through that security, having taken a transatlantic flight without incident. Now, what exactly do you think I’m going to produce from my pocket when my hand goes out of your sight?”


The question is irrelevant. The whole thing is, as always, about establishing control on the subject and maintaining humiliation. The man continues to question me, going through his formula of asking the same question in six different ways to see if my replies are inconsistent. At some point, I almost begin to enjoy the game, I feel like pointing out other, more clever, ways in which he could have phrased a particular question, but I’m not being paid by the US government to train their frontline welcome-troops. The man goes through my suitcase till he comes across a copy of my novel. He is startled. “Did you write this?” He splutters. By this point I’ve only told him four times, from four different angles, but each time in simple, easy-to-understand words that I am a novelist (and, yes, a freelance journalist) who writes books of stories. Clearly the man needed empirical evidence to release me and this he does with alacrity, especially once I match my face to the photograph on the back flap of my book. “You’re good to go, srrr! Welcome to the Unid’dstates!”


If I was to look for signs of progress within US customs personnel, I could argue that the contempt that used to be attached to a man having a notebook for his ‘thoughts’ has changed to some kind of (possibly quite misplaced) awe towards a person who has actually written a book, but I’m not sure. The fact is, having written several fine books didn’t protect Rohinton Mistry from harassment at US airports after 9/11 (beard); nor did being a former President of India protect Kalam from a vigorous frisking on his own soil (Abdul); nor did being world-famous protect our Khan One from the recent extended autograph session at Newark (that name, plus too chikna, so clearly recently clean-shaven, equal to extremely suspicious). Unlike, say, the airport authorities in the UK or Germany, the American border-buddies continue to be trained to defecate on anyone who they can possibly defecate upon. It doesn’t matter who the president is, Reagan, Bush, Obama, it doesn’t matter what the purported US foreign policy happens to be at the moment, it doesn’t matter if the US mint has brought out stamps to honour Woody Guthrie or Muddy Waters, some things about the land of the free and the home of the brave don’t change: if you’re South Asian, if you have a beard, if your name contains an Islamic element, your first encounter with the United States of America is likely to come in the shape of an armed and uniformed man who is scared, illiterate, robotic, a man who is trained to be blinkered and trapped in extreme parochial boorishness.








There is something comical and crass if the Central Bureau of Investigation has to close ~ for the second time ~ what has decidedly been quite the most sensitive case in its record books. Comical because it had reopened the probe at its own behest last September after having ordered its closure a year earlier. Crass because having stumbled in its inquiry for reasons as yet undisclosed, it has resolved to close the investigation for the second time. The case was much too critical and sensitive for an on again-off again approach by the country’s premier investigating agency, if on occasion a pet poodle of the political class, the handling of the Bofors case being the prime example. Five and a half years after the theft of Tagore’s Nobel medal from Rabindra Bhavan, the CBI informed Visva-Bharati authorities on 20 August that the probe was being closed for the second time. It has admitted to its inability (read failure) “to gather further clues into the burglary”. The sudden closure has quite totally bamboozled both the Central government, which runs the university, and the ashramites of Santiniketan. With a stroke of the bureaucratic pen has the travesty of heritage been dismissed so casually. The union finance minister has promised to take up the matter with the PM, who happens to be the university’s Acharya. It is fervently to be hoped that the files will be reopened. The cock-up comes at a particularly critical juncture, when Visva-Bharati has approached the UNESCO for inclusion in its world heritage list.

Of course, the culpability has to be shared in equal measure: the university for having continued with obsolete methods of security and the CBI for consistently refusing to come up with the status report on the investigation. Five and a half years is a long enough spell; Santiniketan as much as the rest of the country are entitled to know why the CBI stumbled and fell. By closing the file, it has taken recourse to the easiest of options. It is over now to the Prime Minister. The theft will rankle despite such frippery as an artificial garden ~ to welcome the Acharya ~ and the Rathindra Atithishala, resplendent even in the midst of a power cut and with or without the great and the good.








WHEN the prestigious President’s Bodyguard celebrated its bicentenary its commandant proudly asserted his most effective disciplinary mechanism was the threat to “report” a man to his village: that, he declared, “would be the ultimate disgrace”. The extent to which the ethos of that elite regiment has deteriorated since 1975 was underscored last week with a sessions court in Delhi awarding life imprisonment to two of its soldiers for raping a college student in a park near its training area, and sentencing another two to 10 years in jail for their involvement. Yes, it was six years ago that the city was revolted by what happened but re-focusing on it in the wake of the judicial verdict (without prejudice to legal appeals) is necessary. Not to reopen old wounds or point accusing fingers, only to remind the army that its best interests lie in restoring in the public eye the image of honour, dignity and discipline that it once enjoyed. Worse, there is widespread perception that the military ever tries to camouflage wrongdoing by its personnel. Indeed, had the then President, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, not made his disgust so palpable it is unlikely that the trial would have been conducted in open court. This is not to suggest that the army does not punish miscreants or tolerates indiscipline, only to emphasise that when the victims are from the general public it is necessary for justice “having seen to have been done”. If there is any army follow-up action to the court verdict it must not be kept under wraps.

The incident under focus is not to be seen in isolation. That even thereafter there have been several cases of indiscipline, high-handedness when dealing with civilians, corruption, siphoning-off of funds and even sexual harassment would point to the army either not realising how its stock is falling in aam aadmi’s assessment, or an inability to set things right. Both, and indeed the unbecoming activities themselves, point to a breakdown in leadership and erosion of those much vaunted “officer-like qualities”. For the brass no longer seem perturbed at these misdoings and offer the totally unacceptable “black sheep” or “stray” alibi: even pointing to “stress” as an explanation. If the generals are keen on finding out why the aura of olive green is dissipating they should reflect on the “PBG & The Ridge” in October 2003.








NEPAL’S Maoist leaders find India-baiting a useful handle to use against their government. In the context of their threat to oppose any controversial agreements Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal might sign during his five-day visit to India last week, New Delhi was justified in treading cautiously and no fresh treaty was imposed. Since the Nepal PM is yet to preside over a national consensus government, there was all the more reason for India playing safe. Nepal foreign minister Sujata Koirala’s opting out of the Prime Minister’s entourage at the 11th hour on health grounds may or may not have a political significance, but this was suggestion enough that even the Nepali Congress, to which she belongs and which supports the Communist-led government, is not happy. Reports say Koirala was angry over not being made Deputy Prime Minister. Nepal himself said it was merely a goodwill visit and in this respect he was right in suggesting his trip was successful. His predecessor, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, however, ridiculed the visit as “the most disgraceful moment in the country’s history”. Nepal revived the old tradition of a new Prime Minister visiting India first, something which Dahal found pleasure in breaking by visiting China.

There was a mutual agreement on amending the 1996 Indo-Nepalese trade treaty to avoid any “inequity” and a new one is to be signed in the next two months. The controversial 1950 Friendship Treaty will be reviewed and India has promised to provide Rs 32 billion (in Nepali currency) for the development of highways, railway links, police checkposts and unified security posts at the border towns of Biratnagar and Birganj for the simple reason that, under the existing accords, neither side can deploy regular forces. The Nepalese Prime Minister wants Indian industrialists to invest in his country by shedding the “perceived fear” of insecurity and take advantage of opportunities in the form of “100 per cent subsidiaries or joint ventures with Nepalese industries”. But unless his government ensures full protection to Indian interests, not many are likely to take the risk. The political scenario is still uncertain. Without the benefit of a national government with Maoist participation, it will be impossible to make any headway in Indo-Nepalese ties.








TEACHER-EDUCATION has of late become a much-discussed concept. In a sense, teaching is more complex than education because it encapsulates both the content and methods of learning. The dream of a vibrant and challenging knowledge society, based on an excellent teaching-learning network, has been largely shattered. Visions have been blurred and missions marred in the almost continually confused world of teacher- education.

There are certain very pertinent questions. Are teachers’ training programmes meant only for teachers in primary and secondary schools? Should the process be streamlined by institutions of higher education through seminars, refresher courses, and orientation programmes? How does a trained teacher or a teacher-educator stand to gain in comparison to the untrained in terms of pay and promotions? The need for trained professionals is relevant in the context of a reliable, scientific, meaningful and purposeful education that is responsive to the rapidly changing priorities of society.

First, teacher-education centres should cover all educational institutions irrespective of disciplines and school, college or university education. Second, an inter-disciplinary approach will facilitate a rational curricula. Third, the content should offer scope for consolidation and criticism. Fourth, the methodology ought to be in step with the diverse socio-economic, socio-cultural and socio-aesthetic aspects of teaching and learning. Fifth, there is need for institutions of excellence in teacher education as well.


THE redesigning of teacher-education calls for a fusion between subject and activity. It needs to be revamped in the right direction. The activities directly or/and indirectly associated with it must also come under careful scrutiny. Co-curricular activities ought to be accorded a pivotal role role for better teaching.
Three aspects are essential to the preparation of the curriculum ~ clarity and precision of content, a systematic methodology, and research in the fields of planning and execution. Indeed, the “what” and the “how” of teaching should be synchronised in a balanced curriculum. It devolves on teachers to update and enrich strategies periodically.

The Delors Commission has observed: “The world in general is evolving so rapidly today that teachers, like most other professional groups, now must face the fact that their initial training will not see them through the rest of their lives; they need to update and improve their own knowledge and technique throughout their lifetime. A careful balance has to be struck between competence in the subject taught and competence in teaching. In some countries, the system is criticised for neglecting the method; in others, overemphasis on the method produces teachers who know too little about their subject. Both are needed; neither should be sacrificed to the other in the initial or in-service training. Teacher training has additionally to inculcate a view of teaching that transcends the utilitarian and encourages questioning, interaction and the consideration of several alternative hypothesis. One of the main functions of teacher-education, both pre-service and in-service, is to equip teachers with the ethical, intellectual and emotional wherewithal to develop the same range of qualities in their pupils, as society demands.” (Learning: The Treasure Within ~ report prepared by the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century and submitted to the UNESCO in 1996).

Teacher education is now at the crossroads with participatory programmes in self-teaching and self-realisation. The system cannot be effective unless the teacher is prepared to share and communicate the latest trends and techniques in teaching-learning.

A special cell should be introduced to identify, analyse, evaluate and suggest a positive, resourceful and effective programme of teacher education for the region. Redesigning such programmes for the North-east is long overdue. The need to incorporate value education deserves a relook. The stereotyped strategies have reached their sell-by date. Paradoxically enough, tinkering with values can result in devaluation and, more often than not, denial of values. In the 21st century, we will have to learn and re-learn in order to teach and re-teach and vice-versa. But that does not denude our approach to teaching for moral development. Instead, it encourages a new pattern of teacher education that judiciously accommodates values and makes teaching a rewarding activity.


NURTURING of talent is an essential aspect of objectives in teacher education. The curriculum should graduate from mediocrity to excellence, from commonality to quality, and from mere factual content to elegance. Unnecessary diversification of courses in teacher education must be avoided; this defeats the purpose of the curriculum. If teacher education is unplanned, it can have chaotic consequences for primary and secondary education.

Teachers must take care of the emotions of children. As Professor Goleman has observed: “We leave the emotional education of our children to chance, with ever more disastrous results. One solution is a new vision of what schools can do to educate the whole student, bringing together mind and heart in the classroom. Our journey ends with visits to innovative classes that aim to give children a grounding in the basics of emotional intelligence. I can foresee a day when education will routinely include inculcating essential human competencies such as self-awareness, self-control, and empathy, and the arts of listening, resolving conflicts and cooperation.”

Rabindranath Tagore has emphasised the joys of learning. He has warned against that sort of teaching that plunders the child’s world of freedom and spontaneity, inquisitiveness and creativity. Teacher-education must be best updated in order to be justified. Only then can it hope to create a positive mental attitude among the taught.












Groundwater resource in Karnataka is under severe stress for years, owing to increase in demand and unwise planning. About 30 per cent of the state has been over exploited and the over-draft is estimated to be about 0.22 million hectare meters. The problem is so acute that it is likely to cause severe social stress and strong agitations.

Groundwater exploitation went unabated due to absence of any institutional control. The current practice of water management are not supported by legislative control. A need to work towards a groundwater policy that provides an equitable framework and functions at a decentralised level was long felt.

In India, there is no single law that deals with groundwater ownership and management. All groundwater Acts are established in the form of state Acts as the sector is in the state list and most of these are benign. Karnataka is yet to come up with a final legislation, even though we have been hobnobbing with many drafts.

