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Thursday, August 27, 2009

EDITORIAL 27.08.09

August 27, 2009

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EDITORIAL

Month August 27, Edition 000282, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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

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THE PIONEER

1.      CRISIS OF CREDIBILITY

2.      END OF CAMELOT

3.      DEEPLY FLAWED FOREIGN POLICY-AJAI SAHNI

4.      EUROPE PANDERS TO ISLAMISM-STEPHEN BROWN

5.      CRISIS OF CREDIBILITY-END OF CAMELOT

6.      DEEPLY FLAWED FOREIGN POLICY-AJAI SAHNI

7.      EUROPE PANDERS TO ISLAMISM-STEPHEN BROWN

 

THE TIMES OF INDIA

1.      SWITCHING ON

2.      SHAME TO WIN

3.      WINNING THE PEACE-

4.      FORMULA 1 IS A SPORT

FORMULA FOR DISASTER-

6.      WHO THE F*** IS ALICE?-BACHI KARKARIA 

7.      AN INTELLECTUAL'S ELIXIR-

 

HINDUSTAN TIMES

1.      ARE WE REALLY A POLICE STATE?

2.      NO LAUGHING MATTER

3.      DISCORDANT NOTES-SITARAM YECHURY

4.      NO DEVIATIONS, PLEASE-ASHISH KOTHARI

 

INDIAN EXPRESS

1.      CANAL PLUS

2.      SURVIVOR’S RECORD

3.      CAMPUS CODES

4.      WHO WRITES HISTORY?-DHIRAJ NAYYAR

5.      THE NEXT BIG THING-S. VIJAY KUMAR

6.      MASTER STRATEGIES-ARUN SHOURIE

7.      VIEW FROM THE LEFT-MANOJ C G

8.      VIEW FROM THE RIGHT-SUMAN K JHA

THE FINENCIAL EXPRESS

1.      MINI MINISTERIAL, BIG AMBITION

2.      BEN GETS A SECOND INNINGS

3.      FROM IVORY TOWER TO GROUND ZERO-AJAY SHAH

4.      JUST CREATE A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD FOR 3G-MAHESH UPPAL

5.      DEAL STREET IS ABUZZ-SAIKAT NEOGI

 

THE HINDU

1.      DOING THE RIGHT THING

2.      THE SPECTRE OF AGRICOLONIALISM

3.      LEGISLATING AGAINST HUNGER -ZOYA HASAN

4.      BJP: IN SEARCH OF THE X-FACTOR -VIDYA SUBRAHMANIAM

5.      HURRICANE KATRINA — THE LIES AND THE RACISM -REBECCA SOLNIT

6.      OBAMA STANDS UP TO THE SCOTS BUT NOT THE REPUBLICANS -HADLEY FREEMAN

7.      BOB DYLAN IN TALKS TO BE VOICE OF SATNAV -MARK BROWN

 

THE ASIAN AGE

1.      GOVT’S FIRM LINE ON PAK WELCOME

2.      EXISTENTIAL ANGST

3.      NO TRAIN GOES TO DARJEELING-NITISH SENGUPTA

 

THE TRIBUNE

1.      UNDERCURRENTS OF TERROR

2.      OFFICE OF PROFIT A DIVIDED OPPOSITION

3.      BACK TO JINNAH-BY SUSHANT SAREEN

4.      PROTESTERS TARGET ‘CLIMATE CRIMINALS’-BY MICHAEL MCCARTHY

5.      AT LEAST SPORT KEEPS MEN BUSY-BY CHRISTINA PATTERSON

 

THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

1.      A ROAD TOO FAR

2.      DANGER AHEAD

3.      THE SCOURGE OF TERRORISM-DR KAMALA KANTA SAHARIA

4.      FOOD PROBLEM AND AGRICULTURAL SUSTAINABILITY-DR ANURADHA SARMAH

 

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

1.      TOMORROW'S KHAAS AADMI

2.      WATER WOES: HOLISTIC POLICY REGIME REQUIRED

3.      THE AUSSIE ERA IS FINALLY OVER

4.      INDIA AND CLIMATE CHANGE TALKS-ARVIND PANAGARIYA

 

DECCAN CHRONICAL

1.      VANPRASTH FOR ADVANI, YAGNA TO FIND INHERITOR - BY S. NIHAL SINGH

2.      AMERICA CAN’T AFFORD TO NEGLECT BURMA - BY JIM WEBB

3.      CENTRE’S FIRM LINE ON PAK WELCOME

4.      NO TRAIN GOES TO DARJEELING -BY NITISH SENGUPTA

5.      THE COWARDLY BLOGGERS -BY MAUREEN DOWD

6.      EXISTENTIAL ANGST -BY D. RAJA

THE TELEGRAPH

1.      A NEW TUNE

2.      PRESUMED DEAD

3.      SALVAGING THE PROTOCOL -BHASKAR DUTTA

4.      STILL IN A SOUP -DIPANKAR BOSE

 

THE STATESMAN

1.      UNENDING ANGST

2.      AN ICON DEPARTS

3.      VEDIC VILLAINS

4.      DINOSAURS HIT RIVALS ‘LIKE ATHLETES HIT BALLS’

5.      WHISTLE-BLOWER’S TALE-AMULYA GANGULI

 

DECCAN HERALD

1.      INDIA IS STILL WORLD’S HUNGER CAPITAL-PRASENJIT CHOWDHURY

2.      CHILD’S SOUL AS WINDOW TO RESPECT-SUDHA SRINATH

 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

1.      CALIFORNIA IS FAILING THE PRISON TEST

2.      OUR PLASTIC LEGACY AFLOAT

3.      SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY

4.      A TOMATO DOES NOT GROW IN BROOKLYN -BY BRENT STAPLES

5.      HEALTH CARE FIT FOR ANIMALS -BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

6.      THE LION CUB OF THE SENATE -BY ADAM CLYMER

7.      ITALIAN WOMEN RISE UP -BY CHIARA VOLPATO

 

I.THE NEWS

1.      IN THE RING

2.      MUCH AS BEFORE

3.      BURIED AT LAST

 

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

1.      FODP: FM’S JUST DIPLOMATIC STATEMENT

2.      BLASTS THAT ROCKED KANDAHAR

3.      CRUMBLING NATIONAL SHIPPING LINE

 

THE INDEPENDENT

1.      FEUD OVER TENDER

2.      FOOD ADULTERATION

3.      AN AMAZING LOVE STORY...! -ROBERT CLEMENTS

THE AUSTRALIAN

1.      GREEN DEBATE MUST NOT ALIENATE VOTERS

2.      AN UNCHANGING MENU

3.      ENDURING EXPECTATIONS

 

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

1.      OBAMA'S TORTUOUS LOOK BACKWARDS

2.      THE QUESTION OF WHO WE ARE

THE GUARDIAN

1.      WIKIPEDIA: THE WISDOM OF CROWDS

2.      EDWARD KENNEDY: MASTER OF THE SENATE

3.      IN PRAISE OF… MILES DAVIS'S KIND OF BLUE

 

JAPAN TIMES

1.      BREATHING A LITTLE EASIER

2.      ARE GREEN SHOOTS SPROUTING?-BY DAVID HOWELL

3.      TIME TO REJECT TYRANNY AND HEALTH INSECURITY-BY YOSHI TSURUMI

4.      HAMAS TAKES ON GAZA STRIP'S ISLAMIC RADICALS-BY MKHAIMAR ABUSADA

5.      PROMISE AND PERIL OF GLOBAL CHANGE-BY HANS-WERNER SINN

 

THE KOREA HERALD

1.      FAMILY REUNIONS

2.      'PARTIAL SUCCESS'

3.      SUCCESS OF THE EURO AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR ASIA -ANDREW SHENG

 

CHINA DAILY

1.      CORRUPT HOUSES

2.      SMALL CAR, BIG MOVE

3.      YEN AND THE ART OF CURRENCY MAINTENANCE

4.      PEACE UNDER NETANYAHU A REMOTE POSSIBILITY

 

THE JAKARTA POST

1.      WILL THE STATE SECRECY BILL SUFFOCATE THE TNI?

2.      EVAN A. LAKSMANA

3.      TERRORISM IS HERE TO STAY

 

THE MOSCOW TIMES

1.      RUSHYDRO SHOULD PAY FOR POWER PLANT TRAGEDY-BY VALERY ZUBOV

2.      DOUBLE-DIP DANGERS-BY NOURIEL ROUBINI

 

************************************

*************************************************************************************************************

THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

CRISIS OF CREDIBILITY

BJP’S CENTRAL LEADERS MUST ACT NOW


Perception, as the cliché goes, is often more important than reality in politics. The BJP’s central leadership is welcome to scoff at this truism and pretend all is fine with the party, but that is unlikely to convince either its cadre or supporters. Ever since the BJP’s shock defeat in this year’s general election, there has been a severe manifestation of problems, not all of them of recent vintage. Issues related to the decision-making process which has become increasingly opaque, the style of functioning of individuals who tend to place their ambitions ahead of the organisation’s interests, the tendency to militate against, if not violate, the party line, and the perceptible decline in the moral authority that was once effortlessly exercised by senior leaders of the party have been raised for some time now at relevant fora. But they were invariably kept aside, rather than being tackled immediately, for a variety of reasons, among them the exigencies of a string of Assembly elections followed by this summer’s Lok Sabha poll. It is possible that an electoral victory may have prevented the festering problems from erupting into an ugly rash, but that can, at best, fetch cold comfort to the party’s senior leaders who are now busy fighting one fire too many.

If the media brouhaha over the past week were to be taken as an indicator, the BJP is headed for more than mere political turbulence that occurs in each and every party. But that is not quite entirely true; hysterical reportage by the media, especially television channels, tends to overstate the reality. Hence, excessive obsession with what the media is saying serves little or no purpose apart from distracting attention from fundamental issues that should concern the BJP’s central leadership at this moment. These issues essentially revolve around the need for clarity about the path the BJP wishes to tread as a right-of-centre political organisation; the need to firmly lay down the party line; and, the need to restore the central leadership’s authority so that it can act decisively without dithering. And to tackle these issues, the party’s central leaders will have to act collectively in a fair and democratic manner without compromising those principles which once set the BJP apart from other parties. Anything less can only fetch criticism from the ranks and dishearten those leaders who wish nothing but the best for the party; as much has been witnessed in recent days.


There is little percentage in reflecting on what has gone wrong and even lesser purpose is served by indulging in an acrimonious blame-game from which nobody is going to emerge a winner. The problems plaguing the party are no secret and the remedy is known to all. The BJP’s central leaders should, therefore, focus on measures that will prevent the party from suffering further erosion of its image in popular perception. That would be the first step towards an extensive overhaul of both leadership and organisation without which there cannot be any long-term gains, nor can the party recover the ground it has lost. Visible and convincing initiatives towards this end will serve to restore confidence among cadre and vest the leadership, currently denuded of credibility, with the authority it sorely needs. The BJP cannot afford to put off these initiatives, as it has been doing for the past year, any longer. Unless it wants to give the Congress-NCP a walkover in the Maharashtra Assembly election. Meanwhile, silence at the top would be in order.

 

*************************************

THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

END OF CAMELOT

KENNEDY ERA DRAWS TO A CLOSE


Edward M Kennedy, the last of the Kennedy brothers, passed away at the age of 77 on Wednesday after a prolonged battle with brain cancer. But unlike his elder brothers who fell victim to the ‘Kennedy curse’ — John and Robert Kennedy were assassinated under mysterious circumstances that have been the subject of many a conspiracy theory, while the eldest of the brothers Joseph Kennedy Jr died in an airplane crash while in military service — Edward managed to escape a similar fate although he himself survived a horrific airplane accident in June 1964. As a legislator, Edward was perhaps the Kennedy who did the most for his country given the longevity of his political career. He had been in Congress for 46 years during which period he helped push through a plethora of important legislations. Not least of which was the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 that made racial segregation in public places in the US illegal. This then paved the way for the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 that ended discriminatory voting practices vis-à-vis the African American community and in whose passage Edward Kennedy had a significant role to play. By the time the Massachusetts Senator was in the evening of his public life — brought forward by the onset of cancer — he had helped create Government policies and initiated important debates on everything from freedom of information to welfare schemes for the disabled to universal health coverage.


Perhaps the secret to Edward Kennedy’s political staying power was that he wasn’t burdened by the Kennedy family tradition of running for the White House, at least not after Chappaquiddick. What many political analysts thought would inevitably come to him in due time, the American presidency eluded Edward throughout his life, especially after that fateful night in July 1969 when his reckless driving resulted in a car crash on Chappaquiddick Island that killed Mary Jo Kopechne, a former aide to his brother Robert. The incident was to haunt Edward for a significant part of his political life and is the main reason why he had to lay low during the 1972 and 1976 US presidential elections when conditions were ripe for him to aim for the White House. But Edward Kennedy reconciled himself to political realities and chose to soldier on quietly. Being a member of one of America’s most powerful political dynasties, he always had the wherewithal and the resources to play a significant role as law-maker. But where Edward Kennedy stood out was that he actually used his political pedigree to make a difference. He could have had a cushy and comfortable life, but instead, Edward Kennedy chose to exert himself to bring about changes in US policies that he thought were beneficial for his country. With his demise an illustrious chapter in American politics comes to an end.

 

*************************************

THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

DEEPLY FLAWED FOREIGN POLICY

AJAI SAHNI


Indian leaders have picked up rather well on an increasing loss of confidence in the West, packaging the country’s successes in small pools of the economy into a convincing, though largely mythical, narrative of a rising global power. Cheerleaders of the establishment have transformed a handful of selective macroeconomic indicators to project an illusion of ‘India shining’ —brushing large segments of the economy under a fraying carpet. With growth rates sustained at over six per cent since 1993, and surging above nine per cent after 2003, the economy has shown itself strong enough even to tide over the current worldwide contraction. These trends are expected, on customary ceteris paribus (other things being equal) assumptions, to propel the Indian economy to the status of the third largest in the world by 2035, lagging behind just China and the US.


But other things may, in fact, not be equal. For one thing, the Indian system is already hitting a range of structural obstacles, most significantly in the apparatus of governance and security, but also in the country’s manpower profiles and its capacity to develop sufficient skilled resources to sustain present levels of growth. Crucially, moreover, great power status can hardly be secured on the back of an information technology and business process outsourcing boom alone. The sinews of the economies of the future can only be built on extraordinary innovation, scientific invention, and the dominance of production processes in at least a core range of industries. There is little in India’s current structural profile that suggests that such dominance is attainable.


The economy, moreover, is not the nation. And while economic growth has integral linkages with military and global power, it is necessary to understand that the reverse is also often the case. Unless India is able to project international power, and impose a far greater measure of internal order than is currently the case, its economic ambitions may, themselves, be thwarted. For one thing, there is a clear realpolitik dimension to accessing assured supplies of global resources, including increasingly contested energy resources, which will require the capacity to project strength across critical regions of economic interest. For another, regional and domestic disorders, articulated in terrorist violence, proxy wars and insurgencies, have tremendous potential to undermine trends in economic consolidation. Most significantly, the economic environment is enormously vitiated by the sheer structural ineptitude and cumulative deficits in governance, and there is little evidence that this crisis is on the way to being addressed.

This is a growing concern in the international community, which had initially and uncritically bought into the ‘emerging global power’ myth. India will not be able to continue to trade on this illusion, unless it is, in fact, seen to conduct and govern itself as an emerging great power.


But how is such a perception even possible in view of India’s cumulative failures, its utter ineptitude and lack of direction? Look at the country’s counter-terrorism and internal security responses, and the negligible and often negative role New Delhi has played in dealing with the enveloping disorders of the South Asian region. Pakistan is the most obvious case in point. After each major Islamist terrorist attack, the national leadership scuttles around the globe, demanding a fitting international response to Pakistan’s continued support to terrorism on Indian soil — and the international community has, at least in some measure, responded.


But there is an equal expectation that India will act with some degree of determination to deal with its own problems — and this has, invariably, not been met. After a short period of posturing, there is a swift climb-down, often under visible outside (read, American) pressure, with the national leadership quickly proclaiming that both India and Pakistan are, equally, “victims of terrorism”. Nothing could be more nonsensical. Pakistan has been, and remains, the principal state sponsor of terrorism in India and the South Asian region, and its footprint can be found in virtually every act of international Islamist terrorism across the world. Nevertheless, at no stage has any effective initiative been taken to bring Pakistan’s state sponsors to account. If anything, India’s leaders have gone out of their way to validate the pretence that these activities may be carried out by autonomous groups outside the state’s control — when the overwhelming burden of evidence suggests the exact opposite.


The limited gains that may have been secured through the suspension of the pseudo-peace process between India and Pakistan were, of course, entirely sacrificed in the purposeless compromises of the Sharm el-Sheikh joint statement. Today, despite the enormity of the 26/11 outrage, it is India that appears truculent and uncooperative when it refuses to restore the ‘dialogue’. Pakistan parades the ill-conceived reference to Balochistan as a demonstration of the moral parity between the two countries, and uninformed Western commentators buy into the charade that India’s external intelligence agencies “run operations from its missions” in Afghanistan and Iran. Beyond generalised denials and the assertion that “we have nothing to hide” in Balochistan, India has failed to effectively counter this campaign of deceit.

Then again, a tremendous legitimacy was conferred on New Delhi by a successful and transparent election process in Jammu & Kashmir, with a relatively high voter turnout despite a boycott call by Pakistan-based terrorists, backed by death threats. But India frittered away this advantage, in the absence of any coherent strategy of political consolidation. Pakistani proxies have quickly reinvented their covert war in an increasingly disruptive campaign of street demonstrations on a range of opportunistically harvested issues, including the recent bedlam over the Shopian rape case.


Beyond these immediate failures is the collapse of any broader strategic vision. Indeed, India’s foreign policy vis-à-vis the South Asian region is in utter shambles. India has been a vocal critic of America’s strategy in Afghanistan (and Iraq), and rightly so. The US intervention has been a disaster. But what has India to offer its beleaguered friends in Kabul? Aid for infrastructure development is all very well, but how much time will it take to blow up hospitals, schools, parliamentary buildings and roads, if the Taliban juggernaut doesn’t end? As an ‘emerging global power’, has India anything whatsoever to offer as a strategy for stabilising Afghanistan, and for neutralising Pakistan’s pernicious role in this region?

There is, indeed, not a neighbour we can point to as a foreign policy success story, not an intervention that we can demonstrate as consolidating our prestige and influence. Forget Pakistan, forget Bangladesh, in stages we have lost influence even in Nepal and Sri Lanka, nations linked to us by intrinsic cultural and civilisational ties, even as an insidious Chinese presence consolidates in a garrotting encirclement around every Indian border and interest beyond.


There is a delusional character in India’s present great power pretensions. Power is rooted in reality, a dish this country’s leadership shows very little appetite for.

 

***************************************

THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

EUROPE PANDERS TO ISLAMISM

STEPHEN BROWN


Forty years after the death of the “last lion,” Great Britain is producing men of straw rather than of Churchillian iron. It was only six months ago that the British Government humiliatingly and shamelessly bundled visiting Dutch politician Geert Wilders back on to a plane to his native Holland to appease Muslim public opinion. Wilders had been invited to show his documentary film, Fitna, at Britain’s House of Lords, but, in a gross outrage, was denied entry to the country.


That watershed moment of capitulation, however, was surpassed last week when the Scottish Government released Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi from prison on “compassionate” grounds after serving only seven years of a life sentence for murdering 270 people, 189 of them Americans, when a bomb destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.


Al-Megrahi is said to be suffering from prostate cancer and given only 3 months to live, though many believe that he should have spend those final months in prison.


To add insult to injustice, Libya welcomed al-Megrahi home with a hero’s reception — despite official promises that it would not do so. In a choreographed demonstration, al-Megrahi was greeted at Tripoli’s airport by hundreds of people, some waving Scottish flags. As al-Megrahi appeared before the jubilant crowd, Seif al-Islam, the son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, lifted his arm in victory. It was, indeed, a victory for terrorism, and an insult to the victims of the Lockerbie bombing and their still-grieving families.

Scottish authorities were caught off guard by the scandalous reception. “It’s a matter of great regret that al-Megrahi was received in such an inappropriate manner,” said Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who made the decision to release the Libyan. “It showed no compassion or sensitivity to the families of the 270 Lockerbie victims.” But why should Mr MacAskill’s have expected a dictator like Gaddafi to show compassion for the victims of a man that he regards as a national hero?


Mr MacAskill may deny it, but the Libyan’s release was simply part of the politics of appeasement that Scotland and other European countries are practicing when dealing with Libya and other Islamic countries. Ever sensitive to perceived Israeli and American human-rights violations, and increasingly fearful of their own restive Muslim populations, European Governments turn a blind eye to the abuses committed in the Islamic world.


The writer is a contributing editor at Frontpagemag.com

 

***************************************

THE PIONEER

OP-ED

CRISIS OF CREDIBILITY

BJP’S CENTRAL LEADERS MUST ACT NOW


Perception, as the cliché goes, is often more important than reality in politics. The BJP’s central leadership is welcome to scoff at this truism and pretend all is fine with the party, but that is unlikely to convince either its cadre or supporters. Ever since the BJP’s shock defeat in this year’s general election, there has been a severe manifestation of problems, not all of them of recent vintage. Issues related to the decision-making process which has become increasingly opaque, the style of functioning of individuals who tend to place their ambitions ahead of the organisation’s interests, the tendency to militate against, if not violate, the party line, and the perceptible decline in the moral authority that was once effortlessly exercised by senior leaders of the party have been raised for some time now at relevant fora. But they were invariably kept aside, rather than being tackled immediately, for a variety of reasons, among them the exigencies of a string of Assembly elections followed by this summer’s Lok Sabha poll. It is possible that an electoral victory may have prevented the festering problems from erupting into an ugly rash, but that can, at best, fetch cold comfort to the party’s senior leaders who are now busy fighting one fire too many.

If the media brouhaha over the past week were to be taken as an indicator, the BJP is headed for more than mere political turbulence that occurs in each and every party. But that is not quite entirely true; hysterical reportage by the media, especially television channels, tends to overstate the reality. Hence, excessive obsession with what the media is saying serves little or no purpose apart from distracting attention from fundamental issues that should concern the BJP’s central leadership at this moment. These issues essentially revolve around the need for clarity about the path the BJP wishes to tread as a right-of-centre political organisation; the need to firmly lay down the party line; and, the need to restore the central leadership’s authority so that it can act decisively without dithering. And to tackle these issues, the party’s central leaders will have to act collectively in a fair and democratic manner without compromising those principles which once set the BJP apart from other parties. Anything less can only fetch criticism from the ranks and dishearten those leaders who wish nothing but the best for the party; as much has been witnessed in recent days.


There is little percentage in reflecting on what has gone wrong and even lesser purpose is served by indulging in an acrimonious blame-game from which nobody is going to emerge a winner. The problems plaguing the party are no secret and the remedy is known to all. The BJP’s central leaders should, therefore, focus on measures that will prevent the party from suffering further erosion of its image in popular perception. That would be the first step towards an extensive overhaul of both leadership and organisation without which there cannot be any long-term gains, nor can the party recover the ground it has lost. Visible and convincing initiatives towards this end will serve to restore confidence among cadre and vest the leadership, currently denuded of credibility, with the authority it sorely needs. The BJP cannot afford to put off these initiatives, as it has been doing for the past year, any longer. Unless it wants to give the Congress-NCP a walkover in the Maharashtra Assembly election. Meanwhile, silence at the top would be in order.


*************************************

THE PIONEER

OP-ED

END OF CAMELOT

KENNEDY ERA DRAWS TO A CLOSE

 

Edward M Kennedy, the last of the Kennedy brothers, passed away at the age of 77 on Wednesday after a prolonged battle with brain cancer. But unlike his elder brothers who fell victim to the ‘Kennedy curse’ — John and Robert Kennedy were assassinated under mysterious circumstances that have been the subject of many a conspiracy theory, while the eldest of the brothers Joseph Kennedy Jr died in an airplane crash while in military service — Edward managed to escape a similar fate although he himself survived a horrific airplane accident in June 1964. As a legislator, Edward was perhaps the Kennedy who did the most for his country given the longevity of his political career. He had been in Congress for 46 years during which period he helped push through a plethora of important legislations. Not least of which was the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 that made racial segregation in public places in the US illegal. This then paved the way for the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 that ended discriminatory voting practices vis-à-vis the African American community and in whose passage Edward Kennedy had a significant role to play. By the time the Massachusetts Senator was in the evening of his public life — brought forward by the onset of cancer — he had helped create Government policies and initiated important debates on everything from freedom of information to welfare schemes for the disabled to universal health coverage.


Perhaps the secret to Edward Kennedy’s political staying power was that he wasn’t burdened by the Kennedy family tradition of running for the White House, at least not after Chappaquiddick. What many political analysts thought would inevitably come to him in due time, the American presidency eluded Edward throughout his life, especially after that fateful night in July 1969 when his reckless driving resulted in a car crash on Chappaquiddick Island that killed Mary Jo Kopechne, a former aide to his brother Robert. The incident was to haunt Edward for a significant part of his political life and is the main reason why he had to lay low during the 1972 and 1976 US presidential elections when conditions were ripe for him to aim for the White House. But Edward Kennedy reconciled himself to political realities and chose to soldier on quietly. Being a member of one of America’s most powerful political dynasties, he always had the wherewithal and the resources to play a significant role as law-maker. But where Edward Kennedy stood out was that he actually used his political pedigree to make a difference. He could have had a cushy and comfortable life, but instead, Edward Kennedy chose to exert himself to bring about changes in US policies that he thought were beneficial for his country. With his demise an illustrious chapter in American politics comes to an end.

 

*************************************

THE PIONEER

OP-ED

DEEPLY FLAWED FOREIGN POLICY

AJAI SAHNI


Indian leaders have picked up rather well on an increasing loss of confidence in the West, packaging the country’s successes in small pools of the economy into a convincing, though largely mythical, narrative of a rising global power. Cheerleaders of the establishment have transformed a handful of selective macroeconomic indicators to project an illusion of ‘India shining’ —brushing large segments of the economy under a fraying carpet. With growth rates sustained at over six per cent since 1993, and surging above nine per cent after 2003, the economy has shown itself strong enough even to tide over the current worldwide contraction. These trends are expected, on customary ceteris paribus (other things being equal) assumptions, to propel the Indian economy to the status of the third largest in the world by 2035, lagging behind just China and the US.


But other things may, in fact, not be equal. For one thing, the Indian system is already hitting a range of structural obstacles, most significantly in the apparatus of governance and security, but also in the country’s manpower profiles and its capacity to develop sufficient skilled resources to sustain present levels of growth. Crucially, moreover, great power status can hardly be secured on the back of an information technology and business process outsourcing boom alone. The sinews of the economies of the future can only be built on extraordinary innovation, scientific invention, and the dominance of production processes in at least a core range of industries. There is little in India’s current structural profile that suggests that such dominance is attainable.


The economy, moreover, is not the nation. And while economic growth has integral linkages with military and global power, it is necessary to understand that the reverse is also often the case. Unless India is able to project international power, and impose a far greater measure of internal order than is currently the case, its economic ambitions may, themselves, be thwarted. For one thing, there is a clear realpolitik dimension to accessing assured supplies of global resources, including increasingly contested energy resources, which will require the capacity to project strength across critical regions of economic interest. For another, regional and domestic disorders, articulated in terrorist violence, proxy wars and insurgencies, have tremendous potential to undermine trends in economic consolidation. Most significantly, the economic environment is enormously vitiated by the sheer structural ineptitude and cumulative deficits in governance, and there is little evidence that this crisis is on the way to being addressed.

This is a growing concern in the international community, which had initially and uncritically bought into the ‘emerging global power’ myth. India will not be able to continue to trade on this illusion, unless it is, in fact, seen to conduct and govern itself as an emerging great power.


But how is such a perception even possible in view of India’s cumulative failures, its utter ineptitude and lack of direction? Look at the country’s counter-terrorism and internal security responses, and the negligible and often negative role New Delhi has played in dealing with the enveloping disorders of the South Asian region. Pakistan is the most obvious case in point. After each major Islamist terrorist attack, the national leadership scuttles around the globe, demanding a fitting international response to Pakistan’s continued support to terrorism on Indian soil — and the international community has, at least in some measure, responded.


But there is an equal expectation that India will act with some degree of determination to deal with its own problems — and this has, invariably, not been met. After a short period of posturing, there is a swift climb-down, often under visible outside (read, American) pressure, with the national leadership quickly proclaiming that both India and Pakistan are, equally, “victims of terrorism”. Nothing could be more nonsensical. Pakistan has been, and remains, the principal state sponsor of terrorism in India and the South Asian region, and its footprint can be found in virtually every act of international Islamist terrorism across the world. Nevertheless, at no stage has any effective initiative been taken to bring Pakistan’s state sponsors to account. If anything, India’s leaders have gone out of their way to validate the pretence that these activities may be carried out by autonomous groups outside the state’s control — when the overwhelming burden of evidence suggests the exact opposite.


The limited gains that may have been secured through the suspension of the pseudo-peace process between India and Pakistan were, of course, entirely sacrificed in the purposeless compromises of the Sharm el-Sheikh joint statement. Today, despite the enormity of the 26/11 outrage, it is India that appears truculent and uncooperative when it refuses to restore the ‘dialogue’. Pakistan parades the ill-conceived reference to Balochistan as a demonstration of the moral parity between the two countries, and uninformed Western commentators buy into the charade that India’s external intelligence agencies “run operations from its missions” in Afghanistan and Iran. Beyond generalised denials and the assertion that “we have nothing to hide” in Balochistan, India has failed to effectively counter this campaign of deceit.


Then again, a tremendous legitimacy was conferred on New Delhi by a successful and transparent election process in Jammu & Kashmir, with a relatively high voter turnout despite a boycott call by Pakistan-based terrorists, backed by death threats. But India frittered away this advantage, in the absence of any coherent strategy of political consolidation. Pakistani proxies have quickly reinvented their covert war in an increasingly disruptive campaign of street demonstrations on a range of opportunistically harvested issues, including the recent bedlam over the Shopian rape case.


Beyond these immediate failures is the collapse of any broader strategic vision. Indeed, India’s foreign policy vis-à-vis the South Asian region is in utter shambles. India has been a vocal critic of America’s strategy in Afghanistan (and Iraq), and rightly so. The US intervention has been a disaster. But what has India to offer its beleaguered friends in Kabul? Aid for infrastructure development is all very well, but how much time will it take to blow up hospitals, schools, parliamentary buildings and roads, if the Taliban juggernaut doesn’t end? As an ‘emerging global power’, has India anything whatsoever to offer as a strategy for stabilising Afghanistan, and for neutralising Pakistan’s pernicious role in this region?


There is, indeed, not a neighbour we can point to as a foreign policy success story, not an intervention that we can demonstrate as consolidating our prestige and influence. Forget Pakistan, forget Bangladesh, in stages we have lost influence even in Nepal and Sri Lanka, nations linked to us by intrinsic cultural and civilisational ties, even as an insidious Chinese presence consolidates in a garrotting encirclement around every Indian border and interest beyond.


There is a delusional character in India’s present great power pretensions. Power is rooted in reality, a dish this country’s leadership shows very little appetite for.

 

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THE PIONEER

OP-ED

EUROPE PANDERS TO ISLAMISM

STEPHEN BROWN


Forty years after the death of the “last lion,” Great Britain is producing men of straw rather than of Churchillian iron. It was only six months ago that the British Government humiliatingly and shamelessly bundled visiting Dutch politician Geert Wilders back on to a plane to his native Holland to appease Muslim public opinion. Wilders had been invited to show his documentary film, Fitna, at Britain’s House of Lords, but, in a gross outrage, was denied entry to the country.


That watershed moment of capitulation, however, was surpassed last week when the Scottish Government released Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi from prison on “compassionate” grounds after serving only seven years of a life sentence for murdering 270 people, 189 of them Americans, when a bomb destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.


Al-Megrahi is said to be suffering from prostate cancer and given only 3 months to live, though many believe that he should have spend those final months in prison.


To add insult to injustice, Libya welcomed al-Megrahi home with a hero’s reception — despite official promises that it would not do so. In a choreographed demonstration, al-Megrahi was greeted at Tripoli’s airport by hundreds of people, some waving Scottish flags. As al-Megrahi appeared before the jubilant crowd, Seif al-Islam, the son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, lifted his arm in victory. It was, indeed, a victory for terrorism, and an insult to the victims of the Lockerbie bombing and their still-grieving families.

Scottish authorities were caught off guard by the scandalous reception. “It’s a matter of great regret that al-Megrahi was received in such an inappropriate manner,” said Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who made the decision to release the Libyan. “It showed no compassion or sensitivity to the families of the 270 Lockerbie victims.” But why should Mr MacAskill’s have expected a dictator like Gaddafi to show compassion for the victims of a man that he regards as a national hero?


Mr MacAskill may deny it, but the Libyan’s release was simply part of the politics of appeasement that Scotland and other European countries are practicing when dealing with Libya and other Islamic countries. Ever sensitive to perceived Israeli and American human-rights violations, and increasingly fearful of their own restive Muslim populations, European Governments turn a blind eye to the abuses committed in the Islamic world.


The writer is a contributing editor at Frontpagemag.com

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

EDITORIAL

SWITCHING ON

 

A study of the Indian power sector done by Universal Consulting may come as no surprise, but that does not make it any less ominous. Quite apart from the capital and operational costs of power back-up equipment, the study has posited the opportunity costs of power shortages in the last financial year as Rs 2,89,000 crore or a 6 per cent loss in GDP terms.


An earlier study had pegged the direct loss in the same period at Rs 43,205 core. In that context, looking at our northern neighbour should be an eye-opener. On an average, China adds 100GW of power capacity annually. India has been unable to add even a tenth of that in any single year. This is the case despite various government initiatives to rationalise power tariffs and simplify relevant laws over the past decade.


The problem is that the power sector's lacunae are not isolated issues. Currently, the country's installed capacity is 1,51,073 MW. Of this, only 96,000 MW is available for consumption, due mostly to power theft and transmission losses.


Inefficiencies on the demand side match those on the supply side, with agricultural and domestic subsidies distorting consumption patterns and feeding into a shortfall that, on the average, can be anywhere between 10 and 14 per cent annually. As an ancillary effect, this unsustainability scares off potential foreign investors. Add in the problem of insufficient port facilities for natural gas and the scope of the problem becomes clear.


There have been sporadic displays of the political will needed to push through reforms such as the Electricity Act of 2003 and the National Electricity Policy. One major development in this regard has been the unbundling of state electricity boards into multiple entities dealing with generation, transmission and the like.


But more is needed. The initiative must be followed through to its logical conclusion, the privatisation of the boards' assets. Private players must be encouraged to become stakeholders in distribution networks as well, whether through direct privatisation or by following a franchisee model. And a fully functional power trading market would go some way towards offsetting shortfalls in various regions.


Despite private players' growing role in the sector, they are often held hostage to Centre-state disagreements on these issues. The increased quantum of investment over the past few years will serve for little if regulatory bottlenecks funnel investors into playing catch-up.


Demand is set to grow as penetration into rural areas increases. Delayed reforms will ensure that the shortfalls increase concurrently. And with the correlation between GDP growth and increase in power capacity pegged at close to 100 per cent, that is not the path a country with increasing global aspirations can afford to go down.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

EDITORIAL

SHAME TO WIN

 

Public opinion, domestic and international, has forced Malaysian authorities to go slow on a Shariah court order asking a woman to be whipped. The execution of the order has been kept in abeyance after the main judge at the Islamic court described the sentence as "too harsh" and called for a review.


The "culprit", Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, has admitted to sipping beer in a hotel and apologised for the act. But she has refused to heed to a request from the Malaysian prime minister to appeal against the order. Instead, she has turned the debate on its head by demanding that the sentence be carried out in public view.


The authorities fear that a public lashing could have unforeseen ramifications for Malaysia. Unlike many Islamic countries, Malaysia is a multi-religious society with a large non-Muslim population. It has built its international profile as a liberal society with an Islamic orientation. Even though Islamic laws govern Muslims in Malaysia, punishments like flogging are rare. Many Malaysians, particularly from the Chinese and Indian communities, have said that the Shukarno incident is an indication of the increasing Islamisation of the country. Any overt action in that direction could further upset fragile ethnic relations in the country.


The debate in Malaysia is representative of the unrest even in Islamic societies over the use of religious laws. Women are in the forefront of protests against courts sanctioning punishments like flogging and stoning for acts that are perceived as violations of Islamic tenets. The experience of Sudanese journalist, Lubna Hussein, is a case in point. She was arrested for wearing trousers in a public place instead of the traditional Islamic dress for women. Hussein has refused to accept a presidential pardon and has challenged the legality of her arrest. She wants to make her trial and punishment a public spectacle and thereby shame the authorities. That many women risked police action to be present at Hussein's trial - wearing trousers - indicates that the strategy may be working.


These instances of rebellion against conservative tendencies in relatively closed societies are likely to become more common. New forms of communication facilities have helped oppressed groups to subvert state censorship and develop new networks of solidarity. Absolute insularity is impossible anymore. Technology has helped the spread of modern ideas of justice and social contract everywhere. In an increasingly networked and globalised world, it will not be easy for governments to stall the yearning for social equality and humane notions of law and justice.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

EDITORIAL

WINNING THE PEACE

 

Many Sri Lankans are still jubilant from defeating the Tamil Tigers, a heinous terror group that caused immeasurable suffering during its violent 30-year struggle for an independent Tamil homeland in northern Sri Lanka. President Mahinda Rajapaksa showed leadership and resolve in crushing the Tigers.

 

Now he must heal the wounds of war that affect Tamil and Sinhalese alike. Relief, recovery and reconciliation are daunting tasks that the government need not undertake on its own. Building on a visit by a delegation of retired diplomats led by former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, the UN secretary-general should appoint a special coordinator for post-conflict issues to strengthen the partnership between Sri Lanka and the international community.


The coordinator's primary mandate would be to mobilise foreign aid and build national capacity. Complementing efforts by the US, the European Union, Japan and Norway co-chairs of the so-called Friends of Sri Lanka the coordinator would act as Colombo's partisan with the international community, making sure pledges are deposited and commitments renewed.

 

Beyond the humanitarian emergency, another task would be to work with Sri Lanka's government to accelerate early recovery and facilitate the transition from relief to development. To complement aid with trade, the coordinator would encourage expansion of Sri Lanka's nascent manufacturing, agricultural and other industries. In addition to investment and risk insurance, making sure that countries open their markets to Sri Lankan products would also stimulate trade.


The coordinator can make sure that the World Bank and UN country team are at full throttle assisting Sri Lanka's government, which should not be wary of UN involvement. The UN is both benign and best placed to mobilise international expertise for a national recovery plan encompassing a broad range of activities from microcredit to public health.


Rajapaksa has pledged to address the root causes of conflict. To his credit, he has repeatedly recognised the legitimate hopes of Tamils for greater political and cultural rights. With elections upcoming, he is saying all the right things. However, his place in history will be judged not by what he says, but by what he does. Political reconciliation will be determined by his ability to further the aspirations of Tamils, and of other Sri Lankans. To help him deliver, the coordinator's mandate should include political issues. That means working with the government to encourage the protection and promotion of minority rights in accordance with international standards, and constitutional reform enabling decentralisation and power-sharing.

In every post-conflict situation, national and international forces align to promote sustainable peace. The international community, which generously supports Sri Lanka, does not dispute the ruthlessness of the Tamil Tigers. But questions linger about the military's final push when as many as 10,000 civilians may have died. Limits on humanitarian access and measures barring journalists and human rights groups have aggravated tensions. As a gesture of their concern, several countries including the US and UK abstained on the recent IMF vote to provide $2.8 billion to Sri Lanka. Without a peace and reconciliation process, Rajapaksa will face a growing international clamour for an investigation into civilian casualties. The International Criminal Court's prosecutor may act if the government does not.

Sri Lankans are concerned by the slow pace of reintegrating 2,80,000 Tamils who languish in displacement camps. The government must balance the need to make sure that Tamil Tiger fighters are not hiding among the displaced with the need for an efficient screening process. Delays cause inordinate suffering and are inconsistent with the humanitarian nature of Sri Lanka's Buddhist majority. The government was right to disarm the Tamil Tigers through military action. But all Tamils cannot be held responsible for crimes committed by Velupillai Prabhakaran. Measures are needed to reintegrate rank-and-file into civil society so they can participate in the peace-building process. Rajapaksa should also strengthen Sri Lanka's partnership with India, which is critical to mobilising support in the region and beyond.

Why appoint a special coordinator for post-conflict issues? Colombo-based ambassadors are already working together. However, donor countries have a notoriously short attention span. As part of a resource acquisition strategy, the coordinator would enhance current efforts and sustain activities requiring assistance long after the next international crisis comes along. Rajapaksa may also find it expedient to highlight the coordinator's role when he moves forward with political reforms.


Designating a coordinator would be a win-win for Sri Lanka and the international system. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon was criticised for not doing enough during the conflict. He can give definition to his "new multilateralism" by focusing the UN on Sri Lanka's post-conflict requirements. It would also help focus the UN's nascent peace-building support unit. While Rajapaksa may have won a great victory on the battlefield, a UN special coordinator can help Sri Lanka win the peace while demonstrating the benefits of international cooperation aimed at eradicating the root causes of extremism.


The writer is director of the Programme on Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding at American University, Washington, DC.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

VIEW

FORMULA 1 IS A SPORT

 

The Indian government has, once again, come up with very old-fashioned views on matters relating to sport and tourism. In a letter written by the Union ministry of sports to JPSK Sports, the promoter of Formula 1 racing in the country early, the ministry rejected the promoter's request to get approval for remittances of $36.5 million to host an F1 race in the country on the ground that it wasn't a sport. This has been supported by the argument that it has entertainment value and therefore amounts to a commercial initiative. Motorsports fans and bodies around the world have been left flummoxed by the government's views, especially in light of the previous support offered by the ministry to motorsports in the country.


To say that a sport is not one because it provides entertainment is ludicrous. Every sport, if it wishes to be popular, needs to be entertaining. The truly boring ones, like curling and croquet, are hardly sports with massive worldwide television audiences. India's favourite sport, cricket, is constantly changing and shortening its format to remain entertaining and to draw in viewers. If sport is a test of human endurance, then Formula 1 undoubtedly qualifies. Anybody who has seen Formula 1 racing drivers step out of their cars after a race cannot doubt their physical fitness or the abuse to which they subject their bodies. Man and machine work in harmony to push body and car to the limit and beyond and, yet, come away unharmed. It is as much a spectacle, if not more so, than a six hit out of the park. Moreover, technology has become a part of most sports today. Without the right cricketing or tennis gear, even the best player could lose.


As for the argument that hosting an F1 race will do little to encourage local participation in sports, who knows? Already, India's interest in F1 has increased since an Indian first competed in F1. The boost that motorsports in the country would receive if it hosted the world's premier auto racing competition would be huge.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTERVIEW

FORMULA FOR DISASTER

 

As the most expensive 'sport' in the world, the gas-guzzling Formula 1 has an exclusive, elitist support system that brooks no illusions of either reaching out to a wide and popular audience, or of promoting sustainable and safe entertainment, even if in the garb of sports. The sports ministry is right in denying approval to the promoters of F1 to host the event in India, where car racing unlike in other countries where F1 has been held traditionally is in abundant evidence where it shouldn't be, on city roads and highways, with the additional menace of road rage.


Sports initially meant athletics. Hence the Olympics motto, "faster, higher, stronger", that is a reference to stretching the limits of human endeavour, a tribute to human resilience and strength. By no stretch of the imagination do machines fit that category. A sporting event is one where sportspersons are pitched against each other to prove their skill that comes with talent, rigorous training and endurance. In F1 racing, all these requirements are fulfilled not by a sportsperson but by the machine, as winning depends on the quality, power and endurance of the engine.


