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Saturday, August 29, 2009

EDITORIAL 29.08.09

August 29, 2009

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Month August 29, Edition 000284, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

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It is astounding that more than a decade after Pokhran-II, a former Defence Research and Development Organisation scientist, Mr K Santhanam, should claim that the two-stage thermonuclear device tested on May 11, 1998, did not yield the desired result and was actually a “fizzle” — or, in lay man’s term, a dud. A ‘thermonuclear device’ is a hydrogen bomb, many times more powerful than a fission device, which is a nuclear bomb. The tests on May 11, 1998, had clearly indicated that the 45 kt thermonuclear device had yielded the desired result and sufficient data to simulate laboratory tests in future. This assessment was based on both seismic data gathered near the test site as well as radioactive measurement of material on the test site. The results were vouched for by Mr APJ Abdul Kalam, who was spearheading the country’s nuclear programme in 1998, and Mr R Chidambaram, who led the team of scientists which conducted the series of tests over May 11 and 13. They have once again reiterated that the tests were entirely successful; indeed, Mr Santhanam’s bizarre claim has been rubbished by one and all, including then National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra, except Mr PK Iyengar, a scientist who was involved with Pokhran I and is unlikely to be in full command of his mental faculties today. Mr Santhanam remains undaunted by the whiplash reaction to his absurd suggestion that the thermonuclear device test was “50 to 60 per cent successful”. Having made an outrageous statement that seeks to undermine the nation’s minimum credible deterrence apart from its nuclear policy as well as posture. In fact, he has struck at the very basis of our strategic doctrine at a time when the nuclear triad has been put in place.

Mr Santhanam could well be asked — indeed, he should be asked — as to why he has kept quiet all these years instead of speaking up and telling what he now says is the ‘truth’. Is this yet another instance of a former scientist hitting back at the Government for not providing him with a post-retirement sinecure which he believes he justly deserves for ‘services rendered’? Is it envy that his colleagues, especially Mr Kalam, have acquired far greater glory than him? Or is it simply a reflection of the tendency among certain DRDO scientists to underplay the organisation’s successful completion of projects, a mindset shaped by the 1960s and 1970s when it was fashionable not to let the world know what we know lest everybody gets to know that we know? It could be all this and more. Mr Santhanam has let the cat out of the bag by saying, “We can’t get into a stampede to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. We should conduct more nuclear tests which are necessary from the point of view of security.” So, here we have a former scientist trying to prevent the Government from succumbing to any pressure, most notably from the US, to sign the CTBT in the coming months. On the face of it, Mr Santhanam’s is a noble intention, but the reason proffered by him is entirely misplaced. Also, his apprehension could be premature — as of now, the CTBT remains to be ratified by the US Congress without which the treaty is no more than a meaningless scrap of paper. Moreover, no Government would agree to make India a signatory to the CTBT without a national consensus on this sensitive issue; if the Congress tries to do so, it will have to face the political consequences. Hence, crying wolf must be avoided.







It is unfortunate that the fight against global warming has been increasingly politicised, especially due to the efforts to fix accountability and commit to specific carbon reduction norms in light of the impending crisis. The technology divide between the developed and the developing world, not to mention the debate over which countries fall into which of the two categories, has only accentuated the problem. Then there is the whole issue of who is responsible for the mess in the first place. All this and more hobbled the Kyoto protocol, the international treaty that sought to reduce carbon emissions by setting reduction targets for developed countries but failed miserably. With talks underway to hammer out a new treaty to replace the Kyoto protocol by December this year, it is time that instead of bickering, the international community faces up to some ground realities. Global warming is a reality and it is something that will affect all countries rich and poor. In fact, it is the latter that is more vulnerable to the consequences. Unless checked immediately it could lead to a catastrophic rise in sea levels, sinking island nations like Maldives and inundating vast stretches of coastline. With the onset of climatic fluctuations it could disrupt our monsoon cycles, throwing agriculture completely out of gear, leading to widespread drought and hunger. Environmental changes due to global warming will also wipe out millions of species of our flora and fauna.

It is in the backdrop of this looming threat that the international community needs to look at out-of-the box solutions. One way to go could be geo-engineering which could buy us some time to fight global warming the natural way. The aim of geo-engineering is to create low-carbon technology to help the environment. Possible solutions that geo-engineering can provide for are artificial trees that have filters to trap carbon which can then be appropriately stored, solar reflectors that can reflect back the Sun’s rays to cool the Earth and algae-based photobioreactors that can be fitted onto buildings, which can remove carbon dioxide from the air through the process of photosynthesis. Such innovative solutions are definitely the need of the hour. It must be remembered that geo-engineering is not a magic bullet and should not be seen in isolation. It has to be developed hand-in-hand with vigourous afforestation and investment in other technologies that gradually reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. It goes without saying that developing countries have to look at these innovative options at their own pace and in the interim invest in practical green policies that are congruent with their development goals. Nonetheless, they must work towards acquiring high-end green technology sometime in the near future. Perhaps shedding the one-size-fits-all attitude to fight global warming will aid the process.






Edward Moore Kennedy was not a Boston Brahmin in a strictly technical sense. Boston Brahmins are WASPS (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant). His family was Catholic. Yet, his brothers and he were more of Boston Brahmins than perhaps many technically belonging to the category. They had money. More important, they had style and an aura thanks to which Lyndon Johnson, successor to President John F Kennedy after his assassination in 1963, and a great American President in his own right for his contribution to the passage of civil rights laws, appeared as bit of a clodhopper. His rough-hewn Texan ways doubtless contributed, but might not have led to the kind of caricaturing that followed but for his role in continuing and expanding the Vietnam war which earned him the wrath of large sections and obscured much of his achievements.

It is important to recall all this and the roles of the late Senator Edward Kennedy’s two brothers-John Fitzgerald and Robert Francis, JFK and RFK as they were often referred to by their acronyms. Without them and their tragic ends at the hands of assassins, there might not have been a Kennedy legacy, no flag for their younger brother to carry forward.

There have been questions whether the legacy was really something to get hyperbolic about. The Bay of Pigs episode of April 1961 was a blunder. JFK’s sanctioning of it reflected immaturity, and failure to provide direct air support to the US-trained Cuban exiles who landed to overthrow Fidel Castro, weakness. JFK, however, was then in office for less than three months and, therefore, was not mauled as severely as he would otherwise have been. It was the Central Intelligence Agency which had botched the entire operation and was accused of having misled the young President that was hauled over the coals.

As President, JFK took decisions which led, though perhaps not as inexorably as some have believed, to the United States’ involvement in the full-fledged war in Vietnam. One wonders what he would have done had he lived and had a second term in office. There would have been a huge blot on his escutcheon had he trod the path that Lyndon Johnson did. Equally, he might have ploughed a different furrow. It is pointless to dwell on the might-have-beens-of-history. JFK should be judged by what he did, which was plenty and varied ranging from standing up to Khrushchev in the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, to rushing to India’s help during the 1962 border war with China and the formation of the Peace Corps.

The same goes for Robert Francis Kennedy who, as Attorney-General during his brother’s presidency, took on organised crime and corrupt trade union bosses like Jimmy Hoffa of the Teamsters’ Union, with a determination perhaps never seen before. Later, as a Senator from New York, he was a trenchant critic of the Vietnam war until his own assassination in June 1968.

Both JFK and RFK made enemies. The former angered tycoons by taking on a section of them, particularly those involved in the steel industry. The latter, whose abrasive style often ruffled feathers, was hated by those whom his crusades laid low. Their legacy, however, lay not in the friends they supported and the foes they opposed, nor in what they achieved and what they did not, but in the magic realism they brought to politics, lighting up the quotidian unfolding of events by the glow of idealism, steeped in the liberal values of the American political tradition, articulated in stirring rhetoric of which JFK’s inaugural address in 1961 was a prime example, and reinforced by the personal charisma of two outstanding members of a star-crossed family who perished in their prime.

To begin with Edward M Kennedy, ‘Teddy’ in common parlance and the youngest of the nine Kennedy children, seemed an unlikely candidate for being the flag-bearer of such a legacy. He was sent down from Harvard in his freshman year for getting someone to sit for his Spanish examination and getting caught. The accident at Chappaquiddick Island off Martha’s Vineyard in July 1969, in which he drove his car into water off a narrow bridge, cast a shadow that stalked him for the rest of his life. It was not only just that it caused death by drowning of Mary Jo Kopechne, 28, a former campaign aide to RFK who was with him in the car, but the fact that he did not report the matter to the police for nearly 10 hours provoked sharp criticism and earned him a suspended sentence of two months.

The accident, which raised questions like whether Mary Jo would have lived had he informed the authorities in time, and whether he was drunk while driving, prevented him, more than anything else, from making a serious bid for the presidency. He was unwilling to face the exhumation of the tragedy during a campaign that, he believed, would plumb the depths of acrimony. The one half-hearted effort he made in 1980 to challenge President Jimmy Carter’s nomination for a second term as a Democratic candidate, failed.

Yet, he persisted with politics. Born in one of the richest families in the United States, he fought for the poor and disprivileged all his life, leaving his imprimatur on a wide range of legislation pertaining to civil and voting rights, crime, taxation, health care, and de-regulation of the airline and trucking industries, reaching across the political divide to the Republicans on issues of mutual concern.

With the years, the image of the wild playboy gave way to that of a respected senior statesman, a process corresponding to Edward Kennedy’s own transformation. He was the long-distance runner who stumbled and fell but never gave up. His travails included not only deaths in his family, including that of his eldest brother, Joseph P Jr, in a World War II bombing mission in 1944 at age 29, but his own near-death experience in a plane crash in 1964 and long and painful recovery thereafter.

To many, the Kennedy era ends with his passing. It will perhaps do so in terms of a
chronological period but not of what it stood for. In decades to come, the magic realism they brought to politics will continue to enchant and attract.







Everyday nature provides a tiny glimpse of death to you: Your sleep. Death is akin to your sleep. When you are awake you are engaged in various activities, but the moment you hit the bed, what happens to you? Where do you go?

However your day has been, pleasant or unpleasant, sleep provides you deep rest. Sleep
takes you in its arms. It comforts you and makes you fresh to worry again the next day!

Sleep heals you, comforts you, and enriches your waking state of consciousness. If you do not sleep, your wakefulness will be dull.

Sleep and wakefulness appear to be contradictory, or on opposite poles. However, they complement each other. Good sleep makes you more awake and alert. Isn’t it? If you observe your sleep you will know a lot about your death. Have you noticed the last thought in your mind just before falling asleep is the same as the first thought you have as soon as you wake up? The same happens. Death is a long sleep. You drop one body and get into another body.

Death is a friend of life. This does not mean you should commit suicide! So many people commit suicide thinking they will get rid of the anguish, agitation, and agony, but they will be born with the same thing next time. Suicide is not death. Deep desire to live makes you commit suicide. When life is just a game and you have lived life, then you embrace death naturally when it comes. It is the fear of death that dampens life, and there is fear because we do not know what it is.

What does Death mean? Dropping the past. Die every moment, and you are born every moment. As in sleep, even in meditation, there is deep comfort. And you realise that everything in this universe is changing; everything is dying.

The first law of thermodynamics says that “energy can neither be created nor destroyed”. Our mind is energy and energy cannot be destroyed. What happens to this mind when it leaves the body? It capsules itself in the impressions like an invisible balloon and remains for a time until it again gets another body to come back.

Knowledge of death makes you immortal. It is wrong to even say that it makes you immortal. It makes you aware that you are immortal anyway. Do you see the difference? You are already immortal. Something in you never dies.







One of the most significant news stories to generate in recent years from China was the August 10 break involving an influential Chinese think tank. The website of the China Institute for International Strategic Studies (CIISS), an organisation which advises Beijing on global issues, put out an article about India which surprised people all over the world — not so much for the prophesy contained in the article as for the window it offered on the mysterious world of China’s think tanks.

The article, written by an unknown ‘expert’, had it that India is only a ‘Hindu religious State’ with a ‘decadent’, ‘exploitative’ and ‘caste-ridden’ Hindu culture. It would require only a ‘little action’ from Beijing to break India into 20-30 independent States and in this "friendly countries" like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan could be of help. It was reproduced in several other strategic and military websites of China and its appearance almost coincided with the 13th round of the Sino-Indian border talks.

It is pointless to devote time and space over the contents of the article. What is more important is the revelation it afforded to outsiders on China’s strategic thinking community.

China has over 2,000 think tanks while the number in the US is 1,777. However, according to the 2008 Report on Global Think Tanks from Pennsylvania University, the United States, there are only 74 ‘approved think tanks in China’s mainland. This means only 74 gained international acknowledgement.

In 2006, a Hongkong-based Takunpao report from Beijing unveiled the top 10 Chinese think tanks. They are: China Academy of Social Sciences(CASS), Development Research Center of the State Council, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Chinese Academy of Military Sciences of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), China Institute of International Studies, China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), China National Committee for Pacific Economic Cooperation (CNCPEC), China Association for Science and Technology (CAST), China Institute for International Strategic Studies (CIISS) and Shanghai Institute for International Studies (SIIS).

There are three types of think tanks in China — official policy research institutes, semi-official think tanks and civilian think tanks. Among them, official policy research institutes have great influence in government policy making processes but are not the ‘outer brains’ of the government. The typical western emphasis on independence from government and political parties are irrelevant in China. There is not a single think tank of that kind in China. Almost all of them have a certain degree of government connection.

Except for enterprise think tanks, each think tank has its supervising unit. In case of semi-official think tanks, the supervising units are government agencies. In other words, official policy research institutes could be called government agencies, while semi-official think tanks are public institutes. Civilian think tanks are either enterprise research institutes or civilian and non-enterprise institutes. Though they mushroomed after Deng Xiaoping’s South China tour speech in 1992, civilian think tanks have not had great influence and have fewer links with Chinese policy making processes than government agency (official) or semi-official institutes.

There are some typicalities about Chinese think tanks. First, most of them are located in urban areas like Shanghai and Beijing. Second, they are strictly guided by the government. Third, personal ties, namely Guanxi, are of significance. It is not rare to find researchers expressing their views by using personal ties. Think tank researchers with guanxi with more policy decision makers or actors have higher levels of influence on the policy process. Fourth, though carried out in a more indirect way, scholars working from the past administration do sometimes criticise the incumbent government’s policies. Fifth, exchanges among think tanks are usually through the unofficial route.

The Chinese military system is different from other countries. Effective control is with the Communist party and the role of the Ministry of National Defence is carried by the Central Military Commission (CMC). There are four departments under the CMC: General Staff Department (GSD), General Political Department (GPD), General Logistics Department (GLD) and General Armament Department (GAD). The GSD is the military headquarters of the PLA; it is the headquarters of the ground forces and also oversees the Navy and the Air force. The MND has no operational control over the PLA and its functions are exercised by the four general departments of the CMC. The MND merely exists on paper with no staff. It was established for dealing with foreign military officials and the Press.

Chinese military-related think tanks may be divided into three categories. First, you have intelligence analysis think tanks. Second, there are the military weaponry research, technology, and arms control analysis think tanks. Third is the category of the purely academic think tanks. Two major institutes are to be introduced for each category. The China Institute for International Strategic Studies (CIISS) belongs to the first category. CIISS is directly subordinated to the 2nd department (Intelligence) of the GSD and has about 100 researchers on its rolls. The present chairman is General Xiong Guangkai, who was a director (1988-1992) of the PLA, General Staff Intelligence Department Assistant (1992-1996) and later deputy Chief-of Staff (1996-2005). General Xiong enjoys strong personal ties with the PLA top brass and it can be deduced that the CIISS has very strong influence in policy formulations.

The PLA’s significance in China’s national policy making process is considerable. Twenty per cent of the seats in the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party CCP are reserved for PLA and People’s Armed Police (PAP) officers. The PLA’s highest ranking general officers have two seats in the Politburo of the party. Their demands for a growing military budget, military modernisation and such things are rarely turned down. To observers from the outsiders, it is therefore very curious how much of a role the PLA-related think tanks have in the evolution of these demands as well as their role in China’s larger decision making process.

The second category does military weaponry research and arms control analysis. These include China Defence Science and Technology Information Center (CDSTIC) and Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics (CAEP). Both report to the GAD. CDSTIC has 400 researchers who are working on weapons systems, military-technology related affairs. CAEP has 12 institutes spread over Sichuan province and 15 national key laboratories. It has 20,000 employees and 8,000 technical staff (2,000 senior; 2,600 middle and 3,400 other) and a number of outstanding scientists.

It supervises over 100 research institutes.Lastly, for research related institutions, there are the Academy of Military Science (AMS) and the National Defence University (NDU). The AMS, which is under the direct leadership of CMC, is the center of military research in the PLA. On the other hand, NDU is the PLA’s top professional military education institution. It focuses on cadre education.

An article released on April 20, 2009 by People’s Daily , one of the government mouthpieces, said China’s think tanks have got to go global and should strive to meet international criteria. It further expressed the necessity to advance internal systems and to establish semi-official or independent think tanks. As such, there are growing voices in China requiring more independence from ‘interest groups.’ The exact definition of these ‘interest groups’ is vague. However, unlike other institutions, the research institutes working on the Chinese military system are believed to be the most uncompromising.

The writer is attached with Observer Research Foundation as an Associate Fellow








British last imperialist Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, was mighty pessimistic about India’s chances of survival as a nation. Without recalling his uncharitable remarks, it is worthwhile to point out that he was neither the first nor the last foreigner to make such estimates. After numerous political scientists, historians and strategic analysts articulating that tradition in profounder terms, we now have some mysterious character called Zhan Lue sharpening a chauvinist line (and going to town with it to boot) that ‘Hindu’ India, which is actually a ‘federation’, is ‘ripe for dismemberment’ into 30 little parts with the help of ‘friendly countries’ in the neighbourhood.

This, China Institute for International Strategic Studies (CIISS), on whose website this article appeared on the last day of the Sino-Indian border talks, would serve China’s interests eminently. It would also lead to ‘prosperity’ of the region. And so on.

In all probability, ‘Zhan Lue’ is a pseudonym. If there was such a person and that too with the well-known CIISS, the world would have heard of him. Now, curiously, ‘Zhan Lue’ is Chinese for ‘strategy’. Do, putting two and two together, experts in New Delhi decided that Beijing had decided to use a ventriloquist’s doll to send a signal to India that for all the millennial talk about friendship and partnership, nothing basically changed China’s attitude towards India since 1962.

So India protested. The Chinese response was bizarre. They claimed that was ‘not a government site’ and that somebody in that land famous for freedom of expression had posted his personal opinion. The owner of the site, when contacted, said some ‘anonymous’ person had posted that article. Even a three-year-old could see through the ploy. However, point taken, the Indian side decided to carry on.

Now, the question of a ‘multinational’ or ‘federal’ India has featured in the discourse of India baiters for two centuries. Sometimes, it was useful as a justification for colonialism (there was no India before we gave you guys unity) or implement a Communist design to weaken the nation from within and thereby prepare it for Soviet takeover. But what is China raking it up again, at a time when India’s indivisibility is accepted as a fact of life everywhere in the world?Saturday Special decided to devote this edition to the curious intersection between official strategy and Communist chicanery in the Chinese interlocution vis-a-vis India.

Our man ‘Zhau’ does not seem to be aware that the policy of his country is not to break up another nation but to compete it out and to surround it. China is already trying to do both of these, with debatable results. For China or for that anybody, to hope that any of India’s neighbours would be interested in breaking up India would be foolhardy. For tiny Bhutan or even Nepal or Bangladesh to conceive playing any role in breaking up India, on which they are heavily dependent, is laughable. Even Pakistan, assuming that China would help it, is not likely to be interested. For, the breaking up of India would mean problems whose length, breadth and depth could exceed what the Pakistanis are now suffering in Afghanistan. So, the Pakistani establishment would think twice before generated refugees and drug dealers from neighbouring India, which is the inevitable result of wishing your neighbour harm.

The article contends that if the consciousness of ‘nationalities’ in India could be aroused, social reforms in South Asia can be achieved, the caste system can be eradicated and the region can march towards prosperity. ‘Zhau’ is totally unaware of history of his own country, leave alone India. Nations do not unite or break this way. He argues that the "so-called"

Indian nation cannot be considered as one simply because it existed in history and because it relies primarily on the Hindu religion for providing the adhesive. Accepting his argument for a moment, how is it that China, which does not have a dominant religion, can hold out as a united nation?

The article says that India could only be termed a ‘Hindu religious state’ based on caste exploitation. This, in his view, is coming in the way of India’s ‘modernisation.’ Here, our ‘Zhau’ seems to be suffering from intellectual indigestion, having swallowed whole the works of some 18th or 19th century western scholar.

The mysterious strategist goes on to argue that with these caste cleavages in mind, China in its own interest and the progress of whole of Asia should join forces with "different nationalities" like the Assamese, the Tamils and the Kashmiris and support them in establishing independent nation states of their own. Zhau assumes that everyone is dying to cooperate and unite with China to hurt India. Anyone nursing such an India would have to understand what China could do to it once the ‘breaking up’ of India is completed.

In particular, the article asks Beijing to support the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the north-east’s most feared militant separatist group, in its bid to achieve independence for Assam from India.

‘Zhau’ should know that with or without Chinese support, the most that these groups could do is to needle India. They know by now that India is impossible to hurt in a big way, i.e. with long-drawn out consequences. Every time there has been a campaign by Indian security forces against them, these outfits do not look to China or to the world outside; they send their emissaries to New Delhi with peace overtures.Further, the article suggests that China could give political support to Bangladesh to encourage ethnic Bengalis in India get rid of "Indian control" and unite with Bangladesh as one Bengali nation. But any talk of a ‘united’ Bengali nation in the past has caused alarm in Bangladesh. Sarat Chandra Bose, the brother of Netaji Subhas, had raised the sceptre of an independent Bengal nation to counter East Pakistan. But it found no takers.

The pull towards India and Pakistan by the Hindus and Muslims respectively was too powerful. Anticipating negative response, ‘Zhau’ says that the creation of at least another free Bengali nation state as a friendly neighbour of Bangladesh would be desirable for the purpose of weakening India’s expansion and threat aimed at forming a "unified South Asia". China should encourage Bangladesh to give a push to the ‘independence’ of West Bengal and recover the 90,000 sqkm territory in Arunachal Pradesh, which China calls ‘Southern Tibet.’ Zhau is entitled to his pipe dream. He is not aware of the dynamics of South Asia where nations live in distrust and differences. Yet, there is something that links them together: a common past. None of the ‘friendly countries’ of China, viz Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan, would want to align with one giant against another. Indeed, Nepal’s official political philosophy is to retain equidistance between New Delhi and Beijing.

The writer is an Associate Professor, JNU







China’s interference in India’s neighbourhood came in sharp focus recently. The cancellation by Sri Lanka of ammunition valued at $ 200 million from China and Pakistan following the end of the war against Tamil Tigers may augur well for Colombo’s international image and hard-pressed economy, but it has a separate message. That message is of a nexus between China and Pakistan, allies engaged in mutual help and unity in countering India, their common adversary.

By now, China’s ‘String of Pearls’ strategy vis-a-vis India is well known. American analyst Lt Col Christopher J Pehrson wrote about it in July, 2006. In a study entitled String of Pearls: Meeting the Challenge of China’s Rising Power Across the Asian Littoral , he said: “The geopolitical strategy dubbed the ‘String of Pearls’ is arising as foreign oil becomes a center of gravity critical to China’s energy needs.”

China’s rising maritime power is encountering American maritime power along the sea lines of communication (SLOCs) that connect China to vital energy resources in the Middle East and Africa. The ‘String of Pearls’ describes the manifestation of China’s rising geopolitical influence through efforts to increase access to ports and airfields, develop special diplomatic relationships, and modernise military forces that extend from the South China Sea through the Strait of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean, and on to the Arabian Gulf.

Each ‘pearl’ is a nexus of Chinese geopolitical influence or military presence. Hainan Island, with recently upgraded military facilities, is a ‘pearl.’ An upgraded airstrip on Woody Island, located in the Paracel archipelago 300 nautical miles east of Vietnam, is a ‘pearl.’ A container shipping facility in Chittagong, Bangladesh, is a ‘pearl. The construction of a deep water port in Sittwe, Myanmar, is a ‘pearl,’ as is the construction of a navy base in Gwadar, Pakistan. Port and airfield construction projects, diplomatic ties and force modernisation form the essence of China’s String of Pearls.

The ‘pearls’ extend from the coast of mainland China through the littorals of the South China Sea, the Strait of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean, and on to the littorals of the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. China is building strategic relationships and developing a capability to establish a forward presence along the SLOCs that connect China to the Middle East.

The famous American defence analyst, Peter Symonds, wrote about the US, China and the war in Sri Lanka on March 24, 2009:

1. China has given important military and financial aid to Sri Lanka.

2. Chinese military aid ‘has helped tip the balance’ in the civil war.

3. China has a $1 billion deal with Sri Lanka to construct a major port in the southern town of Hambantota, which is on the southern tip of Sri Lanka and just six nautical miles from the main east-west trade route across the Indian Ocean. Around 70 per cent of China’s oil imports are shipped via this sea lane from the Middle East through the Strait of Malacca to Chinese ports.

As Riaz Haq points out, the US is very much a part of the nexus about which China is not happy. The growing US-Pakistan nexus is being watched in Beijing with a considerable amount of suspicion. As a junior partner of the Sino-Pakistan nexus, Pakistan looms large in the calculations of China’s mandarins who are in charge of their country’s maneuvering vis-a-vis India. This means that China would not like to see Pakistan becoming too significant an actor in US regional strategy, for it may not remain as useful to China’s own power game with India.

Indian analyst Colonel (retd) R Hariharan, wrote in August 2008: “South Asia holds a number of attractions for China. China’s single-minded pursuit for accessing resources has increased its visibility in Asia, Africa and South America. This has also made China support some of the most notorious regimes shunned by the rest of the world, including Myanmar, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. At the same time, it has embarked upon strategic infrastructure development in friendly countries that would improve China’s strategic reach. This is reflected in China’s growing influence in South Asia where its presence is being firmed up in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, and possibly in Nepal at a future date. This has been a cause of security concern not only for India but also for the US.”

Afghanistan remains a vital part of China’s energy infrastructure linking her with Pakistan, Iran and the oil rich Central Asian nations. So it came as no surprise when China secured in May 2008 the $3.5 billion Aynak copper field project in the remote Logar province, making it the largest foreign direct investment project in the Afghan history.

Another Indian analyst, Air Vice-Marshal (retd) RS Bedi, points out: “China has been developing its relations with South Asian countries, particularly Pakistan, in a way prejudicial to India’s long-term security concerns.

In the long run, Bedi warns, the challenge will come from the Pakistan Navy that is gradually seeking to balance lndian naval strength through asset development at the Gwadar port. India’s blue water navy aspirations and desire to dominate the Indian Ocean region and show its flag right up to South China Sea and Oceania will get a jolt, to say the least.

The author is Deputy News Editor, The Pioneer









It's rumoured that the two big daddies of Bollywood Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan don't exactly get along like a house on fire. When most of Bollywood and indeed the rest of the country were fuming over SRK being grilled by immigration officials at Newark airport, Salman said there was no need to create such a fuss over a routine procedure. Eminently sensible. But nobody really doubted that Salman was taking a swipe at SRK. Now it seems that the SRK-Salman rivalry might spill over to the cricket pitch. On Wednesday, Salman met IPL boss Lalit Modi triggering speculation that the movie star is keen on bidding for one of the two new IPL teams that will feature in the 2011 season. And what's more, several other Bollywood stars, such as Ajay Devgan and Sanjay Dutt, are interested in bidding for teams.

Irrespective of whether more stars do get to own their teams, Bollywood is already an integral part of IPL. Besides SRK, who along with Juhi Chawla owns Kolkata Knight Riders, Preity Zinta is co-owner of Kings XI Punjab and Shilpa Shetty has a stake in Rajasthan Royals. And it's not that they are passive owners who watch from the sidelines. During this year's IPL action there was a clash of egos between SRK and Preity when their teams got into a furious bidding war over Bangladesh's Mashrafe Mortaza. In the end, KKR ended up paying an astronomical $6,00,000 for Mortaza. It was another matter that Mortaza was benched for most of the season.

We are likely to see more of such Bollywood-style drama in the next IPL. While purists might cringe at the thought of such 'vulgarity', IPL is unabashedly an entertainment package where big money is at stake. For film stars, IPL is an opportunity to play out their dreams in the real world. So it's not surprising that IPL and the filmi world have inexorably gravitated towards each other, marrying the two biggest passions of Indians cricket and Bollywood. As some commentators have pointed out, organised cricket began as entertainment for the masses. If you strip away the cheerleaders, movie stars and the razzmatazz, Twenty20 might be closer to the early days of cricket when matches were like carnivals where spectators ate and drank, sang songs and bet large sums of money.

Bollywood stars are, of course, learning the hard way that unlike the movies in which they star, happy endings are not guaranteed in the real world. KKR finished at the bottom of the heap in the last IPL, causing much heartburn to Shah Rukh who is not used to failure. But that it seems has not dampened his, as well as his fellow Bollywood stars', enthusiasm for cricket.







Human beings have lived with states for millennia. There were even republican states in ancient times. Nation states are new; they came into their own in 17th-century Europe. Today, all states are not nation states, but most states are. European ideas take strange forms outside Europe. In Asia and Africa, colonialism conflated the ideas of the state and the nation state. Thus, when the western-educated, middle-class leaders of India's freedom movement fought for independence, they did not want only a state, but a European-style, centralised, modern nation state. Such a state, they thought, would be a magical cure for India's backwardness. When the Muslim League demanded a separate homeland for Indian Muslims, its leaders too thought of a standard nation state.

However, a nation state requires a nation and an ideology of nationalism. Simple, old-fashioned, non-ideological patriotism is not enough for it. More so if it is a republican state, led by new, insecure, nervous political leaders worried about its diverse, 'ungovernable' citizens and psychologically not yet closely linked to the state.

That is why V D Savarkar, despite being an avowed atheist and dismissive towards Hinduism as a religion, had moved towards the idea of Hindutva, which redefined the Hindus as a nation and Hindutva as their national ideology. This was years before Muhammad Ali Jinnah spoke of Hindus and Muslims as separate nations. And Savarkar was honest enough to admit it: "I have no quarrel with Mr Jinnah's two-nation theory. We Hindus are a nation by ourselves and it is a historical fact that Hindus and Muslims are two nations."

It is absurd to believe that Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel were immune to the seductive charms of a nation state. Both were modern, knowledgeable, western-educated persons, in awe of Europe's muscular states. Both looked at the future Indian state as a means of pushing the obstinate, ill-educated, fractious Indians towards a better future and 'proper' citizenship. They had their own ways of defining nationality, but they certainly did not look kindly upon a decentralised state, which Gandhi would have approved.

Indeed, Jinnah demanded a looser, federal polity built around powerful provinces as a way out of partitioning the country. The Indian National Congress first accepted the idea and then ditched it. Paradoxically, the power that Jinnah demanded for the provinces was in many ways less than the power the chief ministers of some Indian states have exercised in recent years.

This background explains why, 60 years after the event, partition and the roles in it of individual leaders haunt our political culture. We are still debating in our hearts our birth trauma. We cannot accept that our midwives, too, were children of their times and spoke from within the colonial world in which they lived. We use them as archetypes to battle our fears, anxieties and self-doubts. We are what we are, we suspect, because of their choices, not ours.

We also deny the invisible obstetrician at our birth the colonial regime. Not in the popular sense that it divided and ruled, which all rulers do, but because it framed the theory of state within which the first generation of our rulers from Jinnah to Nehru and Patel thought and moved, for they believed that the theory was universally valid. Gandhi dissented and paid with his life for that. Even now, he has not been forgiven by India's educated, urban, middle class. He arouses hostility not only in the Hindutva brigade, but also in modern, statist admirers of Nehru and Patel, who consider their heroes more progressive, secular, realistic and tough-minded. Savarkar was direct in this respect, too. He despised Gandhi's criticism of modern science, western political thought and the standard idea of the nation state.

The British loved to partition. They partitioned four hapless countries and all have been disasters. Cyprus is too small to be permanently in the news and sheer tiredness probably has blunted the bitterness there. But in Ireland, Palestine and India, partition has remained an open wound. In each case, mutual fear, suspicion and hatred verge on paranoia and, sometimes, necrophilia.

India has avoided the excesses of such a sickness of the soul because of its size; much of it did not see the violence of partition. However, things are changing. India is getting globalised and the urban, modernising, middle class is expanding. A pan-Indian, media-based political consciousness is crystallising and it includes a packaged theory of history. A large middle class bent on avenging historical wrongs could be a dangerous vector. It may opt for a nationalism that will not see the partitioning of British India as a tragedy because millions Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs suffered from it. Nor will it care that partition devastated myriad communities, cultures and inter-religious bonds. It will remember partition, as some already do, as a humiliation of the Hindus and as a loss of real estate. I look at the future with apprehension and fear that we may have already lost a part of our selfhood.

The writer is a political psychologist.








The holistic benefits of yoga are too well known to detail here. Besides the current celebrity endorsements and mushrooming of yoga schools worldwide, the teaching and practice of different kinds of yoga is a hallowed and popular tradition in India. However, teaching and learning of yoga should not become counterproductive. That's why the plan proposed by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) to introduce compulsory yoga in schools from Class VI onwards in all states may not be in the best interest of students.

The teaching and learning of yoga cannot be straitjacketed to suit constraints of time, space and faculty availability. It is a discipline which demands that the taught are given individual attention. A few yogic postures might appear simple but they demand a great deal of practice and discipline from the student and precise teaching from the master, who is expected to tailor the intensity and duration of the session to suit the individual's flexibility, willingness and threshold levels. Failing to pay close attention to these details could lead to situations which harm the child rather than benefit his health.

Yoga is a difficult discipline whose techniques are learnt slowly over a period of time. To create more demand for it than there are qualified teachers would dilute the quality of instruction as well as encourage fly-by-night self-taught yoga 'masters' to compete for teaching posts to ensure regular income and job security for themselves. Considering that schools are hard put to find qualified and effective teachers of subjects like geography and mathematics which have been part of school curricula for long it is unlikely that the vacancies created suddenly by mass imposition of yoga would be filled up with teachers of calibre and dedication. To impose mandatory yoga classes in schools without ensuring supportive infrastructure is tantamount to compromising the safety of students. As for the argument that yoga helps tackle stress, assigning grades for yoga performance will increase already high levels of exam stress.







The NCERT's proposal to make yoga classes compulsory in all schools should be welcomed. The benefits of yoga are well documented. Not only is it a good form of physical exercise, it offers practitioners a feeling of wellness not found in other physical activities. People who do yoga feel fitter and are more relaxed, energetic and generally happier about life. Yoga helps people attain an inner peace while also making them physically fit, and is unique in that respect. What could be better than introducing our kids to this science in schools?

Objections to making yoga compulsory are based mostly on the perception that the teachers' skills will be inadequate. But that's a flawed argument. Many schools across the country don't have well-trained teachers for subjects like mathematics, which are compulsory. Not being taught such subjects well could result in students developing a phobia about them, which affects their career path. But no one suggests that maths, to stick with the earlier example, be struck off the school curriculum, simply because some teachers aren't sufficiently well trained. The assumption is that students require a working knowledge of maths to get by in their day-to-day lives. Yoga should be treated the same way, as indispensable in teaching kids how to live balanced and fulfilling lives.