Recently, there is some fresh thinking about Karnataka Groundwater (Regulation and Control of Development and Management) Bill. A brain storming session held at the Institute for Social and Economic Change was helpful in identifying some of the important issues and missing links in the proposed bill.


First and foremost, the proposed groundwater legislation should incorporate the cumulative policy pronouncements made both at the national and at the state level concerning water, agriculture and the economy. These include subjects like (i) conservation, recharge, sustainable and equitable use of groundwater; (ii) participatory and decentralised management; and (iii) an integrated approach that would include planning, use and management of groundwater resources.

Second, it is most urgent to establish a Ground Water Authority (GWA) and fix its functions to go along with the objectives of the bill. The composition of the authority in the proposed form is quite unwieldy, highly bureaucratised and centralised. Instead, GWA can have two tiers; one at the apex level acting in advisory capacity and looking into control and monitoring functions. This can be drawn from a couple of representatives each from the government, expert groups, farming communities and panchayats. At the second tier, technical experts should coordinate the process of implementation. This includes fixing liabilities and imposition of obligations. The provisions need to incorporate the notions of stewardship and trusteeship of the Constitution among the users.

All this would mean clear stipulation of the functions and accountability for every user in protecting, maintaining and judicious use of groundwater. The GWA should also be made accountable for its decisions. Existing data across departments have to be compiled under the authority.

The bill should include a clause to deal with transfer and sale of well water and water quality issues if it is not already there. This will discourage any new well coming up in the close neighbourhood of an existing well. There shall be specification regarding isolation distance and/or isolation depth/s linked with technology of water use (like drip or sprinkler).


It is difficult to be accurate about specifyng distance between two wells. So, a cap on the number of irrigation wells is a reasonably easier measure for regulation. Water conservation through rainwater and roof water harvesting must find place in the new Act. Similarly, recharge measures need to be indicated and encouraged for different agro-climatic regions.

Since electricity is a chief mode of groundwater extraction, groundwater-energy nexus need to be treated carefully. Electricity consumed for agricultural purposes stood at 29 per cent of the total consumption in the state. Now, the state has introduced cross subsidies, in addition to direct subsidies, to meet the power supply expenditure, which is around Rs 3,500 crore to Rs 3,900 crore at the normal tariff of Rs 3.90 per unit. Free power supply might even hurt farmers’ interests in the long run as the government might ignore quality of power supply in rural areas, thus accentuating the rural-urban divide.

If we are really serious about the environmental externalities inflicted by the over-draft of groundwater, placing the bill before the Assembly is essential. But more than mere placement of the bill, it will be quintessential to provide appropriate teeth to the bill for its flawless implementation. We must wait and see if the bill sees the gates of the Vidhana Soudha or not.








The sight of a service helicopter approaching our base-camp, an inaccessible and snow-bound area, made everyone, from officers to jawans ecstatic because it brought mail from home which is a big morale-booster for Army men. And only on days when the skies were clear would these choppers come through making those days an occasion to celebrate.

Although most people desired news from home to keep their morale high, many homesick jawans wanting to meet their loved ones used it as a tool to persuade authorities to grant them leave. Every day the chunk of ‘dak’ (daily mail) put up to me by my staff, had a good number of telegrams which read ‘wife serious, come soon’ or ‘mother serious, come soon,’ the volume of which used to increase prior to festivals of Lohri, Baisakh and Diwali, since mine was an infantry battalion of Sikhs.

While documenting the request of leaves by Jawans, I observed that most of the jawans timed their receipt of such telegrams in such a way that it would be their turn to go on leave as per the leave request register. They probably did this to add more weight to their request since only a small percentage could be away on casual leave at any given time, so as to maintain an optimum level of fighting strength in the battalion.

Once, a young uneducated recruit came in for an ‘arj report’ (documented leave request) interview with me. When asked why he wanted to go on leave, he answered, “Sir, khushinal jana hai” (Sir, I want to go just for pleasure). I told him that the entry in the reason for leave column read ‘wife serious’ and asked him if he was married, he replied in the negative. When asked why he had written that in the register he said, Havialdar Major had said that a reason is to be given. So apparently, to this innocent, uneducated Punjabi lad from the countryside, the word ‘reason’ was synonymous with telegrams with ominous content.

Many days later, in a camp-fire after the completion of a tough commando exercise, the Subedar Major proudly mentioned to all officers that we stood first in the brigade during the manoeuvre because, “sadde munde tagde hain” (our boys are tough!) One witty officer immediately quipped, “SM saab, your boys are tough but their ladies are not.”

When the Subedar Major seemed perplexed the officer laughed and added, we get many telegrams reading ‘wife serious’ and ‘mother serious.’









Projecting an air of casual inevitability, President Obama took a break from his summer vacation on Tuesday to nominate Ben Bernanke to a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve.


Mr. Obama said that Mr. Bernanke’s leadership in the financial crisis had helped to prevent another Great Depression. He praised Mr. Bernanke as a man whose qualities and capabilities had helped to “put the brakes on our economic free fall.” All true, as far as it goes. But it does not go far enough.


As chairman of the Fed since 2006, Mr. Bernanke also helped foment the crisis he is now charged with managing. Like his predecessor, Alan Greenspan, he did not meet his obligation to police the reckless lending that was proliferating across the economy. Instead, like Mr. Greenspan, he seemed to view debt-fueled growth and speculative fervor as issues best dealt with after — but not before — the bursting of a bubble.


But when the implosion came, after the collapse of Lehman Brothers last fall, conventional ways of coping were to no avail. The result has been trillions of dollars in government expenditures, loans, debt guarantees and other taxpayer commitments to keep the financial system and the broader economy afloat. Another Great Depression was avoided, but the Great Recession could have been eased, and perhaps even avoided, if officials like Mr. Bernanke had taken precautionary action.


Nor is there any assurance that the continuing rescues will result in a stable, prosperous economy. So far, they have strengthened the survivors on Wall Street and replaced demand that is still lacking from consumers and investors. But signs are scant that the economy can function on its own. In addition, the rescues themselves have implanted other risks — of fiscal crisis, of inflation and of endemic moral hazard, in which rescued institutions revert to reckless risk taking, secure in the knowledge that they will be bailed out if need be.


Crisis management has been Mr. Bernanke’s strong suit, but he did not distinguish himself before the crisis, and it is unknown how the actions he has undertaken in the short run will perform in the long run.


Mr. Obama has shown confidence in Mr. Bernanke and stressed the need for continuity in Fed leadership in a fragile economic time. But senators will do the nation a disservice if they treat the renomination as a mere formality. Mr. Bernanke’s confirmation hearing should be used to air and weigh his merits and shortcomings. Mr. Bernanke should address them forthrightly as well.







Milk looks simple enough coming out of the carton. But behind the scenes is a complex system of federal contracts and programs that is now doing a terrible job for dairy farmers in New York and New England.


In the past year, the price farmers get paid has dropped some 40 percent, to about $1 a gallon, which can be as much as 40 cents a gallon less than it costs to produce milk. Prices have dropped for consumers too, to a little over $3 for a gallon.


Recently, the Department of Agriculture announced that it would raise price support levels to help farmers through this crisis, a short-term plan that has been applauded by the New York Congressional delegation.


We do not like agricultural subsidies or price supports, and we have opposed dairy subsidy programs. They tend to push farmers in the wrong directions, and they blunt the impact of market forces on farms. But there is a special argument to be made in this case.


Nearly 2.5 million acres in New York state are directly tied to dairy farming. The milk crisis is severe enough to put many farms at risk, raising the potential of abandoned farmland susceptible to development.


In the Northeast, with farms different from the huge factory dairies found in much of the West, the cost of milk is a land-use question. Farmers here still run relatively small herds, and they raise their own feed crops. This kind of dairy is a relatively benign use of the land, a means of protecting open space, a form of stewardship that is more acceptable than most others. We think it is right to keep the state’s dairy farmers on their farms, even if we are not happy with this way of going about it.


Feed costs, the recession, a change in consumers’ milk consumption have all played a part in the dairy crisis, which affects organic farms as well as conventional ones. Like most commodity farmers, dairy farmers are essentially locked into the one product they have invested in producing, making it very hard to change quickly.


The best rationale for these price supports is not to ensure the status quo. It is to prevent swift, catastrophic change. Change will have to come — including a revamping, if not a dismantling, of the maze of dairy price supports. But when it does, it will need to protect consumers, farmers and rural communities, and, ultimately, the welfare of farmland itself.







Critics of President Obama’s push for health care reform have been whipping up fear that proposed changes will destroy our “world’s best” medical system and make it like supposedly inferior systems elsewhere.


The emptiness of those claims became apparent recently when researchers from the Urban Institute released a report analyzing studies that have compared the clinical effectiveness and quality of care in the United States with the care dispensed in other advanced nations. They found a mixed bag, with the United States doing better in some areas, like cancer care, and worse in others, like preventing deaths from treatable and preventable conditions.


The bottom line was unmistakable. The analysts found no support for the claim routinely made by politicians that American health care is the best in the world and no hard evidence of any particular area in which American health care is truly exceptional.


The American health care system puts patients at greater risk of harm from medical or surgical errors than patients elsewhere and ranks behind the top countries in extending the lives of the elderly. It has a mixed record on preventive care — above average in vaccinating seniors against the flu, below average in vaccinating children — and a mixed record of caring for chronic and acute conditions.


Contrary to what one hears in political discourse, the bulk of the research comparing the United States and Canada found a higher quality of care in our northern neighbor. Canadians, for example, have longer survival times while undergoing renal dialysis and after a kidney transplant. Of 10 studies comparing the care given to a broad range of patients suffering from a diverse group of ailments, five favored Canada, three yielded mixed results, and only two favored the United States.


There is no doubt that American medicine at its best can be awesomely effective. But there is clearly room for improvement. Far from threatening a superb health care system, reform should be seen as a way to improve a system whose bright spots are undercut by its flaws.







The Obama administration has taken important steps toward repairing the grievous harm that President George W. Bush did to this nation with his lawless and morally repugnant detention policies. President Obama is committed to closing the Guantánamo Bay camp and creating legitimate courts to try detainees. He has rescinded the executive orders and the legal rulings that Mr. Bush used to excuse the abuse of prisoners.


The Defense Department has taken the important step of reversing policy and notifying the International Committee of the Red Cross of the identities of militants who were being held in secret at camps in Iraq and Afghanistan. And Attorney General Eric Holder has appointed a prosecutor to investigate the interrogation of prisoners of the Central Intelligence Agency, whose inhuman treatment was detailed in a long-secret report written by the agency’s inspector general in 2004 and released on Monday.


Yet despite these commendable individual steps, Mr. Obama and his political advisers continue to shrink from the broad investigation of the full range of his predecessor’s trampling on human rights, civil liberties and judicial safeguards that would allow this country to make sure this sordid history is behind it for good.


Indeed, the administration seemed reluctant to make public the C.I.A. report, which was released under a court order and was heavily censored, with whole pages blacked out — including the four pages of recommendations. Before Mr. Holder announced his investigation, the White House made it clear that it was unhappy with his decision — repeating its sadly familiar line about “looking forward, not backward.”

Mr. Holder displayed real courage and integrity in ordering the investigation. But he stressed that it was limited to the specific interrogations outlined in the C.I.A. report, and did not amount to a full-blown criminal investigation of the Bush-era detention policies.


The interrogations are certainly worthy of criminal investigation. The report describes objectionable and cruel practices well beyond waterboarding. They included threatening a detainee’s family members with sexual assault and threatening to kill another’s children; the staging of mock executions; and repeatedly blocking a prisoner’s carotid artery until he began to faint.


The report said the interrogations generally followed guidelines approved by Mr. Bush’s Justice Department, which dedicated itself to finding ways to authorize abuse and evade legal accountability. But it offered a scathing condemnation of those guidelines, which it said diverged “sharply” from the practices of military and police interrogators, and the positions of pretty much everyone else, including the State Department, Congress, other Western governments and human rights groups.


The inspector general said that, in some cases, interrogations exceeded even the Bush Justice Department’s shockingly lax standards.


The report offers one more compelling reason for a far broader inquiry into Mr. Bush’s lawless behavior. It is possible to sympathize with Mr. Obama’s desire to avoid a politically fraught investigation. But the need to set this nation back under the rule of law is no less urgent than it was when he promised to do so in his campaign.


That will not be accomplished by investigating individual interrogators. It will require a fearless airing of how the orders were issued to those men, and who gave them. Only by making public officials accountable under the law can Americans be confident that future presidents will not feel free to break it the way Mr. Bush did.