Sinking huge amounts of money, effort and other resources on F1 is uncalled for when the focus ought to be on real sports that are languishing for want of suitable infrastructure, training and facilities for sportspersons who have demonstrated their talent and capabilities in their field. Why do we need to go in for something like the F1 that is new to India and which, if some wish to see and enjoy it, is available on telecasts and other e-media?


Today's advanced technology makes automation eminently possible, so you don't need a human behind the wheel of an F1 racing car that's skidding and screeching away dangerously at inhuman speed. That we continue to risk human lives in those speed machines for no other reason than for entertainment and commercial benefit is proof enough that we haven't outgrown our gladiatorial days.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

SUBVERSE

WHO THE F*** IS ALICE?

BACHI KARKARIA 

 

Malice in Blunderland by Lotus Carroll could now sell faster than J-IPI by Jas-went Singh. While Arun Shourie's bravura performance on Walk the Talk has rekindled interest in the oft-quoted classic, this TV episode itself can be described in the lines of The Walrus and the Carpenter, a poem in Through the Looking Glass, which was the sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:


"The Shourie and The Gupta Walked on a mile or so....And all the BJP big brass stood Fuming in a row.'The time has come,' the Shourie said, ''To talk of many things: Of Jinnah, Jas and sealing fate - And cabbages who're kings - And why the mahaul is boiling hot - And whether one more will 'sing'."


Messrs Shourie & Gupta may have used the 'A in B' phrase off the bat, but Lewis Carroll could as well have scripted his 1865 book for BJP 2009 rather than for young Alice Pleasance Liddell. You can literally transpose entire paragraphs on to the ongoing Mad Hatter's party in Delhi without even once having to alter it to fit.


Let us start with the other Arun, who makes a rather fetching Cheshire cat, complete with his disconcerting grin. Jaitley continued to sit pretty at the BJP baithak, with little sign of chintan, or chinta.


Unlike in the Carroll original, our great survivor is in no danger of disappearing with only the smile remaining. All that happens is that his grin gets thinner and thinner, finally narrowing down to just the width of the pin-stripes on his bespoke shirts. The facial phenomenon is best observed when this exalted personage is challenged by a less-than-deferential interlocutor.


Since Shourie has been gunning for his former Bofors comrade-in-arms ever since the poll fall, he predictably sent AJ's fur flying on Walk the Talk, along with that of L K Advani and Rajnath Singh. Throughout, he showed the BJP to be a 'kati patang', spiralling downwards in berserk fashion. So all you have to do is replace Alice with Shourie, and the Cat with Jaitley in the following extract from Chp 6. (Ignore for the moment the fact that the party wants Shourie in its midst even less than vice versa.)


"Alice: But I don't want to go among mad people. The Cat: Oh, you can't help that.We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad. Alice: How do you know I'm mad? The Cat: You must be. Or you wouldn't have come here (or gone on that mischief-maker Shekhar's programme).


Jaswant, Vasundhara, Shourie himself, Sudheendra Kulkarni the list continues to lengthen like an evening shadow. So other less-than-loyal (or less-than-suicidal) BJP members might find themselves in the iff predicament of Alice in Chp 3:


"Caterpillar: Who are YOU?


Alice: This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. I - I hardly know, sir I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then."

Actually, the current scenario comes closest to that in Chp 12.


" 'No, no!' said the Mad Queen. 'Sentence first - verdict afterwards.' 'Stuff and nonsense!' said Alice loudlyâ
¦'Hold your tongue!' said the Queen, turning purple. 'I won't!' said Alice. 'Off with her head!' the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved. 'Who cares for you?' said Alice, (she had grown to her full size by this time). 'You're nothing but a pack of cards!' "


And how can i resist the most-quoted Alice line? The BJP free-fall 'gets curiouser and curiouser'. Watch the front page.


Alec Smart said: "Why should Pranab not go on a 'fishing expedition' to the Swiss banks? Because the big ones always get away."

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COFFEE QUOTIENT

AN INTELLECTUAL'S ELIXIR

 

According to a report in a British newspaper, a team of researchers at Glasgow University has found a link between coffee and intellect. The exhaustive report states that those who love coffee possess above average intelligence and are blessed with sharper mental faculties than those who can't appreciate its intense flavour. In my entirely unscientific view, coffee and intelligence do go together. One can see this inseparable bond in Calcutta's famed coffee houses on College Street. London, Milan, Cairo and Vienna's coffee houses are still frequented by artists and intellectuals, who discuss a gamut of obscure subjects over numerous cups of piping hot coffee.


The legendary Che Guevara would sit in his favourite coffee house in Bolivia to chalk out his revolutionary plans. The turbulent sixties witnessed Calcutta's intellectuals frequenting coffee houses. Their intellectual regurgitations used to be as hot as the coffee served there. Satyajit Ray got his copywriting ideas in coffee houses. ''Coffee makes great copy,'' he once told legendary British director David Lean. It's worthwhile to mention that Ray started his career as a copywriter in Calcutta.


So many affairs of the heart took place in coffee houses. Coffee houses were young lovers' clandestine meeting places. It was a nostalgic era, when if you didn't go to a coffee house in Calcutta, you were considered an intellectually deficient person. Bengali poet Jibananando Das wrote a series of poems eulogising the aroma of coffee, particularly the Calcutta brand coffee. One of his female characters had coffee-coloured tresses. Coffee was his muse. Legend has it that the great impressionist painter Claude Monet would go to a coffee house on the road leading to Sorbonne in Paris and paint his landscapes there.


The redoubtable Edward W Said was said to be so enamoured of coffee houses in Cairo that he'd spend up to 10 hours at a stretch in one, sipping on close to 60-70 cups of black coffee. He'd call it an 'intellectual's elixir'. But that aura and aroma have all gone. Calcutta's coffee houses wear a deserted look and one wistfully remembers Manna De's song, in which he rues the end of Calcutta's coffee house culture.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

ARE WE REALLY A POLICE STATE?

 

Police forces everywhere have a single mandate: to maintain the law and keep the order. In banana republics and totalitarian States, they go about their job without having to pay heed to any rule or law. In democracies, the police not only are supposed to be entrusted with the safety of people but are also answerable to their rights as citizens. India is clearly not a banana republic or a State under an iron fist.

 

And yet when it comes to an overwhelming number of cases — most recently witnessed in the incident of a college student in Chhattisgarh being beaten up by police personnel — our men in khaki behave as if they were an occupying force brutalising Indians. The fact that a woman who happens to be suffering from a mental ailment and was causing public nuisance was thrashed first and asked questions later tells a familiar story of policing in this country.

 

One doesn’t really need to read the recently released report by Human Rights Watch on police brutality in India to know that the culture of riding roughshod and worse by men in uniform against citizens — guilty or innocent — is endemic and a hangover from a colonial mindset where the police played the role of controllers for foreign outsiders.

 

The 118-page report, however, does document the apocryphal: arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture as well as custodial deaths. This kind of ‘habit’ that has been accommodated and thereby encouraged by the public at large needs to be broken, not only for the sake of our citizenry at large but also because the reputation of India as a democracy is at stake.

 

Police reforms form a large part of the practical change that is required. The chicken-and-egg problem of a police force working under incredibly stressful and dire conditions with little professional emoluments perpetuates a desensitisation that stops looking at how to use the law against law-breakers and instead uses statutory power to bully the citizenry at large. Coupled with India’s ever-noxious perception of class hierarchies, an overwhelming number of incidents of police excess involve the poorer sections of society as victims.

 

Unless India puts its mind into building and inculcating a mature, modern police force — whether while dealing with mobs, petty thieves or hardened criminals — it will always remain a sub-democratic country where the lathi serves a purpose more than the law.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

NO LAUGHING MATTER

 

One way for us humble hacks to overcome the slings and arrows of outrageous, in our case non-existent, fortune is to have a little fun at other people’s expense. Hence, the institution of this editorial space. Now it seems that even our attempts to raise a few laughs are fraught with ominous implications. A German study shows that humour is not meant to lighten the atmosphere but is an act of aggression. Which means that if you ever had a chuckle over some of our offerings, it is not that we intended to tickle your funny bone. It was to show you who’s the boss around here.

 

Men, says the study, crack sexual jokes to put women in their place and women rarely crack jokes in front of men. So, in effect, humour writers like the incomparable Art Buchwald, comedians like our perennial favourite Groucho Marx were disagreeable curmudgeons who were actually trying to stick the knife into us while making us laugh. We’ll just have to grin and bear it, we guess. Trust the uber efficient Germans to take all the fun out of life. They certainly have ways of making us balk. But to look on the lighter side of things, if humour is a way of venting one’s frustration, it’s certainly a darn sight more enjoyable than a slanging match or fisticuffs. It could, in fact, change social interaction as we know it.

 

So when you want to lean out of your car window and question the genealogical antecedents of the road hog in front of you, perhaps you could just crack a joke about his receding hairline. It may prove injurious to your health, but you’ll have had fun in the meantime. But, remember the next time some one cracks a joke at your expense, don’t lose your shirt. Just come up with a funnier one about him or her. And we say this with a straight face.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

DISCORDANT NOTES

SITARAM YECHURY

 

Every political party has its own set of rules and moral standards by which it decides on discipline. For outsiders, therefore, the BJP’s decision to expel Jaswant Singh is a non-issue. However, the recent controversy shows that the BJP is in the grip of an irreconcilable contradiction. In the last two decades, while LK Advani’s ‘rath yatra’ brought aggressive Hindutva to the fore mobilising its hardcore support base, the experience of the 13-day AB Vajpayee government in 1996 made them realise that such support alone was insufficient to capture power and that they needed allies. Thus was born the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the 1998-2004 Vajpayee government.

 

The need for allies, however, forced the BJP to put its Hindutva agenda on the backburner. This, in turn, made the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) uncomfortable and also alienated the party’s hardcore support base. When Advani attempted to broaden the BJP’s appeal by speaking favourably about Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s secular credentials, the RSS forced him to quit as the BJP president.

 

Advani’s presumption, expecting support from Indian Muslims on this count, was outrageous. In the 1951 census, the first after partition, India had 374 lakh Muslims while West Pakistan had 337 lakh Muslims. More Muslims stayed back in India because this was their place of birth and this is where they chose to live and die. It was preposterous to expect them to be enamoured by Jinnah’s two-nation theory that left in its trail 10 lakh dead and 150 lakh refugees.

 

If portraying Jinnah in favourable light led to the expulsion of Jaswant Singh because it went against “the core ideology” of the RSS-BJP on the grounds of the two-nation theory, then what does the BJP have to say about Veer Savarkar, who, three years before Jinnah’s Muslim League , advanced the two-nation theory at Lahore in 1940. In his 1937 presidential address to the Hindu Mahasabha, he said: “India cannot be assumed today to be a unitarian and homogeneous nation, but on the contrary, there are two nations, in the main, the Hindus and the Muslims”. Jinnah was only carrying forward the “cherished mission” of Savarkar, whose portrait was so ceremoniously put up in Parliament by the Vajpayee government.

 

Clearly, the ideological battle between the three visions, which emerged during the course of our freedom struggle in the decade of the 1920s, continues to impact the consolidation of the modern secular democratic Indian republic. The mainstream vision, represented by the Congress, envisioned independent India to be a secular democratic republic. Distinct yet not antagonistic was the Left vision that wanted to transform the political independence of the country into the economic independence of our people, i.e. establishment of socialism.

 

The right-wing vision, however, was always distinct, antagonistic and conflicting. It envisaged independent India to be a country whose character was defined by religion. This vision found twin expression in the RSS that advocated its fascistic ‘Hindu Rashtra’ and the Muslim League that pushed for a separate Islamic state.

 

The fact that Jinnah succeeded and the mainstream vision prevailed in India created conditions that culminated in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. In order to obfuscate the role of the RSS and its political arm, today they are attempting to appropriate Congress’ ‘man of steel’ Sardar Patel and also trying to forge a link with the freedom struggle where there was none.

 

In a government communique (February 4, 1948) Sardar Patel, who was then the Union Home Minister, announced the ban on the RSS by stating “the objectionable and harmful activities of the Sangh have, however, continued unabated and the cult of violence sponsored and inspired by the activities of the Sangh has claimed many victims. The latest and the most precious to fall was Gandhiji himself”.

 

Advani now says that this was done at the behest of Jawaharlal Nehru. Even if that was the case, their appropriation of Patel remains inexplicable. On November 14, 1948, Patel issued a ‘press note’ on the talks that were held with the then RSS chief, MS Golwalkar, who made many deceitful compromises. This informs that the “professions of RSS leaders are, however, quite inconsistent with the practice of its followers” and Patel refused to withdraw the ban. A further request by Golwalkar for a meeting was refused by Patel who ordered his return to Nagpur. It was only on July 11, 1949, that the ban was withdrawn when the RSS accepted the conditions set by the government including that it shall remain a “cultural organisation” “eschewing secrecy and abjuring violence”.

 

The current identity crisis in BJP is due to the irreconcilable contradiction that we spoke of at the beginning of the column. The BJP’s crisis and the increasing control of the RSS over it is a grave challenge for India’s secular democratic fabric.

 

Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

NO DEVIATIONS, PLEASE

ASHISH KOTHARI

 

In a potentially revolutionary move, the Ministry of Environment and Forests  (MoEF) in July “invited the attention” of states to the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006, and directed that its provisions be adhered to while considering any diversion of forest lands for development projects. It has also asked for multiple documents as evidence that this has been done, when any state applies for clearance of forest land under the Forest Conservation Act 1980 (FCA).

 

If applied properly, this step could put a check to the ecological and social damage that is caused by projects that use forest land. Such projects have increased in the last few years, and the FCA has just become a rubber stamp process with the MoEF unwilling or unable to resist pressure from fellow ministries, states and corporations to give up huge areas of forests.

 

A number of these projects have been opposed by forest-dependent communities and environmentalists. But for the most part these objections were brushed aside, even by the courts. A classic example of this is the mining project planned for the Niyamgiri hills of Orissa, where the multinational Vedanta has bulldozed local adivasi protests about the sacrilege of a sacred site, and ecologists’ objections about it being high in biodiversity value. Neither Orissa nor the MoEF, and not even the Supreme Court was willing to listen to these arguments and gave permission to Vedanta.

 

The MoEF circular implicitly recognises that many such clearances have been illegal ever since the Forest Rights Act (FRA) came into place. Since 2006 over 3,000 projects have been cleared, on over 2 lakh hectares of forest land. In a bid to correct this anomaly, the MoEF has asked that states “initiate and complete” the process under the FRA, and present the following kinds of evidence while submitting proposals under the FCA:

 

A state government certificate that the process for identification and settlement of rights under the FRA has been carried out for the entire forest area proposed for diversion, with a record of all consultations and meetings held.

 

A state government letter certifying that proposals for such diversion (with full details of the project and its implications, in vernacular/local languages) have been placed before each gram sabha concerned of forest-dwellers, who are eligible under the FRA.

 

A letter from each of the gram sabhas concerned, indicating that all formalities/processes under the FRA have been carried out, and that they have given their consent to the proposed diversion and the compensatory and ameliorative measures if any. The circular lays stress on the need to specially protect “primitive tribal groups and pre-agricultural communities”, whose habitat rights are specifically provided for in the FRA.

 

Additionally, the FRA also provides for communities to avail of small-scale development facilities, and the state is required to provide evidence that any diversion of forest land needed for this has been discussed with the gram sabha, which has consented to or rejected such diversion.

 

If this circular had been in force since the FRA was operationalised, it is more than likely that the Vedanta clearance would never have been given, since the gram sabhas would have refused consent. The same would be true for other projects.

 

Too often have circulars like this been ignored in the past, and this one too could gather dust. But the current Minister of State for Environment and Forests appears to be serious about not allowing blatant violations of procedures, and it is to be hoped that he will set a good precedence by strictly applying this circular.

 

Ashish Kothari is Member, Kalpavriksh Environment Action Group

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CANAL PLUS

 

Sharad Pawar’s exhortation to MPs to use their local area development funds (MPLAD) to combat the drought might well help. After all, Rs 2 crore multiplied by 543 equals enough cash to build some tube-wells, embankments and water projects in constituencies across India. And never mind the usurpation of executive power that the MPLAD scheme represents: when the wound is raw, you don’t ask where the balm is coming from. Pawar’s letter to MPs follows his asking state agricultural ministers to use funds at their disposal to construct shallow tube-wells for the next Rabi crop. Yet, there is something amiss about the Union agriculture minister’s efforts; a sense that he is tinkering, when what is needed is a major overhaul.

 

The impact of the drought has been varied. As far as supply is concerned, two bumper harvests in the last two years might see us through this one. But this does little for the farmer facing barren fields, for whom short-term relief is a must. Then, there is the big picture. As has been pointed out in these columns, a well-networked irrigation system is the best long-term defence against drought. Where this has happened, such as in Punjab and Haryana, the thanks are due to Central and regional leaders who saw in the ’50s and ’60s what many of their compatriots cannot see even today. It is no coincidence that while these states are amongst the worst hit by the drought, they have been able to weather it better than others. Alas, the obviousness of expanding the irrigation network confronts two obstacles: a sluggish commission tasked with overseeing the task, and environmental worries that are oft-voiced but rarely spelt out. Prodding the commission and sifting genuine environmental concerns from the absurd must be Sharad Pawar’s priority.

The drought may have been caused by the failing of a monsoon; but its dire consequences are caused by the failings of policy. The states that have survived the drought did so because of large-scale thinking, the good sense to undertake a transformational policy and the political will to push that policy through. Other states, cocooned by several years of good-ish monsoons, didn’t push hard enough or think big enough to drought-proof themselves. Using MPLAD funds for small-scale projects could be a step forward, but it’s a very small step. Pawar needs to spell out the big picture, and it’s spelt “irrigation” in large looming letters.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SURVIVOR’S RECORD

 

If Edward Moore Kennedy was a man with a lifelong mission, he was equally a man with a lifelong burden — of history, of family, of character. Born to Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose F. Kennedy, who practically trained their male children to be president, Edward, or Teddy, as fate cut short his elder brothers’ lives and careers, suddenly had the expectations of America’s most famous political dynasty thrust upon him after Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1968. But character — in the form of a reckless disposition — interfered at Chappaquiddick in 1969, and ensured that the youngest of Joseph and Rose’s children would never attain the White House, something the family, next to the Massachusetts Senate seat he inherited from brother John F. in 1962 and held for four-plus decades, had come to regard as its natural right.

 

But the Chappaquiddick accident — in which a young woman, a Robert Kennedy aide, died in Edward’s car after it crashed and Edward fled the scene without reporting the incident — would sink his bid for the Democratic nomination even in 1980. At his death on Tuesday at 77, Edward was the third-longest serving US senator, the Senate’s most famous Democrat, a patriarch of family, party and politics, with a formidable legislative achievement across healthcare, civil and voting rights, education and labour, affecting the lives of millions of Americans, often cutting across partisan lines as he collaborated in recent years with George W. Bush and John McCain over legislation. Even his request last week to the Massachusetts governor to change state law for a speedy succession to his imminently vacant seat — to secure that one crucial Senate vote for President Obama’s healthcare reforms — marked his dedication to a lifetime’s cause.

 

A “liberal lion” as Senate majority leader Harry Reid eulogised him, Edward Kennedy was also a legislative lion whose kind is vanishing from a politics that’s shedding its cult of personality. As political scientist Norman Ornstein says, “He was the survivor... He was not a shining star that burned brightly and faded away. He had a long steady glow.” Whether he betrayed or redeemed the Kennedy dream, history will not call him a failure.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CAMPUS CODES

 

This week, the principal of a north Kashmir college, was waylaid by masked gunmen so that they could intimidate him with an ultimatum: that he implement within days a dress code for the 3000 women students on his campus. Muhammad Ashraf, a well-known Islamic scholar, however says he will not submit to the demand. The incident, the first of its kind in two years, is reminiscent of the fear militants spread seven years ago to force women in the Valley to conform to a dress code dictated by them. The Dangiwacha police say they are trying to trace the identity of Ashraf’s attackers, but that they also have not yet ruled out the possibility of a college rivalry.

 

Ashraf must be applauded for rebuffing his attackers’ demands. And in doing so, he highlights the onus on college administrators to make sure that campuses are spaces of as many freedoms as possible for young persons. Just two months ago, an organisation claiming to represent college principals in Uttar Pradesh issued a no-jeans dress code for women students. In fact, some Kanpur colleges had announced just such a dress code. The UP government, to its credit, immediately and firmly directed district magistrates and vice-chancellors to ensure that no student was coerced into a dress code.

 

Even as the police investigate the Dangiwacha incident, the Jammu and Kashmir administration should consider acting similarly. No matter what the story of the violence visited upon Ashraf, whether it reflects a renewed militant plan for moral policing or whether it be institutional rivalry, the fact is that such incidents create apprehensions. To know that the state and college administrations regard individual liberties non-negotiable is important for young persons. Just stating this, no matter what the provocation, is valuable.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

WHO WRITES HISTORY?

DHIRAJ NAYYAR

 

You cannot but notice. The most heated history-centred debate in recent times has been ignited not by a professional scholar of Indian history but by an amateur (but by all means serious) politician from a clearly anti-intellectual (certainly anti-free thinking) political party. Compare it with the most prominent recent debate (or spat, if you prefer) among India’s leading historians, over the custody and control of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, an important institutional matter perhaps but hardly an issue cerebral enough for most of our prominent historians to lock horns over. Especially when they have not shown such animation over countless (and contentious) issues of history which still need a vigorous debate in India.

 

But this is the sad truth of the state of history in India. Historians seem to prefer to waste their time in petty politics rather than spending time not just propounding their own point of view, but also, in a scientific manner, countering views which are to their contrary. History is just too important a subject to be left to the whims and interpretations of political parties alone.

 

Left to themselves, politicians in India love playing historians, and one isn’t referring to Jaswant Singh. When one writes of politicians as historians, the ones in mind are the ones who fancy dabbling in, and the doctoring of, history textbooks in schools, colleges and universities, more often than not based on their narrow political ideology rather than a rigorous interpretation of history. Remember Murli Manohar Joshi’s tenure as Union HRD minister when all history textbooks, at least in schools, were revised to suit his own and his party’s view of Indian history? Of course, the BJP could have argued that the Congress had earlier imposed its own, usually leftwing/ Marxist view of Indian history in textbooks until the NDA came to power as the first genuinely rightwing government in independent India. But if the BJP wanted to credibly correct the leftwing bias, they needed to do it backed by proper, rigorous scholarship. Instead they chose second rate scholars to rewrite history. Of course, the Congress under Arjun Singh took little time in reversing all of that once the UPA came to power in 2004, but they went back to using their own set of (ideological) cronies. In the midst of this political ping-pong, and ideological bias on all sides, we can hardly expect good historical thinking. But that’s precisely what happens when politicians become historians.

 

Unfortunately, historians in India, barring a handful, are too caught up in the traps of patronage laid out not just by politicians but also by leading lights of their own profession. The government controls important institutions (Nehru Memorial, the Indian Council of Historical Research, to name just two of many) and decides who will hold key positions in those institutions. That gives the government a lever over academics. Even within universities and non-university research institutions, it is difficult to find jobs unless you conform to a particular worldview. This hardly promotes independent thinking or diversity in thinking. But the reality is that historians based in India are usually forced into games of petty politics, which take away from the kind of intellectual freedom historians (including historians of India) have in top Western universities. It’s no surprise then that some of the best historical work, particularly on modern Indian history, challenging the received nationalist consensus comes out of history departments in Western universities. Perhaps the most famous example of this tradition is the Cambridge school of modern Indian history pioneered by Anil Seal (an Indian) in the ’60s. Interestingly, many of the best scholars of modern Indian history are not even of Indian origin. Think of Percival Spear, Chris Bayly, Stanley Wolpert, Judith Brown, David Washbrook, and Ayesha Jalal to name just a handful.

 

This crude history-politics nexus clouds some of the genuine problems which exist with learning and teaching history. For one, history can rarely, if ever, be learnt or taught in an “objective” way. By themselves, historical facts mean little. It is only when they are interpreted that they add to understanding and learning. As with all subjects in the arts and social sciences — and this is unlike the natural sciences — all scholars approach their subjects with a certain value system (or system of thinking) which will inevitably affect the way they interpret historical facts for meaning. Thus, there may never be a singular historical truth.

 

The only fact in the study of history is that it is usually contested by multiple interpretations. Of course, multiple interpretations are not the same as inaccurate and false interpretations. Any acceptable interpretation (to be learnt and taught seriously) must have analytical rigour and be backed by credible evidence, something which is often missing in some completely amateur and politically motivated interpretations of history in this country, as a result of which the study of history in India ends up with a credibility problem.

 

That doesn’t seem an insurmountable problem though. We can surely keep out the interpretations which lack rigour and let people study multiple, but credible, versions of history and choose the one they think is the most accurate or convincing. That is what usually typifies the highest levels of scholarship in the subject in perhaps the top liberal arts departments in the world.

 

However, it’s not so simple. For one, a majority of people in our country (like in most other countries) acquire most of their formal learning in history in secondary school between the age of 10 and 15. Add to it the fact that the Indian education system, at least in schools, works on the principle of rote rather than free thinking, and one can easily understand why singular versions of history suit teachers, students and evaluators.

 

There is yet another factor in the teaching and learning of history in India — its purpose in nation-building. India, at the time of Independence, had the difficult task of constructing a secular and diverse nation. And a particular version of history may have helped in that task. However, as nations grow and evolve — we are past 60 now — we must have the courage to revisit the received wisdom. That’s the hallmark of liberal democracies, but a failure of ours.

 

dhiraj.nayyar@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE NEXT BIG THING

S. VIJAY KUMAR

 

The monsoon may have partly failed, but the Monsoon Session of Parliament was easily the best in over a decade. There was very little of the acrimony and disruption which had regrettably become the norm for the two Houses. There have been suggestions from time to time that the future direction of growth for Parliament lay in its committee system, where, away from the glare of TV cameras, members get down to serious business in a non-partisan manner, even when Parliament is disrupted. Now, when it seems much more likely for a number of reasons that, at least for the next few years, the transaction of business in the two Houses may well be smoother, it would be worthwhile to see in what manner the committee system can best evolve.

 

It may seem paradoxical to suggest parliamentary committees as the direction for growth — both when Parliament is working smoothly and when it is not. But the reasons in each case are entirely different. The fact that committees can work even when Parliament is not working (for whatever reason) is of course the crux in increasing executive accountability in width and depth. It needs, therefore, to be considered, given the large proportion of government time and resources tied up when Parliament is in session, whether committees — which work with much greater all-round economy of effort — are a better mechanism to enforce accountability, in tandem with Parliament itself.

 

With a good committee system, it may be possible, or indeed advantageous, for Parliament to have four smaller sessions instead of the usual three, but well-spread out over the entire year. This would ensure that Parliament gets to discuss all-important issues without too much gap in-between. The motion of thanks on the President’s Address in the Winter Session in January and the general discussion on the Budget during the Budget Session in late February would give two separate and distinct opportunities to discuss government policies. Discussion on the working of ministries, instead of being confined to hurried debates during the Budget Session can systematically continue into the Monsoon and Autumn Sessions.

 

As a matter of fact, there is a report of a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the subject from as far back as July 2001. Pranab Mukherjee was the chairman of the committee (I was then joint secretary of the Rajya Sabha and helped draft the report). In effect, the JPC recommended that department-related parliamentary standing committees (DRPSCs) should be made into compact single-window (for a subject) committees with access to expert advice from outside government, in order to be able to better enforce the accountability of the executive to Parliament.

 

Creation of specialised parliamentary committees as mechanisms to examine and analyse government policy and even to influence it more directly than through serendipitous debate in the Houses is now a device that is gaining popularity in the UK, New Zealand, Canada, Germany and the US. In the case of the US, Senate and congressional committees are very powerful institutions in their own right. In many of these countries, these committees have developed expertise and the members have become specialists in their subjects. And the special expertise of the chairpersons of the committees and subcommittees is recognised, they are consulted by government, and their policy pronouncements have widespread impact.

 

Obviously, the committee system has to evolve within the broad framework of India’s own parliamentary practices. However, given the fact that they can work with comparative economy of effort, in a relatively non-partisan manner, all round the year, and can be enabled to go into matters in depth, they have strengths that need to be built upon and institutionalised. Already the DRPSCs have become more compact (with a strength of 30 instead of 45) and more focused (with jurisdiction over fewer ministries in each case). Qualitative change would however come about only if the committees step out of their present system of routine examination of government reports to identify and analyse issues and make recommendations on core policy matters of the various ministries.

 

This, given the current resource crunch in the Parliament secretariat may be a little difficult initially, and will require innovative solutions. However, there is no doubt that if this can be achieved, it can transform the nature of executive accountability to Parliament and make for vastly better governance.

 

The writer, an IAS officer, was joint secretary, Rajya Sabha from 1998 to 2002. The views expressed here are his own.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

MASTER STRATEGIES

ARUN SHOURIE

 

Here we are breaking each other’s heads over Partition when the man who presided over it has already assumed responsibility for so much that happened. Here is what we find in Stanley Wolpert’s Shameful Exit, (Oxford University Press, New York, 2006, p. 2):

 

“When asked how he felt about his Indian viceroyalty eighteen years ago after Partition, Mountbatten himself admitted to BBC’s John Osman, when they sat next to each other at dinner shortly after the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War, that he had got things wrong. Osman felt sympathy for the remorseful sixty-five-year-old ex-viceroy and tried to cheer him, but to no avail. Thirty-nine years after the meeting he recalled: ‘Mountbatten was not to be consoled. To this day his own judgment on how he had performed in India rings in my ears and in my memory. As one who dislikes the tasteless use in writing of... ‘vulgar slang’... I shall permit myself an exception this time because it is the only honest way of reporting accurately what the last viceroy of India thought about the way he had done his job: ‘I f***ed it up.’”

 

Just like us, isn’t it, that we should be expelling each other, and breaking our heads over what others had done!

 

But that is master strategy!

 

THE RED QUEEN STRATEGY

“The Queen turned crimson with fury, and, after glaring at her for a moment like a wild beast, began screaming, ‘Off with her head! Off with her...,’” when Alice couldn’t say who the gardeners she didn’t know, were...

 

“Off with their heads,” said the Red Queen as she saw the gardeners hastily painting the roses...

 

“...in a very short time,” into the crocquet game, “the Queen was in a furious passion, and went stamping about, and shouting, ‘Off with his head!’ or ‘Off with her head!’ about once a minute...”

 

“Alice began to feel very uneasy: to be sure, she had not as yet had any dispute with the Queen, but she knew that it might happen any minute, ‘and then,’ thought she, ‘what would become of me?’ They’re dreadfully fond of beheading people here: the great wonder is, that there’s anyone left alive!’”

 

You see, as we know from Through the Looking Glass, “The Queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small: ‘Off with his head!’ she said, without even looking round.....”

 

That is the way to mete out justice. But in doing so, you must strictly follow the Red Queen in procedure too:

 

• The sentence must be executed before it is pronounced.

 

• The sentence must be pronounced before the verdict is settled.

 

• The verdict must be settled before the arguments are commenced.

 

• The arguments must be concluded before the evidence is examined.

 

• The evidence must be examined before it is collected.

 

And so, “Off with his head!”

 

THE CHESHIRE CAT STRATEGY

But what when they all lose because of you, and they bay for your head?

 

“But how have we lost?” you must demand. “We had X. We expected to gain an additional Y. That would have made us X+Y. All that has happened is that, instead of gaining Y, we have come short by Y. We are now X-Y. Our projections turned out correct. Just the sign played mischief. Where is the question of defeat?”

 

In fact, “The result places us in a position that is even better than in 2004. Then, we were just one of the Opposition parties — the Communists, the SP..... They have all been wiped out. The entire Opposition space is now ours.... And this is the fulfillment of our vision. Thirty years ago, we had set out to end the monopoly of the Congress. With the victory of the Congress, with our not winning, and the defeat of the rest, we have succeeded in creating a bi-polar polity. Where is the question of defeatism?”

 

Hence, as there has been no defeat, there is no reason for any inquiry-shinquiry into so-called reasons for so-called defeat.

 

Next: in fact we have already constituted a committee to inquire into the reasons for defeat. But the names are being kept secret.

 

Next: we have already sent selected persons to seek views of our state units as to the reasons for defeat. And our respected colleague......will collate their observations in a report.

 

Next: no, he shall not collate their observations. He shall prepare a report on the basis of their observations.

 

Next: no, he shall not prepare a report on the basis of those observations for they are about the past. He shall prepare a report on “The Way Ahead.”

 

Next: no, he shall not prepare any report on any “Way Ahead.” He shall prepare a paper listing suggestions that have emerged for “The Way Ahead.”

 

Next: no, he shall not write the suggestions down at all. To start the discussion, he shall mention a few points — briefly — about “The Way Ahead.”

 

Hence, no report was tabled. Firstly, there was no report. Secondly, there was no table. What the media are reporting is an imaginary document.

 

...’How do you like the Queen?’ said the Cat in a low voice.

 

‘Not at all,’ said Alice: ‘she’s so extremely...’ — just then she noticed that the Queen was close behind her, listening — so she went on, ‘...likely to win, that it’s hardly worth while finishing the game.’

 

The Queen smiled and passed on.

 

‘Who are you talking to?’ said the King, going up to Alice, and looking at the Cat’s head with great curiosity.

 

‘It’s a friend of mine — a Cheshire Cat,’ said Alice: ‘allow me to introduce it.’ [As you remember, this cat was exactly like the report: she could have her head appear, as it did now, without the rest of her body.]

 

‘I don’t like the look of it at all,’ said the King, ‘however, it may kiss my hand if it likes.’

 

‘I’d rather not,’ the Cat remarked.

 

‘Don’t be impertinent,’ said the King, ‘and don’t look at me like that!’ He got behind Alice as he spoke.

 

‘A cat may look at a king,’ said Alice. ‘I’ve read that in some book, but I don’t remember where.’

 

‘Well, it must be removed,’ said the King very decidedly, and he called the Queen, who was passing at the moment, ‘My dear! I wish you would have this cat removed!’

 

‘I’ll fetch the executioner myself,’ said the King eagerly, and he hurried off.

 

Alice thought she might as well go back, and see how the game was going on, as she heard the Queen’s voice in the distance, screaming with passion...

 

When she got back to the Cheshire Cat, she was surprised to find quite a large crowd collected round it: there was a dispute going on between the executioner, the King, and the Queen, who were all talking at once, while all the rest were quite silent, and looked very uncomfortable.

 

The moment Alice appeared, she was appealed to by all three to settle the question, and they repeated their arguments to her, though, as they all spoke at once, she found it very hard indeed to make out exactly what they said.

 

The executioner’s argument was, that you couldn’t cut off a head unless there was a body to cut it off from: that he had never had to do such a thing before, and he wasn’t going to begin at his time of life.

 

The King’s argument was, that anything that had a head could be beheaded, and that you weren’t to talk nonsense.

 

The Queen’s argument was, that if something wasn’t done about it in less than no time she’d have everybody executed, all round. (It was this last remark that had made the whole party look so grave and anxious)...

 

But what are you to do when the Queen turns on you?

 

THE LEGAL EAGLE STRATEGY

“But after quoting Jinnah’s singular — ‘We are going to be a secular State’ — speech, did you not say, ‘I believe that this is the ideal that India, Pakistan as well as Bangladesh... should follow’?” the cussed demand. “Did you not yourself write, ‘There are many people who leave an inerasable mark on history. But there are a few who actually create history. Qaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah was one such rare individual.... My respectful homage to that great man.’ How then are you less liable than the one you have executed?”

 

When faced with such cussedness, field the resident lawyers.

 

“My Lords, when my client said ‘India’, he did not mean India as we know it. But Akhand Bharat. Now, as my Lords know, Akhand Bharat includes Pakistan. And my Lords, in that expression, ‘includes Pakistan’, the word ‘includes’ is manifestly and intentionally redundant. Hence, my Lords, when my client said ‘India’, he meant ‘includes Pakistan’, and when he said ‘includes Pakistan’ he meant Pakistan. What he said therefore reads, ‘The Qaid-e-Azam’s formulation is an ideal for Pakistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.”

 

“But what about paying ‘homage’? Did he not say, ‘My respectful homage to this great man’? Has the noted inquisitor, Karan Thapar, not pointed out that according to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘homage’ means ‘acknowledgement of superiority, dutiful reverence’? Where has the condemned man expressed anything equivalent to ‘dutiful reverence’?”

 

“That is the problem, my Lords, these people read too much, and too superficially. The cleverness, the tactical strategy, if I may say so, is right there, in that very word, ‘homage’. You see, this cussed assaulter himself has quoted the meaning of ‘homage’ as ‘acknowledgement of superiority’. In paying ‘homage’ my client was not acknowledging the Qaid-e-Azam’s superiority, but his own. Moreover, my Lords, these words were written for purely tactical reasons. They were written to disorient the Pakistanis so that we may vanquish them that much more easily.”

 

But how can words be twisted like this? How can “India” mean “Pakistan”? How can acknowledging the superiority of the other become affirming one’s own superiority?

 

Aren’t there 364 unbirthdays in a year, and only one birthday? Humpty Dumpty demands. So, you have 364 days for unbirthday presents in a year,

 

“And only one for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!”

 

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory’,” Alice said.

 

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’”

 

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,’” Alice objected.

 

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

 

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

 

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

 

But will the lawyers go so far as to advance such arguments for a client? Will they not worry that doing so may affect their credibility?

 

When they do so for the Ketan Parekhs day in and day out, and that, far from diminishing their credibility, is what leads people to call them “among the country’s foremost legal brains,” why will they not do so for the higher cause?

 

ENFORCE PRINCIPLE, UPHOLD IDEOLOGY

“The lower down leaders must resign owning moral responsibility for the defeat in their states.”

 

But on that principle, why should the top leaders not resign?

 

“Why should we resign when we have already accepted moral responsibility?”

 

“And be it noted, whether we win or lose elections, we shall never depart from our core ideology of Hindutva.”

 

But what is Hindutva?

 

“As the Supreme Court has itself said, it is ‘a way of life.’”

 

But isn’t Islam also “a way of life”? Isn’t Christianity? Indeed, isn’t the drug addiction of the hippie “a way of life”?

 

BINDING STRATEGY

Your chieftains are at each other? Make them commit a crime collectively. Let them stab one of their own in each other’s presence. Each will know that everyone has seen him drive the knife in. That is what will bind them. And no one will accuse the other, to boot, lest his own deed be brought to light.

 

After all, events are moving so fast. High time you convert the Mutual Projection Society into the Mutual Protection Society.

 

THE DEAD HORSE STRATEGY

The final strategy is spelled out in the latest issue of The Other Side, George Fernandes’ Journal of Socialist Thought and Action, and requires the littlest adaptation for our context — I will transcribe it almost literally. “When you discover that you are riding a dead horse,” the journal reminds us, “the best strategy is to dismount and get a different horse.” However, in our political parties more advanced strategies are employed:

 

1. On the authority of the Gita, declare the horse as “Not dead” — for, does the scripture not teach us?, “What is real is the soul, not the body; and the soul was never born, it never dies.”

 

2. Buy a stronger whip.

 

3. Wield it on anyone who says the horse is dead in spite of the Gita — for obviously, he who doubts the Gita has repudiated our core ideology.

 

4. Declare, firmly, that the horse is not dead, and, therefore, nothing needs to be done.

 

5. Pressed, announce that a committee shall circumambulate the horse, and, if necessary, suggest potions to revive it; but, so as not to disturb the horse, ensure that the committee remains secret.

 

6. Launch a study of our ancient scriptures to see how our revered ancestors rode dead horses. Anyone who doubts that they did, has obviously repudiated our core ideology, and, so, for him, the whip as in (3) above.

 

7. Wait for the next breeze — as it sways the horse’s mane, even the negativists shall see that the horse is alive and well.

 

8. Harness several dead horses to accelerate the speed.

 

9. Locate younger jockeys.

 

10. Coach them that they shall ride the horses, not jockey.

 

11. He who points out that the younger jockeys also happen to be the heavier ones, is obviously out to discourage the horses, and distract the jockeys. So, for him, the whip as in (3) above.

 

12. Calculate and show that, as the dead horses do not require any diet, much less geriatric supplements, to energise and motivate them, their net contribution is not just positive, it is incalculable — zero divided by zero, as Aryabhatt would have proven, if only he had been asked, is incalculable, hence infinite.

 

13. Redefine “running and winning races” — for, obviously, the horse that lies unmoved in the midst of the world’s frenzy and bustle, is the real sthith pragyan, and, as our scriptures have so clearly proclaimed, the sthith pragyan is the real victor.

 

14. Finally, of course, promote the dead horses to supervisory positions.

 

15. He who now entertains a doubt about them has not just repudiated our core ideology — for that is reverence for our leaders — he has repudiated our leadership. Hence, for him, not the whip as in (3) above. For him, expulsion.

 

That is what will prove that the horses are not dead. They can throw a kick.

 

(Concluded)

 

The writer is a BJP MP in the Rajya Sabha

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

VIEW FROM THE LEFT

MANOJ C G

 

The People’s Democracy carries a memo sent by the CPM to the Finance Commission asking it to take into account the high population of Uttar Pradesh, its poverty, illiteracy and educational backwardness, uneven development and other important factors while making its recommendation.

 

It wants the Finance Commission to put UP in a special category, recommend special packages for eastern UP and Bundelkhand, ask the Centre to bear at least 50 per cent of the expenditure for implementation of the sixth pay commission and hand over of the Centre’s development schemes to the states along with the funds allocated for them.

 

It also says that the Finance Commission is constituted in a unilateral manner. “The Centre neither consults the states while constituting it nor gives them any representation in it. Proper representation of the Centre as well as the states requires that the states are consulted before its constitution and that the Inter-State Council endorses its formation,” it says.

 

The article also asks the Finance Commission to make the population of 2001 the basis for financial transfers from the present 1971. The population of 1971 does not reflect the changed requirements because of the changes in the demographic profile over the last four decades, it says.

 

HOLLOW PROMISES

The lead editorial in the issue focuses attention on the prime minister’s address to the nation on the 63rd Independence Day. It says the speech was ‘customary’ and while all the right rhetoric was voiced, it inspired little confidence that these platitudes would be translated into action.

 

“The prime minister spent a great deal of time in describing the current drought situation that is stalking the country. However, what needs to be done to provide relief to the suffering people was not adequately articulated,” it says.

 

“Starvation deaths and farmer’s suicides continue to haunt rural India. This situation can be reversed only if concerted efforts are made to ensure that food reaches the needy through a universal public distribution system.”

 

“Not surprisingly, the major thrust of the prime minister’s address was to restore the country’s growth rate to 9 per cent which, he described as ‘the greatest challenge we face’. The current fall in the growth rate to 6.7 per cent has been ascribed solely to the global economic crisis.”

 

Commenting on the PM’s thrust on good education for all, it says “mere enactment of the Right to Education Act does not guarantee to reverse or improve this situation. Huge leaps in expenditures are required. If the current budget is any indication, this is not forthcoming.”

 

It also slams the government for not increasing the allocation for the health sector. “In 2004, when the UPA-1 government was formed, under Left’s pressure, the Common Minimum Programme promised to raise the levels of public health spending from 0.9 to at least 3 per cent of the GDP. Five years later, this continues to remain at the miserable level of 0.9 per cent.”

 

The editorial also questions the PM’s commitment to fight Maoists in the context of Lalgarh. While the PM said the central government will redouble its efforts to deal with Naxalite activities, the article asks him to “explain how he continues to tolerate members of his own cabinet aiding and abetting Maoist violence in Lalgarh and other parts of West Bengal.”

 

“The prime minister’s concerns, therefore, sound hollow apart from misleading,” it says.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

VIEW FROM THE RIGHT

SUMAN K JHA

 

The editorial in the latest issue of Organiser, titled ‘No Jinnah for India,’ observes: “In the collective conscience of India, Mohammad Ali Jinnah is a hate figure like Mohammad Ghori, Mohammad Ghaznavi, Babar and Aurangzeb. Jinnah is disliked more because his actions are fresh in memory, and millions of victims of his hate campaigns are still alive. There have been many attempts to whitewash the crimes — rape, rapine, forced conversion, loot and pillage of temples and mass slaughter of Hindus by the invading Muslim marauders — by Marxist historians like Romila Thapar, R.S. Sharma and Irfan Habib but no historian worth the name in India dared paint Jinnah a paragon. Because it is an impossible, thankless task”.