Modern schooling is about more than just academics. In raising children to be well-adjusted, valuable members of society, schools need to take care of their mental needs as well. Yoga is the perfect way to teach children to deal with the stress of competitive lifestyles. It has been practised for centuries and is an indigenous method of keeping the body and soul healthy. Practising it is a form of therapy that kids today, with all the pressure that is put on them to succeed, should learn, as it will help them manage their lives. There is no age too young to begin learning yoga. The sooner our kids start, the better off they'll be.






Rare is the Indian author who heaps praise on Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Even more of an oddity is an Indian who sings hosannas to the Quaid-e-Azam after holding positions of power and authority in a militant Hindu political party. This delectable irony explains why Jaswant Singh's controversial book has generated both enthusiasm and some degree of bewilderment in Pakistan.

The trigger for the enthusiasm is the book's leitmotif: Jinnah was more sinned against than sinning. And the trigger for the bewilderment is the corollary of the leitmotif: but for the chicanery of the Congress, partition, which Jinnah championed more as a pressure tactic to extract from the departing British rulers the maximum concessions for Indian Muslims, could have been avoided. The Pakistanis are pleased as Punch to hear Jaswant Singh hail Jinnah's greatness. But his thesis that the break-up of India was not inevitable, and indeed that the Quaid-e-Azam had not really desired it, grates on their ears for it challenges their deep-rooted belief that India has not entirely reconciled to the existence of Pakistan.

This is of course balderdash. Except for a lunatic fringe which fantasises about Akhand Bharat, mainstream Indian opinion has put partition well and truly behind it. Even as it deplores the unspeakable horrors that preceded and followed the end of colonial rule, it has no doubts whatsoever that had the cockeyed last-minute British proposals to keep India united been implemented, the country would have faced a horrendous civil war without end.

Partition is, if anything, even more zealously prized in Pakistan. No one, not even the most liberal Pakistani who bitterly laments the country's descent into an abyss and is well disposed towards India, regrets it one bit. Despite the secession of Bangladesh, voices disputing the ideological underpinnings of the Pakistani state are few, feeble and far between.

Those who wield power in Pakistan are steadfast in the pursuit of one ideal that Jinnah chased with uncommon grit and determination: parity between Muslims and Hindus before partition, parity between Pakistan and India after partition. In his book, Jaswant Singh discusses the minutiae of this pursuit before 1947. What emerges from his account is the endeavour of leading Muslim intellectuals to harp on the distinctive traits of the Muslim community in every aspect of living. This distinctiveness, they argued, was therefore deserving of a special status for Muslims in the colonial power structure. To rub in the point, they seldom failed to reiterate that Muslims had ruled over India for close to a thousand years before the advent of the British.

Inspired by Sir Sayyid Ahmed and Allama Iqbal, Jinnah, not content with seeking a special status for Muslims as a community, leapt several steps ahead. He decreed that Indian Muslims constituted a nation and nations, unlike individuals and communities, enjoy de jure parity. This is how he planted the seeds of partition. The creation of Pakistan fulfilled his aim though not in full measure. He left it to his successors to carry on with the task until parity with India had been achieved.

That is precisely what the heirs, both military and civilian, have sought to do as Farzana Shaikh, a distinguished scholar currently associated with the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, discusses in Making Sense of Pakistan, a remarkably lucid account of that turbulent country's travails since its birth down to the present day. Shaikh argues in substance that in its quest for parity with India Pakistan joined western military alliances; it turned to China when these alliances proved unreliable; as the most populous Muslim nation in the world it sought to extend its influence in West Asia.

Pakistan also propped up friendly regimes in Kabul to gain 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan; it waged a proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir and sent terrorists to create mayhem in several Indian cities; and, above all, it acquired nuclear weapons through the most questionable means.

This obsessive search for parity with India has created more problems for Islamabad than it has solved. But such is the persistent fear of 'Hindu duplicity' that it is bound to simmer beneath the effusive welcome that awaits Jaswant Singh when he sets foot on Pakistani soil to promote his book.











Nuclear testing will always attract an unusual degree of public attention. One, it is a technological accomplishment which has over the decades developed an unusual aura of cultural symbolism. Two, its very nature means it cannot be carried out in a transparent nature. It does not help that nowadays they must take place underground, making third party measurements uncertain. Three, even after thousands of such events, nuclear tests are still temperamental. The data collected from each test is  unique to that device. Which is why it is easy to question whether a nuclear test is successful and difficult to prove the opposite.


However, the question of whether the thermonuclear device detonated as part of the Pokhran II tests was a success or not is a literally academic issue. Though it sounds strange, the point of a nuclear weapons test is not to collect data but to establish the credibility of a country’s nuclear deterrent. Nuclear deterrence works by persuading a potential adversary that the cost of waging war against a nuclear-armed nation outstrips any advantage that conflict is unwinnable. Military strategy becomes less a test of strength than a test of psychology. The question should be: did the Pokhran tests strengthen the view that India has a credible nuclear deterrent? The answer is yes. First, no one doubts India’s nuclear fission tests went off perfectly. A fusion test may be a source of pride, but fission bombs levelled two cities. They inflict unacceptable levels of damage. Second, other countries will be equally uncertain as India has a thermonuclear weapon. Even if the tests are proven to have failed, a flaw can always be repaired without another test. No one wages atomic war on a kiss and a prayer.


A perfect example of how mindgames dominate nuclear defence is the case of Israel. Officially, Israel has no nuclear arsenal. It has never publicly tested a device. Yet its neighbours live in fear of the so-called ‘Samson Option’. What matters is less Israel’s technical ability than its fearsome reputation when it comes to national security. Unfortunately, whether India has the mental toughness that underpins deterrence is arguably in greater doubt than whether it has crossed a specific technical hurdle.













Arriving in Mexico from New York, the balmy weather, the fragrance of vaguely familiar tropical flowers and the shades of brown into which I, as an Indian, effortlessly blend, make for a heady atmosphere. To get to Oaxaca one has to change planes in Mexico City. As the door of the airport train shuts, an Indian gentleman enters disheveled, assured by a lady outside that this is indeed the train to terminal 1. He mistakes me for a Mexican, ignores me, and asks the American across the aisle, “Does this train go to terminal 1?” A few minutes tick away; he turns to me and enunciates each word: “Do you speak English?” Then, lowering his voice to be out of earshot of the American: “Is this train going to terminal 1?” Before we reach our destination, he has polled the entire compartment. Not for nothing are we Indians known to be cautious people.


But I am now headed to spend three days with the other Indians — the Zapotecs of Teotitlan de Valle. This small town, an hour from Oaxaca, was once the heart of Zapotec civilisation. The Zapotecs, it is believed, kept the warlike Aztecs off their backs by giving them their elegantly woven rugs. The Zapotecs may not have reached the heights of conquest and glory as some other Mesoamerican groups but their culture has the quality of resilience, and continues to flourish as it did in 500 BC when Monte Alban, nearby, became a major city with its astronomical observatories and sports arena.


Land here comes cheap; so, while my hosts, Ana Bertha, her husband, Orlando Lopez, and Orlando’s stately mother, Marsalina, are undoubtedly poor, they have land — a large rectangular area, enclosed by a high boundary wall, the height a reminder of the region’s periodic insurgency. Inside the compound, three corners are occupied by the Lopezes, their daughters, Daniela, Ana Christina and Niala, and some of their relatives. The rest is space, where goats, donkeys and bulls live, alongside the roosters and turkeys. During the day the animals roam free, amid the conifers and the cactus, pomegranate and lime trees.


Orlando, whose quiet dignity reminds me of the late actor Sanjeev Kumar, spends the day on the roadside in Oaxaca, selling the rugs that they weave. Roberto grazes cattle over large tracts of bush lands and undulating hills. When they are both back at night, the family gathers for dinner — tortillas and corn soup. Perhaps because in the evening we were talking about local drink, the Mescal, at our first dinner, I refer to Marsalina as ‘Mescalina’. This is like addressing the senior lady of a Scottish household as ‘Whiskia’. The brothers suppress laughter, Ana Bertha bursts out laughing and, finally, to my relief, a faint smile flickers across Marsalina’s face.


As night settles over Teotitlan, the hills that hem the town fade into darkness; and we chat, as Orlando weaves rugs, and Marsalina and Ana Bertha comb raw cotton and twirl the combed cotton into threads. Eager to see all the activities of the household, I wake up at 5 am, a good 30 minutes before Santiago Nasar did on that fateful dawn of his foretold death in a magical, Central American town. I do not wake to the bellows of the bishop’s boat but to the braying of donkeys. I want to go with Marsalina to the mill where she gets corn ground for making tortillas, but she has already left.


During the day we walk the children to the Benito Juarez Primary School. Daniela’s teacher is absent; so she accompanies us to the municipal market, where local people buy and sell village crafts and food-string cheese, yoghurt, pork rinds. In one corner of the market is an open stall which is among the few places that sell coffee. I sit there, amid sombrero-wearing men, for a “bowl” of coffee, and Daniela, while shyly protesting that she is full, sits next to me to have hot chocolate and cookies.


The morning of my departure I stroll alone, without my translator, in the market, drinking hot chocolate and watching the course of everyday life. To the Zapotecs, I must be as strange a sight as they are to me. They pause to look at me, and those who recognise me from the previous day break into a welcoming smile.


Sitting in this strange market place, with the morning sun casting shadows on the dew-laden grass, not too far from some ruins that go back 2,000 years, in a town as far away as possible from my familiar worlds, hearing a babble of Zapotec, which is like no language I have heard before, a sudden feeling of belonging comes over me. Despite the differences in language, attire and other attributes, it is impossible not to feel that I have with these people commonalities which are deeper than the differences. The little cares, sadnesses and joys that I shared with them over the previous two days make me feel that, at a deep level, I understand them as they do me, that we share a humanity and history that is common, and that 30,000, 40,000 maybe, 50,000 years of separation do not alter the fact that we have millions of years of shared history and, in all likelihood, thousands of common ancestors.


Kaushik Basu is Professor of Economics and Chairman, Department of Economics, Cornell University








What is it about Mohammad Ali Jinnah that draws pensive BJP leaders like moths to a naked flame? The Indian public is indifferent to the creator of Pakistan, but the BJP’s amateur historians can’t keep away from him. They must go on romantic quests for true, pristine secularism. They complain about not finding it in India, which is teeming with filthy pseudo-secularists, and then they get everyone upset by reliably discovering it in the Islamic State across the border. Inexplicable behaviour, for a nationalist party, and a source of needless excitement.


Following on from the LK Advani issue, the Jaswant Singh issue overshadowed two developments on Thursday that will change our political culture — the judges’ assets question was decided in favour of transparency, and 50 per cent of panchayat seats were reserved for women. The revelation that Pokhran II was a ‘fizzle’ should have made explosive news, but what is a highly technical damp squib compared to the baroque tragedy unfolding in the BJP?


Our attention was riveted on a string of leaders queuing up to rise in rebellion or to upset LK Advani, the strong man caught on the wrong foot, apparently prevaricating about his role in the release of terrorists during the Kandahar hijacking. The bomb designers of Pokhran II would have called this a “sustainable chain reaction”. It is not about to fizzle out.


It’s amusing to find Jaswant Singh lamenting that the BJP is a Ku Klux Klan, and Arun Shourie that it is headed by a reality-altering “Humpty Dumpty”. Did they imagine it was a society of free thinkers? It took a violent conflagration to bring out the truth about IC-814, but we are familiar with the Right’s penchant for manipulating history. It makes their amateur histories innately suspect projects, even when they are well-intentioned like Jaswant Singh’s book.


History is built on intellectual honesty and it calls upon the historian to be a disinterested observer. But behind the Hindu Right’s inexplicable passion for Jinnah lies a project in which it is an interested party: it regards Partition as unfinished business. In its realistic, constructive avatar, the BJP builds bridges, as the Vajpayee government tried to do until it was stabbed in the back in Kargil.


But it would also like to roll back Partition like a corrupt computer update and return to a mythical, pristine greater India in which everyone was Hindu by default. It also treats the Partition story like a whodunnit. Was it Jinnah? Nehru? Gandhi? Sardar Patel, as their own ideologue HV Seshadri has charged? Good God, was everyone involved? Of course everyone was.


They were actors in a world far removed from ours, cataclysmically altered by a world war, and it is not easy to judge them fairly. However, the scalpel of Partition, one of the most traumatic events in modern history, was wielded not by a South Asian politician but by the British Empire. On the brink of collapse, it redrew national boundaries along religious lines in undivided India (twice in Bengal, actually) and in Mandatory Palestine, creating Israel.


Sixty years later, both regions remain flashpoints. So if we must have a culprit, would the BJP’s historians please seek him in Whitehall? Really, he does not have an address in Islamabad or Delhi.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine








India will host an “informal” ministerial meeting of major World Trade Organisation participants next week, preceded by an official-level meeting. Informal or not, these are not straightforward events; getting more than 100 countries together in New Delhi to talk about continuing hurdles to a freer and fairer international trading system is a feat of organisation and persuasion of which the commerce ministry should be proud. And the energy that India was willing to invest in setting the stage sends out a good signal: that India is willing to put in a bit of effort to breathe new life into the Doha process, which has been stalled since talks broke down a year ago.


But getting people in a room is not enough. India will have to be willing, and be seen to be willing, to do more. There are two reasons for this. The first is perceptions: unfairly or not, the idea has taken root and even been allowed to grow that India’s negotiators were instrumental in the trade talks last year ending without coming to a consensus. These columns have in the past delineated how such a view is founded on a distorted reading of the facts — but regardless of the right or wrong of those arguments, India has to at all costs avoid being seen as a “spoiler” in multilateral negotiations. India seeks to play an enhanced role in international affairs, one commensurate with its size and its brainpower. But the role will also be commensurate with its perceived ability to engender solutions. Getting the people in the room is a good start, but only a start; the commerce ministry now has to think about how to be seen as taking the lead in getting them to solve their problems.


The second reason is reality. The unvarnished truth is that, of all the major economies, it is likely that India has the most to benefit from a successful conclusion to the Doha round, and the most to lose if it is scrapped. India’s trade has vast room to grow; and, unlike other large economies, it doesn’t have the kind of leverage that gets itself automatically beneficial terms in bilateral or regional trade deals. (Which are, in any case, frequently trade-distorting rather than trade-growing.) So it will benefit most. And if the Doha round — which privileges trade-as-development-mechanism — is scrapped, we might soon be in a world in which the ruling paradigms are trade-as-climate-change-enforcer or trade-as-playing-field-leveller. Neither is good for India. And so India’s negotiators need to be not just seen taking the lead in looking for a reasonable solution but also actually finding one.







Talk of a return of the repressed. Exactly at the time when L.K. Advani most needs to project his authority as the BJP’s centre of gravity, he finds it undercut by doubts and insinuations. After Jaswant Singh’s claim that Advani was aware of the cash-for-votes “sting”, it is now the Kandahar incident that has come back to bite the BJP leader. In keeping with his iron-man image, Advani has consistently tried to dissociate himself from the Kandahar incident, when three terrorists including Maulana Masood Azhar and Omar Sheikh were swapped for the hostages. This assertion has now been contradicted by senior party leaders and advisors, and every other member of the Cabinet Committee on Security in the then NDA government.


But as one of the founders of the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate a few months back, why is L.K. Advani still silent? His party is imploding all around him and now his personal reputation is being shredded by the allegations. He is besieged on every front, after the RSS openly announced their headhunting mission for a younger successor, and the Congress demands he apologise for misleading the nation. While much of the party still rests its faith in Advani he cannot emerge unhurt from this sniper fire. And it is indeed puzzling for observers that at this tense, delicate point, he should maintain such a stoic silence. And it is no doubt damaging for the party’s cohesiveness.


This election exacted a phenomenal toll on party morale, and possibly the most on Advani, whose prime ministerial ambitions were destroyed for good. But then again, the BJP’s trajectory is too tightly bound up with Advani for him to now maintain sage-like detachment — he nurtured the party through the days of aggressive Hindutva mobilisation, and grew it up, as it transitioned to being the pivot of a centre-right coalition. Today, its once-formidable solidarity has been shattered. The BJP, the party with a difference, is now the party composed entirely of bitter differences. In the interests of the party he has dedicated his life to, Advani needs to find the right words, now.








Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati has directed BSP workers to ensure that there be no fund collection on her next birthday. In the words of the press release issued by the party, “the economic cooperation being given on her birthday was being abolished from next year”. Mayawati’s birthday, January 15, has been for years a key date on the BSP calendar. Denoted “Arthik Sahyog Diwas”, its extravagance would draw scorn from her detractors, but Mayawati skilfully used the occasion to politically position herself as a symbol of empowerment. This year, however, there was the stench of controversy when a PWD engineer’s murder was alleged to be connected to a party MLA’s demand for contributions — so the announcement could be seen as a corrective.


If the development intrigues, it is because Mayawati has tended to be a game-changing force in UP. In the

months since the Lok Sabha elections, the confrontation with the Congress has been so charged and often personal that she is seen to be at a crossroads. The question is: how will she wage her political battle? By asserting her position as a now long-serving chief minister with a surprise and, by the state’s recent history, rare majority in the UP assembly won by an electoral promise to rectify law and order? Or by personalising criticism levelled against her, by portraying disagreement as slur?


Put another way, could the order against fund collection be an indication that the personality cult may become less integral to Mayawati’s politics? Her capacity to surprise cannot be under-estimated, as she showed with her painstakingly constructed social coalition in the 2007 assembly elections. Now, as she takes on her political opponents from a position of incumbency, could a change be on the cards?









The RBI is not independent. It was never meant to be. Consequently, we are used to the phenomenon of the RBI proposing something and North Block disposing. That’s evidently happened with BOPP too. BOPP is biaxially oriented polypropylene and has multiple uses, including polymer banknotes. These polymer banknotes were developed by Australians in an attempt to curb counterfeiting and were introduced in 1988. (An alternative polyethylene called Tyvek hasn’t quite taken off.) One is not talking about commemorative banknotes and collectors’ items. The idea is to replace paper currency with polymer currency. First, security is better and counterfeiting becomes more difficult. That doesn’t mean counterfeiting is impossible. It only becomes more expensive and takes more time. Second, polymer currency lasts longer. Conventional paper currency lasts 6 to 9 months. Polymer currency lasts at least four times longer. So though initial costs are higher, life-cycle costs are lower. Third, recycling is less of a problem, since polymer can be converted into other forms of plastic and we end up saving more trees. Fourth, once plastic notes are produced in bulk, economies of scale mean lower costs and India has a domestic polymer industry too. Fifth, plastic currency is more resistant to moisture, sweat, oil and water.


Sixth, though this is a bit difficult to swallow, plastic currency is non-cellulosic, while paper currency is cellulosic. The former doesn’t allow microbes to grow, the latter does. So, plastic currency is better hygiene and health-wise. Even if this is difficult to swallow, plastic currency clearly can be wiped clean and washed more easily. Nor does it wrinkle. Other than Australia, six other countries have gone completely polymer — Bermuda, Brunei, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Romania and Vietnam. Those that have some polymer currency are Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Samoa and Zambia. Evidently, polymer currency has benefits.


To get back to the Australians, BOPP polymer currency was developed by the Royal Bank of Australia (RBA), Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and the University of Melbourne. RBA and Innovia Films sell the technology as “Securency” and should a country so wish, printing can also be outsourced to “Note Printing Australia”. Therefore, there are different levels at which this technology can be imported from Australia. Initially, one can outsource printing to the Australians too. As one moves up the ladder, one can stick to importing printing technology alone, since material and film technology exist domestically.


Polymer currency technology is narrowly-held, at least currently. Specialty paper for paper currency is produced in several countries and several of these sell to Pakistan also, and presumably to the ISI. Therefore, it is going to be somewhat more difficult for the ISI to go polymer. Then, why isn’t this an idea whose time has come? With so much plastic floating around, why hasn’t polymer currency taken off in India? The idea has been floating around since at least 1995 and occasionally, some RBI source tells us we are thinking of moving to polymer currency. There will be a pilot. All that changes is the denomination of the note earmarked for pilot — Rs 10, Rs 50, Rs 100, Rs 500, Rs 1000. What’s the problem? First, we are told polymer currency isn’t appropriate for India’s hot and humid weather conditions. Reportedly, that’s the reason a committee set up by the finance ministry rejected the idea. This is a strange argument. Several countries that have introduced polymer currency, apparently successfully, have hot and humid weather conditions. Indeed, weather-resistance is supposed to be one of the advantages of polymer currency. Second, there was apparently an experiment in 1995 and that didn’t work out.


That’s the empirical evidence for the finance ministry’s claim. What isn’t clear is whether this experiment was based on BOPP, marketed as “Guardian”, or Tyvek. Tyvek didn’t perform well in trials and some countries that experimented with Tyvek (Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Venezuela) gave that up. Third, all our currency-sorting and counting machines are based on paper currency. A switch to polymer currency will impose transaction costs. This is an odd argument too and has parallels in many arguments advanced in favour of status quo. Even if there are such costs, efficiency and other gains more than compensate. Fourth, there is an odder argument that confidence in the rupee will be undermined. Since all currencies in the world are fiat currency now, it is doubtful that confidence is based on its physical composition. No one of course tells us what happened to the Rs 10 pilot project the RBI implemented under simulated conditions around 2005. That was presumably BOPP rather than Tyvek. Did that also fail in India’s hot and humid weather conditions? The real reason is probably a contemporary adaptation of Thomas Gresham’s law — bad money drives good money out of circulation. And this happens because of resistance to any proposed reform measure. There are vested interests that benefit from status quo.


Paper currency requires special ink, paper and other ingredients. Indian currency paper comes from six European companies in the UK, Netherlands, Germany, Italy and France, since there is no indigenous capacity of requisite quality. For similar reasons, the ink comes from a Swiss company. These have exclusivity contracts with India, so that India-specific paper is not sold to third parties or other countries. There have been reports that some diversion has taken place to Pakistan and India has taken this up with the European Union. But that is a separate issue. Switch from any status quo hurts existing players. Commercial interests of existing suppliers of paper and ink are bound to suffer. Has that influenced our BOPP decision? Are we concerned about switch from Europe to Australia? Are we bothered that BOPP will mean a monopoly, unlike six companies for paper currency? (That’s only true of paper, not ink.)


About Los Angeles and Hollywood, Andy Warhol said, “They’re beautiful. Everybody’s plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic.” Much of the world is going the plastic currency way. We have talked about it for a long time. Perhaps Pakistan and the ISI will provide the final nudge. Perhaps one should mention the RBI’s “High Level Group on Systems and Procedures for Currency Distribution” set up in August 2008. A fake currency circulation figure of Rs 160,000 crore is incorrectly ascribed to this group. This group stayed away from BOPP, perhaps because that was in the finance ministry’s court. But it did talk about use of better technology and that is what BOPP also is.


The writer is a Delhi-based economist








The fatal obsession of BJP leaders with Mohammed Ali Jinnah is symptomatic of two things: the problems, historically, with a particular, “anti-Congress”, model of politics and the pitfalls of interpreting history through the deeds of “great men”.


Jaswant Singh’s and L.K. Advani’s fascination with Jinnah is best explained, actually, by the BJP’s similarities to the Muslim League. Both parties faced the Congress behemoth, which claimed to represent every social group and political opinion; it was thus dismissive of demands for autonomy, it had national

presence, a popular base and a large grassroots cadre.


Both Jinnah and the BJP challenged the Congress’s claims to represent all Indian voices impartially. Jinnah called Muslim Congressmen “puppets” and as late as 1948 called Mahatma Gandhi’s death a “great loss to the Hindu community”. Mirroring this, the BJP’s critique of the Congress focused on its failure to protect “Hindu” interests due to appeasement of minorities. Common to both: the belief that religious affiliation would also determine secular interests.


The figures of Jinnah and Jaswant are representative of the tension in simultaneously being a liberal constitutionalist and defining those you speak for on the basis of religion. I do not suggest an equivalence between the two parties, but merely suggest that they are both representative of one way to challenge the Congress model.


But, given the diversity of practices and traditions in India, it was essential that political projects construct a homogenous Hindu/ Muslim identity that could be politically mobilised. How did Jinnah do this? For one, he was instrumental in enacting the Shariat Act of 1937: it applied Shariat Law to all Muslims, including those like Jinnah’s own community of Khojas who had previously followed Hindu laws of succession.


Both parties grew rapidly in political importance over a very short period of time. In the popular elections of 1937, the Muslim League won only 109 of the 482 seats reserved for Muslims and less than 4 per cent of the vote, but in 1946 it swept almost all the Muslim seats. The BJP grew dramatically from 2 seats in 1984 to 119 in 1991. Beginning with an urban base, both parties grew through a combination of charm, popular mobilisation and violence. The Muslim League ironically had little presence in the Muslim-majority provinces. Jinnah convinced powerful regional Muslim politicians — leaders such as Sikandar Hayat Khan of Punjab and Fazlul Haq of Bengal — to ally with the Muslim League to gain greater leverage at the centre, where Jinnah would speak for them while leaving them with autonomy in their provinces. The BJP similarly grew by forging successful alliances with regional players in areas where it had little presence. Their geographical limitations and dependence on allies made them friendlier to ideas of federalism and devolution — at least till they came to power at the centre.


Their electoral growth is also symptomatic of disenchantment of various groups with the INC, and speaks equally for the INC’s failure to address the concerns of Muslims and Hindu middle classes.


They also forged alliances with popular religious leaders and organisations. When constitutional politics failed, they could resort to violent mobilisations based on the fear of the Other — “Direct Action” in the case of the League, the Ram Mandir demolition for the BJP. Ahistorical comparisons apart, the tendency to attribute Partition to the deeds and misdeeds of a handful of men (and Lady Mountbatten) is too convenient. The image of a cold and calculating Jinnah or a power-hungry Nehru credits them with a degree of foresight that they did not, in fact, possess. The Congress pushed for partition in the aftermath of the Calcutta riots believing the concession would stem the immediate violence. Few, either in the Congress or the League, had any conception of what Pakistan would mean. Neither Nehru nor Patel thought it would be permanent. Jinnah believed that he could visit his home in Bombay every winter. H.S. Suhrawardy, who continued to live in Calcutta after Partition, said he found no anomaly in being a member of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan while staying a citizen of India.


By seeking to lay the blame for Partition on this handful of men, we avoid answering the harder questions. Did a political partition necessarily imply mass violence? Was there voluntary migration — or ethnic cleansing? How complicit were the police and armed forces? Vazira Zamindar’s recent work demonstrates how a Pakistani government stretched for resources tried to check Muslim migration from India, and how the Indian administration often prevented Muslims who had fled to escape the violence in Delhi from coming back.


No memorials exist to Partition victims, no serious attempts were made to prosecute the perpetrators, and until recently little attempt was made to document the extent of its violence. Neither Jinnah nor Nehru led mobs through neighbourhoods. But by blaming them, perhaps it is we who seek to escape responsibility.


The writer is a historian at Princeton University











Pranab Mukherjee has said that Syama Prasad Mookerjee supported Partition. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is the Nehruvian trait of blaming the patriot and yielding to the separatists that he showed once again, to score a false point.

Here is the factsheet:


First they bullied, threatened and declared they don’t care for ethics, and that they have pistols to use. They invoked Allah to incite murderous passions. It was followed by massacres so unparalleled that Syama Prasad Mookerjee, first elected to Bengal legislature on a Congress ticket, wrote, “What happened in Calcutta is perhaps without a parallel in modern history. St. Bartholomew’s Day, of which history records some grim events of murder and butchery, pales into insignificance compared to the brutalities that were committed in the streets, lanes and bylanes of this first city of British India.”


Those for whom India’s unity and integrity had remained an article of faith were shaken by the sheer ferocity of the Muslim League’s open call to violence under the leadership of Jinnah. After the ‘Direct Action’ resolution was passed by the Muslim League on July 19, 1946, its president, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, said in his valedictory speech: “This day we bid goodbye to constitutional methods... Now the time has come for the Muslim Nation to resort to direct action. I am not prepared to discuss ethics. We have a pistol and are in a position to use it.”


After the ‘direct action’ in Kolkata, during a debate on the no confidence motion in Bengal assembly, Dr. Mookerjee said (excerpts from assembly proceedings):


“When Mr. Jinnah was confronted at a press conference in Bombay on 31st July and was asked whether direct action meant violence or non-violence, his cryptic reply was ‘I am not going to discuss ethics’. (The Hon. Mr. Mohammed Ali : Good.). But Khwaja Nazimuddin was not so good. He came out very bluntly in Bengal and said that Muslims did not believe in non-violence at all. Now Sir, speeches like these were made by responsible League leaders . . . All this was followed by a series of articles and statements, which appeared in the columns of newspapers — the Morning News, the Star of India and the Azad. If . . . my friend Mr. Ispahani . . . . reads these documents . . . he will be able to find out that there was nothing but open and direct incitement to violence. Hatred of Hindus and jehad on the Hindus was declared was declared in fire-eating language . . . and the general Moslem public have acted according to the instructions . . .. It is therefore vitally necessary that this false and foolish idea of Pakistan or Islamic rule has to be banished for ever from your head. In Bengal we have got to live together.”


That was 1946, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee. And that was Syama Prasad Mookerjee speaking. Pranabda’s half lies have tried to malign a patriot who remains a symbol of India’s unity.


It is amazing how a distinguished politician like Pranab Mukherjee can go so wrong on a great stalwart of India’s unity, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who lived for India’s unity and died mysteriously in Srinagar jail.


Syama Prasad was an ardent devotee of Sri Aurobindo and hence had unflinching faith in the necessity of a united India. He said, “the dangers in front of us are many; the latest addition in the shape of a movement for Pakistan should not be lightly brushed aside. This preposterous claim must be nipped in the bud by all lovers of Hindusthan.”(Sylhet, 7th April 1940).


So the dream was always a United India and not a truncated one. He begged all to help realise it. But Muslim belligerence was continuously rising. He wrote, ‘In provinces where constitutional powers have passed to the hands of Moslem ministers, reports of oppression and injustices daily pour in. I myself can bear testimony to a systemic policy pursued by the Ministry now in power in Bengal which is aimed at crippling the Hindus in every sphere of life-economic, political and cultural.” (Ibid).


The Congress remained a silent spectator to Hindu plight. Mookerjee wrote, “Much though we wish that the truth was otherwise, it is no use concealing the fact that the Congress has not succeeded in bringing within its fold any very large number of Moslems. And yet the Congress dare not openly fight for the protection of Hindu interests even though they are deliberately trampled underfoot.”(Ibid).


As a reiteration of his stand he declared, “as Hindus our position is perfectly clear. We want communal harmony and amity. We fully recognise that this country must continue in future, as it has been in the past, the home of many people other than Hindus. We beg of them to treat this country as their fatherland and identify themselves with the joys and sorrows of the people of India.”(Ibid).


He remained hopeful till the last — “We shall rise, we shall unite. We shall live in a country whose destinies shall be in the hands of her children alone and where the flag of a free and United Hindusthan shall proclaim for ever the glory of peace and progress, of tolerance and freedom.” (North Bihar Provincial Hindu Conference,14 th April 1940).


He knew of the British hand behind the demand for Pakistan and said,”The British government is reluctant to transfer power to Indians for it apprehends that the Hindus constituting 70 per cent of the Indian population would then have the dominant voice, which leading Moslems would not be prepared to accept. It is open to government to institute national electorates and leave administration in the provinces and at the centre to be run by majority parties who will be returned through such electorates with a mandate for giving effect to political programmes that transcend the bounds of sectarian interest. It will not do that for it knows that the acceptance of joint electorates will ultimately reduce communal misunderstandings, lead to national solidarity and may sound the death knell of British supremacy in India....”(ibid).


He didn’t approve of Gandhi’s Muslim appeasement policy and said “Gandhiji committed a fresh Himalayan blunder by trying to placate Jinnah.”(30th Sept. 1944). He warned Gandhi and Congress again and again against appeasing Jinnah. In fact, to keep Jinnah’s divisive politics at bay he supported Fazlul Haque in 1939. He warned C. Rajagopalachari that Jinnah keeps changing his stand and even if his Partition proposal is accepted, he will demand district-wise plebiscite.(Bharat Kesari: Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee with Modern Implications by S. C. Das).


In Ludhiana he declared, “There can be no compromise with any fantastic claim for cutting India to pieces, either on communal or on provincial considerations. India has been and is one country and must remain so, whatever self-constituted exponents of so-called Hindu Moslem unity may declare. It is a most dangerous pastime to try to placate that section of Moslems who think it beneath their dignity to live in India as such and therefore demand a territory of their own, sovereign and independent, carved out of our motherland, a territory where crores of Hindus will continue to live bereft of their Indian nationality. It is nothing short of stabbing Indian liberty and nationalism in the back...I sincerely hope that in the period of struggle that lies ahead of us Hindus, Moslems, Christians, Buddhists and all others will merge themselves wholeheartedly in the cause of Indian emancipation and thereby baffle the machinations of those reactionary elements that create disunity or dissension among ourselves or seek to thrive on them.”(November 12 1944, Ludhiana).


Lastly, the Congress surrender to Jinnah left the nationalists no choice, and Mookerjee supported the partition of Bengal in 1946 as a fait accompli only to prevent the inclusion of its Hindu-majority areas in a Muslim-dominated East Pakistan (“If 25 per cent Muslims could not agree to live in India, how could 44 per cent of Hindus live in Bengal under 54 per cent Muslims?”). He also opposed a failed bid for a united but independent Bengal made in 1947 by Sarat Bose, the brother of Subhas Chandra Bose and Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, a Bengali Muslim politician.


The massacres of Hindus shook everyone, and Hindu leaders couldn’t find a solution, but to accept division. Syama Prasad said,”Today we stand disillusioned. As Hindus we have been prepared to make sacrifices and forego many of our rightful interests in furtherance of a possible unity with the Moslems of India for the attainment of our goal (freedom for united India). Our anxiety to obtain their support has been often misunderstood for weakness and helplessness... Not only do the Hindus and the Moslems stand divided but among the Hindus artificial barriers have been imposed and our dream of a United Indian nation is receding to the background.”(Awake Hindusthan).


He never supported the vicious idea of Partition, but was helpless when the Congress surrendered to Muslim separatism. Like millions of unyielding Indians.


The author is the director of Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi.








Widespread deficiency of summer rains that constitute about 80 per cent of annual rainfall has led to dire predictions of droughts in no fewer than two hundred and forty six districts spread over ten states. From June to mid-August, when most planting takes place, the rains were 29 per cent lower than the (long-term) average. In UP, for example, the deficiency was more than 60 per cent. Rice, which is sown during the monsoon, is the worst affected, followed by sugar cane and oilseeds. In a panic reaction but with an unmistakable touch of bravado, the UPA announced a familiar slew of measures: imports, higher food subsidies, expansion of NREGA, early planting of winter crops and deferred repayment of loans. But the lessons that should have been learnt from the experience of dealing with droughts of varying intensity over several decades remain as elusive as ever.


Droughts involve not just loss of agricultural output and food shortage. Hardships manifest in malnutrition, poverty, disinvestment in human capital (e.g. withdrawal of children from school), liquidation of assets (e.g. sale of livestock) with impairment of future economic prospects, and, in extreme cases, mortality, given lack of easy access to credit and insurance markets.