A political leader has once again raised the issue of a national truth and reconciliation commission, an idea that has been aired several times in recent months. Altaf Hussain has made his call for 'truth and reconciliation' in the light of statements made by two former military officers about the so-called 'Jinnahpur' map, and the 1992 operation by the army aimed at the MQM. The now retired officers have revealed the 'map' as a figment of somebody's imagination and the operation against the MQM as an attempt to ignite factional conflicts. Such confessional statements may enlighten and inform us about a set of historical events but they are far from truth and reconciliation; and the establishment of a national body for truth and reconciliation is a vast and complex task. It would need to cover more than the grievances of the MQM and some have suggested that a similar body should be constituted to examine the Musharraf years.

Are we ready for such an outing of the truth here? In truth, almost certainly not. In countries where truth and reconciliation commissions have run there was a clear turning point in their national history. Above all there was a yearning desire for change, a root-and–branch difference between the way things would be done henceforward and the way they were done before. There was a desire to end violence, to forgive but not forget, rather remember and learn. There was unity – not complete, ever, but a unity of the majority. That unity crossed cultural, class, religious and ethnic divides. We fulfil none of those most basic of criteria. Primarily, we are not at a turning point, we are in a continuity, a politico-military cycle that has not yet ended definitively as the army is 'standing back' from politics but cannot be said to be completely disengaged. We are also in a feudal continuum where power and property are concentrated in the hands of a narrow stratum. Neither of these states of being is set to change, nor do they desire change – another prerequisite of an effective truth and reconciliation commission. Similarly, in terms of crossing faith divides we are light-years away from sectarian reconciliation, let alone interfaith. Truth and reconciliation commissions have (mostly) worked where nations have reached a point in their maturation process that allows the space to be created where uncomfortable truths may be heard in the knowledge that they will not trigger a bloody revenge. We have no such maturity, nor is it imminent, and our inclination, sadly, is to find a scapegoat and pursue a bitter retribution.







The latest statement by Prime Minister Gilani to the effect that the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) and former president Pervez Musharraf's trial are two separate issues that should not be interlinked takes us no nearer resolving the matter. Clearly the PPP has little or no intention of hastening the judicial process and the smaller parties in the PPP-led coalition are said to be 'indifferent' to a trial under Article 6 of the constitution no matter there is a parliamentary resolution or not. Lawyers and pundits pontificate endlessly on the various permutations of the 'shall we prosecute Musharraf' debate and all those participating in this circular dance state their position to be 'clear' in every respect.

What does seem clear is that Mr Sharif would like to have the general's head on a plate in the centre of his dining table, but to get to that position he is going to have to carry parliament with him, and his chances of doing that seem remote in the extreme. The creation of any kind of consensus among the parliamentary groups -- and particularly with the MQM and the PML-Q -- is going to be a Sisyphean task. The smaller parties are said to be committed to backing the PPP in taking a final decision on Musharraf's trial, but all are maintaining a wary distance. The JUI-F has said it has no intention of tabling a resolution and seems of the opinion that this is a job for the heavy-hitters and that it will 'read the resolution' and decide which way it will swing when it comes – if it comes – to a vote. Simply put, it is all going to hinge around the support of the smaller parties if there is to be a parliamentary majority for passing a resolution or an act of parliament that would preface any trial. And nobody, it seems, wants to dance with Mr Sharif.







The Council of Islamic Ideology has expressed 'reservations' over the private bill against domestic violence passed by the National Assembly. The bill seeks to protect 'women, children and other vulnerable persons' with whom the accused is engaged in a domestic relationship, against gender-based violence or physical and psychological abuse of other kinds. The CII's objections hinge around several core issues: firstly it believes the law could push up the rate of divorce, secondly it objects to police intervention in domestic matters and lastly it states that measures for protection against abuse were already present in other laws which needed simply to be more effectively implemented. The CII also holds that the law is 'discriminatory' in that old men or others could also be the victims of domestic abuse.

All this makes little sense. Across the world, specific laws exist to safeguard women and children. The rate of domestic violence is terrifyingly high in Pakistan. According to past reports by Amnesty International and other watchdog bodies, up to 70 per cent of women in the country suffer it in one form or the other. And as for that old bogie of divorce – it is hard to say what connections have been drawn up or why it would be better to have women beaten up at home rather than separated from such a situation. One can't help feel that the CII is a little miffed. Its own recommendations regarding changes in the Muslim Family Laws of 1961 were sent back to it by the National Assembly for review after the religious lobby raised an outcry over the suggestions that the divorce process be simplified and other rights protected. In this light the recent comments about divorce seem rather ironical. It is the broader picture that must be kept in mind by everyone engaged in the process, so the goal of safeguarding them against brutality can be effectively met.








HISTORY will remember the present Government for initiating two moves purely on political considerations and as a reaction to what happened to its leaders in the past. The virtual decision to wind up the Local Bodies institutions is being seen as wrapping up of a good and beneficial system merely because it was evolved by a dictator and nurtured by the Opposition PML (Q) while many believe NAB is being targeted in vengeance for the sufferings of the PPP leaders at the hands of the accountability institution.

As for all practical purposes, NAB has been rendered ineffective and inoperative and the new accountability body is not yet in place, the instances of corruption and irregularities are cropping up from every corner of the country. Reports emanating from the four provinces and, of course, those from the Federal Cabinet are alarming as they give an impression of free for all corruption that has shaken the very fabric of the society. Media is full of stories of kickbacks and corruption and rumour mills are also in full swing about what is going on in different ministries, departments and corporations. Though the Government is terming all this politically motivated campaign to discredit the present regime yet even if there is an iota of truth in all these stories then one could imagine the state of governance and rule of law. Realisation of the lofty ideals of transparency, merit, fair play and good governance have become a dream and this is one of the causes of growing disappointment of the people. There is no doubt that the NAB, which is being abolished, had a deterrent effect and in the past it recovered billions of rupees of looted or plundered national wealth through different means including the controversial plea bargain. Now this deterrence is no more there and in the absence of its substitute corrupt people are having field day and in the process have made lives of the people miserable. If there is something wrong with the NAB then the Government had the option to reform the institution as per best practices anywhere in the world. But it is unfortunate that we have become victim of the habit of trying this or that experiment and in the process the country has suffered a lot and institutions have remained weak. Anyhow, even if the Government intends to replace the present body, then this should be done expeditiously and the new institution should be seen to be better than the existing one. Ironically, the draft law in this regard has already become controversial and no one knows when and what final shape it would get.







MQM has been absolved of the much-maligned allegation that it had planned for the creation of Jinnahpur, to be the homeland of Urdu speaking population of Urban Sindh. Former DG IB Brigadier Retd Imtiaz while making this sensational confession said that the unearthing of an alleged map in this connection was a drama that was aimed at detaching various sections of the nation from each other.

The disclosure would give a new turn to the Pakistani politics and naturally a sense of relief, joy and pride to the ranks and files of the Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in general and many Pakistanis in particular. It has been further revealed by the former head of the intelligence agency that action against MQM in 1992 had the backing of former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif. Keeping in view the already strained relationship between the MQM and PML-N, this revelation would generate further animosity between the two parties. In the wake of this startling disclosure, the MQM Chief Altaf Hussain addressed party workers in Karachi and Hyderabad and at Islamabad Press Club over telephone from London showing highly remarkable restraint and large heartedness. Of course he demanded some explanation from the former Prime Minister as to why he did not stop the operation against the MQM, and at the same time appealed to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to probe the 1992 military operation against his party workers. However what is noteworthy is that even if Mian Nawaz Sharif does not give any explanation, Altaf Hussain said they would forgive and forget the action of the former Prime Minister. He went to the extent of forgiving the blood of his brother, nephew and other party workers. We appreciate the gesture of the MQM leader, as this is the need of the hour for politics in Pakistan. To create congenial atmosphere, it is of paramount importance that our political leadership should stop talking of revenge and happenings of the past in an attempt to garner greater public sympathy and move ahead to promote tolerance and reconciliation in the larger interest of the country.







AFGHAN presidential elections were being described as critical and crucial for the prospects of stability and security in the war-torn country. The elections were already delayed and it took a lot of time and efforts to create enabling atmosphere for the exercise including active cooperation of Pakistan.

However, latest reports suggest that the elections have not produced a final victor and there might be a second round of voting to decide about a clear winner. Though both the main contenders – incumbent President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah have claimed victory, one doesn’t know for sure on what basis yet there is a likelihood of a second round in the presidential race. There were reports that the turnout during the election was very thin because of Taliban influence especially in Pushtoon dominated areas. It was partially because of the low turnout that no one could muster the necessary support to emerge as clear winner. This is being described by some circles as a victory of Taliban strategy as they have succeeded in their bid to foil attempts for a meaningful electoral exercise. Another round means fresh violence and intensified activities of Taliban to prevent people from casting their votes and another poor turnout would damage credibility of the polls. This would in turn plunge Afghanistan into turmoil and chaos marring prospects of stability and peace in the country. Occupation forces too have not been of any use and this once again upholds the universally recognized principle that democracy cannot be imposed from outside and it has to grow from within.











Finally the government has decided to lease out the offshore blocks to foreign oil companies. For a long time this was a pending issue as both our neighbours, Myanmar and India, had discovered a number of huge gas deposits in the Bay of Bengal and were objecting to drillings by Bangladesh in the disputed areas. Pending demarcation of the maritime boundary, Bangladesh has rightly chosen to allocate the non-disputed areas. This will hopefully increase interest on all sides, including the awardees and the contending nations, to resolve their maritime boundary disputes with urgency.

Most of the offshore hydrocarbon blocks - blocks 5,10 and 11, undisputed as they are, have been contracted out for exploration. Then may be differences of opinion on the terms and conditions of the contract including the provision for sale of gas abroad, if need be, but the good news is that the ball has been set rolling in the field of exploration.

When the bids were called in for the offshore blocks late last year, there was an unelected government in place and so there were problems both before and after the bidding. It was reported in the Bangladesh media that Myanmar was lobbying with major oil companies not to participate in the bids. This led to a low response and none of the "oil majors" participated in the bidding.

With gas demand in the country going up at a hefty 16 per cent per annum and the country reeling from a gas shortage, it is important that Bangladesh explore its offshore hydrocarbon potential.  It is in line with the global trend, which is to go seaward. The offshore oil industry is being dubbed as the last frontier, which is probably worth a trillion dollars. Bangladesh delayed its entry into this huge potential sector a little late in the day. But then as they say, it is better late than never.  






The return of 175 Bangladeshi nationals from Andaman jail, where they were left to languish after their rescue from high seas by the Indian authorities, is certainly a happy occasion for their families and relations. But behind this family reunion lies a grim reality, indicating the social pulls and pushes that make room for manoeuvrability by some dishonest manpower agencies or even by human traffickers to exploit the gullibility of the poor. Unemployed, educated or uneducated, young people are tricked into their cunning game with the promise of highly paid jobs abroad and then left undone. This batch of 175 Bangladeshis, part of a contingent of 446, too were left adrift on board several trawlers on a journey to Malaysia.

Most likely it was a case of human trafficking and the traffickers simply lured the hapless job-seekers into their treacherous act. But this is not for the first time that desperate job-seekers have either returned from the brink of death or actually perished in seas, jungles, deserts and Alpine snow. Only a few years back, of a group of Bangladeshi youths on a similar boat journey on the Mediterranean Sea towards Spain, just a few survived the ordeal and the rest who died of hunger and thirst were simply thrown into the sea.
What is surprising is that none of those responsible for such trafficking rackets has so far been booked or punished. It does not speak well of the intelligence and law enforcement agencies responsible for keeping watch on illegal migration on a massive scale. Unless there is a nexus of the traffickers and members of such agencies, illegal practices like this cannot go on for years together. Those involved in the inhuman trade must be brought to justice so that no one in future dare take undue advantage of the desperation of poor people.








Many of us go through 'near death' experiences don't we? Then creep to our offices after that or to our homes and whisper, "I nearly got run over!"