 

It concludes: “When India fought the British, he sabotaged the movement by trying to keep the Muslims away from the national mainstream. Jinnah’s 1916 Lucknow Pact with the Congress was a communal charter, which formalised the Congress’s appeasement strategy, which finally made the Indian Muslim a bargaining chip. He conceived the divisive Muslim attitude of special status instead of equal rights for all. Appeasement led to separatism. Jinnah cruelly and constantly insulted and heaped abuses on Gandhiji, Nehru and other Congress leaders for their correct and nationalist stand of not accepting the Muslim League as the sole representative body of the Muslims. The Congress proved in polls after polls before Partition that it enjoyed the support of more Muslims than Jinnah. Pakistan has a mission to salvage the Jinnah image because he happens to be the father of that country. Pakistan’s eagerness to project Jinnah as a great leader like Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela etc. is understandable. But that will not change Jinnah’s image in India. Every exercise in that direction is destined to be doomed”.

 

SAFFRON SOUTH

A news item titled ‘Sarsanghchalak hoists National Flag in Chennai’ says: “The first ever visit of Shri Mohan Bhagwat to Chennai on August 15 and 16 after assuming the responsibility of sarsanghachalak was marked by an enthusiastic reception given by Chennai citizens. Shri Bhagwat also attended the Independence Day celebration at Vivekananda Educational Society. A reception committee was formed to welcome Shri Bhagwat under the chairmanship of former Chief Justice of the Madhya Pradesh High Court Shri Kumar Rajaratnam.

 

It adds: “Speaking on the occasion, Shri Bhagwat said: ‘The RSS does not work for RSS’s sake. It works to create a mighty, prosperous and homogenous Hindu nation — Bharat. This is necessary for world peace and prosperity. Swayamsevaks have formed various organisations to carry on more than 1,50,000 service activities in society. All such organisations are independent and autonomous. It is the swayamsevak who always and anywhere belongs to the RSS. Sangh out of its own wish, is apolitical but definitely national and will have a say whenever necessary’, he said appealing to the gathering to join the Sangh and work for the nation. At the commencement of his three-day tour, on August 15, Shri Bhagwat was the chief guest at the Independence Day celebration at G.K. Shetty Vivekananda Vidyalaya Junior College, Ambattur, and hoisted the national flag. On the Sri Lankan Tamil issue, he stressed the necessity of rehabilitation and the end of discrimination to Tamils in the island nation. ‘All displaced Tamils have to be rehabilitated. They should be given full relief materials,’ he said.”

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

MINI MINISTERIAL, BIG AMBITION


India will host a WTO mini-ministerial from September 2, preceded by an official-level meeting. This is expected to be attended by chairs of agriculture, Nama and services, G-20, Cairns Group, Nama-11, Cotton-4, EU, Africa Group and ACP countries. Legally, the mini-ministerial has no negotiating mandate. That will have to wait for the Geneva ministerial in end-September, ministerial meetings having been postponed because of the Doha impasse. However, rustling up 100-plus WTO members for the Delhi meeting is nothing short of ambitious, and legality apart, it is unrealistic to expect there won’t be negotiations. There will be, but probably after the formalities are over. The commerce secretary has said India wants to project that it is interested in successful completion of the Doha work programme (DWP) and wishes to counter the impression, bolstered by developed countries, that it was responsible for the impasse. That apportioning of blame is certainly half accurate, since disagreement between India and the US over the special safeguard agreement (SSA) in July 2008 led to the deadlock. The big question to ask is, what price is India prepared to pay for consensus?

 

The commerce secretary has also mentioned increasing protectionism, following (and for food, preceding) the financial crisis. While this is true, most of this is WTO-compatible and a successful DWP isn’t likely to eliminate it. The London G-20 communique recognises it as fait accompli. It cannot be denied that India has been under pressure from developed countries like the US and from the WTO to become more flexible. This means the nitty-gritties, including SSA—something the mini-ministerial cannot avoid. Or else, the mini-ministerial serves no purpose, even though it was promised by Anand Sharma at the Bali Cairns Group meeting in June. With agriculture liberalisation ambitions having been lowered, the so-called rainbow coalition India is trying to push also has limited relevance. Nama, services, domestic agricultural support and agro export subsidies aren’t the stumbling blocks, since differing positions can be adjusted by lowering ambitions. While India, China, Brazil (to a lesser extent, South Africa and Argentina) hold together, in SSA, it is India and China versus the rest. Of the two, China doesn’t have a hard position. Therefore, reading between the lines, has India, in an attempt to be more flexible, yielded ground on SSA? Why else has this meeting changed from the proposed G-20 conclave to a mini-ministerial? A little more transparency and public debate on India’s negotiating position would be welcome.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

BEN GETS A SECOND INNINGS

 

The chairman of the US Federal Reserve is not just another central banker. As the person in charge of monetary policy and financial stability in the world’s largest economy, particularly during the biggest global recession in decades, the world has an interest in who is appointed to the job. By renominating Ben Bernanke for a second term, President Barack Obama has opted for continuity in a time of crisis. His renomination, which will likely be confirmed by the Senate, barring an unprecedented and frankly unexpected drama, also shows how the US can rise above partisan divides in key appointments—Bernanke was first appointed by George W Bush in 2006. Obama has now reposed faith in a man who has great academic understanding of depression economics—he spent much of his academic life before his time at the Fed studying the Great Depression of the 1930s—and expertise, which have on the whole stood him in good stead during this crisis. Critics will no doubt point to the many mistakes that Bernanke may have made—some say he didn’t spot the crisis coming, some say he (along with Hank Paulson) let Lehman collapse, making the crisis acute, others say that he has induced much moral hazard into the US financial system through a spree of rescues and bailouts. But the fact is that the US economy and indeed the world economy seem to have avoided the prospect of a Great Depression (we are in a deep recession, instead) courtesy Bernanke’s aggressive strategies on slashing rates and preventing a complete failure of the financial system. Just for that, he probably deserved a second term. It would also have been unfair to remove him soon after he had weathered the worst of the storm, without giving him an opportunity to move forward in a post-crisis scenario.

 

However, his second term, which will begin in January 2010, will likely be very different from his first term and will test his mettle once again, but in a different direction. The most important, and very tough, decision that Bernanke will have to take some time in 2010 will be about a hike in interest rates. If he does it too soon, he may choke a recovering economy. If he waits too long, there may be a spurt, and then, spiral of inflation. More than his firefighting of the crisis, his legacy will depend on the call he takes on monetary policy in 2010. His second challenge will be to handle the burden of additional financial regulation that will fall to the Fed after the overhaul of the regulatory systems. Again, it will be a tightrope walk to regulate banks and other financial institutions that have got used to cheap government finance and the moral hazard of bailouts. But who said that it was ever easy being the chief of the world’s largest central bank.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

FROM IVORY TOWER TO GROUND ZERO

AJAY SHAH

 

Seldom has an intellectual been as lucky as Ben Bernanke. He spent 23 years in an ivory tower, learning one obscure subject. And then he got thrust into the limelight, chairing the US Fed—he has now been renominated to serve a second term—when the challenge of the day was to put his 23 years of knowledge to work, to save the world economy. And by and large, he did it.

 

The Great Recession was hard to prevent. But once it got going, OECD governments have done well in coming up with responses. By and large, people like Ben Bernanke, Mervyn King, Henry Paulson, Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers, has been rather effective in making a difference. This is partly about the brilliance and intellectual capabilities of these individuals. It is partly about the body of knowledge—of modern macroeconomics and finance — that they were able to tap into, which was not available to the key decisionmakers at the time of the Great Depression.

 

Bernanke’s story is a particularly fortunate one. For decades, Bernanke doggedly worked (in university) on understanding the Great Depression and on the interplay between monetary economics and finance in a financial crisis. Milton Friedman had told a story of the Great Depression emphasising the mistakes of monetary policy. Bernanke brought finance integrally into that story. The ‘financial accelerator’ of Bernanke and Gertler (1982) is now a part of the intellectual toolkit of every macroeconomist.In 2002, after 23 years in academics, Bernanke shifted to public life as member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System plays an important role in the governance and operations of the US Fed. In 2006, at the age of 53, he became chairman when Greenspan stepped down.

 

And so it was that the Fed chairman in the Great Recession turned out to be the one person in the world who had worked the hardest on the Great Depression, and on the way monetary policy functions in a financial crisis. It was a lucky break for the world economy. In a speech on Milton Friedman’s ninetieth birthday, Bernanke said, “I would like to say to Milton and Anna: Regarding the Great Depression. You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.” As it turned out, he was tested on a scale that he could not have imagined.

 

Throughout Bernanke’s academic career, he emphasised the importance of inflation targeting as the right way to hold an independent central bank accountable, and the right way to think about optimal monetary policy. While the US Fed is not a de jure inflation targeter, it is mostly like an inflation targeting central bank in practice.

 

When the crisis broke, the monetary policy transmission broke down. There was a risk of a big monetary contraction, much like that seen in the Great Depression. If that was allowed to take place, it would have given deflation, which would mean that the inflation target would be violated. Bernanke was able to draw on these two themes in his mind: the first being that financial crises lead to sharp monetary contractions because the monetary policy transmission breaks down, and the second being the importance of inflation targeting.

 

Bernanke’s Fed plunged into a diverse array of unorthodox interventions designed to stave off these problems. The balance sheet of the Fed expanded on an unprecedented scale, one that frightened many practical people. It required an intellectual bent of mind to understand core principles, and follow them through to the logical conclusion. A practical man might have increased the size of the Fed balance sheet by 30% or 40%, and announced that he had done a lot. It took an intellectual to grow the Fed balance sheet by more than three times. And that made all the difference.

 

Some people think that because the US Fed and other central banks came up with many unorthodox operating procedures of monetary policy when the policy rate hit the zero lower bound, this proves that the traditional wisdom of inflation targeting is contaminated. This is mixing up means and ends. Monetary policy strategy remains inflation targeting; it is the tools that had to be changed in a hurry. In peacetime, we will go back to the old tools.

 

From an Indian perspective, the cast of actors in economic policy in the crisis tells us something about the kind of intellectual firepower that is required to man fiscal, financial and monetary policy of a mature market economy.

 

Bernanke, Summers, and Mervyn King came out of academics, imbued with the wisdom of modern monetary and financial economics. Paulson came out of a top financial firm. At present, people like Bernanke or Summers are not found in academics in India; people like Paulson are not found in the financial industry, and people from academics and industry do not man key policy functions. Each of these three deficiencies needs to be addressed.

 

The author is an economist with interests in finance, pensions and macroeconomics

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

JUST CREATE A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD FOR 3G

MAHESH UPPAL


Who should receive spectrum for 3G and Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) and at what price? For four years, the answers have eluded the department of telecommunications (DoT), Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), Wireless Planning & Coordination Wing (WPC) and now, the ministry of finance.

 

In July, the Prime Minister asked an empowered group of ministers (eGoM) headed by the Pranab Mukherjee, to resolve the impasse. The eGoM, which is to meet on Thursday, can resolve the impasse if it is guided by substantive issues rather than matters of detail—whether technical or commercial..

 

The rapid advance in mobile communications and the profits it promises to commercial players means that demand for spectrum now exceeds supply in most countries. Almost all major regulators and governments worldwide recognise their limitations in choosing between technologies or business models or specify a price of spectrum. They can scarcely claim greater expertise than technologists and investors in an aggressively competitive area with billions of dollars at stake. Their approach is to be, and appear to be, neutral and create a conducive environment where the best technologies and players can win. Their role is to ensure all can compete and prevent abuse of market. Since all wireless players need spectrum from governments, the latter’s task is to devise rules for allocation and pricing of spectrum so that all technologies and players can compete fairly. Markets or users can then pick a technology or player that suit them best, much as they would for a detergent, or a mobile handset.

 

The global trend is to use transparent market-based processes like auctions, to determine who should get the limited spectrum and at what price. The decision to auction 3G and BWA spectrum is therefore in line with practices followed worldwide. However, this decision to auction 3G spectrum is a one-off for India. It does not apply to other spectrum where existing rules have faced wide and deserved criticism and led to damaging litigation. For instance, the amount of spectrum allocated to 2G mobile operators, the price charged for it, and the method adopted to decide it, are different depending on when operators received licences and the technology they use e.g. GSM or CDMA. An equally unorthodox method is used to allocate additional spectrum to operators: a company could get more spectrum—at virtually no cost—when it reached a specified number of subscribers without reference to how the spectrum was used. Far from promoting efficient use, the government’s decision to issue hundreds of licences in 2008 adds new claimants for spectrum in India’s market with more competitors than in any other country. The 3G/BWA auctions must not be allowed to go that way.

 

3G and BWA have two important advantages, viz, more efficient use of spectrum than the current 2G services and a chance to correct India’s poor record in broadband access. They can both support faster internet access, richer multimedia, video and music downloads. This can help business as well as individual. Several services like education, health, and governance that are sparse especially in rural areas can benefit from their enhanced data capacity.

 

Given the above, the delay in the auction of the relevant spectrum is doubly damaging. Even more so is the current obsession with details like reserve prices and the order in which 3G and BWA spectrum should be auctioned. Commercial decisions to deploy 3G or BWA are complex. Companies deploy either technology based on technical and commercial parameters. Cost of network equipment often depends on the spectrum band a company chooses, which would in turn, depend on the allocation of spectrum and its price. Access to funds and estimates of market size, affordability etc, will complicate this further. If the auctions for 3G and BWA are held with different reserve prices or at different times, it is bound to impact the corresponding bids and encourage speculation.

 

High reserve prices may provide a short-term boost to government revenues in the unlikely event that few players bid. Contrary to the general perception, high auction prices do not raise end user prices. The latter depend on markets. But high bids can delay network growth as in Europe after the 3G auctions. This will hurt poorer areas where markets may be less attractive at first. So, high reserve prices can hurt.

 

BWA and 3G are fierce competitors in the wireless broadband space much like PCs and Macs are in computing. It is difficult to justify different government rules for them. Strict parity in conditions can prevent market distortions and future controversies. The lessons for eGoM are clear. Any rule or provision that treats competitors differently must go.

 

The author is a telecom consultant

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

DEAL STREET IS ABUZZ

SAIKAT NEOGI


Mergers & acquisitions activity seems to be buzzing after an almost year-long lull. M&A volumes have been the highest in the last ten months in July this year and investors seem to be betting big on India.

According to Grant Thornton, total M&As in July 2009 accounted for around $1 billion, a significant increase from $637 million in the same month last year. Even private equity investment saw a quantum jump of around $2 billion in 21 deals during July when compared with just $650 million of investment during the same month last year. Most of the private equity investment was through the qualified institutional placement route and many are still in the pipeline.

 

Apart from PE deals, global corporations are also looking at Indian companies for acquisitions and strategic stakes. In July alone there were eight such deals with an announced value of $943.39 million, a whopping 655% increase from the same month last year. Among the largest cross-border inbound deal was pharma major Sanofi Pasteur buying nearly 80% in Shantha Biotechnics for $665 million. On the other hand, Indian companies are still taking a cautious approach in acquiring companies abroad as value of outbound cross-border deals have shrunk from almost $500 million in July last year to just $14 million in July this year.

 

So, what makes India an attractive market for investors now? The country is among the five nations in the world that is showing positive equity market returns since June this year. The return on equity (RoE) of the Indian market, calculated using the MSCI indices on a year-on-year basis, shows an almost 8% return in July. In contrast, RoE of the US market is still minus 22% and in China minus 4%.

 

Similarly, the share of market capitalistion of BSE, according to World Federation of Stock Exchanges, has grown from 0.9% in 2003 to 2.8% in July even at a time when the market cap of developed markets are shrinking. The Sensex is one of the least volatile indices (2.2% in July) in the world as compared with others like 36.6% at Hang Sang index or 26.11% at FTSE 100.

 

saikat.neogi@expressindia.com

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

DOING THE RIGHT THING

 

It is a matter of satisfaction that the pressure of democratic public opinion has made the highest court in the land do the right thing: decide, ‘in principle,’ to disclose the assets of Supreme Court judges on the court’s official website. The opposition within sections of the higher judiciary to mandatory public disclosure of judges’ assets – a measure to promote judicial transparency and check judicial corruption – threatened to weaken public confidence in the judicial system. Although Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan declared that High Court judges were free voluntarily to declare their assets and that a consensus on the issue was being evolved in the Supreme Court, his reservations about mandatory public disclosure were hardly a secret. Even something as innocuous as a Central Information Commission order asking whether Supreme Court and High Court judges were declaring their assets to their Chief Justices in accordance with the judicial code of conduct was stonewalled. The Supreme Court took the unprecedented step of challenging the CIC’s order in the Delhi High Court. It was such resistance to assets disclosure that led the central government to introduce the Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill in Parliament with a self-defeating clause. Fortunately, politicians cutting across party lines forced the Bill’s withdrawal after objecting to Clause 6, which stated that any declaration by a judge to his or her Chief Justice would not be public and that no judge would be subject to “any query or inquiry” in relation to its contents. Is a Bill necessary now? The answer is yes because what the Supreme Court judges have decided on is voluntary public disclosure of assets. If some members of the higher judiciary hold out, what can be the remedy other than a uniform law?

 

Mandatory public disclosure of judges’ assets is not a radical idea. In the United States, the Ethics in Government Act 1978 makes it mandatory for certain classes of federal officials — including federal judges — to make public financial disclosures. The Act reformed a disclosure system for federal officials that used to be based on internal reporting within each agency or department. Many other countries, including Sri Lanka, require judges to make periodic declarations of their assets. Two High Court judges have already made voluntary disclosures, one of them in response to a letter urging such disclosure by the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Judicial Reform, a public-spirited organisation that has done sustained work on such issues. Many judges who have nothing to hide evidently feel inhibited by the absence of a framework that mandates the accurate and public disclosure of assets. The judiciary that endorsed the Election Commission’s bid to introduce transparency and accountability and mandate the public declaration of assets of candidates to elected office cannot apply a different standard to its own functioning. Now that the Supreme Court judges have decided to do the wise thing, High Court judges must waste no time in following their lead.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

THE SPECTRE OF AGRICOLONIALISM

 

As global populations and food prices rise and environmental degradation intensifies, transnational corporations and some governments are buying up vast tracts of farmland where it is still available — in parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Investors, frightened by the financial catastrophes they themselves helped cause, see sure profits in this. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, between 37 and 49 million acres in poor countries have been sold or have been under negotiation for foreign purchase since 2006. Often only the head of the selling state knows the actual extent. But it is public knowledge that Sudan has leased 1.5 million hectares of farmland to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, Egypt, and South Korea for 99 years; that Egypt plans to use 840,000 hectares in Uganda for wheat and corn; and that the Democratic Republic of Congo has offered to lease 10 million hectares to South African firms.

 

Investors’ claims that they will increase productivity in regions noted for mass hunger are undermined by the fact that much of the land leased or sold is used for biofuel crops, or for foodgrains that are directly exported to the leasing countries or to new owners. On Kenya’s Yala River, successful farmers are at risk of being driven off their land because the American corporation, Dominion Farms, has built a dam upstream. Local farmers complain of flooding of their crops and worse and Dominion denies the allegations. Agricolonialism often gets a foothold where the leasing or selling state is weak or corrupt and has failed to implement land reform and improve agriculture. Some resistance is occurring, particularly in Asia. Protests have halted Chinese plans to use three million acres of Philippine land. In Madagascar a proposed 99-year deal with South Korea contributed to the overthrow of President Marc Ravalomanana earlier this year. Pakistan has announced that 100,000 of its own security forces will guard foreign-owned land. With the G-8 unable to agree on a code of practice over agricolonialism, the world could be watching the birth of a global version of the East India Company.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

LEGISLATING AGAINST HUNGER

THE TIME HAS COME FOR A COMPREHENSIVE RIGHT-TO-FOOD LAW TO TACKLE THE DEPRIVATION AND FOOD INSECURITY THAT HAUNTS INDIA.

ZOYA HASAN

 

Over the last decade or so, a series of developments have drawn attention to the problem of food security. These are the persistence of hunger in many parts of the country being juxtaposed with food surpluses and stocks; the adverse impact of globalisation on agriculture and rising food prices resulting in widespread food insecurity; media reports of starvation deaths, hunger and malnutrition and, finally, the Supreme Court rulings in response to public interest litigation.

 

Despite reports of hunger and rampant malnourishment, the government has not paid enough attention to ensuring food security. In the last few years civil society campaigns, public interest litigation and directions issued by the courts have converted the benefits of nutrition-related schemes into legal entitlements. As a consequence, food security is emerging as a significant policy area for public intervention and public demands stressing a rights-based approach to ensure it. The central idea of the right-to-food campaign that started in 2001 is simply this: the right to food is one of the basic economic and social rights to achieve substantive democracy, and without it political democracy is incomplete. It is directly linked to the right to life, a fundamental human right enshrined in the Constitution and conceivably all human rights conceptions.

 

The essential demands of the campaign have to be seen in the context of the nutritional emergency in India and the need to address the structural roots of hunger. India’s track record, as far as the commitment to tackling hunger and malnutrition is concerned, is among the worst. The National Family Health Survey (2006) showed that the child under-nutrition rate in India is 46 per cent. This figure is almost double that of sub-Saharan Africa, which is economically poorer than India. In the Global Hunger Index (2008), India ranks 66th among the 88 countries surveyed by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). It comes below Sudan, Nigeria and Cameroon, and slightly above Bangladesh. The recent rise in food prices has possibly made matters worse in terms of people’s access to food. The blame for this nutritional emergency has to be shared by the persistence of widespread poverty, poor implementation of government programmes (especially Integrated Child Development Services and the Public Distribution System), and various other factors that interact in many ways to produce this dismal result.

 

Few countries in the world can claim to have achieved total food security. Even fewer of them have introduced legislation to guarantee it. Implementing this right requires not only equitable and sustainable food systems and increases in agricultural productivity but the purchasing power to buy the necessary food. This, in turn, requires means of livelihood security such as the right to work and social security. Since those at risk of hunger are poor and also socially powerless, discriminated and marginalised, an enabling legal entitlement can weaken the power of entrenched interests arraigned against them, and empower the intended beneficiaries by assigning the responsibility and culpability of the government since the primary responsibility for guaranteeing these entitlements rests with the state.

 

The Congress’ 2009 election manifesto promised to enact a law to facilitate access to sufficient food for all, particularly the most vulnerable and deprived sections of society. The party is keen to implement this promise, which has much to do with the widely held view that the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) played an important part in the Congress’ election victory. Not surprisingly, making access to food a fundamental right is likely to become the centrepiece of the United Progressive Alliance’s second innings. Politically the main challenge is to ensure that the Right to Food law is not limited to the fulfillment of the Congress election promise of 25 kg of grain a month at Rs. 3 a kg for Below Poverty Line families: this would amount to whittling down the people’s access to food in the guise of the new law. However, Sonia Gandhi’s very first letter to the Prime Minister on the food security issue after the installation of the UPA government raises the hope that the proposed legislation will offer a more comprehensive guarantee of food security for the poor.

 

The draft of the Right to Food (Guarantee of Safety and Security) Bill has been widely criticised for its excessive focus on freezing the number of the poorest-of-the-poor who need guaranteed food entitlements. Since then there has been a big debate on the scale and scope of the proposed law.

 

Three conceptual issues are critical to the provision of an effective food security law. These pertain to how much to give, at what prices, and to whom. On the first issue, there is a consensus that the entitlement under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana which stands at 35 kg of foodgrains per poor household, which is anyway below national nutritional norms, should not be cut.

 

On the second issue, the rate of Rs. 3 a kg for rice and wheat that the Congress has promised is higher than the existing price of foodgrains available to BPL households in several major States and this would mean paying more for less foodgrains. The entitlements should not be cut to 25 kg, and BPL families receiving wheat at Rs. 2 should obviously continue to do so.

 

Of the three issues, the criterion for identifying beneficiaries and coverage under the food security law is the most crucial. Taking a minimalist view, the Food Ministry proposes to find a way to limit this list to BPL households, at a level decided by the Centre, and without giving much flexibility to the States to expand the list. However, BPL estimates vary sharply because of the different methods used to determine the beneficiaries. While the Planning Commission estimates that there are just over 62 million BPL families, State governments claim the existence of nearly double that number. Adding to this debate, a recent report by a Supreme Court-appointed panel on food security says the number of food-insecure people is larger than the figures of people officially declared as being poor.

 

Limiting access to the public distribution system in terms of food to BPL families is at variance with the current political expectations from a law that must ensure food for all to combat widespread malnourishment and hunger. Narrow targeting of food security on the basis of income poverty is likely to exclude a large part of the vulnerable population. The key to an inclusive approach to food security is a guarantee of universal access rather than getting bogged down in ascertaining the target group. For this it is necessary to delink food security from poverty which would help avoid the mistakes inherent in targeting: unfair exclusion of the really poor and the gratuitous inclusion of the non-poor. Above all, a law to make access to food a fundamental right for all must not be hindered by the question of additional fund allocation or subsidy.

 

Recent campaigns for the right to food, education, work, and information have brought issues of deprivation and livelihood centrestage as never before. Some of these campaigns have produced substantial results in the form of the NREGA and the Right to Information Act. The time has now come to put in place a comprehensive right-to-food legislation that can begin to tackle the colossal deprivation and food insecurity that continues to haunt the country. A food security law will be effective only if it is based on universal access and ensures that the nutritional requirements of every citizen are met.

 

This also means that the entitlement must be individual and not household-based. Based on individual entitlements, such a law would be able to avoid the difficulties faced by many of the rural development programmes, including the NREGS, which are only nominally rights-based and are heavily dependent on the benevolence and discretion of the implementing government. Such a law will not only give an impetus to the UPA’s paradigm of inclusive politics but underline the important point that the right to food, to health, to education, and to employment are interdependent and incomplete without one another.

 

(Zoya Hasan is a Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi)

 

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THE HINDU

NEWS ANALYSIS  

BJP: IN SEARCH OF THE X-FACTOR

THE BJP LEADERSHIP LACKS THE CREDIBILITY TO CHANGE THE COURSE OF THE PARTY.

VIDYA SUBRAHMANIAM

 

Journalists and columnists have to be alert to the possibility of being overtaken by events, which was the case this week with tracking the Bharatiya Janata Party becoming as dizzying as watching an action sequence in fast motion. Barely did one disastrous development unfold when another upstaged it : Vasundhara Raje’s rebellion, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat’s virtual quit notice to the BJP leadership, Jaswant Singh’s expulsion followed by his 24 into 7 TV interviews, Arun Shourie’s masterly lampooning of Rajnath Singh in blazing arc lights — and now B.C. Khanduri following in Ms Raje’s footsteps.

 

For a brief while during the Budget session of Parliament, the BJP actually looked in better shape than the Congress. The party, which had wallowed in destructive self pity for five long years, seemed to have put that inglorious chapter behind it.

 

Yet only days later, the nightmare has returned to haunt the BJP, except this time it is bigger and scarier than anything the party has previously known. Difficult as the BJP’s 1980 birth was, it was attended by hope and enthusiasm — led by a youngish team, the party had a new agenda to follow and new ideas to implement. In the nearly three decades since then, the party has seen many lows: It was reduced to two Lok Sabha seats in 1984, lost two confidence motions, in 1996 and 1999, and suffered a shock defeat in 2004. Intermittently through this time the party was shunned as an untouchable. Yet the BJP remained largely united, and it never lost its derring-do: its PR machinery was the best in the business, able both to magnify the smallest gain and spot the silver lining in the darkest cloud.

 

This quality — or the X-factor to use a term in fashion — was perhaps the reason why the BJP unfailingly overcame its many crises, and it was made possible by a combination of credible leadership and careful strategy. Most of the BJP’s current problems have a history — internecine quarrels, confusion over ideology, the see-saw nature of the BJP- RSS relationship, all go back at least a decade. What is unprecedented this time is the concerted attack on the leadership. When a Uma Bharti or a Kalyan Singh or a Madan Lal Khurana rebelled, it was the rebel who cut a sorry figure; the leader’s stature and standing remained undiminished by the mudslinging.

 

By contrast today Mr. Jaswant Singh has emerged a hero while Mr. Shourie has successfully reduced the leadership to a laughing stock. Mr. Shourie calls Mr. Rajnath Singh “Alice in blunderland” , and the party chief asks for a “clarification.” Mr. Singh must pray that he does not get another literary bombardment in response.

 

The devaluation of BJP leadership started after the exit of Atal Behari Vajpayee, and this happened because those who replaced him had no grassroots appeal. Lal Krishna Advani could not pull off the transition from Hindutva ideologue to popular leader. Mr. Rajnath Singh remained a courier for the RSS while Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, though smart, competent and high on aspiration, suffered from not having popular constituencies. In the end, it is the quality of leadership that decides the future of the party, that shapes strategy, that inspires the cadre, instilling hope even in adversity. The leadership also sets the parameters for other relationships — whether with the allies or with the RSS as in this case.

 

The BJP’s 2009 election campaign illustrates this fact. For the first time in two decades, the party went into an election looking unsure and downbeat. This despite the incessant “L.K Advani for PM” promos. As the allies departed from the National Democratic Alliance, hardly anyone in the BJP believed it could win, and soon it was a reversal of roles between the Congress and the principal Opposition party. The Congress was uncharacteristically aggressive, returning fire for fire, while the BJP stumbled, unable to tarnish a Prime Minister who unbeknown to the BJP seemed to have gained in popularity. As the campaign wound down, the sound effects were more around the Third Front with speculators placing it ahead of the BJP.

 

So where does the party go from here? The situation has been compounded by the diverse nature of the mutinies. Mr. Shourie and Mr. Sudheendra Kukarni (Mr. Advani’s campaign manager) have both risen in support of Mr. Jaswant Singh. Yet Mr. Shourie has called upon the Sangh to bomb out the headquarters and is also rooting for Narendra Modi. On the other hand, Mr. Kulkarni is convinced that salvation can come only under Mr. Advani’s leadership. Mr. Jaswant Singh is thankful for the solidarity from Mr. Shourie and Mr. Kulkarni but wants the Sangh and Mr. Advani both ousted. The Leader of Opposition is himself against the Sangh, obliquely telling it to steer clear of the BJP’s internal matters, which, judging by Mr. Bhagwat’s recent incursion into that territory, is not going to happen. With his presidential tenure coming to a close, Mr. Rajnath Singh has been playing the RSS tune as well as reposing faith in Mr. Advani.

 

TWO BROAD CURRENTS

Yet the BJP is not quite the maze it appears. That there are two broad currents in the party is evident enough. The Shourie school of thought and Mr. Advani’s more calibrated move for independence from the Sangh. Mr. Advani’s appreciation of Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s 1947 secular vision was a step in this direction. When he said the unthinkable in 2005, the Sangh clobbered him with the party standing in respectful attention. Today Mr. Jaswant Singh has made Jinnah legitimate, and there are many more in the BJP, including Ms Swaraj and Mr. Jaitley, who want the party to jettison its exclusivist approach.

That some pro-BJP voices outside the party have joined the campaign for modernisation is an indication that this is no longer an impossible mission. In a May 2009 blog titled “Junk the H-word’, Swapan Dasgupta argued that Hindutva had become “a millstone round the BJP’s neck.” He wrote: “The BJP should quietly shelve Hindutva in the same way as Nehru shelved Gandhism and Narasimha Rao dispensed with socialism.” The suggestion here is that the BJP should recast itself as a liberal, modern, right-wing-party – a Christian Democratic framework adapted to Indian conditions. But to do this quietly is easier said than done in a party closely monitored by the RSS, and whose every action is fodder for TV headlines. Secondly, there is the credibility of the leadership. Will Advani and co dare to effect this change in the deafening noise for their removal? It is precisely their lack of accountability that has emboldened Ms Raje and Mr. Khanduri.

 

And there is a third problem. The former BJP ideologue, K. N. Govindacharya, explained this in a conversation with The Hindu. According to him, not more than 35 MPs out of the BJP’s current Lok Sabha strength of 116 can correctly identify Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. Even fewer are likely to have read his seminal treatise, Integral Humanism. That ought to smoothen the way for a split in the parliamentary party. Yet at the ground level, attitudes continue to be rooted in values that form the Sangh’s core beliefs. Saffronites form a large contingent in the BJP’s national council (working committee), and according to Mr. Govindacharya, close to 85 per cent of the rank and file identify with the Sangh.

 

This is not to say that the RSS is invincible. Far from it, the Sangh is almost a spent force: the footfalls in the shakhas have decreased, the organisation’s once powerful affiliates, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, are in a disarray (not many in the Sangh can name the VHP’s current chief), and at 59, Mr. Bhagwat could be Mr. Advani’s son. Yet should Mr. Advani and others break away from the Sangh, they might find themselves without the mass support needed to make the project a success — for the simple reason that while they changed for reasons of expediency —half-heartedly at that, considering their support to Varun Gandhi — they didn’t influence the cadre which remains virulently anti-Minorities. Besides, with the Congress today occupying the ‘left of centre’ (aam admi) and ‘right of centre’ (market economics) spaces, the BJP would need to be really inventive to carve out a distinct identity.

 

But yes, there was one man who could have done it but did not: Atal Behari Vajpayee. Mr. Vajpayee deferred to the RSS when pushed to the wall but mostly did as he pleased. Remember, he went to Minar-e-Pakistan much before Mr. Advani and Mr. Jaswant Singh made Jinnah famous? Mr. Vajpayee’s ideology was hazy and flexible, which was an attraction for alliance partners. Outraged as the RSS was, it was helpless in the face of his popular appeal. Yes, Mr. Vajpayee failed to punish Mr. Modi and paid for it with the loss of allies. And typically he left his fight with the Sangh incomplete. But for the BJP he will forever remain the X- factor that made hope possible even in defeat.

 

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THE HINDU

NEWS ANALYSIS

HURRICANE KATRINA — THE LIES AND THE RACISM

KATRINA TURNED INTO A HORRIFIC SOCIAL CATASTROPHE BECAUSE OF THE RESPONSE OF THE PEOPLE IN POWER.

REBECCA SOLNIT

 

Given a choice between their worldview and the facts, it’s always interesting how many people toss the facts. Right now, the United States is plagued by an army of “birthers” who claim that because Barack Obama was not really born in America, he’s not legitimately president. Their evidence is non-existent, their arguments loopy, but people who find our non-white president unacceptable would rather scour the Hawaiian medical records system and invent bizarre theories than face their own internal turmoil. Or racism.

 

What people were willing to believe about Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans four years ago is a more serious matter. Of racism. And cliche. The story, as the mainstream media presented it at the time, was about marauding hordes of looters, rapists and murderers swarming through the streets. The descriptions were pretty clearly focused on African-Americans, the great majority left behind in the evacuation of the city (which was then two-thirds black anyway).

 

There were supposed to be a lot of murder victims and murderers in the Superdome, the sports stadium the city opened up as a refuge of last resort. The rumours were believed so fervently that they were used to turn New Orleans into a prison city, with supplies and would-be rescuers prevented from entering and the victims prevented from being evacuated. The belief that a Hobbesian war of all-against-all had broken loose justified treating the place as a crime zone or even a hostile country rather than a place in which grandmothers and toddlers were stranded in hideous conditions, desperately in need of food, water, shelter and medical attention.

 

Louisiana’s governor at the time, Kathleen Blanco, announced as she dispatched National Guard troops: “I have one message for these hoodlums: these troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so if necessary, and I expect they will.” She and the city’s mayor had called off the rescue efforts to focus on protecting private property — with lethal force if necessary. The sheriff of the suburb across the Crescent City Connection bridge from downtown New Orleans turned back stranded tourists and locals at gunpoint. “As we approached the bridge,” wrote two stranded paramedics, “armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads.”

 

Katrina was a fairly terrible natural disaster. But it turned into a horrific social catastrophe because of the response of the people in power, spurred on by their willingness to believe a hysterical, rumour-mongering media. (Journalists on the ground were often fiercely empathic and right on the mark, but those at a remove were all too willing to believe the usual tsunami of cliches about disaster and human nature.)

 

The story that few can wrap their minds around is that ordinary people mostly behaved well — there were six bodies in the Superdome, including four natural deaths and a suicide, not the hundreds that the federal government expected when it sent massive refrigerator trucks to collect the corpses. On the other hand, people in power behaved appallingly, panicking, spreading rumours, and themselves showing an eagerness to kill and a pathological lack of empathy.

 

Amusingly, the New Orleans Police Department stripped a Cadillac dealership of its cars, some of which were found as far away as Texas. Less amusingly, they shot a couple of unarmed — and, of course, black — family groups on the Danziger Bridge shortly after the storm in the only such incident to receive much press coverage. A middle-aged mother had her forearm blown off; a mentally disabled 40-year-old on his way to his brother’s dental office was shot five times in the back and died, and a teenager was also killed.

 

Truth, the first casualty of war, is pretty imperilled in disasters, too. One group of suburban white men who believed the rumours or just anticipated that in the absence of authority we all become monsters became monsters themselves, even as they fantasised they were preserving order. These men in Algiers Point across the river from the city of New Orleans gathered an arsenal and launched their own little murder spree, killing several black men and injuring and threatening others.

 

They were the real rampaging gangs, and they were not shy about what they did — they boasted of it to videographers and have talked openly about it since. And with confidence, since there have to date been no legal repercussions. They claimed to be defending their property and their neighbourhood, but their most vocal surviving victim, Donnell Herrington, was an armoured truck driver trying to evacuate after he had stayed behind to take care of his grandparents. Herrington, who rescued those grandparents and dozens of neighbours by boat from their flooded apartment complex, then tried to find an evacuation point in Algiers for himself, and was shot twice at close range with a shotgun and nearly bled to death before neighbours got him to the hospital. The vigilantes shot him because he was black, and because they could get away with it, and because they were inflamed by the news accounts.

 

The story was not hard to find, and I picked up a lot of pieces of it while doing research for a book on disaster and civil society. Though New Orleans was overrun by national and international journalists, no one would touch it until I enlisted the brilliant investigative journalist A.C. Thompson. Despite his cover story in the Nation that included admissions of murder, many still deny that the killings took place. Given a choice between their worldview and the facts, some choose the worldview.

 

Most people behave beautifully in disasters (and most Americans, incidentally, believe Obama was born in this country). The majority in Katrina took care of each other, went to great lengths to rescue each other — including the “cajun navy” of white guys with boats who entered the flooded city the day after the levees broke — and were generally humane and resourceful. A minority that included the most powerful believed they were preventing barbarism while they embodied it.

 

We are entering an era of heightened disaster, thanks to climate change. Being prepared for disaster will mean being prepared to sift truth from rumour, and being prepared to adjust our worldview. There is some incredible ugliness to the truth about Katrina. But, four years on, the lies hide more beauty, and hide where our dangers and our salvation may lie in times of crisis.

 

NOTE: Rebecca Solnit’s new book is A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster (Viking Adult).

 

 © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009

 

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THE HINDU

NEWS ANALYSIS

OBAMA STANDS UP TO THE SCOTS BUT NOT THE REPUBLICANS

HADLEY FREEMAN

 

Well, my fellow American expats, we had a good run. Almost a whole nine months of the rest of the world thinking we were the cool kid in the cafeteria, as opposed to the inbred, pock-cheeked bully who was likely to shoot them with an air rifle behind the gym if they didn’t hand over their potato chips. We were Corey Haim in the 1986 film Lucas, the former high school pariah who is suddenly lifted on to the shoulders of the world and carried through the campus.

 

Admittedly, maybe some hopes about The New America, AM (Anno Messiah), were a little high. But still, one might have hoped for coverage of post-Bush America a little less shaming than YouTube clips of town hall meetings filled with people whose parents probably had the same surname before they got married, insisting that Obama has “Nazi policies”, the Nazis being well-known for their interest in expanded healthcare.

 

Worse, in the eyes of the British media, were reports of the sainted NHS’s (state-funded National Health Service) name being taken in vain by US politicians and so-called newscasters at the doltish end of the social spectrum. Most awkward of all, though, for the expats, were accounts of what American healthcare is actually like, with tales of people forgoing food in order to afford their insulin. Hard to maintain that air of buzzy Apple iMac modernity when everyone knows many in your country rely on a healthcare system reminiscent of a third world dystopia.

 

I have long cherished a theory that the real point of a country’s leader is to reflect one of its own national

cliches and consolidate this image abroad. Thus, France is currently ruled by a Napoleon with a supermodel wife who sings about heroin. Italy is headed by an extra from The Godfather (the Porn Version) and North Korea is governed by the puppet from Team America. This is why Gordon Brown - who may as well be tattooed with tartan - has never really made an international impression as the U.K. Prime Minister. Equally, it explains why the leader of the UK’s Opposition Conservative party David Cameron will easily take his place, as he not only looks like a stuffy landowner from an Austen adaptation, but he literally is a character in last year’s most manically namedropping autobiography, Ferdinand Mount’s Cold Cream.

 

Part of the reason for the American euphoria that greeted Obama’s election last November was the prospect that he could, in home makeover show parlance, “emphasise a new aspect of the space.” Yes, yes, great stores of ignorance and xenophobia do exist in America — but look at our recently reopened All Dreams Are Possible room and our bay window looking out on to the Land of Free! Finally, when the rest of the world thought of America, their image would be based less on My Name is Earl and more on The West Wing.

 

Until some US citizens began defending their right to bear arms yards from the president with at least as much fervour as they are defending their right to pay $800 for an ambulance ride, that is. Meanwhile, Obama’s skill at cool and reasoned debate, which once made the world fall in love with him, is now beginning to make the world a little exasperated with him - if it means trying to compromise with people who are not interested in compromise. It was hard not to sigh and wish that he would take tips from Representative Barney Frank, who last week shouted down a woman who was waving a poster of Obama with a Hitler moustache, complaining that talking to her was “like trying to argue with a dining room table.”

And then, at the end of last week, suddenly the Obama administration was bandying around strong words such as “objection” and “a mistake,” and these words were getting reported all over the world. Unfortunately he was talking about the release of the Lockerbie bomber Megrahi, as opposed to the Republicans who are encouraging the very people most likely to suffer from the current healthcare setup to fight for the status quo, purely for their own political benefit. Despite these self-same Republicans’ lack of power, they still seem to hold a disproportionate amount of sway over the news. And this proves another long-cherished theory of mine: Fox News — officially more powerful than Libya and, um, Scotland. Combined.

 

 © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009

 

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THE HINDU

NEWS ANALYSIS

BOB DYLAN IN TALKS TO BE VOICE OF SATNAV

MARK BROWN

 

The answer, my friend, is not blowin’ in the wind - the answer is turn left on to the A222 and this time we don’t want to end up on Yazoo Street or at the Gypsy Cafe or in your wife’s home town (it sounds grim, frankly). The truth is, I am sleepy and there is a place I’m going to and it’s called Chislehurst.

 

As if satnav was not frustrating enough, Bob Dylan has revealed he is in talks with “a couple of car companies” to become the voice of their next global positioning system. In his weekly Theme Time Radio Hour show, broadcast at midnight BST on BBC Radio 6 Music, Dylan, who takes street maps as his theme, said he has been approached by two firms wanting him to record the “turn left, stay in right hand lane,” etc, instructions.

 

“You know I don’t usually like to tell people what I’m doing,” he told listeners. “But I am talking to a couple of car companies about possibly being the voice of their GPS. I think it would be good, if you’re looking for directions and you heard my voice saying something like: ‘Take a left at the next street. No, a right. You know what? Just go straight.’ I probably shouldn’t do it because whichever way I go I always end up in one place. On Lonely Avenue.” Cue Ray Charles.

 

Should Dylan take up the offers, it raises the possibility of some imprecise driving. Do we want to be told that there is no direction home? That the M6 is an endless highway? That we can take the A38 but the road is long, and it winds and winds? That we can put our foot down on the A590 into Barrow. “Yeah, 90 miles an hour down a dead end street.” And what happens if you are stuck inside of Mansfield with the Matlock blues again?