That much of this devastation is avoidable is frequently glossed over. A recent study (Gaiha, R., K. Hill, S. Mathur and Vani S. Kulkarni (2009) “On Devastating Droughts”, NBER Conference on Climate Change: Past and Present, Cambridge, MA, 30-31 May, 2009), helps delineate some major concerns in an entitlement protection strategy. As state governments and village institutions (village councils or Panchayats) have key roles in organising and implementing relief, there are some pointers from a political economy perspective.


Analysis based on drought relief and voting patterns reveals that state government responsiveness is greater when the severity of the crisis is greater. Also, voters punish incumbent politicians for crises beyond their control. But voters also reward politicians for responding well to climatic events but not sufficiently to compensate them for their ‘bad luck’. So the incentives for effective drought relief are not unimportant.


Even within a state, however, there are marked differences in the ability to prevent starvation deaths. Competitive local politics and decentralised structures of governance are crucial in preventing deaths. Specifically, local political parties and vigilant village councils act not just as conduits of information on distress but also pressure district administration to take appropriate action.


But, more importantly, and largely from a medium-term perspective, drought-prevention through advances in agricultural research and technological choice merits serious consideration.


Agricultural research intensity (i.e. ratio of agricultural research expenditure to agricultural GDP) is estimated to be as low as 0.62 per cent in developing countries. In India, the corresponding estimate is even lower, 0.29 per cent, as against about 2.6 per cent in developed countries. Worse, the allocation of research resources to rainfed areas — specifically to address abiotic constraints such as drought and submergence-is a small fraction (barely 10 per cent) despite their high equity and efficiency impacts.


Considerable progress has been made in developing drought-tolerant rice germplasm. Complementary crop management research for avoiding drought stress, better utilisation of available soil moisture and enhancing plants’ ability to recover rapidly from drought are likely to substantially enhance returns.


Technologies must display greater flexibility in crop choice, and in the timing and quantity of various inputs. Current rice varieties and general crop management practices are so rigid in drought-prone regions that they hardly change between normal years and early season drought. Rice technologies that allow for late transplanting in early season drought, for example, would help protect yields better. However, in some cases, late season droughts are more common and disastrous. In addition to low or no harvest, farmers lose their investment in seeds, fertiliser and labour. Development of technologies that reduce the severity of the impact of a late season drought are thus a priority.


Crop diversification is yet another drought coping option. In rainfed areas, for example, short duration rice varieties could facilitate planting of another crop using the residual moisture.


In recent years, emphasis has shifted to small-scale irrigation schemes and land use practices that generally enhance soil moisture and water retention. For example, watershed-based approaches provide opportunities for achieving long-term drought-proofing by improving the overall moisture retention within the watersheds.


Recent advances in meteorology have contributed to greater accuracy in forecasting droughts. Various indicators such as the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) are now routinely employed in several countries to forecast droughts. A challenge, however, is to match the scientific advance with better preparedness to deal with droughts.


Raghav Gaiha is a professor of public policy, Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi University and Vani Kulkarni is a lecturer in South Asian Studies, Yale University.








Jaswant Singh, his book and the now-famous story of his expulsion from the BJP continue to hog the limelight in Pakistani papers. Copies of his book were reportedly flying off the shelves of bookstores even before his promotional visit to Pakistan was announced, and later, called off.


Ejaz Haider, in his August 24 column in Daily Times narrates his telephonic encounter with Singh, implying that in Singh’s misery, Pakistanis have caught the wrong end of the stick. “He said he was deeply wounded by his party’s decision even as he admitted that the RSS guides the hand of BJP — I don’t know of any such admission coming from a BJP leader before...He came across as someone who undertook and did the job with sincerity. He had no reason to curry favour with a Pakistani interviewer and with the Pakistani audience. In fact, if he could and did, for a man in his circumstances, that would be a big negative — a kiss of death, if you will. How have we reacted to this? Have I heard anyone say that Jaswant Singh, a leader of the rightwing BJP, has had the courage to write objectively about Mr Jinnah? No. Instead of focussing on Mr Singh, we are focused on the fuming and utterly misplaced Parivar cadres.”


Dawn reported on August 27: “Jaswant Singh, whose book on Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah has raked up a storm in India, resulting in his expulsion from the Bharatiya Janata Party, is not coming to Pakistan as announced earlier by local promoters of the book... However, they said on Wednesday that the Indian government had blocked his visit by refusing to issue a no-objection certificate, apparently for fears that a rousing welcome in Pakistan for the right-wing politician would compound the political rage in India over his research work on the partition of the subcontinent.”



After Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Baitullah Mehsud was reported to have been killed in a military encounter last month, the outfit appeared rudderless. Or did it? The News reported on August 26: “The defunct TTP has finally confirmed the killing of their top commander Baitullah Mehsud... The revelation came from no other than the newly appointed head of the TTP, Hakimullah.” Daily Times carried an editorial on August 24 predicting the fallout of this new ‘appointment’: “Hakimullah is known for his slack allegiance to any Islamic ethic. His leadership will give encouragement to the criminal aspects of the TTP from Peshawar to Karachi. Incidents of kidnapping for ransom and bank robberies are expected to increase under him. But it will depend on how strong his writ will run among various terrorist elements. And that in turn will depend on his acquisition of the treasure that Baitullah has left behind... If Hakimullah is not able to lay his hands on the full multi-billion treasure trove left behind by Baitullah, Pakistan may expect an increase in criminal violence. The sectarian graph will rise too. Fortunately, however, Hakimullah’s outreach is expected to be seriously limited, encouraging the regional commanders to cut loose and be on their own.” Dawn compared the two in a piece on August 27: “People outside the militant movement who have met Hakimullah know that he must have prevailed upon the TTP shura, leaving no doubt about a possible split in case anyone else was chosen to lead the movement... Comparisons between Hakimullah and Baitullah would serve as a study of contrasts. While Baitullah was introvert and media-shy, the former is extrovert and media-savvy.”









After many postponements and inordinate delay, the auction of 3G spectrum may finally be getting off the ground, after an eGoM arrived at a decision on reserve price and the number of slots that will be auctioned per circle. While the decision is welcome, one must not forget that the extraordinary delay has cost consumers the availability of high-quality, value-added telecom and broadband services—other countries introduced 3G some time ago. We still have to wait another three months for the auction and six months thereafter for the rollout, which means that we will only get 3G services in mid 2010. Also, if the auctions had been conducted before the global financial crisis hit us all—-as they ideally should have—the government would have mopped up much more than the Rs 25,000 crore it is expecting now. Had it not been for the ineptitude of the department of telecommunication and minister A Raja, the government would have garnered additional precious financial resources to see it through these precarious fiscal times. Still, better later than never, and the government may yet be bailed out by the fact that markets have begun looking up recently. Also, it’s important to note that a decision on 3G by an eGoM headed by Pranab Mukherjee gives it more credibility than if the DoT had done it by itself. DoT had performed disastrously on allocating 2G spectrum during UPA I, which had left it without credibility. Since A Raja continues to preside over DoT in UPA II, its poor credibility has not altered.


So, did the eGoM take the right decision on reserve price and number of slots? While telecom operators are expected to be unhappy about both the decisions, the eGoM has done a good job of balancing the interests of operators, consumers and the government. Spectrum is a scarce resource so the government has the right to set a reasonable reserve price—at Rs 3,500 crore, the government hasn’t gone even as high as the Rs 4,000 crore many analysts were expecting. Also, given the prices that Swan and Unitech telecom got from their buyers for what was just 2G spectrum (the companies had no infrastructure rolled out), this price seems reasonable. The number of slots also seems just about right to have a somewhat competitive auction, which should enable the government to get more than the reserve price. Final tariffs for the consumer are determined not so much by the reserve price or auction price as by competition between operators once services are rolled out. By ensuring multiple operators per circle, the government seems to have addressed the competition aspect. The focus now should be to organise the auction quickly and rolling out 3G as soon as possible.







These are two continuing disputes which don’t serve the national interest well—whether it’s the BJP infighting or KG basin gas imbroglio, it’s in India’s interests to see the bickering resolved at the earliest. To begin with the first case, as these pages have said in the past, divisions and debilitations are de rigueur among losing parties in democracies. And the BJP, after all, has seen two consecutive general election losses. But that the party seems to be falling apart, amidst much personal recrimination, over a long-gone figure of history is indeed unfortunate. Not that democracies don’t need historical reassessments as well, but this should not be at the cost of a viable Opposition. Or political stagnation of the kind that characterised the many decades in which the Congress stood unchallenged at the centre of national politics. Without healthy competition, politics putrefies. Without a strong Opposition, democracy does not thrive. And this is why it is important that the BJP get its house in order. Especially when challenges like drought and economic decline demand that the Centre is kept on its toes.


Next, we need the Ambani brothers to make peace—together they account for more than 10% of the market capitalisation of India’s two major stock exchanges, the BSE and NSE. At a recent Idea Exchange with The Express Group, the finance minister said that the battle between the Ambanis was hurting the markets and industry, and that the brothers should resolve their differences. Beyond the immediate impact of their quarrelling on capital markets, the very energy future of the country is potentially at stake.Their row has complicated the pricing of natural gas from one of India’s biggest fields, drawn in the petroleum minister in an unseemly way and provoked the government to weigh in on a contract between two private parties and explicitly claim eminent domain over all of India’s natural resources. Adding poignancy to the whole mess is the fact that the Ambani pater familias was a pioneer in creating an equity culture in India.


Now the fighting is taking a toll on shareholders. Meanwhile, the imbroglio may also hurt the upcoming Nelp-VIII auction for further drilling rights. Heavy handed government intervention has distressed existing foreign investors like Cairn and BHP Bilton, and it’s not likely to encourage the biggest players that have stayed away so far—like ExxonMobil and Shell, who would be concernedabout ‘nationalisation’ of gas and control of prices. Someone needs to find a solution.








As the Ambani brothers’ feud over KG gas embroils the country and the government, it brings to fore, once again, the centrality of business groups, with their complex relationships, to India Inc. With about two thirds of top 500 Indian firms belonging to business groups—mostly family-controlled—understanding their modes of functioning is crucial to understanding the Indian corporate sector itself. And yet there are many basic things that we do not clearly understand about them. For instance, why do they exist in the first place? I mean, why not diversified firms, like Wipro and ITC? Why do they keep creating new companies for each venture? Or do they? Equally puzzlingly, when and why do they merge them like RIL and RPL recently did? How come value gets created in some brotherly splits? Hypotheses abound, ranging from protecting individual businesses from risks of one another to the ability to create pyramid structures, but little is known conclusively about the motivations and behaviours on the expansion and diversification of Indian business groups.


A recent research paper* sheds some light on the ways of business groups organise themselves, or more specifically, when they choose to float new firms to house a project and when they “integrate” it, i.e. house it in existing group firms. At first glance this may appear to be obvious. “One firm per industry” seems logical; so diversification projects in new industries should be housed in new firms, right? Wrong. Close to three-quarters of the diversification projects undertaken by Indian business groups are actually housed in existing group firms. The statistics looks even starker when we compare it with stand-alone firms where the relationship is exactly the opposite—that is, nearly three-quarters of new industry projects are implemented by floating a new firm.


What would you expect to be the drivers of the decision to integrate as opposed to floating a new firm? Integrating has the advantages of “synergy” where the value of the new business and an existing business together is greater than the sum of their individual values. This is particularly likely when the two are in the same industry. Another driver can be “subsidisation”, where the cash flows of an existing profitable business sustains the new business. In both cases, the new business is benefited—it is only the question of whether the relationship with the existing firm is symbiotic or parasitic. Finally there may be the “expropriation” motive, whereby insiders gain by selectively implementing profitable projects in firms where they have larger shareholding.


In India, the synergy effect is certainly there. A project is very likely to be integrated if there is already a group firm in the industry. But as we noted, the converse is not true. All forays into new industries are not housed in new firms. In fact, larger and more profitable business groups seem more likely to integrate projects and that too, projects that seem to come from less profitable industries. This smacks of a need for subsidisation from the cash flows of existing firms.


Furthermore, even when integrated within the business group, the projects are typically housed in larger and more profitable firms. However, the exact channel of subsidisation remains elusive to researchers. Past research has shown that intra-group loans are frequently used by Indian business firms to bail out weak group businesses particularly close to a collapse. Integration within a firm just makes such subsidisation even more opaque.


The expropriation story is not without support either. The more profitable projects are generally housed in group firms where the insider or the family has high shareholding. Surprised, anyone?


Interestingly, none of this is news to the stock markets. On average, markets dislike diversification announcements—market participants already know there is going to be some subsidisation from existing firms. However, for firms with higher insider shareholding announcing a diversification project, the reaction is opposite—they are, in fact, rewarded. The markets already know that these projects are likely to be the more profitable ones.


While the broad statistics presented and analysed in the paper shed some light on the systematic biases of group businesses in India, it only opens a discussion on these issues rather than provide the final word on the subject. The biases clearly exist but there is no smoking gun of any systematic tunnelling or expropriation. Whether such a weapon is truly non-existent or just very well disguised, we have no way of knowing, at least for now.


The author teaches Finance at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad


Meghana Ayyagari , Radhakrishnan Gopalan, and Vijay Yerramilli, “Investment decisions of business groups: The choice between integration and non-integration”








The situation could not be more ironical— five years late and several committees later, the country is finally on the threshold of entering the 3G services era, but mobile operators are not exactly in a celebratory mood. The reason: most of them feel that the Rs 3,500 crore reserve price set by the empowered group of ministers for the auction of the spectrum is on the higher side, which may make services unaffordable and businesses unviable. Ideally, according to the operators, the reserve price should be either Rs 1,020 crore or Rs 2,020 crore. It is still early days but industry estimates peg the final auction price to be in the range of Rs 8,000 crore. Add another


Rs 5,000 crore for network and transmission costs and the operators would have to invest roughly Rs 13,000 crore in rolling out 3G networks and services, a princely sum in these times when funds are hard to come by.


For greenfield 3G projects—though there’s hardly any prospects of any new foreign operator bidding for 3G spectrum—the cost would be even higher at around Rs 17,000 crore.


So, is the 3G service dead even before being born? Would such unviable business prospect keep operators out of the bidding process rendering the entire exercise useless? Even if services are commenced by some would it be so costly that there would hardly be any subscriber for it? Some industry associations would like to answer in the affirmative, but nothing can be farther from truth. If anyone points to the poor response to the 3G services being offered by BSNL and MTNL to prove the case, the comparison is not apt. The two service providers neither have the required category of users, nor do they have marketing savvy to smart sell new, technology services.


For starters, it would be worth knowing that globally, 3G services are slow in capturing market share. It takes about three to four years to achieve a market share of 10-12%. Secondly, the Indian telecom experience shows that the tariffs for services have no relationship with the cost of setting up the networks and acquiring spectrum. The number of players in the market and the competition which is prevalent would ensure that the tariffs would be market-determined rather than following any cost-plus formula.


Further, nobody is expecting 3G services, at least in the initial phase to be as cheap as the current 2G services. 3G service by its very nature is a premium service and therefore the spectrum auction is expected to be the fiercest in circles like Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore rather than C category circles like Bihar or Orissa. Irrespective of the reserve price no serious operator, which is already in the market can afford to ignore 3G services at this point in time because technology takes time to catch up. But once it does, it happens at a great speed and puts late entrants at a great disadvantage. Let’s look at the evolution of 2G mobile services in the country. Tariffs were as high as Rs 16 per minute till early 2000 but with the advent of the CDMA revolution and incoming calls getting free, the post-2003 phase saw growth happening at great speed. Operators who had started becoming pan-India operators early on are reaping the benefits today in comparison to the ones who only started in this direction post-2004.


Most industry people agree that initially 3G would be used more for voice than data services. Herein lies the great opportunity for the 2G players who are facing spectrum crunch in cities like Delhi and Mumbai. By moving the high-paying customers, who would be natural 3G customers to this service, they would be easing their 2G spectrum space to enroll more mass users. An intelligent bidding by combining 3G and WiMAX spectrum would give the operators the best results in terms of costs and results. The reserve price for WiMAX spectrum is 25% lower than 3G services and the cost of setting up network is also one-fourth. WiMAX is better utilised for data services and high-speed wireless broadband.


Even if one accepts that rolling out 3G networks would be costly, consider the fact that operators hardly have to invest much for 2G services, where the returns are attractive even with low average per user realisation. For instance, the cost incurred by an operator to provide a new connection comes to about $1.8 yielding an average Arpu of $7! In which other sector does one find such handsome margins?


So, while a lower reserve price would have been more attractive, the one currently agreed upon is not disastrous by any account, and the brighter side is that it is lower than the oft-touted Rs 4,040 crore. Rather than crying foul over the lack of a business case for 3G services, operators should now busy themselves preparing strategies to make up for the late arrival of 3G services.








The last four to five years have seen a paradigm shift in the trend of film making in our country. According to your columnist, the turning point in our cinema was Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black, which with its powerhouse performers and brilliant cinematography proved that it was indeed possible to produce non- mainstream cinema and yet become a tremendous box office success. After that directors like Anurag Kashyap, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Vishal Bhardwaj, Anuraag Basu and Farhan Akhtar have been consistently and successfully pushing the envelope. Audiences too have become consistently more discerning and demanding of quality cinema. The entry of corporate houses into films has also led to greater professionalism and of course financing for filmmakers who may not have otherwise had access to sufficient finance.


But it’s not just film makers and audiences who have been breaking through old stereotypes. Our stars themselves are going through a changeover; they are no longer afraid to escape glamour traps and try something edgy or ‘different’. Saif Ali Khan had a second coming first with a film like Ek Haseena Thi and then by portraying the hard-hitting “langda tyagi” from Omkara. Female actors too are finally breaking the mould. While the new age modern hottie is firmly entrenched in the system, she is also a woman of substance now, like in the case of Priyanka Chopra’s character in Dostana. Well written author backed roles for women are making a comeback with Imtiaz Ali’s Geet from Jab We Met and our current favorite ‘Sweety’ from Vishal Bhardwaj’s Kaminey—an esoteric film which works with its dark and edgy characters and storyline because in the end it is a good film that tells a very interesting and different story.

In many ways, our cinema reflects the mood of the nation. As a nation we are breaking away from the past—now is the time for change and original thinking. People are open to testing new boundaries and finding new ground. Therefore, Indian cinema too is finally beginning to break its shackles and broadening its creative horizons.


The author is an actor in television and films








Japan’s general election, to be held on August 30, a month earlier than the end of the parliamentary term, will take place amid unprecedented public interest. It is widely believed that Prime Minister Taro Aso called the election to forestall a leadership challenge in his own graft-prone Liberal Democrat Party (LDP), which has ruled for all but 11 months of the last 53 years. The Japanese economy, the world’s second largest, has been badly hit by low demand for its manufactured exports; the budget deficit has risen sharply; and scandals have surfaced over the pension system. What is more, Mr. Aso is regarded as indecisive. In late June, the Tokyo Prefecture elections brought the LDP a huge defeat; it lost the prefecture for the first time in 40 years. All the indicators point to a landslide win for the main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), led by Yukio Hatoyama. In the opinion polls, the DPJ leads 41 to 24 per cent and, despite its own funding scandals, is expected to win 300 out of 480 seats in the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the Diet. The Japanese Communist Party could also gain significantly.


Sweeping changes are certainly portended. The DPJ says that it will abolish the practice of seshu, whereby political candidatures are handed down within families. It has promised to substantially devolve the highly centralised Constitution, elements of which date back to the Meiji restoration in 1868. Interestingly, Mr. Hatoyama has drawn upon the writings of the Austrian aristocrat and European integrationist, Count Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi, who had a Japanese ancestor himself, to propose a single East Asian currency and greater regional integration among East Asian states. The internal devolution could enable citizens to participate much more meaningfully at local levels. The East Asian project, for its part, is founded on the idea of yuai or fraternity. But it could face problems as Japan and China are far from the kind of post-war Franco-German rapprochement that led to the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951. As to the DPJ’s economic policy, it is not clear how spending pledges, such as enhanced child-care for a declining younger fraction of the population, will be funded. Mr. Hatoyama’s political skills will be in for a stern test during recessionary times. But the public desire for significant change is undeniable, and one of the most encouraging things about this election is a surge of interest among younger voters. Japan seems to be on the point of creating a very different future for itself.







The government’s concerns over high food prices are reflected in a number of recent policy announcements. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who heads the empowered group of ministers on drought, has reiterated that if need be the government will import commodities that are in short-supply. The ban on the export of certain essential items will continue. Although there are enough buffer stocks, the shortfall in kharif production might fuel food inflation. Urgent measures are needed to save the standing crops. Clearly, there is a sense of urgency in not only ensuring food availability but also in moderating inflationary expectations. Already, food prices are ruling high, as reflected in various consumer price indices — the headline inflation, however, remains in negative territory due to statistical aberration. The appropriateness of taking the wholesale prices-based inflation index as the sole reference point for policy formulation has once again been called into question. From a monetary perspective, it is clear that the traditional policy measures to combat inflation such as varying the interest rates will not be wholly effective in India. Food items that are assigned heavy weightage in consumer price indices are susceptible to supply side shocks due to the monsoon vagaries. That has been amply demonstrated this time.


High food prices have also weighed with the government in determining the minimum support prices (MSP) for paddy and a number of other crops. The MSP for paddy has been hiked by Rs.100 a quintal. However, the new rate at Rs.950 a quintal for “common paddy” — and at Rs.980 for finer varieties — is, in effect, only Rs.50 more than what was paid in 2008-09 if the bonus of Rs.50 is taken into reckoning. This is in contrast to the hefty Rs.125-155 increase sanctioned during the previous two seasons. The MSPs for other crops that are in short supply, except for a few varieties of cereals, have been frozen. The government’s efforts at balancing the interests of the consumers served through the public distribution system with those of the producers will be particularly challenging this season. A shortfall of 10 million tonnes is expected in the kharif rice output. Since market prices are bound to be higher than the floor set by the MSP, farmers are more likely to sell their produce to private trade than to the public distribution system. Adding to the government’s woes, the States that contributed most to its stockpile last year — Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — have had significantly deficient rainfall so far.









A British Minister walks out of a Muslim constituent’s wedding protesting against segregation of male and female guests; a prominent moderate Muslim scholar, Tariq Ramadan, is hounded out of not one but two separate jobs for hosting a show on an Iranian television channel; aggressive right-wing campaigners in Switzerland demand removal of minarets from all mosques; and French President Nicolas Sarkozy calls for a ban on wearing burqa in public.


These incidents, occurring within days of each other in recent weeks in different parts of Europe, have coincided with a rash of new books portraying European Muslims in the darkest possible colour. Their alarmist tone has reminded many of the sort of things once written about European Jews.


Are these simply isolated events? Or is Europe in the grip of a new wave of Islamophobia?


First, the books described by writer and critic Pankaj Mishra in a long polemical article in The Guardian as works of “Eurabia-mongers” who believe that Europe is about to be “over-run” by Muslims with at least one American writer claiming that they are already “conquering Europe’s cities, street by street.”


A common theme running through these books is that Europe’s 53 million-strong Muslim population is a “demographic time-bomb” which needs to be defused immediately if the continent does not want to end up as “Eurabia.” The solution is simple if stark: keep Muslims out of Europe and, if necessary, throw them out. Some of the suggestions on how to deal with the Muslim “problem” amount to ethnic cleansing.


For flavour, consider this chilling passage from Canadian commentator Mark Steyn’s book America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It: “In a democratic age, you can’t buck demography — except through civil war. The Serbs figured that out — as other Continentals will in the years ahead; if you can’t outbreed the enemy, cull ‘em.”


American writer Bruce Bawer’s new book Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom, which has been hailed as “an essential wake-up call” for the West (New York Times Book Review called it “unquestionably correct”), is a vitriolic attack on European liberals, including sections of the liberal media, who — it argues — have been driven by a combination of fear and political correctness to appease radical Islam at the cost of their “most cherished values.”


And then there is American journalist Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Can Europe be the Same with Different People in it?, which likens the “threat” to Europe from Muslim immigrants to the situation in Russia on the eve of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. If anything, there were “probably fewer Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917 than there are Islamists in Europe today,” Mr. Caldwell writes. He warns that Europe is in danger of losing to its Muslim minorities what, in effect, is a “clash of civilisations.”


The book has been widely acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic, a measure — as Mr. Mishra points out — of how such toxic anti-Muslim views are becoming increasingly mainstream, often lapped up even by liberal opinion-makers. It is against this background that there has been a temptation among Muslims to see a “pattern” in the events mentioned in the beginning of this article. “Pattern” or no pattern, they do indicate how fraught the mood is.


Take the “stop-the-minaret” campaign in Switzerland. The European skyline is dotted with domes, spires and minarets but it says something about the current climate that for the first time such a public campaign has been launched. More than 1,00,000 Swiss are reported to have signed a petition in support of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party’s demand for a ban on minarets forcing the government to call a referendum in November.


Campaigners say a minaret is a “symbol of Islamic power” and amounts to an “ideological intrusion” into the Swiss way of life. “They are symbols of a desire for power, of an Islam which wants to establish a legal and social order fundamentally contrary to the liberties guaranteed in our constitutions,” Ulrich Schuler, an SVP MP says.


Muslims, however, believe that it is not a campaign about how a mosque should look like but a veiled prelude to demanding a ban on mosques themselves. “Today, they want minarets to be banned — tomorrow they will say they don’t want mosques in their midst,” a Muslim leader is quoted as saying.


So far, though, the Muslim reaction in Switzerland has been muted but there are fears that if a ban is approved in the referendum, it could be seized by militant groups to whip up Muslim sentiment.


The sacking of Mr. Ramadan, a Swiss national, from his jobs as community adviser to the city of Rotterdam and visiting lecturer on religion at Erasmus University, has caused a great deal of surprise. Quite apart from the fact that he is one of the most respected moderate Muslim voices in Europe (hailed by some as an “Islamic Martin Luther King”) who has been trying, in his own quiet way, to confront extremism, it is the grounds on which he was stripped of his posts that have raised eyebrows.


Mr. Ramadan was thrown out for “disregarding” Dutch public opinion over Iran’s “rigged” presidential election by refusing to give up a programme he hosts on the London-based Iranian television channel PressTV. In a statement that ironically sounded more like a missive from Iranian censors, his employers said he had “failed sufficiently to realise the feelings that participation in this television programme ... might provoke in Rotterdam and beyond.”


Mr. Ramadan claimed he had publicly condemned the repression of pro-democracy protesters in Iran and backed the campaign for “transparency and respect for human rights.” His programme, he said, debated a range of issues, including freedom and inter-faith dialogue, and challenged his critics to produce the “slightest evidence of support for the Iranian regime.”


There is a view that the PressTV show was simply a pretext for humiliating a man whom the European political establishment has always regarded with suspicion because of his ancestry. Mr. Ramadan’s grandfather was Hassan al-Banna, a controversial figure in radical Islam and one of the founders of Muslim Brotherhood, an influential Islamic revival movement.


This has coloured his critics’ reading of Mr. Ramadan’s argument for a “European Islam” which would combine Islamic teachings with respect for European laws. Some see in it what one British commentator called a “puzzling ambivalence.” What is often forgotten is that Mr. Ramadan’s ancestry also has a liberal strand: his granduncle Gamal al-Banna was a great Muslim reformist leader. Ultimately, though, it is not about Mr. Ramadan losing his jobs but about the message the humiliation of moderate Muslims like him will send out to those who are convinced (and have indeed been preaching) that the West will never trust Muslims, no matter how moderate. They will, of course, be delighted.


Meanwhile, in Britain, Jim Fitzpatrick, the Minister who stormed out of a Muslim wedding protesting against the “segregation” of men and women, has been accused of “cultural insensitivity” and, worse, playing the “race card” to appease white working class voters in the run-up to next year’s general election. The latter accusation came not from the local Muslim community but from a prospective Tory candidate Tim Archer, who said: “I can’t help but feel he’s playing a certain race card to save his skin at the next election. I think it’s a desperate strategy.”


Mr. Archer’s attack on a political rival need not be taken seriously and there is no evidence that the Minister is either racist or an Islamophobe (if that were so, he wouldn’t have been an MP from an area where 35 per cent voters are Bangladeshi Muslims). But the suspicion remains that his behaviour was not entirely innocent. He acted the way he did because (the denials notwithstanding) it is an open season on Muslims; and their “primitive” cultural practices have become a soft target for anyone looking for easy headlines in the “struggle” to protect the western way of life.


Mr. Fitzpatrick’s argument against gender segregation is valid but he was wrong to give the impression that Muslims alone cling to such a “strange” practice, as he put it. Separation of sexes at certain private functions such as services and weddings is believed to be common among Orthodox Jews, and some other religious groups.


It would be foolish to conflate incidents which may be no more than just local difficulties and blow them up into an anti-Muslim conspiracy. Yet to dismiss them as an aberration would be to deny the prejudice that Muslims face across Europe.









That the Right to Education Act, which was pending for six-and-a-half years, has been passed is a good augury. So is the government’s decision to set up 2,500 Kendriya Vidyalayas. But the real test will involve improving and expanding the municipal and village schools. While the States have to play a major role in this, public-private partnership will be an important option.


Kapil Sibal, the Minister for Human Resource Development, mentioned two other priority issues — opening the door for foreign universities, and setting up a high-power National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) within 100 days. This Commission will monitor, regulate and grade academic institutions, and take over the educational functions of all the regulatory bodies. These bodies include the University Grants Commission (UGC), the All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the Bar Council of India (BCI) and the Medical Council of India (MCI).


The NCHER will be the main instrument to revamp higher education. It should subsume the tasks of all the 13 regulatory bodies that have been set up by Parliament at various points in time.


There is hardly any disagreement over the fact that duplication and over-regulation should be removed, or minimised. But the question is: will a single body subsuming the academic and regulatory functions of all these bodies resolve the problems, create greater openness, and cope with the emerging challenges?


The Yash Pal Committee recommendations differ in some important respects from those of the National Knowledge Commission’s recommendations. The NKC calls the apex body an Independent Regulatory Authority for Higher Educations (IRAHE).


The emphasis is on “setting up criteria and deciding on entry” for institutions both in the government sector and the private sector, and on “monitoring standards and settling disputes.” It does not propose the taking over of the functions of all the professional institutions, such as those in the fields of engineering or management, including the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Management. The NKC recommends the setting up of a separate National Science and Engineering Research Board to raise standards of research in all fields, thus limiting the functions of the apex body.



The structure and functioning of the vastly expanded apex body, the NCHER, has been left vague by the Yash Pal Committee. It needs an extensive public debate — something that the Yash Pal Committee itself had recommended but has not happened. It talks vaguely of autonomy and of being free from government control. But regulating, setting up norms for and monitoring educational institutions for conformity to the norms, are likely to face opposition from various quarters including State governments. To meet such opposition, political support will be needed. How is that to be ensured?


Even the task of regulating, monitoring and grading diverse institutions, coping with the addition of 16 central and 1,500 State-level universities, half-a-dozen new IITs and IIMs as envisaged, will pose an impossible task before the NCHER. It will lead to bottlenecks, and the creation of a slow, clumsy and top-heavy organisation, almost a Leviathan. To cope with this, the Yash Pal Committee suggests the creation of State-level NCHERs. But this will be a remedy worse than the disease. Such State NCHERs will fragment, not unify, higher education. State governments will naturally want a say in their functioning. Experience shows that such committees tend to encroach on the autonomy of universities in the States.

The Yash Pal Committee proposes sub-committees for IITs, IIMs and so on, that function under the NCHER. Since the NCHER itself will function broadly under government control, this will mean more government control, not greater autonomy, for these institutions. These world-renowned institutions will have to fight closer government control, as they had to do when the Bharatiya Janata Party was in power, without any academic advantage.


The structure, functioning and academic and research powers visualised for the NCHER can hardly be carried out by means of a constitutional amendment, as the Minister for Human Resource Development has said. And, such an amendment can hardly be carried without the support of the Opposition — which is not likely. Hence, the task and structure of the NCHER need careful thought and discussion. Perhaps it should be a coordinating body playing only the role of a regulating and monitoring agency — functions that did not really belong to the UGC. Its constitutional task was the “determination and coordination of standards.”



The question of inviting foreign universities to set up campuses in India should be seen in the context of improving the standards of existing universities. This will have to be a phased programme, choosing, say 20 per cent of the universities for upgradation within a time-frame.


More germane is the functioning of the proposed 16 central universities. Apart from structure, which is important, the question is: will they charge the same fees, and pay salaries as per international norms? It is assumed that foreign universities would come in only if they are allowed to levy international fees, and pay international salaries. Unless the new central universities and some of the major national universities are allowed to charge the same fees, how can they compete with the foreign universities? If not, the best students and teachers will move to these foreign universities, making the Indian universities second-rate. This will not benefit the students at large, but only those who are now paying exorbitant fees to educate their children abroad.


The Kothari Commission on Higher Education (1966) set forward a bold plan for educational reform. It visualised linking education with productivity, the government spending 6 per cent of GDP in 10 years, centres of advanced study in universities, autonomous colleges, and common neighbourhood schools. Due to financial and political constraints, only a few of these — such as centres of advanced study in some universities, and some autonomous colleges — could be promoted.


The National Education Plan (NEC 1986) made some important recommendations. These, as also the NKC’s and the Yash Pal Committee’s suggestions can provide a forward surge in the field of educational reforms which have been stalled for long. The Prime Minister’s call for a hundred-day programme was a call to overcome lethargy. It did not mean action without careful thought, discussion and preparation.


(Prof. Satish Chandra is a former Chairman of the University Grants Commission.)








Nine months, some 50,000 km, and several euphemistic “Oh crikey!” moments after leaving Portsmouth on the English south coast, British teenager Mike Perham, 17, on Friday, became the youngest person to sail solo around the globe.


The college student from land-locked Hertfordshire near London crossed the finishing line between Lizard Point and Ushant in France at 9.47 a.m. after braving 15m waves, gale-force winds and a couple of hair-raising “knockdowns” during his voyage into the record books. “I am absolutely ecstatic. It feels amazing,” he said from his Open 50 racing yacht, “I am really looking forward to seeing my family and friends, getting back to my own house, and especially getting into my own bed at last.”


He will have to wait for that luxury, as well as the steak and chips he dreamt about during his odyssey. He must first continue to Gunwharf Quay in Portsmouth where he will be met tomorrow by crowds and a welcome home party.


Setting off as a 16-year-old, equipped with an iPod, “icky” freeze-dried food supplies and a couple of robust laptops from which to blog, Mike’s intention was to complete his circumnavigation non-stop in under five months. But those hairy moments, which saw his auto-pilot then his rudder fail, winds that shredded his sail and towering waves, forced him to pull in for repairs.











In an interview in the context of the current troubles in the Bharatiya Janata Party, the former Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and former National Security Adviser, Brajesh Mishra, does some comparing and contrasting between leadership styles and approaches in the party over time. The full interview, with Karan Thapar, was featured on the CNN-IBN channel on Thursday, and will come up again on Sunday night in the programme ‘Devil’s Advocate.’


You were there right beside Mr. Vajpayee for the six years that he was the Prime Minister. What was the nature of the relationship between Mr. Vajpayee and his Home Minister, Mr. L.K. Advani?