"What?" You reply sombrely, "Yes, I slipped on the platform as the train was coming in but luckily this stranger pulled me back or I would have gone under!" And maybe if you are the religious kind you visit temple, mosque or church and offer a prayer of thanksgiving and if you aren't you thank your lucky stars. But, have you ever wondered whether there is a purpose you've been singled out to live a little longer? World famous author James Michener went through such an experience and these were his thoughts when he came out of it: One stormy night in the South Pacific his plane was trying desperately to land on the Tontouta airstrip but could not do so. After several attempts in the dark of night, his knuckles were white with fear. When they finally landed safely, Michener went out and walked the length of the airstrip, looking at the dim outlines of the mountains they had so narrowly missed. He wrote this: "And as I stood there in the darkness I caught a glimpse of the remaining years of my life and I swore an oath that I would live the rest of my years as if I were a great man! I did not presume to think that I would be a great man. I have never thought in those terms, but I decided I would conduct myself as if I were one. I would adhere to my basic principles. I would bear public testimony to what I believed in. I would be a better man. I would help others. I would truly believe and act as if all men were my brothers. And I would strive to make whatever world in which I found myself, a better place!" Michener freely admits, "In the darkness a magnificent peace settled over me, for I saw that I could actually attain each of those objectives, and I never looked back." Michener says that the very next day he started to draft the book Tales of the South Pacific. And if it can ever be said that he became a great man, I suspect it was only because he decided to be a better man than he was before. Maybe 'greatness' is not our goal. But you and I can be a little better today than we were yesterday. We can help others a bit more today than we did yesterday. We can act more deliberately as if all people are our sisters and brothers. We can leave the world a better place tomorrow than we found it today. One of my boyhood books was 'Tales of the South Pacific' and if such a wonderful book could come out of a man who decided one stormy night to start becoming a 'better man' then I am sure there's much remaining for you and I to do. Dear friend, you don't need to wait for a 'near death' situation to start being a better man or better woman, you can start right now and when you decide such, like James Michener, I am sure a 'magnificent peace will settle over you' as you set about attaining each one of those goals you've set before you…!









ONCE, only human resources directors, "change management" consultants and the occasional CEO talked about workplace culture. Concepts such as motivation and partnerships tended to be left for training courses or The Harvard Business Review. But yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard joined the fray, suggesting cultural change as much as her industrial laws held the key to national productivity.


In a speech to the International Industrial Relations Association, she called for workplace cultures based on a partnership between employees, employers and unions. Amid controversy over increased union power, she argued it was time to focus on the "intangibles" of workplace culture rather than the law. The Fair Work Act was the start, not the end, of the reform process. Now employers, employees and unions must unite in building cultures that encourage "innovation, employee engagement and co-operation" at work.


Despite the management speak, the comments are spot on. A good relationship between bosses and workers is a no-brainer, the holy grail of managers and HR departments. Companies that inspire and involve workers in the corporate project through intangible concepts like loyalty and co-operation as well as good pay and conditions are indeed likely to see high productivity. People who believe in their work are indeed likely to work better than those who don't.


The minister is describing a more consultative approach - a middle ground between the strong-arm tactics of unions and the aspects of the Howard IR laws rejected by the electorate. It makes sense for her to broaden the discussion beyond the Fair Work Act, given the pressure she has been under over the new law. She needs to show an awareness of modern workplace issues at a time when the government has turned the clock back on industrial relations. Her efforts to broaden her credibility with companies come, for example, as The Australian's Ewin Hannan reports on the hike in wages decisions made by the state wage tribunals, decisions that will hurt small business.


But the real message here is that unions, having been cemented into the IR system by this government, must now play their part in building better relationships between employees and employers. The suggestion is that they must work with employers to put in place the "final piece of the productivity puzzle". That is the hard part. Unions tend to be hostile to management ideas such as culture and suspicious of companies that talk of employees "buying into" the corporate project.


The minister's speech follows a forum with employers, employee representatives and academics that discussed ideas about innovation, engagement and co-operation. It is not clear how the government will be involved in an area best left to individual companies. Hosting a forum is one thing, contemplating any further intervention in the nation's workplaces is something else entirely.


The minister's speech is a recognition that the Fair Work Act alone will not deliver Australia the modern, productive enterprises we need. She has already shown a willingness to revisit awards that proved damaging to various sectors. Her call for workplace partnerships is commendable. Even better would be a commitment to revisit an act that sends entirely the wrong signals in a global economy.


Calling for cultural change is fair enough, but in the end the best thing the government can do to improve productivity is to ensure employers have the space to run their companies in a fair, flexible and modern manner.









THERE is perhaps only one thing as certain as death and taxes - the increase in healthcare costs. In Australia, costs are predicted to rise from about 9 per cent to 12.5 per cent of gross domestic product in the next 20years, mainly because we are getting older and living longer. The only sustainable system is one where as many people as possible are encouraged to pay for their care through private insurance.


The Australian is a strong supporter of fiscal discipline for reining in the nation's public debt. And middle-class welfare, which ballooned as a result of vote-buying during the Howard years, is the obvious area for savings. To that end, the Rudd government wants to means-test the 30 per cent rebate for private health insurance premiums, introduced in 1999.


Health Minister Nicola Roxon has tried to wear down her opponents in the Senate by arguing that the $1.9billion saved over four years by hitting the rich would fund health reforms such as centralised electronic health records. On the face of it, she has a good argument. But while The Australian supports the principle of means testing, policy changes also need to pass the cost-benefit test. Because means testing would have an impact on taxpayers earning as little as $75,000, the proposed change would be counterproductive if it drove more people towards over-stretched public hospital systems.


The government argues that just a fraction of the 10 million people - about 25,000 - covered by private insurance would drop out if their rebate were cut. Most people, it insists, would stick with private insurance to avoid an increased Medicare surcharge applying to those not covered.


Perhaps, but many would also be tempted to "play" the system by dropping their cover to a minimum to avoid the surcharge - a trend that would force up the cost of insurance and cause more Australians to opt for the free public system in the event of illness. That would be bad business, not just for the health funds but also for the sector overall.


It is a concern too that means-testing a concessionary scheme such as this would be expensive and complicated. The means test would cost the government about $69 million to administer.


Australia needs a vibrant mix of public and private healthcare if it is to manage the impact of an ageing demographic. A series of "carrot-and-stick" incentives in recent years, including the Medicare levy surcharge, lifetime loading and 30 per cent rebate, has boosted private fund membership to 44.6 per cent. This needs to be maintained or further increased. While Ms Roxon is understandably keen to claw back resources, her means-testing proposal in its current form may not be the answer.








HIS mid-term resignation was unnecessary, but Brendan Nelson leaves federal parliament after 13 years of dedicated service. A former general practitioner and federal president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Nelson had a worthwhile career before party politics and exemplifies how parliamentary democracy is enriched by participants from all walks of life.


Stepping into the opposition leadership after the defeat of the Howard government, Dr Nelson took on the most thankless job in politics at the most difficult point in the electoral cycle. He was unsuited to the role, but his gracious acceptance of his partyroom's verdict after being beaten by Malcolm Turnbull reflected a dignity and decency sorely lacking in many other politicians in recent decades.


As education minister in the Howard government, Dr Nelson set about improving school standards, a legacy expanded by the Rudd government, partially deregulated university fees and abolished compulsory student unionism. In 2006, his surprise appointment as defence minister put him on a steep learning curve, where he made the controversial decision to spend $6 billion on 24 Boeing Super Hornet fighters and oversaw the bungled return of the remains of Private Jake Kovco.


Dr Nelson's departure gives the Opposition Leader an unwelcome by-election. But it is also a chance for the Liberal Party to boost its demoralised ranks with fresh talent. We wish Dr Nelson well as he embarks on the third stage of his career. Public life is all the better for his contribution.








THE news that James Hardie recycled used and damaged asbestos bags for use as carpet underlay will horrify the public, which might have thought that with last week's penalties against board members this story of corporate villainy was coming to an end. Company minutes have revealed that James Hardie was aware of the dangers when it was doing the recycling. What else is out there? How else has it knowingly placed ordinary consumers in harm's way?


There will now almost certainly be a new set of compensation claims against the company, which is hard-pressed to meet its existing obligations to asbestos victims. James Hardie announced in April that the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund it had set up might be insufficient to fund liabilities by the end of next year. In other words, the fund will soon be broke. The company blamed the severity of the downturn in the US housing market for its inability to make any payment to the fund in the past financial year. Meanwhile, it announced it was moving its head office from the Netherlands to Ireland for an estimated $84 million, a decision estimated to reduce its contribution to the compensation fund this financial year by $18 million.


James Hardie has argued that one option available to the compensation fund is to pay claimants and their families by instalments, rather than by lump sum. It is a scandalous proposal. A person suffering from mesothelioma does not have time for instalments, should they arrive. Mesothelioma, an unerringly fatal cancer with a latency period of 30 years and more, can kill by suffocation within six months of diagnosis.

Australia has been the highest per capita user of asbestos products in the world. Australia also has the highest per capita incidence of mesothelioma in the world. And it is going to get worse. The first wave of asbestos manufacturers of the 1930s have died, and the second wave - the builders of the 1950s - are dying. But though asbestos was banned in 1984, the popularity over the past 25 years of do-it-yourself home renovation - and the secrecy over the use of deadly carpet underlay - has exposed a third wave of potential victims.


The compensation fund is enfeebled. James Hardie needs to make a greater moral and material commitment to the fund and to make that commitment public now. Otherwise it is likely taxpayers will be expected to clean up the Hardie mess for decades.







SCOTLAND'S Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, has borne the full weight of Scottish, British and US outrage for releasing early the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. Last night Britain's Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, still had not been heard on the matter. Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi has terminal cancer, and Mr MacAskill authorised his release on compassionate grounds. In ordinary circumstances that might be an admirable display of executive compassion. But the situation is complicated. Instead of quietly slipping into Libya, as the Government of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi promised, according to Mr MacAskill, Megrahi was welcomed as a homecoming hero by crowds waving Libyan and Scottish flags in scenes that have prompted widespread disgust. Should he have been released at all?


Questions still remain over Megrahi's guilt eight years after he began his sentence. Though a former member of Libya's intelligence service, he has always denied involvement, and it has been alleged that the principal trial witness who identified him was given a reward of $US2 million for the evidence. Other irregularities in the process prompted Megrahi to appeal to Scotland's High Court against his conviction. There also remains in the background the persistent allegation that Iran, not Libya, sponsored the bombing, and that its role has been the subject of murky deals between the United States, Britain and others. But the appeal that might have clarified some of these issues will not proceed. Megrahi withdrew it to take advantage of the offer to repatriate him. He has not been pardoned - and his willingness to accept the offer counts somewhat against his profession of innocence.


Most worrying about the decision is the apparent desire, in both British and Scottish governments, to have the whole question go away. It has been suggested Scotland's Government, though it may have feared the public reaction to early release, feared even more the possibility that the original verdict might be overturned on appeal and the whole case reopened. There have been suggestions too - denied in both Edinburgh and London - that the release was part of some kind of trade deal between Libya and Britain. If it were true it would nullify utterly the value of any release on compassionate grounds.


The families of the British Lockerbie victims tend to agree that Megrahi may be the wrong man; families of the US victims disagree. But whether Megrahi is suffering an injustice should have been for a court to decide, not a minister. With his early release, those suffering injustice are the families of those who died over Lockerbie.




                                                                                                                      THE GUARDIAN




Twelve thousand feet below the ocean surface, biologists have discovered an entirely new family of sea creatures. Swima bombiviridis, the first to be named in the latest issue of Science, is a small swimming worm that can discard bits of its own tissue in a brilliant green, bioluminescent display. Six more species await description, and five have been equipped by evolution with detachable firework flesh. The discovery is a reminder that much of planet Earth is still unexplored, and most of its citizens are unknown. That is because 70% of it is covered by sea, the environment in which life began, the environment that controls most of the planet's weather, the environment humans have been systematically exploiting and casually polluting for centuries.


It is a truism that scientists know more about the surface of Mars than they do about the surface of the Earth, but it is also true. A sustained endeavour called the Census of Marine Life is due to end in 2010: researchers from 80 nations have calculated that 230,000 marine creatures have already been collected and preserved, and have added thousands more in the last nine years. But researchers also know, as they complete their first comprehensive inventory of marine biology, that it will be far from comprehensive: there could be a million species lurking in the abyssal ooze, or hiding in subterranean mountain ranges, or migrating through the cold darkness of the deep currents.


Microscopic marine creatures absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen for the rest of creation to breathe; they also release dimethyl sulphide in quantities sufficient to affect the physics of clouds far above the ocean; and they provide the primary food for all the fish that humans hunt. The oceans distribute tropical heat to the higher latitudes; generate the clouds that deliver rain to the continents; and then provide a repository for all the silt swept downstream by the swollen rivers. Systematic and detailed understanding of the chemistry, topography and flow of the waters that cover two-thirds of the planet would be costly, but it could be achieved.


The real challenge is the recognition, description and understanding of the creatures in these waters. This is the science of taxonomy: unglamorous, detailed and requiring dedication, in the field and the museums. Sadly, taxonomy in the wealthy nations is so poorly funded that its practitioners themselves are a threatened species; and in the poorest countries – those with the richest variety of life – taxonomists barely exist. What an irony: that life is being extinguished everywhere, and we cannot even hope to name most of those creatures swimming towards oblivion.