Getting anyone but the female voice who comes with your original satnav is big business, with John Cleese, Mr. T and Eddie Izzard (“bear left, monkey right”) among those available as alternatives.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

GOVT’S FIRM LINE ON PAK WELCOME

 

It is just as well that the Prime Minister chose the forum of the ongoing conference in New Delhi of India's ambassadors and high commissioners overseas to underscore that this country had been a victim of terrorism, and that it was essential to tackle global terrorism with vigour and resolve in order to ensure national progress. After the fiasco of the Sharm el-Sheikh joint statement with Pakistan, which sought to "de-bracket" terrorist acts against this country and talks with Pakistan, it was important to reassure India's top diplomatic representatives that the official position in respect of terrorism emanating from Pakistan was not in any way being sought to be played down for a short-term or expedient reason. It was evident after Sharm el-Sheikh that there was not a little unease with the formulation among our top diplomats overseas and senior officials of the external affairs ministry. There was the distinct impression abroad that among those uncertain about the perceived change were particularly those who have dealt with Pakistan and India's neighbourhood. Dr Manmohan Singh's extempore address on Tuesday is likely to assuage any professional anxieties our diplomats may have entertained. What is more, the issuing of a Red Corner Notice by Interpol against Hafiz Saeed, Pakistan's principal ideologue of jihad against India who is officially described here as the "mastermind" of the Mumbai outrage last November, materialised on the day the Prime Minister addressed the diplomats on a matter of existential concern.

 

The Red Corner Notice against Saeed follows the request recently made by the CBI to Interpol buttressed with suitable evidence. The international police organisation clearly saw merit in the case made out by the CBI, although the authorities in Pakistan have consistently dismissed the material produced by Indian investigators as being inadequate for the purposes of prosecution. Saeed had been placed under house arrest initially in the light of a UN Security Council resolution naming him as a terrorist to be restrained, but the Lahore high court set him free a few months ago as the Pakistan government did not press the case against him. Apparently, he is now being tried in camera in Rawalpindi. Since the trial is being held in secret, it can be made to take a turn that the authorities choose. Given Saeed's deep-going relationship with Pakistan's spy agencies in the light of that country's covert war against India, it is a given that only that aspect of the trial will be permitted to be made public as suits Islamabad. The Red Corner Notice is not an international arrest warrant. Nevertheless, after the Interpol's move, the Pakistan government will be under some pressure to at least give the impression that it is not taking the matter lightly. India, however, cannot afford to let up pressure in respect of Saeed and other dramatis personae in the Mumbai terror attack. The Prime Minister had spoken of credible information on terrorist threats from Pakistan at a conference on internal security a week ago. This had been the first intimation of a pull-back from Sharm el-Sheikh. Dr Singh's address to the diplomats is in the nature of confirming that trend. A day earlier, external affairs minister S.M. Krishna had been quite blunt in telling the heads of our missions that meaningful dialogue with Pakistan can begin only when it takes serious steps in the Mumbai case. A consistent line thus looks to be emerging. But to signal that there can be no ambiguity about this, the discussions at the foreign secretary-level - proposed at Sharm el-Sheikh - need to be kept in abeyance until the circumstances are apposite.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

EXISTENTIAL ANGST

 

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), political arm of the illiberal Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), is being shaken to its roots. Its state of turmoil is scattering its own followers as never before. But long before the present goings-on began to create a crisis of confidence in the BJP, at various stages the allies that it was able to cultivate have shown considerable anxiety about their association with it.

 

The RSS’ divisive, sectarian and monolithic worldview that the BJP represented in the political arena made its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) allies wonder if they were keeping the right company. BJP’s NDA allies flocked around it for the sake of getting into power — in the states or at the Centre — at the expense of the Congress and sometimes to keep out the Left parties and their allies. Nevertheless, they have never been totally at ease with their proximity to the BJP.

 

This is why the two dozen parties that gravitated to the BJP when it enjoyed national power began deserting it when the party lost the Lok Sabha election in 2004. And since then the dissociation has steadily grown. At the moment barely half-a-dozen parties are still with the BJP. This too is the case on account of the NDA ruling in some states. As and when those state Assemblies go to the polls, the regional parties supporting the BJP are once again likely to be thrown into two minds about continuing their alliance.

 

Thanks to Dr B.R. Ambedkar and other framers of the Indian Constitution, we have a Republican Constitution. We have a democratic republic. We have a parliamentary democracy. In this process, no political party with an ideology which is rightist, reactionary, and backward-looking, can survive in the long run and contribute toward the progress of the nation. This is exactly the crisis which the BJP is facing. This is what has caused questions to be raised in the minds of the NDA parties. The recent Orissa experience is there for everyone to see. The Biju Janata Dal not only broke with the BJP, but it has proved that it can be in power without BJP’s support. The BJD distanced itself from BJP because of the latter’s core Hindutva ideology. In Bihar, the Janata Dal (United) too has been openly distancing itself from BJP from time to time. Even when the NDA was in power, the BJP had to put its core agenda constituting issues like dismantling Article 370 of the Constitution, and Ayodhya, on the back-burner. This was so that its allies do not get unduly alarmed.

 

Now we hear the cry from some BJP sections for RSS to take over the party as the only way to save it. This is bound to make BJP’s NDA partners very nervous indeed. There is now a really big question mark over the survival of the BJP as an independent political party, even at the formal level. In such circumstances the existence of the NDA cannot but be reduced to irrelevance.

 

(As told to Namrata Biji Ahuja)

 

D. Raja is the CPI’s national secretary

 

AN ALLIANCE BASED ON MUTUAL BENEFITS

The poll 2009 has made the Indian polity bi-polar. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with 116 seats in the Lok Sabha has emerged as the second largest party.

 

Its closest rival for the third position is one-fifth its size, and happens to be a regional party. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) which used to boast of forming a government at the Centre under the banner of a Third Front, today is left with less than 20 seats. It cannot offer an alternative to the ruling party.

 

The Congress with just 206 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha is behaving as if it has a two-third majority. It is not willing to accommodate even its staunch supporters like Lalu Prasad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan, Mulayam Singh Yadav and other smaller parties.

 

This is so because the Congress strategists believe that the phase of coalition politics is over and that the electorate is sick and tired of power- hungry regional parties making an unprincipled claim on the national pie. The Congress of 2009 is in that sense different from the Congress of 2004.

 

If there is one thing more unpredictable than the Indian monsoon, it is the fortunes of a political party.

 

Arrogance of power often proves their nemesis. It did not take more than a couple of years for the youthful Rajiv Gandhi with 400-plus seats in the Lok Sabha to fritter away all its goodwill. The fate of Vishwanath Pratap Singh was worse. So, let’s not write off the NDA. Many ditched and jilted ex-Congress allies are waiting in the wings.

 

True, the NDA is the offshoot of the BJP’s ascent on the Indian political scene. The alliance that a few years ago claimed the loyalty of nearly two dozen parties is now left with only seven. This is definitely a sign of the declining fortunes of the BJP. With the party of late making news only for the wrong reasons, it is natural to express doubts about the fate of the NDA. The BJP sadly lacks public grace and magnanimity in its dealings. It has to evolve and behave better.

 

For this it has to set its house in order. The present allies of the BJP are with the party for over two decades. And it is a mutually beneficial arrangement more than the ideological coherence they share. Janata Dal (United) in Bihar and Akali Dal in Punjab are natural allies of the BJP. They depend on it for being in power. Similarly, Asom Gana Parishad in Assam and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra share a common vision with the BJP.

 

The BJP is still in power on its own in six states, and shares power in two others with its NDA allies. Naturally, the party will continue to remain the nucleus of the Opposition to Congress. Even parties that once dreamt of being part of a Third Front will find the BJP more attractive in electoral politics.

 

R. Balashankar is the editor of Organiser, a RSS weekly

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

NO TRAIN GOES TO DARJEELING

NITISH SENGUPTA

 

Looking at the situation in Darjeeling Hills over the past several years, one wonders whether the Constitution of India runs there any more. In three sub-divisions of this district in West Bengal — Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Karseong —there is an extraconstitutional authority called the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, led by Bimal Gurung, which calls the shots in matters such as whether or not government offices will function and if shops will open.

 

Darjeeling has always been a place of considerable tourist attraction and tourism, apart from tea plantation, has been the mainstay of its economy. But some time ago, Bimal Gurung declared "Darjeeling bandh" and asked all tourists to leave within 24 hours.

 

Again, on July 12, Gurung directed students of all schools and colleges to leave the hills in 48 hours. Most of the students had just returned from their long winter vacation when this call was given. Darjeeling is a well-known centre for education and several reputed schools and colleges — St. Paul’s School, St. Joseph’s College, Loreto College and Darjeeling Government College, Dr Graham’s Homes, Kalimpong — are located there. Students come to study in Darjeeling from distant places. Surprisingly, no thought was given to the future of the students and these institutions.

 

It is a matter of shame that the West Bengal government does not think it to be its primary duty to ensure that life goes on as normal in the hills and that schools and colleges function normally. There is an element of submission to Bimal Gurung and his cohorts. Neither Darjeeling’s district magistrate, nor the superintendent of police, nor any other functionaries think it to be their duty to respond to such disruptive threats.

 

The malady started more than a decade ago when Subash Ghising and his Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) started a movement for separate Gorkhaland. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) rulers in West Bengal, with all their strength, feel shy of taking strong action against organised popular movement. So their game was to let Ghising function as he wished. Nobody was arrested, and no criminal case registered against those who caused disturbance.

 

The local police force, comprising almost 100 per cent local Nepali residents, doesn’t ever take any firm action against "Gorkhaland" activists and this has been accepted by the Left Front government.

 

The state government talks about fighting the problem politically but in actual practice they go on giving dissident leaders money so long as they return the favour with votes during elections. This is how Subash Ghising, despite known instances of corruption, had his way for a decade-and-a-half. This is also the way that the state government is proposing to deal with Bimal Gurung who has once again revived the slogan of separate Gorkhaland. The result has not only been harmful to the economy of Darjeeling Hills but has also disrupted communication to Sikkim, whose only approach is through Darjeeling district, as also with the northeastern states which are connected with the mainland through the Siliguri corridor. Darjeeling is geographically situated at a vintage point, and any disturbance there affects movement of goods to all these states and, in particular, Sikkim.

 

IN BETWEEN all this, there was the amusing episode of Jaswant Singh, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader from Rajasthan, being invited by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha to seek election to the Lok Sabha from Darjeeling. The BJP, as a quid pro quo, supported the "Gorkhaland" cause. Mr Singh was elected and supported Gorkhaland in the last session of the Lok Sabha. Now that he has been expelled from the BJP on a different issue, it has added a further element of uncertainty to the future of Darjeeling. Meanwhile, a tripartite meeting was held a few days ago in Delhi between the Centre, state governments and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, but no clear solution emerged.

 

Only the Gorkha Hill Council, created a few years ago to pacify Subash Ghising, has been abolished. Recently, Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee announced that there is no question of considering the status of statehood for Darjeeling Hills and that the only issue worth considering is Schedule VI status for this area (this would pave the way for elections to the local council).

 

Indeed, Darjeeling is too small a territory to be deemed fit for statehood. It was bought from the Raja of Sikkim in 1835 and was made part of Bengal and there may be some sense in uniting it with Sikkim, although its overwhelming Nepali population, migrants from Nepal after tea plantation started, is a complicating factor.

 

Meanwhile, uncertainty continues and so does people’s suffering, accentuated further by the monsoon rains and the resultant landslides, which destroys property and disturbs communications.

 

All those who care for Darjeeling, including your columnist who spent several unforgettable years there, feel saddened. The queen of the Himalayan hill stations — with its scenic charm, delightful climate and smiling people — has become a "paradise lost". As I fondly recall the charm of Darjeeling of those days, with the dominant snowy Kanchenjunga, the majestic rhododendron and Cryptomaria-japonica pine trees, the hills and plains dotted with tea gardens, the cosmopolitan social life with a British community of planters and school teachers, the Tibetan aristocracy and the solid Nepali middle class, the highly cultured Parsi families, the lively Planters Club and the Darjeeling Gymkhana Club, the Lebong pony races, and the relaxed lifestyle, I cannot but feel a certain nostalgia. Today Darjeeling is desolate and uneventful. We cannot but regret the lost horizons.

 

Nitish Sengupta, an academic and an author, is a former Member of Parliament and a former secretary to the Government of India

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

UNDERCURRENTS OF TERROR

NEED TO EVOLVE A CONCERTED STRATEGY

 

Punjab is mercifully out of the terrorism days of the 1980s when nobody’s life was safe and news about killings were as common as about the daily weather. But the rump elements among the terrorist groups are still trying to reorganise and revive themselves. They are always on the lookout for social unrest to exploit, as has been proved time and again, whether it is in the Dera Sachcha Sauda controversy or the Baba Piara Singh Bhaniarawala episode. Reports of money and weapons coming for dormant groups from abroad have also been emanating regularly. These must not be seen in isolation. Join the dots and a disconcerting picture emerges. The arrest of a terrorist at Ludhiana railway station on Tuesday after a shootout is another piece in this jigsaw puzzle.

 

Unfortunately, a bit of complacency seems to have set in and the “stray” incidents are being tackled in a piecemeal fashion. Given the proximity of Punjab to Pakistan, that will not be the right approach at all, because those who don’t wish India well are ever ready to fish in troubled waters. There is need for the Centre and the State to evolve a joint strategy and implement it clinically lest things again go out of hand.

At the same time, it is necessary to have better coordination between the security agencies of various states as well. They have to work in tandem to defeat the common enemy but are not doing so because of petty rivalries. It is ironical that while the terrorists know no borders, the state governments do. A hot pursuit across international borders may not be feasible, but should be a routine occurrence among various states. The virus of terrorism is not dead and is only hiding itself just under surface. Give it the right environment and it can raise its ugly head at any time. This is not an alarmist view but of enough significance to make the authorities shake off their complacency.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

                   EDITORIAL

OFFICE OF PROFIT

SC UPHOLDS PARLIAMENT’S POWER

 

The Supreme Court has rightly upheld the constitutional validity of the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Act, 2006, which adds to the list of offices of profit that do not disqualify the holders thereof for being chosen as or for being the Members of Parliament. A Bench consisting of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice R.V. Raveendran and Justice J.M. Panchal has not only upheld Parliament’s power to amend the Act but also rejected the petitioners’ contention that there was “no rational criterion for the wholesale exemption” of 55 offices of profit from the disqualification rule by means of the impugned legislation. It agreed with the submission of the Centre’s counsels that Parliament’s power to enact a law with retrospective effect on this important issue was adjudicated by the apex court as far back as 1969 in Kanta Kathuria vs. Manak Chand Sharma case. In this case, the court clearly held that when an MP accepts an office of profit and incurs a disqualification, and such disqualification is retrospectively removed, the MP would continue to be a Member. Parliament’s power to enact a law includes its power to enact such law retrospectively, it ruled.

 

Having examined the constitutional schemes in Articles 101 to 104, the Bench has ruled that these Articles contained several “irrefutable indications” that the vacancy of an MP’s seat would occur only when a decision is rendered by the President under Article 103 which declares that an MP has incurred a disqualification under Article 102 (1) and not at the point of time when the MP is alleged to have incurred the disqualification. The constitutional scheme is such that the President takes a decision regarding an MP’s disqualification on the aid and advice of the Election Commission.

 

Significantly, the Bench has ruled that the question as to which office (or offices) should be excluded for purposes of disqualification lies in the legislative domain. In this case, Parliament has the power to decide what kind of office would amount to an office of profit under the government and whether such an office of profit is to be exempted.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

A DIVIDED OPPOSITION

BJP PARTS WAYS WITH INLD IN HARYANA

 

The BJP’s decision to snap ties with the Indian National Lok Dal and contest the ensuing Assembly elections in Haryana on its own is a reflection of its fragile relationship with the Chautala clan and its overconfidence to win elections independently. In particular, it is a serious setback to INLD supremo Om Prakash Chautala who is keen on wresting power from the Congress. Peeved by the BJP’s somersault, Mr Chautala announced on Tuesday that the INLD is no longer part of the NDA and that it will never have any electoral pact with the BJP in future. The INLD has been jolted by a series of desertions, especially by its senior leaders, in recent weeks. The INLD-BJP alliance, which ruled Haryana for five years from 1999, had collapsed in 2004 following differences between Mr Chautala and the BJP leaders. The latest split is a fallout of their refusal to appreciate ground realities and evolve a mutually acceptable seat-sharing formula. Apparently, the BJP has demanded 45 out of 90 Assembly seats which the INLD has refused to concede. In the recent Lok Sabha elections, though both parties had contested five seats each, they failed to open their account.

 

The BJP-INLD relations have never been smooth. The BJP had extended support to the late Devi Lal in the 1980s and later withdrawn it. Then, it forged alliance with the Haryana Vikas Party in 1996 but later pulled out in 1999. It had once again supported Mr Chautala in 1999 but later dissociated itself and contested the 2004 Lok Sabha and 2005 Assembly elections on its own.

 

It was only late last year that the BJP revived its ties with the INLD. Mr Chautala switched over to the NDA from the nebulous Third Front. However, the BJP workers opposed this, fearing erosion of support in their ranks. As both parties are riddled with factionalism, none would be able to take on the Congress independently in the elections. The Bahujan Samaj Party and the Haryana Janhit Congress don’t have a state-wide presence. The absence of a strong opposition is advantageous for the Congress.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

            OP-ED

BACK TO JINNAH

THERE IS NEED TO LOOK AHEAD

BY SUSHANT SAREEN

 

The expulsion of Jaswant Singh from the BJP for authoring the controversial book ‘Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence’ was unfortunate, and yet understandable, even inevitable. Mr Singh’s continuation in the BJP had become untenable after the sales promotion campaign of the book in which he was seen to be extolling the ‘virtues’ of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the creator of Pakistan and the man widely held responsible in India for Partition and its horrendous fallout.

 

The BJP might have even ignored Mr Singh’s praise of Jinnah, but there was no way that the party could forgive Mr Singh for committing the cardinal sin of blaming titans like Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel for not accommodating Jinnah’s political demands, thereby pushing India towards partition.

 

This amounted to cutting at the ideological roots of the party, and no one was going to buy Mr Singh’s claim that this was only his personal opinion and had nothing to do with the party.

 

Already, the BJP was finding it impossible to distance itself from Mr Singh’s ‘personal opinion’, much less live down the ridicule that was being heaped on it by its political opponents who were calling it the ‘Bharatiya Jinnah Party”.

 

Any other political party in the same position would have almost certainly reacted in a similar fashion – remember the treatment meted out to Mohit Sen by the CPM or the intolerance that the Congress has shown towards anyone in its ranks who questioned its icons.

 

Mr Singh’s tragedy, however, is that his detractors have pronounced their judgement without having taken the trouble of reading the book. Perhaps even if they had read the book, they would have failed to understand the fine nuances in the book that effectively rubbish Jinnah’s achievement in creating Pakistan.

 

In all likelihood, therefore, their reaction would have been no different had they read the book, but at least then the debate around Mr Singh’s controversial assertions would have been more well-informed, maybe even enlightening.

 

Despite its revisionism, the book provides a lot of food for thought for anyone on both sides of the great India-Pakistan divide who cares to think about the events and attitudes that led to Partition.

 

The storm unleashed by the book centres primarily around two major issues. The first is the person of Jinnah and Mr Singh’s admiration of him. The second is Jinnah’s politics and the justification or, should we say, alibi that Mr Singh tries to provide for it.

 

Jinnah was without doubt an exceptional man. His doggedness, his legal brilliance, his financial propriety, his sartorial elegance, his self-confidence (he once quipped “What is the Muslim League except me and my stenographer?”), was all the stuff of legends.

 

But Mr Singh’s attraction to the personality of Jinnah merely on the grounds that he was a ‘self-made man’ is somewhat strange, if not specious. This is akin to someone admiring Dawood Ibrahim simply because he too is a self-made man, and is (or was) quite secular both in his personal habits as well as in his profession.

 

That Jinnah was secular in his personal life is a well-established fact. But drinking whisky, eating pork, or having friends belonging to another community is a rather spurious definition of secularism, particularly in the context of someone who in his public life espouses a cause which is totally sectarian and communal.

 

Ultimately, the secular is what the secular does, and the political platform that Jinnah adopted raises the question of whether Jinnah was secularly communal or communally secular.

 

It can be argued that despite running a virulently communal campaign for Pakistan, Jinnah did not want a theocratic state. But a denominational state, which is what Pakistan has become, was always going to be the logical culmination of forces that Jinnah had unleashed in his tussle with the Indian National Congress.

 

Perhaps there was a time – 1916 and the Lucknow pact – when Jinnah was an ‘Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity’. But two decades later – 1937 onwards – it was a very different Jinnah.

 

Either for reasons of personal ego and political self-aggrandisement, or as a spoiler working at the behest of the British Raj (see Wali Khan’s Facts are Facts) or even as a born-again Muslim, Jinnah had become the standard-bearer of the pernicious ‘Two-Nation theory’ that sought to divide, rather than unite, the two communities.

 

From this point on, instead of building bridges between the communities, he was only interested in advocating, articulating and securing the interests of a single community, if possible within a loosely structured Indian federation, otherwise as a separate state.

 

The imperial interests of the British, coupled with Jinnah’s relentless advocacy of his case for Pakistan, had made partition inevitable. The communal genie that was let out of the bottle could never have been put back in and had partition been avoided in 1947, it would have taken place 10, 20 or maybe even 50 years later. In the circumstances that prevailed at that time, the decision taken by Nehru and Patel was unexceptionable.

 

To talk today, with the benefit of hindsight, of the Cabinet Mission plan as a possible way of avoiding Partition is to close one’s eyes to the reality of those times. The Cabinet Mission plan was never going to work.

 

By the time this plan was proposed, the poison of communalism and separatism had seeped far too deep in the psyche of the Muslims of India for them to be amenable to anything short of Pakistan.

 

It was then not so much a question of addressing the self-created and self-serving insecurities of the Muslim community as it was about the future stability and functionality of the newly independent state. Had the Cabinet Mission plan been accepted, it would have created 50 Pakistans.

 

Nehru and Patel were absolutely correct in rooting for a strong centre over a loosely structured federation, even if this meant conceding Pakistan. That they were right and Jinnah was wrong is evident from the fact that Pakistan too has rejected the sort of federal structure that Jinnah had insisted upon as the price to be paid for keeping India united.

 

The tragedy is not so much that India was partitioned. After all, states have been formed, reformed, deformed, and unformed throughout the history of the subcontinent. In this sense Partition is nothing out of the ordinary. Under the prevailing circumstances Partition was probably the only, if not the best, solution.

 

But the religious cleansing and mass murder and migration that followed Partition has probably no parallel in the history of the subcontinent.

 

Nor for that matter is there any historical precedent in the subcontinent of borders being sealed for citizens of different states that have existed from time to time.

 

But maybe the bitterness and hatred that Partition had created, and which was nurtured by successive rulers of Pakistan, made hostility between India and Pakistan inevitable.

 

The question now is whether the peoples of the subcontinent can put behind them a very painful chapter of their history. Mistakes and miscalculations were made on all sides, sometimes out of pettiness, at other times because of hubris, and often in response to a situation over which they had little control.

 

While we can endlessly quibble and quarrel over what happened, why it happened, who was responsible etc, there is a need to look towards the future. This, in the ultimate analysis, is the message of the book that Jaswant Singh has written, a message that has unfortunately got drowned in the din surrounding the book.

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THE TRIBUNE

            OP-ED

PROTESTERS TARGET ‘CLIMATE CRIMINALS’

BY MICHAEL MCCARTHY

 

Climate change campaigners are to target the offices of a dozen companies and government departments across central London in a week of raucous direct action, starting on Wednesday with the opening of the 2009 Climate Camp.

 

The actions, which will be sudden and unannounced and will range from noisy protests to the blocking of entrances to attempted occupation, will all be planned from the camp, to be set up this afternoon at a London location which has hitherto been kept secret.

 

The key targets will be the headquarters of companies such as BP, Shell and the German energy giant E.ON, which the protesters have called "climate criminals" for their involvement in the fossil fuel industries whose carbon emissions are causing global warming.

 

Also in the campaigners' sights are Heathrow Airport, the Bank of England, and government departments from the Treasury to Transport, Business, and even Ed Miliband's Department of Energy and Climate Change – which the activists claim is "not doing nearly enough to fulfil its alleged mandate".

 

Although other bodies may also be the focus of protest, the main objectives are listed in a climate camp document as "the dirty dozen – 12 London-based organisations that are causing climate change". The document says: "Climate Camp has come back to London because to stop climate change, you have to go to the belly of the beast."

 

The plan for the 2009 camp is significantly different from the three previous climate camps which were sited next to their protest targets – in 2006 at Drax power station in Yorkshire, in 2007 at Heathrow airport, and in 2008 at Kingsnorth power station in Kent – and in each case culminated in a mass demonstration to try to shut them down, followed by major confrontations with the police.

 

Organisers of this year's camp say it will not itself be the site of mass protest, but will be used to train volunteers for direct action, especially in an attempt to shut down one of Britain's biggest power stations, planned for October (which one has yet to be decided).

 

However, it has now become clear that the camp will be the base for disruptive demonstrations across central London throughout the coming days. "Think of it as a mother ship, from which people will stream out, for a week of fun and games," one source said last night. "They will be small groups who know each other and trust each other, but you are not going to know where and when they will turn up, or how many they will be."

 

The planned location of the camp has been kept a tightly guarded secret; all that has been disclosed so far is that it will be "within the M25". At noon today, more than 1,000 activists are expected to turn up at six "swoop points" in London where they will receive text messages revealing the location; they will then head straight to it with their tents, sleeping bags and pots and pans.

 

The six meeting points, which the campaigners say will not be the target of direct action, are all symbolic locations for them: they are the headquarters of major oil companies and of the mining giant Rio Tinto; the site of the 2012 Olympics; Stockwell Tube station where Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead by police in 2005; and the Bank of England, where bystander Ian Tomlinson died after an encounter with police during April's protests at the G20 summit in London.

 

Climate campaigners were prominently involved in those protests, later making lengthy accusations of police brutality and violence. Police conduct has since been fiercely criticised in several official reports.

 

The way they deal with this year's camp will be closely scrutinised, and the Metropolitan Police have been making conciliatory noises, saying they intend to deal with the camp in a "community policing" manner, holding several meetings with the camp organisers, and even setting up a special Twitter account to inform the activists in advance of police moves.n

 

 By arrangement with The Independent

 

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THE TRIBUNE

AT LEAST SPORT KEEPS MEN BUSY

BY CHRISTINA PATTERSON

 

It would be something of an understatement to say I'm not interested in sport. I ducked out of the primary school netball team when I discovered that matches were played on Saturdays and, since then, my sporting interests have been limited to the following: Wimbledon on telly in the days of Bjorn Borg, half a match "in the flesh" on one of the side courts (can't remember the players, do remember the picnic), a single flash of speeding brown horseflesh at Ascot (the Pimms was lovely), and a football match at White Hart Lane, for a feature I was writing on a poet in residence at Spurs.

 

The football match was quite fun. I'd dressed for Siberia and packed a Thermos flask of tea, but the other 31,999 people were drinking beer in T-shirts. The fountains on the pitch at the beginning reminded me of Versailles and the players, in their dazzling white outfits, looked shiny and smart.

 

The crowd sang songs, the players leapt around and nobody scored any goals. By the end of the afternoon, as far as I could tell, nothing had been lost and nothing had been achieved. It wasn't an unpleasant experience, but I wouldn't want to repeat it.

 

In this, I am unusual. Or perhaps I should say that in this, as a journalist, I am unusual. In the past week, The Independent's offices have been exploding with a passion I've never seen.

 

Men hitherto incapable of looking up to say "good morning" have been yelling and cheering and groaning and laughing and writhing in delight at things that are happening on the TV screen I can't see from my desk, things, I think it's fair to say, that haven't had a lot to do with efficiency cuts or quantitative easing.

 

If it's about 50 per cent of the British population that cares whether or not we win something called The Ashes, that percentage mysteriously rises (for obvious reasons) in a newspaper office, a House of Commons tea-room or a bank. And good luck to them! It's lovely when England wins anything, and there isn't an international egg and spoon race.

 

I think it's great that men like sport. It keeps them busy. It stops them (well, at least some of the time) from fighting wars. It occupies that weird bit of the brain that would otherwise be alphabeticising record collections or setting pub quizzes, or constructing mad theories about blinks or nudges or black swans.

 

And it gives them something to talk about. Boy does it give them something to talk about. Mention the game, or the match, or the goal, and we know where we are. One of us. Phew!

 

There is not a single thing that will unite women in the same way. Fashion doesn't do it. The Booker Prize doesn't do it. Kate's crowsfeet and Madonna's arms don't do it. There is nothing you could put on the cover of a newspaper that would have the same effect as "The Ashes are home". Except, perhaps, "George Clooney looking for a wife".

 

In an interview with Fay Weldon last week, she told me that "all women are the same, in a way that all men are not". She couldn't be more wrong. What is increasingly clear is that the battle of environment over heredity in gender stereotypes has been lost. This stuff is hardwiring. Which doesn't mean, guys, that you can't turn that TV down.

 

By arrangement with The Independent

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAl

A ROAD TOO FAR

 

If the, North-East, once a haven of peace, has been reduced to a land rife with insurgency and violence, the primary reason is that post-independence political developments have reduced it to a peripheral outpost, cut off from the affairs of the nation. It has to be noted that, since ancient times, the region had been blessed with a geo-political centricity which aided the evolution of a composite but vibrant society. It was the meeting ground for two great cultures, of mainland India and China, and strategically well placed for economic prosperity. Strong ethnic and cultural bonds with its neighbours kept it, so to speak, at the centre of things. The situation has completely changed since independence as far as trade and cultural exchanges with them are concerned. Direct land communication with China and Myanmar has ceased, Tibet has come under China, the dwars with Bhutan lie almost disused and East Pakistan renamed as Bangladesh has wedged itself between this area and rest of India. The loss of its centric stature, as also the psychological feeling of being hemmed in from all sides, is greatly responsible for the alienation that lies at the root of many of the problems afflicting the North-East. The solution lies in opening out the region towards the east, north and west, one that appeared to have finally dawned upon the policy makers at the Centre during recent times.


It had been assumed that one basic objective of the much vaunted “Look East Policy” announced by the Indian Government was the opening out of the North East towards Myanmar, China and South East Asia. It had also been assumed that the historic Stilwell Road would be at the core of such an endeavour. A ‘silk route’ linking the North East with Myanmar and China had existed since days of yore, as testified to by William Robinson in 1841 in A Descriptive Account of Assam — “There is an open road from Upper Assam into Burma, and thence into China, by which a considerable trade in Chinese and Burmese manufactures was at one time carried on.” The Stilwell Road built by the British traces the path of this silk-route and has to be an integral component of any strategy to create a land route to China and other nations. Yet the Centre has categorically ruled out possibilities of re-opening the Stilwell Road and revealed that not even a feasibility study has been carried out so far! This signifies a lack of initiative and reflects the Union Government’s lack of seriousness in incorporating the North-East within the thrust of the Look East Policy. It is incumbent upon the State Governments of the Seven Sisters to bear pressure on the Centre to reverse its decision and initiate action towards the re-opening of the Stilwell Road.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAl

DANGER AHEAD

 

The statistics contained in the 2009 World Population Data Sheet brought out by the Washington based Population Research Bureau (PRB) are alarming indeed. Apparently, even though many countries, specially the developed ones in the West, have shown a declining fertility rate, the world population is still growing at a high rate. In the recent past it had taken merely twelve years for world population to jump from 5 billion in the year 1987 to 6 billion in 1999, while it is estimated that the same period of time would be taken for the increase from 6 to 7 billion by 2011. Such a rapid rise, mostly in developing nations, is unprecedented and will continue to put immense pressure on Planet Earth’s already depleted resources. The report indicates that India’s population, currently around 1,171 million, would overtake China’s by 2050 in reaching 1,748 million, the latter’s being projected to increase from 1,331 million to 1437 million. However, as far as India in general and North-East India in particular is concerned, the most dangerous trend reflected in the PRB report is the enormous increase in the population of Bangladesh. The report disputes the official estimate of the Bangladesh population as 144.2 million and claims that the actual figure is far higher at 162 million in 2009, and is growing at 1.6 per cent per year, 0.34 per cent higher than the Government’s estimate.


The PRB figures indicate that Bangladesh’s population jumped by nearly one fourth or additional 32 million in less than a decade and that, by 2050 at the current rate the figure would cross 222 million, a 37 per cent rise. For a small, poverty striken country with limited land and other resources and very few avenues for generating employment, such a figure is mind staggering and bodes ill for its neighbour India, particularly the North-East. That unabated infiltration of illegal migrants from East Pakistan and later Bangladesh continuing throughout the 20th and 21st centuries has completely changed the demographic composition of the North-East is by now universally acknowledged. Apart from putting enormous pressure on the resources of this region, the influx has also posed security problems for India in the context of the present geo-political divide. Population, like liquid, follows the path of least resistance. The danger, therefore, is very real that in the near future illegal influx from Bangladesh through the porous borders of North-East India will grow ominous. Despite repeated warnings from the indigenous people of the region and even a mass movement, the Indian leadership at the Centre and the States has procrastinated on the issue and the complete sealing of the border with Bangladesh has not been achieved. It is time the Indian Government rectified its past folly by taking urgent steps to comprehensively seal the border before this critical problem assumes nightmarish dimensions.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAl

THE SCOURGE OF TERRORISM

DR KAMALA KANTA SAHARIA

 

Terrorism is a global phenomenon and is certainly a bane, not a boon. It has no religion and no geographical boundary although we normally try to identify them with such nomenclature. It is against humanity, civilization and defamatory to all religious orders. All religions preach faith, peace and development. The Chief Minister of Assam was very right when he opposed the terminology of Islamic Terrorism. All the Assembly members who protested against the term Islamic terrorism were also correct. The very meaning of Islam is peace. For that matter all religions are for peace and by and large people all over the globe including Assam are members of one or the other religious order. We are proud of being citizens of such a place where the people from different religions are living harmoniously for generations and centuries together. Our very socio cultural fabric is interwoven in such a manner that we just cannot separate each other when it comes to the community events. Against it, there are only a handfuls of people who indulge in anti-social activities including terrorism for which the whole clan gets the blame. No one virtually wants it.


Still bullets are made and guns are manufactured. No gun is made to enforce peace and behind making of every bullet someone’s name is written over it loud and clear. But all terrorist-groups, be it small or big, are unfortunately backed by some vested interested groups of people. The political parties are not excluded. Inter-gang rivalry, family disputes, racial differences, language trouble and control over property also at times go beyond control and get inflated to depict communal disharmony and indulgence in terrorism. But sooner or later they come under control, but terrorism never comes under control. Initially it inflames like wildfire, gradually gets diversified and ultimately dies an unceremonious death if not intervened in between. But, even after death, the aftermath remains. In the mean time brooding of some other groups starts under the patronage of some capable power brokers. Likewise the system continues. Going by the kind of developments so far, it is unwise to name any terrorist group against any community, place or religion. But it is them who give such name to get the “popular” support from the common people.


Internationally no one understands the Below Poverty Line. Even in our country there are many, not only educated but also directly involved in planning, who have little knowledge about BPL in spite their daily activities relate to such categories of people. Based on education, health (life expectancy) and economy (purchasing power) the Human Development Index is worked out by the UNDP and that is believed to be representative of the actual condition of people under which they live. No doubt, there are also criticisms and remains a lot to be done. Many feel that the issues like trafficking, witch hunting and dowry deaths etc. should have been a part of HDI. The people who believe in such proposition are of the opinion that along with HDI, there should be incorporation of GEM, that is Gender Environment Measure, to provide proper yardstick to understand the HDI.


Keeping away all controversies, it is to be understood that development is the perfect antidote to not only terrorism but also anarchy, anti social activities and unrest. But as far as the status of development in Assam today is concerned, the State was the nation’s fifth developed state at the time of independence and today it is the second most backward State in the country. The per capita income in Assam is the lowest even among all the eight North Eastern States. That is the journey the State has made after independence. Our claims over the visible developments, of course, are not very comparable to all other states in the country today. The greatest enemy we have is the population explosion. The danger has not yet been properly understood.

In fact the Mate of Assam has been sandwiched between lack of political will (no powerful leader) on one side and extremism of all forms on the other. There is hardly any credibility, responsibility, efficiency or effectiveness in public life. You are supposed to have enough endurance to run from pillar to post any job getting done. Before that you should also be ready to digest cursing words and harsh behaviour. You will find that hardly twenty per cent of the people in all organisations are really working. But they are over burdened. In spite of their willingness they cannot come forward and help you out.


Terrorism is here again because our education system has failed to deliver. The general feeling is that it is stereotype and not relevant to the ground realty. Actually, education is imparted keeping in mind all situations to come in future. The very effort -of, education is to change the entire mental make up of the entire civillsations that it becomes able to meet all challenges in near future. The sharp students are doing it effectively. But we have a large number of sharp students who are unable to secure a seat in good institution. When their very entry is based on capitation fees, it is understandable where their service will lead to, if they are able to secure a job after successful completion of their education. That is one of the reasons, which has given rise to rampant corruption–the breeding ground for terrorism.


Youths connect themselves to the real world. Actually we have not been able to provide meaningful occupation both physical and mental to our youths. Students of this generation are parent dependent. They are not getting the natural and neutral ground to grow. This is where matters get derailed. Because of lack of enough or proper guidance and care, the youths take decisions which are achievable in short cut. No nation can be built adopting a short cut policy. In fact, the shortcut is in the direction of addiction leading to extortion ‘followed by anti-social activities and finally terrorism. These all happen after the initial stage of frustration, which the parents and guardians fail to identify because of their communication gap.

 

To curb terrorism of any form the breeding grounds are to be identified and abolished. They can be brought about only by serious efforts in the lines of providing meaningful employment to the youth. Personal development leading to social change is sure to act as an antidote against terrorism. But our development is handicapped due to over population. Meeting two square meals itself is a big question for majority of the people in the State.


Poorer the condition more is the faith on religion and more exploitation resulting in lack of education and opportunities- People from poor areas and communities are more likely to indulge in terrorism. So terrorism easily crops up and gets identified in the name of place, people or preaching. We can stop saying “Islamic Terrorism” in Assam but what about the development all around the globe ? So, the name hardly carries any meaning. It is useless to debate on that rather it is useful to make concerted effort to create a ground to stop them. And truly speaking, the country is capable of doing so provided there is political will. Our army and security forces are not useless, people have not turned heartless and we are capable of making useful plans/schemes in that direction.

 

(The writer is Head of Extension Education, College of Veterinary Science, Khanapara)

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAl

FOOD PROBLEM AND AGRICULTURAL SUSTAINABILITY

DR ANURADHA SARMAH

 

Food, the topmost biological necessity of our life is mainly obtained from agricultural products. The most important agri-products are – paddy, wheat, jawar, bazra etc. But sometimes the productivity of these foodgrains suffers due to various reasons (man-made or natural) causing shortage of food. This shortage of food, national or global, gives rise to food problems. These problems are often associated with humger, starvation and famine. The concept of shortage of food as the principal reason for the food problems originated from the Multhusian doctrine – population increases faster than food production. Even today, we are not cured of the menace of food problem. Despite improved agricultural production technique, about 10 million people are to live without proper food around the world. Problems of poverty, malnutrition, starvation etc are still prevalent and become more pronounced.


The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that over 800 million children, women and men now suffer from chronic humger. In addition, more than two billion persons suffer from silent hunger, arising from the deficiency of micronutrients. Since 2000, global food prices have risen by 75 per cent. The price of wheat increased by 200 per cent, prices of other staples such as rice, soyabean have also peaked. Automatically, this has pushed up the prices of meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products etc. Food has become so expensive that it has gone beyond the the reach of most. To deal with the situation, emphasis is given on the concept of “food security” which can be achieved only through sustainable agriculture food for the existing population to alleviate malnutrition and humger and at the same time progressively increase food production to meet the requirements of ever-increasing population are amongst the greatest challenges the world has been facing today.


India too faces acute food crisis and food inflation like never before. The current spiral in prices has hit the common people who spend a major part of their money on food. While the Indian economy has grown at an average rate of 8.5 per cent over the last 5 years, it has been a lopsided development. Growth has been confined to manufacturing and services sectors. On the other hand, agriculture has grown by merely 2.5 per cent over the last 5 years. Agriculture still offers a livelihood to 60 per cent of India’s 1.1 billion people. The current crisis in Indian agriculture is a consequence of many factors – low rise in farm productivity, unremunerative prices for cultivators, poor storage facilities, transformation of fertile lands to special economic zones (SEZs), green house related climate change effecting rainfall pattern. In many cases, indiscriminate use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, hybrid seeds have adversely affected the soil fertility leading to stagnation of yield. Moreover, recurring heavy damages to crops by the natural disasters, erosion and conversion of cropland for other purposes have caused gradual shrinkage of agricultural land. Agriculture still continues to be carried on more or less in a conventional manner in the country and is largely dependent on the vagaries of monsoon. The defective irrigation system complicates the matter further. No doubt, Green Revolution has brought significant development in the agricultural sector, but this development is not sustainable.


All these call for drastic reform in this sector. Second eco-friendly Green Revolution is the need of the hour. Agriculture being the backbone of Indian economy and the chief source of livelihood for millions of people – the problems concerning this vital sector need urgent intervention from the government and the growing demand for food calls for adequate technological intervention for ensuring a sustained growth of the agricultural sector. Increasing attention is now being paid by the policymakers and scientists to agricultural sustainability which can be achieved through organic farming. Sustainability is merely a technology issue that requires breakthroughs in agricultural research so that agricultural production could be sustained in future. It represents economically and environmentally viable options for all types of farmers, regardless of their farm size, skills, knowledge and motivation. It is assumed as a concretely defined set of technologies, practices or policies. In the recent past, there has been growing awareness regarding this due to the belief that modern agriculture can not meet the demand for food requirements for growing population over a longer period. Maximisation of production for obtaining maximum profit is the main goal of modern agriculture. To attain this a no. of practices have been developed without regard for their unintended long-term consequences and ecological aspects. But meeting the food requirements of the immensely growing population without any damage to the ecological aspects is now the top-most priority of environmentalists on development planners. Covering all these aspects, the concept of sustainable agriculture production system has gained popularity. Sustainable agriculture is distinctly different from modern agriculture. Sustainable agriculture has minimal dependence on synthetic fertilisers and other chemicals. So it is environmentally non-degradable, technically appropriate, economically viable and socially acceptable.


Sustainable agriculture in the form of organic farming helps to overcome the crisis by ensuring food security under sustainable environment. It focuses on maintaining the soil health by recycling all organic wastes generated in the farms, optimal use of underground water, soil conservation, biological control of pests and diseases, multiple cropping, crop rotations and agro-forestry. Many European countries are now switching over to organic farming. The national programme for organic farming defined it as a holistic system of farm design and management that seeks to create a healthy eco system which can achieve sustainable productivity without the use of artificial inputs. Green manures, crop residues, bio-fertilisers etc are some of the potential sources of nutrients of organic farming. It helps in the improvement of crop quality. The organically produced food items are superior in quality as compared to those produced by synthetic chemicals. These food items are good in taste, flavour and free from harmful on toxic chemicals. Low production cost, ecological balance, clean environment and nutritious food without any residue content are advantages of such farming. Now-a-days, consumers prefer natural foods particularly organic foods across the world. It is gaining popularity as a sustainable and environmentally safe production system.

It is only through judicious application of competitive technologies in the agricultural sector and an enhabced level of efficiency that we can hope to meet the challenges successfully. There is a need to correct the present system that generates world food insecurity and to create a new system for world food security so that we can eradicate hunger from the Earth once and for all.


(The writer teaches Economics in Dhubri Girls’ College).