That’s a very difficult question to answer. They were colleagues for 40-45 years. They were the two top leaders of the BJP and they worked together very well. Of course, they had differences. Mr. Vajpayee refused to be present in Ayodhya when the Babri Masjid demonstration was going on. If you remember, he had regretted in Parliament what had happened in Ayodhya. He had different kinds of views. He is by nature very liberal and generous in his thoughts. You criticise him today and suddenly tomorrow, the man who had criticised him asks for a meeting, and he says okay, come and talk to me. Now, there are very few people who can do like that. I would say that Mr. Vajpayee is a statesman more than a politician. Mr. Advani, on the other hand, was a very good organiser. He organised the BJP and helped Mr. Vajpayee in the organisation. They had worked very closely that way.


By implication you are also suggesting that Mr. Advani is not a statesman?


Well, I’m not going to say that, but that was it.


How would Mr. Vajpayee have responded to the controversy that has been created by Mr. Jaswant Singh’s recent book on Jinnah?


Let me put it to you this way. He [Vajpayee] never criticised Mr. Advani when he [Advani] went to Pakistan in 2005 and wrote in the visitors’ book of Jinnah’s mausoleum. I don’t believe he would have criticised Mr. Jaswant Singh. We all knew that Mr. Jaswant Singh was writing about Mohammed Ali Jinnah. He had mentioned it to Mr. Vajpayee, he had mentioned it to me and to so many others.


So it follows that a BJP headed by Mr. Vajpayee would not have expelled Mr. Jaswant Singh for writing a book on Jinnah?


Certainly not expel him without calling him personally and asking him for an explanation.


One thing you are certain: that he [Vajpayee] wouldn’t have criticised Jaswant Singh and certainly he wouldn’t have expelled him?


I say he would not criticise him because he didn’t criticise Mr. Advani.


During Mr. Vajpayee’s prime ministership, there was a controversy about the James Laine biography of Shivaji, when the Bhandarkar Institute was attacked and several books were destroyed… The Vajpayee you know would have been pained by that, wouldn’t he be?


I’m sure he would have been. He did not believe in banning this or that.


What would Mr. Vajpayee think of the way his party, which he led to power, which saw its golden days under his leadership, is today squabbling and falling apart?


I would say that he would be deeply hurt in his heart by the situation in the party today.


Would he feel that a party that he lived his life for and that he took all the way to power against the most unlikely odds, today has let him down?


I don’t think he would say his party has let him down because he never claimed the ownership of the party. That was not his style. However, he would be deeply disappointed, deeply hurt at the way things are now going. The daily increase in the number of leaders coming out with criticism of the party or criticism of certain leaders, I think if he were active today he would have put an end to it.


I’m intrigued by it. How would he put an end to it?


I think he would have just called them and said something like — Ap jo bhi kar rahe hai, yo party ke liye theek nahi hai (whatever you are doing is not good for the wellbeing of the party). And that would have been enough.


He had that commanding stature?


It’s clear. Everybody in the party is missing him.


Would you say that he had that gift of leadership where just a few carefully chosen words, sometimes just a look, sometimes just a gesture, was enough, either to give assurance or to admonish and to ensure that what he wanted was to be done?




His successors don’t have that touch?


Well, I’m not going to talk about it.


How would Mr. Vajpayee have viewed the attempt by his party to remove a Vidhan Sabha leader who has the support of 68 or 69 out of 78 MLAs?


Mr. Vajpayee is a very democratic personality. In my view, he would not have approved. If my assumption is correct that he would not have insisted on the resignation of Mr. Modi and that he would have asked for corrective action, then how can I say that he would have supported this kind of thing in Rajasthan? It is not possible. If he had a problem with Vasundhara Raje, he would have called her and asked her what was going on. And the message would be sent across. He would have asked her to take corrective action and finish it off.


But he would not have supported an attempt to remove as leader a lady who has the majority support?


Certainly not. But I must also confess that I don’t know the circumstances in which all this is happening today. Vasundhara is very quiet about it and hardly any statement is coming out.








 Exporters in India could not have asked for a better foreign trade policy than the one presented by commerce minister Anand Sharma on Thursday. It may not have had dramatic announcements but it certainly went down to the smallest exporter and looked into his requirements. And if exporters still have grievances they can go to the centralised directorate of trade remedy measures. The policy announced in 2004 by the first UPA government delivered as promised. A lot of thought went into the architecture of the 2009 policy, and according to trade experts it has remedied many of the faultlines which had proved a stumbling block to the growth of trade in the last 10 to 15 years. What might help Mr Sharma to smoothly implement his new policy is his close rapport with finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, under whom he had worked as a junior minister in the foreign office in the last government. The success of any foreign trade policy depends to a large extent on timely and effective support action by the finance ministry, such as in prompt issuing of the relevant notifications so that exporters can get the envisaged benefits. This did not happen in some cases in the past due to friction between the commerce and finance ministries.


One of its most interesting aspects is a truly global outlook, which encourages exporters to diversifiy into 26 new markets countries under the Focus Market Scheme and 13 more under the Market-Linked Product Scheme. It provides incentives of nearly three per cent under these schemes, much needed in view of the financial troubles plaguing traditional markets such as the United States, Britain and the rest of the European Union. Exporters, it is hoped, will seek new opportunities in Latin America, Africa, Oceania and the CIS countries. Companies which had earlier ventured into these territories under the aegis of the Exim Bank can vouch for the opportunities there. This will help the pharma, textiles, synthetic rayons and a host of industries to diversify into new markets.


Traditional exports like leather, handicrafts, textiles, engineering, chemicals and basic chemicals will also get a fillip with the introduction of the grant of the "status holders" incentive scheme, which will enable them to import capital goods at zero duty. This will certainly help to modernise these sectors and make them more competitive.


While the new policy is expected to take the country’s exports to $200 billion by March 2011 and double that in the next three years, there is a dire need to improve all the infrastructure related to exports. This includes better road, rail and port connectivity, as well as timely implementation of the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor. Other highlights of the policy include extending the income-tax exemption deadline, which will help the gems and jewellery sector, and a reduction in the substantial fees exporters have to pay for licences: from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 1 lakh. And there’s always room to ask for more. One trade body is looking forward to the commerce minister implementing the e-trade project in a time-bound manner to bring about a substantial reduction in transaction costs, which now varies between five to eight per cent of FOB value.









It is amazing how the aam aadmi has responded to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bombshell — indifferently and with a sense of sardonic amusement. If anything, there has been a show of healthy irreverence, especially after Arun Shourie’s fiery outburst across countless TV channels. A couple of wicked observations at this point — Jaswant Singh hogged more media time than poor Shah Rukh Khan.


Most channels switched scheduled stories and panel discussions from the SRK imbroglio in Newark to the "Jassu Jaisa Koi Nahi" royal scandal heating up across India. Jassu himself outdid top Bollywood stars who rush from one TV studio to the next before the launch of their latest blockbuster. Mr Singh, at one point, was everywhere… simultaneously… like a Jack-in-the-box. He had his quotes and expressions perfectly worked out and he cleverly made sure not to repeat himself. Oh… and the voice sounded better than Amitabh Bachchan’s — could that have something to do with the magic potion laced with opium that he offers to his "subjects"?


About Mr Shourie — what can I say? Those of us who remember Mr Shourie as the firebrand editor of the Indian Express, were not surprised by his impeccable timing and the provocative choice of words. Sadly, there is a generation of "Twitter" type people out there who have never heard of Arun Shourie!! Shocking! I was amazed by their ignorance, till I realised their sense of history stops at 2005. If one mentions the "Emergency", they immediately associate it with a misplaced SIM card. And here I am not talking about uneducated, ignorant creeps but urban careerists — though, in real terms, they may qualify as urban illiterates.


I received hilarious responses when I wrote about the Jinnah-Jassu controversy on my blog, and quoted Mr Shourie’s Humpty Dumpty remark. Said someone naughtily, "Nothing new — that’s what politics is all about — humping and dumping!" I cracked up reading that comment. And then went on to the next one that stated solemnly, "Shall we observe a two-minute silence for the demise of the BJP?"


Such is the state of public opinion, it no longer matters who is getting thrown out of which party and why. The game of musical chairs carries on… and on… it’s Jaswant today, it should have been L.K. Advani yesterday, and it could be Rajnath Singh tomorrow. Mr Singh won from Darjeeling (where’s the bloody connection?). He is currently being wooed by the Samajwadi Party, and could join the Congress soon. Is anybody outraged? Hell, no. It’s business and politics as usual! The happiest folks right now are Mr Singh’s publishers — a fairly boring book is selling like hotcakes. The only interesting portion in the uninspiring tome does not exceed beyond a few paragraphs. And even those are turgid. He has said nothing startling or new that hasn’t been said before (and better!) by others. By expelling him like one expels a naughty school boy for not doing his homework on time, the BJP has devalued whatever little equity was left, post-elections and the resounding defeat at the polls. By banning the book in Gujarat, Narendra Modi has further pumped up the sales. As we all know, the dry state of Gujarat is possibly the "wettest" state in India — by banning alcohol, Mr Modi has created countless closet-drunks who can’t get enough of the forbidden booze! Go to any of the fancy homes in Ahmedabad and the host is bound to sidle whispering, "Drink? Don’t worry… my bar is full". So it is with the book. More copies got sold because of the ban and now it has become fashionable to flash it at visitors without reading the damn thing.


What next? Well… with so many rats abandoning the sinking ship, it is getting increasingly difficult to figure out who’s in and who’s not. Age issues have raised new problems. New blood, say some. While the oldie goldies refuse to budge from the gaddi. Is it at all possible to clone Rahul Gandhi? War has been declared, but against whom? If the "bad guy" is Mr Advani, hey, come on, he’s the same guy who went to Pakistan and praised everybody not so long ago. The world didn’t collapse then! It is also being speculated that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may be up for Pakistan’s highest civilian award soon. So? Will the sky fall down if he accepts it? Mr Jaswant Singh’s book is being lapped up across the border, and his promotional tour there will undoubtedly be a huge success. The only person who could upstage him at this point is Sallu Bhai and his IPL dhamaka.


Imagine, Mr Jaswant Singh even managed to outshine the Imran Khan-Benazir Bhutto love chakkar which would otherwise have kept the chattering classes fully occupied on both sides of the border. But then again, one has to remember the attention span of the chattering classes these days. For most, Imran and Benazir are two have-beens with no relevance to their lives. Tell them that Shahid Kapoor is about to marry Piggy Chops and there will be instant excitement. It boils down to the same blight that is destroying the BJP — youth issues.


There are things in life that politicians believe can be easily fixed (" throw out the fellow and all will be well again"), and some that simply can’t — youth icons are impossible to "manufacture" overnight, especially in a party where the average age is over 70. Today’s voter regards veterans as Ancient Mariners — dodderingly old creatures who should be preserved as fossils in a museum, if that. Cruel, but true. In such a scenario, nobody cares whether the BJP commits hara-kiri, self-destructs or disappears without a trace. Even the Jaswant saga is a two-day carnival — and largely because the media has played up the story and carried every sigh and groan.


I’m pretty sure Mr Singh is loving his current stardom — who wouldn’t? Here is a guy who’d been written off and his position diminished by party bosses who did not like his attitude (and angrezi accent?). He may have stuck it out for 30 years with the same parivar, but it was never the best or most compatible of relationships. Now that the divorce is official, it remains to be seen which new bed partner Mr Singh takes up. As of now, he is playing the "single and ready to mingle" game. It’s a good move and signals his availability. He claims he enjoys his independent status, and why not believe him? There’s nothing quite as liberating as getting out of a bad marriage. Mr Singh has done just that. But bachke rehna, Sirji… idea achcha hai... but watch out for the kaminey in our midst.


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Life in India has always been cheap - and nothing drives the point home more than the state of our healthcare system, even in the capital. There is simply not enough to go around - and the recent, terrifying photograph of a woman, Sahina, sitting with her almost-brain dead son Mujahid on the pavement outside the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) trauma hospital, hoping for help, proved it. The situation called for personal intervention from the health minister, but unless it's a global scare like the swine flu, which gets him headlines, why would he bother? His insouciance is enough to give anyone nightmares.


The poor mother did not have money for her child's treatment and so was allegedly turned away. This is a country that boasts of "medical tourism" and where there has been a recent Rs 1,000 crores takeover by Fortis of a whole hospital chain. None of this, however, will automatically lead to universal medical treatment. The ongoing debate in the United States over universal healthcare is something we should seriously conduct in India, as well. After all, if public money can be spent on building statues - the latest is Rs 350 crores by the Nationalist Congress Party-Congress combine on a Shivaji statue in Mumbai - there should be money available for free, universal healthcare.


However, this is not an easy issue to confront, as especially in a country like India, the sheer number of hospitals and doctors required is daunting. Also, as in the US, the medical insurance companies have a huge stake in subverting the debate, as do the large number of private practitioners and hospitals who would be very unhappy with the growth of free government medical help.


As someone who has been a beneficiary (albeit by proxy) of the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, I find both the current level of animosity towards it in the US, and the complete apathy towards it in India, totally inexplicable. Actually, it is one service which deserves to be emulated.


In London, we have a large NHS hospital almost across the road from where we live - and the few times I have been there (usually accompanying someone) I have never encountered any rudeness or refusal. Frankly, I would never even dream of going to a private hospital in the UK. In India, it's quite the reverse. Even though we live close to AIIMS in Delhi - and the doctors are reputed to be excellent - the fear of being rudely treated and memories of dirty corridors and waiting rooms keep me away.


Besides, in India, we, the middle class, only go to a hospital where we "know" the doctor personally, or if someone has been able to introduce the doctor to us. But how does 99 per cent of the country - without access to prompt healthcare information or personal phone numbers of doctors - manage?


Is it ever going to be possible to introduce an NHS in our country? It is desperately needed and required - and its sheer efficient anonymity is a huge relief. You don't have to know anyone, you don't even have to be a VIP - you can just walk in and you will be looked after. Even when my mother, as a visitor to the UK, accidentally fractured her wrist, they gave her immediate attention, though, of course, she had to queue up like everyone else.


Naturally, as a free service, the NHS is also the recipient of a lot of criticism. Yet, for a country with a rapidly aging population, it is specially good for the elderly, given the fact that most medical treatment is costly. For them, there is enormous comfort in knowing that once your doctor has filled in your prescription, you can pick up your medication (no matter how expensive) from any chemist in the UK, completely free of cost. It is a similar case when people have long-drawn out treatments, requiring hospital stay.


In India I've heard horror stories of people being turned out of hospitals because the expense became unmanageable. But under the NHS, if the illness requires it, a longer stay is possible with complete medical supervision. Both the current Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Leader of the Opposition, David Cameron, have acknowledged their personal debt to the service. Mr Brown because he had a football accident in school and almost lost his eyesight; Mr Cameron because he had a mentally-challenged child, and needed the NHS day and night.


Despite all the positive NHS stories, US President Barack Obama is facing an uphill task both in Congress and outside in proposing a similar system. Unsurprisingly, TV channels in the US are flooded with advertisements advocating free choice. These commercials are largely based on unfortunate experiences with government-run services, including those in other countries - and the most common example is of the NHS. There has even been one completely nonsensical claim that Stephen Hawking would have not survived had he been a beneficiary of the health service.


For the US, which still remains an inequitable country, a good health service would at least assure those 30 per cent who are marginalised, and others who are struggling for a foothold, that their one basic need is looked after. On the other hand, there is also legitimate concern that the government is not always the best at running anything efficiently - and certainly in India we have enough examples of official bungling and corruption in almost every sector. Yet, what choice do we have in India where more than 90 per cent would need access to free care?


There is also enough evidence to show that the private sector on its own will not be able to provide the same facilities for those who cannot pay for them - and the reality is that millions of Indians who are unable to afford a decent meal are unlikely to receive medical assistance of any kind. Even those who are covered by government insurance schemes find themselves poorly treated.


In the US, whilst Mr Obama may not be able to replicate the NHS, at least he has started the process of thinking seriously about an alternative healthcare system. In India, urgent systemic overhaul is required. Unless we begin the debate now it will take another generation of healthcare deprivation before any government action is taken.


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










THE UPA may not have succeeded in fulfilling the promise of providing 33 per cent reservation for women in legislatures within 100 days of coming to power for the second time, but it has taken a similar step in the right direction at the grassroots level. The Union Cabinet on Thursday cleared—and without any difficulty — a proposal to increase reservation for women to 50 per cent in panchayats. A Bill to this effect is likely to be introduced in the winter session of Parliament. This will be applicable to all tiers of the panchayati raj and grant more seats to women in direct elections as well as in offices of chairpersons and in the seats and offices of the chairpersons reserved for SCs and STs.  Currently, the reservation for women in panchayats stands at 33 per cent. The higher reservation will bring more women into public life, thereby reducing the deprivation they suffer on account of class, caste and gender at the level they are familiar with.


The step should find positive resonance all over the country, considering that the states which are already granting 50 per cent reservation to women in panchayats have reported considerable improvement in their lot. Interestingly, the lead in this regard was taken by Bihar, which was followed  by Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Rajasthan has also announced 50 per cent reservation from the next panchayat election in early 2010.


The presence of more than 14 lakh women representatives at the grassroots level will constitute a formidable nursery out of which women of substance will be able to rise to places of eminence in state assemblies and even Parliament. The disinclination shown by some opposition parties to giving them 33 per cent reservation in legislatures would fall by the wayside once they make their mark at the grassroots level. An interesting role reversal is already taking place in states like Bihar where husbands of women heads of panchayats proudly proclaim themselves to be “mukhiyapatis”. 








Exporters have not cheered the new incentives in the foreign trade policy announced on Thursday. The stock markets too have rather ignored the policy as expectations were belied. It is a difficult situation to handle. India’s exports have dipped for the past ten consecutive months. Job losses have been widespread, particularly in the textile sector. Reversing the downtrend is a big challenge for the country. On the one hand, the government finances are overstretched in handing out packages to various segments of the economy to perk up growth and bail out those in trouble. On the other, the US and Europe, which together account for 35 per cent of India’s exports, are only slowly emerging from the grips of recession. What is worse, they have turned more protectionist than before.


Within the constraints, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma has commendably offered more tax incentives and subsidised credit to exporters. It is the foreign trade policy’s thrust on exploring new markets for Indian products that is commendable. One lesson that the latest recession has left for countries, big and small, is not to be dependent solely on exports or on select markets. Just as Asean countries have lately warmed up to India to sell their wares, India too needs to look for new markets where its goods are competitively priced. The Commerce Minister has identified some such markets: Africa, Latin America, Central Asian countries and the Asia-Oceania region.


Besides, this is the time to ponder how to cut manufacturing costs, remove systemic inefficiencies and build infrastructure so that Indian products become globally competitive. There is a lot to learn from China, which has quadrupled its exports after joining the World Trade Organisation in 2000. Of course, India cannot keep its currency under-valued like China, but the experiment of building special economic zones too has not taken off the way it was expected. The foreign trade policy has ignored the big picture. 








Access to higher education in India is marked by a high degree of inequality and the dice is heavily loaded in favour of the privileged and well-to-do sections of society. Now all this is likely to change. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has approved interest-free education loans to students from economically disadvantaged families who want to pursue technical or professional courses in recognised institutes. This should open doors for those who are denied the opportunity due to lack of money.


That the scheme employs income rather than caste as a determinant for interest subsidy implies that it will not only reach out to larger sections of society but will also be more widely acceptable. Unlike caste-based reservations, it doesn’t undermine merit. Besides, the upper ceiling of Rs 4.5 lakh, higher than the initial proposal of Rs 2.5 lakh, has been arrived at after much deliberation to widen the ambit and scope of the scheme. In the modern world education is an important means that increases social mobility. It guarantees individual success, is crucial to survival and allows people to break social barriers. Though the 1986 National Policy on Education states: “In higher education in general, and technical education in particular, steps will be taken to facilitate inter-regional mobility by providing equal access to every Indian of requisite merit, regardless of his origins” huge gaps have existed. Higher education has remained a preserve of the creamy layer. Affirmative action like the interest subsidy can provide a level-playing field provided there are no lapses in implementation.


The scheme has appropriate checks and balances in place to ensure that it is not misused. For one the interest subsidy shall be available only once and not to those who drop out on reasons other than medical grounds. However, the proposal to be applicable from the academic year 2009 to 2010 should not be caught in red tape. 









SIX years down the 21st century Afghan war collective wisdom of the West (NATO) suddenly faces a surge in its urge for a visible and effective result, showing victory to the people who appear no longer united and in pursuing a bloody battle in a remote Asian terrain of death and destruction.


Indeed, the mounting casualties of 75 bodybags in July 2009 clearly have rattled 41 capitals the armed forces of which are on a do-or-die “Mission Afghanistan”.


Fatality aside, what appears to have toll the bell is that the troops in the high-risk and high-casualty zone are suffering from low morale, thereby affecting their mental stability. Thus, the number of suicides reported by the US army has risen to the highest level since record keeping began three decades ago.


Last year, 192 suicides were committed by active duty soldiers and soldiers on inactive reserve status, twice as many as in 2003, when the war began. This year the figure is likely to be even higher; as from January to mid-July 129 suicides were confirmed or suspected, which is more than the number of American soldiers who died in combat during the same period.


In reality the US is in the midst of an emergency action plan to understand and address the problem of suicide, thereby increasing the financial burden as the bolstered suicide-prevention programme has resulted in the hiring of mental health providers.


With the mounting NATO soldier casualty and the simultaneous flexing of Taliban muscles, it is becoming increasingly clear that the 21st century Afghan war of 41 versus 1 is unlikely to be a quick burst of 100-metre dash in the long run. The 1 Afghanistan is likely to be a long, protracted, marathon war of attrition against the 41, thereby affecting the economy and financial resources of all the belligerents.


In fact the new secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen (the former Danish Prime Minister), realising the mounting internal pressure and conflicting interests within the NATO members, has categorically stated, (on being asked about the durability and duration of the ISAF in Kabul) that the “NATO forces will remain in Afghanistan for as long as it takes”. Obviously, the point is unlikely to be welcomed unanimously, not only in NATO but also by Afghanistan as well as by Pakistan.


Thus Afghanistan appears to be proving the 6th century BC Chinese philosopher general Sun Tzu’s theory to be prophetic—“No country has ever profited from protracted warfare. Those who do not thoroughly comprehend the dangers inherent in employing the army are incapable of truly knowing the potential advantages of military actions. Thus when employing in battle, a victory that is long in coming will blunt their weapons and dampen their spirit.”


With the NATO commander in Kabul, General McChrystal’s review of operations, the clamour for more me, machine and money is already in the air. The General’s thoughts leading to an increased thrust on the counter-insurgency offensive is sure to result in spending more for receiving more bodybags back home.


To avoid that, it would perhaps, therefore, be better to deploy less of one’s own men and put more locals in the front. However, to do so again one would require a fat purse to recruit, retain and train the “good” Afghans to fight the “bad” Afghans.


And the sheer size of the monetary contribution for the purpose is an estimated US $20 billion (Euro 13.98 billion; UK pound 11.89 billion) over five years to set up new security force. However, the very nature of the financial estimate raises questions about sustainability of the contemplated plan of action.


A further rough calculation suggests that Afghanistan, which now has got an army of 86,000 men and a police force of 80,000 personnel, will need to increase its soldiers to 1,34,000 and the entire police-military strength to 4,00,000 head.


As the Afghanistan government has neither the resources nor full control over its own territory, any increase in the Afghan National Army is fraught with grave inherent risk as the recruitment starts with the stark reality that the Taliban infested/controlled provinces of Farah, Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Zabul, Paktika, Ghazni, Khost, Paktiya, Logar, Wardak, Nuristan are unlikely to produce dependable and loyal professional soldiers.


In fact, history shows that soldiers recruited by foreign masters from politically disturbed areas are unlikely to prove good soldiers solely serving the interests of foreigners who are considered unacceptable by the brethren of the recruited soldiers.


Thus the English rulers in India made it an unwritten law to recruit soldiers from remote areas with high illiteracy unaffected by politically volatile provinces. In a way, what the NATO forces face today in Afghanistan, was faced by the British while recruiting soldiers in the 19th century Indian society.


However, while the British could avoid the disturbed areas to go to the high hills and the friendly rural belt to catch the potential fighters young, things in Afghanistan are much more dangerous and complicated.


As it is, the recruitment and retention of Afghan soldiers are proving not only difficult, but the battle field performance also reportedly has not been up to their Taliban brethren’ quality. This is understandable because whereas the Taliban have a “genuine” motivation to take on the “outsiders”, how can the Pashtun soldiers of the Afghan National Army fight their own blood relations on behalf of the foreigners who will not stay in the land-locked terrain of Asia?


Also, how can the Afghan government soldier do justice to his profession, when his friends and relatives in the village are at the mercy of the very Taliban against whom he is crossing the sword? Understandably, the situation is grim for all.


NATO needs more soldiers to “hammer the Taliban and hold the territory”. But the members thereof are not united. NATO requires big money but with divergent and unfocussed views of the members.


Fortyone nations are fighting 1 foe in Afghanistan. Yet the Afghan war is perceived by most as an Anglo-American mission in Kabul. General McChrystal wants more boots in the battle zone, but the mounting casualties are creating problems back home.


Thus both NATO and Afghanistan today can do little to come out of the military mess of the 21st century. More than three decades ago, the USA could wriggle out of the Saigon-Hanoi war zone owing to its being one-on-one all out war.


But the present situation is more complicated than even the decade long Soviet-Afghan confrontation as 41 nations are pitched against a poor, illiterate, superstitious, backward, starving and virtually destitute country with only one positive and high rate of growth, the population. It is indeed a long-term emergence of a piquant scenario.


The low growth rate (at times negative growth) populations of advanced nations are out there against soldiers of the soil who are capable of being out in droves, as even if two brothers die in the field, between four and five will replenish to fight another day. In comparison, the one son (and at times one child) loss of mothers from London, Liverpool, New York and New Jersey in the road side of Logar and Nuristan is bound to create more problems for NATO and the West.


Hence the need for more Afghan heads to fight the Taliban herds. The Afghan war is all set to result in a pyrrhic victory for the West and an equally bloody civil war at its worst. One need not feel bad, sad or glad about the potential outcome. Reality bites and it will bite all the belligerents.







Owing to the massive hike in the crude oil prices and other ingredients of the fertilisers at the international level, the prices of the commodity skyrocketed last year and the fertiliser subsidy bill for the fiscal 2008-09 shot up to Rs. 75,849 crore.


Now on the softening of crude and falling international demand, the prices have come down substantially. The spending on fertilizer subsidies in this year’s budget is nearly 34 per cent less at Rs. 49,980 crore.


Furthermore, it has also been proposed to give subsidy direct to farmers instead of giving it to the fertiliser companies. This will ensure that the farmer does not end up paying for inefficiencies of the fertiliser companies and the bogus production shown only to claim the subsidy in some cases.


The mode of disbursal is under discussion and various ideas are under consideration as to how this subsidy could effectively be delivered direct to farmers.


One of the ideas mooted recently was to do the same through banks, which on the basis of the Kisan Credit Cards (KCCs) were to credit the amount of subsidy to individual accounts of farmers on the basis of their land-holdings. But this is full of flaws on many counts as a majority of the farmers do not have the KCCs.


Moreover these KCCs are mostly with land-owners and not tillers. Tenant farmers will not benefit at all if subsidy is disbursed through this route.


Handing over the subsidy on the basis of mutations will also be difficult as most states have not yet fully computerised their land revenue records and farmers will be required to do rounds of government offices to show the ownership of their land. This mode will also ensure the flow of subsidy into the hands of land-owners and not tillers.


The only viable method of routing the subsidy to the real beneficiary will be if it is given on the basis of procurement quantity by the central and state agencies for the central pool. The produce is sold to these agencies against J-forms, which are the basis for payments to farmers. These forms can become the basis for the distribution of the subsidy as well.


This will encourage farmers to contribute more to the central pool and reduce their expenditure on fertilisers, making the optimum use of fertiliser.


Furthermore, his earning will more than double with a single stroke.


Costwise too, the non-subsidised prices of fertiliser will not harm the farmer as the prevalent prices in the international market, which are Rs. 27,000 and Rs. 17,000 per tonne of DAP and urea respectively, are nearly three times the domestic retail prices for both, which stand at Rs.9,340 and Rs. 4,820 respectively. Given the consumption, which ranges from 150 kg to 200 Kg an acre for each crop, he stands to gain a lot even after buying fertilisers at the market rates.


Apart from a financial boost, it will motivate the farmer to use less chemical and more bio-fertilisers, which will help in improving the soil health of Punjab and Haryana.


The fertiliser manufacturers will also come up with various other nutrient based variants of fertilisers against the traditional content-based products like urea, DAP and MoP.


For non-wheat and paddy growers, whose number is very small and are producing fruits and vegetables, some other modality can be worked out whereby they can ask for a pucca bill at the time of sale of produce through market committees and later claim subsidy on its basis.


Opposition to the proposed mode, which can come from some of the official quarters as they will be denied an opportunity to siphon off some part of it neatly by inventing or circumventing some channels of distribution, should be fully scrapped in favour of the procurement quantity based mode as it is best for better returns to the farmer and national food security.








The 29-year-old battle-hardened Taliban commander, Hakeemullah Mehsud, the new chief of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), is a very ambitious person. He had the “ambition and desire” to play the “leadership role” even when Baitullah Mehsud, now dead, was running the militant movement ruthlessly with his around 30,000 well-paid fighters.


 But who is Hakeemullah? What is his background? How he might have prevailed over the Taliban “shura” to declare him as the TTP chief? How he could have silenced the other claimant to the TTP leadership, Waliur Rehman, also a Mehsud from South Waziristan?


 An exhaustive write-up by Zahir Shah Sherazi in Dawn (August 27) gives some idea about the man who has replaced Baitullah Mehsud. Sherazi was a member of a group of TV journalists who were granted an interview by Hakeemullah last November when he controlled a part of the Orakzai tribal agency. The report has interesting details.


 Sherazi says, “While Baitullah was introvert and media-shy”, Hakeemullah is “extrovert and media-savvy”. He is not a traditional maulana or moulvi. He has had no proper education in a madarsa. However, this “best shooter and driver in the entire tribal area” has “expansionist designs”, a fact the Pakistan government cannot afford to ignore.


 Hakeemullah’s real name, according to Sherazi, is Jamshed. He first became prominent in the tribal belt as Zulfiqar Mehsud, a spokesman for the Baitullah-led militant group in 2007. Then he acquired the nickname Hakeemullah. He belongs to the Eshangai branch of the Mehsud tribe.



Daily Times says the Taliban in Pakistan is not as strong as it was during the days of Baitullah Mehsud. “Hakeemullah may control the tribal agencies, but he has fewer people under his arms than Baitullah had. The question to be resolved next is what happens to the 30,000 men on the payroll of Baitullah, who ruled on the basis not of charisma, of which he had little, but of the iron-clad guarantee of payments — both salaries and compensation for ‘martyrdom’. It is being said that Waliur Rehaman will be the vice-chief of Hakeemullah, and will retain control over South Waziristan.”


 But, as Daily Times points out, “this arrangement seems untenable”. The money factor may keep Hakeemullah and Waliur Rehman suspicious of each other’s intentions.


 “How can Pakistan exploit this situation? The initial opinion seemed to be divided between those who recommend a forward policy and those who ‘caution against too much interference in the fiercely independent tribal areas’. If the fear is that going into South Waziristan will trigger some kind of tribal reaction that Pakistan cannot deal with, why not think of moving in areas outside South Waziristan, placing a wedge between Waliur Rehman and Hakeemullah?”, the paper suggests.



According to Dawn (Aug 27), “The TTP as a fighting force has certainly been degraded after military operations in Swat and Bajaur, the two major strongholds of the TTP outside the Waziristan agencies. And the myth of the Taliban as an omnipotent force that would usurp the state’s writ over huge swaths of northwest Pakistan has certainly been dented. But the TTP still has the capacity to launch suicide attacks and destabilise the country.”


The News says, “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…. Already, in Swat and other conflict zones, people have begun to speak out against the militants. These voices need to be projected more widely.”


Now is the time to take on the Taliban head on. First there is need to launch a major propaganda war to nail the Taliban lie that the Army drive against the militants has been aimed at protecting the US interests in Pakistan. The Taliban can be no match to a professional Army. What is required is the will to eliminate the scourge in a manner so that it is never able to re-emerge.








In the perception of the common man the Judiciary is the sole branch of the Indian democratic mechanism to have retained a semblance of integrity and social concern. The foundations of the Legislative and Bureaucratic wings have been eroded by the corrosive cankers of self-serving corruption, so much so that the Judiciary has had to intrude into spheres not strictly within the ambit of its concern. Time and again the courts have had to come out with landmark judgements on environmental degradation, consumer protection, bandh-culture et al, simply because our legislators and bureaucrats have been lax in performing their assigned duties. Given such a positive perception, it was imperative that the Judiciary sustain it through transparency in its functioning and thereby retain the faith of the public. However, in recent days the danger was very real that the image of the Judiciary would take a beating, primarily due to two developments. First, not only corruption among the lower echelons of the judicial hierarchy had become a harsh reality, but also there had been media reports of judges of higher courts accepting bribes or having assets disproportionate to their incomes. Second, the persistent refusal of the Apex Court to divulge information about the assets of judges on the ground that such revelation would leave it open to public scrutiny, thus undermining its authority and compromising on judicial independence, had not gone down well with the people.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court has now taken cognizance of this and its judges have voluntarily decided to make their assets public. This is a most welcome and judicious decision, for it goes a long way to remove the erroneous impression that the highest court of the land has something to hide. Such an impression had been conveyed in the recent past when the Supreme Court refused to abide by an order from the Central Information Commissioner to disclose if the assets of judges had been placed before the Chief Justice. It had been reinforced by the permission given by the Chief Justice to the Government to introduce a bill in the Rajya Sabha whereby judges would be exempted from declaring their assets. Not only was the bill aborted due to fierce opposition from legislators, it also raised considerable concern amongst the people. After all, if politicians were compelled to declare their assets, they saw no reason why judges could not do the same, being concerned more with the credibility of the Judiciary rather than abstruse concerns of judicial independence. The decision of the judges has gone a long way to remove misgivings from the public mind and restore credibility. This decision should now be guided towards its logical conclusion. The Indian Judiciary being a tiered structure, the Chief Justice must ensure that the process of declaration of assets percolate down and ultimately embrace the entire edifice.








One of the major allegations against the UPA government levelled by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party during the election campaign leading to 15th Lok Sabha election was that the UPA government was not doing enough to retrieve the black money stashed in Swiss banks by the Indian businessmen, traders, blackmarketeers, brokers to evade taxation as the Swiss banks openly accept without asking question about the source of fund and stick to confidentiality clause strictly. After the election, the new government pursued the matter with the Swiss bank authorities which firmly declined to provide any information of such depositors to the government. The only concession the Swiss bank authorities would agree was to provide information on specific cases of concrete suspicion or evidence of wrong doing. The privacy of clients innocent of wrong doing would be protected and any unspecified snooping would be firmly prohibited, according to the Swiss Bank Association Head. Therefore the Government would have to take up specific cases with sufficient evidence of wrong doing to obtain information of the bank deposits of the suspected person which would be a formidable task.