Prince Albert, whose 190th birthday it would be today, never got to see the hall that carries his name, but he would have approved of its industrious, populist eclecticism. No other country has anything like it. Lord Derby, prime minister during its construction, feared that it would "degenerate into a mere place of public amusements of which monster concerts would be the least objectionable" and he was right, except that the concerts turned out to be the Proms and the Royal Albert Hall proved to be one of the most democratic venues in the world, open to anyone who wants to queue and pay £5. Always busy, the great hall has offered space to the most extraordinary array of events: in 1963, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles performed together; it has been home to tennis matches and ballroom dancing, remembrance services and opera (once serving as a fitting Valhalla at the end of a Royal Opera ring cycle). None of it should have happened: the hall was only built thanks to the determination of Henry Cole, who promoted Victorian science and the arts. He battled architects (one of whom was happily deterred from building it "in early Gothic with a touch of Byzantine") and infamously bad acoustics (when they worsened in the 1920s managers blamed "an increase in boiled shirt fronts"). Baffles, installed in 1969, and recent refurbishment have more or less solved the problem: the hall is in its best state ever. What ought to be the largest anachronism of the Victorian age is noisy, happy and full.







A Government which comes into existence only to deal with one emergency may be faced by others. It may possess only one policy at its birth and have to produce others long before it dies. Events move on regardless of change of Cabinets. The world-forces that were let loose by the war may decline to recognise that this is not an ordinary Government, that it is not a conventional three-party Coalition, that it is only, as its first manifesto said, a "Government of co-operation for one purpose."


Finance has brought the new Government to birth, and its authors intend that a dissolution and general election should promptly follow the execution of the financial programme. Even if one were certain, as one cannot be, that the policy of the Government will only be a policy for a short period with an abrupt end, one would still assume that Ministers may have to face the same dangerous international problems that perplexed their predecessors.


Activity in one arm should not mean paralysis of all the other limbs. A Coalition, even more than an ordinary Ministry, largely depends for its energy on the drive which comes from the top. Mr. MacDonald has an opportunity. It is not only better that he, as former Labour Premier, should execute unpopular measures of economy. It is better that he should lead the Government in the wider field.



Mr. Bernard Shaw, who was asked by a reporter if he had anything to say on the crisis, said: "It looks for the moment as if it were a crisis brought about by the bankers. The bankers are always wrong. They are always thinking of foreign exchanges and foreign trade. They are still looking forward to the impossible restoration of our old trade relations with foreigners. We should abandon all hope of a recovery of our old foreign trade and make up our minds to consume and produce at home and cease imagining that we are ruined when exports and imports fall off.


"Redistribution of work and money is not the way to grapple with the question of unemployment. We must also have redistribution of leisure. At present, instead of shortening the working day, we go on giving all the leisure to an increasing number of parasitic people. We try to buy men off with the 'dole'. We should abolish the 'dole' and substitute employment by shortening the working day to four hours if necessary. Until the problem of unemployment is grappled with, until the bankers make up their minds that the world is not going on as it did throughout the nineteenth century, there really is no use in talking seriously. You will only have intermittent crises and desperate expedients to keep up the pound sterling."









A series of bomb attacks in downtown Baghdad have exposed the weakness of the new Iraqi government. It is not clear who or what is responsible for the bombings, and the list of suspects is long. But a government's first responsibility is to provide for the safety and security of its citizens: By any measure, the Iraq government is not measuring up.


The explosions last Wednesday struck the very heart of the Iraqi state. A series of coordinated explosions — truck bombs and mortar fire — hit the most important ministries in the government, killing nearly 100 people and wounding more than 1,000 others. Two massive bombs targeted the finance and foreign ministries, a devastating rejoinder to the government's plan to remove most of the concrete barriers remaining in the city and restore some sense of normalcy. The scale of the attacks and the prominence of the targets suggest life in Baghdad will not be returning to normal anytime soon.


The question now is whether the savagery is intended to warn the government, to re-balance the political equation in the runup to parliamentary elections scheduled for next January or to turn the clock back to the virtual civil war that raged four years ago. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki blamed Sunni extremists and backers of former dictator Saddam Hussein for the attacks. Others see the hand of Shiite groups — co-religionists of the prime minister — who are battling Mr. al-Maliki for political supremacy.


No matter who is responsible, the attacks are a direct challenge to Mr. al-Maliki. They force all Iraqis to question whether the prime minister's government can secure peace. One of the first decisions taken by the government after the attacks was to suspend its plan to take down most of the concrete barriers that dominate the city.


Was Mr. al-Maliki's decision to push U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraq's major cities by June 30 premature, a political ploy to assert a sovereignty that the government, in reality, is not prepared to assume?


Two months ago, the answer seemed cleared. The surge of violence that followed the "surge" of U.S. forces two years had receded. Mr. al-Maliki's call for redeployment of U.S. forces made sense — as well as appealed to the political instincts of leaders in Baghdad and Washington. U.S. President Barack Obama had campaigned on a pledge to get the United States out of Iraq. Mr. al-Maliki saw a U.S. withdrawal as proof that his government was making progress and was indeed capable of governing. As the man who oversaw the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty, he was then positioned to capitalize on the success in elections next year.


More intense scrutiny raised serious questions about Mr. al-Maliki's government, however. Most obvious were concerns about the numbers and capabilities of Iraqi forces, both among the police and the military. They had little stomach for law enforcement or making peace. The decline in violence over the last year has encouraged carelessness and a false sense of confidence. When they did intervene, it was usually in sectarian clashes, promoting the image of a partisan and biased security force. The arrest of a dozen police officials in the aftermath of the attacks indicates that the danger is internal, rather than an external terrorist threat as the government had insisted.


Moreover, there is little indication that the government has made genuine efforts to promote reconciliation among the various Iraqi factions, or ethnic and religious groups. Instead, cohabitation within the halls of power reflects a division of spoils, rather than a genuinely nonpartisan approach to governing. The various groups have their fiefdoms; rewards hold the government together, not some shared sense of national purpose. The foreign ministry is run by a Kurd, lending credence to the notion that the violence is being triggered by conflicts over the spoils of power. Critics charge the government has not followed through on deals it has struck with Sunnis, and the attacks could be a warning to honor those arrangements.


It is not clear what Mr. al-Maliki can do. He needs an efficient and effective security force. The Iraqis do not seem capable of providing it yet. But he cannot ask the U.S. to come back into the cities and re-establish a presence. That would be too much of a retreat and could fatally undermine the prime minister. It would show that his initial decision was wrong and that he cannot govern on his own. In the strong-man culture of Middle Eastern politics, such an admission would be fatal to his political future.


The other option is working to establish a genuinely national government, one that transcends the sectarian mentality that has dominated Iraq for some time. That is a difficult, if not impossible, assignment, especially since it goes against Mr. al-Maliki's own instincts. But that is the only way that an enduring peace can be established in Iraq.








"What worries me: time and time again," writes Brendan Skwire in the Philadelphia Weekly about the circuses that are currently passing for Democrats' town hall meetings on health care, "[is that] the needs of the stupid and disingenuous are not only treated as valid concerns, but as the greatest concerns."


Well, yes. This being the United States, one of the most gleefully anti-intellectual nations on Earth, stupid people aren't pathetic dolts to be pitied or perhaps sent to a reeducation camp. They're the shining example we're supposed to look up to. Obamacare, whatever it is or was going to be once the president saw fit to share it with the public, is dead.


That it would die a dog's death was predictable, so predictable that I predicted it a couple of months ago. "No one is going to call their congressman, much less march in the streets, to demand action for a half-measure — or, in this case, a quarter-measure," I wrote then. "Without public pressure to push back against drug and insurance company lobbyists, nothing will change." The latest Rasmussen Poll shows most Americans are against Obama's vague "public option," 53 percent to 42.


There was public pressure, all right — from the right. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity stirred up a hornet's nest of frenzied morons, throwing around words like "fascist" and "Nazi" as if they didn't know that they referred to themselves, which of course they didn't. They turned out, bigger and louder than the president's supporters, who were handicapped by (a) not exactly knowing what they were being shouted over about and (b) not really caring that much because there wasn't much in it for them.


sk,2 I pay $800 a month for private health insurance. That's $10,000 a year, or about $14,000 in pre-tax earnings. If Obama had proposed European-style socialized medicine, wherein doctors and nurses are government employees, I would have stood to have been $14,000 a year richer. As for workers who get health care insurance through their employers, Obama could have required all bosses to pass along the savings by giving their employees a $14,000-a-year raise.


sk,2 $14,000 is definitely motivation enough to pry me away from my usual Netflix evening in order to outshout the rednecks at my local town hall. How about you? Now Obamacare is dead. The good part is that, because it wouldn't have made much difference in our lives anyway, it doesn't much matter.


Still, there are political lessons to be learned: Lesson One: Violence Works. The more rambunctious rightwingers showed up with assault rifles outside halls where the president was speaking. Can you imagine what would have happened if lefties had brought their AK-47s to anti-Iraq war rallies? The cops would have killed them. Their friends and relatives would have disappeared into some Bushie secret prison in Romania. Or maybe the Bush junta would have gotten so scared the war would never have happened. sk


The death of half-assed Obamacare is merely the latest evidence of a fact that the left, in thrall to militant pacifism, refuses to see. Only two means exist in order to effect change: violence, or the credible threat thereof. The charged atmosphere of imminent violence permeating the town hall meetings intimidated liberal wimps from the grassroots to the Oval Office.


sk,2 Lesson Two: Incrementalism Never Works. The Bush administration, which barely controlled the Senate and was widely viewed as electorally illegitimate, managed to ram through dozens of pieces of radical, sweeping legislation and start two wars from thin air. Obama's Democrats have a presidential mandate, a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a commanding lead in the House — yet they still haven't pushed through a single significant bit of liberal legislation. The difference is strategy: Republicans under Karl Rove shored up the base, declared themselves the only "real" Americans and ran roughshod over the Democrats.


Obama, on the other hand, didn't so much lose the health care debate to rightwing attack ads; he argued with himself so long that he ended up winning — and therefore losing. Rather than demand socialized medicine, he proposed a "public option," whatever that meant, in a doomed bid to gain political cover by convincing a few moderate Republicans to break ranks. Now he's given that up in favor of some "co-op" thing. Forgotten in all the noise: There hasn't even been a vote on a health care bill. sk


Lesson Three: It's Easier to Motivate Stupid People. Democrats, led by their professorial boy president, thought they would win the health care battle with logic and charts. Republicans understood the truth: There are more stupid Americans than smart ones, and it's easy to stir them up by threatening to take away their guns and kill God (socialism).


Old-school Democrats like Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson didn't bother to appeal to Americans' nonexistent intellects. They rammed through laws that improved people's lives. People like to live better. So they stuck. Obama should have done the same.


pu,nbio Ted Rall is a political cartoonist and commentator.








This year's Hiroshima atomic bombing anniversary saw more demands for the abolition of nuclear weapons. It is a worthy goal. But does it make sense? People genuinely keen to rid the world of nuclear weapons need first do something about the hawks and hardliners whose actions often make nuclear weapons inevitable. Japan would be a good place to start.


The coming 50th anniversary of the notorious U-2 incident should be reminder. The incident involved a U.S. spy plane that crashed deep in the Soviet Union on the eve of the May 1960 four-power talks that could well have seen an end to the Cold War. The Soviets claimed to have shot the plane down, though it flew well above the range of the best Soviet rockets. Others have a more sinister view — that the crash was triggered by a bomb planted in the plane's rear by CIA hawks determined to disrupt these four-power talks.


Either way, the CIA people who organized the flight must have known it would throw a spanner in the prolonged efforts by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to reach detente with the West, and Japan. Khrushchev tried desperately to get a face-saving apology for the incident from then U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower. But that too was blocked, this time by the Washington hawks. As a result the Cold War was to roll on for another 30 years, forcing Moscow to cling to nuclear weapons for protection and China to develop its own weapons. The hawks and hardliners of both sides have been feeding off the confrontation ever since.


Ironically it is Japan that claims the strongest right to demand the abolition of nuclear weapons amid the most glaring examples of dangerously prolonged hawk-fueled confrontations. One is the Northern Territories dispute with Moscow over ownership of small islands at the southwestern end of the Kuril archipelago.