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TOMORROW'S KHAAS AADMI

 

What’s the one big takeaway from The Economic Times Power Breakfast with Finance Minister Pranab Muhkerjee and corporate honchos on Tuesday? The FM’s assurance that reforms would ‘continue in right earnest’ to get the economy back to the new Sardar rate of growth of 9%!


Given the disappointment over the absence of reform talk in the budget presented last month, such public espousal of reforms is indeed reassuring. We could not agree more with Mr Mukherjee’s assertion that ‘economic reform is a continuous process and not a flurry of announcements.’


This is of a piece with the view expressed by Dr C Rangarajan, chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council that, unlike the reforms of 1991, the next few years are likely to see incremental rather than dramatic reform. In a democracy, more so one headed by a coalition government, any reform has to proceed in a calibrated fashion and at times in a two-steps-forward-one-step-back fashion.

This may not satisfy those eager to see a faster pace of change but this is part of the price we pay for our democracy. Yes it does slow things down a bit; but the good thing is that as and when reform does take place, there is a broad consensus cutting across not only political lines (bar the Left!) but also public opinion. To that extent it also becomes irreversible. Parties may differ on the pace of reform but not on the broad thrust of reform.


Having said that what is undeniable is that there are some big ticket reforms — labour, legal and police reforms and agriculture sector reforms, to mention just four — that have been put on the back burner for too long, precisely because they are difficult.


But unless we begin the hard work of building the necessary political consensus in these areas we will never be able to make the quantum leap in economic growth that is essential to lift every Indian out of poverty. So even as we go for the low-hanging fruit and push through the easier bits of reform — incentivise development of a corporate bond market, put in place a bankruptcy code, reform our tax system and tax administration, etc — we need to beaver away on the tougher bits too. Only then will today’s aam aadmi become tomorrow’s khaas aadmi!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WATER WOES: HOLISTIC POLICY REGIME REQUIRED

 

India’s stressed water economy calls for sustained policy attention and focused resource allocation. The emphasis ought to be on augmenting local

infrastructure for storage and rainwater harvesting. Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar’s suggestion that MPs earmark a higher share of their MP Local Area Development Scheme funds for irrigation and water works makes perfect sense, in a scenario of drought and deficient rains.


The latest figures do show that irrigation comprised less than 2% of projects under the scheme, which adds up to less than 3% in monetary terms of total works recommended by the MPs in their constituencies. In tandem, there’s a pressing need for integrating the various schemes available under different budgetary heads, to shore up water infrastructure. For instance, funds under the Rural Infrastructure Development Fund can well be used to garner and augment water resources.


The fact remains that we in India can store barely 30 days of rainfall, a small fraction of the prudential norm in mature economies. Worse, as various surveys suggest, much of the water infrastructure is “crumbling.” There’s a huge backlog of maintenance in water supply machinery and networks in the states. The fact is that user charges are negligible, there’s lack of accountability and transparency in governance and systemic corruption, given the gulf between tariffs and value of irrigation.


Also, budgetary allocation for the water sector has been steadily falling, although in recent months there’s a move at the Centre to reverse the trend. What’s of real concern is that there’s severe depletion of groundwater levels, especially in areas of high agricultural intensity like Punjab and Haryana. Much of our irrigation is anyway groundwater dependent.


Back in 1999, the National Commission on Water did reveal that overall water balances are ‘precarious.’ And more recent expert studies show almost a fifth of all aquifers are in ‘critical condition.’ We clearly need proactive policy that is holistic and forward-looking without further delay. It calls for a new sustainable policy regime for water at the Centre and the states.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE AUSSIE ERA IS FINALLY OVER

 

In the world of cricket aficionados, there exists a taste for the banter, the jokes and the on-field insults players often trade with each other.

 

And thinking of the just-concluded Ashes series and what the Aussie defeat possibly portends for the cricketing world, one such verbal joust comes to mind.


An Australian fast bowler, rather known for his aggressive espousal of the questionable art of sledging, once got irritated after he repeatedly beat the bat of an Englishman. Not finding that edge for some time, he sauntered down the pitch and informed the batsman: “You can’t (expletive) bat.” The English chap promptly smashed the next ball for a four, and retorted: “Well, we make a fine pair. I can’t (expletive) bat and you can’t (expletive) bowl.”


Fairly democratic, one can surmise. And, well, it seems cricket just got a bit more even with the debate over whether the Aussies have declined as a team coming to an end. They most certainly have. And everyone is the better for it. Surely, great teams that spelt inevitable doom for the opposition did mean a kind of charm. Despite defeat, no one could ever have grudged a West Indian team like the one under Clive Lloyd its victories.


Greatness demands a certain respect. Even the Aussies, under Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and, partly, under Ricky Ponting — while being arguably lesser than the West Indians at their best — earned grudging respect. The grudging bit was more to do with their bad manners and being sore losers. But respect it was, nonetheless.


Now, however, with this Ashes loss, one can finally and truly aver that the Aussie era is over. And we are now entering a far more ‘democratic’ age where four or five teams at the top can now be seen to be competing at an equal level. That simply means things will be more open and competitive.


There are also, conversely, very few of the truly great players left across the board. Players who could, say, consistently win games purely on sheer individual brilliance. Cricket, in short, will be even more a game of glorious uncertainties. In a much flatter world.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

INDIA AND CLIMATE CHANGE TALKS

ARVIND PANAGARIYA

 

I have been surprised by the number of reasonable Indians who have come to accept the proposition, advanced by equally reasonable but perhaps nationalistically-motivated Americans, that the acceptance of internationally-mandated restrictions on carbon emissions by India is in its own national interest. Some have even come to argue that India should actively seek a climate change treaty at the Copenhagen conference in December 2009.


I disagree with this proposition. The foremost objective India must pursue in the forthcoming decades is to provide a humane existence with adequate access to basic amenities such as shelter, water and electricity to all citizens.


Given that 300 million Indians still live in abject poverty and 400 million are without access to electricity, achieving this objective requires sustained rapid growth complemented by well-crafted social programmes for some decades to come. The question then is whether such growth is feasible while implementing mitigation targets beginning in the near future, say, 2020.


Some insight into this question can be gained by comparing India’s emissions to those necessary to achieve the current Chinese living standards. Making the generous assumption that China could cut its current emissions by 25% through the adoption of the most efficient but cost-effective technologies without compromising its current living standards, its total emissions would still remain 3.5 times those of India. The likely implication is that India cannot achieve even the current Chinese living standards — a far cry from a humane existence for all — without a significant increase in carbon emissions.

A key argument mitigation advocates offer is that by refusing to accept mitigation obligations as a part of a Copenhagen treaty, India makes matters worse for itself by making future catastrophes more likely. They say that being among the most vulnerable to catastrophic events such as cyclones, India stands to gain the most from joining the mitigation effort. There are at least three objections to this argument.


First, while the facts of global warming and green house gas (GHG) emissions as its cause are widely accepted, scientific evidence linking GHG emissions to increased frequency or intensification of catastrophic events such as hurricanes and cyclones is lacking. A 2005 article in the Bulletin of American Meteorological Society of America carefully surveyed the existing peer-reviewed literature on the relationship between global warming, hurricanes and hurricane impacts. It concluded that ‘claims of linkages between global warming and hurricane impacts are premature.’


They added that ‘the peer-reviewed literature reflects that a scientific consensus exists that any future changes in hurricane intensities will likely be small in the context of observed variability.’ Evidence linking global warming and glacier melting is similarly weak: the Gangotri glacier has been receding since scientists began to keep its measurement in 1780.


Second, granting that a connection between global warming and increased incidence of rains, floods, heat waves, rising sea levels and even cyclones and hurricanes exists, mitigation by India in the next two or three decades is neither necessary nor sufficient to arrest global warming and its consequences. The richer world consisting of the US, Europe, Japan, Canada and Eurasia account for slightly more than 50% of the current carbon emissions. Adding China brings the proportion over 70%. In contrast, India accounts for ess than 5% of the global emissions.


If the big and largely rich emitters of today were to take mitigation in the immediate future seriously, they could achieve emission cuts commensurate with the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) without denying the poor in India (and Africa) the prospects of a humane existence. With abject poverty eliminated and electricity and water provided to all, India could join the mitigation effort by 2040.

At that point, it would ease the future burden of the countries taking on mitigation obligations in the early decades. The argument that mitigation is not feasible without participation by India is, thus, a political one: as a bargaining tactic, the US Congress refuses to undertake internationally-mandated mitigation obligations unless India accepts them as well.


Finally, the stock of carbon in the atmosphere in the next two to three decades would continue to be dominated by the emissions accumulated over the past century. Therefore, in so far as the impact of human activity on global warming, rains, floods, sea levels and hurricanes in the next two to three decades is concerned, the die is already cast. If India accepts mitigation commitments early on, it will remain woefully inadequately prepared to face the vagaries of nature that would visit it even absent any additional GHG emissions. But if it manages to postpone the commitments until 2040 and stay course on growth and poverty alleviation, it would be able to provide significantly improved protection against the adverse natural events in the early as well as later decades.


With higher incomes, individuals will have better shelters and greater mobility to protect themselves against heat, rains, floods and cyclones as also much improved access to health care and medicines. Likewise, the government will have more resources to assist citizens against emergencies arising out of various natural disasters. It will be in a much stronger position to move people away from coastal areas and build dikes as water levels rise. It will also have more resources to alleviate water shortages that threaten India in the forthcoming decades even if mitigation proceeds according to the IPCC recommendations.

None of this should, of course, distract India from taking measures that contribute to carbon mitigation without compromising its poverty alleviation objective. Included among such measures are replacement of “green” bulbs for conventional ones, fighting urban pollution that causes breathing diseases, switch to clean energy sources when it is cost effective, pricing of electricity to reflect scarcity and reforestation. Even as its aggregate emissions rise to accommodate 9% to 10% growth over the next three decades, India must endeavour to replace dirty plants by modern, cleaner ones.


(The author is a professor at Columbia University and non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution)

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

VANPRASTH FOR ADVANI, YAGNA TO FIND INHERITOR

BY BY S. NIHAL SINGH

 

Beyond the infamous expulsion of Mr Jaswant Singh from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lies its future.

 

For the expulsion is but an episode in the continuing saga of the main Opposition’s travails. After two general election defeats, it is seeking a new direction to success that eludes it. The crisis is simple and complex, the former in terms of what needs to be done, and the latter because of the party’s umbilical link with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).


The most difficult thing for a prima donna or her male equivalent is to take the final bow while acclaim is still ringing in her or his ears. To one Nelson Mandela to say goodbye when he did to notch a higher status for himself and his country, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of others who stay on, often by amending their country’s Constitution, or otherwise.


Regrettably, Mr Lal Krishna Advani belongs to the ranks of the latter by perfunctorily resigning as Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha soon to withdraw it and later to declare that contrary to the assumption that he was biding his time for a smooth transition, he would stay the full five years. And here lies the rub because a chain of events flows from this decision.


In a sense, the Jaswant Singh expulsion came as a godsend for the principal beneficiaries of the status quo because Ms Sushma Swaraj holds the office of the deputy leader of the Opposition and the other, Mr Arun Jaitley, remains the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Mr Singh having been conveniently sent to the Lower House. In the furore caused by the expulsion, the weightier problems of fixing the guilt for failure and charting a road ahead in the Shimla meet receded to the background.


Yet it is crystal clear to party men, as to outside observers, that without Mr Advani swallowing the bitter pill of retirement, the drift in the party will continue. The RSS chief, Mr Mohan Bhagwat, sought to give the BJP a nudge by asking for the anointing of younger leaders and pointedly distancing his organisation from the action taken against Mr Singh. It remains to be seen when, if at all, Mr Advani will come to the conclusion that the performance is over and the audience has gone home.


The more complex problem for the BJP is to decide what its relationship to its mentor, the RSS, should be because it is ideologically dependent upon Hindutva and the relationship between the two organisations is so intertwined that it is often difficult to tell one from the other. Even the much-missed Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee paid obeisance to the RSS on occasion and Mr Advani makes a point of expressing his reverence for an institution that has moulded his life and political career. Mr Narendra Modi was, of course, nurtured in the RSS laboratory.


As a political party, particularly after it tasted power at the Centre, the BJP’s compulsions are often different from the RSS’. During its six years of rule in Delhi, the BJP largely followed a coalition agenda determined in part by the pulls and pressures of its motley allies. Unlike in the states it rules, which offer a platform for promoting the RSS in various ways, governing a diverse country cannot be made subservient to an institution with distinct religious overtones. But it offered the RSS valuable crumbs in helping its allied institutions with cheap land and propaganda facilities and, most importantly, getting RSS men and women or their supporters in key positions in the country’s vast bureaucracy.


However, in the BJP’s political journey, the RSS link has often become an albatross. While Hindutva, like democracy, can be a flexible concept, it cannot be stretched indefinitely. Tactically, the BJP has soft-pedalled the hard edges of Hindutva for electoral profit and sheltered under the excuse of running a coalition government, but the compulsion of defining it more accurately grow each day as other Sangh Parivar organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal and the Ram Sene run riot.
Mr Singh chose to trod on RSS toes by seemingly denigrating the Hindutva idol, Sardar Vallabhhai Patel, lauded as the Iron Man of Indian politics as opposed to Jawaharlal Nehru, painted in Hindutva lore as weak and indecisive. In the process, the controversy raised by the veteran leader in praising Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, has further complicated the process of bringing clarity to the concept of Hindutva.
The lesson Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s Congress has learned from its recent election victory is that it should veer more towards left of centre in presenting a more inclusive platform. The BJP, which prides itself on giving the country a two-party system at the national level, is unable to fill the vacant slot of a right of centre party because it is confused over what its ideology should be.


The BJP needs to define how far to the Right it should go and how to tailor its Hindutva creed to the demands of a multi-religious and multi-ethnic country. Essentially, the party’s dilemma is that true Hindutva as understood by its proponents does not fit into the modern political structure. If it represents advancing Hindu interests, it cannot become the main creed of a national party, given Muslim and other minorities and the many divisions in Hindu society dramatically revealed in recent times by the rise of the Bahujan Samaj Party.


The BJP misses Mr Vajpayee so much because he had the uncanny ability of reconciling contradictions in his persona. He was both an RSS devotee and a tolerant Indian. The demands of Hindutva sat lightly on his shoulders, his long pauses and ambiguous phrases with their double entendre doing duty for explanations. Western reporters found it frustrating to interview him because he seldom gave clear-cut black and white answers. Rather, he preferred to deal in indirect answers and ambiguities.
Mr Advani can still save the BJP, if he chooses to. First, he must decide to say goodbye to active politics and then set about scouting for a young leader who holds the promise of reconciling Hindutva to the larger national enterprise. Obviously, such a leader must come from outside the circle of politicians who have become enmeshed in factional quarrels. If persons such as Ms Swaraj and Mr Jaitley are ruled out, so is Mr Modi because of the polarising nature of his persona.


If Chinese Communists can embrace capitalism while chanting their traditional mantras, a future BJP leader with vision can pay lip service to Hindutva while consigning it to the back burner.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

AMERICA CAN’T AFFORD TO NEGLECT BURMA

BY BY JIM WEBB

 

EIGHT YEARS ago I visited Burma as a private citizen, travelling freely in the capital city of Yangon and around the countryside. This lush, breathtakingly beautiful nation was even then showing the strain of its severance from the outside world.


This month I became the first American political leader to visit Burma in 10 years, and the first-ever to meet with its reclusive leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, in the haunting, empty new capital of Naypyidaw. From there I flew to an even more patched-and-peeled Yangon, where I met with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Opposition leader and Nobel laureate who remains confined to her home.


Leaving the country on a military plane with Mr John Yettaw — an American who had been sentenced to seven years of hard labour for immigration offences, I was struck again by how badly the Burmese people need outside help. They are so hardened after decades of civil war and political stalemate that only an even-handed interlocutor can lift them out of the calcified intransigence that has damaged their lives and threatened the stability of Southeast Asia.


For more than 10 years, the United States and the European Union have employed a policy of ever-tightening economic sanctions against Burma, in part fuelled by the military government’s failure to recognise the results of a 1990 election won by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi’s party. While the political motivations behind this approach are laudable, the result has been overwhelmingly counterproductive. The ruling regime has become more entrenched and at the same time more isolated. The Burmese people have lost access to the outside world.


Sanctions by Western governments have not been matched by other countries, particularly Russia and China.


According to the non-profit group EarthRights International, at least 26 Chinese multinational corporations are now involved in more than 62 hydropower, oil, gas and mining projects in Burma. This is only the tip of the iceberg. In March, China and Burma signed a $2.9-billion agreement for the construction of fuel pipelines that will transport West Asian and African crude oil from Burma to China.
If Chinese commercial influence in Burma continues to grow, a military presence could easily follow. Russia is assisting the Burma government on a nuclear research project. None of these projects have improved the daily life of the average citizen of Burma whose per capita income is among the lowest in Asia.


It would be wrong for the US to lift sanctions on Burma purely on the basis of economic self-interest, or if such a decision were seen as a capitulation of our long-held position that Burma should abandon its repressive military system in favour of democratic rule. But it would be just as bad for us to fold our arms, turn our heads, and pretend that by failing to do anything about the situation in Burma we are somehow helping to solve it.


So what can and should be done?

 

First, we must focus on what is possible. The military government in Burma has committed itself to elections in 2010, as part of its announced “seven steps toward democracy”. Many point out that the Constitution approved last year in a plebiscite is flawed, since it would allow the military to largely continue its domination of the government. The National League for Democracy (NLD), Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party, has not agreed to participate in next year’s elections.


But there is room for engagement. The NLD might consider the advantages of participation as part of a longer-term political strategy. And the United States could invigorate the debate with an offer to help assist the electoral process. The Burma government’s answer to such an offer would be revealing.
Second, the US needs to develop clearly articulated standards for its relations with the non-democratic world. Our distinct policies toward different countries amount to a form of situational ethics that does not translate well into clear-headed diplomacy. We must talk to Burma’s leaders. This does not mean that we should abandon our aspirations for a free and open Burmese society, but that our goal will be achieved only through a different course of action. The US refused to talk to the Chinese until 1971 and did not resume full diplomatic relations until 1979. And yet China, with whom we seem inextricably tied both as a business partner and a strategic competitor, has no democracy and has never held a national election.
Third, our government leaders should call on China to end its silence about the situation in Burma, and to act responsibly, in keeping with its role as an ascending world power. Americans should not hold their collective breaths that China will give up the huge strategic advantage it has gained as a result of our current policies. But such a gesture from our government would hold far more sway in world opinion than has the repeated but predictable condemnation of Burma’s military government.
Finally, with respect to reducing sanctions, we should proceed carefully but immediately — If there is reciprocation from the government of Burma in terms of removing the obstacles that now confront us.

 

Jim Webb is a Democratic senator from Virginia

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

CENTRE’S FIRM LINE ON PAK WELCOME

 

It is just as well that the Prime Minister chose the forum of the ongoing conference in New Delhi of India’s ambassadors and high commissioners overseas to underscore that this country had been a victim of terrorism, and that it was essential to tackle global terrorism with vigour and resolve in order to ensure national progress. After the fiasco of the Sharm el-Sheikh joint statement with Pakistan, which sought to “de-bracket” terrorist acts against this country and talks with Pakistan, it was important to reassure India’s top diplomatic representatives that the official position in respect of terrorism emanating from Pakistan was not in any way being sought to be played down for a short-term or expedient reason. It was evident after Sharm el-Sheikh that there was not a little unease with the formulation among our top diplomats overseas and senior officials of the external affairs ministry. There was the distinct impression abroad that among those uncertain about the perceived change were particularly those who have dealt with Pakistan and India’s neighbourhood. Dr Manmohan Singh’s extempore address on Tuesday is likely to assuage any professional anxieties our diplomats may have entertained. What is more, the issuing of a Red Corner Notice by Interpol against Hafiz Saeed, Pakistan’s principal ideologue of jihad against India who is officially described here as the “mastermind” of the Mumbai outrage last November, materialised on the day the Prime Minister addressed the diplomats on a matter of existential concern. The Red Corner Notice against Saeed follows the request recently made by the CBI to Interpol buttressed with suitable evidence. The international police organisation clearly saw merit in the case made out by the CBI, although the authorities in Pakistan have consistently dismissed the material produced by Indian investigators as being inadequate for the purposes of prosecution. Saeed had been placed under house arrest initially in the light of a UN Security Council resolution naming him as a terrorist to be restrained, but the Lahore high court set him free a few months ago as the Pakistan government did not press the case against him. Apparently, he is now being tried in camera in Rawalpindi. Since the trial is being held in secret, it can be made to take a turn that the authorities choose. Given Saeed’s deep-going relationship with Pakistan’s spy agencies in the light of that country’s covert war against India, it is a given that only that aspect of the trial will be permitted to be made public as suits Islamabad. The Red Corner Notice is not an international arrest warrant. Nevertheless, after the Interpol’s move, the Pakistan government will be under some pressure to at least give the impression that it is not taking the matter lightly. India, however, cannot afford to let up pressure in respect of Saeed and other dramatis personae in the Mumbai terror attack. The Prime Minister had spoken of credible information on terrorist threats from Pakistan at a conference on internal security a week ago. This had been the first intimation of a pull-back from Sharm el-Sheikh. Dr Singh’s address to the diplomats is in the nature of confirming that trend. A day earlier, the external affairs minister, Mr S.M. Krishna, had been quite blunt in telling the heads of our missions that meaningful dialogue with Pakistan can begin only when it takes serious steps in the Mumbai case. A consistent line thus looks to be emerging. But to signal that there can be no ambiguity about this, the discussions at the foreign secretary-level — proposed at Sharm el-Sheikh — need to be kept in abeyance until the circumstances are apposite.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OP-ED

NO TRAIN GOES TO DARJEELING

BY BY NITISH SENGUPTA

 

Looking at the situation in Darjeeling Hills over the past several years, one wonders whether the Constitution of India runs there any more. In three sub-divisions of this district in West Bengal — Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Karseong —there is an extraconstitutional authority called the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, led by Bimal Gurung, which calls the shots in matters such as whether or not government offices will function and if shops will open.


Darjeeling has always been a place of considerable tourist attraction and tourism, apart from tea plantation, has been the mainstay of its economy. But some time ago, Bimal Gurung declared “Darjeeling bandh” and asked all tourists to leave within 24 hours.


Again, on July 12, Gurung directed students of all schools and colleges to leave the hills in 48 hours. Most of the students had just returned from their long winter vacation when this call was given. Darjeeling is a well-known centre for education and several reputed schools and colleges — St. Paul’s School, St. Joseph’s College, Loreto College and Darjeeling Government College, Dr Graham’s Homes, Kalimpong — are located there. Students come to study in Darjeeling from distant places. Surprisingly, no thought was given to the future of the students and these institutions.


It is a matter of shame that the West Bengal government does not think it to be its primary duty to ensure that life goes on as normal in the hills and that schools and colleges function normally. There is an element of submission to Bimal Gurung and his cohorts. Neither Darjeeling’s district magistrate, nor the superintendent of police, nor any other functionaries think it to be their duty to respond to such disruptive threats.
The malady started more than a decade ago when Subash Ghising and his Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) started a movement for separate Gorkhaland. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) rulers in West Bengal, with all their strength, feel shy of taking strong action against organised popular movement. So their game was to let Ghising function as he wished. Nobody was arrested, and no criminal case registered against those who caused disturbance.


The local police force, comprising almost 100 per cent local Nepali residents, doesn’t ever take any firm action against “Gorkhaland” activists and this has been accepted by the Left Front government.


The state government talks about fighting the problem politically but in actual practice they go on giving dissident leaders money so long as they return the favour with votes during elections. This is how Subash Ghising, despite known instances of corruption, had his way for a decade-and-a-half. This is also the way that the state government is proposing to deal with Bimal Gurung who has once again revived the slogan of separate Gorkhaland. The result has not only been harmful to the economy of Darjeeling Hills but has also disrupted communication to Sikkim, whose only approach is through Darjeeling district, as also with the northeastern states which are connected with the mainland through the Siliguri corridor. Darjeeling is geographically situated at a vintage point, and any disturbance there affects movement of goods to all these states and, in particular, Sikkim.

 

IN BETWEEN all this, there was the amusing episode of Jaswant Singh, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader from Rajasthan, being invited by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha to seek election to the Lok Sabha from Darjeeling. The BJP, as a quid pro quo, supported the “Gorkhaland” cause. Mr Singh was elected and supported Gorkhaland in the last session of the Lok Sabha. Now that he has been expelled from the BJP on a different issue, it has added a further element of uncertainty to the future of Darjeeling. Meanwhile, a tripartite meeting was held a few days ago in Delhi between the Centre, state governments and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, but no clear solution emerged.


Only the Gorkha Hill Council, created a few years ago to pacify Subash Ghising, has been abolished. Recently, Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee announced that there is no question of considering the status of statehood for Darjeeling Hills and that the only issue worth considering is Schedule VI status for this area (this would pave the way for elections to the local council).


Indeed, Darjeeling is too small a territory to be deemed fit for statehood. It was bought from the Raja of Sikkim in 1835 and was made part of Bengal and there may be some sense in uniting it with Sikkim, although its overwhelming Nepali population, migrants from Nepal after tea plantation started, is a complicating factor.


Meanwhile, uncertainty continues and so does people’s suffering, accentuated further by the monsoon rains and the resultant landslides, which destroys property and disturbs communications.
All those who care for Darjeeling, including your columnist who spent several unforgettable years there, feel saddened. The queen of the Himalayan hill stations — with its scenic charm, delightful climate and smiling people — has become a “paradise lost”. As I fondly recall the charm of Darjeeling of those days, with the dominant snowy Kanchenjunga, the majestic rhododendron and Cryptomaria-japonica pine trees, the hills and plains dotted with tea gardens, the cosmopolitan social life with a British community of planters and school teachers, the Tibetan aristocracy and the solid Nepali middle class, the highly cultured Parsi families, the lively Planters Club and the Darjeeling Gymkhana Club, the Lebong pony races, and the relaxed lifestyle, I cannot but feel a certain nostalgia. Today Darjeeling is desolate and uneventful. We cannot but regret the lost horizons.

 

Nitish Sengupta, an academic and an author, is a former Member of Parliamentand a former secretaryto the Government of India

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OP-ED

THE COWARDLY BLOGGERS

BY BY MAUREEN DOWD

 

If I read all the vile stuff about me on the Internet, I’d never come to work. I’d scamper off and live my dream of being a cocktail waitress in a militia bar in Wyoming.


If you’re written about in a nasty way, it looms much larger for you than for anyone else. Gossip goes in one ear and out the other unless you’re the subject. Then, nobody’s skin is thick enough.
“The velocity and volume on the Web are so great that nothing is forgotten and nothing is remembered”, says Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of New Republic. “The Internet is like closing time at a blue-collar bar in Boston. Everyone’s drunk and ugly and they’re going to pass out in a few minutes”.
Those are my people, I protested, but I knew what he meant. That’s why I was interested in the Case of the Blonde Model and the Malicious Blogger.


Sooner or later, this sort of suit will end up before the Supreme Court.


It began eight months ago when Liskula Cohen, a 37-year-old model and Australian Vogue cover girl, was surprised to find herself winning a “Skankiest in NYC” award from an anonymous blogger. The online tormentor put up noxious commentary on Google’s blogger.com, calling Cohen a “skank”, a “ho” and an “old hag” who “may have been hot 10 years ago”.


Cohen says she’s “a lover, not a fighter”. But the model had stood up for herself before. In 2007, at a New York club, she tried to stop a man named Samir Dervisevic who wanted to drink from the vodka bottle on her table. He hit her in the face with the bottle and gouged a hole “the size of a quarter”, as she put it, requiring plastic surgery.


This time, she punched the virtual bully in the face, filing a defamation suit to force Google to give up the blogger’s email. And she won.


“The words ‘skank’, ‘skanky’ and ‘ho’ carry a negative implication of sexual promiscuity”, wrote Justice Joan Madden of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, rejecting the Anonymous Blogger’s assertion that blogs are a modern soapbox designed for opinions, rants and invective.


The judge cited a Virginia court decision that the Internet’s “virtually unlimited, inexpensive and almost immediate means of communication” with the masses means “the dangers of its misuse cannot be ignored. The protection of the right to communicate anonymously must be balanced against the need to assure that those persons who choose to abuse the opportunities presented by this medium can be made to answer for such transgressions”.


Cyberbullies, she wrote, cannot hide “behind an illusory shield of purported First Amendment rights”.
Once she had the email address, Cohen discovered whence the smears: a cafe society acquaintance named Rosemary Port, a pretty 29-year-old Fashion Institute of Technology student.


Cohen called and forgave Port, but did not get an apology. She had her lawyer, Steve Wagner, drop her defamation suit. But now Port says she’ll file a $15 million suit against Google for giving her up.


Port contends that if Cohen hadn’t sued, hardly anyone would have seen the blog. (If a skank falls in the forest and no one hears it...?)


But Cohen says the Internet is different than water-cooler gossip. “It’s there for the whole world to see”, she told me. “What happened to integrity? Why go out of your way solely to upset somebody else? Why can’t we all just be nice?”


She said she may become an activist, and has been emailing with Tina Meier, mother of Megan Meier, the 13-year-old who killed herself after getting cyberbullied by the mother of a classmate who pretended to be a teen suitor named “Josh”.


“If that woman had started a MySpace page as herself, that little girl would still be in her mother’s arms”, Cohen said.


The Internet was supposed to be the prolix paradise where there would be no more gatekeepers and everyone would finally have their say. We would express ourselves freely at any level, high or low, with no inhibitions.


Yet in this infinite realm of truth-telling, many want to hide. Who are these people prepared to tell you what they think, but not who they are? What is the mentality that lets them get in our face while wearing a mask? Shredding somebody’s character before the entire world and not being held accountable seems like the perfect sting.


Pseudonyms have a noble history. Revolutionaries in France, founding fathers and Soviet dissidents used them. The great poet Fernando Pessoa used heteronyms to write in different styles and even to review the work composed under his other names.


As Hugo Black wrote in 1960, “It is plain that anonymity has sometimes been assumed for the most constructive purposes”.


But on the Internet, it’s often less about being constructive and more about being cowardly.

 

By arrangement with the New York Times

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OP-ED

EXISTENTIAL ANGST

BY BY D. RAJA

 

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), political arm of the illiberal Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), is being shaken to its roots. Its state of turmoil is scattering its own followers as never before. But long before the present goings-on began to create a crisis of confidence in the BJP, at various stages the allies that it was able to cultivate have shown considerable anxiety about their association with it.
The RSS’ divisive, sectarian and monolithic worldview that the BJP represented in the political arena made its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) allies wonder if they were keeping the right company. BJP’s NDA allies flocked around it for the sake of getting into power — in the states or at the Centre — at the expense of the Congress and sometimes to keep out the Left parties and their allies. Nevertheless, they have never been totally at ease with their proximity to the BJP.


This is why the two dozen parties that gravitated to the BJP when it enjoyed national power began deserting it when the party lost the Lok Sabha election in 2004. And since then the dissociation has steadily grown. At the moment barely half-a-dozen parties are still with the BJP. This too is the case on account of the NDA ruling in some states. As and when those state Assemblies go to the polls, the regional parties supporting the BJP are once again likely to be thrown into two minds about continuing their alliance.


Thanks to Dr B.R. Ambedkar and other framers of the Indian Constitution, we have a Republican Constitution. We have a democratic republic. We have a parliamentary democracy. In this process, no political party with an ideology which is rightist, reactionary, and backward-looking, can survive in the long run and contribute toward the progress of the nation. This is exactly the crisis which the BJP is facing. This is what has caused questions to be raised in the minds of the NDA parties. The recent Orissa experience is there for everyone to see. The Biju Janata Dal not only broke with the BJP, but it has proved that it can be in power without BJP’s support. The BJD distanced itself from BJP because of the latter’s core Hindutva ideology. In Bihar, the Janata Dal (United) too has been openly distancing itself from BJP from time to time. Even when the NDA was in power, the BJP had to put its core agenda constituting issues like dismantling Article 370 of the Constitution, and Ayodhya, on the back-burner. This was so that its allies do not get unduly alarmed.


Now we hear the cry from some BJP sections for RSS to take over the party as the only way to save it. This is bound to make BJP’s NDA partners very nervous indeed. There is now a really big question mark over the survival of the BJP as an independent political party, even at the formal level. In such circumstances the existence of the NDA cannot but be reduced to irrelevance.

 

(As told to Namrata Biji Ahuja)

 

D. RAJA IS THE CPI’S NATIONAL SECRETARY

AN ALLIANCE BASED ON MUTUAL BENEFITS

BY R. BALASHANKAR

 

The poll 2009 has made the Indian polity bi-polar. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with 116 seats in the Lok Sabha has emerged as the second largest party.


Its closest rival for the third position is one-fifth its size, and happens to be a regional party. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) which used to boast of forming a government at the Centre under the banner of a Third Front, today is left with less than 20 seats. It cannot offer an alternative to the ruling party.


The Congress with just 206 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha is behaving as if it has a two-third majority. It is not willing to accommodate even its staunch supporters like Lalu Prasad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan, Mulayam Singh Yadav and other smaller parties.


This is so because the Congress strategists believe that the phase of coalition politics is over and that the electorate is sick and tired of power- hungry regional parties making an unprincipled claim on the national pie. The Congress of 2009 is in that sense different from the Congress of 2004.


If there is one thing more unpredictable than the Indian monsoon, it is the fortunes of a political party.
Arrogance of power often proves their nemesis. It did not take more than a couple of years for the youthful Rajiv Gandhi with 400-plus seats in the Lok Sabha to fritter away all its goodwill. The fate of Vishwanath Pratap Singh was worse. So, let’s not write off the NDA. Many ditched and jilted ex-Congress allies are waiting in the wings.


True, the NDA is the offshoot of the BJP’s ascent on the Indian political scene. The alliance that a few years ago claimed the loyalty of nearly two dozen parties is now left with only seven. This is definitely a sign of the declining fortunes of the BJP. With the party of late making news only for the wrong reasons, it is natural to express doubts about the fate of the NDA. The BJP sadly lacks public grace and magnanimity in its dealings. It has to evolve and behave better.


For this it has to set its house in order. The present allies of the BJP are with the party for over two decades. And it is a mutually beneficial arrangement more than the ideological coherence they share. Janata Dal (United) in Bihar and Akali Dal in Punjab are natural allies of the BJP. They depend on it for being in power. Similarly, Asom Gana Parishad in Assam and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra share a common vision with the BJP.


The BJP is still in power on its own in six states, and shares power in two others with its NDA allies. Naturally, the party will continue to remain the nucleus of the Opposition to Congress. Even parties that once dreamt of being part of a Third Front will find the BJP more attractive in electoral politics.

 

R. Balashankar is the editor of Organiser, a RSS weekly

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

A NEW TUNE

 

One of the signs of insecurity is the inability to say mea culpa. This is as true for governments and political parties as for individuals. The government of India has a pronounced propensity for not admitting errors. Any such admission is seen as more than weakness: it is seen as a betrayal of the nation. Look at the furore that has been created because the prime minister, in the joint statement with Pakistan, allowed the mention of India’s role in Baluchistan. The prime minister may have had any number of reasons for doing this — from using it as a bargaining chip to a sincere gesture of goodwill. But the entire foreign-policy establishment in India — which includes present diplomats, past ones, pundits, Pakistan watchers et al — has said, openly or piano, that Manmohan Singh has let the side down rather badly. It is worth noting that in a country like the United States of America, the errors of the government, be it the bombing in Vietnam or the attack on Iraq, have all originated within the establishment. In India, the critical eye shuts itself on matters of foreign policy and especially so if the country concerned is Pakistan. This is evidence of a mindset that is blinkered and therefore immature.

 

The prime minister’s comment must be seen in the context of what he wants to achieve. His aim is to establish peace with Pakistan. He believes that to achieve this if it is necessary to admit some of India’s errors, including covert action in Baluchistan, than that is a very minor price tag. This does not make him a weak prime minister, but a strong one with a vision. Mr Singh is concerned with the welfare of India and of Indians. To this end, he transformed the Indian economy and put it on the fast track of growth; he radically altered the configuration of Indo-US relations and nuclear co-operation; and now he is laying the groundwork for a lasting peace with Pakistan. These aims and achievements can hardly be described as the work of a weak prime minister. The other point that has been made against Mr Singh is that he bypassed the bureaucracy and thereby embarrassed some of its key members. The bureaucrat is a civil servant. He works for the prime minister and his cabinet. The prime minister was indicating a shift in policy and approach. Civil servants will have to march to the new tune, instead of following an antique drum.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

PRESUMED DEAD

 

There are two things that the naming of the new head of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan confirms. One, that a drone attack in early August did kill the TTP’s former leader, Baitullah Mehsud. So long, allegations of the death of Mehsud had been hotly refuted by the Taliban, who, however, acknowledged that he was seriously ill. The lack of access to, and information on, South Waziristan made it impossible for Pakistan’s media, and for the international media, to verify the news. Knowledge of Mehsud’s fate is important because his death would signal a breakthrough for Pakistan’s anti-Taliban offensive, which has not had much success in felling important Taliban leaders. It would accord to the United States of America a major victory for its controversial attacks from the air. In spite of doubts, therefore, Pakistan’s information ministry has tried its best to push the news of Mehsud’s death and the resultant disarray in the Taliban ranks. The attempt has set off a media war with the Taliban, who contest and confuse official interpretations with their own versions of what had taken place, and is still taking place, in their midst.

 

Even if it is now fairly clear that Mehsud is dead, the same cannot be said about the end of the succession battle. The new leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, is evidently a man who cannot lay claim either to Baitullah Mehsud’s influence or his stature. The succession has been disputed from the start by another close associate of Mehsud. The second implication of the news of Mehsud’s death thus means an increase in violence as rival Taliban leaders stake their claims to leadership or express their solidarity with the claimants to Mehsud’s political legacy and famed wealth. Hakimullah Mehsud, reputed to be a hot-headed gentleman, is believed to have started the process already by sending out his men to bomb and terrorize Pakistan’s towns and cities and hit out against the Shiite leadership. This means more complication for Pakistan’s anti-Taliban strategy. Now it has to aim at not one, but several, epicentres of conflict as the Taliban, without a strong leadership, splinter further. However, the divisions within the Taliban could also make it easier for Pakistan to deal with the scourge. Unfortunately, Pakistan is neither willing to take the battle right into Waziristan by compromising its position on the eastern border nor completely demonize and destroy the Taliban.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

SALVAGING THE PROTOCOL

OVER CLIMATE CHANGE, THE BATTLE LINES ARE CLEARLY DRAWN

BHASKAR DUTTA

 

The red carpet was certainly rolled out for Hillary Clinton during her recent visit to India. She was fêted, wined and dined, so much so that there were some caustic queries about whether we had moved back in time to the colonial era. But one man stood out in the midst of this sycophancy. Jairam Ramesh, the state environment and forests minister, told her very bluntly that “there is simply no case” for the pressure faced by India to reduce carbon emissions since India was amongst the world’s lowest emitters on a per capita basis.

 

Ramesh was, of course, reiterating the official position of China, India and other developing countries on the issue of climate change and how best to coordinate the international community’s response to the increasing levels of carbon emission. Every country recognizes that something needs to be done because there has been a sharp acceleration in aggregate carbon emissions during the last decade — the increase in emissions has been 3 per cent since 2000, compared to just 1.1 per cent during the 1990s. Unfortunately, there is no consensus at all about how to control emission.

 

The battle lines are very clearly drawn between the developed and the developing countries. The former group point out that they are now using both increasingly energy-efficient technology and cleaner sources of energy such as electricity. This has enabled them to effect significant reductions in emission. Some of the greener countries have also set very ambitious goals — for instance, the United Kingdom targeted a 20 per cent reduction of carbon emission from 1990 levels by 2010. Although this target will not be achieved, the mere stipulation of an ambitious target is taken to be a sign of good intentions. The developed countries also contend that emission levels have been rising very sharply in the developing countries.

 

The main ‘culprit’ has been China. The rapid growth of the Chinese economy, combined with its continued dependence on coal-fired power stations (particularly in the interior provinces), has ensured that China has now earned the dubious distinction of being the biggest emitter in the world — it dethroned the United States of America from this position in 2006. Emission levels in India have also been rising, and for pretty much the same reasons. What is more discouraging is that both countries seem likely to continue with their dependence on coal, although this is the dirtiest fuel.

 

Of course, the developing countries are not without their own ammunition. They contend, with more than a little justification, that it is the past actions of the developed countries which have brought about the degradation in the world’s environment. Over three-fourths of the cumulative anthropogenic carbon dioxide has still come from the developed countries. Also, the focus on aggregate emissions by individual countries is clearly not appropriate because it gives a misleading picture. The larger and more densely populated countries are bound to emit more carbon. Perhaps a more accurate picture is provided by comparisons of per capita emission levels. This comparison of per capita emission levels gives a completely different perspective. It turns out that the per capita emission level in China is only a quarter of that in the US.

 

Fortunately, the fight against climate change is not completely lost. Environment ministers and officials of almost 200 countries will meet in Copenhagen in early December in the hope that they can agree on a new treaty to replace the Kyoto protocol, the first phase of which expires in 2012. The main aim of the Copenhagen summit will be to hammer out an agreement on how to share the burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Climate scientists estimate that by 2050, the world must cut emission levels by 80 per cent, compared with 1990 levels, in order to ensure that global warming does not exceed two degrees centigrade.

 

Given the sheer magnitude of this task, it is clear that all the major countries will have to reduce emission levels — there is no way in which the aggregate emission levels can be reduced to required levels unless China, and to a lesser extent India, also cut back on emissions. This is, of course, a very costly exercise — the main reason why we use coal is because alternative sources of energy are several times more expensive. India simply cannot afford to foot the entire bill involved in exploiting, say, solar energy. The huge subsidies involved will essentially imply that the government will have to make drastic cuts in social-welfare spending and other development expenditures.

 

That is why several developing countries have been arguing that the developed countries must subsidize the costs incurred by the developing countries in reducing emissions. One school argues for this on welfare grounds — since all countries will benefit if global emission levels are slashed, it is the richer countries that must pay the bulk of the costs.

 

A more sophisticated argument puts forth the case that the developed countries have essentially ‘outsourced’ carbon emissions to developing countries. That is, the emissions emanating from China are a consequence of the huge quantities of carbon-intensive manufacturing taking place in China for buyers in the West. Western consumers benefit since the goods imported from China and other developing countries are significantly cheaper than what these goods would have cost if they had been produced in the developed world. Why should the entire burden rest on the producers of these goods? Why should consumers not share the burden? There is more than a grain of truth in this argument, though perhaps it ignores the fact that the ‘outsourcing’ of carbon emissions also benefits the developing countries through the creation of more jobs.

 

Some Western economists do acknowledge that the developed world must not only reduce their own emissions, but also provide incentives to the developing countries to cut emissions. Of course, there are also the hawks who rave and rant about the need to impose stiff penalties in the form of trade sanctions against those developing countries which do not cap carbon emissions. What is going to be crucial is the official American position. George W. Bush almost singlehandedly scuttled the Kyoto protocol. Fortunately, there seems to be a sea change in the attitude of the Obama administration. The US seems determined to implement stiff emission targets for the US economy. Perhaps, it can also be persuaded to subsidize the developing countries if they cap emissions.

 

The author is professor of economics, University of Warwick

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

STILL IN A SOUP

DIPANKAR BOSE

 

After recession gripped entire North America and Europe, and also Japan, surplus capacity has appeared all over the world. China and India have escaped recession, but not excess capacity. In such situations, large companies from the advanced countries tend to export at prices below their home prices, just above the variable costs, often with covert government subsidies.

 

This is what had happened between mid-1997 and 2000, when the Southeast Asian economies crashed following a four-year boom when Southeast Asia had been the fastest growing region, with sharply rising steel consumption. During these years, the Indian steel industry was also going through a slump. The former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had already been saddled with huge surplus capacity following its break-up. Russia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan dumped their steel in India at half their home price.