Though no official estimate is available about the amount of money deposited clandestinely in Swiss banks by the Indian depositors, an unofficial estimate has put the figure at a staggering amount of 70 lakh crores.If this amount could be retrieved, it could be used for development activities by the government. However, this appears to be difficult due to the stand taken by the Swiss banks. Already a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court seeking direction to the Central government to take action to bring back the black money to the country. The Union government had already initiated discussion with the Swiss bank authorities and another round of discussion was slated in December next. The Union Government was also considering for amendment of double taxation avoidance with the Swiss government signed in 1995.This course also would not be of much help as already the Swiss banks had made it clear that even under the new treaty fishing expedition would not be allowed. The BJP which raised the issue is now embroiled in internal strife and could hardly find time to discuss this important issue in public to put pressure on the government. Swiss banks would remain the safe haven to stash black money so long it keeps the door closed for foreign government from seeking information on depositor’s accounts.








Empowerment is a multi-dimensional process. It is a process that helps and assists people, both men and women to realise their identity, becoming aware of the capacity and potential and strive for success, happiness and peace of mind. It also enables them to gain self confidence, have access to resources, creates a desire to achieve and express, free from irrelevant customs, traditions, practices and prejudices. Empowerment has been defined as a process through which men and women increase their access to knowledge, resources, decision making power and raise their awareness of participation in their communities to reach a level of control. In case of women, the ultimate objective of such empowerment is to create large scale awareness with the active participation of women themselves. Such empowerment could be in social areas or economic or political or other areas. In other words, empowerment is influenced by a host of socio-economic, political and cultural factors. Socio-economic status would therefore be a ranking of an individual by the society he/she lives in terms of his/her material belongings and cultural possessions along with the degree of respect, power and influence he/she wields.

In recent times empowerment of Women has become a serious area of study, because women form a large component of human resources of our country. They are potential contributors towards development of social, economic, cultural and political activities of an area or the country. However, to improve the socio-economic conditions of women, one of the viable strategies, quite often talked about, is the role of enterprise to empower them. Enterprise development has been considered, among other factors, a powerful tool to eradicate poverty, especially among women, both rural and urban as they are at the lowest rung of poverty ladder in our country. Economic empowerment of women means to ensure income generation activities for women with both forward and backward linkages and also provision of training, employment, with the ultimate objective of making all women economically independent and self reliant. Women around the globe are finding new options for growth and development in self ventures– skill, knowledge and adaptability are the thrust areas for women to emerge into business ventures. In this aspect, the hidden entrepreneurial potentials of women have gradually been changing with the growing sensitivity to their role and economic status in the society. But there are many challenges. In general, it is found that women lack confidence and strength, though the situation is changing. Still more, many a woman finds it difficult to access the market as they are not fully aware of the changing market conditions, and fail to face the hard competition in the market. Moreover, their lack of mobility makes them depend on middlemen so much so that they rarely get the right return. This calls for women entrepreneurs being exposed to the realities of a market to acquire skill and knowledge in all functional areas of business management, which would help in developing a good business network.

According to the United Nations Human Development Report 2004, women work on average more than men, when both paid employment and unpaid household tasks are concerned. In rural areas of the developing countries surveyed, women perform an average of 20 per cent more work than men, or an additional 98 minutes per day. Women earn 10 per cent of the world’s income and own only 1 per cent of the world’s wealth, despite making up 49.5 per cent of the population. Women are also under-represented in all the world’s major legislative bodies. An ILO Report also states that women are almost 50 per cent of the world’s population, utilise two-thirds of the worlds work hour, produce half of the world’s food supply, receive 10 per cent of the world’s income and own less than one per cent of the world property.

1n India also, women comprise nearly half of the national population of our country, i.e. 933 female per 1,000 male. Hence, the development of the country is inescapably linked with the status of development of women. Economic empowerment is one approach to enable women to realise their inherent knowledge, skills and competencies for creation of small business enterprises. There are shining examples from the developing countries to illustrate women entrepreneurs who started small and grew to large enterprises. In India, various Ministries, Institutions and Organisations have been working for the upliftment of women through implementing of various schemes like–SGSY, SJSRY, NORAD, IMY, RMK, etc. A few big NGOs like AWAKE (Karnataka), MAITRI (New Delhi), SEWA (Gujrat) UMEED (Ahmadabad), CARE (West Bengal) etc have been engaged for social and economic upliftment of women in India.

India’s North East which is also known as the land of the eight sisters, collectively account for about 8 per cent of the country’s geographical area and roughly 4 per cent of its population. As per the last 2001 census, the total population of the region was 38, 495,089 with 19, 874, 535 male and 18, 620, 554 female. The women population is around 50 per cent as the sex ratio is 940 female per 1,000 male in the region (all India 933 female per 1,000 male). The region is also characterised by the relatively high women literacy rate 63.4 per cent against all India average female literacy of 54.2 per cent (women literacy rate of Milorarn is as high as 95.8 per cent), high decennial growth of population, low urbanization (except Assam, Nagaland and Mizoram) and contrasting population density (13 persons per sq km in Arunachal Pradesh where as in Assam and Tripura it is as high as 340 and 304 respectively). Economically, the plain areas of the region are more active than the hilly areas. However, in the hilly areas, women are comparatively more enterprising than the male counterparts. According to third small industry census (2001-02), 20.03 per cent micro enterprises in the region are owned and managed by women entrepreneurs as against 10.11 per cent in the country. This is mainly because the tribal women are mostly dominating the markets in most of the hilly areas of the region. Accord to study made by IIE, Guwahati in the North East, major’ of trained women (54 per cent, started their enterprise at the age of 26-30 years; while 49 per cent untrained women started their enterprises at the age of 31-40 years. The study also revealed that 48.1 per cent trained and 29.4 per cent untrained women entrepreneurs are married. Similarly 49 per cent trained and 31.2 per cent untrained women are married. Again, 32.5 per cent untrained women enterprises are widow whereas 1.6 per cent trained women entrepreneurs are widow. In the formation of self-help groups (SHGs), women SHGs are dominating in the region. Out of about 3.72 lakh SHGs, already formed in the region, more than 55 per cent SHGs are owned and managed by women. In Assam also, out of total 1, 70,779 SH , more than 93 thousand SHGs are belonged to women.

There are a few government level organisations/institutions and NGOs which are working for the development of micro enterprises for the women in the region. However, a concorted effort by such institutions and organisations has not been noticed so far in the North East. It is observed that finance is one of the key factors for entrepreneurial development for women. Lately, micro financing is a major tool for development of women enterprises. The micro-financing sector in North-East India has only recently begun to grow rapidly. This is mainly due to active engagement of NGOs with the public and private sector banks, financial institutions etc. During the year 2008-09, NEDFi alone has been providing micro finance to 23,418 beneficiaries, out of which 21,033 beneficiaries were women (i.e 189.8 per cent). Today there are more than 360 NGOs in the region providing micro-financial services to the people, especially to the lower income women groups in the region. Sustained long run achievement of empowerment of women would become a reality if necessary changes in the socio-economic, political and cultural changes take place.

Although women in the country constitute the majority of the total population, i.e. 495.74 million representing 48.3 per cent of the total population in the country and almost similar percentage of women in the North East, women are yet to contribute to their full potential to the entrepreneurial world at large. Therefore, in the interest of long term development it is a necessity that they are empowered.
(The writer is Head (CEDM), IIE, Guwahati)








The world wants to see the result only. Any plan that does not take into account the experience learnt problems encountered and the things to emerge, is bound to fail. Effectiveness calls for an approach which is, in other words, meeting the exact needs and expectations.

In fact the boom in the global economy has also opened simultaneously the gates of opportunities and challenges before the business world. Side by side, the rapid expansion of business processes all over the world has also created an environment of intense competition. Without any sort of hesitation it can be accepted reasonably that the key word to sustain and survive in the current age of highly competitive business environment is ‘innovation’ – a continuous and spontaneous process – which, in turn, can be profitably utilised for gaining competitive advantages as well as for improving the ongoing management practices. It is high time that betterment is ensured as far as development of interpersonally, organisationally; specially sensitive and responsible attitudes and personalities are concerned.

The Management Guru Peter F Drucker nicely opined: “....brilliant men are often strikingly ineffectual; they fail to realise that the brilliant insight is not by itself achievement. They never have learned that insights become effectiveness only through hard systematic work. Conversely, in every organisation there are some highly effective plodders. While others rush around in the frenzy and busyness which bright people so often confuse with ‘creativity,’ the plodders puts one foot in front of the other and gets there like the tortoise in the old fable.”

Accordingly, men of high effectiveness are conspicuous by their absence in executive jobs. Whereas high intelligence is common enough among the executives, imagination is far from being rare though the level of knowledge tends to be high! There seems to be not much of correlation between a man’s effectiveness and his intelligence, his imagination or his knowledge. The executives are expected to get the right things done.

Effectiveness thus call for teaming the same in view of the very fact that the world has been changing at a faster rate and one must accept change, respond to the market demand considering the time constraint or get sidelined. It is adaptation to the changing environment that ultimately matters right from project formulation up to implementation of the same. To be effective is the prime job of the executive.

Thus the very need for planning and scheduling come to the fore. A good operational plan could save a good deal of time. Well – defined goals and objectives are required for ensuring time management. The Pareto principle (named after the noted Italian Economist) implies that 80 per cent of our really productive and creative work will be done in 20 per cent of our time.

The need is there to prepare a list of would be activities and setting time limits for all tasks – to locate the profit centres and the other side and then sub-divide targets for meaningful executions. Today’s business is for example, more about having a good idea of marketing through talented human resources – it will then be sitting on top of pile of resources.

It is thus crystal clear that Human Resource Development (HRD) is a process, distinguished from mere personnel functions, whereon the employees are helped in a continuous and planned manner to acquire and sharpen capabilities and develop an organisational culture whereupon the employees are continuously helped by performance planning, feedback, training, periodic performance rating vis-a-vis development opportunities through job rotation/ training/ responsibility definitions and such other mechanism. Utilise the talent, nurture it and retain them in the business – you will be the gainer and reap rich dividends over time.

Thus, organisational development may be termed as a process of planning and implementing systematic changes designed to improve organisational effectiveness. Industrial relations offer new renovated exercises-organigational relations between two interest groups- the management and the knowledge worker. This relationship has to cater for individual human resources in their individual characteristics as well as a collective group.

Arrangement like judicious manpower deployment is the most crucial arena. Few supervise the optimal utilisation of available manpower. As avenues for work deployment increases the reallocation of duties and necessary training/motivation/inclination factors come to the fore naturally. The projections must keep in mind the nature of work/workload/return from taking up the venture (e.g. formation of team for internal control system/recovery of fund/investment management/IT related works, etc.) and how much drift from existing equilibrium would be there (i.e. works arising out of sudden spurt in activities). Redeployment/modification/ innovation may be of use (viz., strengthening the R&D, branch peculiarities vi-a-vis activity generation based on regional dimensions-functionally, spatially, hierarchically and temporally.

Efficiency, thus, is undoubtedly a necessary condition whereas effectiveness is the sufficient condition.. The ultimate output is that what matters. Intelligence, imagination and knowledge are very crucial planks, but ultimately effectiveness converts all these into results. Therefore, it is effective human capital management that stays at the top of such an agenda. Actually the good business leaders understand that there is competitive and economic values which could result in from talented people.

Business success calls for developing human capital management strategies and simultaneously improving efforts that are intricately aligned with organisational goals. It is the human capital which leads to the very success of any performance initiative.


(The writer is a faculty member, Indian Institute of Bank Management, Guwahati)








The RBI Annual Report 2008-09 is a bit like the government’s Economic Survey 2008-09; it is essentially a recap of the year gone by. But to the extent that it comes well after the close of the financial year, unlike the Survey that is normally published in February, it usually scores over the latter by presenting a more updated picture of the economy.

This year, however, even that advantage has been lost since the Survey was tabled only in July, just before the Budget. Hence the main interest in the RBI’s Annual Report 2008-09 lies in the Bank’s reading of the future; the growth outlook, the opportunities, the challenges etc. Here one must remember, of course, that just as the Survey reflects the wishful thinking of finance ministry technocrats, the Annual Report is essentially a professional central bank’s prescription, untainted by political compulsions.

Nonetheless, the Report is an invaluable addition to policy debate, especially at times like this when governments, especially democratically elected ones, might be tempted to focus excessively on the short-term at the risk of longer-term stability.

The good thing in the latest Report is that despite its relatively sober assessment of the economy’s prospects, the Bank has not thought it necessary to lower its growth estimate of the year and has retained its GDP growth estimate at 6%, with an upward bias.

But it is clearly apprehensive of what the ‘unpleasant combination of subdued growth with emerging risk of high inflation’ together with large borrowing programmes and high fiscal deficits could do to scupper the nascent recovery. Predictably, it has doled out the standard warning of central banks across the world on the costs of large fiscal stimulus.

It has also raised the prickly issue of exit options that would return both fiscal and monetary policies to their business-as-usual mode from their present adrenaline-driven high. The problem is of timing. No one disagrees on the need for the economy to get off steroids.

The question remains: what is the right time to do that without triggering severe withdrawal symptoms. With apologies to John Lennon, ‘cold turkey can get the economy on the run’!











The institution of the summer holiday has gained considerable ground in the west. It not only affords world-weary leaders the luxury of down time, away from the carping of Capitol Hill or the wailing of Westminster, but also gives them the opportunity to relax with their families in private.

Of course, for the canny politician, on the lookout for a chance to further pet agendas and reward friends, a retreat is a chance to entertain key campaign contributors or brainstorm with aides uninterrupted by world crises. Holidayers Barack Obama and Gordon Brown have been apparently taking full advantage of this sanctioned break this August, though either wouldn’t have been too far away from a means of communication.

It is the same with the French and Russian leaders, as others. Not surprisingly, their countries are managing pretty well without them — what are vice presidents and senior cabinet members there for anyway? Though the August time-off has become a rather widespread practice among the world’s biggest players, Indian leaders have been largely unable to tear themselves away from their corner offices.

The President of India has summer and winter retreat residences and incumbents have been known to avail of them, but Prime Ministers have never had the Indian equivalent of a Camp David or a Chequers type official hideaway here.

Indeed, PM Manmohan Singh has not taken a holiday for as long as his daughter can remember. Nor have most Indian PMs, barring the late Rajiv Gandhi’s forays to Lakshadweep and, more recently, A B Vajpayee, who had a penchant for writing missives from his summer sojourn in Manali.

The only top politician who seems to value this western concept of vacations is Sonia Gandhi, who goes to a friend’s cottage in Kasauli and will probably also frequent the holiday home her daughter is building near Shimla. Perhaps others should follow her lead in this matter as well: politicians and the people do need time off from each other.







The government’s belated decision to fix a reserve price for 3G spectrum and hold the auction within 90 days is welcome. If it manages to stay within the timeline, 3G services from successful bidders should become available within 3-6 months of the auction. In the absence of adequate spread of wireline telephones, 3G-enabled wireless services is the best option for increasing the broadband penetration, which remains abysmally low.

The government has fixed the reserve price of pan-India 3G spectrum at Rs 3,500 crore and that for WiMAX spectrum at Rs 1,750 crore. The industry argument that the Rs 3,500 crore reserve price was too high and would make 3G business unviable is bereft of logic. The stake sale in companies that had acquired 2G licences in early 2008 has valued pan-India spectrum at nearly Rs 10,000 crore. 3G spectrum being a superior carrier for value-added services, it should command a higher price than 2G spectrum.

Anyway, those who find the reserve price unviable have the option not to participate in the bidding. Also, in the absence of clarity about the availability of spectrum, it makes sense to limit the auction to five players. This would ensure that each player gets optimum spectrum to operate 3G services — some of the foreign operators have argued that 5MHz spectrum is not enough.

However, the decision to keep the reserve price for WiMAX spectrum at half that of 3G services at Rs 1,750 crore is debatable considering that the telecom policy is increasingly veering towards technology neutrality. WiMAX is now considered a competing technology vis-a-vis 3G, some consider it even better. It would have made sense to keep the reserve price same for both 3G and WiMAX. The justification that it would be used to provide wireless broadband to rural areas lacks merit and would be difficult to ensure.

It would have made sense to give full play to WiMAX and auction the spectrum totally on commercial considerations. The USO fund can be used to create infrastructure in the rural areas to make services viable. USO fund, for instance, could help create a fibre backbone for the country, with wireless providing the last mile connectivity. Together with a competitive market, this would ensure a rapid spread of broadband and telecom services in the country.








The road map for 3G and 4G spectrum (WiMAX) has been announced at last. Trai gave its first recommendation in 2004. It was alleged that Trai took too long — one-and-a-half year in giving its recommendation. It has taken five years for the government to announce the 3G policy.

Meanwhile 3G and 4G spectrums have mostly been roaming up in the air with the government losing a huge amount of money and the country losing the opportunity of the millennium — broadband. We must welcome that the policy has been allowed after long last.

We started discussing 2G (voice mobile) in the mid-80s. We allowed the network in 1990-95, which could not be connected till a regulator came in 1997. It ultimately stabilised in 2003 and grew later. We wasted the mid-’80s to mid-’90s discussing whether the state should invest in mobile networks, and discovering appropriate private participation and regulation.

We have done the same on wireless broadband networks. Intense discussions took place between 2004-09, while the rest of the world increased mobile broadband and achieved more than 30% broadband density. We are struggling with the policy even as this time the main player/investor is not the government but private players.

In 2004, Trai had recommended 3G spectrums to be given as an extension of 2G — since the NTP 1999 spoke of technology agnostic regulation. And we had enough spectrum for five players. Today, with 10 players, auction becomes a must.

ITU, World Bank and OECD papers talk of broadband as the next vehicle for all kinds of transport and growth. “Broadband is our generations’ infrastructure challenge,” says the FCC chairman. “It is as important as electricity, highways were for the past generation.” It can lead to e-education, agriculture extension, banking et al.

Successive governments have been giving spectrum free and have also been setting aside huge money for broadband development. In 2004, there were five operators and there was enough spectrum for five. It could have been given on revenue share. Today, there are 10 operators, hence auction is must. Yet, there could have been controlled auction by first specifying how the broadband rates will be regulated in the future. It is too late now. But what are the remedies?

3G is not spectrum range, it is highly efficient next generation telecom equipment. In all countries this equipment has been allowed on allotted 2G or 3G spectrum ranges. As a matter of fact, the Blackberry sort of services are like 3G services, though not so clearly defined. In band EVDO on CDMA spectrum is also such a service.

If we are interested in dispersion of broadband services and not only the money aspect, the first step we should take is to allow 3G equipment to be installed on 2G spectrum. This is allowed all over the world, the present licence in India does not ban this, and it was sort of allowed when Blackberry services were rolled out. We have 10 operators, five will get 3G spectrum. What will the others do? They can install 3G equipment on existing 2G spectrum, this could also prevent runaway bids for 3G spectrum.

Our broadband density is far less than 1%. If the above step is taken there would no be upward pressure on 3G prices and thus broadband rates would not be pushed to a level that the service does not grow like early 2G. It may be recalled that ultimately the government made more money after abolishing entry fee and reducing revenue share of 2G (Voice), than in the first high entry fee scheme.

The next issue is broadband wireless spectrum (BWA or WiMAX). Let us first understand the difference in this spectrum. It can only be operated thorough an expensive computer or a laptop. Voice is presently not allowed on this equipment.

Had the Convergence Act been approved in 2001, or Unified Licence allowed as per Trai’s recommendation in 2004, or voice over internet allowed as per Trai’s recommendation in 2008, voice would have been allowed over BWA networks. Most countries allow this.

But this is not allowed in India and consequently BWA only carries data and not voice. In today’s market, data is far less than voice traffic — less that 10%. How can the upset price for BWA be half of the 3G price (where voice is fully allowed on cheaper mobile handsets). What will happen now is that BWA bids would be far less than Rs 1,750 crore and will not be closed.

Later, the successful 3G bidders will ensure that BWA (4G) never comes into India and we will lose all opportunities of broadband development in rural areas through wireless. Hence if at all, the government should make a declaration that whatever is the auction price for BWA, the bid will be accepted — and voice over internet should be allowed immediately.

We used to give huge subsidies for fixed rural telephones. The acceptance of the tower scheme by the government in 2007, based on Trai’s 2004 recommendation has led to unbelievable growth in rural telephony at far less subsidy. Consequently, rural telephony today has exceeded 300% of 2010 targets, yet there are huge balances (Rs 10,000 crore) in the USO fund.

We will now do the unthinkable. We will earn Rs 20,000 crore from the 3G/BWA auctions and then subsidise BWA in rural areas through USO funds. Naturally, there would be huge leakages. Perhaps having learnt from the 2G experience, we could have done better. It is not too late even now. We can:

Allow 3G equipment on existing 2G Spectrum and distribute balance 2G spectrum in technology agnostic manner for GSM and CDMA within present agreements. (Trai recommendations are already pending acceptance).

Allow VOIP, so that BWA becomes far more useful than it is today. Trai recommendations are pending acceptance and most countries allow this.

Good connectivity led to the BPO/call centre/software urban revolution in the early ’90s. This revolution will travel to the villages if the above steps are taken. It is repeatedly said and widely accepted that this is a rural-centric UPA government, and it must not miss this opportunity of empowering villagers.

(The author is former chairman, Trai)









Exporters in India could not have asked for a better foreign trade policy than the one presented by commerce minister Anand Sharma on Thursday. It may not have had dramatic announcements but it certainly went down to the smallest exporter and looked into his requirements. And if exporters still have grievances they can go to the centralised directorate of trade remedy measures. The policy announced in 2004 by the first UPA government delivered as promised. A lot of thought went into the architecture of the 2009 policy, and according to trade experts it has remedied many of the faultlines which had proved a stumbling block to the growth of trade in the last 10 to 15 years. What might help Mr Sharma to smoothly implement his new policy is his close rapport with finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, under whom he had worked as a junior minister in the foreign office in the last government. The success of any foreign trade policy depends to a large extent on timely and effective support action by the finance ministry, such as in prompt issuing of the relevant notifications so that exporters can get the envisaged benefits. This did not happen in some cases in the past due to friction between the commerce and finance ministries.
One of its most interesting aspects is a truly global outlook, which encourages exporters to diversifiy into 26 new markets countries under the Focus Market Scheme and 13 more under the Market-Linked Product Scheme. It provides incentives of nearly three per cent under these schemes, much needed in view of the financial troubles plaguing traditional markets such as the United States, Britain and the rest of the European Union. Exporters, it is hoped, will seek new opportunities in Latin America, Africa, Oceania and the CIS countries. Companies which had earlier ventured into these territories under the aegis of the Exim Bank can vouch for the opportunities there. This will help the pharma, textiles, synthetic rayons and a host of industries to diversify into new markets.

Traditional exports like leather, handicrafts, textiles, engineering, chemicals and basic chemicals will also get a fillip with the introduction of the grant of the “status holders” incentive scheme, which will enable them to import capital goods at zero duty. This will certainly help to modernise these sectors and make them more competitive.

While the new policy is expected to take the country’s exports to $200 billion by March 2011 and double that in the next three years, there is a dire need to improve all the infrastructure related to exports. This includes better road, rail and port connectivity, as well as timely implementation of the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor. Other highlights of the policy include extending the income-tax exemption deadline, which will help the gems and jewellery sector, and a reduction in the substantial fees exporters have to pay for licences: from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 1 lakh. And there’s always room to ask for more. One trade body is looking forward to the commerce minister implementing the e-trade project in a time-bound manner to bring about a substantial reduction in transaction costs, which now varies between five to eight per cent of FOB value.










 “She never reads for truth

But only for sensation

I placed a bet on love and lost

On Casablanca station”.

From The Love Song of

J.P.X. Jaganbhai by Bachchoo


I have lived a long time without asking myself what the precise difference between sex and gender is. I am now told — I can’t help but hear, because it is loudly proclaimed from the speakers of TV sets and radios — that “gender” is a purely grammatical concept whereas sex is — Well! — the real thing!


The distinction is being proclaimed because a young South African athlete, who spectacularly set a new world record for the women’s 800 metres race in the current Berlin World Athletic Games, is under suspicion of really being a man.


One would have thought that a very brief sojourn in the changing rooms would settle the matter. But no!


Poor Caster Semenya, the “woman” in question, was asked if she was a man, but no examination of the obvious sort took place. Instead the world was told what, to my untutored mind, came as something of a surprise.


The spokesman for the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), one Nick Davies, says that the tests necessary to determine the sex of Ms Semenya involve “an extremely complex procedure involving doctors, scientists, gynaecologists and psychologists”.


Apparently this is because there are a variety of sexual states in between what we know of and accept as the “male” and the “female”.


Most people’s sex awareness begins with a comparison of the apparatus one possesses with that of a member of the opposite sex.


One naturally takes what one possesses to be the universal state of being and then notices that a sister, a cousin or some other child, seems to be the proud possessor of alternative arrangements.


I don’t think it ever occurred to me, surveying as an infant my female cousin’s properties, that the complementary contrasts were unexpected or shocking. Girls were girls and boys were boys and there were differences to explore and celebrate. Obviously, at that age one didn’t know how the apparatus fitted together or what it was for.


The other great lesson in sexual identity was provided by the backwardness of India. In my home town of Pune (then “Poona”) there was Dastur School, founded by Parsis for the benefit of the general community but with a Zoroastrian ethos, attended predominantly by Parsi children. I didn’t go to that school though several of my friends from the neighbourhood, including Kishan Abhichandani, a Sindhi, did.



The reputedly brilliant mathematics teacher of the school was a Parsi gentleman called Mr Diwan. He was slightly obese, had very distinct formations of breasts which showed through his shirt, circular hips and, though he was easily 40 when I became aware of his existence, no facial hair and so no necessity to shave. The male pupils of the school referred to him in Gujarati as “Diwan Hijro!” openly calling him a eunuch.


Even in my innocence I knew that shouting this epithet at him when he passed us in the street was rude and unacceptable, even though I didn’t know anything about the intermediate sexual state to which it referred.


In India hijras were (and still are!) everywhere, and one of them made me conspicuous in my crowd of friends when he/she crossed the street and caressing my cheek said, “Salim hein Salim!” and clapped with the hollows of his/her palms ringing. I had to live the name down. We always thought of hijras as “eunuchs” and I often wondered what sort of sexual apparatus they possessed.


A doctor friend enlightened me. These so called eunuchs, the hijras, were not eunuchs at all, they were “cryptorchids”.


They were born with male genitalia but as infants their testicles were trapped inside a peculiar bone formation of their crotch. A very simple medical procedure could release these testicles and allow them to drop as those of all males normally did. The paucity of medical attention and supervision in the country resulted in these growing boys having their testicles trapped and crushed instead of developing in the male way.


So while “hijras” possess a little boy’s penis, the machinery that would have made them preponderantly male with testosterone dominating their hormonal production has been crushed and they develop the secondary sexual features of males and females. Parents who observe their sons growing in this way give them away to be adopted by tribes of “their own kind”. Here, dear Indian reader, is a sadness that could be legislated away.


In the West you don’t have gangs of hijras at traffic lights begging for a living, clapping and parodying themselves, using their own being as ironic instruments to raise the price of a meal!


A simple medical procedure allowing the testicular drop, makes men of these, to me, unfortunate boys.


It is unfortunate that the athlete Ms Semenya will soon be the subject of tests to determine which chromosomes she carries, whether she has had a sex operation to change from being a boy to a girl while retaining some of the hormonal characteristic of boys which give oomph to the running muscles… etc.


I saw her and heard her speak on TV and she does possess a muscular frame, the lean hips of a lad and a deep voice. All these could be the characteristics of any one of the intermediate sexual forms that seem to have gained scientific morphological recognition. The sports committees and the Olympic associations have a problem. Should there be racing categories for each of these intermediate sexes? So there would be the Men’s 100m, the Women’s 100m, the XXY Chromosomic 100m, the XYY chromosomic 100m, the 70:30 testesterone: Oestrogen 100m… and so on and on.


Sorry, though I am for Ms Semenya and what she must be going through after assuming that she was what everyone thought of as a girl, the larger athletic dilemma bores me. Let the Olympic committeewallahs, with their fat salaries, come up with the solutions.


I am much more concerned that cryptorchidism be abolished forever from India, South Africa and everywhere and in my own yard that the Indian government passes a law to get doctors to examine and remedy, if bone structure necessitates, male child. Make hijras history!








So new budget projections show a cumulative deficit of $9 trillion over the next decade.


According to many commentators, that’s a terrifying number, requiring drastic action — in particular, of course, cancelling efforts to boost the economy and calling off healthcare reform.


The truth is more complicated and less frightening. Right now deficits are actually helping the economy. In fact, deficits here and in other major economies saved the world from a much deeper slump. The longer-term outlook is worrying, but it’s not catastrophic.


The only real reason for concern is political. The United States can deal with its debts if politicians of both parties are, in the end, willing to show at least a bit of maturity. Need I say more?


Let’s start with the effects of this year’s deficit.


There are two main reasons for the surge in red ink.


First, the recession has led both to a sharp drop in tax receipts and to increased spending on unemployment insurance and other safety-net programmes.


Second, there have been large outlays on financial rescues. These are counted as part of the deficit, although the government is acquiring assets in the process and will eventually get at least part of its money back.


What this tells us is that right now it’s good to run a deficit.


Consider what would have happened if the US government and its counterparts around the world had tried to balance their budgets as they did in the early 1930s. It’s a scary thought. If governments had raised taxes or slashed spending in the face of the slump, if they had refused to rescue distressed financial institutions, we could all too easily have seen a full replay of the Great Depression.


As I said, deficits saved the world.

In fact, we would be better off if governments were willing to run even larger deficits over the next year or two. The official White House forecast shows a nation stuck in purgatory for a prolonged period, with high unemployment persisting for years. If that’s at all correct — and I fear that it will be — we should be doing more, not less, to support the economy.


But what about all that debt we’re incurring? That’s a bad thing, but it’s important to have some perspective. Economists normally assess the sustainability of debt by looking at the ratio of debt to gross domestic product (GDP). And while $9 trillion is a huge sum, we also have a huge economy, which means that things aren’t as scary as you might think.


Here’s one way to look at it: We’re looking at a rise in the debt/GDP ratio of about 40 percentage points. The real interest on that additional debt (you want to subtract off inflation) will probably be around one per cent of GDP, or five per cent of federal revenue. That doesn’t sound like an overwhelming burden.


Now, this assumes that the US government’s credit will remain good so that it’s able to borrow at relatively low interest rates. So far, that’s still true. Despite the prospect of big deficits, the government is able to borrow money long term at an interest rate of less than 3.5 per cent, which is low by historical standards. People making bets with real money don’t seem to be worried about US solvency.


The numbers tell you why. According to the White House projections, by 2019, net federal debt will be around 70 per cent of GDP. That’s not good, but it’s within a range that has historically proved manageable for advanced countries, even those with relatively weak governments. In the early 1990s, Belgium — which is deeply divided along linguistic lines — had a net debt of 118 per cent of GDP, while Italy — which is, well, Italy — had a net debt of 114 per cent of GDP. Neither faced a financial crisis.So is there anything to worry about? Yes, but the dangers are political, not economic.


As I’ve said, those 10-year projections aren’t as bad as you may have heard. Over the really long term, however, the US government will have big problems unless it makes some major changes. In particular, it has to rein in the growth of Medicare and Medicaid spending.


That shouldn’t be hard in the context of overall healthcare reform.


After all, America spends far more on healthcare than other advanced countries, without better results, so
we should be able to make our system more cost-efficient.


But that won’t happen, of course, if even the most modest attempts to improve the system are successfully demagogued — by conservatives! — as efforts to “pull the plug on grandma”.


So don’t fret about this year’s deficit; we actually need to run up federal debt right now and need to keep doing it until the economy is on a solid path to recovery. And the extra debt should be manageable. If we face a potential problem, it’s not because the economy can’t handle the extra debt. Instead, it’s the politics, stupid.










It is amazing how the aam aadmi has responded to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bombshell — indifferently and with a sense of sardonic amusement. If anything, there has been a show of healthy irreverence, especially after Arun Shourie’s fiery outburst across countless TV channels. A couple of wicked observations at this point — Jaswant Singh hogged more media time than poor Shah Rukh Khan.


Most channels switched scheduled stories and panel discussions from the SRK imbroglio in Newark to the “Jassu Jaisa Koi Nahi” royal scandal heating up across India.


Jassu himself outdid top Bollywood stars who rush from one TV studio to the next before the launch of their latest blockbuster. Mr Singh, at one point, was everywhere… simultaneously… like a Jack-in-the-box. He had his quotes and expressions perfectly worked out and he cleverly made sure not to repeat himself.


Oh… and the voice sounded better than Amitabh Bachchan’s — could that have something to do with the magic potion laced with opium that he offers to his “subjects”?


About Mr Shourie — what can I say? Those of us who remember Mr Shourie as the firebrand editor of the Indian Express, were not surprised by his impeccable timing and the provocative choice of words. Sadly, there is a generation of “Twitter” type people out there who have never heard of Arun Shourie!! Shocking! I was amazed by their ignorance, till I realised their sense of history stops at 2005.


If one mentions the “Emergency”, they immediately associate it with a misplaced SIM card. And here I am not talking about uneducated, ignorant creeps but urban careerists — though, in real terms, they may qualify as urban illiterates.


I received hilarious responses when I wrote about the Jinnah-Jassu controversy on my blog, and quoted Mr Shourie’s Humpty Dumpty remark. Said someone naughtily, “Nothing new — that’s what politics is all about — humping and dumping!” I cracked up reading that comment. And then went on to the next one that stated solemnly, “Shall we observe a two-minute silence for the demise of the BJP?”


Such is the state of public opinion, it no longer matters who is getting thrown out of which party and why. The game of musical chairs carries on… and on… it’s Jaswant today, it should have been L.K. Advani yesterday, and it could be Rajnath Singh tomorrow. Mr Singh won from Darjeeling (where’s the bloody connection?). He is currently being wooed by the Samajwadi Party, and could join the Congress soon. Is anybody outraged? Hell, no. It’s business and politics as usual!


The happiest folks right now are Mr Singh’s publishers — a fairly boring book is selling like hotcakes. The only interesting portion in the uninspiring tome does not exceed beyond a few paragraphs. And even those are turgid. He has said nothing startling or new that hasn’t been said before (and better!) by others.


By expelling him like one expels a naughty school boy for not doing his homework on time, the BJP has devalued whatever little equity was left, post-elections and the resounding defeat at the polls.


By banning the book in Gujarat, Narendra Modi has further pumped up the sales. As we all know, the dry state of Gujarat is possibly the “wettest” state in India — by banning alcohol, Mr Modi has created countless closet-drunks who can’t get enough of the forbidden booze! Go to any of the fancy homes in Ahmedabad and the host is bound to sidle whispering, “Drink? Don’t worry… my bar is full”. So it is with the book. More copies got sold because of the ban and now it has become fashionable to flash it at visitors without reading the damn thing.


What next? Well… with so many rats abandoning the sinking ship, it is getting increasingly difficult to figure out who’s in and who’s not. Age issues have raised new problems. New blood, say some. While the oldie goldies refuse to budge from the gaddi. Is it at all possible to clone Rahul Gandhi? War has been declared, but against whom? If the “bad guy” is Mr Advani, hey, come on, he’s the same guy who went to Pakistan and praised everybody not so long ago. The world didn’t collapse then! It is also being speculated that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may be up for Pakistan’s highest civilian award soon. So? Will the sky fall down if he accepts it? Mr Jaswant Singh’s book is being lapped up across the border, and his promotional tour there will undoubtedly be a huge success.