Khrushchev, in yet another detente-seeking move, had in 1955 promised Tokyo's negotiators the return of the two territories they long sought — the Habomai and Shikotan islets. Alarmed that this concession could weaken popular support in Japan for Tokyo's Cold War alliance with Washington, Tokyo conservatives and U.S. hawks colluded arbitrarily to expand Japan's demand to include two more islands — Kunashiri and Etorofu — even though Tokyo had in an October 1951 Diet statement admitted that those two islands were included in the Kuril Islands over which Japan had renounced all right, claim and title in the San Francisco Peace Treaty just four years earlier.


(The account of these extraordinary moves can be found in the little-known book, "Moscow ni Kakeru Niji" (Rainbow over Moscow), by chief Japanese negotiator Shunichi Matsumoto).


A similar volte-face occurred in the renewed 1956 negotiations on the issue, and for similar reasons. As a result Tokyo-Moscow relations have already remained log-jammed for more than 50 years, and another 50 years seems likely.


The current dispute with North Korea over nuclear and rocket development is yet another example. North Korea has long seemed willing to abandon nuclear ambitions if it can get the recognition and aid from the U.S. and its allies that would make nuclear arms unnecessary. In 1994, an agreement promising all this was finally reached with the Clinton regime, only to be promptly reneged upon by hawks and hardliners in the incoming Bush regime convinced that North Korea was on the point of collapse anyway. North Korea did not collapse, and went back to nuclear and rocket development.


For a while it seemed as if the six-party talks, with Japan and the U.S. included, would solve the problem. But at several stages, when agreement has seemed possible, U.S. hawks were able to delay or frustrate progress. Now it is Japan's turn with Tokyo using the abductee issue to impose sanctions and refuse promised oil deliveries. This, in turn, has encouraged North Korea to go back to nuclear and rocket development, which encourages more Japanese sanctions. This deadlock could go on forever.


The similarities with the U-2 affair are strong. Just as Khrushchev had laid the groundwork for the 1960s four-power conference by his 1959 Camp David talks with Eisenhower, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi with his dramatic visit to Pyongyang in 2002 laid the groundwork for a resolution of Japan-North Korea differences with a promise of aid and diplomatic recognition in exchange for freeze on rocket development and a return of five people abducted from Japan back in the '70s and '80s.


But even before the ink was dry on the agreement, Japan's hawks led by then deputy Cabinet secretary, Shinzo Abe, swept into action — breaking promises involved in the return of those five abductees, demanding the return of more alleged abductees and then undertaking what two Western scientific magazines have denounced as a fake DNA test to launch an emotional propaganda campaign claiming that one abductee, Megumi Yokota, said to have died was in fact alive and held forcefully in North Korea. This in turn set up the logjam in relations very similar to that in the Northern Territories dispute.


Each August Japan's shrinking group of progressive TV directors are allowed to air retrospectives on Japan's foolish march to war with China and eventual annihilation by the U.S. A constant theme is the ease with which the prewar hawks and militarists could through state power, propaganda and media manipulation mesmerize a nation into self-destruction. The few who would oppose were terrified into silence through the threat of arrests and imprisonment.


Has Japan changed since then? The few who have tried to find compromise solutions to the Northern Territories dispute have been attacked as traitors to the nation, discredited, forced into semi-exile and in some cases indicted on seemingly trivial charges.


Over North Korea, rightwing elements have organized bomb threats against moderates, and character assassination against critics. Tokyo maintains a special 35-person unit with a large budget to organize events and propaganda to keep the abductee issue alive (It does likewise with the Northern Territories issue).


The media and the commentators have been cowed or persuaded into silence. The one influential commentator to publicly throw doubts, Television Asahi's Soichiro Tahara, was soon sued for damages.


Tokyo now seems to want to use the North Korea issue to create an alleged military threat allowing it to push further for the militarization and even nuclear armaments that Japan's hawks and conservatives have long sought.


If the Hiroshima organizers really want to abolish nuclear weapons they should start at home by exposing and criticizing the hawks and hardliners in their midst. Ban the hawks, not the bomb, should be the slogan. Determined efforts are needed to stop those hawks from doing even more damage.


Gregory Clark is a former Australian diplomat and longtime resident in Japan. A Japanese translation of this article will appear on








Following the state funeral of former President Kim Dae-jung, everyone is talking about "reconciliation" and "integration" and they seem to mean it.


President Lee Myung-bak saw so much potential for tolerance and accommodation in our society from the outpouring of grief that came from all sides during the state funeral, which he willingly endorsed despite there being no precedent. In his radio/internet address the day after the funeral, he said he realized that "reconciliation and integration is the spirit of the times."


Recalling that he had already chosen "integration" as the priority national agenda in his Aug. 15 Liberation Day address, the president declared the opening of an "era of mature democracy after a period of democratization," in which tolerance and compromise will replace confrontation and struggles. He vowed to lead determined efforts to end political and economic polarization in Korea, where all schisms between regions, ideologies and social classes should be eliminated.


The president's goal is not a governing policy but an irresistible course of national advancement. For decades, Koreans have filled their modern history with regional rivalry, socioeconomic polarization and ideological conflicts. The splitting reached its peak with the death of former President Roh Moo-hyun in May. The violent scenes in the National Assembly that followed his death were the painful evidence.

While Roh's suicide agitated people, Kim's natural death brought calm reflection to all who were so long engaged in the unceasing conflicts that had seized democratized Korea. President Lee, for his part, noticed the people's genuine yearning for national reconciliation from the long lines of mourners at altars erected across the nation.


In his lifetime, the name Kim Dae-jung did not always stand for reconciliation and integration. He represented the progressive axis that confronted formidable foes, be they the military rulers, the conservative strata armed with regional antipathy or the anti-North Korea hawks. While his followers were comparing him to Nelson Mandela or Willy Brandt, his critics called him a liar and hypocrite. But when he died, people of all political and social spectrums unconditionally recognized his greatness, which will not likely be surpassed for a long time to come.


Now it is time to act. Sharing respect for a dead leader does not guarantee a quick mending of ties which were most recently aggravated by the ruling party's unilateral passage of media-related bills and the main opposition party's protests outside the National Assembly. Reconciliation means a return to parliament by the Democratic Party and an earnest offer of legislative negotiations by the Grand National Party.


President Lee perhaps shoulders the biggest workload in the post-state funeral situation. He has been delaying reshuffles of his aides and members of the Cabinet, including the prime minister. What new faces will be picked up for the presidential staff and the Cabinet can tell the people whether he places reconciliation and integration ahead of partisan interests. Acceleration of his new pro-grassroots policies may also be expected under the new emphasis on national harmony.


Beyond anything, attention will be drawn to how the reconciliation philosophy can be extended to inter-Korean relations. It will be a huge challenge for the president to define the level of reconciliation and integration to be applied to domestic and external policies for the rest of his tenure. We only hope that the effect of Kim's funeral will reap something better than a "three-day resolution" in the entire political community.








Special radio broadcasting goes on air next month for multicultural residents in Korea, whose number has surpassed 1.2 million and is rapidly growing. A non-profit foundation is airing an example of what public media can do to promote harmony in an increasingly diversifying society - one that once took pride in its ethnic homogeneity.


From Sept. 1, Digital Skynet Radio operated by the Woongjin Foundation will broadcast programs in Chinese, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Arabic, Russian, Mongolian and Japanese in four digital and satellite radio channels and the foundation's internet website 24 hours a day. Programs consist mainly of traditional and popular music of the countries using these languages, but include tips for living in Korea and guides to Korean culture, traditions, customs and language.


Individual advice for listeners who call in will offer help to those experiencing similar problems as mothers in multicultural homes, migrant workers and international students at universities. Easing the sense of isolation away from home among the "minority" people, the new broadcaster seeks to serve as information centers for the ethnic groups.


The influx of people from Asian and African countries for marriage, work and study has increased conspicuously and it is a worthy enterprise to provide help for those people who are becoming an integral part of Korean society. Implanting a sense of self-respect and pride in their national identity is necessary for the foreign residents' easier adaptation to this country.


Problems are already exposed in ethnically mixed homes where divorce rate is higher than average and many children fail to go to school. It will be great encouragement for the young brides from faraway places to listen to the music they enjoyed at home and have somebody who entertains their questions in their own language. In the long run, the ethnic language broadcasts will familiarize Koreans with foreign cultures and help the nation in the process of globalization.


Support from government authorities is in order to offer the foreign residents an easy access to radio broadcasts, especially in rural areas. Securing talented disc jockeys and news readers may not be easy here and this is deemed an area where official help is much needed.








SINGAPORE - When the ongoing turmoil surrounding the Iranian elections finally ends, the West is likely to walk away with a simple black and white judgment: the bad guys won. Of course, the West did the right thing by supporting the good guys, the street demonstrators. Hence, the West need not bear any responsibility for the outcome. The tragedy of such thinking is that it does not allow for any moral and political complexity or nuance, yet that is exactly what will be needed if the many problems surrounding Iran are to be resolved. Moreover, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remaining as Iran's president, the West will once again resort to its usual method of dealing with unfriendly regimes: impose more sanctions. But this would lead to an even greater tragedy.


The only clear lesson to emerge from Iran's disputed presidential election is that the country has a vibrant and indeed dynamic civil society. Many brave Iranians were prepared to risk their lives to defend their beliefs. Their ability to do so confirms that Iran is not a closed totalitarian state like North Korea. Despite many years of rule by a theocratic establishment (or perhaps because of it), Iranian minds remain open and engaged.


So there is real hope that Iran can change, modernize, and open up as the rest of Asia has. Indeed, the only viable long-term strategy to adopt, therefore, is to stop trying to isolate Iran and instead nudge Iranians into engaging more with modern Asia.


In the Iranian worldview, there are three great ancient Asian civilizations: Chinese, Indian, and Persian (with Persia being the greatest). Iranians expect to perform on par with China and India. So, while Western hectoring of Iran will not work, when Iranians see their society falling far behind China and India as those countries open up to the world, they may become motivated to reconsider their path. The more Iranians visit China and India, the more likely that Iran will change.


Similarly, the West should find ways to re-engage with Iranian society, a major obstacle to which is the absence of diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran. American foreign policy assumes that diplomatic relations with Iran are somehow an act of approval. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Diplomacy was invented precisely in order to enable relations between adversaries, not friends. No one needs diplomatic immunity to talk to their friends. They need it to talk to their adversaries. Unfortunately, no U.S. politician appears willing to explain this bit of common sense to the American public.


The U.S. might also learn from other examples. Many Americans applauded Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat for his political courage in visiting Jerusalem three decades ago - a decision for which he ultimately paid with his life - even though the vast majority of Egyptians strongly disapproved.


It is useful to recall President Richard Nixon's words when, prior to restoring diplomatic relations China, he visited Beijing: "We have at times in the past been enemies. We have great differences today. What brings us together is that we have common interests which transcend those differences. As we discuss our differences, neither of us will compromise our principles. But while we cannot close the gulf between us, we can try to bridge it so that we may be able to talk across it."


In engaging Iran, the West should ignore the nature of its regime. It is almost impossible for any outsider to understand Iran's real internal political dynamics. Just when the world reached a consensus that Ahmadinejad was merely an instrument of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, Ahmadinejad appointed a vice president against Khamenei's wishes (though he later retracted the appointment). What we do know with certainty is that the regime is divided.


These divisions will allow new forces to emerge in Iranian society. So all means should be found to reach out to Iranian society at all levels. Iranian students should be encouraged to visit and study in Asian universities, where they would discover how confident young Chinese and Indian students are about the future - which might well cause them to reflect on why young Iranians do not share that optimism.


A final reason for the West to change course is that Western sanctions are proving increasingly useless. Only 12 percent of the world's population lives in the West, and power is slipping steadily away from it. The July 2009 decision by the Non-Aligned Movement (comprising 118 member states) to hold its next meeting in Tehran provides a powerful demonstration of non-Western perceptions about Iran. If the West persists with its sanctions, it will not do any good. It will only make Western leaders feel good. But what is ultimately more important: doing good or feeling good?


Kishore Mahbubani is dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. His most recent book is "The New Asian Hemisphere: the Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East." - Ed.


(Project Syndicate)








With an unprecedented economic recession sweeping over the entire world, many workers, both white and blue collar, have been laid off recently. It's not surprising that the number of stay-at-home dads has drastically increased as a consequence.


A few weeks ago, an American television channel broadcasted a feature program highlighting the predicament of the growing number of stay-at-home dads. The program showed jobless husbands doing all sorts of household chores including cooking, cleaning and babysitting while their wives are at work. These stay-at-home dads even hold regular meetings among themselves, socializing and sharing information about culinary skills, housekeeping and home improvement. According to the television program, American men seem to be accustomed to doing household chores and are thus ready to help their working wives while staying at home.