 

Dumping has been going on in India on a grand scale over the last two years. So much so that in 2008-09, India had to launch a record 197 anti-dumping investigations as against 151 in 2007-08. But not a single one has been launched for steel, and the authorities have deferred the decision to implement the safeguard duty on steel items.

 

Since the current recession was preceded by a boom, as is usually the case, steel prices had skyrocketed before they crashed. The wild price variations occurred because of global market forces, which get transmitted instantaneously in a globalized world. They seriously affect investment and production in a capital-intensive sector like steel and in the steel-user industries.

 

PRACTICAL PROBLEMS

The situation all over the world now is grim, with major economies, except China, being in the soup. Chances of a recovery are dim. The World Bank has predicted that the global output will shrink by 2.9 per cent in 2009. Much depends on a stable recovery of the United States of America, since Germany, Japan, China as well as Southeast Asia depend largely on US consumer demand.

 

Unemployment in the US is still rising. House prices are still falling, though at a slower rate. Wage-cuts have become endemic. Bank-failures are continuing. The US has only avoided a full-fledged depression, nothing more. But another dip looms large, unless a large second stimulus is injected.

 

Japan’s economy has contracted by four per cent between January and March 2009. In the United Kingdom, unemployment was up by nearly a quarter of a million in the same period, the worst since 1981. For China, the $585 billion stimulus seems to have worked and a six per cent growth is now expected.

 

The world steel scenario reflects the economic reality. Between January and May 2009, steel output in the Europian Union and the US were down by 44.4 per cent and 49.5 per cent respectively, while in China it was up by 0.4 per cent during the same period in 2008. India’s steel imports increased by six per cent to 1.057 million tonnes, and exports dropped by four per cent to 0.4 mt during April-May this year as against the corresponding months of 2008. Dumping is still going on, specially from the Commonwealth of Independent States, followed by China.

 

It is in this context that the decision to defer the safeguard duty on steel needs to be seen. In India, it takes six to nine months just to get a preliminary probe done before imposing the interim duty. Since a country cannot impose anti-dumping duty retrospectively, exporters continue with dumping for a long time. Further, thanks to the rules of the World Trade Organization, even when such a duty is imposed for a certain product against a particular country, it can export the same item through a third country, which does not even make the product. This is reforms in practice. And the new government still advocates further reforms. Need we say any more?

 

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

UNENDING ANGST

MANIPUR DESERVES A BREAK


HOPEFULLY the Centre’s desperation to find a remedy to Manipur’s growing ills will find success because the state really deserves a break from its daily dose of violence. With the heat over the controversial killing of a former People’s Liberation Army activist last month by police commandos yet to die down there comes a report of the killing of an NSCN(IM) cadre in Ukhrul by Assam Rifles. This triggered widespread protests in the district. Last week, an India Reserve Battalion personnel created a sensation when he confessed to having accepted money from a militant outfit to hurl bombs at a private hospital. This lends credence to the suspicion that last year’s lethal bomb attacks on the chief minister’s residence-cum-office could have been the handiwork of insiders and not militant outfits. Make no mistake, Manipur is notorious for such incidents.


Some years ago, Manipur Rifles earned the sobriquet of “Ganja rifles” for escorting a truckload of contraband to Bihar. In 2005, the chief minister himself allegedly donated Rs 1.50 crore to two militant outfits ~ the copy of the receipts were handed over to the Union home ministry by the then Army chief ~ but the outfits described these as “forged”. The state has been under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act since the late Seventies but militancy has never once waned. Most importantly, Manipur is the only state where one will not see a single signboard in Hindi. A militant outfit in Septemebr 2000 banned Hindi movies, songs and TV programmes. When Manipur will be blessed with “normal” life is anybody’s guess!

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

AN ICON DEPARTS

THE KENNEDY ERA IS OVER


UNQUESTIONABLY the most influential American never to hold office in the White House was Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy who has died of brain cancer at the age of 77. That his death has been mourned, his qualities eulogised, across the world underscores his larger-than-life status ~ there was no protocol requirement for condolence messages to be issued. The genuine sorrow sweeping over the American political spectrum testifies to a rare ability to both stand his ground adamantly, yet earn the appreciation of opponents. Some would contend that the assassination of his two elder brothers, unique political personalities both, paved his path to success. On the contrary, to emerge from their monumental shadow and prove himself a trailblazer in his own right was his challenge. To carry so flaming a family torch was demanding. Yet from the moment he replaced JFK in the Senate he took to the legislature his own brand of competence, laced no doubt with the Kennedy-charisma. His 47 years there saw that chamber grow in stature, play a second-to-none role in the political arena, serve as both accelerator and brake on the Presidency. Much of the “social” legislation adopted over the past four decades had the Kennedy tag. He strutted across the global stage too, known internationally for his work for the welfare of children, and in a more limited context for providing unique momentum to the peace process in Northern Ireland. His Irish-Catholic origins saw him being accused of being partisan, he used that to advantage. Personal tragedy dogged him: first the deaths of his brothers, then his running from the scene of that fatal accident which ultimately cost him a tilt at the White House. As always he came back fighting, and with Pennsylvania Avenue “closed” to him, it was on “the Hill” that he ascended his personal political summit. Reaching out across the aisle, even to the annoyance of his Democrat colleagues, to press for what he believed was right.


To have earned the highest of national awards, and still serve as a much-loved patriarch of the star-studded Kennedy clan called for a rare sense of balance and maturity. Many were the family sorrows he bore without flinching, serving as a fount of strength to his kin. Yes he was a giant, who till his last days kept fighting ~ health care legislation being the unfinished business of the “Lion of the Senate”. His last “roar” however would be his decisive endorsement of Barack Obama during the close, bitter campaign for the Democrat “ticket”. Yes, he was hugely influential.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

VEDIC VILLAINS

CRIMINALISED URBAN DEVELOPMENT

 

AT first sight, it did seem somewhat improbable that an event as trivial as a para football match could have sparked the kind of mayhem as Vedic Village, the upmarket resort on Kolkata’s periphery, witnessed on Sunday evening. And shockingly enough, it took the administration 24 hours to acknowledge the criminality. The killing and the arson were not embedded in a perceived misjudgment of the match referee, but in the sinister rivalry that plagues New Town’s booming real estate lobby. Indeed, it is a segment of the development process that, as reported in this newspaper, has been patronised by both the CPI-M and the Trinamul Congress. Despite the 12 arrests, the king of the ring, called Gaffar Mollah, remains at large. Indeed, Sunday’s arson and the seizure of arms fully bear out Biman Bose’s assertion that the “promoter raj” has done the party in. Though he must accept that as the CPI-M’s state secretary he could not have been unaware of the emergence of the realtor lobby as an unofficial front unit of the party. And particularly so in the lucrative fringe areas of the city where the choice before the land mafia is as chilling as it is stark ~ between making easy money and murder. The land deals in the Rajarhat area are symptoms of a deeper malaise. The government could not have been unaware that goons have played the role of facilitators in spurious land transactions, especially those directly involving the cultivator and the builder. The plot thickens with Tuesday’s seizure of police helmets.


It is now officially established that the locals had for some time been up in arms against Gaffar and his henchmen who had acted as fixers in the acquisition of fertile land at throwaway rates allegedly for the benefit of big ticket players. The forcible purchase from farmers, a euphemism for occasionally violent landgrabs, has been a striking feature of Rajarhat ever since it featured on the urban development map. The absence of an outcry all these years is partly explained by the fact that both the ruling party and the opposition had a finger in the pie, with brazen irregularities being tacitly condoned by the state machinery. This is the core issue that has been exposed by the outrage at Vedic Village, one that ought to be the focus of the investigation that has been promised by the home secretary. Mr Ardhendu Sen has pointed to a “land mafia and acquisition at gunpoint”, but is still awaiting “specific complaints”. He would rather that “action” is kept in suspended animation, almost in accord with the state of governance since the Lok Sabha debacle. Whether “the owners of the resort were behind the incident” or whether the godown, from where the arms were seized, belong to the resort can only be aspects of any inquiry that must be comprehensive. And if that takes the lid off a pretty kettle of fish, cutting across party lines, so be it. Vedic Village, as with much of East Kolkata, showcases how the development of under-development has assumed direly criminal proportions.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

DINOSAURS HIT RIVALS ‘LIKE ATHLETES HIT BALLS’

 

LONDON, 26 AUG: Believe it or not, dinosaurs used to hit rivals like athletes strike balls.
An international team has carried out a research and concluded that glyptodont dinosaurs had a finely-adapted tail with a “sweet spot” which clubbed rivals in the same way as tennis or cricket players hit balls.
In fact, the two-ton prehistoric beast ~ which grew to the size of a small car ~ killed predators by swinging its spiked tail, paleontologists said.


“We found in several of the large species the centre of percussion was almost at the same position of the largest spike in the tail. The spikes were probably useful to increase the damage during a tail blow like those in the middle age spiked mace.


“Our new results suggest the tail club was finely adapted to deliver accurate powerful blows with that large spike -- in the way tennis rackets and baseball bats are better fit to hit at the "sweet spot",” team leader Mr Rudemar Ernesto Blanco was quoted by The Daily Telegraph as saying.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

WHISTLE-BLOWER’S TALE

AMULYA GANGULI

 

IF Jaswant Singh is to be believed, then Atal Behari Vajpayee contemplated resignation after the Gujarat riots of 2002. The truth of this assertion cannot be verified since the former Prime Minister’s current illness prevents him from making either public appearance or public speeches. Even if he was in better health, it is unlikely that he would have either confirmed or denied the claim because of his loyalty to the party and its secrets and, more importantly, because of his reclusive temperament.
However, two of Vajpayee’s subsequent comments suggest that Jaswant Singh may be right. The first was Vajpayee’s admission that some of the BJP members had been driven by their emotions during the outbreak (bhavnao se parichalit thhey) and the second was his publicly expressed conviction that the BJP’s defeat in 2004 was due to what happened in Gujarat. 


There was a third episode in those fateful days when it was believed that Vajpayee had decided to sack Narendra Modi, but was dissuaded from doing so by LK Advani, Pramod Mahajan, Arun Jaitley and others on the grounds that there would be further violence in Gujarat if Modi was dismissed. Before Vajpayee was made to change his mind, Chandrababu Naidu appeared to have come to know what was going on, which was why he virtually announced that the Modi government would fall.


PRECIPITOUS STEP

THE point, however, is that if Vajpayee had indeed thought of resigning, this was the second time that he had done so. The first was after the Babari Masjid demolition, but on that occasion, too, he had been persuaded by the party to refrain from taking such a precipitous step. What the two events, separated by 10 years, showed was that Vajpayee was the only person in the BJP and the Sangh Parivar who felt disturbed enough by the breaking of the mosque and the riots to want to resign.

 

That he was stopped by the hardliners is another story, hinting at a lack of genuine conviction and a lazy acceptance of the reality, however distressing. But, for the present, it is worth remembering that there was no other person in the entire saffron camp who felt upset by these two traumatic events. It isn’t only Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Sushma Swaraj, Venkaiah Naidu and others whose consciences remained at peace despite the bloodshed, even the present-day whistle-blowers like Jaswant Singh and Arun Shourie didn’t utter a word either at the time or subsequently because neither the demolition of 1992 nor the riots of 2002 was something which, they thought, required condemnation.


Shourie’s silence is understandable because he was and is a hardliner. His present grouse is against the ineffectual leadership of Rajnath Singh and Advani, which, he feels, is leading the party downhill. So he wants the even more hawkish RSS to formally take over the reins of the BJP by dropping the pretence of being a “cultural” organization. Although Jaswant Singh’s grievances are also against the leadership, he has been trying to pretend that he is more liberal-minded than the average saffronite. As such, he wanted the term, Hindutva, to be clarified so that the BJP would not remain yesterday’s party.
However, the problem with such second thoughts is their context. It was only after the party’s electoral defeat that Jaswant Singh developed misgivings about Hindutva whereas he had no such doubts earlier. Yet, Hindutva or cultural nationalism (“one nation, one people, one culture”) is not an ideal whose justifiability or otherwise depends on electoral success or failure unless it is to be regarded as a mere campaign plank. Since it is supposed to be the BJP’s and the Parivar’s basic philosophy, it has to be accepted in its totality, as indeed Rajnath Singh has done by maintaining that it is non-negotiable.
Disclosures
FOR someone like Jaswant Singh, however, the concept is all right as long as the party is winning. Otherwise, it is to be dumped. It is the same with some of his other observations. All his disclosures about Vajpayee’s threat of resignation, Advani’s knowledge of the Kandahar episode and his quiet acquiescence in the cash-for-votes scam during the parliamentary debate on the nuclear deal have followed his expulsion. Had he been treated with greater consideration, he would have obviously remained silent with an easy conscience. He also would not have had any reason to complain about Advani’s failure to stand up for him over the book on Jinnah as he had done when Advani was under fire for his faux pas on the Quaid-e-Azam. 


In fact, Jaswant Singh might well have led a more quiet life if the BJP had not lost its nerve over his foray into history. The party had actually got over its earlier discomfiture with him and even sought to pacify him with the inam (reward) of chairmanship of the prestigious Public Accounts Committee. As a result, his earlier complaints about the discrepancy between inam and parinam (outcome) following Arun Jaitley’s elevation to the party’s leadership in the Rajya Sabha and of Sushma Swaraj as deputy leader in the Lok Sabha had become muted.


The reason for the BJP’s frenzied reaction to the book was that it proved to be the last straw after the electoral defeat, the criticism of Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, the revolt of Vasundhara Raje, pressure from the RSS for inducting new blood, and so on. All of this clearly proved too much for Rajnath Singh, especially when the chances of his securing another term as the party chief were seemingly slipping out of his grasp. But neither he nor the acquiescent parliamentary board probably realized that Jaswant Singh’s expulsion would mark the beginning of a fresh round of problems with the washing of the party’s dirty linen in public.

 

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DECCON HERALD

EDITORIAL

INDIA IS STILL WORLD’S HUNGER CAPITAL

WITH NEARLY A FOURTH OF ITS 1.1 BILLION POPU-LATION HUNGRY, INDIA INDEED IS THE WORLD’S HUNGER CAPITAL.

PRASENJIT CHOWDHURY


As more and more reports of the global financial meltdown are pouring in, digest this. It made the world scurry to a grim one billion hungry people, a fact perceived as a grave threat to global peace and security. The UN estimates that hunger now affects one in six people, compounded by factors such as war, drought or floods, high food prices and poverty. Most of the hunger in a world of plenty results from grinding, deep-rooted poverty.


According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), there are 100 million more hungry people this year, meaning they consume fewer than 1,800 calories a day. A spokesman of the World Food Programme said hungry people rioted in at least 30 countries last year, leading to, most notably, deadly riots in Haiti sparked off by soaring food prices to spiral into the overthrow of the prime minister.


“A hungry world is a dangerous world,” he said, “without food, people have only three options: They riot, they emigrate or they die. None of these are acceptable options.” Are not the Kalahandi district of Orissa and Lalgarh of West Bengal illustrative examples of the observation?


ABSENT STATE

Commentators note that in the 1990s, when India began to move towards a free market, the Naxalite movement revived in some of the poorest and most populous Indian states. Part of the reason for this is that some livelihood and living-related issues like agriculture, public health, education and poverty-eradication have been given a short shrift, exposing large sections of the population to disease, debt, hunger and starvation. The Indian state is conspicuously absent in most backward areas of the country.

Notwithstanding plaudits such as Thomas Friedman celebrating India as a success story of globalisation, it must be put on record that India has a terrible record in tackling hunger and malnutrition. Amartya Sen has repeatedly pointed out how the ‘very poor’ in India get a small share of the cake that information technology and related developments generate.


India ranked 66th on the 2008 Global Hunger Index of 88 countries, as per a report released by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).


India has the highest number of undernourished people in the world — 230 million — added to which 1.5 million children are at risk of becoming malnourished because of rising global food prices.


The report of the UN World Food Programme is quite unflattering. More than 27 per cent of the world’s undernourished population lives in India, of whom 43 per cent children (under five years) are underweight. The figure is higher than the global average of 25 per cent and even beats sub-Saharan Africa’s figure of 28 per cent. Nearly 50 per cent of child deaths in India occur due to malnutrition.


 

LEFT OUT

“In no case should we allow citizens to go hungry,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh admirably said in a meeting of state chief secretaries to take stock of the drought-like conditions in parts of the country. He seemed to be aware that non-utilisation of funds by a few states under Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna and National Food Security Mission, the two major schemes for the agriculture sector launched by the Centre, is another factor why, despite the element of goodwill, the target beneficiaries remain outside the loop of development.

The National Food Security Act of the UPA government is a step in the right direction as it envisages food-security-for-all. But the task of expanding our public distribution system must also take into account weeding out bogus cardholders and hoarders, while a stricter vigil has to be kept on both the quantity and quality of the available foodstock under PDS. Incorrect information, inaccurate measurement of household characteristics, corruption and inefficiency must be plugged.


Since independence, the government has formulated more than 50 programmes targeting the poor to alleviate poverty. The real challenge facing India today is making wealth and entitlements not a monopoly of a clique of super elites.


The revamped version of the Garibi Hatao programme in 2007 listed farmer support, food security, housing for all, labour welfare, development of backward areas and e-governance. But we seem to suffer from known pathogens year after year. Hunger and poverty must end and we need not only goodwill but a vigorous state mechanism to ensure that.

 

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DECCON HERALD

EDITORIAL

CHILD’S SOUL AS WINDOW TO RESPECT

THE REAL MEANING OF ‘RESP-ECT’, ‘SINCERITY’, ‘HONESTY’, ETC IS FOUND AMONG KIDS.

SUDHA SRINATH

 

How many times have I told you to put your lunch bag in the sink?” I shouted at my five-year-old daughter who goes to kindergarten. “You forgot to do it yesterday and the day before too. I am sure you will forget to put it in the sink tomorrow as well,” my authoritative mother’s tone was reflecting my irritation too.


Little did I know that it was going to be a very special day of my life in which I found my little one to have become, unwittingly, my friend, philosopher and guide. Her large, beautiful eyes stared at me, reflecting the hurt my harsh words had caused. “I am sorry that I did not do that ‘amma’! But, how are you sure that I am not going to do it tomorrow? You talk about positive thinking; this, definitely, is not positive thinking ‘amma’.”


Her voice quivered, her eyes swelled up and tears rolled rolling down her cheeks as she spoke to me.


Her gentle words hit me so hard that whenever I recall that day I weep in shame. It made me feel so small in front of my little daughter. I am sure I did not have that maturity at that age. Perhaps, the credit goes to her school teachers, who encourage and put value in children giving their opinion. My daughter is now located in a culture where children are respected too, I thought.


Yes, she was three years old when we moved to the US to pursue our research interests. She did not know a word of English. Thanks to her passion for reading and the public library system in the US, she not only excelled in the language but also got an opportunity to teach in a peer-learning programme to her American counterparts in school.


Since the heart-rending incident, I have learnt a lot of things from her, beginning from the pronunciation difference of ‘e’ and ‘y’ (‘v’ and ‘w’). Without her knowledge (or mine) I learnt from her the practical meaning of ‘respect’, ‘sincerity’, ‘honesty’, ‘integrity’, etc.


When I see how naturally she practises these all the time, not only have these words become more meaningful but they have helped me grow. I am sure every child is pure-hearted and takes things literally in the beginning and it’s the adults who twist their meanings (or arms). It is a blessing that one learns everything one needs in kindergarten. Well, it’s that time of the year to say “Thank you Teachers!”

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

CALIFORNIA IS FAILING THE PRISON TEST

 

The California Legislature has failed several times to change backward sentencing and parole policies that keep the state’s prisons dangerously overcrowded with too many minor offenders sent to jail for too long. These failures, which have driven up corrections costs by about 50 percent in less than a decade, came home to roost earlier this month, when a federal court ordered the state to cut the prison population significantly. Days later, an ominous riot broke out in the men’s prison in Chino.

 

The time for ducking this issue has clearly passed, but a reform plan approved by the State Senate after being championed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is in danger of being gutted in the Assembly. Democratic lawmakers who should know better are running scared of the prison guards’ union and of being labeled “soft on crime.”

 

The heart of the problem is California’s poorly designed parole system. A vast majority of states use parole to supervise serious offenders who require close monitoring. California has historically put just about everyone on parole. According to a federally backed study released last year, more people are sent to prison in California by parole officers than by the courts, and nearly half of those people go back on technical violations like missed appointments and failed drug tests.

 

The reform package that passed in the Senate would allow the state to focus parole efforts on serious offenders and end the costly practice of cycling people back to jail for technical violations. Under another provision, low-risk offenders like the elderly and the infirm could be removed from costly medical care in prison and sent to alternative custody nursing homes, where they would be monitored with electronic ankle bracelets. Low-risk inmates who completed college degrees or vocational programs would earn credits shortening their sentences.

 

This bill should have easily passed in the Assembly, which has a Democratic majority supposedly in favor of reform. But the Democrats, many of whom are running for other offices, are clearly fearful of even taking a vote that would allow a sick, 80-year-old inmate to spend what remains of his life in a nursing home wearing an ankle bracelet.

 

This is a low moment for Democrats in California. Those who put their parochial career interests ahead of the public good deserve to be called to account for it.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

OUR PLASTIC LEGACY AFLOAT

 

Until recently, the earth had seven continents. To that number, humans have added an eighth — an amorphous, floating mass of waste plastic trapped in a gyre of currents in the north Pacific, between Hawaii and Japan. Researchers have estimated that this garbage patch may contain as much as 100 million tons of plastic debris and is perhaps twice the size of Texas, if not larger.

 

Across the world’s oceans there are still many more millions of tons of floating plastic, most of it originating from land, not ships. All of this solid waste is bad news. It traps as many as a million seabirds every year, as well as some 100,000 marine mammals.

 

Now comes what could be more bad news. A new study, announced at a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society, suggests that plastics in seawater break down faster than expected. As they do, they apparently release contaminants, including potentially harmful styrene compounds not normally found in nature. This was not merely a laboratory finding. The author of the study, Katsuhiko Saido, a scientist at Nihon University in Japan, found the same chemical compounds in seawater samples collected near Malaysia, the Pacific Northwest, and in the northern Pacific.

 

The effects of these broken-down plastics on marine organisms is as yet unknown, and they will be harder

to measure than the damage that plastic refuse does to sea-life. But adding to the contaminant load of the oceans cannot be a good thing.

 

What we are seeing here is yet another of the large-scale, potentially tragic, uncontrolled experiments that humans have conducted on their environment without intending to. And though we cannot do much about the millions of tons that have already been sent to sea, we can at least begin to ask ourselves, when we get ready to pitch a plastic container, where is this likely to end up?

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY

 

Three decades ago, Senator Edward Moore Kennedy ruined his last hope to be elected to the White House when a television interviewer asked him why he wanted to be president. He could not articulate an answer, offering instead a rambling, empty response that persuaded his party that he may not really have wanted or been suited for the job that his brother John had held and to which his brother Robert had aspired.

 

Yet as so often happened in an extraordinary life that careened from success to misfortune and scandal and back to success again, this bumbling moment worked to Mr. Kennedy’s advantage and, as it turned out, to the even greater advantage of the nation as a whole. Having failed in his insurgent challenge to President Jimmy Carter, Mr. Kennedy was finally free to focus with passion and political craft on his more natural calling as one of the master legislators and great reformers in the modern Senate.

 

The record Mr. Kennedy leaves after 46 years can only be envied by his peers as they join the nation in mourning his passing after a 15-month fight against brain cancer — a record firmly anchored in Mr. Kennedy’s insistence that politics be grasped and administered through the prism of human needs.

 

Together with a hard-won mastery of parliamentary intricacies, and a willingness to reach across party lines to win crucial votes, Mr. Kennedy’s unwavering taproot liberalism left a robust legacy: signature laws and reforms on civil rights, the judiciary, refugees, social welfare, foreign policy (he was one of 23 senators to vote against authorizing the Iraq invasion), voting rights, job training, public education and the minimum wage.

 

Last year, in his bittersweet adieu before the Democratic convention, the senator stirred his party to act on what he called “the cause of my life” — quality health care as a fundamental right of American citizenship.

 

The fate of Senator Kennedy’s cause remains in the hands of a conflicted Congress and President Obama, the Democratic candidate whom Mr. Kennedy dared to champion when other party leaders hesitated. And while his leadership will be missed in the intricate legislative warfare ahead, it would be a fitting tribute if his death could resolve for the better an issue too long in doubt.

 

Mr. Kennedy’s life was burdened with personal tragedy, including the assassinations of two brothers, and personal embarrassment, mostly self-inflicted. He was pronounced finished 40 years ago after Mary Jo Kopechne drowned in a car the senator drove off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island off Martha’s Vineyard. But Massachusetts voters stuck with him, and in the last 15 years Mr. Kennedy seemed to get a much firmer grip on his personal life, not least in an effort to set a better example as the patriarch of the Kennedy clan.

 

“I recognize my own shortcomings,” he conceded in 1991, knowing that they will not be erased from the pages of history. But neither will his spirit, his devotion to helping Americans in need and his belief that politics, not always a savory calling, can make a real difference.

 

His mantra, forged in tragedy, and expressed most eloquently to the Democratic National Convention when he abandoned his presidential quest in 1980, was simple and ennobling: “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.” In his final speeches, he explicitly handed on this mantra to President Obama.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

A TOMATO DOES NOT GROW IN BROOKLYN

BY BRENT STAPLES

 

The relentlessly rainy summer has played havoc with the tomato crop in backyard Brooklyn. With the season just about over, the six pampered plants on the back deck and patio have yielded just a handful of undersized tomatoes and only two specimens that qualify as fat and sassy.

 

This has been a weird gardening season from the very beginning. Egged on by torrential downpours during the spring, the two 60-foot locust trees that flank my backyard sprayed the patio with seedlings that would have blown away in a dry year. In a monsoon year, they took root in the spaces among the bricks.

 

This sudden carpet of tiny trees reminded me of a writer who said that asphalt New York would quickly revert to forest if sprouts were allowed to go unmolested in the streets. On the premise that two towering trees are quite enough, we have rooted out these crafty seedlings.

 

Pumped up by the rain, the locust trees fleshed out their branches and blocked out even more of the sparse sunlight. The thickening canopy created a rain-forest effect in the yard below, where the snails grew steadily bolder, munching down petunias in broad daylight.

 

My spectacular orange and yellow begonia escaped this period with a slight attack of scale. The pink hibiscus (which had held a sunny spot all along) came through unharmed.

 

The potted geraniums are typically the iron men of my garden. This year, they stopped blooming and developed a spotted blight I had never seen.

 

By the time the reluctant sun finally arrived, eight or nine once healthy plants had withered away and needed to be replaced.

 

Which brings me back to the disappointing tomato harvest. I don’t generally think of gardening in terms of profit and loss. But taking into account pots, dirt, fertilizer, labor and emotional distress, the tomatoes of 2009 must be costing me something like 20 bucks apiece.

 

And last night, I stepped out onto the patio and harvested what looks like the last ripe tomato of a wet and trying season.

 

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

HEALTH CARE FIT FOR ANIMALS

BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

 

Opponents suggest that a “government takeover” of health care will be a milestone on the road to “socialized medicine,” and when he hears those terms, Wendell Potter cringes. He’s embarrassed that opponents are using a playbook that he helped devise.

 

“Over the years I helped craft this messaging and deliver it,” he noted.

 

Mr. Potter was an executive in the health insurance industry for nearly 20 years before his conscience got the better of him. He served as head of corporate communications for Humana and then for Cigna.

 

He flew in corporate jets to industry meetings to plan how to block health reform, he says. He rode in limousines to confabs to concoct messaging to scare the public about reform. But in his heart, he began to have doubts as the business model for insurance evolved in recent years from spreading risk to dumping the risky.

 

Then in 2007 Mr. Potter attended a premiere of “Sicko,” Michael Moore’s excoriating film about the American health care system. Mr. Potter was taking notes so that he could prepare a propaganda counterblast — but he found himself agreeing with a great deal of the film.

 

A month later, Mr. Potter was back home in Tennessee, visiting his parents, and dropped in on a three-day charity program at a county fairgrounds to provide medical care for patients who could not afford doctors. Long lines of people were waiting in the rain, and patients were being examined and treated in public in stalls intended for livestock.

 

“It was a life-changing event to witness that,” he remembered. Increasingly, he found himself despising himself for helping block health reforms. “It sounds hokey, but I would look in the mirror and think, how did I get into this?”

 

Mr. Potter loved his office, his executive salary, his bonus, his stock options. “How can I walk away from a job that pays me so well?” he wondered. But at the age of 56, he announced his retirement and left Cigna last year.

 

This year, he went public with his concerns, testifying before a Senate committee investigating the insurance industry.

 

“I knew that once I did that my life would be different,” he said. “I wouldn’t be getting any more calls from recruiters for the health industry. It was the scariest thing I have done in my life. But it was the right thing to do.”

 

Mr. Potter says he liked his colleagues and bosses in the insurance industry, and respected them. They are not evil. But he adds that they are removed from the consequences of their decisions, as he was, and are obsessed with sustaining the company’s stock price — which means paying fewer medical bills.

 

One way to do that is to deny requests for expensive procedures. A second is “rescission” — seizing upon a technicality to cancel the policy of someone who has been paying premiums and finally gets cancer or some other expensive disease. A Congressional investigation into rescission found that three insurers, including Blue Cross of California, used this technique to cancel more than 20,000 policies over five years, saving the companies $300 million in claims.

 

As The Los Angeles Times has reported, insurers encourage this approach through performance evaluations. One Blue Cross employee earned a perfect evaluation score after dropping thousands of policyholders who faced nearly $10 million in medical expenses.

 

Mr. Potter notes that a third tactic is for insurers to raise premiums for a small business astronomically after an employee is found to have an illness that will be very expensive to treat. That forces the business to drop coverage for all its employees or go elsewhere.

 

All this is monstrous, and it negates the entire point of insurance, which is to spread risk.

 

The insurers are open to one kind of reform — universal coverage through mandates and subsidies, so as to give them more customers and more profits. But they don’t want the reforms that will most help patients, such as a public insurance option, enforced competition and tighter regulation.

 

Mr. Potter argues that much tougher regulation is essential. He also believes that a robust public option is an essential part of any health reform, to compete with for-profit insurers and keep them honest.

 

As a nation, we’re at a turning point. Universal health coverage has been proposed for nearly a century in the United States. It was in an early draft of Social Security.

 

Yet each time, it has been defeated in part by fear-mongering industry lobbyists. That may happen this time as well — unless the Obama administration and Congress defeat these manipulative special interests. What’s un-American isn’t a greater government role in health care but an existing system in which Americans without insurance get health care, if at all, in livestock pens.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

THE LION CUB OF THE SENATE

BY ADAM CLYMER

 

TED was the Kennedy we saw grow old and die, and it is easiest to remember him for his last decade or two, when he was acknowledged to be a great senator. And, indeed, he did not deserve that status until he abandoned the pursuit of the presidency after 1980.

 

But in his earliest years in the Senate — when some dismissed him as a playboy or as not very smart — he showed the instincts of a natural in that peculiar body, instincts that later combined with experience to produce legislation on education, health, labor and civil rights that affected hundreds of millions of American lives.

 

Two episodes illustrate his early grasp of what the Senate required to get things done.

 

In 1965, his third year in office, he was senior to his older brother Robert, then a newly elected senator from New York, on the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare. One day they sat through a hearing, waiting for senior senators to finish their questions. Like a schoolboy bored in class, Robert passed Ted a note: “Is this the way I become a good senator — sitting here and waiting my turn?” Ted scribbled, “Yes.” Then Robert asked, “How many hours do I have to sit here to be a good senator?” Ted replied, “As long as necessary, Robbie.”

 

“As long as necessary” could have been Ted’s motto. Perseverance is critical in a body configured for delay and inaction.

 

The other essential trait in the Senate is working across party lines. These days it is necessary to prevent or defeat filibusters on almost everything. That was less true when Mr. Kennedy came to the Senate; filibusters were reserved for matters of great importance, like civil rights. Mr. Kennedy just had the strategic sense that getting a majority in those days required some Republican votes to make up for losses among conservative Southern Democrats.

 

Long before Orrin Hatch, his most durable partner, came along, Mr. Kennedy found Republican allies. One of the most surprising was President Richard Nixon, who supported a Kennedy measure in 1971 to create the National Cancer Institute. But Nixon exacted a price that most senators would not have paid. An intermediary, the New York banker Benno Schmidt, was told that Mr. Kennedy’s name had to come off the bill for Nixon to support it. He worried that Kennedy would refuse. But Ted said, as Schmidt told me years later, “Oh, hell, that’s no problem.” So, formally at least, the chief Senate sponsor of the cancer bill was Peter Dominick, Republican of Colorado.

 

That may be an extreme example of the principle that great things can be done if you don’t care who gets the credit (a notion attributed variously to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harry Truman, George C. Marshall and Ronald Reagan). But over the years those occasional Republican allies — Hugh Scott on campaign finance; Strom Thurmond on crime; Bob Dole and John Danforth on civil rights; Judd Gregg, John Boehner and Michael Enzi on education; and Jacob Javits, Nancy Kassebaum and Orrin Hatch on health — have often received more of the credit for passing a bill than Mr. Kennedy did. He didn’t seem to mind.

 

Three legislative steps stand out in the period from 1963 until Robert’s death in 1968, when Ted was still just the Other Kennedy and not much considered in terms of presidential ambition.

 

In 1965, he led an effort to ban the poll tax as part of the Voting Rights Act. He barely lost, and was widely praised for his mastery of the legal and constitutional arguments. It was another 15 years before he became the acknowledged leader of Congressional forces on civil rights, but that was the first step toward that pre-eminence on what he told me in 1992 was the “defining aspect of the American political experience: who we are or are not going to be.”

 

In 1966, Mr. Kennedy took the first step on the issue that has dominated his career — health care — by winning a $51 million appropriation to create 30 community health centers. Because Mr. Kennedy also fought off Reagan administration efforts to kill federal aid for the program, today there are more than 1,200 of these centers serving poor communities.

 

In 1967, he teamed with Howard Baker, then a freshman Republican senator, to block an effort led by Baker’s father-in-law, Everett Dirksen, to thwart judicial reapportionment decisions by establishing a very loose standard of how equal districts had to be. They not only won in the Senate; they then managed to defeat a House-Senate conference report that abandoned the Senate position — a rare accomplishment for two new senators. As David Broder of The Washington Post wrote, “Defeating bad legislation, as Kennedy and Baker have done, is every bit as difficult as passing a good bill, but not nearly so long remembered.”

 

Robert’s assassination in 1968 made Ted an inevitable presidential potential, and Mary Jo Kopechne’s death at Chappaquiddick the next year ultimately foreclosed on the possibility. Ted’s accomplishments as a senator in the years since have included lowering the voting age to 18, outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War (which he initially supported), Meals on Wheels and airline and trucking deregulation.

 

From defending the Voting Rights Act and other civil rights measures against the Reagan administration and the Supreme Court to passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, he fulfilled his commitment to what he called the “great unfinished business of America.” He never achieved universal health care — in his words, “the cause of my life” — but from AIDS treatment to insurance that can be carried from job to job to Medicare drug benefits to insuring millions of children, he saw that many more Americans got the health care his own family could easily afford.

 

Longevity, with the privileges of seniority, certainly helped him accomplish all he did. Just two other senators served longer, and neither Strom Thurmond nor Robert Byrd approaches his record of achievement. Too often, though, the case is made that Ted Kennedy’s career had two parts: his early years almost trivial; the decades after his failed bid for the White House, triumphal. But from the beginning, he showed the skill and passion that bloomed into the successes that put him in the top rank of American senators.

 

Adam Clymer, a former Washington correspondent for The Times, is the author of “Edward M. Kennedy: A Biography.”

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

ITALIAN WOMEN RISE UP

BY CHIARA VOLPATO

 

MANY outside Italy seem to assume that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi gets away with his sexist behavior because Italian men condone it and the women at least tolerate it. But this is no longer true. Today there are two Italys: one Italy has soaked up Mr. Berlusconi’s ideology either out of self-interest or an inability to resist his enormous powers of persuasion; the other is fighting back.

 

It’s about time. Mr. Berlusconi’s behavior has been outrageous. When a female student asked him for advice about her financial troubles, he suggested that she marry a man who was rich like his son. (Mr. Berlusconi claimed he was joking.) He has bragged about the beauty of his party’s female parliamentary candidates, and raised eyebrows by putting former starlets into the government. He designated a former model with whom he had publicly flirted to be Minister of Equal Opportunities. This spring, his wife accused him of cavorting with young women and declared that she wanted a divorce.

 

Why have Italians put up with all this? Compared to those in other European countries, conservative ideas in Italy die hard, in part because of our famously patriarchal culture but also because of the huge influence of the Roman Catholic Church, whose political and social interference in public affairs seems to have become even stronger since Mr. Berlusconi first became prime minister in 1994. (The church, for example, has threatened to excommunicate doctors who prescribe the abortion pill as well as patients who use it.)

 

Furthermore, Italy’s glass ceiling has proved to be more resistant than it is elsewhere in Europe. Italy ranks 67th out of 130 countries considered in a recent report of the World Economic Forum on the Global Gender Gap Index, ranking lower than Uganda, Namibia, Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, just under half of Italy’s women have jobs, compared with an average of nearly two out of three. At the same time, Italian men have 80 more minutes of leisure time per day — the greatest difference in the 18 countries compared. This is probably explained by the additional time that women devote to unpaid work, like cleaning the house. It is no surprise, then, that many Italian women are unwilling to take on an additional burden of raising children. As a result, the country has an extraordinarily low birthrate.

 

The Italian media only exacerbate this bleak reality by presenting a picture of women that is incomprehensible to the rest of Europe. Private TV channels have started to broadcast images of women who are typically lightly dressed and silent beauties serving as decoration while older, fully dressed men are running the show. (It is worth noting here that Mr. Berlusconi owns the leading private television networks.)

 

The impact of years of brainwashing is plain to see: recent research demonstrated that the most popular ambition among female teenagers is to become a velina (basically a showgirl). Young women and girls are consistently taught that their bodies, rather than their abilities and their knowledge, are the key to success. At the same time, the sexism portrayed on TV reinforces chauvinistic ideas among the culturally weakest parts of the population. Researchers who study female body objectification need only look to Italy to witness the sad consequences of this phenomenon.

 

The portrayals of women bring to mind darker moments in our country’s past. During Italy’s Fascist era in the first half of the 20th century, there was no shortage of derogatory images of people from its colonies in Africa. Women were portrayed as sexual objects and the men as barbarian enemies. In recent years, as immigrants have been flocking to Italy, these kinds of crude stereotypes have been coming back. To give just one example: The leader of the Northern League Party, Umberto Bossi, has called immigrants “bingo bongos.” These attitudes in part reflect the feelings of economic and social insecurity that have only deepened over the past decade or so. The responses to this, namely sexism and racism, are just two sides of the same coin.

 

These days, however, there are signs of change. Italians are denouncing Mr. Berlusconi’s sexist behavior through various strategies: by bringing their grievances to the European Court of Human Rights and by making a documentary about the objectification of the female body like “Il Corpo delle Donne” by Lorella Zanardo.

 

In June shortly before the G-8 meeting in L’Aquila, a small group of Italian academic women, including me, invited the first ladies of the participating countries to boycott the event as a sign of protest. In just a few days, 15,000 women and men signed our petition to get the first ladies to boycott. Obviously, the main aim was not to persuade the first ladies to modify their travel plans, but to speak out against Mr. Berlusconi’s sexist behavior.

 

Today those who dissent have a hard time gaining visibility. The aforementioned appeal to the first ladies, for instance, got great attention from the international news media, but not much ink was spilled by national papers on this issue, and radio and television were generally silent.

 

Despite these obstacles, it feels as if Mr. Berlusconi has gone too far, and the recent sexual scandals are chipping away at his popularity. Just look at the polls. Traditionally, women, together with low-income and older people, have been great supporters of Mr. Berlusconi, presumably because they tend to watch his television channels. Although Mr. Berlusconi still enjoyed considerable support at the time of this year’s European elections, recent scandals brought his approval ratings to below 50 percent, with a notable drop in approval among women.

 

The willingness to speak up and to mobilize that is spreading among us is well summarized in a letter that an Italian woman recently sent to the newspaper L’Unità: “I am ready. Just decide: the place, the day and the hour. I am ready to rally.”

 

But what can Italian women actually do? An important step is to make dissent known, a difficult task considering that true free speech is largely limited to only a few independent newspapers and, importantly, the Internet. We need to start working on a systematic documentation of incidents of discrimination against women.

 

We also need better organization. Existing groups that would be the most naturally engaged in the emerging dissent (like the opposition Democratic Party, which seems distracted by internal fights) have not been sensitive to the many signs from below. Women will need to exert greater pressure on the opposition parties to represent their demands.

 

But first of all, dissenting women (and men) must speak up with greater confidence. Our country, long defined by its old-fashioned attitudes toward women, is finally ready to rally.

 

Chiara Volpato is a professor of social psychology at the University of Milan.

 

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I. THE NEWS

 EDITORIAL

IN THE RING

 

The hand of the so-called 'establishment', that shadowy entity comprising the army, the bureaucracy and the agencies among other forces, has long been a part of politics in Pakistan. The coming and going of governments, the downfall of individuals and all kinds of other events are attributed to it. But today, we apparently find this powerful entity locked in what appears to be an internal dilemma. According to a report in this newspaper and rumours that drift across Islamabad's leafy avenues, elements within the establishment are engaged in an all-out effort to discredit Nawaz Sharif, a man whose political career is said to have begun with the support of the same lobby. The purpose appears to be to save former president Musharraf from trial – and possibly by exposing or threatening to expose misdeeds from the past – pressurising Sharif to abandon the strident position he has taken on the issue. It has been alleged that key figures have attempted to use the media to advance their stance and that a Karachi-based political party is also being used for the same purpose.


The tussle is a fascinating one in many ways. The PML-N, which insists it will not back down, has for the first time come up directly against those with whom it is said, in the past, to have worked with hand in glove. The accounts also suggest that as many suspect, the army is indeed keen to save a former chief and by doing so keep intact the notion that the men who wear khaki cannot be touched and ride above the law of the land. There have been some suggestions that Nawaz Sharif may still have supporters in powerful places who are willing to back him against Musharraf – thus opening up a distinct divide.


As has happened before, such events also act to throw light on some of the more murky deeds in our history. Sadly these are many. The continued lack of access to information means that truths about corruption rackets or other equally dark deeds rarely surface unless somebody wants to throw back the dust covers and expose such goings-on, to serve their own purposes. As such, there is a possibility, as the power struggle hinged around Musharraf continues, that more facts may emerge from the past. These could help satisfy curiosity and give the public more information about leaders. The risk though of course is that accuracy will be lost amidst the effort to score points. It is impossible for the present to predict who the winner will be in the ongoing tussle. But what it does underscore is the powerful role the establishment still plays in our set-up and how difficult it indeed is to distance the military from events in the political sphere.

 

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I. THE NEWS

 EDITORIAL

MUCH AS BEFORE

 

The Obama presidency has reached the end of the beginning, and he is shortly off on holiday for ten days but with little by way of a real break from the job. He is grappling with the eternal problem of domestic health care and the economy, and juggling with America's place in the world – but we can today see how similar his administration's foreign policy positions are to that of his immediate predecessor. Perhaps more than any other aspect of the job, American presidents inherit a foreign policy which at a purely personal level they may have disagreements with, but in practical terms are able to do little in the short-term to radically alter. Presidents everywhere have to operate in the real world once they come into post – a world which may be somewhat removed from the rhetoric of the campaign that got them where they are today.