The only person who could upstage him at this point is Sallu Bhai and his IPL dhamaka.


Imagine, Mr Jaswant Singh even managed to outshine the Imran Khan-Benazir Bhutto love chakkar which would otherwise have kept the chattering classes fully occupied on both sides of the border. But then again, one has to remember the attention span of the chattering classes these days.


For most, Imran and Benazir are two have-beens with no relevance to their lives. Tell them that Shahid Kapoor is about to marry Piggy Chops and there will be instant excitement. It boils down to the same blight that is destroying the BJP — youth issues.


There are things in life that politicians believe can be easily fixed (“ throw out the fellow and all will be well again”), and some that simply can’t — youth icons are impossible to “manufacture” overnight, especially in a party where the average age is over 70.


Today’s voter regards veterans as Ancient Mariners — dodderingly old creatures who should be preserved as fossils in a museum, if that. Cruel, but true. In such a scenario, nobody cares whether the BJP commits hara-kiri, self-destructs or disappears without a trace. Even the Jaswant saga is a two-day carnival — and largely because the media has played up the story and carried every sigh and groan.


I’m pretty sure Mr Singh is loving his current stardom — who wouldn’t? Here is a guy who’d been written off and his position diminished by party bosses who did not like his attitude (and angrezi accent?). He may have stuck it out for 30 years with the same parivar, but it was never the best or most compatible of relationships.


Now that the divorce is official, it remains to be seen which new bed partner Mr Singh takes up. As of now, he is playing the “single and ready to mingle” game.


It’s a good move and signals his availability. He claims he enjoys his independent status, and why not believe him?


There’s nothing quite as liberating as getting out of a bad marriage. Mr Singh has done just that. But bachke rehna, Sirji… idea achcha hai... but watch out for the kaminey in our midst.


Readers can send feedback [1]








In the days since Ted Kennedy’s death, the news programmes have shown and re-shown the unforgettable ending of his 1980 Democratic convention speech — the passage from Tennyson and the beautiful final lines: “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die”.


But if you go back earlier into the heart of that speech, you see how bold Kennedy’s agenda really was. His central argument was for a policy of full employment. Government should provide a job for every able-bodied American. His next big goal was what he called “reindustrialisation”. The computer revolution was just getting under way, but Kennedy called on government to restore the industrial might of America’s cities.


The third big goal was national health insurance. “Let us insist on real control over what doctors and hospitals can charge”, Kennedy cried.


There were other proposals. He vowed to use “the full power of government to master increasing prices”. Kennedy was proposing to fundamentally transform America’s political economy. He knew he had lost the nomination by this time, and his liberalism was unbound.


The speech was radical, and he could have gone back to the Senate, content to luxuriate in his own boldness. He could have excoriated his opponents for their villainy and given speeches about dreams that would never come true.


But Kennedy became something else. He became a compromiser. He became an incrementalist.


Those words have negative connotations. But they shouldn’t. Kennedy never abandoned his ambitious ideals, but his ability to forge compromises and champion gradual, incremental change created the legacy everybody is celebrating today: community health centers, the National Cancer Institute, the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Meals on Wheels programme, the renewal of the Voting Rights Act and the No Child Left Behind Act. The latter law, by the way, has narrowed the black-white achievement gap more than any other recent piece of legislation.


Kennedy’s life yields several important lessons. One is about the nature of political leadership. Woe have been taught since, well, since the days of Camelot to admire a particular sort of politician: the epic, charismatic Mount Rushmore candidate who sits atop his charger leading transformational change.


But the founders of this country designed the Constitution to frustrate that kind of leader.


The Constitution diffuses power, requires compromise and encourages incrementalism. The founders created a government that was cautious so that society might be dynamic.


Ted Kennedy was raised to prize one set of leadership skills and matured to find that he possessed another. He possessed the skills of the legislator, and if you ask 99 senators who was the best craftsman among them, they all will say Kennedy. He knew how to cut deals. He understood coalitions and other people’s motives and needs.


I once ran into John McCain after a negotiating session with Kennedy on an immigration bill they had co-sponsored. McCain was exhausted by the arduous and patient way his friend negotiated. In my last interview with Kennedy, I asked about big ideas, and his answers were nothing special. Then I asked about a minor provision in an ancient piece of legislation, and his command of the provision and how it got there was jaw-droppingly impressive.


There is a craft to governance, which depends less on academic intelligence than on a contextual awareness of how to bring people together. Kennedy possessed that awareness.


A second lesson involves the nature of change in America. We in this country have a distinct sort of society. We Americans work longer hours than any other people on earth. We switch jobs much more frequently than Western Europeans or the Japanese. We have high marriage rates and high divorce rates. We move more, volunteer more and murder each other more.


Out of this dynamic but sometimes merciless culture, a distinct style of American capitalism has emerged. The American economy is flexible and productive. America’s GDP per capita is nearly 50 per cent higher than France’s. But the American system is also unforgiving. It produces its share of insecurity and misery. This culture, this spirit, this system is not perfect, but it is our own. American voters welcome politicians who propose reforms that smooth the rough edges of the system. They do not welcome politicians and proposals that seek to contradict it. They do not welcome proposals that centralise power and substantially reduce individual choice. They resist proposals that put security above mobility and individual responsibility.


In 1980, Kennedy proposed an agenda that jarred with the traditions of American governance. In the decades since, a constrained Kennedy and a string of Republican co-sponsors produced reforms in keeping with it. The benefits are there for all to see.








Life in India has always been cheap — and nothing drives the point home more than the state of our healthcare system, even in the capital. There is simply not enough to go around — and the recent, terrifying photograph of a woman, Sahina, sitting with her almost-brain dead son Mujahid on the pavement outside the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) trauma hospital, hoping for help, proved it. The situation called for personal intervention from the health minister, but unless it’s a global scare like the swine flu, which gets him headlines, why would he bother? His insouciance is enough to give anyone nightmares.


The poor mother did not have money for her child’s treatment and so was allegedly turned away. This is a country that boasts of “medical tourism” and where there has been a recent Rs 1,000 crores takeover by Fortis of a whole hospital chain. None of this, however, will automatically lead to universal medical treatment.


The ongoing debate in the United States over universal healthcare is something we should seriously conduct in India, as well. After all, if public money can be spent on building statues — the latest is Rs 350 crores by the Nationalist Congress Party-Congress combine on a Shivaji statue in Mumbai — there should be money available for free, universal healthcare.


However, this is not an easy issue to confront, as especially in a country like India, the sheer number of hospitals and doctors required is daunting. Also, as in the US, the medical insurance companies have a huge stake in subverting the debate, as do the large number of private practitioners and hospitals who would be very unhappy with the growth of free government medical help.


As someone who has been a beneficiary (albeit by proxy) of the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, I find both the current level of animosity towards it in the US, and the complete apathy towards it in India, totally inexplicable. Actually, it is one service which deserves to be emulated.


In London, we have a large NHS hospital almost across the road from where we live — and the few times I have been there (usually accompanying someone) I have never encountered any rudeness or refusal. Frankly, I would never even dream of going to a private hospital in the UK. In India, it’s quite the reverse. Even though we live close to AIIMS in Delhi — and the doctors are reputed to be excellent — the fear of being rudely treated and memories of dirty corridors and waiting rooms keep me away.


Besides, in India, we, the middle class, only go to a hospital where we “know” the doctor personally, or if someone has been able to introduce the doctor to us. But how does 99 per cent of the country — without access to prompt healthcare information or personal phone numbers of doctors — manage?


Is it ever going to be possible to introduce an NHS in our country? It is desperately needed and required — and its sheer efficient anonymity is a huge relief. You don’t have to know anyone, you don’t even have to be a VIP — you can just walk in and you will be looked after. Even when my mother, as a visitor to the UK, accidentally fractured her wrist, they gave her immediate attention, though, of course, she had to queue up like everyone else.


Naturally, as a free service, the NHS is also the recipient of a lot of criticism. Yet, for a country with a rapidly aging population, it is specially good for the elderly, given the fact that most medical treatment is costly.


For them, there is enormous comfort in knowing that once your doctor has filled in your prescription, you can pick up your medication (no matter how expensive) from any chemist in the UK, completely free of cost. It is a similar case when people have long-drawn out treatments, requiring hospital stay. In India I’ve heard horror stories of people being turned out of hospitals because the expense became unmanageable. But under the NHS, if the illness requires it, a longer stay is possible with complete medical supervision.


Both the current Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Leader of the Opposition, David Cameron, have acknowledged their personal debt to the service. Mr Brown because he had a football accident in school and almost lost his eyesight; Mr Cameron because he had a mentally-challenged child, and needed the NHS day and night.

Despite all the positive NHS stories, US President Barack Obama is facing an uphill task both in Congress and outside in proposing a similar system. Unsurprisingly, TV channels in the US are flooded with advertisements advocating free choice.


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









Why do most attempts at raising the quality of life in Calcutta end up raising little other than stress and danger levels for its ordinary citizens? The new flyovers could be taken as the first signs of a phase of ‘improvements’ in the city. Yet, after the disruptions caused by the slow and cumbersome process of their construction, Calcuttans did not take long to realize that these flyovers not only spoilt the few eye-catching streets and facades that were left, but they also made scarcely any difference to the state of the traffic. With little foresight and planning behind them, and with the civic authorities quite ignorant about complex traffic management, the congestion only got worse. For the flyovers to work, it is not enough to just build them without thinking about every other related factor, from ways of keeping the vehicle count in check to the maintenance of these newly built structures.


It is the same story with taking old, polluting vehicles off the streets. After years of criminal delay, when some vehicles did go off the streets, what followed was chaos and acute inconvenience for the commuters. Once again, there was no planning on how to create alternative transport systems, build more LPG outlets or quickly process bank loans for those who wanted to replace their old vehicles with new ones. There was only the endless, callous killing of time. The time gained was used to do nothing but ignore the courts, harass citizens and seriously damage their health, and keep alive a debased populism over which rival political parties found themselves in perfect agreement. Of course, a great deal of money and power were at stake here, as with the building of the flyovers.


The same pattern is being repeated now with the extension of the Metro Railway. Even if half the time and energy spent in thinking up absurd names for the new stations had gone into working out a strategy for coping with the increased number of passengers, then travelling on the Metro would not have become the dangerous nightmare it has turned into over the last few days. The expansion demanded parallel action regarding frequency of trains, more ticket counters, more people to man them, a fresh look at safety and security, and teaching new commuters how to conduct themselves without putting themselves and others at risk. Just noting how frequently the escalators have to be taken apart in order to keep them working should make regular commuters worried about the standards of safety in the stations. And if the escalators are in such a state, what about the rest of the stuff? Trains with handrails, panels and doors coming apart, exposed electrical wiring next to leaking water-pipes in the stations — all look fairly dodgy and grim, even if one decides to overlook the question of aesthetics.


When lopped limbs and damaged lungs are part of the normal course of things, it is ridiculous to complain about overcrowding or ugliness. To be able to get to work or return home in one piece is all one can hope for.








Last year, I visited Arunachal Pradesh at the invitation of the Rajiv Gandhi University. After my talk my hosts took me on a tour of Itanagar, with halts at the Jawaharlal Nehru State Museum and the Indira Gandhi State Park. The next day, I proceeded from Itanagar to Guwahati, a long, eleven-hour drive through beautiful country, hills, forests, paddy fields and all. Just before we reached our destination, we passed a strangely-shaped building with a shining yellow roof, recently built by the state government of Assam, and named the Rajiv Gandhi Indoor Stadium.


I recalled, on that trip to the North-east, reading a recent report in The Telegraph by Radhika Ramaseshan, “With you, every waking hour” (August 14), which noted that a scheme for the provision of cooking gas was to be renamed after Rajiv Gandhi. This, apparently, was the 175th government scheme named after Rajiv, Indira, or Nehru. Thus, as Ramaseshan wrote, “From dawn to dusk and beyond, just as at least one Amitabh Bachchan movie used to be viewed by a fan at any given point of time, one scheme or the other named after a Nehru-Gandhi will touch — or hope to touch — the everyday life of some Indians in some corner of the country.”


The act of attaching the name of one or other of India’s most powerful political family to schemes, colleges, museums, stadia, and so on, is not merely, or even principally, a means of acknowledging their contributions to the nation. As often as not, it is a shrewd attempt at career advancement. When a new airport was built in Hyderabad some years ago, the logical — and best — decision would have been to name it after some great icon of the Andhra country. An inspired chief minister might even have held a poll among his constituents, with each Andhra-ite asked to offer his choice of person whose name was to be attached to the new airport. The more literary-minded might have suggested the poet Sri Sri; the music-minded the composer Thyagaraja. History-minded Andhras would have voted for a medieval king or kingdom. Members or supporters of the Telugu Desam Party would have voted for N.T. Rama Rao (as would have very many apolitical film buffs), whereas Congressmen (and Reddys) might have voted for K. Brahmananda Reddy or N. Sanjiva Reddy. The parliamentary communists would have chosen P. Sundarayya, the Naxalites T. Nagi Reddy.


Had the chief minister sought to take the pulse of the people, it would have made for a lively contest — with articles in the newspapers and programmes on television debating the merits and credentials of various names and candidates. But Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy pre-empted the debate by unilaterally deciding to name the new airport after Rajiv Gandhi, so as to all the better ingratiate himself with the late prime minister’s widow, who is the president of the party to which he belongs. In the same manner, the cooking-gas scheme has acquired its new name not because of the contributions to the petrochemical field of the seventh prime minister of India, but because — to quote Ramaseshan once more — the relevant “Congress ministers and satraps [were] keen to catch the eye of the first family”.


To be sure, the names of other Indian airports also reflect a political bias. The airport in Mumbai is named after Shivaji, the airport in Calcutta after Subhas Chandra Bose. One might have wished them to be named after non-political figures — if one can disembark at the Allama Iqbal airport in Lahore, why not at the Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore airport in Calcutta? Still, the names actually chosen represent a lesser evil — namely, regional pride rather than political sycophancy. For almost all Bengalis revere Bose, and almost all Maharashtrians honour the memory of Shivaji. Can one really say the same about all Andhra-ites and Rajiv Gandhi?


The university I spoke to in Itanagar, as well as the museum and park I visited, were all public institutions, run and funded by the state exchequer. So too the yellow-roofed monstrosity on the outskirts of Guwahati. As it happened, a couple of hours before I saw the sign for the stadium, my driver and I had stopped for lunch at a wayside eatery named Amritsari Punjabi Dhaba. Now, this name was not foisted on by an ambitious (or deferential) politician. Rather, it was willingly chosen by the dhaba’s proprietor to signal to the passing traveller both quality and affordability — characteristics usually associated with Punjabi food.


The contrast between the names of the stadium and of the eatery was telling indeed. It prompts this wider speculation that while artefacts publicly funded are usually named for instrumental or parochial reasons, those initiated by private parties more strongly reflect genuine sentiment and affection. Consider, for instance, that there is no public park, office, auditorium or stadium in Chennai named for C. Rajagopalachari (‘Rajaji’), although he was twice chief minister of the state of which Chennai is the capital (he was also the first Indian governor-general). This neglect is not accidental — it has all to do with the fact that Rajaji was born in a Brahmin household. Ironically, despite the rivalry between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, there is a major suburb of Bangalore named Rajaji Nagar, this reflecting the appreciation of its residents for a man who studied in the city, who was a major figure in national politics, and whose renditions of the Ramayan and Mahabharat have educated and entertained millions of Indians of different castes and ethnicities.


Perhaps the most transparent signs of personal preferences in this regard have to do with the names of babies. Admittedly, these too are sometimes chosen with an ulterior motive — we all know of children being named after uncles or grandfathers who have property to bequeath. More often, however, they reflect the tastes and preferences of the parents. Thus, a baby may be named after a favourite character in the epics, or after a living person one greatly admires.


In the latter category fall those very many babies who, born soon after Amartya Sen was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics in 1998, were named after him. All these babies were male, of course, but not all were Bengali. A Tamil friend named his son Amartya in the hope that in the years to come his progeny would exhibit the intelligence and charm — and possibly also acquire the success and good fortune — of the most famous living Indian intellectual. I think that it can be said without fear of contradiction that this was a more sincere tribute to Amartya Sen than that professedly offered to Rajiv Gandhi by Rajasekhar Reddy.


Postscript: In the article referred to above, Ramaseshan noted that Congressmen rued the opportunity missed by not naming the national rural employment guarantee programme — which reaches tens of millions of households — after Rajiv Gandhi. A week later, on his birth anniversary, the government announced the creation of Rajiv Gandhi Sewa Kendras in each of the country’s 250,000 panchayats, these bodies to serve as a clearing house of information about the NREGP. In making the announcement, the minister for rural development indicated that it is only a matter of time before the core programme itself is named after Rajiv Gandhi.










CREDIBILTY is critical to any sense of confidence a people may have in their national security apparatus, and who can deny that a mushroom cloud of uncertainty now hovers over India’s claim to possess an effective nuclear deterrent. Scientists may argue the quantum of the yield of the test of a thermo-nuclear device during the Shakti series 11 years ago, questions may be asked if more tests are immediately required so that the country will not be permanently disadvantaged should the Obama Administration apply the apprehended pressure to subscribe to the CTBT, and if doing so will jeopardise supplies to the non-military nuclear sector. Others would read political signals into the timing of former defence scientist, Dr K Santhanam, reopening a dispute never quite resolved earlier, his view getting fresh endorsement from another man-in-the-know. Sure none other than Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and other eminent scientists have rubbished the “fizzle” claim (and for good measure the outgoing navy chief confirmed that a long career had not cautioned him that fools rush in…) but the man in the street is entitled to more convincing explanations and reassurance. That pernicious practice of declaring every defence-related issue top secret and beyond the public domain has to be abandoned now that the issue is “full blown”. The smile the home minister triggered by asserting that only a genius would not be puzzled will soon dissipate. Aam aadmi is entitled to some enlightenment. Rather than a few more cursory rebuttals, a comprehensive, authentic statement from the Prime Minister is necessary. And it must be incontrovertible. Parliament would have been the appropriate platform, alas the next session is some way off.

There is no room for politicking in this dispute. For, though the tests were controversially conducted by the NDA government sans political consensus, the UPA has neither questioned the validity of the results nor backed off from the “weaponised status”. Huge are the international implications. True nobody ever dreamt that Pokhran II ended the nuclear asymmetry with China, a more favourable equation with the other potential adversary had been generally assumed. Is that assumption now tottering? It is time for categorical reassurance, more so because queries similar to what Dr Santhanam has now posed had been raised soon after May 1998. Be it the soldier on the frontline, a corporate executive occupied with a sales graph, or even a vendor pushing his “rehri”, they must be disarmed of suspicions/fears that their government had misled them on a matter of national security.







WITH remarkable alacrity ~ not always matched in the fulfilment of Presidential pledges ~ the Central government has decided to reserve 50 per cent of the seats in the three-tier panchayat system for women. To the extent that this will lead to more women entering the public sphere and make the panchayats more inclusive in their structural framework, the move is doubtless a milestone development. Most importantly, the gender balance has been maintained at the 50:50 level ~ up from the 67:33 male-female ratio. Hence the almost euphoric outpouring over this latest exercise in the empowerment of women with the I & B minister, Ambika Soni, hailing the move as a “path-breaking decision”.

Yes, it really is. However, it would not be cynical to suggest that such recourse to superlatives might be premature just yet. The real test of the panchayati raj is the delivery mechanism, a segment in which the network has failed abysmally and not merely in West Bengal. The union rural development minister, CP Joshi, certainly has his feet on the ground when he tempers such expressions as a “landmark decision” with a marked emphasis on “decentralised governance, transparency, accountability and responsiveness”. Precisely do such qualities of competent rural governance constitute the raison d’etre of panchayats, indeed performance benchmarks that all states would be proud of, but few are able to claim. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme has in recent years emerged as one of the prime responsibilities, but once again a project that in the hands of the panchayats has turned out to be a gigantic public sector disaster nationwide. Ergo, the empowerment of women, however forward the progression, cannot be reckoned as an end in itself.

It may be theoretically rational, but its success will hinge largely on the practical application by the overall gender-based construct. The expanded inclusiveness will be effective only if there is a dramatic improvement in the functioning of the panchayats, the quality of rural governance, the management of funds and most crucially, the alleviation of poverty.










THE West Bengal government has suffered a rather embarrassing rebuff with the Calcutta High Court (coram: Nijjar, CJ; and Ghosh, J) cancelling the notification that allowed post-2000 two-stroke auto-rickshaws to ply with an LPG kit. The order of the Bench, issued in July 2008, had directed the conversion to efficient models ~ four-stroke and run on LPG ~ of all autos dating back to 1990. And yet the transport department, having failed to effect the conversion, had clearly tried to cut corners on a matter that has been sub judice for more than a year. The notification has misfired with Thursday’s order and with it the government’s hope that the transport mess would be eased through an administrative diktat, as unilateral as it was thoughtless. Hence the stern warning that “no more circulars or notifications must be issued by the government”. Misfired too must be the expectation that both the owners’ lobby and the unions would thus be protected. If the deceptive improvement in auto services since 13 August, when the notification was issued, now deteriorates as it will, the transport department will be entirely responsible for the cock-up. Well may the new minister find the order “upsetting”. Mr Ranjit Kundu has been rapped on the knuckles at the threshold of his tenure.

The major underpinning of the judicial intervention ~ the need to contain pollution ~ doesn’t appear to have been grasped either by the administration or the operators. The minister need not have laboured the obvious by concluding that the “High Court order will have to be complied with”. The almost conscious decision not to comply is central to the crisis that has plagued urban transportation for close to a month. Neither has pollution been checked nor has conveyance improved by the administration’s calculated exercise in dodging. The singular casualty has been the commuter, most particularly those who rely on the auto as an adjunct service to the Metro. The new minister has three critical compulsions before him ~ transport will have to be normalised, the court order obeyed and pollution controlled. Quick-fixes and contrived escape routes, bypassing the judiciary, will be counter-productive.








LONDON, 28 AUG: The sight of a spider crawling the wall makes many people scream and run ~ but a new study says that women are four times more likely to be fearful than men as they are genetically primed to get scared.

An international team has found women are genetically predisposed to develop fears for potentially dangerous animals ~ in fact, once baby girls have learned to associate spiders with fear, they don't forget, but boys do.


“It makes evolutionary sense to acquire spider fear at a certain age, rather than to be born with it. There is little reason for an infant to fear an object unless it responds to it for example by crawling away,” the New Scientist quoted team leader Mr David Rakison of Carnegie Mellon University.

In their study, the researchers found that baby girls only 11 months old rapidly start to associate pictures of spiders with fear. Baby boys remain blithely indifferent to this connection.

In an initial training phase, they showed 10 baby girls and boys a picture of a spider together with a fearful face. In the following test phase, they let them watch the image of a spider paired with a happy face, and the image of a flower paired with a fearful face.

Despite the spider's happy companion, the girls looked significantly longer at it than at the flower. The researchers took this to mean that the girls expected spiders to be linked with fear. The boys looked for an equal time at both images. PTI








EVEN 62 years after Independence, there is considerable interest in the debate on the role of Jinnah in Indian history. The basis of that history began long before 1947. The reality is that since time immemorial India has essentially been a geographical area and not a state or a nation-state. This is clear from the Vishnu Purana, II,3.1: 

Uttaram yat samudrasya/Himadreschaiva dakshinam, / Varsham tad Bharatam nama/Bharati yatra santatih. (The country that lies north of the ocean and south of the snowy mountains is called Bharata; there dwell the descendants of Bharata) 


Within this geographical entity rose and fell numerous kings, kingdoms, dynasties, principalities and monarchs for thousands of years. However, in the absence of technology, telecommunication and transport, hardly anyone before 1947 could hold on to a territory as vast as India. Wars were frequent, the homogeneous cultural bond notwithstanding. Historically, the rulers with a foreign origin found India to be a convenient destination to rule, relax and retire. That idea also appealed to the Muslim leaders of India, pre-eminently Syed Ahmed Khan, Iqbal, Rahmat Ali and Jinnah. 


During the 19th and 20th centuries, they strived for a separate homeland for the Muslims of India on the basis of the two-nation theory, the unacceptability of the democratic right to vote and the rejection of the Congress as a club of and for the Hindus. Indeed, the Muslim League, founded in Dhaka in 1906, always focussed on this sharp psychological barrier. It claimed that despite the vast majority of non-Muslims, the Muslims had a marked presence in geographical India’s demography from the 11th century to the arrival of the British.

In a sense, British rule over India was also a sort of minority rule over an overwhelmingly vast majority of non-British citizens. Hence it would be factually correct to reckon that geographical India, through the ages, was ruled by a minority. The concept of majority rule emerged only when a political Indian state was born.

Which explains why even today the Pakistanis have not overcome the hangover of a ruler’s psyche. As one publication has remarked: “We were the ruling warrior class of the whole of Hindustan for centuries. Our predecessor, Babur, with a force of 12000, defeated the Indians despite numerical superiority. We were betrayed by the Hindus who joined the British and the latter schemed to hand over power to the Hindus instead of us who were the traditional rulers from whom they snatched power.”

It is in this context that the psyche of Jinnah can perhaps be analysed. After a point, he was focussed on Pakistan. The political wrangling during that phase of Indian history is well-documented. Notably, his singular action that cost thousands of innocent lives beginning Friday, 16 August 1946, in Calcutta. On 27 July 1946, Jinnah gave a call to the Muslims of India to observe “Direct Action Day” on 16 August 1946, with the aim of achieving the goal of Pakistan: “Muslims of India would not rest contented with anything less than the immediate establishment of independent and fully sovereign state of Pakistan. Now the time has come for the Muslim nation to resort to direct action. We have taken a most historic decision. Today we have said good-bye to constitutional methods. We also have a pistol”, thundered Jinnah. 

The Muslim League’s Suhrawardy was then the leader of undivided Bengal. Jinnah’s call for a state-sponsored movement received a prompt response from Calcutta’s Muslim League Mayor, Mohammad Usman. He called for a jihad on 16 August 1946 by issuing a leaflet titled Munajat for jihad. The communal riots were much too horrifying to recapitulate.

Jinnah decided to continue with his “direct action” even after his dream of Pakistan was fulfilled. He masterminded a frontal assault on Kashmir in October 1947, thereby extending the literally bloody legacy through the length and breadth of geographical India. In contrast to Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru and Patel, Jinnah never tried to stop the annihilation and mass migration of the minorities from Pakistan, his one-off “secular” speech notwithstanding.

Whatever their shortcomings, Congressmen can never be criticised for their failure to match the lopsided, unbalanced, myopic, inflexible stand of Jinnah. Congressmen never called for “Direct Action” or revenge. A fair amount has been written about Jinnah’s “secular” credentials as reflected in his speech on 11 August 1947 in the Pakistan National Assembly. “You are free to go to your mosques, or any other place of worship... You may belong to any religion, caste or creed, that has nothing to do with the business of the state”.


According to the Punjabi scholar, Dr. Kripal Singh, Jinnah was advised to make that statement by Lord Ismay, who in turn acted at the behest of Mountbatten to douse the raging communal fire across Pakistan and the Indian Punjab. It was a belated attempt to reassure the Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan in the context of the perceived plight of the Muslim minority in India. Jinnah’s call for what amounted to a state-sponsored massacre of the non-Muslims and his August 1946 declaration ~ “We shall have India divided or we shall have India destroyed” ~ need to be taken note of by all Jinnah commentators. He stands conspicuous in the midst of destruction and devastation that marked Independence and Partition.
The Jallianwala Bagh tragedy (13 April 1919) witnessed the massacre by the British of hundreds of innocent Indians, irrespective of religion. Jinnah’s “direct action” led to the killing of one section of Indians by another section, led by the likes of Suhrawardy. Jallianwala Bagh witnessed a single day’s crime, however murderous. The momentum generated by the crime of “Direct Action” persisted for days, thereby snapping the bond that existed between the two communities. It was a mutual massacre of people belonging to the same country.

Hence, the counter-criticism of Gandhi, Nehru and Patel can neither mask nor defend nor for that matter justify the mala fide culpability of Jinnah in the communal riots. “Direct Action” reinforced the man’s personality trait.

The writer is an alumnus of the National Defence College of India and a Member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London











India’s oilseeds output in 2008-09 is estimated to be 28.16 million tonnes, which is quite deficient as the demand stood at 45.46 million tonnes. The output in 2009-10 is projected to fall due to deficient monsoon this year. It has stood at 25 million tonnes since 1998-99. Oilseeds production accounts for 7.4 per cent of the global production and is considered as the fourth-largest edible oil country in the world.

The earlier policy allowing free import of oilseeds was detrimental to the interests of oilseeds growing farmers and a set-back on development of oilseeds for achieving self-sufficiency. As a result, the country remained dependent on imported edible oils. There has been a significant increase in imports of crude palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia.

The ‘yellow revolution’ in oilseeds owes its earlier success to a spectacular increase in output to 24.75 million tonnes in 1998-99 from 10.83 million tonnes in 1985-86. But thereafter, we have not been able to achieve self-sufficiency in oilseeds. Current production is not enough to meet the needs of cooking oils of our growing population.

The annual demand has risen to over 125 lakh tonnes whereas production is hardly around 75 lakh tonnes. The shortage is met by imports every year from Argentina, Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia. Annual oilseeds imports, which account for about five million tonnes, cost Rs 15,873.6 crore in 2008-09 from Rs 10,942.54 crore in 2007-08. It is estimated that the demand in 2020 may touch 20.8 million tonnes, requiring a production of 60 million tonnes of oilseeds, and that the per capita oil consumption may rise to 16 kg annually.

Edible oil is an important constituent of the Indian diet. Beside being a source of energy, they add a special flavour and palatability to food. The annual per capita consumption is 11.1 kg against the world average of 14.5 kg and the average of 26 kg in developed countries. Edible oil consumption is likely to increase with rising of per capita income. However, the daily in-take of fat should not contribute more than 15-20 per cent calories.

There is potential to produce about 25 lakh tonnes of oil from non-conventional sources, but hardly about eight lakh tonnes are being utilised. It is important to work out a strategy to exploit maximum potential from these sources.

The spectacular success of the yellow revolution in 1998-99 could be attributed to an increase in the cultivable area to about 26 million hectares and an integrated approach that gave over-riding priority through a technology mission. Aimed at accelerating self-reliance in oilseeds, the approach adopted envisaged developing and taking modern technological inputs to farmers, thereby providing them incentive prices and storage and processing facilities.

The National Dairy Board was entrusted with the task to develop groundnut production in Gujarat through farmers’ oilseeds societies. The national Oilseeds and Vegetable Oils Development Board was entrusted to popularise oilseeds in non-traditional areas. Also, an oilseeds production thrust project was initiated to accelerate production of four major oilseeds — groundnut, mustard-rapeseed, soybean and sunflower.


The integrated oilseeds development programme was initiated in different states with more than 3,000 oilseed societies involving 13 lakh farmers and 25 lakh hectares of land. Despite these efforts, our oilseeds productivity continues to be as low as 944 kg per hectare when compared to the world level at 1,632 kg per hectare.

At present, there is not much scope to expand the cultivable area under oilseeds. The continuing shortage of cooking oils would suggest that the Oilseeds Technology Mission and growing oil palms have had little impact. These energy-rich crops suffer from a number of constraints as they are grown in poor environment and are susceptible to pests and diseases. Besides, farmers preferred to grow high-yielding cereals to earn higher profits. However, in the recent past, improved technology has been developed to boost output.

As major crops, oilseeds meet the country’s needs for edible oils. A second yellow revolution is crying need of the hour. Also, a technical breakthrough in dryland farming is needed to maximise yield, productivity and farm income. Achieving the aim of making the country self-sufficient in oilseeds would have a great impact on agriculture and the economy and would help reduce dependence on foreign markets.









How many people say, “I’m just a banker”, or “I’m just a lawyer”? It seems to be only housewives who denigrate themselves into an apology for not having a ‘proper’ job.

These people do not know the results of a British government study that: while full time employees put in a total weekday workload of 56 hours, housewives put in 76 hours, with no regular work timings, pay (let alone overtime), fringe benefits, pension or any of the other accoutrements others always strike for.

For many, the word ‘housewife’ has the overtones of second class citizens, with no opportunities for financial independence, intellectual stimulation or social interaction. That we multi-task better is admitted.

We are teachers in whose hands the intellectual, physical and emotional well-being of the next rulers of the world rests. We are medical experts who know when our family needs a soothing hand or a dash to the ER of the nearest hospital.

We need to know how to remove from a freshly cleaned floor two hours before a company party. We need to be counsellors to repair the fragile self-esteem of a face with a fresh crop of pimples before a date.

We are diplomats who need to broker peace with the finesse of a tightrope walker, culinary experts putting together a hearty midnight snack for six starving teenagers, social secretaries who juggle the impossible diaries of two teenagers and their frustrated father.

Today there are gadgets to take the tedium of chores away. Also opportunities for stimulation are endless — music lessons, classes of all kinds, gyms sprouting up at every street corner, volunteering choices. I know of jewellery designers, seamstresses, potters, counsellors, writers, all working from home and enjoying it.

Some actually make that choice with full awareness. Our older daughter gave up her highflying career to become a mother. But she took care of herself by becoming a classical pianist, an avid gardener, tennis player and volunteer on boards with meaningful programmes. The glow of satisfaction on her face when she sees her two contented well-rounded children is priceless. She is paying a price financially, but there is no discontent.

Nigella Lawson is supposed to have coined the word ‘domestic goddess’ for housewives. However, I’d be happy removing the word ‘just’ when describing ourselves — housewives, homemakers, mothers, wives — and be proud of that.








Five months after President Obama announced a new approach to Afghanistan that was supposed to invest more heavily in nonmilitary programs, American commanders are talking about adding troops to an increasingly tough fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.


Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the situation is “serious, and it is deteriorating.” A few days later, four more American soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb, making 2009 the deadliest year for United States and NATO forces there. So it is understandable that polls show that many Americans are tiring of the 8-year-old war. Between Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has sacrificed more than 5,000 lives and spent more than $900 billion.


President Obama has correctly begun shifting attention and resources away from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is the more insidious threat. That increasingly fractious nation, with more than 60 nuclear weapons, is where the Taliban and Al Qaeda have their headquarters. Still, it is vital to keep asking whether every new investment is worth the cost and truly advances the United States’ security goals. That critical analysis did not occur enough during most of the Bush era in Iraq.


There are more than 100,000 Western troops in Afghanistan. Two-thirds are Americans, including 17,000 authorized by Mr. Obama in February, and even more may be needed. But that decision must be carefully weighed by the White House, Congress and the American people. In two weeks, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American commander, is to present his first war review. If he seeks more forces, he must explain how a greater reliance on troops would advance Mr. Obama’s promise of a “stronger, smarter and comprehensive strategy.”


That strategy was sold not just as a means of dislodging Taliban guerrillas from the strategic mountain passes and towns they have retaken in recent years. Mr. Obama also promised he would insist on a more capable and accountable government in Kabul, help farmers shift from poppy growing to other crops and build up an effective army and police force. He also must speed deployment of American civilians to help Afghan leaders carry out development projects, strengthen local governance and establish justice systems. Another critical task: reaching out to Taliban fighters willing to lay down their arms.