Despite some hopeful signs of economic recuperation, Korea is not immune from this universal phenomenon. Due to the stagnant economy, many Korean men, too, have recently been laid off or forced to retire early. However, unlike their American counterparts, most Korean husbands are neither used to nor good at doing household chores. Thus, they inevitably degenerate into useless nuisances who are much detested by their wives. "My husband doesn't even know how to replace a light bulb," complains a Korean housewife. "My husband needs me to wait on him during every meal," grumbles another. "If I'm not around, he'll starve to death. He can't even make a sandwich for himself!"


Unfortunately, such pathetic husbands seem rampant in Korean society. As long as you bring bread and butter home you may be forgiven. When you lose your job and no longer make money, however, you will immediately be condemned as an intolerable, worthless man, if not a parasite. It is important to be recognized as an able man at work to be sure. However, it is equally important to prove oneself a good husband and father at home. Yet, many Korean men tend to put more time and energy into their jobs than into their home. Consequently, they all march down the path of self-destruction when they are out of work and become a stay-at-home dad.


Recently, I heard a joke called "The Six Unpardonable Sins of Man" that appalls all Korean husbands. The joke goes: "It is a deadly, unpardonable sin if you cannot humor your wife in your 20s; If you holler, 'Where's my dinner?' after you come back home late at night in your 30s; If you phone your wife to ask her whereabouts or try to summon her back home in your 40s; If you ask your wife who is ready to go out, 'Where're you going?' or 'Take me with you,' in your 50s; If you dare to attempt to sleep with your wife in your 60s; and finally, if you are still alive in your 70s.' Korean men chuckle at this brutal joke, and yet their hearts sink, knowing that there's some truth to it.


The sarcastic joke criticizes average Korean husbands who presumably do not know how to entertain, respect and appreciate their wives properly. Instead of being grateful, quite a few Korean men take it for granted when their wives render daily services such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Some Korean husbands are much too dependent on their wives for everything, just as they were dependent upon their mothers as children. Others are anachronistically overbearing, trying to manipulate their wives and to interfere with everything.


The joke also reflects the ruthless reality of the transition of power from a husband to his wife as they grow older. A man easily becomes a hopelessly superfluous being who still needs a woman's attention and care as he ages. On the other hand, an old woman no longer needs a man's protection and thus becomes strong and independent. It is not unusual, therefore, to see old women yelling at their husbands who just cave in timidly or laugh wryly at himself who has become so pathetic and powerless.


Perhaps it is a good time for Korean men to change. Korean husbands, for example, should learn to do household chores and willingly help their wives with cooking, cleaning, taking out the garbage, and doing laundry. Also, they should spend more time with their children. Then they will be warmly welcomed by their family when they lose their job or retire. Otherwise, the life of a stay-at-home dad will surely be wretched and miserable.


There is a saying that as wives grow older, they only remember the flaws and faults of their husbands, whereas husbands recollect all the merits and virtues of their wives. In order to survive after retirement, therefore, men should be prepared for the fateful day when they are forced to stay at home all day. Being an able man at work is important. Nevertheless, being a useful, esteemed man at home is equally imperative, especially in this economic crisis. You may lose your job, but you cannot afford to lose your home.


Kim Seong-kon is a professor of English at Seoul National University and director of the Seoul National University Press. - Ed.













In retrospect, when the World Trade Organization (WTO) predicted last month that China will soon overtake Germany as the biggest exporter, it was already a reality.


The global trading body recently found that China exported goods worth $521.7 billion in the first six months of this year while Germany's total was $521.6 billion.


Though the difference is too small to say at this stage which country will be the full year export champion, China's rise as the world's largest exporter looks more certain than ever.

Inevitable as it is, however, the rapid ascendance of Chinese exporters demands second thought from policymakers at home and abroad who are trying hard to engineer a balanced and sustainable global recovery.

On the one hand, Chinese policymakers should make more efforts to help the world's third largest economy shift away from its dependence on export for growth.


Plunging overseas orders have pushed policymakers to back-pedal on restricting energy- and resource-intensive exports to cushion Chinese exporters against the worst global recession since the 1930s.


Now, as Chinese exporters manage to maintain or even increase their share in the global market, Chinese policymakers should no longer worry too much about the robustness of the country's export engine. Instead, they should be ready to continue raising energy and environment standards for exports to advance the country's pursuit of sustainable development.


On the other hand, foreign policymakers should accept and recognize that China's rise as the export champion is closely related to its comparative advantages.


As the world's most populous country, China's ample supply of a relatively skilled and cheap labor force and increasing productivity will allow this country to sharpen its competitiveness as a global manufacturing power.


Under such circumstances, those developed countries which intend to render themselves into exporters to balance their economies may find it is difficult to compete with Chinese exporters. But that is definitely no excuse to resort to trade protectionism regardless of whether it is in the form of exchange rate or carbon tariff.


The international community does need to address the global imbalance as soon as possible. Only if the rapid rise of China as the world's largest exporter can be properly matched by a similar expansion of the Chinese consumer market, will China and the rest of the world find a solid footing for a lasting recovery.







No wonder there is intense dislike of the so-called netizens in public offices. They are too inquisitive, cynical and difficult to satisfy.


When the American company Control Components Inc (CCI) pleaded guilty to bribing Chinese partners, and some of the alleged bribe-takers categorically denied, they suspected - not the Americans, but our compatriots.


When the Chinese partners, mostly public institutions, did so, people were still not assured if all individuals involved in the CCI deals were clean even though their companies had not received the bribe money.


At the same time, other public institutions were silent about the unexpected revelation, where the online critics suspected unspeakable truths.


More than one week after the CCI revelation, the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) made up its mind to undertake an official probe.


They again appeared incredulous. It would like letting a father investigate his kids, which is ridiculous, they say. Instead, they wanted to see the Communist Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) and the judiciary step in.


Which is not entirely unreasonable. Yet, at least, they should not have been that ungrateful - the SASAC has been the first to stand out and say something. Until then, we had been wondering if the allegation from the other side of the Pacific would be like a stone dropped into the ocean, causing not even a ripple.

Given that neither the CCDI nor the judiciary is getting involved at this point, we are very interested in the SASAC's probe. Can we see a ripple?


We hope that SASAC can be serious in its investigation, to defend its honor and effectiveness in its management of the executive teams in the nation's key industries.


Indeed, accepting bribes from foreign businesses is no small matter. And, we have wondered why our companies and competent authorities appeared so composed in the face of such serious allegations. (We hope it is the result of confidence in their innocence. A clear conscience is a soft pillow).


Yet not everybody is understanding like us. To the netizens, for example, the collective silence appeared more as a sign of a guilty conscience.


Some of the suspects have already declared innocence. That is why we are curious about the pending statement from the SASAC investigators. The SASAC investigation may or may not support the claims of innocence. But SASAC is not a justice department. In either case, a conclusion by the SASAC may be less than sufficient to convince the no-longer-credulous public.


Even the average citizen is still trying hard, though to no avail, to figure out who may have collected the CCI bribes in the name of us Chinese. There is no way to prevent them from being curious about the authorities' conspicuous lack of curiosity about the truth.

So we also hope that judiciary investigations will follow the SASAC probe in due course. The People's Republic of China must answer to the world, as well as to its own people, that our criminal code does cover bribes by overseas entities, and that foreigners' bribes are as bad as any bribes.







The momentum of continuous rise in China's stock market over the past few months recently suffered a heavy setback.


After reaching a peak of 3,478 on Aug 4 since it launched an accelerated recovery offensive from the lowest level of 1,664 in late Oct, the Shanghai Composite Index rapidly reversed downward. On Aug 19, the benchmark index slid below 2,800, declining 677 points, or a drastic 20 percent drop in only 13 trading days. The index went up this week, but closed at 2,915 yesterday, down 2.59 percent from the previous close. The Shenzhen Component Index closed at 11,688 yesterday, down 3.21 percent.


Stock markets have been likened to an economic barometer. But China's and the world's economy have not undergone the same drastic changes over the past few days as that in the country's capital market. On the contrary, data released indicates that China's real economy so far this year has obviously turned for the better than last year when the worst effect of a global financial crisis took its bite. And, continuing deterioration of some economic factors, if there is any, is the unavoidable after-effect of the crisis.


For a fluctuated capital market, it seems to show a permanent law that favorable factors always follow on the heels of unfavorable ones. Given that stock investment is an investment in the future's economic tendency, people should have enhanced confidence in China's stock market because the country's economy has shown signs of better development. Thus, any attempt to link the recent steep decline in its stock market to the deterioration of its basic economic landscape seems unreasonable and groundless.


It is true that there is an increasingly pessimistic atmosphere in today's Chinese stock market, which has gained much since it began to rebound from the 1,664-point low level. Quite a few investment agencies and funds have reduced their holdings by a large margin, and many individual investors and international "hot money" have also chosen to exit from the country's market. Also, a sizable number of large- and small-sized non-tradable shares have been sold.


However, the concern over the country's fluidity contraction after the government tightens bank loans should not be blamed for the runaway large-scale funds. Otherwise, how can we explain the flood of liquidity in the country's stock and real estate markets in the first half of 2007 when the central government showed a growing determination to strengthen its macroeconomic regulation, but the stock and real estate markets still both witnessed steady surges? It may be more reasonable to attribute the recent drastic fluctuations in China's stock market to its normal market technical adjustment, that is, a lot of funds choose to flee after gaining certain returns. If the process carries on, the stock market is expected to hit a new low.


In fact, what China's stock market has long lacked desperately is not liquidity, or the good economic landscape that bolsters the rising share prices, but confidence. Most investors, individual ones in particular, choose to rush into the stock market after the government took a series of economic stimulus plans to rescue the faltering market amid deepening economic recession. Due to the lack of explicit market recognition or investment targets, investors cared more about other people's judgment than about the market trend. Under the circumstances, any misinterpretations of government policies or misjudgment about market tendencies will inevitably add to worries about security of their assets, and prompt their exit from the market.

For the recent drastic fluctuations in China's stock market, the fundamental cause is not the worsening of its basic economic conditions, or the bubbles in its share prices and the possible reversal of its macro-economic policies, but the lack of necessary market confidence.


The country's bullish stock market in the first half of this year has been mainly propped up by "inspiring" market news, instead of being driven by a new round of tangible development of its and the world's economy.


Despite signs of a substantial recovery emerging in the world economy after a volley of favorable policies, people are well aware that this economic rebound is not solidly founded; and, they have good reasons to worry whether it can continue to steer well without follow-up policies and measures.


When investors' judgment grows that the speculative stock market would be deserted by bank loans, they are alerted that the rapid rise in stock prices over the past months should be largely attributed to their primitive "animal spirits" - a particular sort of confidence based on herd mentality. Thus, when the government shows increased determination to prevent the country's much-needed industrial structure adjustment from being interrupted by the excessively prosperous capital market and began to funnel a flood of bank loans into the real economic projects, the previously stimulated "animal spirit" among investors has been finally overwhelmed by their pessimism. However, any loosening of monitoring of bank lending will once again inflame the irrational animal spirits in the stock market. That would be extremely unfavorable to the healthy development of the stock market.


For a rational and healthy development of the country's capital market, the increase in share prices should be mainly based on people's confidence in the country's new economic growth model.


The author is a vice-president of the School of Economics under the Shanghai-based Fudan University.







The most authoritative energy organization just indicated that the end of oil is much nearer than expected. The day we will see the end of the oil era can best be described as an oil-bomb implosion -more powerful than anything humanity has seen.


In a unique initiative the International Energy Agency in Paris has conducted its first study to assess the future oil supplies. The decision to survey supply - instead of just demand, as in the past - reflects an increasing fear among world leaders that oil reserves may dry up much sooner than expected.


Very soon the day will come when humanity will see the end of oil. If the response is strategic from Chinese companies and policymakers it could boost a shift from high-carbon goods "made in China" to smart 21st century solutions "innovated in China" that could help the world into a global circular economy.


At first thought the end of cheap oil may look like a good thing for the environment because much of the carbon emission that causes global warming comes from oil. The problem is that most of the international companies responsible for providing energy have shown they are not that interested in a sustainable future with renewable energy and energy efficiency. When oil prices were close to $150 a barrel last year we could see increased investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency, but the real investments were in more and dirtier fossil fuels.


Three areas received a lot of attention and investments from the fossil fuel industry last year: Tar sand, coal to liquid and carbon capture and storage (CCS).