Despite what we may be inclined to believe the American president is bound by considerable constraint and as far as foreign policy goes he has few options. They cannot willy-nilly rewrite the script from minute one in office and old relationships need careful servicing and above all a sense of continuity. He has held on to Bush's Defence Secretary Roberts Gates and continued with Bush's 'phased withdrawal' in Iraq rather than his own promised swift end to an unpopular war. The relationship with Russia has not been 'reset' as advertised and France and Germany have refused to commit to his foreign policy efforts as they refused to commit to those of G W Bush. He has put more boots on the ground in Afghanistan and at the same time is testing the water for a political accommodation with the Taliban – as had the Bush administration in its latter days. A flock of 'special representatives' now flies hither and thither with Mr Holbrooke prominent and present a 'new face' to us here in Pakistan. 'New dialogue'… 'new money' – but in reality not much has changed, just the same pill with a sweeter coating. It would be churlish in the extreme to suggest that nothing has changed in the way Obama conducts his foreign policy as compared to Bush, because it has and will – but carefully nuanced and inflected and with a cool eye to making a successful presidency.

 

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I. THE NEWS

 EDITORIAL

BURIED AT LAST

 

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan has finally decided to put an end to the lingering confusion over the death of Baitullah Mehsud. The man who seems to have emerged as the new leader of the outfit, Hakimullah Mehsud, has confirmed that the ex-amir is indeed dead. The murder of the father-in-law and other kin of Baitullah, on suspicion that they may have given him away, is proof that the group remains as ruthless as ever. But it is also true it has been weakened. The rival claims to leadership heard over the past weeks underscore this. It is indeed still not clear if Hakimullah's leadership will be challenged or indeed how he has been chosen. The question now is whether the TTP will be allowed to re-build and reassemble itself around a new leader or whether it will be delivered a death blow now that some of its weaknesses have been exposed. Naturally, we must all hope the authorities are working to a plan of action and will go after the Taliban at a time when they are vulnerable.


We must all speak with one voice against militancy. When acts of violence committed by the Taliban or other groups are covered, this must be done with responsibility. Already, in Swat and other conflict-hit zones, people have begun to speak out against the militants. These voices need to be projected more widely. Propaganda and the building of opinion is after all a potent weapon in any war. It is time these tools were used to deliver a final defeat to the Taliban and by doing so make Pakistan a safer place for everyone living within its frontiers.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

FODP: FM’S JUST DIPLOMATIC STATEMENT

 

ACCORDING to reports emanating from Istanbul, the senior official level meeting of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FODP) produced nothing concrete and representatives of different countries just gathered and dispersed without extending any meaningful support to Pakistan. The meeting was supposed to serve as a preparatory ground for the summit level meeting of the forum in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session next month but its outcome has raised questions about the fate of that meeting as well.


In this backdrop, one wonders what Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was aiming at when he claimed during his press conference in Istanbul that the country has achieved all the objectives including political and strategic support from FODP States. As the reports go, the participants made no commitments except endorsing Malakand ‘Pilot’ Project, which is being portrayed by the Minister as a big achievement. We fail to understand what political objectives Pakistan had set for the meeting, which the Minister is so proudly referring to have been met. In the first place, the FODP forum is supposed to be a platform to muster financial support for Pakistan, which is fighting war on terror on such a large scale that is beyond its capacity to manage on its own meagre resources. Pakistan is cash-strapped and needed financial assistance not only to carry forward the security objectives that are shared by the international community but also to initiate programmes and plans for socio-economic uplift of the people groaning under abysmal poverty. These were the underlying objectives behind creation of the forum but ever since its inception it has no tangible move towards that end. Donors made pledges at the Tokyo conference held almost a year back but these remain unfulfilled and this point too was hammered by Pakistan at the Istanbul meeting. But regrettably the friends have not been able to demonstrate the genuine concern for Pakistan’s economic woes and are replying merely on political support. We would, however, remind the worthy Foreign Minister that the Forum is doing no extraordinary favour to Pakistan by pronouncing political and strategic support in the war against terror, because the country is a front-line State and its role is recognized the world over. What we need is financial and economic support so that we can take this war to its logical conclusion without disruption of our normal social and economic activities. We would, therefore, urge the Foreign Minister to discard the culture of dodging the people by making vague and evasive statements. Instead, we should acknowledge failure of the Istanbul moot and make efforts that the New York summit too doesn’t turn into a fiasco.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

BLASTS THAT ROCKED KANDAHAR

 

THE situation in Afghanistan is worsening with each passing day as bomb blasts and suicide attacks are taking the lives of so many innocent civilians when the troops of occupation forces are targeted. In the latest series of blasts in Kandahar over 40 civilians including 15 Pakistani employees of a Japanese company were killed on Tuesday.


The blasts in Kandahar are manifestation of the level of insecurity where Taliban and other militants roam freely in trucks and pickups loaded with explosive materials thus exposing the claims of the occupation forces and Afghan Government that major cities are comparatively safe from Taliban attacks. Because of intensified fighting between ISAF forces and Taliban, intelligence agencies of different countries have become active too. They hire the services of groups of militants to launch attacks at their selected targets or to kidnap people through which they can drive certain benefits. The main blast targeted the head office of a Japanese construction company that mostly employs Pakistani engineers. The blast was so severe that the building collapsed killing and injuring many civilians including Pakistanis. Although it cannot be said with certainty at the moment who was behind this blast yet the killing of many Pakistanis smacks of some sinister conspiracy and involvement of Indian intelligence agency RAW because it is aiding and abetting the members of the outlawed Balochistan Liberation Army inside Afghanistan. Kandahar is the main Afghan city close to Balochistan where anti-Pakistani elements are provided training, arms and ammunition by Indians. Indian agents would not have liked the presence of a greater number of Pakistanis in Afghanistan, be they civil engineers with a foreign construction company because New Delhi under the pretext of reconstruction activities is amassing its work force and intelligence agents to strengthen its hold in the war torn country. We expect that Pakistan Government would take up the killings with Afghan Government and demand a thorough investigation to expose the real culprits rather than leaving it as part of the attacks carried out by Taliban.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

CRUMBLING NATIONAL SHIPPING LINE

 

A REPORT appearing in this newspaper has highlighted the dilemma facing the once dynamic and vibrant Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (PNSC) and the abusive dominance of foreign shipping lines that demand exorbitant charges. The existing state of affairs can be gauged by the fact that instead of increasing its fleet and activities, the number of ships being operated by the Corporation has dropped from 43 to just 11 and the tonnage handled by it remains the same as was in 1979.


This deplorable situation is unacceptable because seafaring has always been a lucrative business. Pakistan’s own trading activities take place through its ports but regrettably the PNSC is handling only 15 per cent of the country’s trade while remaining 85 per cent goes to foreign shipping lines. PNSC was once considered jewel of the seas but with the passage of time, like other national institutions, this too became victim to criminal negligence, mismanagement and inefficiency. No worthwhile effort was made by successive governments to run the Corporation on scientific lines despite the fact that it has the potential not only to save foreign exchange which we are presently doling out to others but also earn handsomely by getting its share of the global trade. The erosion of the national shipping line is not only an economic loss to the country but also a strategic setback because in the event of any conflict we would be completely at the mercy of foreign shipping lines even for transportation of much-needed defence hardware, oil and other essential items. There are also reports that foreign shipping companies are exploiting our weakness fully by charging undue charges. Shipping is a dependable source of transportation of goods and, therefore, there is a dire need to revive the moribund PNSC for the sake of our national interests. It is hoped that the Government would come out with a comprehensive plan including necessary investment to re-activate the Corporation and in case it is unable to do so then the private sector should be given necessary incentives to do that.

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

EDITORIAL

FEUD OVER TENDER

 

Clashes over tender dropping at Khadya Bhaban between two groups of contractors known to be followers of the youth and student fronts of the main ruling party on Monday have certainly not gone well with people in general. But this is not the only ugly incident involving the members of different party wings of the ruling Awami League. And there seems to be no end to such internecine feuds in the party wings. Reports are categorical that the appointment of dealers for distribution of TCB (Trading Corporation of Bangladesh) goods was made on partisan consideration. So was the case of involvement of suppliers of rice under the rice procurement drive in Kushtia.

 

Not that the government is unaware of the deplorable incidents now tarnishing the government image. To avoid situations like this in future, the finance minister has favoured on-line tender-bidding. We welcome the move. It misses one vital point, though. If the party followers misuse or abuse power and positions for financial benefits in public work or offices, the rule of law and the official system become a casualty. Government officers will be reluctant or unable to function properly. This certainly does not help the cause of serving the nation impartially, much less establishing good governance.  


People in this country have long been used to the pattern of excessive nepotism and they expected a change in it this time. After all, the grand alliance came to power on the slogan of politics for a change for better days. Authorities at the highest level of government have repeatedly been warning that muscle-flexing for financial gains would not be tolerated. Sure enough, people were ready to give the administration some time to discipline the unruly party cadres and bring such undesirable situation under control. But when after seven months virtually nothing is working at all in most sectors, they have reasons to be impatient.


It is in the interest of the parties in power and people, there is a need for immediately dealing with the unruly elements in the ruling alliance with an iron hand. Any further toleration of them will simply bring the nation back to square one.

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

FOOD ADULTERATION

 

Unscrupulous food sellers are using harmful industrial dyes in the iftar items to make them attractive to the customers. Carbide and ethopene are used to colour jelapi, beguni, peaju; urea fertiliser for enhancing size and shine of puffed rice; carcinogenic chemical ethylene oxide for quick ripening of various fruits; brick dust is mixed in chilli powder, cyanide in mustard oil to enhance pungency. And the list goes on. What are we eating, in fact? Quoting the sources of the Institute of Public Health (IPH), a report front-paged in this newspaper recently mentioned that 50 per cent of the food samples tested by the organisation was found adulterated.


Besides triggering minor stomach ailments, other types of harms these toxic industrial dyes in food cause can be lethal. Health experts warn that a person’s kidney can permanently be damaged by these kinds of food. Developing cancer is not ruled out. The worst victims of adulterated foods are children whose natural growth of body and mind can seriously be retarded.


In the country’s newspapers, periodicals and TV channels, food adulteration regularly makes screaming headlines. On its part, the government conducts some mobile courts to stop the illegal practice, but the reality is that discernible impacts of these drives are yet to be found on the market. However, there is a simple solution to the problem: if the buyer boycotts buying the adulterated items, the practice will inevitably stop. But ours is a sellers’ market, not the buyers’. Until people become conscious enough, the opposite will not happen.

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

BOB’S BANTER

AN AMAZING LOVE STORY...!

ROBERT CLEMENTS

 

Men use different methods to win the hearts of the women they love don't they? But this love story is different! He met her at a party. She was so beautiful and outstanding that many guys chased her, and she paid no attention to him. At the end of the party, he invited her to have coffee with him, she was surprised, but being polite, she agreed. They sat in a nice coffee shop, he was too tongue tied to say anything, she felt uncomfortable, she thought, 'Please, let me go home'... suddenly he asked the waiter, "Would you please give me some…salt? I'd like to put it in my coffee." Everybody stared at him in surprise! His face turned red, but still he put the salt in his coffee and drank it. She asked him curiously; why he had this odd habit? He replied: "When I was a little boy, I lived near the sea, I liked playing in the waters and today I can feel the taste of the sea, just like the taste of the salty coffee. Now every time I have the salty coffee, I think of my dear childhood, of my hometown, I miss home so much, I miss my parents who are still living there." While saying this, tears filled his eyes: She was deeply touched. "This is a man who has deep, true feeling," she thought, "A man who can talk out his homesickness, he must be a man who loves home, cares about family, has a sense of responsibility." Then she also started to speak, spoke about her faraway hometown, her childhood, her family. They continued to date and she found that actually he was a man who met all her demands; he had tolerance, was kind hearted, warm, careful. He was such a good person and she missed him when they didn't meet! And to think it all started thanks to his salty coffee! Then like every beautiful love story, the princess marries the man of her dreams and they lived a happy life, and, every time she made coffee for him, she put some salt in the coffee, as she knew that's the way he liked it. After 40 years, he passed away and left her a letter: "My dearest," it said, "please forgive me; forgive a lie! This was the only lie I said to you - the salty coffee. Remember the first time we dated? I was so nervous at that time, actually I wanted some sugar, but I said salt. I tried to tell you the truth many times in my life, but I was too afraid to break something that had given me so much. If I can live a second time, I would still wish to have you for my whole life, even if I've to drink salty coffee again." Her tears made the letter totally wet. Someone asked her: what's the taste of salty coffee? It's sweet. She replied "I am so happy that salt got me such a man that it tastes sweet in my mouth...!"

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

GREEN DEBATE MUST NOT ALIENATE VOTERS

ENVIRONMENTAL ARGUMENT SHOULD BE ECONOMICALLY RATIONAL

 

AFTER demanding the demise of the nation's biggest export industry, coal, the Greens' condemnation of the $50billion Gorgon liquefied natural gas project off the West Australian coast again shows how far removed the party is from mainstream Australia. Senator Bob Brown's demand for a royal commission into the oil spill in the Timor Sea is also absurd. If the soft-left media were not so gullible, he and his team would be pilloried as extremists, more at home with ice boxes and candles than electricity. Their influence on the national debate, however, presents a risk of which the Rudd government and opposition need to be wary.

 

In the 1990s, a grassroots backlash over job security and economic uncertainty fuelled the rise of One Nation. Much has changed on the political landscape since, and One Nation imploded because it failed to perform. But in regions where jobs are potentially at stake from climate change legislation, talking up radical action as a moral imperative could inadvertently trigger resentments similar to those that propelled One Nation.

 

Given their track record, it is no surprise the Greens overlook the importance of 6000 construction jobs, another 3500 permanent jobs when the Gorgon project is built and government revenue of $40 billion over the first 30 years of operation. But their position is also environmentally foolish. Natural gas, which will become more important as oil stocks are depleted, is cleaner than coal. Resources Minister Martin Ferguson points out that for every tonne of CO2 emitted in the production of LNG, nine tonnes are saved when used for power generation in China, taking into account replacement of coal-fired generation.

 

In Queensland, the Chamber of Commerce & Industry is arguing along the same lines for an increase in Australian production of cement, steel and aluminium. Given that Australia's heavy industries are cleaner than those of our neighbours, QCCI director David Goodwin believes that an emissions trading scheme that encouraged such industries moving offshore would by counterproductive by contributing to carbon leakage in the global economy.

 

Led by senators Barnaby Joyce and Ron Boswell, the Nationals have staked their ground in opposing an ETS and are gaining traction in their The Australian supports the Rudd government's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme because it is a low-trajectory, market-based scheme aimed at achieving a 5 per cent emissions cut by 2020. Its minimalist approach will limit economic fallout and is similar to the Shergold plan the Howard government took to the last election, a point often overlooked. Aside from the chance for a little grandstanding in Cophenhagen, however, there is no reason to move ahead of the pack and lock it in before the conference. Most observers do not expect an agreement at Copenhagen, but the conference should clarify how much the world's major industrial nations intend to cut their emissions, which would be useful information in finalising Australia's legislation. As the government, opposition and environmentalists debate the details of the scheme and when it should be passed, the rhetoric needs to be rational and moderate. Politicians have a responsibility to actively avoid a repeat of the resentments and upheavals that gripped regional and rural Australia a decade ago.

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

AN UNCHANGING MENU

PROTECTION FOR JAPANESE FARMERS IS SET TO STAY IN PLACE

 

WHILE Japan's government is likely to change at this weekend's election, it seems nothing will alter for Australian farmers, keen to increase their share of the Japanese food market. While the governing Liberal Democratic Party is in chaos, having had four prime ministers in as many years, the leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, Yukio Hatoyama, is leaving nothing to chance. He is promising more help for families, the unemployed - and farmers. In an essay this month, he railed against "market fundamentalism" promising to protect agriculture from "globalism", code for agricultural imports from low-cost countries, like Australia.

 

This is bad news for ordinary Japanese, who pay inflated food prices to keep local producers in business. Japan's import protection for sugar is over 300 per cent and twice that for rice. It is also a bad omen for the free trade talks between Australia and Japan, which began more than two years ago. Agriculture accounts for 20per cent of Australian exports to Japan, with most of the business done in highly protected commodities, including beef, dairy and wheat, keeping prices high for Japanese consumers and sales low for Australian farmers. And institutional impediments have made such circumstances almost impossible to change. Like rice, many other imported commodities are traded by state agencies, which channel profits into subsidies for local industry. The combination of politically powerful farmers and their allies in the bureaucracy has always been beyond any politician inclined to reform. And even in hard times the cost of food is not a major issue for the vast majority of Japanese households - meaning there is little to be gained for any prime minister who wants to reduce import barriers for food. Even Junichiro Koizumi, the last successful LDP prime minister, who defied his own party machine to push through public sector reform, left the farmers alone.

 

Apart from less than a year in the early 1990s, the LDP has governed since 1955 and even if the party loses the election, its agriculture policy seems certain to remain. For all the diplomatic language, the latest report from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade does not even attempt to argue there is progress on agriculture. Japan was Australia's largest export market last year, worth $50 billion. It could be bigger if Japan dropped its opposition to food imports. But if Mr Hatoyama translates campaign promises into government policy, this is unlikely. Agricultural protection will stay on the menu after the election.

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

ENDURING EXPECTATIONS

TED KENNEDY DELIVERED MUCH OF WHAT WAS EXPECTED OF HIM

 

EDWARD Moore Kennedy, who died yesterday, never fulfilled his own expectations in politics, nor those of his family, his party or an adoring media. But the fact he accomplished as much as he did is a tribute to his courage and commitment, both to his family and the Democratic Party. Senator Kennedy stumbled all his adult life beneath the burden of the loss of three elder brothers, all men of great promise who died before their time. Their deaths, the memory of a cruelly ambitious father and his own ill-disciplined affection for drink and women all ensured his career was a shadow of what his policy skill and political connections should have delivered. A better man would never have bluffed his way through the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, who died in car he drove into a pond, and then abandoned, in 1969. But a lesser man could not have continued in public life, believing he was obliged to work on. In the end, he served some 47 years as a senator for Massachusetts and it his work there, his legislation enunciating a social-democratic vision, that is his legacy.

 

It is an achievement all the more impressive given he was never expected to achieve the ambitions of his family. His eldest brother, Joe, who died in World War II, was first supposed to hoist the Kennedy standard from the White House. Then it was John, assassinated during his first term as president, who was marked to found the dynasty, followed by Robert, murdered on the night he staked his claim to the Democrat nomination in 1968. It is not surprising that Ted found their achievements impossible to match. Brother John beat Richard Nixon, the wiliest politician of his generation, for the presidency. Robert destroyed the re-election aspirations of Lyndon Johnson, the greatest social reformer since Franklin Roosevelt. But Ted lost his only run for the presidency in his party's primaries - only to see the man who beat him, Jimmy Carter, humiliated by Ronald Reagan.

 

For all the talk of the doomed Kennedy dynasty, Senator Kennedy accomplished a great deal. He saw his fight for civil rights succeed. The US today is far different from 1960, when his family's Catholicism was an election issue. He saw the US embrace the powerful state he always believed in, to keep the economy afloat in the last year of his life. Above all, he saw the outcome of his intensely American belief in equality of opportunity come true with the election of Barack Obama. A black president fighting for healthcare reform, one of his enduring objectives, is Senator Kennedy's epithet. It is one to honour.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

OBAMA'S TORTUOUS LOOK BACKWARDS

 

REAL damage is being done to the political capital of the charismatic American President, and the latest damage is being caused by the fraught moral issue of torture. While Barack Obama remains personally popular, his approval rating with the public is tipping rapidly towards negative territory for the first time since he swept into office on a wave of euphoria 10 months ago. Until a few months ago the President enjoyed a two-to-one approval rating, but that is eroding rapidly.

 

The latest blow came on Monday when the US Attorney-General, Eric Holder, announced that a special prosecutor had been appointed to investigate the interrogation methods used by agents or contractors working for the Central Intelligence Agency in Iraq and Afghanistan during the previous Bush administration. The special prosecutor, John Durham, a senior Justice Department lawyer, will respond to a recommendation by the Justice Department's ethics watchdog that prosecution be considered for CIA employees or contractors who exceeded the guidelines of the US Army's field manual, which preclude torture.

 

The investigator's starting point will be an internal CIA report, written in 2004 and also released this week, which concluded the CIA had gained crucial intelligence about al-Qaeda that prevented further attacks and damaged the organisation. But the report also found some information had been gained by the use of ''unauthorised, improvised, inhumane and undocumented detention and interrogation techniques''. The investigation could track how far up the command chain these techniques were approved.

 

The move has been applauded by human rights groups and is aimed at restoring America's image as a nation of law, human rights and democracy, an image bruised during George W. Bush's administration. The decision has also opened a wound, and an issue the American public believed had already been investigated. Even Obama's director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, has expressed unease about the process.

 

Obama's problem is that he is closely linked to his suddenly politically hot Attorney-General. They are friends, and Holder was the President's personal choice for the job. Both are the first African-Americans to hold their respective posts. Obama's reputation is thus linked to Holder, who is now in the eye of a domestic political storm. The President himself has said it was time to look forward and improve the CIA's performance, rather than engage in litigation that could damage the capabilities of the intelligence community. That is exactly the prospect now in store, and the American public has a right to be concerned.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE QUESTION OF WHO WE ARE

 

TRADE Minister Simon Crean said yesterday the Federal Government's $20 million challenge to the nation's marketing agencies to come up with a catch-all slogan or image to sell Australia to the world was ''another sign that we are not turning inwards''.

 

It was an interesting locution. Are we Australians on our guard against turning inwards? Are we disproportionately cheered by signs of resisting such a tendency?

 

An answer to these questions might be found in the unusually vigorous bout of navel-gazing that the announcement of the project immediately set in train across the media.

 

Throughout the day, on television and on the radio and in online forums, a carousel of familiar caricatures, images and idioms spun by - Akubras, Uluru, beaches and sharks, diggers and boomerangs - as the public good-naturedly answered the call to define Australia and dwelt anxiously on its elusiveness.

 

One caller suggested ''Australia? No worries!'' Another: ''Have a dream time.'' Someone said Paul Hogan should restring his apron and start chucking prawns on the barbie all over again.

 

The debate among ordinary people skirted on whether to go up- or down-market - the Opera House or public house. And the advertising gurus meanwhile argued that Australia should stand for something; though they weren't exactly sure what.

 

The Government's stated hope for the project is that it will attract large-scale commercial investment as much as swarms of eager tourists, that it will show there is more to Australia ''than the quarry or the farm''.

 

It also has unstated hopes. One of them is that the project will at once reverse the failure of the maligned, costly and universally baffling ''Where the Bloody Hell are You?'' campaign, which cost $180 million over three years.

 

Another is that we will produce a winning idea that can trump New Zealand's much envied ''100% Pure New Zealand'' tourism campaign motto with its striking and market-cornering connotations of freshness and unspoilt wilderness.

 

Yet Mr Crean framed the Brand Australia quest as a sign we are not looking inwards. Why?

 

That Australia agonises about its identity - how we are seen, and by whom - is something of a cliche in itself. So much so that the Brand Australia project feels more like another instalment in an ongoing campaign called ''Who the Bloody Hell are We?''

 

It is a proud and imperishable truth that people have lived in Australia for tens of thousands of years. Yet we are also in our modern form a young nation in relative adolescence - and, it seems, with adolescent anxieties.

 

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                                                                                                                      THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

WIKIPEDIA: THE WISDOM OF CROWDS

 

In 1403 the most powerful emperor of the Ming dynasty ordered the compilation of a great record of all human knowledge. Completed in less than a decade, the Yongle encyclopedia, as it became known – after the ruler who ordered it to be written, was an astonishing thing: it consisted of some 12,000 books and 22,800 volumes, of which around 200 survive, the rest lost, some in a library destroyed during fighting against the British in the Boxer rebellion. Imperial and exclusive, created at one man's command and only copied a handful of times, it was everything the only encyclopedia to surpass it in size aims not to be. Wikipedia, which finally overtook the Yongle encyclopedia in 2006, has no owner, no government to control it and no boundaries. It can never be destroyed, because it does not physically exist; and yet, as its creators have discovered, that does not mean it is exempt from rules.

 

Reports this week, ahead of the Wikimania conference now underway in Buenos Aires, suggest ordinary users are to be prevented from making immediate changes to Wiki entries on living people. Any alterations will soon have to be approved by one of an elite group of power editors before they go live. It is a modest step and a sensible one, fighting electronic vandalism and the temptation some feel to turn biographies into libellous diatribes, and yet it marks a sort of coming of age for the site. Wikipedia has erected barriers before, it is true. Some entries have been locked for years – President Bush's had to be protected for most of his presidency. But the founding aim of the site was that anyone could change anything at any time and that all voices were equal: "Be Bold", it still urges all its users. Now Wikipedians have discovered that the wisdom of crowds cannot prevent the idiocy of individuals. Like any other human society they are developing rules and hierarchies to manage their affairs, although not, unlike other pillars of the internet such as Google, at corporate command.

 

Wikipedia will survive whatever protest there is at the new restriction; the greater threat it faces is the gradual ossification of the site, as new users feel excluded from altering and adding entries, and existing ones give up. Research in America suggests anyone altering a Wikipedia entry for the first or second time is much more likely to find what they write deleted than an experienced user. Understandable, perhaps, but that risks restricting the pool of knowledge on which the site can draw. It may one day come to reflect the obsessions of a limited group of self-appointed people; not even democratic, since it is unclear, apart from working hard at editing the site, what people must to do to join the super group of users empowered to approve or block changes.

 

The web, almost 20 years old, is growing out of its adolescence, but it would be a mistake to think that the formalisation of things such as Wikipedia means it has already hit middle age. This week has brought other unconnected signs that it is no longer the unruly free-for-all that web pioneers enjoyed: Google outing the identity of a blogger; Peter Mandelson siding with the music industry's corporate lawyers in a probably futile threat to cut off the internet connections of people who download files illegally. The internet may not be a physical place, but that does not mean its users can act without thinking of the consequences. An unregulated world, it turns out, is not always a nice one.

 

But lumbering ministerial giants like Lord Mandelson may yet find the web is still too quick for them. It continues to evolve in ways regulators and programmers cannot predict. Wikipedia is an antique in online terms; it was followed by the social networking explosion and who knows what next – mobile computing, augmented reality, the so-called "web of things". The online world keeps leaping ahead of the rules, but the key to survival, Wikipedia suggests, is not just be bold, but be useful.

 

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

EDWARD KENNEDY: MASTER OF THE SENATE

 

Politicians often begin as idealists and end as opportunists. If anything, Senator Edward Kennedy did things the other way around, starting as a privileged machine politician but ending as a man revered for his convictions. It was never quite that simple, of course. As early as 1965, the 33-year-old senator fought a brave but unsuccessful battle to strengthen the voting rights act by trying to outlaw poll taxes that might deter poor black voters from registering, while as recently as last week, anxious to ensure the maximum number of Senate votes for healthcare reform this autumn, he was hardballing the Massachusetts Democratic machine to ensure a speedy senatorial replacement after his death, which came yesterday.

 

But Teddy Kennedy was ultimately a politician who worked his passage and paid for his mistakes. In the early years, the laxity and indiscipline that riddled his private life – and which came together in the tragedy and lies of Chappaquiddick in 1969 – seemed to mark him down as a politically lightweight playboy. As he aged, however, and especially after his failed presidential bid in 1980, Mr Kennedy became increasingly radical and effective – in every sense a heavyweight. These qualities went together and were not, as in lesser political careers, alternatives. Mr Kennedy was not just the leader of American liberal resistance in an era of conservative triumphalism, he was also one of America's most effective legislators through the culture war decades.

 

From our side of the Atlantic it is tempting to highlight the scandals, the Kennedy mystique and the role in the Northern Ireland peace process. But his most prodigious claim on history is his record as a senator. He left his mark on American social policy as few have done, in everything from civil rights, immigration and campaign finance laws to education, trucking industries and the rights of the disabled. He worked constructively with political enemies, including Bob Dole, in the battle to prevent Reagan-era attempts to weaken voting rights and with George Bush to strengthen the No Child Left Behind education law of 2001.

 

Mr Kennedy got a lot of issues wrong. But he was right about the Iraq war and he understood, better than many centrist Democrats, that Barack Obama was the right Democratic candidate after the Bush years. Mr Kennedy encouraged Mr Obama to run as early as 2006 and his endorsement was a pivotal moment of last year's contest. Characteristically, Mr Kennedy exacted a price for his support. He wanted universal healthcare to be the first priority of an Obama administration. If the president can deliver, healthcare reform could be the greatest of Ted Kennedy's many legacies.

 

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF… MILES DAVIS'S KIND OF BLUE

 

To a bona fide masterpiece in any of the arts, extreme popularity represents a constant danger. How often can Tokyo Story be watched, or Les Demoiselles d'Avignon gazed upon, or the Toccata and Fugue in D minor listened to, without an eventual sensation of diminishing returns? Ubiquity carries its own threat, for the Mona Lisa as much as for Tretchikoff's green lady, which is why the achievement of Miles Davis's Kind of Blue is so extraordinary. On its release, 50 years ago this month, Kind of Blue was warmly received, but few critics identified it as anything other than the latest in a series of excellent albums from a young trumpeter who was rapidly becoming a star. Five million copies later, the verdict is clear: it has outgrown its origins to become not just the biggest selling album in the history of jazz but a fixture in every civilised home and an international symbol of cool, its elements so perfectly assembled that not even its frequent use as the soundtrack to restaurant dining can damage the integrity of its luminous tranquillity. The drummer Jimmy Cobb, the only survivor of the seven participants in the two recording sessions, has always insisted that, as far as he was aware, nothing special was afoot. Davis, however, knew precisely what he was doing when he presented his musicians with pared-down materials that invited them to create a vision of the future. And as the influence of its restrained, contemplative mood spread far beyond its own idiom, he was wise enough not to attempt a repeat.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

BREATHING A LITTLE EASIER

 

Each year the world's central bankers head for Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to take stock. Last year's meeting was dominated by the brewing economic crisis: Participants spent much of their time in a command center set up to monitor and respond to developments. The center was up and running again at this year's get-together last week, but it was usually empty. Instead, the bankers were generally optimistic about the state of the global economy and were beginning to look around the corner to the next stage in the recovery.

 

Mr. Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, set the tone for this year's meeting, declaring that "The prospects for a return to growth in the near term appear good." His optimism was matched by that of Mr. Stanley Fischer, governor of the Bank of Israel, who concluded that "It is reasonable to declare that the worst of the crisis is behind us, and that the first signs of global growth have appeared earlier than we generally expected nine months ago."

 

The positive outlook has been fueled by signs that the slowdown is slowing. Mr. Bernanke noted that the U.S. economy appears to be leveling out. Sales of existing homes in the U.S. leaped 7.2 percent in July, the fourth consecutive monthly increase and the biggest monthly increase in over a decade. Most important, it is the first year-to-year increase since November 2005. For its part, Japan registered 0.9 percent growth in the second quarter of 2009 from the previous quarter, while key European economies of Germany and France recorded 0.3 percent growth. Not surprisingly, the attendees were also inclined to give themselves credit for responding as quickly as they did, sometimes fighting prevailing sentiment, and stopping the situation from getting even worse.

 

Bankers are realists, however, and thus their optimism was tempered on three counts. First, participants acknowledged that recovery was likely to be slow and was by no means guaranteed. European Central Bank President Jean Claude Trichet confessed that talk of a return to normal economic conditions made him "a little bit uneasy." That sentiment was echoed by Mr. Fischer, who added that "We may be relaxing too soon," a view shared by Mr. Bernanke, who admitted that "strains persist in many financial markets."

 

Second, while governments have done well to revive their national economies, they have done precious little to fix the regulatory structure that permitted this crisis to emerge and do its damage. Thus far, the priority has been on stimulus measures, and various national governments have gone a long way to compensate for the consumer demand that has dried up.

 

Figuring out what went wrong and why is imperative, but the temptation will be to focus on other assignments to avoid the blame game. That temptation must be resisted. Regulatory reform is essential. Credit markets must be strengthened and banks prevented from undermining the real economy in the pursuit of quick and easy profits.

 

The third challenge is unwinding the emergency measures that these central banks undertook in their attempts to stimulate national economies as domestic demand collapsed. Fears of inflation have already seized politicians and economists, and there are growing calls to raise interest rates and embrace tighter monetary policies.

This dilemma is acute in Japan as parties call for more spending to fix social ills — a ready response in the runup to an election — even though the country already has the largest debt of any developed economy. U.S. decision-makers are equally conflicted as they debate health care reform and the prospect of yet another trillion dollars in spending.

 

Central bank officials need to keep an eye on inflation — that is their mandate. But they should first pay attention to the state of the overall economy. The "green shoots" of recovery may be visible, but caution is critical. The rebound is fragile at best and weaknesses in financial institutions and consumer demand could undermine the progress that has been made.

 

It is not clear if this is a V-shaped recovery, a "U," a "W" or an "L." While stemming the decline of GDP is an accomplishment, it is not enough to reverse policy.

 

Central bankers must first ensure that growth takes root and economies take a positive course. Only then can they focus on soaking up the liquidity that has flooded world markets. Yet the focus on these two tasks must not prevent central bankers and political decision-makers from pursuing the regulatory overhaul that is needed to prevent future crises.

 

Fixing that problem requires a difficult and painful admission. Much of the growth in recent years has resulted from easy credit. In fact, much of the growth of recent years has been illusory: The easy finance that propelled the global economy to record heights was the equivalent of a Ponzi scheme.

 

A more rational, balanced and stable global economy will not be as liquid or as rich. The greatest danger today is forgetting that simple truth.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

ARE GREEN SHOOTS SPROUTING?

BY DAVID HOWELL

 

Is recovery from the global recession already under way? In Germany, France and the United States, authoritative voices are declaring the recession over and telling us that growth has resumed. And now the same view is heard in Japan. Yes, if you take a magnifying glass you can see tiny little specks of growth actually re-appearing here and there.

 

So what has happened to all those gloomy voices arguing that the recession would become a depression, that it would last for years and that a decade of Japan-style stagnation lay ahead?

 

The answer is that the voices are still there, only this time they are warning us about a "double dip," a "suckers rally" and other developments, all explaining why, despite the surge in stock markets round the world and the more cheerful news from both America and the Eurozone, there is another crunch just ahead. As usual the economists are in complete disagreement about what is happening or about to happen.

 

For the ordinary consumer or investor, this is all exasperating. But it should not be surprising. For nobody really knows what is going to happen next, just as few people foresaw what is happening now in the world economy or understand what happened in the past.

 

The problem lies deep inside the discipline of modern economics. Since the days of John Maynard Keynes, over 60 years ago, economists have been trying to force the behavior of economies, both national and global, into models or systems, as though they were at heart mechanical processes that could be designed, mapped, explained and even tested.

 

This misleadingly scientific approach to economics reached its apogee in the 1960s and '70s, when economists solemnly built fantastic matrix tables, dividing what they believed to be the economy into numerous arbitrary sectors and then demonstrating what happened if one altered one variable to all the other variables in the matrix. Computerization just added to the madness, with more and more items and factors piled into the calculations.

 

All one had to do was press a button, convinced that all information that could possibly be relevant was in the machine, and out would neatly come "the answer."

 

A major debate is now raging in the British press about this issue, and in particular whether macro-economists — experts concerned with the behavior of whole economies and systems — really know what they are talking about, with all their models and computer systems.

 

Many of these learned people have wonderfully clear and logical minds, and sincerely believe that their insights can illuminate the current scene and even the future. But they sometimes forget that they are dealing with an art, not a science. They also overlook the fact that they contending with that inherently unstable and volatile thing — namely, human behavior.

 

Conclusions reached depend upon assumptions from which one starts. And if these are flawed the results will always be of very limited value, or at best purely artistic and illustrative.

 

The poorly grasped reality is that the real world of economics and finance is an evolutionary process, not a fixed and patterned system at all. The world of money, like the world of economic activity with which it is wrapped up, is constantly changing as human ingenuity innovates and adapts and as old practices and institutions die, or are wiped out (as has recently happened with a whole range of Western banks and finance houses previously regarded as impregnable).

 

People will always find new ways of creating wealth and making money work, and are so even now. The tsunami waves from the disasters of 2008 are, of course, still being felt, with jobs being lost all around and bankruptcies everywhere.

 

But we can be sure that new financial methods are being devised, just as new products are being created (one thinks of all kinds of green products that the world will increasingly need and want), and just as in the natural world, new plants and species grow out of the scorched earth and environment after huge forest fires.

 

Bubbles in investment fashions will always grow, and will always eventually burst. None of these irrational swings or political upheavals, or wars and violence, ever appear on the radar screens of economists. Their mistake is to imply that they know what in fact they do not know.

 

Some may reasonably ask for an end to all this "on the one hand or on the other" language. Can there not be a clear, confident view? Is the recession ending much quicker than feared, or is it not?

 

Well, those with long memories and a good attention span will recall what was written in this very column on Jan. 6 of this year: that since most of the world's economists were pessimistically predicting disaster and gloom, indeed the end of the capitalist system, for the coming year they were probably all wrong, and things might turn out much brighter.

 

I stick by that view — based not on economic models or theories or any calculable probability whatever, but on a simple appreciation of human ingenuity, inventiveness and resilience — usually the best guide in the long run.

 

David Howell is a former British Cabinet minister and former chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs

Committee. He is now a member of the House of Lords.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

TIME TO REJECT TYRANNY AND HEALTH INSECURITY

BY YOSHI TSURUMI

 

NEW YORK — Since 2001, under the guise of "reforms," the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has adopted Bush's undemocratic dogma of market fundamentalism — dysfunctional deregulation, privatization and corporate money games. Such dogma destroyed America's financial systems, social safety net and manufacturing, and ushered in the Bush depression crisis of 2008.

 

By then, Bush-dictated "reforms" had also weakened Japan's economy and society so severely that this country could not withstand the global repercussions of the Bush depression.

 

From 2001 to 2008, LDP-Bush reforms pushed Japan's per capita GDP from fourth in the world to 20th. The mathematical skill of primary to high school students fell from first to 10th in the world. Their science literacy fell from second to the 6th in the world. The national language literacy fell from eighth to 15th in the world. Today, Japan's suicide rate per 100,000 people is twice that of the U.S. Japan's suicide rate among the elderly is the highest in the world.

 

Last fall, American voters chose President Barack Obama to end Bush regime's tyranny. This awakened Japanese voters, who are now poised to replace the perennial LDP regime with one ruled by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in the Aug. 30 general election, and to reset Japan's relations with Washington. DPJ candidates' sentiment against the LDP-Bush policies is resonating well with many Japanese voters.

 

In America as well, people's economic and health care concerns are intertwined. For example, General Motors and Chrysler went bankrupt partly because of the cost of providing health insurance for their employees and retirees. Despite Michigan State's plea for job-creating investments, Toyota has chosen Canada for its engine plant because the Canadian government's universal health insurance keeps Toyota's employees healthy and Toyota's production costs competitive.

 

In America, Bush Republicans and insurance company lobbyists are touting the economic nonsense that the unfettered "market competition" of profit-seeking private insurance companies would solve the health care insecurity. America's per capita health care spending exceeds $6,800 annually. This is about three times as much as Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan and other democracies that have long embraced their government's single-payer and universal health care insurance. This social safety net is not socialism, but democracy.

 

The World Health Organization rates America's overall health care quality as 37th in the world, the worst of the OECD nations. The health insurance fiasco is damaging American health care. About 46 million working poor have no health insurance. They are overburdening the emergency rooms of public hospitals.

 

As the lingering Bush depression destroys jobs, laid-off workers lose their employer-based health benefits. Blessed are only those who are over 65 and who are members of Congress, covered respectively by the government's single-payer Medicare program and the Congressional Plan.

 

Free-market competitive efficiency cannot be attained unless both suppliers and consumers possess near-perfect information about prices, costs and quality of products and services involved. Furthermore, private market efficiency requires both suppliers and consumers to be free to enter and exit the market. Both supply and demand of goods and services must also be flexible. Like education and national defense, health care does not fit the free-market model.

 

Left free to dominate the market, a few monopolistic firms emerge and abuse their power over markets. They do not compete with one another through lower prices, improved products and innovation. Instead, they tacitly collude with one another to raise their prices and debase their products. American health insurance companies are cherry-picking young, healthy and rich customers, and arbitrarily dropping some of those already insured because of pre-existing conditions or costly treatment.

 

Insurance companies are rationing their customers' access to health care. While more and more Americans lost their health care insurance, major insurance companies saw their profits soar 400 percent in the Bush era. They are now spending hundreds of millions of dollars to campaign against Obama's health care reforms. The worst of the Bush tyranny is emerging again to run America.

 

Republicans and health insurance companies are slandering Obama's modest public-option plans as "socialism," "Nazism" and "euthanasia for grandma." Their brain-washed mobs are disrupting Democratic representatives' town hall meetings on health care reform.

 

The public option injects meaningful competition in the health insurance market and curbs insurance companies' abuses. Republicans are simply delaying and sabotaging Democrats' health care reforms. If Obama falls for the Republican gambit, Japan and the rest of the world may question his ability to lead.

 

Yoshi Tsurumi is a professor of international business at Baruch College, the City University, in New York.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

HAMAS TAKES ON GAZA STRIP'S ISLAMIC RADICALS

BY MKHAIMAR ABUSADA

 

GAZA CITY — A recent shootout in a Gaza mosque between Hamas security officers and militants from the radical jihadi group the Warriors of God brought to the surface the deep tensions that divide Palestinian Islamists. Twenty-two people died, including the Warriors of God's leader, Abdel Latif Moussa. But Palestinian security officials doubt that these will be the last casualties.

 

With Hamas in control for more than two years, the Gaza Strip has long been considered much more traditional and conservative than the West Bank. Nevertheless, in Gaza's political milieu, Hamas is a moderate Islamic group that opposes al-Qaida-style extremism. But such extremist Islamic groups have been gaining support in Gaza, and Hamas has noticed. The shootout in the mosque shows that Hamas will be ruthless in taking them on.

 

Various Salafi extremist groups have been operating in Gaza for years. Salafis, whose name is derived from the Arabic phrase for "righteous ancestors," known as "Salaf al-Salih," insist on a return to what they consider the purity of the practices of the first Muslims.

 

Hamas has, in the past, cooperated with some of the Salafis, assuming they would stand behind Hamas' leadership. The Army of Islam joined in the raid that abducted the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in June 2006. The group also took responsibility for the 2007 kidnapping of the BBC's Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston, who was later released after negotiations led by Hamas.

 

The Warriors of God is one of a handful of radical, al-Qaida-inspired groups to have appeared in the Gaza Strip in recent months, first coming to public attention in June after claiming responsibility for a failed horseback attack on Israel from Gaza. Their Web site shares images, language and music with al-Qaida and other jihadi groups. In a recent declaration, the group made favorable mention of al-Qaida leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.

 

The Warriors of God demands a pure form of Islamic practice throughout the Gaza Strip, including the implementation of Shariah religious law and a rejection of democracy. Indeed, the confrontation at the mosque followed the declaration of an Islamic Caliphate in Gaza, a flagrant rejection of Hamas' authority.

 

Many young men in Gaza have become increasingly radicalized. Pakistani-style dress has become common, as is the long hair that is thought to resemble the style of the Prophet Muhammad. At the same time, violence against "lawbreakers" is on the rise. Internet cafes have been bombed, institutions with Christian affiliations burned down, foreign schools attacked and wedding parties assaulted.

 

There are substantial ideological differences between Gaza's Salafi al-Qaida affiliates and Hamas. As a ruling party, Hamas has insisted that its sole concern is the Palestinian people, not a global Islamic revolution. Hamas has not imposed Islamic law in the Gaza Strip.

 

The Salafi groups, however, appear increasingly influenced by the growth of radical al-Qaida-style extremism in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan. While traditional Salafi movements have stayed away from politics, the younger groups see activism and violence as the best means of realizing their goals.

 

But Hamas' failure to establish and implement Islamic law is not the only issue that rankles. One of the reasons for these groups' increased appeal is the de facto ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which has led some in Gaza to charge that Hamas has been neutralized as a resistance force. With the border closed under Israeli blockade for more than two years, levels of poverty, unemployment and despair have grown, with young men increasingly interested in joining the global jihad as it comes to Gaza.