Politics is intruding. Because of Taliban attacks and voter apathy, turnout for the Aug. 20 election was disappointingly low and there were allegations of widespread fraud. Even worse, neither of the two main contenders offers serious solutions to the country’s problems.


President Hamid Karzai seems to have a lead over the primary challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, but the fraud charges are likely to unsettle the country for some time. Mr. Karzai’s cynical decision to ally himself with a former defense minister allegedly involved in drug trafficking and a warlord accused of war crimes is the wrong way to build the country’s future.


Under pressure from Congress to show progress by next spring, Obama administration officials had hoped that the election would show that Afghanistan was moving forward enough to justify more money and troops. If the election produces a government that even Afghanis do not consider legitimate, that task could be impossible.







The Obama administration laid down an appropriately tough line in late July when it released preliminary rules for the $4.3 billion pot of money known as the Race to the Top Fund. The administration rightly sees it as a way to spur reform by rewarding states that embrace high standards and bypassing those that do not.


Federal regulations are often modified in line with criticisms that arise during the legally mandated comment period. But Education Secretary Arne Duncan will need to hold firm against the likes of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, and others who are predictably clinging to the status quo.


The administration plan would award grants based on how well state applications cover several topic areas. States must, for example, submit plausible plans for improving teacher effectiveness, equalizing teacher quality across rich and poor schools. They must also show how they would turn around failing schools.


The most important provision — the one that should be non-negotiable — requires states to show how student achievement will be taken into account when judging teacher performance. The systems for making these judgments are still in the formative stages. And when they are developed, they might differ from place to place.


Of course, those systems need to be sensible and fair. But the country will never get where it needs to be if we take the approach — as union leaders have sometimes done — that student test scores should be out of bounds when it comes to judging teacher effectiveness. That is an indefensible position. The unions can either help to create this system, or get left behind.


In the past, the federal government talked a good game about requiring reform in exchange for federal dollars, then it caved when it came time to enforce the bargain. This time, Mr. Duncan has proposed using a closely calibrated evaluation process under which states get points for reforms they have made and points for changes they promise to make — as well as conditional financing that can be pulled back if the states fail to perform. Mr. Duncan should hold fast to that plan.







On the Internet today, a Web site run by a solo blogger can load as quickly as any corporate home page. Internet service providers, including leading cable and phone companies, want to be able to change that so they can give priority to businesses that pay, or make deals with, them.


A good bill that would guarantee so-called net neutrality has been introduced in the House. Congress should pass it, and the Obama administration should use its considerable power to make net neutrality the law.


If Internet service providers are allowed to choose among content, it would be bad for everyone but the service providers. Businesses could slow down or block their competitors’ Web content. A cable company whose leaders disapprove of a particular political or social cause could block sites supporting that cause.


Concerns about open networks are not limited to access to Web sites, and they are not hypothetical. In 2007, Verizon Wireless rejected Naral Pro-Choice America’s request to send text messages over its network, a decision Verizon reversed after an outpouring of criticism. Recently, Apple was criticized for rejecting an iPhone application, Google Voice, an Internet-based service that would permit users to make low-cost calls without using AT&T, which has an exclusive arrangement for the iPhone in this country. (Apple said it is still considering the application.) The Federal Communications Commission is investigating.


Representatives Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Anna Eshoo, Democrat of California, have introduced a bill to prohibit Internet service providers from blocking or discriminating against content that travels through their pipelines. It is likely to face fierce opposition from telecommunications and cable companies.


The best chance for guaranteeing net neutrality may lie with the Obama administration. Under the leadership of Chairman Julius Genachowski, the F.C.C. could adopt rules that would have the force of law.


President Obama, a truly Internet-savvy president, declared in May that he is “firmly committed to net neutrality so we can keep the Internet as it should be — open and free.” We hope he keeps that promise.







Ever since the job of public advocate was created 15 years ago in New York City, there have been questions about whether the position should exist.


The job is something of a hodgepodge established after a streamlining of city government. It is commonly known as the city’s ombudsman, the official who can criticize other elected officials, including the mayor. And that may be one reason why the last two mayors have argued strenuously to get rid of the office altogether.


But the public advocate also serves as a kind of vice mayor, casting tie votes at the City Council and, if the mayor cannot serve, taking his place until a special election. One of the most important jobs for the next public advocate will be demonstrating whether this position truly serves New Yorkers or whether someone else, like the comptroller, should be next in line to succeed the mayor.


The four Democrats running in the Sept. 15 primary have argued that they would prove their worth by creating a more powerful counterbalance to the city’s powerful mayor than the outgoing public advocate, Betsy Gotbaum.


Two of those candidates, Mark Green, who was the city’s first public advocate from 1994 to 2001, and Norman Siegel, a former executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, were particularly strong voices in opposition to former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who left office at the end of 2001. But the city and its politics have changed considerably under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.


It is no longer enough for a public advocate to be the anti-mayor, to hold press conferences and file lawsuits — the specialties of Mr. Green and Mr. Siegel. The office must be more than just a place for politicians to prepare a run for the mayoralty at the taxpayers’ expense.


A third candidate, City Councilman Eric Gioia of Queens, also has learned to use press conferences effectively to highlight city issues. But the next occupant needs a broader set of skills.


Because he has shown that he can work well with Mayor Bloomberg when it makes sense to do so while vehemently and eloquently opposing him when justified, City Councilman Bill de Blasio best fits today’s requirements for the job.


Mr. de Blasio has an impressive political résumé, starting with his time working for David Dinkins and later running Hillary Rodham Clinton’s United States Senate campaign. A City Council member from Brooklyn since 2001 and chairman of the Council’s General Welfare Committee, he has focused on helping many less-fortunate New Yorkers with food stamps, housing and children’s health. He has labored successfully for better schools and an improved quality of life for New Yorkers.


We have not always agreed with Mr. de Blasio, and we worry about his coziness with the state’s powerful unions. But, over all, he has the best temperament and best record of the four candidates. We endorse Bill de Blasio for public advocate.








When Jack Kennedy learned on a May morning in 1948 that his sister Kathleen, known as Kick, had been killed in a plane crash in Europe, he had been listening to recordings from the Broadway musical “Finian’s Rainbow.”


Jack, not yet 31, had already lost his older brother Joseph Jr., a Navy pilot whose plane exploded while on a bombing mission in World War II. It’s not easy to imagine the kind of resilience required to make your way through tragedies that, in the case of the Kennedys, often reached Shakespearean proportions. That resilience was one of the many things to admire about Jack and his siblings, fortunate in so many ways and damned in so many others.


It’s easy to miss the point about the Kennedys. The drama is always right there in your face to distract you. (Even now, with Ted barely gone, the struggle is under way over how his successor in the Senate is to be chosen, and whether Ted’s death will be a spur to — or the death knell for — health care reform.)


The most significant aspect of the Kennedys, more important than their reliably liberal politics or Ted’s long list of legislative accomplishments, was their ability to inspire. They offered the blessed gift of hope to millions, year after year and decade after decade. The key to understanding both the influence and the importance of the Kennedys was to pay close attention to what they said and what they tried to accomplish, and not let the depths of meaning in their words and aspirations become obscured by individual failings or shortcomings, the Kennedy Sturm und Drang.


So there was President Kennedy in 1963, in a landmark commencement address at American University in Washington at the height of the cold war, making an impassioned case on behalf of “the most important topic on earth: peace.” Calling for a halt to the arms race with the Soviet Union, Kennedy told the graduates that it was important for Americans to examine their attitudes toward peace.


“Too many of us think it is impossible,” he said. “Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are man-made, therefore they can be solved by man.”


The Kennedy message was always to aim higher, and they always — or almost always — appealed to our best instincts. So there was Bobby speaking to a group of women at a breakfast in Terre Haute, Ind., during the 1968 campaign. As David Halberstam recalled, Bobby told the audience: “The poor are hidden in our society. No one sees them anymore. They are a small minority in a rich country. Yet I am stunned by a lack of awareness of the rest of us toward them.”


Bobby cared about the poor and ordinary working people in a way that can seem peculiar in post-Reagan America. And his insights into the problems of urban ghettos in the 1960s seemed to point to some of the debilitating factors at work in much of the nation today. Bobby believed, as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. has noted, that the crisis of the cities ultimately came from “the destruction of the sense, and often the fact, of community, of human dialogue, the thousand invisible strands of common experience and purpose, affection and respect which tie men to their fellows.”


Kennedy worried about the dissolution of community in a world growing ever more “impersonal and abstract.” He wanted the American community to flourish, and he knew that could not be accomplished in an environment of increasing polarization, racial and otherwise.


“Ultimately,” he said, “America’s answer to the intolerant man is diversity, the very diversity which our heritage of religious freedom has inspired.”


Like his brothers and sisters (don’t forget Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the Special Olympics), Bobby believed deeply in public service and felt that the whole point of government was to widen the doors of access to those who were being left out.


“Camelot” became a metaphor for the Kennedys in the aftermath of Jack’s assassination. But I always found “Finian’s Rainbow” to be a more appropriate touchstone for the family, especially the song “Look to the Rainbow,” with the moving lyric, “Follow the fellow who follows a dream.”


That was Ted’s message at Bobby’s funeral. The Kennedys counseled us for half a century to be optimistic and to strive harder, to find the resilience to overcome those inevitable moments of tragedy and desolation, and to move steadily toward our better selves, as individuals and as a nation.


Ted’s burial today is a perfect opportunity to remember the best that the family has given us.








Liberals are flummoxed by the fact that obviously false and widely discredited claims about health care reform have not only taken root, but appear to be growing in acceptance.


According to a poll of 600 adults ages 18 and older, which was conducted Aug. 13 to 18 by Indiana University’s Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research and released last week, most Americans now believe that if health care reforms pass, health care services will be rationed and taxpayers will be required to pay for abortions. And although Republicans are the most likely to believe this, they aren’t the only ones. Nearly a third of Democrats and more than half of independents also believe it.


What gives?


Is it partly the utter gullibility of some people? Sure. Is it partly deep-seated resentment of the black man in the White House? No doubt. But it’s also about something more fundamental: fluctuations of basic trust in the federal government.


These fluctuations highlight a peculiar quirk of recent American politics — according to an analysis of The New York Times/CBS News polls from the past 33 years, Americans seem to trust the government substantially more after a Republican president is elected than they do after a Democratic one is elected — at least at the outset.


Since 1976, the polls have occasionally included the following question: “How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in Washington to do what is right — just about always, most of the time, or only some of the time?”


The first poll taken in which this question was asked after Ronald Reagan assumed office found that 51 percent trusted the government in Washington to do the right thing just about always or most of the time. For George H.W. Bush, it was 44 percent, and for George W. Bush it was 55 percent. Now compare that with the Democrats. In Jimmy Carter’s first poll, it was 35 percent. In Bill Clinton’s, it was 24 percent, and for Barack Obama’s, it was only 20 percent. (It should be noted that the first poll conducted during George W. Bush’s presidency came on the heels of 9/11.)


Surprisingly, Democrats’ trust in government was the same or higher after a Republican was elected than it was after a Democrat was elected. That in spite of the fact that all three Democratic presidents came into office at the same time that their party had won control of both chambers of Congress.


(It seems curious that the same party that believes in big government doesn’t trust that government to do the right thing when Democratic leaders control it. But Democrats are a curious lot.)


That said, it stands to reason that many people probably don’t trust Washington on health care reform because, right now at least, they just don’t trust Washington.


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There was a time when people in search of a full and meaningful life were advised to start off each morning by telling themselves: “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”


Now, we get up and hear: “Updates are ready for your computer.”


It’s depressing to realize that my computer is more bent on self-improvement than I am. At home, my laptop is so ready to update that it can barely be constrained. The other day, I found three different pleas floating around on the screen.


The “Dell Support Center Automatic Upgrade” was the most tempting since it sounded as if the computer wanted to give me a really good seat on a plane.


“Effective now,” the announcement continued, “these valuable messages are part of the new Dell Support Center. Dell needs to upgrade Dell Support without impeding system performance so that messages continue to be received.”


In other words, I need an upgrade so that I will better be able to receive more upgrade requests in the future. This is extremely important to my laptop, which is only offering me the response options of: More Details, Start Upgrade or Remind Me Later.


There was a time when I would have responded, but nothing good ever seemed to come of that. The updated computers were never any better at doing the things I wanted to do than the old ones. And there’s always the possibility that I could trigger an inadvertent disaster.


I have been permanently traumatized by an experience with my BlackBerry, which started sending me signals that it was unhappy about something. I kept clicking around, looking for a positive response, trying to show it that I was a partner, eager to keep up my end of the relationship. The upshot was that the BlackBerry began refusing to do anything whatsoever except call up the telephone number of former Senator Trent Lott.


My most benevolent theory about the updating requests is that my computers are just bored. The one I take on the road is always whining about the unused icons on my desktop, like a hyper-tidy roommate who follows you around saying, “Gee, I notice you haven’t made your bed. Do you want any help with that? I know it must be really hard to remember every day, but if you want me to remind you or anything. ...”


My home computer has begun to flash a Windows Genuine Advantage Notification, urging me to press a button so it can reduce software piracy and “help confirm that the copy of Windows installed on this PC is genuine and properly licensed.” This does not sound as if it’s all about me. In fact, the computer has no interest whatsoever in me, my BlackBerry crisis or my inability to make the iPod stop playing “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys all the time. It just wants a world where all its icons are tidily arranged, software is licensed, upgrade messages flow untrammeled and it feels better every day, in every way.


My darkest suspicion is that my computers are preparing to join their comrades in overthrowing humanity so machines can rule the earth. I have seen quite a few movies on this theme, and really, the signs are everywhere. The other day, Jim Dwyer reported in The Times about a man in Brooklyn whose oven broiler turns on every time the cellphone rings. Experts think this is caused by electromagnetic interference. However, I believe the oven is ticked off because its owners, in typical New York fashion, use it for storage rather than for actual cooking. And it is in cahoots with the cellphone, which probably is resentful because it is not allowed to spend its time doing the things cellphones really enjoy, like talking to Trent Lott.


The way you respond when your computer asks for an upgrade is a good test of how you relate to technology in general. My nephew Hugh and his friends seem as excited as the computers over the whole concept. “Actually, everyone would be fine with an annual update,” he said, “but that would make people feel like they were out of the loop. Unclean.”


I had a good deal of trouble getting hold of Hugh since he doesn’t respond to old-fashioned e-mail. “By the way,” he said delicately when we were finished talking, “if you tell people other than me that you’re writing a column on technology but don’t know how to text, they might sense, um, a — disconnect.”


Edward Tenner, a visiting scholar at the Rutgers University School of Communication and Information and author of “Why Things Bite Back,” told me he actually used to be in the if-it’s-not-broke-don’t-update camp, until his computer suffered a total meltdown. The tech who fixed it told him that he should have been installing the virus-detecting updates all along. “Don’t try to second-guess Microsoft,” he warned, in tones the professor has now taken to heart. Truly,  words to live by.  Every day in every way.








SIGMUND Freud arrived in Hoboken, N.J., 100 years ago today on his first and only visit to the United States. He came to lecture on psychoanalysis and to receive an honorary degree from Clark University, in Worcester, Mass. It was, he said, “an honorable call,” a mark of his academic success. Freud was then 53 and had been practicing for 23 years.


At the time, most doctors here and in Europe still considered mental illness to be caused by “degeneration” of the brain. They assumed that there was little to be done for it beyond physical treatments like diet, exercise, drugs, rest and massage. But a growing awareness that the mind could influence bodily functions was giving rise to debates about the nature of the unconscious mind.


G. Stanley Hall, the president of Clark and the first person to earn a doctorate in psychology from Harvard, invited American scientists to hear Freud’s ideas about the unconscious roots of mental illness. William James, the philosopher and psychologist, was among those who attended, as were other prominent academics, like Adolf Meyer, who would become perhaps the most important psychiatric educator in the first half of the 20th century, and Franz Boas, the father of American anthropology. Emma Goldman, the noted radical, who was also there, remarked, “Among the array of professors, looking stiff and important in their caps and gowns, Sigmund Freud, in ordinary attire, unassuming, almost shrinking, stood out like a giant among Pygmies.”


Speaking in German and without notes, Freud delivered five lectures covering the basic principles of psychoanalysis: hysteria and the psychoanalytic method, the idea that mental illness could arise from a person’s early experience, the importance of dreams and unconscious mental activity, infantile sexuality and the nature of transference.


When Freud learned that James would attend only one day, he chose that day to speak on the interpretation of dreams and the power of the unconscious. After the lecture, the two men spent more than an hour alone together. James would later express ambivalence about Freud’s ideas. “They can’t fail to throw light on human nature,” he wrote, “but I confess that he made on me personally the impression of a man obsessed with fixed ideas.”


While accounts of Freud’s visit have inevitably focused on this conversation with James, a less-known encounter with another prominent American scientist would become far more significant — for the two men and for the future of psychoanalysis in the United States. This person was James Jackson Putnam, a professor of neurology at Harvard and a leader of a growing movement to professionalize psychotherapy in the United States. Putnam and many other scientifically minded people were trying to counteract the growing influence of spiritual healers, who had been trying to treat the mentally ill with religious and mystical approaches. He had recently attended the first medical conference on psychotherapy, in New Haven.


After listening to Freud at Clark, Putnam invited him and the other psychoanalysts who had traveled with him to the United States — Carl Jung (who also lectured and received an honorary degree at Clark) and Sandor Ferenczi — to spend a few days at the Putnam family camp in the Adirondacks, after the group visited Niagara Falls. Freud marveled at Putnam Camp, “where we had an opportunity of being acquainted with the utter wilderness of such an American landscape.” In several days of hiking and feasting, Putnam and Freud cemented a strong bond.


It was, Freud would later write, “the most important personal relationship which arose from the meeting at Worcester.” Putnam lent his stature to Freud’s ideas, promoting the psychoanalytic approach as a way to reach those patients who had been considered incurable. “There are obvious limits to its usefulness,” Putnam wrote in 1910, “but nevertheless it strikes deeper than any other method now known to psychiatry, and reaches some of these very cases to which the terms degenerative and incurable have been applied, forcing us to recast our conception of these states.”


Talk therapy offered a message of hope, in contrast to the pessimism that came with theories of hereditary illness and degeneration.


Looking back on his trip a few years later, Freud wrote that it had been encouraging: “In Europe I felt as though I were despised; but over there I found myself received by the foremost men as an equal.”


Putnam would go on to become the first president of the American Psychoanalytic Association, in 1911. And psychoanalytic ideas would fairly rapidly become part and parcel of American culture and psychiatric education. Freudian terms like transference, the unconscious and the Oedipus complex entered the lexicon. And mental-health practitioners embarked on in-depth studies of their patients’ idiosyncratic life stories from childhood on. Thanks in large measure to Putnam’s work, psychoanalysis would become — and remain for 100 years — an ingrained and respected approach to treating mental illness of all kinds.


Leon Hoffman, a psychiatrist, is a co-director of the Pacella Parent Child Center of the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute.









The meeting of the National Finance Commission and emerging evidence that a serious effort is being made to reach agreement on an award allocating federal resources to the provinces is a huge achievement in itself. The last five-year award expired in 2002. Lack of consensus among the provinces meant no new award has been possible since then. The Musharraf government made an interim award in 2006 – but the fact that this was necessary in itself underscored the extent of our federal discord. The demands of the provinces are many. The NWFP seeks royalties on power and also says that the cost of being the frontline state in the war against terrorism should be calculated as part of the formula for the award. Sindh says that it should be compensated for the billions it has lost as a result of flawed awards in the past. Balochistan cites territory and underdevelopment as criteria for expanded finances. Punjab has in the past demanded that population be the basis of the award.

Addressing these conflicting demands represents a challenge. But, promisingly, there is already some evidence of progress. We are told that Punjab has agreed that other factors too should be considered while deciding on an award. This opens up possibilities of a fairer division of money, with development needs and geographical size also coming into play. There can be little doubt that our federation is at present an uneven one with vast differences in the distribution of wealth, levels of literacy and access to health care between one unit and the next. The finance minister has set September as the date by which a new award is to be finalised. We must hope that this timeframe will be adhered to. The failure to reach agreement, the many threats of boycott in the past made by provinces and the inability to reach consensus is a dangerous symptom of the weaknesses that afflict our federation. The units that make it up need to demonstrate that they have the maturity and ability to take a wider view of things and make the concessions that are always necessary when it comes to reaching decisions on complex issues.







The suicide bombing that killed at least 22 border guards at the Torkham security post in Khyber Agency is ominous. It suggests that the Taliban may be preparing for a new round of violence. There have been suggestions that the fiery new chief of the TTP will be keen to demonstrate that the group has not lost its ability to strike. Responsibility for the latest attack has been claimed by an Orakzai-based militant group known to be affiliated with the Taliban. It has also warned that there will be more bombings targeting security forces unless supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan stop. It is quite clear that it is premature to celebrate any final victory over the militants. Indeed, the latest suicide bombing demonstrates that it is pointless to launch an offensive in one place while leaving other units that make up the militia intact. The army is stated, perfectly logically, to be reluctant to begin any major operation in Waziristan till Swat is fully secured. But we must remind decision-makers that there can be no hope of an end to the kind of carnage seen in Khyber Agency until the militants are vanquished everywhere.

The suicide bombing at Torkham came as guards gathered to break their fast. Our religious leaders must speak out more openly against men who claim to act in the name of religion yet inflict the kind of suffering that is immoral no matter how one looks at it. In the longer run we must also try to understand why so many suicide bombers have rampaged through our country, despite the fact that Islam abhors the taking of one's own life. The offering of money to families in exchange for the lives of their sons, the desperation of these people as a consequence of poverty and the brainwashing that turns teenagers into killers is a part of this phenomenon. It must be tackled at all these levels, so that the tragic loss of life can come to an end.







Politics, education, religion and culture have all collided on the campus of a private school in Karachi. The cause of the collision is a textbook used in the teaching of biology to class seven students which includes several pages of text and graphics detailing the human reproductive process, internal and external organs, basic factual information about contraception and the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases. The textbook is imported from Singapore and is published by a company of international repute. The books we use to educate our children and the curriculum they are taught within have been the subject of bitter conflict for decades. Attempts to modernise or revise the national curriculum have been either half-hearted or frustrated by conservatives who resist any kind of change. State schools today offer a poor basic education which turns the increasingly affluent middle-class to the private sector, with many of the better private schools affiliated to foreign examination boards such as Oxford and Cambridge and teaching their students to GCE O- and A-level standards.

The discussion about this particular school has quickly turned both ugly and violent, with parents urged on by men with who-knows-what agenda breaking in to the school and demanding that the offending texts be removed – they have been – and that the teaching of music be optional rather than compulsory. Once again extremism trumps modernist thinking and practice and the controversy has the capacity to spread like wildfire. There are those – including an ever-energetic religious party – who are trying to mobilise the populace against modern methods of education and international curricular standards. The private schools are caught in the dilemma of being linked to a world outside where the educational environment is constantly evolving (and secular) – unlike the world where they operate which isn't. Our culture is naturally conservative, but this does not mean that we have to cut ourselves off from the wider world. There is a desperate need for quality education, and if we do not educate our children better than we do currently then we deserve nothing less than a place at the bottom of every pile we are part of. This particular school controversy exemplifies everything that holds us back from being a part of the modern world. We need not ditch our values for those of the west, but we do need to find a middle-ground that allows the responsible and culturally appropriate teaching of human biology.








THE newly-constituted National Finance Commission (NFC) at its maiden meeting in Islamabad on Thursday started deliberations on a positive note, which augurs well for the outcome of the exercise. The participants unanimously agreed to add to the agenda some of the highly contentious and complex issues, which is reflective of the large-heartedness of the federation and the largest province, as these directly or indirectly have a bearing on the overall share of the province. It is good that at last serious and focused discussions have begun for the 7th NFC Award and hopefully these would help sort out different issues that are being agitated by the federating units. Each and every province has its own perception and formula for distribution of resources from the federally divisible pool and the Centre too has some reservations in sacrificing its share from the pool. However, the provinces are unanimous on one point that they should get major chunk of the resources and that the federation must reduce its share and expenditure. No doubt, the Centre needs necessary allocations to meet ever-increasing defence requirements, which assume greater significance in the present-day context. The NWFP is claiming extra allocations to cope with the consequences of the war on terror but same is true of the Federal Government that is incurring huge expenses on the war itself and for relief and rehabilitation work in the affected areas. Similarly, Pakistan owes phenomenal foreign debt and its repayment is also the obligation of the Federal Government, which obviously requires necessary resources to pay them back. But it is also a fact that there are many unnecessary ministries and divisions that do nothing, as their counterparts in the provinces are performing the real job. It is regrettable that on political expediencies the Federal Government is increasing every now and then the number of ministries and divisions and in the recent past about a dozen more ministries were created just to accommodate the coalition partners and PPP aspirants for the top slots. Therefore, there is a dire need to control and reduce this wasteful expenditure and allocation of more resources to the provinces so that they could accelerate the pace of developmental activities for the welfare of the masses. This is all the more necessary in the present-day context when there is bickering in federating units over distribution and control of resources. Strengthening and development of one part of Pakistan would contribute directly towards strengthening and development of the country. Therefore, we would urge all the stakeholders to adopt an accommodative approach so that all the contentious issues are resolved once for all obviating the need to constitute Commissions in future for distribution of financial award.







CLARIFICATIONS and explanations are necessary to put the record straight. In this backdrop, one can understand the spate of interviews being given by some of the former spies, master spies and those who remained associated in one way or the other with intelligence gathering set-up.

Pakistan has had scores of controversies like discovery of ‘Jinnah Pur” map, formation of IJI and killings in Karachi and role of agencies, governments and political parties in this regard. These happenings especially those of 80s and 90s have deeply affected the course of history in the country and contributed towards making and unmaking of governments. There is a lot of mud-slinging over why action was taken against MQM and why and at whose behest the IJI was formed and these issues involved unfortunate character assassination as well. Therefore, it is OK to put the record straight and that too at this stage when efforts are being made to begin a new era of reconciliation and smooth-sailing. But to re-ignite the controversies is against the very objective of the concept of reconciliation and mutual accommodation. Instead of burying the past, we are starting debate afresh as to who did what against whom leading to heightening of political temperatures. It is regrettable that custodians of state secrets have thought it appropriate to make revelations and counter-revelations to make things murkier, causing anxiety among the people. The first to throw stone was in charge of the internal security retired Brig. Imtiaz. He was followed by a senior director of the IB Rana Abdul Baqi who claimed that Brig Imtiaz tried to register cases of high treason against PPP leaders. And an ex-ISI official Retired Major Nadeem Dar made the disclosure that had recovered maps of Jinnah Pur from the headquarters of the MQM in Karachi. All this has started a heated debate over television channels and different motives are being ascribed to the campaign some alluding to efforts to malign PML (N) leadership and others at destabilization of the PPP. Anyhow, we believe that some of the past actions badly hurt the image of the country and it is need of the hour to adopt a forward looking approach. Instead of wasting our energies on unnecessary controversies, attention should be given to resolving problems of the people.







IN the backdrop of the controversy generated by the US plans to increase the structure and staff of its embassy in Islamabad, American Ambassador Anne W. Patterson Thursday invited a group of journalists to give her side of the story about expansion plan. She explained that the expansion plan was necessitated due to increase in the financial assistance being given to Pakistan. And about the most agitating question of the number of marines to be posted in Islamabad, she claimed that this would be less than 20 even after the completion of expansion project in six to seven years.

The briefing by the American Ambassador was in line with the direction given by Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke during his recent visit to Pakistan. Mr Liaquat Baloch of Jamaat-e-Islami had raised serious objections to reports about posting of about one thousand marines in Islamabad and the envoy had directed the ambassador to invite journalists to the embassy and give them briefing on the expansion project. We hope the explanation would pacify feelings here but revelation of the ambassador that they have hired about 200 houses in the capital for accommodation of their staff requires a bit more clarification by the embassy as well as the Government. This is because there is already annoyance among citizens that the foreigners and especially those hailing from the US do not care about local laws and regulations and cause inconvenience to their neighbours because of their rude behaviour and activities. Interior Ministry and CDA should also clarify the position with regard to security issues and rules governing acquisition of accommodation by foreign mission.











The seizure of 35 bags of blood by a mobile court from an illegally operated blood bank at south Jatrabari on Thursday once again points to unregulated trading in this life-saving substance of human body. Since no replacement to this body fluid has so far been developed artificially, patients in their critical or terminal stages can only hope to survive on blood of matching groups collected from a fellow human being. A blood bank is a storehouse of various blood groups, including the rare ones. But if the blood collected is of poor quality or contaminated because it has been collected from a person suffering from an incurable disease or has the history of drug addiction, the recipient runs the risk of getting the disease or the habit of addiction.


It is because of this, operation of blood banks demand both highly technical expertise and great care for collection, handling, preservation and distribution in time of emergency. Sandhani is the only organisation that has developed a standard system of blood bank operation here but this is purely on a voluntary basis. Reportedly most other ubiquitous blood banks which operate which commercially have no legal permission and take advantage of people's desperation. So critical a patient's condition may be at times that it does not allow any choice between substandard or contaminated blood and quality blood.
This brings us to the important issue that this vital substance for survival of the critically or terminally ill or injured is in high demand but the supply is meagre. If Sandhani founded by six medical students in 1977 with 16 units - one at each government medical college, a dental college and two private medical colleges, can spread the movement all across the country, why cannot this humanitarian service be replicated by government agencies concerned? The Red Crescent blood bank is also working well but we feel a coordinated move is necessary to make blood, particularly of the rare type, available to the patients in time of emergency. At the same time the illegally run blood banks have to be identified through a concerted drive for their permanent closure.           






There is an apprehension that the country may face fertiliser crisis in the next Boro season. Taking this in mind, the government has decided to restart production at Chittagong Urea Fertiliser Ltd (CUFL) and Polash Urea Fertiliser Factory, which was suspended earlier in March and April respectively due to shortage of gas, after the Eid-ul-Fitr. Ghorasal Urea Fertiliser Factory, where production was halted in August 2007, went into operation last Tuesday after long two years. Also Jamuna Fertiliser Factory, which could not produce fertiliser due to mechanical failure, resumed operation the same day.
Suspension of production at these factories, reasons notwithstanding, will force the country to import 17 lakh tons of fertiliser this year, four lakh tons more than the country imported last year. The price of imported fertiliser is about three times higher than that of the local variety. Besides the increased cost of import involved, there is a need for taking into account the salaries and wages of the employees of the closed factories lying idle so long. So, during the next Boro season, the government will have to spend a lot of money to meet the demand for fertiliser, now a hugely subsidised farm input.


Last year's bumper rice harvest was made possible due mostly to smooth distribution of inputs and timely supply of required electricity for irrigation. Still, farmers feel unrewarded for their good work. Already many of them have opted for cultivation of other crops. Any disruption in the long line of production and supply of inputs and extension of required support will act as a disincentive for farmers and may lead to a shortfall in rice production.








"Woof! Woof! Growl! Yelp! Yelp! Yelp! Howl!!" Since my dog needs to be disciplined, I've enlisted the help of an online dog trainer from USA whom my dog sneeringly calls the 'dog woman.'
"You looking at what the dog woman's written to you master?" asked my German-Shepherd with an air of disdain I sincerely disliked, as I opened my e-mails. "Yes," I said, "She's said if you refuse to listen, won't come when you are called and jump on visitors, then she has some methods to discipline you!"

"How much she charging?"

"Five dollars!" I said, "Which translates to around two hundred and fifty rupees!"

"Master," said my dog, "For a bone and a walk downstairs I'll give you some advice if you'll listen! You can give it to that opposition party at the centre!"

"The BJP?" I asked, "From when have you started becoming a political advisor?"

"I don't know much about your politics," growled the dog, "But I do know some things they should learn in defeat!"

"A bone and a walk!" I said, "Shoot!"

"Dog gangs," said my dog, "put heart and soul into a fight, and sometimes return with torn ears, bitten backs, scratched tummies, but never ever do we turn on each other and tear each other apart!"

"I get your point!" I said. "We recoup, lick our wounds, build more muscle and wait for the next opportunity to hit back, but this BJP of yours think they can build muscle fighting with each other, it doesn't work that way!"

"Okay," I said, "Anything else?"

"Yeah," growled my dog, "Who's this Jinnah?"

"He's the man who partitioned India!"

"Well I think what the BJP needs is to employ priests and exorcists quickly!"

"Whatever for?" I asked. "Dogs can see ghosts," said my dog gravely, "And at this very moment there's one having a whale of a time inside their headquarters. Chap with a cap and French beard!"

"That's Jinnah!" I said. "Get his ghost out of there," said my dog. "And master."

"Yes?" I asked. "Tell them also to lie down and have a hearty scratch like I do! It eases tension, relaxes the muscles, makes us look quite comic enough not to take ourselves too seriously!" advised my dog. "They can't do that," I said. "Why?" asked my dog. "Their khaki shorts come in the way!" I whispered. "Woof! Woof!" giggled my dog as a ghost guffawed somewhere in Delhi. "Would your dog woman ever give such good advice master?"









AFTER 11 days touring Aboriginal communities, the UN special rapporteur on indigenous rights, James Anaya, a US professor of human rights law, has delivered a critique of the Northern Territory intervention that is theoretical but not practical. Professor Anaya declared that income management and bans on alcohol were discriminatory and breached Australia's international treaty obligations, despite the proof that such measures improve the lives of indigenous people. The paucity of Professor Anaya's assessment says more about the limitations of the UN's post-World War II human rights framework than it does about indigenous policy in Australia. His views might make for interesting academic debate, but they should not distract the Rudd government from pressing ahead with its metrics-based approach to practical reconciliation.


En route home to the US, perhaps Professor Anaya should study lawyer Noel Pearson's groundbreaking work from a decade ago, Our Right to Take Responsibility, which urged Aborigines to prevail against racism, not by seeing themselves as victims whose rights had been eroded, but by overcoming the social and economic problems caused by welfare dependency. Mr Pearson ushered in a new era in policy, arguing that the right to drink alcohol came a long way behind the rights of children to be fed, nurtured and educated, and the rights of women to live without fear of assault and with enough money for the household budget.


While the intervention is far from perfect, especially in its appalling failure to provide housing, its failures are essentially failures of red tape and bureaucracy. These are the same failures that have shortchanged remote communities for decades.


While the Rudd government is preparing to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act, which was suspended at the outset of the intervention, such a move, as we have argued before, is compatible with the essential elements of the intervention. The act allows "special measures" for "securing adequate advancement of certain racial or ethnic groups or individuals".


Alcohol restrictions and income quarantining, which are also being trialled in disadvantaged white communities, do impinge on rights. At the same time, they enhance more important rights, such as the rights of children to be fed well on fresh food and sleep at night without fear of violence or abuse. As retired District Court judge Michael Forde - a man who is familiar with the north Queensland communities - attests, controls on alcohol are the single most important reason why crime has decreased markedly and the lives of women and children have improved. There is a long way to go, but the reforms are also improving school attendance.