Tar sand is dirty oil that requires a lot of energy to be extracted so it emits much more carbon than traditional oil. Coal to liquid is a method of extracting liquid fuel from coal, which again causes much higher emissions than traditional oil because it is a very energy intensive process. And CCS is an "end-of-pipe" technology where the problem is made marginally less destructive.


From an economic and innovative perspective these investments make no sense. Their ways of providing energy are dirtier and more expensive, and they don't drive innovation or create any significant job opportunities compared with most other options.


Energy efficient buildings, or even carbon-positive buildings, new smart IT solutions that allow teleworking and smart public transport system can be built around renewable energy at the same or cheaper cost.


Why then big investments were not made in smart and renewable energy solutions? The reason is simple and important both. It is about business ideas and the will to keep on using an infrastructure that we sooner or later must leave behind.


The world, especially the industrial world, has such a strong addiction to oil that we will probably see wars over oil and more investments in climate destructive technologies if we don't start investing for a world beyond oil.


Since oil consumption in China is expected to increase by about 60 percent by 2020, according to studies conducted by Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, it can turn the crisis into an opportunity.


The country has the chance of shifting from a society built on oil and look at development beyond the "age of oil". Its focus should shift from increased oil exploration and more fossil technologies toward new smart technologies that also can be exported.


Smart public transport, teleworking and smart buildings can become the three pillars of an oil-free future for China and the rest of the world. But for that to happen we need new initiatives.


First and most important is to ensure that companies engaged in extracting, refining and supplying fossil fuel are not in charge of the development agenda. Many western governments have such companies as their main advisors on climate policy.


It's natural that these companies would want to protect their business model and sell as much energy as possible instead of helping people get the service they need in the most climate-efficient way. The companies want to protect the investments in the infrastructure they have built, too. That means they would use more fuel for their refineries, pipelines and power stations.


It is almost impossible for them to give up the use of fossil fuel both as a raw material and finished product because their knowledge and innovative power is almost totally limited to fossil solutions.


Second, no company should be supported or given permission to operate unless it demonstrates a plan for a fossil-free future by 2020. This would prepare society for the day oil prices shoot out of the roof or the existing distribution system collapses.


Third, China can lead the way in making other oil producing countries invest all the revenue earned by their companies after oil prices cross $70 a barrel in non-fossil-fuel solutions, with a strong focus on energy efficiency and system solutions.


It doesn't make any sense to allow companies to make record profits from our dependence on oil and use it to make us more wretched slaves of fossil fuel.


Fourth, China can take up the global challenge of building oil-free cities employing the best tools and practices from around the world, and then sharing the experience with other countries.


The end of oil can lead to harmonious innovation or more aggressive investments in fossil fuel. The development road China chooses - sustainable or destructive - will not only shape the 21st century's industrial development, but also humanity's future.


The author is adviser to various companies, governments and NGOs.








As recently as March, even state banks, which account for almost 40 percent of the banking industry’s assets, did not pay any heed to the jawboning from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the central bank to lower lending rates to fuel economic activity.


Because uncertainty and volatility still prevailed in the financial market due to the impact of the global financial crisis and a severe liquidity crunch gripped many major banks – even foreign ones – there was a clear segmentation in the banking industry as banks, suspicious of each other’s health, became more reluctant to lend to one another, thereby clogging the interbank market.


We therefore believe last week’s agreement by the 14 largest banks, which control around 85 percent of the industry’s assets, to lower their deposit rates by 150 basis points from a range of 9 to 10 percent to maximally 8 percent will most likely hold.


That is because the joint move was not based on an instruction from the central bank or the Cabinet but was prompted mainly by positive developments in the financial industry and the economy in general.


The steady decline in Bank Indonesia’s benchmark interest rate to 6.5 percent as of this month from as high as 9.5 percent last December, the slowing down of inflation and the stronger stability in the financial market were the main factors that brought about the agreement. Most major banks no longer felt any need for cut-throat competition for deposits.  


True, there will be a time lag of one to two months before the impact of the deposit rate cut is transmitted to lower lending rates, but this gradual process will make the development even more sustainable.


Assuming that major banks will begin cutting lending rates, currently ranging from 12 to 15 percent or twice as high as the interest rates businesses in other ASEAN countries pay, in October, the timing would simply be great.


The government, due to bureaucratic problems with regard to tendering processes and other procurement procedures early in the fiscal year, usually spends more than 50 percent of its investment budget in the last quarter of the year. The multiplier effect on economic activity created by the public-sector investment will generate a wide range of business for private companies, which in turn need working capital credit to fund their operations.    


The major banks’ agreement alone is not, however, sufficient to significantly cut lending rates and expand credit without a substantial decrease in business risks. This is the part where the government should and can play a crucial role by accelerating its bureaucratic and legal reform measures to cut down the costs of doing business and minimize legal uncertainties in the business sector.


We are lucky to be among the few countries in the world with a large domestic market base (more than 230 million people) that could still grow by more than 4 percent in the first semester, compared to the deep contraction in most other countries.


We should take great advantage of the current business confidence in the stability of the financial system to further bolster the pace of economic expansion through a better functioning credit market.









It cannot be denied: Exchange rate policy around the world is confused and lacks theoretical ground. Although the degree of confusion varies, Russia is close to taking the prize.


Before World War I, it was easy. Just about everybody used the gold standard, and if any country faced too high prices they had to be reduced. In the interwar period, the gold standard broke down, and it was replaced by competitive devaluations, which amounted to severe protectionism.


After World War II, the Bretton Woods system restored fixed exchange rates based on the dollar and gold. But in the early 1970s, as U.S. dominance began to decrease, the fixed exchange rates broke down, and monetary chaos contributed to stagflation (high inflation combined with little growth).


In the 1980s, U.S. economist Milton Friedman, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, U.S. President Ronald Reagan and the Bundesbank tried the cure of monetarism, or money growth targeting. They argued that central banks should set a target for monetary expansion that would determine both inflation and the exchange rate, but it did not work particularly well. The relationship between monetary expansion and inflation was too tenuous and uncertain to make it possible to check inflation with the money supply.


When communism crumbled across Eastern Europe from 1989 to 1991, two alternative ideas prevailed. One was that the exchange rate should be fixed to function as a nominal anchor to bring down inflation. The early successful stabilizers fixed their exchange rate for at least some time. They were Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.


The alternative was that reserves were insufficient to allow any fixing of the exchange rate, and thus the exchange rate had to float more or less freely. That was the situation that Russia and all the other post-Soviet countries had to face. Russia had too small reserves and too large of a budget deficit to allow itself to fix the exchange rate until the summer of 1995. The stable exchange rate attracted excessive international capital inflows in 1996 and 1997, which contributed to the financial crash of 1998, though the large budget surplus was the main cause.


Similarly, the East Asian financial crisis in 1997-98 was essentially caused by pegged exchange rates that led to large short-term capital inflows. Their counterparts were rising current account deficits and foreign debts. Sadly, the current East European financial crisis is largely a repetition of the East Asian crisis. Once again, a number of emerging economies have sought the false safety of a pegged exchange rate. For most countries, it has resulted in large current account deficits and foreign debts exactly as in East Asia in 1997-98. Russia is not suffering from those problems thanks to its huge budget surpluses from 2000 until 2008, but its double-digit inflation persists.


The Russian illusion has been that by keeping down the nominal exchange rate through administrative controls, the country would stay competitive. But what really matters is the real exchange rate that includes inflation. Unlike China, for example, Russia has been unable to sterilize the current account surplus and capital inflows. For several years, Moscow has been one of the most expensive cities in the world because of the country’s high inflation.


It matters little whether Russia pegs the ruble to the dollar, the euro or a mixture of the two, or how broad the band is. The basic truth is that any pegging of the exchange rate undermines the country’s control of its inflation. Economists talk about the impossible trinity: You can’t have fixed exchange rates, free capital movement and an independent monetary policy. One of the three has to give.


If the exchange rate is fixed and capital moves freely, a country can’t pursue an independent monetary policy, because if it increases interest rates it attracts capital rather than cooling down economic activity. The consequence for Russia and other East European countries with pegged exchange rates was negative real interest rates. That happened in Eastern Europe from 2006 to 2008, which led to the massive overheating and high inflation.


The obvious solution is to let the exchange rate float in order to focus monetary policy and control inflation with interest rates. In 1990, New Zealand pioneered so-called inflation targeting. It was a simple idea: The Central Bank should set a target of inflation that made sense, typically 2 percent a year, and the bank would try to steer inflation toward this target through its adjustment of interest rates and the usage of other monetary tools such as reserve ratios and bond sales.


It worked well, and about 20 developed and advanced emerging economies have adopted inflation targeting. They include Sweden, Norway, Poland, the Czech Republic, Australia, South Korea, Canada, Chile and other key countries in Latin America — countries that have done well in the current crisis. In addition, many central banks, such as the European Central Bank, the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan are close to inflation targeting though somewhat heterodox.


One could make the argument that the main reason why Latin America has done so much better in terms of growth than Russia in the current financial crisis is that Latin America largely applies inflation targeting with floating exchange rates, while Moscow insists on controlling its exchange rates rather than inflation.


Although Russia’s financial situation remains reassuring, the country could hardly have managed its exchange rate policy worse than in the last year. This is a time of global deflation, but Russia still has 11 percent inflation. The gradual devaluation from November through January caused a sharp decline in credit and money supply, which in turn led to a dramatic fall in gross domestic product of over 10 percent in the first half of 2009. On top of everything, the country lost more than $200 billion of international currency reserves.


The natural question is: How could such folly be allowed to rule economic policy and cause so much havoc to living standards? The answer most often heard is that the gradual devaluation was a very smart policy to bail out the big Russian corporations without making it evident. Well, that should not be the aim of public policy.


On the contrary, Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek lauded capitalist crises because they cleansed the economy from obsolete and inefficient enterprises. Needless to say, many of Russia’s largest disabled corporations are nominally state-owned. Rather than using the crisis to restructure and improve the country’s economy, the Kremlin has utilized exchange rate manipulation to conserve its friends at the expense of the people.


That is one more reason why Russia needs to let the ruble float and target low inflation.


Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, has together with Andrew Kuchins authored “The Russia Balance Sheet.”








A farmer named Khrebtov lives in the republic of Altai. He had always worked on 16 hectares of land, but for the past three years the government refused to renew the rental agreement for his plot of land. Khrebtov needed a stacking machine for his farm to gather hay, but when the authorities did not renew the rental agreement on his land, he was left with no collateral and was unable to get a loan from the bank. Only after Khrebtov slashed his wrists did he finally receive funding for his stacking machine.


There is another farmer in Altai named Onishchenko who has a sawmill and almost 4 hectares of land on the banks of a river. A few years ago, a top official told Onishchenko that he had no legal rights to his land. But Onishchenko found out on the Internet that land plots were being sold only 500 meters from his own plot for 4.5 million rubles ($143,000). He sued the authorities and won. When Onishchenko spoke with me, he sighed and said, “I spent so much time and money on that lawsuit. I could have built a banya or hotel for tourists with that money.”


The cases involving Khrebtov and Onishchenko illustrate the key points made in “The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else,” a fantastic book written by Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto Polar.


De Soto contends that the overall amount of assets held by the poor in countries without a market economy exceeds the total amount of foreign investment in those countries many times over. But since property is not registered and held privately, the people cannot use property to secure loans that would otherwise fuel investment and economic growth in free market economies.


Although there were many economic problems in the 1990s under President Boris Yeltsin, Russia made tremendous progress in the one area that is a defining feature of capitalism: the protection of private property. Under Vladimir Putin’s rule as both president and prime minister, however, we have gone in reverse. Farmers and small entrepreneurs are no longer the source of economic growth. Russian laws are written and designed so that businesses have little other choice than to operate outside of the law. As a result, they are easy prey for bureaucrats extorting bribes.


Farmers are unable to use their property as collateral with the banks since they have no legal right to it. Bureaucrats, for their part, cannot put up their assets as collateral with the banks since their greatest asset is their jobs, which allow them to collect bribes. Although it is true that the country’s largest and most powerful businesses are able to get bank loans, you would have trouble finding a businessman stupid enough to invest that money in Russia, a country where your investments can be seized at any moment.


Justice and order are more important than freedom in a developing economy. Freedom with no private property protection is highly unstable and can easily lead to dictatorship. Capitalism generates not only profit, but also freedom.


We are constantly told that Putin consolidated the vertical power structure and restored Russia to its status as a great power. But nobody says he restored justice. If the “vertical power structure” is understood as the right to abuse the poor and rob the rich, then Putin has indeed built a powerful institution. At the same time, however, he destroyed the institution of private property rights that was built during Yeltsin’s rule.


Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.







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