 

Indeed, Hamas' confrontation with Salafi groups comes as Israel is charging that dozens of foreign terrorists have crossed into Gaza from the Sinai Desert to join the violent underground. Hamas' crackdown thus highlights its desire to maintain control over its conflict with Israel.

 

The threat of Salafi extremism in Gaza is far from over. Salafis have threatened to retaliate against Hamas, particularly the security brigades that led the counterattack on the mosque. A new Salafi group called the Brigade of Swords of Righteousness has declared its obedience to the Warriors of God and has warned Gazans to stay away from government buildings, security headquarters, mosques attended by Hamas leaders and other official buildings. The group now considers these legitimate targets.

 

With hundreds of tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip and Sinai, it is very difficult to control the flow of arms, ammunition and possibly foreign fighters. Hamas' battle with these radicals, who detonated suicide bombs and killed six Hamas security men during the mosque fight, is just beginning. Residents are afraid that Gaza could become another Iraq, with bombings and mass killings a daily occurrence.

 

Hamas will use all means necessary to protect its power and to break the jihadi groups spreading in Gaza. In the process, Hamas hopes to win the international legitimacy that it has long sought.

 

Mkhaimar Abusada is a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza. © 2009 Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.org)

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

PROMISE AND PERIL OF GLOBAL CHANGE

BY HANS-WERNER SINN

 

MUNICH — Panta rhei. Everything flows.

 

This Greek aphorism often comes to mind when I think of the economic and political changes in my lifetime. They seemed as impossible before they occurred as they have felt natural in retrospect. Communism fell. Germany was united. The United States elected a African- American president. Now we are in a phase in which Asia is catching up with the West and U.S. hegemony is being challenged.

 

While American casino capitalism has collapsed, and America's European economic satellites are suffering, China seems to have taken advantage of the situation, increasing its trade surplus amid the global economic crisis. Indeed, in the first four months of this year, China became the world's leading goods exporter, overtaking Germany, the previous champion.

 

It is true that in other economic terms, China still lags far behind. Although China accounts for 20 percent of the world's population, its share of global GDP currently is only 7 percent. By contrast, the U.S. and the European Union account for 54 percent of global GDP, despite having only 12 percent of the world's population.

 

But these figures are changing rapidly, owing to China's exuberant growth. From 1995 to 2008, China's economy grew by 229 percent, while the world economy grew by 63 percent, the U.S. by 45 percent and the 27-member EU by only 37 percent.

 

It may be difficult for China to ever match the success of a small Asian country like Singapore, which has already overtaken the U.S. in terms of GDP per capita as measured by purchasing power parity. Yet China will undoubtedly become the world's largest economic power in the foreseeable future. To achieve this leadership position, it needs less than a quarter of U.S. per capita GDP, because its population is more than four times larger.

 

The forces of globalization that were liberated by the fall of communism have created a better world, with rapid economic convergence and shrinking inequality. The proportion of people living below the World Bank's poverty line of $1.25 a day shrank from 52 percent in 1981 to only 25 percent in 2005. More than 50 percent of the world's population is now considered middle class, with a living standard above the average of the developed countries' poverty lines ($8.2 at 1996 Purchasing Power Parity prices).

 

And the worldwide Gini coefficient of inter-country inequality fell from 0.653 to 0.556 from 1980 to 2007, owing largely to the astounding performance of the emerging countries, particularly China and India.

 

The development of the world has not been without problems, however. Carbon dioxide emissions have been growing fast, fossil-fuel resources are being depleted rapidly, and global warming has accelerated. Even if the U.S. embraces the Kyoto Protocol under President Barack Obama, the world's temperature will break the record of the last 800,000 years in the next 30 years.

 

Moreover, huge waves of migrants from developing countries to OECD countries challenge the assimilation capacity of the latter and deprive the former of its educated workforce. In the U.S. and Germany, 13 percent of the population is foreign born, as are 8 percent of France inhabitants and 10 percent of Britain's.

 

Unskilled migrants tend to come to Europe, where they burden the welfare state, and skilled migrants are lured to the U.S., although they are urgently needed at home. The brain drain is a problem not only for South America west of the Andes and many African countries, but also for Turkey, Italy, Britain, the Balkan countries, Germany and Finland.

 

Migration from developing countries partly reflects a problem that also triggered the current financial crisis: International capital flowed in the wrong direction. In recent years, the U.S. absorbed half the world's capital exports, while China provided one-fifth of the total. In 2007 alone, the U.S. imported $790 billion of capital, while the emerging and developing countries exported $714 billion.

 

This made it possible for U.S. households to stop saving and enjoy an exorbitant consumption level, but it stood on its head the conventional wisdom that capital should flow from rich to poor countries, where it can more productively be invested. Since the world will not continue to provide the U.S. with goods in exchange for dubious financial securities, Americans will have to leave their dream world. They will have to brace themselves for an extensive period of diminished expectations that will last much longer than the next economic boom, and that will require substantial structural changes in the U.S. economy.

 

In the next few decades, the biggest challenge for the world will be peace, because the changing economic power structure will require corresponding political changes that the U.S., as the incumbent superpower, will not easily accept. The situation is similar to Germany's challenge to British geopolitical hegemony in the 19th century, when the German economy blossomed. The resulting political tensions led to a second "Thirty Years' War" that brought Western civilization to the brink of collapse. It can only be hoped that the political leaders who shape the course of the 21st century will be wise enough to avoid such an outcome.

 

Hans-Werner Sinn is a professor of economics and public finance, University of Munich, and president of the Ifo Institute. © 2009 Project Syndicate

 

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THE KOREA HERALD

EDITORIAL

FAMILY REUNIONS

 

For most South Koreans, the 1950-53 Korean War may be nothing but a historical fact, with little direct bearing on their everyday lives. But the fratricidal war is still etched in memory as an unbearable tragedy for quite a few. Among them are separated families awaiting reunion, albeit one that will only last a couple of days.

 

In the North Korean tourist resort of Mount Geumgang, Red Cross representatives from the South are holding talks on family reunions around the Oct. 3 Chuseok holiday with their counterparts from the North. The two sides will have to allow as many as possible to meet each other after more than a half century of separation.

 

Since 2000, when South and North Korea held their first summit, there have been 16 such reunions. At them, 16,212 South Koreans have met their family members from the North. Another 3,748 have had face-to-face dialogue with their North Korean kin via video link.

 

While the three-day conference is progressing, the Red Cross in the South is in the process of selecting 300 candidates for family reunions. Seniority reigns in the selection process, with 4,000 to 5,000 of the 87,500 people on the waiting list passing away each year. Another criterion is whether or not they have direct kin alive in the North.

 

Both South and North Korea will have to set aside political considerations they may have about family reunions. Instead, they should pursue them as a humanitarian project and nothing else.

 

Regrettably, however, North Korea, which has strict regulations on the contact its citizens have with South Koreans and foreigners, has tightly controlled family reunions in the past. It has certainly used them as leverage in overall relations with the South. It is no secret that it has attempted more often than not to seek rewards from South Korea for permitting North Koreans to meet family members residing in the South.

 

A case in point is a similar Red Cross conference held in December 2007. At the time, North Korea prevailed in its demand that the number of people allowed to meet their family members be limited to 400 from each side per year. It pointed to its "limited administrative capacity" for arranging family reunions as a lame excuse.

 

That was disappointing to the South Korean government, which had anticipated a "drastic increase" in the number of reunions. Its high expectations were grounded on the outcome of earlier inter-Korean summit talks. In October 2007, President Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong-il agreed to promote family reunions "all year round."

 

To the chagrin of separated families, however, the proposed 400 reunions were never realized. Inter-Korean relations soured in the wake of Lee Myung-bak's election later in the year and the inauguration of his conservative administration in February 2008.

 

North Korea will do well to agree to increase the number of family reunions to the greatest extent possible this time. It is also urged to deal with the repatriation of prisoners of war and civilians taken to the North during the Korean War.

 

There may be no immediate rewards for such a humanitarian action. But it will certainly ingratiate itself with the South Korean government, paving the way for the renewed provision of food and other types of aid to the impoverished North.

 

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THE KOREA HERALD

                                           EDITORIAL

'PARTIAL SUCCESS'

 

The entire nation shouted for joy when its first space launch vehicle blasted off its launching pad on Tuesday afternoon. But it did not take long before the euphoria turned into despair. The satellite aboard the space rocket was found an hour later to have failed to enter its intended orbit.

 

The satellite separated from the rocket as planned but failed to reach the intended position. It was nowhere to be found. The Naro Space Center is working to find what exactly caused the satellite to veer away from its orbit.

 

The failure to put a fully operational satellite in space is a disappointment both to all engineers working on the space program and the entire nation. But the rocket's successful blastoff and its subsequent separation from the satellite cannot be belittled.

 

It was no small achievement for Korea to come so close to putting in space a domestically built satellite that was launched from its territory. The Korea Aerospace Research Institute must have gained valuable experience from its collaboration with Russian engineers in conducting the operation from the initial design stage to the final monitoring.

 

True, the blastoff in the southern island of Naro could be regarded as either "partial success" or "partial failure," depending on the perspective of the beholder. But there is no denying that it was the first step on the path to developing an aerospace industry in the nation.

 

Given its track record in other industries, it may be a matter of time before the valuable experience gained from the "partial success" helps turn the nation into an aerospace-industry powerhouse.

 

Who could have been convinced that Korea would emerge as an industry leader when it ventured as a latecomer into shipbuilding, auto assembly, chip making and, more recently, information technology? But it has emerged as one, by overcoming the sense of discouragement it felt when it found the odds stacked against it. By the same token, no obstacle should prove to be insurmountable when it comes to the fledgling aerospace industry.

 

Korea has come a long way since it established the Korea Aerospace Research Institute in 1989. KARI started construction of a space center in the southern island of Naro in 2000. It was followed by the launch of KSR-3, the last of KARI's research-rocket series, in 2002.

 

What KARI needs to do now is start anew and parlay its past achievements into a successful delivery of a satellite into space next time.

 

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THE KOREA HERALD

                                           EDITORIAL

SUCCESS OF THE EURO AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR ASIA

ANDREW SHENG

 

The European Union is the largest economy in the world, accounting for 30 percent of world GDP, but in practice, the EU comprises 27 countries, while the euro is only the official currency for 16 countries. For example, the United Kingdom is a member of the EU but did not join the euro currency zone.

 

The euro is so well-established today that people tend to forget that it was only created in 1999 and its currency notes issued in 2002, whereas the EU was formed in 1957. Namely, it took more than 40 years before Europe was able to establish its own currency, having experimented with several forms of currency arrangements before the euro. In the 1980s, the European Monetary System (the famous currency snake whereby major European currencies agreed to have parities with each other in a band) failed. The European central banks spent countless sums fighting volatility and speculation in the EMS. This explains why even today, some European central banks don't fully trust hedge funds and offshore financial centers.

 

The EMS failed because of the obvious difficulties in coordinating monetary and fiscal policy in Europe in order to maintain currency stability or parity between the different currencies. One of the primary conditions for a single currency union is that there is a system to compensate the countries that may suffer from the single currency, since the regional monetary policy may not fit a particular country's situation. For example, the Deutschemark was very strong, because of Germany's growing economic power and because the German Bundesbank had a strict policy of fighting inflation, given her historical bad experience with hyperinflation in the 1930s and immediately after the World War II. The United Kingdom did not join the euro precisely because U.K. citizens felt that they should not lose their ability to determine their own monetary policy.

 

One of the key conditions for the successful launch of the euro was the Maastricht Treaty, which imposed discipline on all the member countries not to run too large fiscal and balance-of-payment policies. The Maastricht criteria limited such deficits to not more than 3 percent of GDP for both accounts. So far, EU members seem to have adhered to these limits, although there were times when some large members seemed to be skating close to the ice. Monetary policy in Europe is conducted by the European Central Bank.

 

The euro has been successful in the sense that it has appreciated against the U.S. dollar from lowest 0.82 to highest 1.60 and is currently at 1.42, while the volume of currency turnover against the euro according to BIS data has hardly changed from 38 percent of total global foreign exchange turnover in 2001 to 37 percent in 2007. According to IMF data, at the end of the first quarter of 2009, out of $6.4 trillion of global official foreign exchange reserves, but $4.1 trillion of identified reserves, the U.S. dollar accounted for 64.1 percent, the euro 26.3 percent, the sterling 4.4 percent and the yen 2.5 percent. This goes to show that the euro is now the second largest reserve currency, whereas the yen is a distant fourth.

 

How much of the lessons of the euro can apply to Asia? First, the euro was a major tool of political integration, not economic integration. EU came together to avoid the beggar-thy-neighbor policies within Europe that eventually ended up in war. It was possible to create the EU because the two largest countries and former enemies, Germany and France, agreed to a political union for long-term peace and prosperity. No such understanding exists in East Asia.

 

Second, the euro was the union of many currencies to become a leading reserve currency, replacing the Deutschemark, the franc, lira, peso and others. The yen or sterling represents one country trying to make its currency become a reserve currency. The euro is actually an internally fixed exchange rate (between different EU members) and an externally flexible one (against U.S. dollar and others).

 

Third, Europe has the advantage of size, at $18 trillion a large stable internal market. However, overall Europe runs a small current account deficit with the rest of the world, with a net international balance sheet deficit of 10 percent of GDP.

 

The sequence of European integration is first political integration, then real-sector integration and finally financial integration through a common currency. Note that financial integration is still not complete in Europe, because national rivalries protect highly national banking systems. Asia not only does not have political or financial integration, the only level of convergence is in trade integration.

 

In sum, despite its Anglo-Saxon skeptics and critics, the EU is a successful integration story and the euro a real competitor to the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency. The one weakness of the euro is related to EU's military might, since the EU is not quite a military union. Astute market observers will note that if there are political tensions with Europe's neighbors, such as military conflict in the Balkans, the euro will weaken relative to the U.S. dollar. When people talk about flight to the dollar, they usually mean flight to somewhere shielded from military conflict.

 

Hence, when we discuss the role of reserve currencies, we cannot just discuss monetary or financial issues, but must look at the total picture.

 

Next, we shall look at prospects of RMB as a reserve currency and its role in the Asian monetary architecture.

 

Andrew Sheng is author of forthcoming book published by Cambridge University Press, "From Asian to Global Financial Crisis". - Ed.

 

(Asia News Network)

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

CORRUPT HOUSES

 

The exposure of apartment buildings with serious quality problems one after another points to the prevalent corruption in the construction industry. The document released by the State Council last week to launch a two-year crackdown on serious malpractices in the real estate sector further underscores how serious the problem is.

 

A new apartment building collapsed in Shanghai in June. Two residential buildings became seriously tilted after heavy rains in Chengdu, southwest China's Sichuan province; a two storeyed-building collapsed in the rainstorm in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province; walls of several residential building developed cracks in Nanjing in Jiangsu province; and, a bridge under construction collapsed in Shaanxi province. All these occurred in less than two months.

 

Undoubtedly, it is not lack of technology that has caused these quality problems. With the technology to build such structures as the Bird's Nest or 100-storeyed skyscrapers, it should be a piece of cake for Chinese construction companies to build multi-storeyed residential buildings of sound quality.

 

Neither can it be lack of money that resulted in inadequate input of construction material. Since they are commercial buildings, the money that house buyers have paid should be more than enough for their homes to be built with quality steel and cement.

 

Therefore, the only possibility could be the construction companies' problems or that funds were siphoned off in the process of the projects being subcontracted several times before being built or during the transactions from getting the land to the approval of the projects.

 

Both point to corruption in the industry. Those in a position to approve construction projects may have received kickbacks for doing their job, as do those in a position to sanction loans. Big construction companies subcontract projects to smaller ones to collect profits without getting directly involved in the projects, and smaller ones follow suit.

 

Such devious deals are found to be behind many construction mishaps. And, a large percentage of corrupt officials nabbed have been found to have got bribes from real estate developers. It is no exaggeration to say that corruption has contributed tremendously to the bubble in the real estate market.

 

More worrisome is the fact that both local governments and property developers in many cases are cashing in on the real estate sector in whatever way they can. The former increases its income by selling land to the latter and the latter maximizes profits by raising prices and lowering investment in housing projects. When the problem of housing quality is exposed, many believe local authorities, who should play the role of watchdogs, might turn out to be protective umbrellas for developers.

 

That explains why the buildings with quality problems are cleared by governments; and, also why few developers are incriminated for the problems in projects they developed.

 

Yet there lies the danger of the government losing credibility, as borne out by the frequent mass protests against arbitrary occupation of land or demolition of residential houses. It is hoped that the campaign being launched now will keep the situation in check.

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

SMALL CAR, BIG MOVE

 

Were it not for the news that Guangzhou is to lift an 8-year-old ban on small vehicles, many may not easily believe that there is such a restriction in the southern metropolis.

 

In fact, as early as 2001, the city stopped issuing licenses to sub-1,000cc vehicles, and denied those already licensed access to specific sections of the urban road network. One year later, such vehicles from other places were prohibited from entering the city proper. Which has been the strictest and most complete restriction on small automobiles in the country.

 

Even Beijing, where image-conscious municipal administrators betrayed a marked distaste for small cars, had not been so strict.

 

That indeed is a mismatch with the city's popular image of being in the vanguard of market-oriented adventures. The environment aside, discrimination against small vehicles based on engine displacement is anti-market.

 

The municipal authorities in Guangzhou did have their own reasons when they imposed the ban in 2001. Such cheap, small vehicles add to traffic congestions, are more vulnerable to technical problems, and may cause more serious pollution - all of which sound untrue today. Some home-made low-end small vehicles may have been lousy and polluting some years back. But, at that time, the bigger ones were not any better. Nor is it fair to blame a traffic jam on small automobiles alone.

 

What we know for sure is that traffic congestion is more often than not the result of awkward management. And, that, under similar technical standards, vehicles with higher engine displacement discharge more waste gas into the atmosphere.

 

The real purpose of Guangzhou's discriminatory policy reportedly was to raise the threshold of private vehicle ownership. The urban planners there wanted to postpone the popularization of family cars by five years. They were so determined that even after the decision-makers in Beijing woke up to the folly of such an approach and turned to encourage low-emission small vehicles and appealed for elimination of discriminatory policies in 2006, the city held on.

 

But such a threshold has proved too low to work the magic. Every single day, the city sees 1,000 new family vehicles on the road.

 

Except for leaving local residents seething with a sense of injustice, the ill-conceived policy did little to justify its masterminds' motivations. Its revocation was long overdue. Even so, it is worth celebrating. After all, they have finally come to terms with reason and decided to correct an obvious anomaly.

 

We would otherwise be left wondering why unacceptable justifications for an unreasonable policy stood unchallenged in a city known for its pragmatism.

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

YEN AND THE ART OF CURRENCY MAINTENANCE

 

Japan ($4.8 trillion in GDP last year) is the largest economy in the world after the US ($14.3 trillion). Because it has continuously run current account surpluses; it also had the largest net foreign exchange position, namely more foreign exchange assets than liabilities, with $5 trillion in gross foreign exchange assets and $3.1 trillion in net foreign exchange assets at the end of September 2008. In contrast, China had $4.4 trillion in GDP, $2.3 trillion in gross foreign exchange assets and $1 trillion in net foreign exchange assets at the end of 2007.

 

In other words, Japan still has three times bigger net foreign exchange assets than China, even though the latter has more foreign exchange reserves.

 

In the 1960s, when the yen was still fixed at 360 to a US dollar, the Japanese economy grew at an average of 10 percent a year. In the 1970s, when the yen began to appreciate and there was an oil shock, the growth slowed to an average of 5 percent.

 

But there was a massive stock market and real estate bubble after the Plaza Accord of 1985, when the yen appreciated sharply from 239 to 128 a dollar in 1992. The yen continued to appreciate till April 1995 when it hit 80 to a dollar and then went into reversal until it depreciated to 147 in June 1998, stopped only by joint intervention by the Bank of Japan and the US Treasury.

 

According to economic textbooks, a country with a continuous surplus should have an appreciating currency. It is interesting to note that Japan had a continuous current account surplus despite the volatile yen. Indeed, Japan had to export capital in large amounts in order to keep the yen at a competitive level.

 

In the 1980s, Japan began to internationalize the yen in an effort to make it a global reserve currency and Tokyo an international financial center. But after nearly 17 years of dismal economic growth, when its economy at best grew between 1 and 2 percent, the role of the yen has declined along with the number of foreign companies listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

 

Why did the yen not succeed as an international reserve currency? After all, Japan had actively promoted the yen by granting considerable amount of cheap official aid in yen loans. Japanese banks branched out overseas in the 1980s and granted substantial yen loans abroad. Because yen interest rates were cheap, initially many countries borrowed in yen, but very soon discovered that the high volatility in the dollar-yen rate made the Japanese currency quite costly to hedge and to borrow.

 

The reason why the yen was pushed as an international reserve currency and Tokyo as a global financial hub was strategic. Because of its aging population, Japan wanted to shift from being an exporter of manufacturing goods to a surplus country with long-term income from its savings. If the yen was an international reserve currency, the Bank of Japan could earn seigniorage - an interest free loan from foreigners using the yen as reserve currency. Furthermore, Tokyo could earn services income as a global financial hub dealing with yen securities, currency trading and commercial services.

 

The failure of the yen to become a major reserve currency status despite Japan's wealth and industrial power is strange. Three factors help a currency become an international reserve currency: Stable value, low transaction costs and high transparency. Unfortunately, the yen has been very volatile and transaction costs for dealing in the yen is not cheap.

Several reasons, especially wrong policies, were to blame for the yen's volatility. First, Japan's position as a major exporter of yen meant that there was a yen "overhang". A Japanese investor in US treasuries earning a spread of say 4 percent between the US Treasury rate and Japanese deposit rate could find his income wiped out if the yen appreciated more than 4 percent a year, which happened quite often.

 

Thai borrower in yen, however, would find an appreciation in yen wiping out even the lower borrowing cost of the yen compared with the Thai baht or US dollar. The borrower, however, would be naturally hedged if he earns an income in yen. Nevertheless, the long-term tendency of the yen to appreciate prompted Japanese exporters to opt for exporting in yen and importing in dollars to protect their income in yen terms and save on import costs if the yen appreciated.

 

This practice of passing the foreign exchange costs to the borrowers made the yen more volatile, because when it began appreciating the borrower and the investor both sold dollars to buy yen to protect themselves from the appreciation, causing the yen to go through large swings.

 

A currency can only be an international reserve currency if it has a wide variety of financial and real assets to purchase in liquid markets. Because of the massive asset bubble in Japan in 1989, the basic trend of financial assets and real estate has been downward and yields on Japanese bonds, stocks and bank deposits are low under the near zero interest rate policy. Hence, the dollar-yen turnover steadily declined to 13 percent of global foreign currency turnover in 2007 compared with 20 percent in 1998. And the position of the yen as an international reserve currency suffered further with the rise of the euro in 1999.

 

The author is Adjunct Professor in University of Malaya and Tsinghua University.

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

PEACE UNDER NETANYAHU A REMOTE POSSIBILITY

 

US President Barack Obama's push for peace in the Middle depends more on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than any other person in the region.

 

Netanyahu is a member of the Likud Party, which was marginalized in Israeli politics for almost three decades before climbing to the top of the power ladder in the mid-1970s. Likud's principal belief is in Biblical Israel (or "Greater Israel") that encompasses the whole of Palestine.

 

Menachem Begin, a Likud member who signed the David Camp (peace) Accords, once accused Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, of acquiescing to the annexation of West Bank by Jordan. In fact, "Greater Israel" has been Likud's popular election slogan and enabled it to stay close to power.

 

Leaders with unflinching faith in their party's philosophy are rarely pragmatic or rational. Absolute rationality is rare but that in no way nullifies the importance of rationality, especially in the turbulent world of global politics.

 

A review of some of the acts of Likud prime ministers will help identify the dual traits and pragmatism of their ideologues. Yitzhak Shamir and Netanyahu are more of ideologues, while Begin and Ariel Sharon, pragmatists.

 

Shamir rejected UN Security Council resolutions 224 and 338 as the basis of Israel-Palestine talks, refused to hold talks with Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) representatives. More provocatively, he said peace talks, unaided by war, couldn't solve the problems.

 

Netanyahu shelved the positive process started by Yitzhak Rabin (who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Yasser Arafat for their peace efforts) by opposing his "land for peace" plan.

 

In contrast, Begin and Sharon displayed some flexibility. Despite his hawkish stance, Begin signed the peace accord with Egypt, and Sharon withdrew from the West Bank.

 

Shamir's rigidity in the face of US intervention forced George H. Bush, then US president, to freeze a sanctioned loan of $10 billion. That plunged Israel-US relations to its lowest point.

 

Netanyahu might have reversed the peace process but compared with Shamir, he was more pragmatic as his acceptance of the Oslo Treaty showed, even though it created a kind of identity crisis for the Likud.

 

Begin and Sharon believed in the revisionist Zionist philosophy of Ze'ev Jabotinsky, founder of the Likud Party. But ground realities prompted them to modify their views after they became prime ministers.

 

Begin balanced his ideology with pragmatism by announcing that the Sinai Peninsula was not part of "Greater Israel", reflecting his political manipulative ability in mitigating if not eliminating political conflicts. He can be criticized for trying to practice his beliefs. But there is no denying that the first glimmer of peace was seen only after he, Anwar Sadat, and Jimmy Carter made relentless efforts to strike a deal.

 

Sharon is a special case, full of hatred for the Palestinians that his parents seem to have instilled in his mind. During the 1982 Lebanon War, he ordered the massacre in the Sabra and Shatila refuge camps, shocking the entire world. As minister of housing, he implemented new settlement plans on the West Bank at the cost of derailing the peace process initiated by the US.

 

When Ehud Barak proposed the division of Jerusalem - the western part as Israel's capital and the eastern for the future Palestinian state - Sharon marched up to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Temple Mount, one of the most contested religious sites in the world. That brought Barak's efforts to an abrupt end, and increasing violence turned the West Bank into a curse for Israel. But in the end he retreated from the West Bank.

 

Pragmatism means yielding to rational outside pressure, which for Israel is the US, making the moves of the American president extremely important for Middle East peace.

 

Carter did his utmost to bring peace to the Middle East. Whenever talks between Sadat and Begin seemed like reaching a stalemate, Carter tried to find common grounds. He tried to bridge the gap inch by inch.

 

But Bill Clinton was the greatest beneficiary of that peace process, for it was during his US presidency that Rabin initiated the process of returning the Golan Heights to Palestine. To consolidate his position within the PLO, weakened by violence and infighting, Arafat needed some success - and the Oslo Treaty provided him with that.

 

Now Obama has taken up the responsibility of leading the peace process. But Netanyahu is still acting like an ideologue. Actually, as an inexperienced leader, he has no option but to cling to ideology. Besides, Palestinian violence has strengthened Likud's sense of crisis, as well as added impetus to its ideology. Hence, even the mention of ceding territory is taboo for Netanyahu, who dare not break the bottom line.

 

In the early 1970s, when US secretary of state Henry Kissinger conducted his "shuttle diplomacy" in the Middle East seeking peace between Israel and Egypt, Rabin said the Israeli government's resistance to cede territory was a symbolic but important stance. But when war broke out, he said yielding several more inches could have prevented the tanks from rolling.

 

Politicians play their cards close to their chest, or risk losing the game. Sharon retreated from the West Bank, Sadat broke the impasse by taking a peace step forward, Arafat conceded that an Israeli state existed and Rabin agreed to limited Palestinian autonomy. But all of them clarified their bottom line at the last moment.

 

So Obama has to keep the pressure on Netanyahu if he wants to see a peaceful Middle East. If he threatens to punish Israel for its stubbornness and shows that he is serious about it, Netanyahu may fall in line.

 

But first, Obama must consider the response of the powerful Israeli lobby in the US (a solid vote bank of the Democrats) because it controls many sectors of the economy, especially finance. And second, he should know how much Netanyahu would retreat.

 

Both of them are uncertain factors. As an idealist US president respected across the world, Obama may be trying to fulfill his promise of bringing change to the US, but he can't change political rules that are beyond his jurisdiction.

 

Netanyahu lacks the charisma and the political acumen of Begin or Sharon. And hence, he may not be suited to handle emergencies or rewrite history, as was once evident in his indecision to withdraw from the West Bank. It took Sharon to finish that task.

 

That's why as long as Netanyahu is Israel's leader, the Middle East is not likely to see complete peace without a miracle.

 

The author is a PhD scholar in Foreign Affairs College, Beijing.

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

WILL THE STATE SECRECY BILL SUFFOCATE THE TNI?

EVAN A. LAKSMANA

 

Amidst all the gung-ho following the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott bombings and the aftermath of the general elections, one could easily forget that the controversial state secrecy bill is being discussed and could soon be passed into law.

 

Despite heavy criticism claiming the bill would turn back the clock on democratic freedom and accountability, defense officials claim there is nothing to worry about as the bill is meant to protect strategic state information — which was true of the very first draft initially set to protect specific defense information, but not of the current draft that covers the protection of information from other government agencies and ministries.

 

Oddly, although skeptics argue the bill will ultimately kill our democracy, very few, if any, have pointed out the long term implications of the bill to the military itself.

 

Instead, they have simply criticized the military for halting reform efforts by trying to “protect” key information — such as defense budgets, posture, procurements, and salary levels — and highlighted the lack of accountability and transparency within the defense establishment. These criticisms surely deserve merit.

 

But when they continue to use the same language of “democracy,” “human rights,” and “justice” — a legacy of the 1998 reform movement — they have had a tough time swaying Defense Ministry officials of the need to postpone deliberation of the bill, or at least, to significantly modify it.

 

Therefore, perhaps we need to move away from those abstractions of democracy to the concrete reality of the bill’s detrimental implications, if passed in its current form, for the military in the long run.

 

First, the bill will effectively hamper any possible military innovation that could arise in the future.
Given our economic conditions, military innovation — significant changes in education and training, manpower policies, structure, doctrine, and strategy through creative policies to optimize defense resource allocation — is the only way for our military to stay relevant and regain the respect of friends and foes alike.

 

Unfortunately, the bulk of military history suggests that such innovation would be difficult to achieve without a conducive, open and “critical” climate within the military itself.

 

If the bill classifies almost every aspect of military life as state secrets, how can we encourage
frank and open discussions of innovative ideas when the basic data needed to have such discussion is hidden? Moreover, how do we know if the military has done better or worse in its force development when there is no official data to compare it to?

 

Second, the bill could also harm Indonesia’s still nascent civilian defense community. The civilian defense community is a crucial and integral part of any country’s national security community — without which, any critical input and “out-of-the-box” thinking required to boost military innovation would be stifled.

 

Even more so when we consider the adolescent state of our civilian defense community with only very few individuals trained in advanced military and strategic studies.

 

Would the bill not eventually kill off our civilian defense community as they would be too afraid to discuss defense problems for fear of criminal prosecution?

 

Furthermore, how could we encourage multi-disciplinary policy-relevant research — in psychology, sociology, economics, or civil engineering — in our universities and research institutes in support of our defense establishment if they are not allowed to posses the data needed to do so?


Oddly, although skeptics argue the bill will ultimately kill our democracy, very few, if any, have pointed out the long term implications of the bill to the military itself.

 

Third, the bill could affect, if not tarnish, our military’s international defense relations.

 

The current state of international stability, and specifically, our entire international defense relations,
are basically based on a principle of trust and mutual benefits — two elements that would have been almost impossible without international laws and regulations requiring states to be transparent about their military development.

 

Not only would intense military secrecy violate some of those laws, but since Indonesia — the biggest regional country with hegemonic overtones — live in what used to be a turbulent region plagued by suspicion and unresolved disputes, wouldn’t such a move be portrayed as provocative and potentially disruptive to regional stability?

 

Won’t such secrecy further complicate bilateral military-to-military relations at a time when such relations are the solid foundation of amity with our friends?

 

Finally, and most importantly, the bill could further hurt the next generation of military leaders.
In conversations with younger military officers, one gets a sense of frustration from within the ranks — especially middle and lower-level officers who are not related to the elite in any way and would then have poor career prospects, despite their overseas education.

 

Such resentment, not only related to promotions, but also to what seems to be a lack of internal transparency within the military.

 

Though these are perhaps anecdotal instances, wouldn’t the state secrecy bill, by classifying promotion papers and salaries, further exacerbate the lack of internal transparency from the high command to its own rank-and-file?

 

Would this not eventually suffocate bright young officers who are forced either to conform to the rules-of-the-game or be left out in the cold?

 

One should not forget that honesty breeds confidence, and silence breeds fear.


The writer is currently a researcher with the Department of Politics and International Relations, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Jakarta.

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

TERRORISM IS HERE TO STAY

 

After a four-year gap, terrorism is now back in our midst. The initial buoyancy the country enjoyed believing it had stopped terrorist attacks, hitting it yearly from 2002 to 2005, turns out to be an illusion.

 

The police have their hands full these days, catching Ali Muhammad bin Abdullah, believed to be a Saudi Arabian, who allegedly funded the July 17 bombings in Jakarta.

 

This is a sign that terror operatives are getting closer to their targets and of a laxity in community policing.

 

A study by the International Crisis Group suggests the government pay more attention to Jemaah Islamiyah-affiliated schools that offer protection to men like Noordin M. Top, better understanding of terrorism’s international linkages and better intelligence.

 

Improved community policing, for one, implies reform in neighborhood bureaucracy, particularly, on the issuance of identity cards. This boils down to bureaucratic corruption as one can easily obtain a card with a fee. Since curbing this practice takes time, terrorism is here to stay.

 

The military, on the other hand, seems to find terrorism a convenient piggyback to strengthen its hold on power. With the split of the military and the police in 2001 as a backdrop, it seems to be a good time for the military to legitimize its presence in the civilian domain.

 

The government is faced with a dilemma: to leave terrorism in the hands of the police or to invite the military to help them. Both measures are legitimate, albeit the second carries a risk of repeating the New Order’s violations of human rights.

 

Thousands were jailed or kidnapped during the Soeharto years, most of whom were never brought to court.

 

Despite the spate of good work the police have done lately, they are still struggling to strengthen their institution building. Speaking at the headquarters of the Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus) in Jakarta last Thursday, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the Indonesian Military (TNI) should be given wider-ranging powers in the fight against terrorism.

 

Yudhoyono added that the TNI should not repeat what the military had done in the past with their “dark, bizarre” actions, such as the mysterious shooting operations known as Petrus. “Don’t let such things happen again. Don’t let the Munir case happen again,” he said, referring to the killing of the country’s most prominent human rights activist.

 

A presidential statement, however, is not a law as Indonesia is not a kingdom. To make Yudhoyono’s caveat work he should come up with a ruling that delineates the roles of the military and the police in dealing with terrorism and with a specific time frame.

 

While it is not fair to put the blame for the mysterious killings on Yudhoyono, as Soeharto himself artlessly claimed to have ordered them in his autobiography, we object to his way of acting like a father scolding his son when he referred to the Munir case. A leader cannot govern by simply saying “don’t do this or that” but should be able to deliver. In this case, he should have fulfilled the promise he once made, that is, to bring  the case to light. To date, the mastermind of the killing is still at large.

 

Terrorism cannot be fought by military force alone but by well-coordinated intelligence, elimination of a departmentalism tendency among security forces, continued attention to the government’s counter-radicalization program and by cleaning the government house of elements sympathetic to terrorism.
This is an uphill task for Yudhoyono’s new government.

 

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THE MOSCOW TIMES

EDITORIAL

RUSHYDRO SHOULD PAY FOR POWER PLANT TRAGEDY

BY VALERY ZUBOV

 

More than 70 people perished in last week’s accident at the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric plant in southern Siberia. A commission has been appointed to identify the reasons for the tragedy, and damage estimates have been calculated.

 

As far as damages are concerned, one thing should be clear: Expenses must be paid by the plant’s owners and not consumers or taxpayers. It is tempting to try to solve the problem by raising electricity prices, but the plant must assume responsibility and pay the price for its negligence.

 

And what funds should be used to restore the plant? During the first two quarters of 2009, RusHydro, the operator of Sayano-Shushenskaya, earned a profit of 18 billion rubles, which is roughly equal to half of the preliminary damage estimate. For the last 23 years — 13 of which the company operated as a joint-stock company — Sayano-Shushenskaya has made a profit. Nonetheless, the plant was highly underinsured. Although it reportedly had private insurance coverage for about $200 million, this amount would cover only about 20 percent of the plant’s total damages and recovery costs. Why should the federal budget or consumers serve as the main insurance company post factum and pick up the plant’s tab?

 

In addition to the government’s investigation, an independent investigation of the accident should be conducted. An open public discussion and participation is crucial to make sure that the same safety lapses are not repeated and that funds are properly spent.

 

Twenty years ago during a football match in Sheffield, England, 96 fans were killed in a stampede that occurred at the fault of the organizers. The investigation into the tragedy not only identified the reasons and specific culprits, but it also recommended a number of measures that were needed to be taken by the owners of all football clubs to stay in business. This required additional costs that initially seemed to make the whole business look bleak. But the entire array of institutional innovations were found, and this has made English football matches the most attended and most lucrative in the world.

 

Russia should take a lesson from England in how to handle a major disaster. A professional response to Sayano-Shushenskaya could help define a more responsible social role for both business and government in the country’s young and evolving market economy.

 

Valery Zubov, a former governor of Krasnoyarsk, is a State Duma deputy from the A Just Russia party.

 

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THE MOSCOW TIMES

EDITORIAL

MOSCOW’S KENNEDY HAS MY VOTE

BY KONSTANTIN SONIN

 

The October Moscow Duma elections could just as well turn out like the ones before them. All Russian elections at the federal and local levels over the past four years have lacked anything even close to the semblance of actual competition.

 

But there is still a good chance that these elections could be a game changer, just like those in 1989 at the Congress of People’s Deputies that were the first relatively free elections in the Soviet Union. “Opposition candidates” in 1989 — the quotes are needed since the only thing that the candidates had in common was that they did not represent the controlling Communist Party — had it easier and tougher than opposition candidates today. It was easier because the dissatisfaction with the Communists that had been accumulating over the years was much greater than it is now with the current leadership, while the political environment made it much tougher because the access to modern campaigning tools was much tighter.

 

People are definitely tired of today’s leadership. The only thing left to do is to convince Muscovites that the opposition candidate is the better one.

 

Ilya Yashin, one of the leaders of the liberal opposition group Solidarity, is the most promising opposition candidate from the Universitet district, where I happen to live. Yashin managed to receive 15 percent of the vote in the previous elections in 2005. Although at first glance this may seem modest, it was a big success for a young politician. I have no idea what will secure Yashin the thousands of votes he needs to be victorious, but I can say that he has my vote. Should another candidate deliver what I want, then I guess I will just have to weigh the situation in an honest manner.

 

I intend to vote for the candidate who has visited each and every block — or better yet courtyard — by the election campaign’s conclusion and has become aware of the problems in each of the courtyards. Yashin has a LiveJournal blog that would be pretty interesting to glance at each day to find out which apartment buildings he has visited, which courtyards has he made speeches in and what the latest concerns are in those courtyards. The key to a successful campaign is the candidate’s ability to convince each voter that whatever problem people may have — whether it be uncollected trash in the courtyard or the need to install a new pedestrian crossing — is now the candidate’s personal problem as well.

 

A little more than 400,000 voters live in the Universitet district. Meeting with at least 20,000 in person during the remaining six weeks of campaigning is not out of reach. Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy, albeit from aristocratic backgrounds, won their first elections using this method. The same can be said for French President Nicolas Sarkozy and U.S. President Barack Obama, two politicians with more modest backgrounds.

 

Meeting in person with voters and finding out what their real, down-to-earth problems are is exactly how seemingly powerless candidates triumphed over district committee secretaries and large factory managers. In the end, I personally would like to vote for the winner.

 

Konstantin Sonin, a professor at the New Economic School/CEFIR, is a columnist for Vedomosti.

 

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THE MOSCOW TIMES

EDITORIAL

DOUBLE-DIP DANGERS

BY NOURIEL ROUBINI

 

In the past several months, global asset prices have rebounded sharply. Stock prices have increased by more than 30 percent in advanced economies, and by much more in most emerging markets. Prices of commodities — oil, energy and minerals — have soared, and corporate credit spreads (the difference between the yield of corporate and government bonds) have narrowed dramatically. Moreover, government bond yields have increased sharply, volatility (the “fear gauge”) has fallen, and the dollar has weakened as demand for safe dollar assets has abated.

 

But is the recovery of asset prices driven by economic fundamentals? Is it sustainable? Is the recovery in stock prices another bear-market rally or the beginning of a bullish trend?

 

Economic data suggests that we are seeing an improvement in fundamentals. The risk of a near depression has been reduced, the prospects of the global recession bottoming out by the end of the year are increasing and risk sentiment is improving. But it is equally clear that other, less sustainable factors are also playing a role. Moreover, the sharp rise in some asset prices threatens the recovery of a global economy that has not yet hit bottom. It is clear that many risks of a downward market correction remain.

 

First, confidence and risk aversion are fickle, and bouts of renewed volatility may occur if macroeconomic and financial data were to surprise on the downside — as they may if a near-term and robust global recovery (which many people expect) does not materialize.

 

Second, extremely loose monetary policies  — zero interest rates, quantitative easing, new credit facilities, emissions of government bonds and purchases of illiquid and risky private assets —  and the huge sums spent to stabilize the financial system may be causing a new liquidity-driven asset bubble in financial and commodity markets. For example, Chinese state-owned enterprises that gained access to huge amounts of easy money and credit are buying equities and stockpiling commodities well beyond their productive needs.

 

The risk of a correction in the face of disappointing macroeconomic fundamentals is clear. Indeed, recent data from the United States and other advanced economies suggest that the recession may last through the end of the year. Worse, the recovery is likely to be anemic and subpar — well below potential for a couple of years, if not longer — as the burden of debts and leverage of the private sector combine with rising public sector debts to limit the ability of households, financial firms and corporations to lend, borrow, spend, consume and invest.

 

This more challenging scenario of anemic recovery undermines hopes for a V-shaped recovery as low growth and deflationary pressures constrain earnings and profit margins and as unemployment rates above 10 percent in most advanced economies cause financial shocks to re-emerge, owing to mounting losses for banks’ and financial institutions’ portfolios of loans and toxic assets. At the same time, financial crises in a number of emerging markets could prove contagious, placing additional stress on global financial markets.

 

The increase in some asset prices may, moreover, lead to a W-shaped, double-dip recession. In particular, thanks to massive liquidity, energy prices are now rising too high too soon. The role that high oil prices played in the summer of 2008 in tipping the global economy into recession should not be underestimated. Oil above $140 a barrel was the last straw — coming on top of the housing busts and financial shocks — for the global economy, as it represented a massive supply shock for the United States, Europe, Japan, China and other net importers of oil.

 

Meanwhile, rising fiscal deficits in most economies are now pushing up the yields of long-term government bonds. Some of the rise in long rates is a necessary correction as investors are now pricing a global recovery. But some of this increase is driven by more worrisome factors, such as the effects of large budget deficits and concerns that the incentive to monetize these large deficits will lead to high inflation after the global economy recovers in 2010-11 and deflationary forces abate. The crowding out of private demand, owing to higher government-bond yields — and the ensuing increase in mortgage rates and other private yields — could, in turn, endanger the recovery.

 

As a result, one cannot rule out that by late 2010 or 2011, a perfect storm of oil above $100 a barrel, rising government bond yields and tax increases (as governments seek to avoid debt-

 

refinancing risks) may lead to a renewed growth slowdown, if not an outright double-dip recession.

 

The recent recovery of asset prices from their March lows is in part justified by fundamentals, as the risks of global financial meltdown and depression have fallen and confidence has improved. But much of the rise is not justified since it is driven by excessively optimistic expectations of a rapid recovery of growth toward its potential level and by a liquidity bubble that is raising oil prices and equities too fast too soon. A negative oil shock, together with rising government bond yields, could clip the recovery’s wings and lead to a significant further downturn in asset prices and in the real economy.

 

Nouriel Roubini is professor of economics at the Stern School of Business, New York University, and chairman of RGE Monitor. © Project Syndicate

 

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