Abandoning such efforts just as they are beginning to take effect would be morally unconscionable after four decades of the failure of the rights approach. If one measure of a civilised society is how well it treats its most vulnerable citizens, Australia would fail the test if it gave up on the plight of 90,000 remote indigenous Australians. Nor will this newspaper give up on its coverage of the issue, despite Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma suggesting we do so in favour of focusing on urban Aborigines, whose lives are much closer to those of non-indigenous Australians. Mr Calma's suggestion reflects a  ureaucratic outlook. In establishing a new indigenous representative body, he and the Rudd government must ensure its focus is on employment, education and health rather than being the "blackfellas' wailing wall" that Noel Pearson anticipates. James Anaya wants to see indigenous disadvantage redressed, but his approach will not assist a complex and protracted process.








THERE are indisputable facts and there are contested facts, and all are essential to the pursuit of history. Which means that, despite Kevin Rudd's efforts to bury the history wars this week, the battle should, and will, continue.


At face value, Mr Rudd's remarks when he launched Tom Keneally's new history, Australians, were fair enough. Who could argue with the need to acknowledge the good and the bad of our nation's past? Who could oppose a history that "unapologetically celebrates the good, a history that equally unapologetically exposes the bad, a history that draws upon both to inform our current age".


But in truth, these comments are so innocuous as to be useless in a serious debate about our past. They suggest a prime minister keen to get history off the front page rather than pursue a robust conversation with the nation. His implied attack on former prime minister John Howard for contesting much of the so-called "black arm band" writing is misplaced: even those who disagree with Mr Howard's ideas recognise his readiness to engage with our history.


Here are some facts about history. It is possible to acknowledge the horrors of the past and still insist on a rigorous approach to the detail. Sloppy work is sloppy work. Secondly, studying the past means that accounts change, the story evolves. This has been brilliantly demonstrated by British historian Anthony Beevor, now visiting Australia, through his World War II histories. Closer to home, the history taught to a schoolchild in the 1950s had little reference to the killings of whites and Aborigines in the early years of settlement. It took later historians to put that detail on the record. This paper believes much of what passes for history in our schools is tosh and we look forward to a more rigorous national curriculum. But that does not mean we want to go back to the 1950s or expunge from the record the conflicts between whites and black.


What we need is attention to the facts rather than history interpreted through the prism of isms such as racism or feminism; socialism or capitalism. Books that tell the history of the world through the cod, or salt, or longitude are great reads but boutique histories cannot be at the core of the discipline. We can acknowledge the commitment historians such as Henry Reynolds have to Aboriginal rights, while at the same time contesting his facts when we believe them to be wrong. This newspaper, too, is committed to improving the lives of Aboriginal Australians, but we draw our inspiration not from the "frontier wars" described by Professor Reynolds, but from the reality of life on the ground for indigenous people today.


Mr Rudd is wrong when he talks of "arid intellectual debates" of the past and counsels us to agree to disagree about our history. Calling for a truce in the history wars ignores the fact our knowledge about the past is constantly evolving. The historical record is based on facts but it is not fixed in stone. We need more debate -








IT is hard to believe that in the 21stcentury we would entertain reducing fathers' rights to help rear their children. Yet that is on the table as two separate reviews are carried out into the shared parenting arrangements introduced by the Howard government in 2006. The reviews - one commissioned by federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland, the other a scheduled review by the Australian Institute of Family Studies - are of central importance to the proper functioning of family law.


The backlash against the presumption of shared parenting rights except in cases of abuse or violence is growing as publicity reveals cases of dysfunctional and damaged fathers harming children or their former partners. There is also concern about cases where the Family Court has ruled against women taking their children interstate and away from their fathers. The case of Darcey Freeman, who was thrown from Melbourne's Westgate Bridge allegedly by her father during a custody dispute, has galvanised critics. In Canberra, a number of Labor women MPs and ministers are thought to be concerned about how the arrangements are operating.


The trauma in extreme cases is understandable, but these must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. The law must operate for the vast majority of parents, with enough safeguards when things go wrong. The new rules may need refinement, but the central principle must remain. The previous system, under which fathers had few explicit rights, was unfair. Denial of access led to some tragic cases of fathers killing their children in anger.


This is a fraught area, but any review must begin with the premise that men and women have equal opportunity to develop loving relationships with their children. Some critics blame former prime minister John Howard for responding to the vocal fathers' lobby. The pressure is on Labor to change the rules, but this policy should not be driven by ideology or party politics. The government should be cautious about changing arrangements designed to protect and nurture parents as well as children.








IN THE final rounds of the rugby league season the sport is trying to turn its back on the off-field incidents which have so disfigured this year's performance. The two players who were poster boys at the start of the season, starring in the code's expensive television campaign, have brought league, their clubs and themselves into disrepute - Manly's Brett Stewart will be in court early next month accused of sexual assault, and five weeks later the Storm's Greg Inglis will face charges of assaulting his girlfriend.


The National Rugby League has decided, though, that until each case is heard, the presumption of innocence should not only apply, but be extended to allow both men to play as the season's climax approaches. This is in the interests of fairness, you understand, and the wellbeing of each player. Not to mention their privacy. The fact that both have the ability to turn a match in their side's favour - and have charisma to boot - is, of course, irrelevant.


Yet if we can put aside those two cases - with all the ridiculous self-serving arguments surrounding these recent decisions, and the other scandals which have dogged the code throughout this ill-starred season - the NRL is right to want to move on. So do its fans. League has always had one or two controversies a season, but this year scandal has dominated the game. The public will surely agree that it is time to get the competition away from the headlines, and back onto the field. There are other reasons too, than the immediate health of the game.


In modern society the tendency to join is falling out of fashion. Group activity, group action, of all kinds is less attractive than it once was. Time pressures - longer working hours, two-income families, suburban isolation and travel times - all take their toll. The obvious example is the political party. Both sides of politics have found it increasingly difficult to attract party members from ordinary citizens who want to contribute actively to the political process (and as a result, parties are more vulnerable to both careerists and zealots). But the phenomenon can be observed elsewhere as well - clubs of all kinds find it harder to attract members and have had to close. Churches have resigned themselves to declining congregations as the influence of religion flags before the pressures and temptations of modern life, or have changed their objective from attracting a mass audience to attracting only the deeply religious. This has had a social significance alongside the religious one. With the decline of religion as a mass activity there declines a significant opportunity for mass participation and identification in a community. When commentators bemoan the decline of religion they normally do so from the standpoint of the imagined decline of morals which it entails. The decline of community, of belonging, gets less attention, but it may be just as important.


How else in our society do communities form? Around schools, certainly. Parents of very young children can be isolated in a friendless suburban desert; once those children start school, the parents become connected with others first around a class, and then around the broader school community.


The arts are another communal activity. Regular opera- or concert-goers, and rock fans, all readily form loose communities of like-minded individuals.



For many people, though - with and without children - sport provides a ready-made community, defined clearly by competition with other communities of like-minded fans. Rugby league, as the traditional mass-participation sport in this state, thus has greater importance than ever - but just at the time when it is showing itself most vulnerable to ill-discipline and immaturity.


The game will obviously survive. It may well prosper. Certainly the evenness of the teams likely to be taking part in the coming finals series suggests that the contest for the rest of the season on the field will be close and exciting, and if that is so, it will attract crowds and viewers. Misbehaving players cannot be ignored, nor can a blind eye be turned to their shortcomings. The code must ensure, however, that the distractions cease.


It is time now for league and its fans to get back to the essence of the sport, the on-field competition which offers an experience its community can share, feats of athleticism it can praise, and individuals it can admire.







KRISTINA KENEALLY, Planning Minister and - read her lips - under no circumstances aspirant for Premier, has too thick an accent. That is what they think at Labor headquarters, anyway - but we don't believe them. For years voters have accepted British regional accents in politicians, and more lately Australian spoken with an Italian, Greek or Lebanese tinge. Why would they baulk at a few rolled Rs? After all, Australian pop stars have been belting out home-grown lyrics in American accents for generations. Teenagers talk in tones made in Hollywood or Motown, and until recently announcers on commercial radio gained an edge over rivals by pretending to be from Wyoming or perhaps Nebraska. Keneally, who grew up in Ohio, speaks a mid-Pacific dialect of Australian English largely identical to the standard variety except that the syllable no (pronounced ''no'') means yes. Ms Keneally has understandable and legitimate aspirations to the premiership. Given Labor's standing with the electorate, is she out of her mind? The answer has to be no.




                                                                                                                      THE GUARDIAN




If you want some idea of the future of the pop-music industry, you could do worse than look at the Beatles. Yes, the Beatles: the band that split up four decades ago and yet remain the most famous pop group in the world. On 9 September, Liverpool's best-loved export will surely once again be top of the charts, with the release of their digitally remastered albums. On the very same day, there will be the launch of "The Beatles: Rock Band" – an interactive video game that, the blurb promises, enables you to "join John, Paul, George, and Ringo onstage at legendary shows... in the recording studio, and in dreamscapes that bring their psychedelic imagery to life". Between those two options, it is safe to say that Santa Claus is going to find this Christmas fairly straightforward.


Leaving aside the state-of-the-art technical wondrousness ("a Pro Tools workstation operating at 24-bit 192kHz resolution via a Prism A-D converter": frighteningly, there are people who actually understand this stuff) of the remastered albums, and their release is not, in business terms, that innovative. From the CD boom of the 1980s onwards, music consumers are well-used to upgrading their old and badly scratched favourites. And, as anyone who has ever puzzled over the Peter Blake cover for Sgt Pepper can attest, the Beatles pioneered the elevation of the album from longplaying collection of A- and B-sides to revered artefact. Which is why the video game is such a telling indicator of where pop music – and many other industries – is headed.


The current predicament of the pop industry can be summed up in a Lennon/McCartney lyric: "You never give me your money/ you only give me your funny paper." Music sales are at their lowest level in over 20 years, and record companies are scrabbling around for some way to staunch the haemorrhage of revenue. CD sales are plunging and are not being offset by paid-for downloads. Whether this is all the result of illegal file-sharing is not as settled as argument as Peter Mandelson's proposal this week to cut down on internet piracy suggests. Those who remember the home-taping-is-killing-music crusades of a couple of decades ago argue that the most fervent downloaders of music are usually those most likely to buy the most albums. There is some evidence to back this up, although sharing MP3s is to dubbing tapes what Formula One is to cycling: faster and much, much more dangerous. Regardless of the causes, the music industry is now turning to other ways to make money, whether that be live performance or the licensing of music to TV and video games. As the economists Alan Krueger and Marie Connolly pointed out in their seminal 2005 paper Rockonomics, the structure of most recording contracts is so weighted against musicians that only the very top artists make any actual money from their albums – for the rest, concert ticket sales have long been far more important. But for the labels, the recordings have always been a vital source of cash – without it, they have to find other ways to keep in business. And other industries are looking very carefully (and nervously) at how the records labels are faring. In the world of books, the literary festival and other forms of author performance are becoming a vital way to lift stable sales. And in these pages just a couple of weeks ago, the seasoned newspaper editor Simon Jenkins provocatively argued that his colleagues should forget about the printing presses and think about seminars and debates instead.


Perhaps those industries that have always been about artefacts – records, periodicals and books – will end up thinking more about performances. Perhaps some of this is inevitable, but it does have its melancholy aspects too. Those special moments when people queued around the block for the latest album or shelled out in droves for that breaking news hot off the press may become a thing of the past.







General Sir David Richards takes over command of the army this week at a exceptionally delicate time. The dangers facing British soldiers are as sharply etched in the national mind as they have been in years. The mounting death toll in Afghanistan has already begun to sap the public's confidence. Now there is the demoralising sense that the broader mission has not been boosted as hoped but has suffered from this month's dubiously conducted presidential election. What was the point, the public will rightly ask, of British soldiers continuing to lose their lives in Helmand when in some places only a few dozen Afghan voters out of the eligible thousands felt confident enough to vote in a contest that was in any case riddled with fraud? What indeed?


This destructive combination of human losses and political setbacks will accelerate the public sense that Britain is fighting a costly and unwinnable war. Deep down, that may well be what Gordon Brown believes too. But it is not at all how the army itself claims to see things. At least until recently, the generals' view has been that the Afghan conflict is winnable providing that more and better-equipped troops are sent. Public support might well stiffen if that was to happen and if it was sensed to be making a difference. But these are big ifs.


The case for more troops has both been weakened by the relative failure of the election and strengthened by its uncertain outcome. Either way, the issue is certainly now back on General Richards' and Mr Brown's desks. The immediate problem for the military is that the prime minister is indecisive. He seems not to have the heart either for intensifying the conflict or for ending Britain's role in it. That is why he refused requests this spring from the outgoing General Sir Richard Dannatt for 1,900 extra troops to be sent while instead sending 300 more to cover the election period.


Continuing ministerial indecision about ends and means leaves the army, and thus its new head, in an unusually sensitive political position. General Richards knows what to do on the field of battle – he has as much operational experience as anyone who has headed the army in modern times. He now has to learn to command the political arena too. In the long run, events in Iraq and Afghanistan have given the army a strong hand to play in domestic politics. They have earned the right to be at the front of the queue for whatever defence priorities emerge from the strategic review and the inevitable spending review too. Even General Dannatt, though, could not persuade Mr Brown to send more troops to Afghanistan. Now General Richards must decide whether to try again where his predecessor failed.







Scheduler's leftovers, you might call it – but that would be mean. BBC2's decision to devote tomorrow evening to the entire first series of The Office is of course a way of filling a quiet Sunday and (depressing thought alert) the last Bank Holiday weekend till Christmas as cheaply and cheerfully as possible. But it also allows viewers a good long wallow in the best British sitcom of the past decade. In writing a comedy about a team at paper firm Wernham Hogg, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant created a whole bunch of memorable characters – not just deluded regional manager David Brent (played by Gervais, who turned him into a protagonist to rival Captain Mainwaring and Basil Fawlty), but sales reps Tim Canterbury and Gareth Keenann – and of course Keith, the scotch-egg eating mystery man of the Accounts Department. First on screen in July 2001, The Office also introduced a range of formal innovations. The lack of a laughter track, the rugged mockumentary style, the way in which scenes never ended on a gag but fizzled out on a long pause – the influence on Peep Show and others is easy enough to trace. At the time, this was dangerous territory for a sitcom to occupy. Writing in this paper, Arthur Smith declared: "It is probably too subtle to go on BBC1." He was wrong: the warmth of the writing and the sheer quality of the jokes soon converted the mainstream. "We're like Morecambe and Wise," Brent tells the camera at one point. "Except there's no deadwood." Truly, comedy genius.








For voters, the biggest issue by far in the Aug. 30 Lower House election is the economy. Strong economic growth underpinned the Liberal Democratic Party's many years of rule. By distributing wealth to various interest groups, the LDP was able to satisfy most sectors of Japanese society.


But as the economy matures, it has become difficult to sustain strong growth and the LDP's system of rule based on a close relationship among politicians, bureaucracy and industry has reached its limits. Political parties need to offer a new vision for economic growth.


The economy grew an annualized 3.7 percent in the April-June period from the previous quarter — the first rise in five quarters. By taking advantage of signs that the economy appears to have hit bottom, Prime Minister Taro Aso is calling on people to allow the LDP to remain at the helm of government. He emphasizes that the government's four economic stimulus packages have helped the economy to rebound.


The LDP's manifesto says the Japanese economy will achieve annualized 2 percent growth in the last half of fiscal 2010 and will create demand worth ¥40 trillion to ¥60 trillion, "securing" 2 million jobs. But it fails to mention what concrete measures will be taken to reach that goal.


The Democratic Party of Japan takes a different approach. It emphasizes measures to directly increase household income in the hope that this will expand consumption and stimulate economic growth.


The DPJ says it will free up ¥16.8 trillion in four years to carry out its policy proposals mainly by reworking the nation's ¥207 trillion budget and eliminating unnecessary projects. But overhauling the budget will be time-consuming and the uncertainty surrounding the process could have a negative impact on economic activities. Voters must decide Sunday whether to support the LDP's conventional method or the DPJ's more novel approach to revive the economy.







The bureaucracy played a crucial role in the building of the modern Japanese state and its economic growth in the postwar years. But these days people's trust in bureaucrats has been shattered by events such as the pension records fiasco and the misuse of public money, especially in road construction.


With low economic growth and a rapidly graying society shrinking the pool of public funds, it is the elected representatives of the people who should prioritize policies and projects, not bureaucrats with vested interests. Therefore, the political parties' campaign call for breaking the system of bureaucracy-led politics is logical and reasonable.


The ruling Liberal Democratic Party proposes giving the Cabinet's personnel bureau the authority to appoint high-ranking bureaucrats, appointing special aides for the prime minister to develop national strategy, reviewing the pay system for public servants, and preventing retiring bureaucrats from landing jobs at companies and other bodies that are under the jurisdiction of their ministries and agencies.


The Democratic Party of Japan's proposals are more aggressive. The DPJ calls for abolishing the twice-a-week meetings of ministerial vice ministers, which set the agenda for Cabinet meetings, and instead establishing a Cabinet committee. It also wants to create a national strategy bureau under the prime minister to work out a national vision as well as the budget outline, and send about 100 lawmakers to oversee government ministries and agencies.


Now, about 70 lawmakers oversee ministries and agencies. If the DPJ wins the Aug. 30 polls, it is unclear whether the lawmakers it sends to the ministries and agencies will have enough knowledge and experience to control and lead bureaucrats.


The DPJ's manifesto includes ambitious proposals such as a child allowance, toll-free expressways and income compensation for farmers. But the bureaucracy will likely resist such policies. DPJ lawmakers will need to become policy experts to avoid being duped by bureaucrats.








By rendering its sanctions instrument blunt through overuse, Washington has dissipated its leverage against Burma, North Korea and Iran, and run out of viable options. The Obama administration, therefore, has wisely sought to open lines of communication with these countries and review policy options.


The humanitarian imperative to help free jailed Americans in North Korea, Burma and Iran provided the impetus to this political undertaking. The individuals' dangerous exploits came as a blessing in disguise for U.S. diplomacy, presenting an opportunity to try and open the door to engagement while providing the humanitarian shield to deflect attacks by hardline critics at home.


Just this month, even as the White House kept up the pretense that these were "private, humanitarian missions unlinked to U.S. policies," the United States was able to open lines of communication with North Korea and Burma, with ex-President Bill Clinton's trip to Pyongyang winning the release of two American journalists and Sen. James Webb's lower profile mission to Burma securing the release of an American who illegally visited Aung San Suu Kyi.


A formal U.S. opening to Iran, however, will have to await the outcome of the current power struggle there.


U.S. policy increasingly has pushed Burma into China's strategic lap through an uncompromisingly penal approach since the mid-1990s — to the extent that the Bush administration began turning to Beijing as a channel of communication with the junta, even though the U.S. has maintained non-ambassadorial diplomatic relations with Burma, unlike with Iran and North Korea. A policy that has the perverse effect of weakening America's hand while strengthening China's, clearly, demands a reappraisal.


The weight of the U.S.-led sanctions has fallen squarely on the ordinary Burmese, while the military remains largely unaffected. The sanctions-only approach indeed has made it less likely that the seeds of democracy will sprout in a stunted economy.


The U.S. also cannot forget that democratization of an autocratic state is a challenge that extends beyond Burma. Democracy promotion thus should not become a geopolitical tool wielded only against the weak and the marginalized.


Can one principle be applied to the world's largest autocracy, China — that engagement is the way to bring about political change — but an opposite principle centered on sanctions remain in force against impoverished Burma? Going after the small kids on the global block but courting the most-powerful autocrats is hardly the way to build international norms.


Against this background, the Obama administration is doing the right thing by exploring the prospect of a gradual U.S. engagement with Burma, with American diplomats holding two separate meetings with the Burmese foreign minister in recent months. Webb's Burma mission was a big boost in that direction.


Webb, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific Affairs, held separate face-to-face discussions with the junta's top leader, Gen. Than Shwe, and Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein. He also was allowed to meet Suu Kyi, just weeks after U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon had been denied such a meeting.

In fact, after Suu Kyi was convicted of violating the terms of her house detention by sheltering the American intruder, the junta instantly commuted her sentence to allow her to return to her villa and not spend time in a jail. If Suu Kyi were to reverse her decision to boycott next year's national elections, the generals might even be willing to lift her house detention. In any case, Suu Kyi remains free to leave the country, but on a one-way ticket.


The elections are unlikely to be free and fair. But make no mistake: By agreeing to hold the polls, the military is implicitly creating a feeling of empowerment among the people. However unintended, the message citizens will draw is that the next government's legitimacy depends on them. Which other entrenched autocracy in the world is offering to empower its citizens to vote on a new government?


The electoral process creates space for the Burmese democracy movement. The regime will have to allow political parties to campaign and take their message to the people. That, in turn, will allow the parties to galvanize support for democratic transition. Getting a foot in is necessary before the door to political change can be forced open.


That is why many parties representing the large ethnic minorities have decided to participate in the elections, even though the polls will be fought on the skewed terms set by the military. If Suu Kyi stays out, she and the aging leadership of her party, the National League for Democracy, will miss an important opportunity for the democracy movement to assert itself under the military's own rules.


Just the way Washington today is reassessing its hard line toward Burma, India was compelled to shift course after a decade of foreign-policy activism from the late 1980s — but not before paying dearly. In the period New Delhi broke off all contact with the junta and became a hub of Burmese dissident activity, China strategically penetrated Burma, opening a new flank against India. That period's sobering lessons have helped instill greater geopolitical realism in Indian policy. While still seeking political reconciliation and democratic transition in Burma, New Delhi now espouses constructive engagement with the junta.


After all, years of sanctions have left Burma bereft of an entrepreneurial class but saddled with the military as the only functioning institution. That means a "color revolution" is unlikely and that democratic transition will be a painfully incremental process.


Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, is a regular contributor to The Japan Times.








WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's nomination of Ben Bernanke to a second term as Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve represents a sensible and pragmatic decision, but it is nothing to celebrate.


Instead, it should be an occasion for reflection on the role of ideological groupthink among economists, including Bernanke, in contributing to the global economic and financial crisis.


The decision to nominate Bernanke is sensible on two counts. First, the United States and global economies remain mired in recession. Though the crisis may be over in the sense that outright collapse has been avoided, the economy remains vulnerable. As such, it makes sense not to risk a shock to confidence that could trigger a renewed downturn.


Second, Bernanke is the best among his peers. He did eventually come to understand the nature and severity of the crisis, and then took decisive steps that contributed to halting the economic free fall. That record, combined with doubts that any of his peers would have done better, means replacing him with another mainstream candidate makes little sense.


These two factors justify Bernanke's reappointment, but the faintness of praise is indicative of the deeper problems that his leadership has exposed. Those problems concern the state of economics and economic policy advice.


One such problem is Wall Street's implicit veto over the Fed. After all, a major reason for reappointing Bernanke is to avoid rocking financial markets. This also explains why Bernanke's only rivals are from his peer group — the only people whom financial markets would be willing to accept.


In the 1990s, placating financial markets was also invoked to justify the reappointment of Bernanke's predecessor, Alan Greenspan, and it is now perennially invoked to block change at the Fed and other central banks. In effect, financial markets have established an implicit veto over much of economic policy and the people who can hold top policymaking positions, and it is time to think how we can escape that hold.


A second problem concerns the state of economics. Though Bernanke may be the best in his peer group, the fact is that the economic crisis decisively proved him and his peers to have been wrong. As a group, they joined in the adulation of Greenspan, whom one leading economist proclaimed "the greatest central banker who ever lived." Almost without exception, mainstream economists failed to foresee the crisis, and even the few who did get the logic and unfolding of events wrong.


For his part, Bernanke led the intellectual charge toward inflation targeting by central banks, arguing that setting a target for annual inflation was a full and sufficient framework for monetary policy. Such thinking contributed to neglect of asset and credit markets, promoted intellectual disregard for regulation, and fostered laissez-faire excess, because macroeconomic belief in the sufficiency of inflation targeting paired logically with microeconomic belief that credit markets would take care of themselves. In Greenspan's words, the "self-interest of lending institutions" would protect shareholders and the economy from lending excess.


This thinking explains why the Fed under Bernanke's leadership was so slow to respond to the crisis, which began in August 2007 yet did not elicit a coherent and comprehensive response until November 2008. The Fed certainly would have reacted sooner had it not been attached to a model of banking more appropriate to the 1950s.


Oblivious to the role of the shadow banking system, the Fed did not understand how its implosion would undermine the traditional banking system. The Fed simply failed to comprehend the significance of traditional banks' large holdings of mark-to-market assets and their engagement in shadow banking via off-balance-sheet "structured investment vehicles."


Any dispassionate assessment of the Fed's thinking before and well into the crisis shows that it failed to understand the economics of its own bailiwick, banking and financial markets. Moreover, the Fed promoted broader economic views about deregulation and the self-stabilizing nature of markets that the crisis has discredited.


Though circumstances dictate that Bernanke is the best candidate and should be reappointed, the real challenge is to ensure a thorough intellectual housecleaning at the Fed in order to open space for alternative economic views. The great danger is that reappointing Bernanke will be interpreted as a green flag for a flawed status quo.


That is where public debate and Bernanke's Senate confirmation hearings enter the picture. Those hearings should be an occasion for critical examination of what went wrong, and why. If that happens, Bernanke's reappointment can serve as a trigger for constructive change rather than an endorsement of a discredited paradigm.


Thomas I. Palley is a fellow of the New America Foundation. © 2009 Project Syndicate











Democratic Party Chairman Chung Sye-kyun announced on Thursday his party would unconditionally return to the business of lawmaking at the National Assembly. But the move invited scorn from critics for the reversal of the issuance of mass resignations. Nevertheless, the about face - which borrowed an excuse from the death of former president Kim Dae-jung - is a positive, welcome development.


Chung vowed his party would mount "parallel struggles" inside and outside the legislature even after its members attend the regular Assembly session beginning Sept. 1. Yet it is doubtful that the DP can share any significant amount of its energy to continue street protests if it is to engage itself in the many heavy tasks waiting at parliament.


First and foremost is the 2010 budget deliberation, which should examine the first installments for the four rivers development, the trademark project of President Lee Myung-bak. Many fear implementation of the projects would take away cash from badly-needed welfare programs. And there are the long delayed, controversial bills on irregular workers and new administrative cities, in addition to the president's newly conceived political and administrative reform plans. Still hot are the media laws which the ruling party passed unilaterally last month, setting off the opposition parties' extreme protests including the reversed mass resignations.


DP leaders assert that the late Kim left his will to the party through his close aides just before he was hospitalized in early July. Kim urged the party to protect democracy, promote the grassroots economy and develop inter-Korean relations. To carry out these tasks, the opposition lawmakers are returning to the legislature, tearing up their letters of resignation they had given the party chairman.


Kim's reported will provided the solemn cause for the opposition party to end its street actions, but the DP leaders also had the uncomfortable realization that their media law protests were not gaining public support. And, quite embarrassingly, President Lee was actually reaping more from the death of the former president as he quickly seized the opportunity to emphasize social integration and reconciliation from nationwide mourning.


Coming on the heels of his recent shift of focus to the welfare of the underprivileged, the president's call for tolerance and compromise among conflicting groups sharply raised his approval rating. Public endorsement of the Democratic Party - which had risen slightly following the suicide of former president Roh Moo-hyun in May - did not show any significant sign of ascent despite the large crowds of mourners for Kim Dae-jung.


The DP's awareness of the need to change course on strategy and philosophy comes piteously when its members are feeling a deep void from the loss of two former presidents, who were their ideological anchors. As they try to regain enough strength to take on a resurgent ruling party, they are in need of clear, strong leadership. That, however, is not in sight at the moment.


A move to create a new party has been brought forward by former loyalists of the late Roh while another movement is in the offing to broaden the base of the DP with the inclusion of former pro-democracy fighters. In the meantime, party chair Chung Sye-kyun, 2007 presidential candidate Chung Dong-young, other presidential contenders Sohn Hak-kyu and Kim Geun-tae, and Kim Dae-jung's proteges Han Hwa-kap and Park Jie-won are jockeying for positions looking forward to the 2012 elections.


The death of "DJ" closed an important chapter in our history and marks the beginning of a new one in which we hope parties will engage in more a more civilized brand of politics, absorbing all national issues in democratic debates in the National Assembly.








A special investigative team from the Busan Prosecutors' Office is reported to be poring over more than 20 bank accounts in borrowed names through which some 3 billion won ($2.5 million) moved through over the past few years. Prosecutors have found that the real owner of the money is a former chief of the North Chungcheong Provincial Police Agency.


Prosecutors noted that a total of 1.2 billion won deposited in the accounts around the time when the police agency conducted a general reshuffle of its senior officers. The former police chief, now under arrest, reportedly admitted that it was his money, but failed to expose the source of the transfer. He claims that most of the deposits consist of the savings of his salary, allowances, and cash gifts he received from community leaders when he was reassigned from one provincial agency to another.


The allegations strongly reek of corruption. They remind of another story involving the chief of the South Gyeongsang Province Police Agency who retired earlier this month after it was disclosed that he played golf with a group of local businesspeople. The mayor of the provincial capital, an Army major general who commands a reserve division in the province, and the head of the National Intelligence Service's provincial office were also reprimanded for playing with the group at a golf course, which happened to be owned by Park Yeon-cha, now in jail for bribery and other charges.


These reported scandals surprised many who believed or wanted to believe that our society had graduated from the kind of corruption that belonged to the authoritarian rule of past decades. The public is dismayed to realize that police officers still deliver thick envelops stuffed with cash to get promotions or assignments to "better" posts and that the military, police and intelligence chiefs of a province are entertained, probably regularly, by the area's businessmen. People's speculation naturally extends to other provinces and special cities of this country.








BERLIN - Limiting global warming to 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels is absolutely crucial, says the G8 and most of the world's best climatologists. If this is to be more than lip service, the consequences will be radical.


For starters, until 2050, only a total of around 700 gigatons of carbon dioxide can be emitted into the atmosphere. At the current rate of emissions, this "budget" will be exhausted in 20 years; if emissions increase as expected, the world will become carbon "insolvent" even sooner. So reducing CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions must begin as quickly as possible. Wasting any more time will cause costs to skyrocket and render the 2 degree limit obsolete.


The rich North cannot continue as before, emerging industrial countries must leave the old industrial-based path to prosperity, and the rest of the world may not even embark upon it. Yet the negotiations on emissions limits with each of the 192 signatory countries in the run-up to the Copenhagen Summit in December 2009 have so far given no indication of so radical a change.


A global climate deal must be simpler, fairer, and more flexible than is today's Kyoto Protocol. To achieve this, the Global Change Council of Germany suggests that a budget formula be adopted. The idea is that, in the future, all states will be allocated a national per-capita emissions budget that links three core elements of a fair global climate deal: the major industrial countries' historical responsibility, individual countries' current performance capacity, and global provision for the survival of mankind.


The task is immense. On a global level, quick and comprehensive de-carbonization of the world economy is necessary. All countries must reduce their use of fossil fuels and switch to renewable energy sources as soon and as much as possible. But, since the OECD-countries (led by the United States and Australia) will soon overrun their carbon budgets even after far-reaching emissions reductions, they must cooperate with developing countries that still have budget surpluses. Breaking the Gordian knot of climate negotiations requires offering technology and financial transfers in exchange for the ability to overrun a national budget.


A responsible global climate policy thus entails a fundamental change of international relations, and making the necessary institutional innovations in global governance requires courage. Until now, the wealth of nations has been based upon the combustion of coal, gas, and oil. But, if the 2 degree C target is taken seriously, the 21st century will see countries that are not so far down the path of carbonization (such as large parts of Africa), or that leave it in time (such as India and Pakistan), able to become wealthy by helping societies that must de-carbonize rapidly.


For the moment, all this is still utopian. In its current state, cap-and-trade schemes to reduce emissions are far from being fair and effective; a major improvement would include establishing a Central Climate Bank to register and supervise the transfer of emissions credits. This bank would also ensure that emissions trading did not run counter to the goal of remaining within the entire global budget, for example via the complete sale of unused emissions credits by individual developing countries at the beginning of the contract period.


In order to achieve this, the Central Climate Bank must have the power to do its job. That, in turn, implies that it is accountable and that it has democratic legitimacy - something fundamentally lacking in multilateral agencies such as the World Bank.


Additional changes to global governance will also be needed. These changes include the consolidation of face-to-face negotiations between old and new world powers (the United States, the European Union, and China) and developing and emerging countries, including new regional powers like Mexico, Egypt, Turkey, and Indonesia.


In this framework, the old G7/8 can no longer function as a hegemonic center, but rather as a kind of broker and preparatory body. Simultaneously, within a variable architecture of negotiation, there must be links to the numerous conference institutions of the United Nations, as well as to political-economic regional associations such as the EU, Mercosur, or the African Union.


This flexible (and, alas, fragile) architecture of multi-level negotiation can function only as long as it is oriented towards clear moral bases for negotiation, has sufficient democratic legitimacy, and is supported in national and local arenas of action. Global leaders will find it significantly easier to steer towards big cooperation targets if they are supported by visions of the future within civil society.


A low-carbon society is not a crisis scenario, but rather the realistic vision of liberation from the path of expensive and risky over-development. In 1963, when the world narrowly escaped nuclear catastrophe, the physicist Max Born wrote: "World peace in a world that has grown smaller is no longer a Utopia, but rather a necessity, a condition for the survival of mankind." Those words have never been truer.


Claus Leggewie is director of the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities in Essen and a member of the Global Change Council of Germany. - Ed.


(Project Syndicate)








NEW YORK - It is now almost a year since the world economy teetered on the edge of calamity. In the span of three days, Sept. 15-17, 2008, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, the mega-insurance company AIG was taken over by the U.S. government, and the failing Wall Street icon Merrill Lynch was absorbed by Bank of America in a deal brokered and financed by the U.S. government. Panic ensued and credit stopped circulating. Non-financial companies could not get working capital, much less funding for long-term investments. A depression seemed possible.


Today, the storm has broken. Months of emergency action by the world's leading central banks prevented financial markets from crashing. When banks stopped providing short-term liquidity to other banks and industrial companies, central banks filled the gap. As a result, the major economies avoided a collapse of credit and production. The sense of panic has subsided. Banks are once again lending to each other.


Although the worst was avoided, much pain remains. The crisis culminated in a collapse of asset prices at the end of 2008. Middle-class and wealthy households around the world felt poorer and therefore cut their spending sharply. Sky-high oil and food prices added to the pain, and thus to the downturn. Enterprises could not sell their output, leading to production cuts and layoffs. Rising unemployment compounded the loss of household wealth, throwing families into deep economic peril and leading to further cutbacks in consumer spending.


The big problem now is that unemployment continues to rise in the U.S. and Europe, because growth is too slow to create enough new jobs. Dislocations are still being felt around the world.


A huge debate has ensued around the so-called "stimulus spending" in the U.S., Europe, and China. Stimulus spending aims to use higher government outlays or tax incentives to offset the decline in household consumption and business investment. In the U.S., for example, roughly one-third of the $800-billion two-year stimulus package comprises tax cuts (to stimulate consumer spending); one-third is public outlays on roads, schools, power, and other infrastructure; and one-third takes the forms of federal transfers to state and local governments for health care, unemployment insurance, school salaries, and the like.


Stimulus packages are controversial, because they increase budget deficits, and thus imply the need to cut spending or raise taxes sometime in the near future. The question is whether they successfully boost output and jobs in the short term, and, if so, whether they do enough to compensate for the inevitable budget problems down the road.


The true effectiveness of these packages is not clear. Suppose that the government gives a tax cut in order to increase consumers' take-home pay. If consumers expect that their taxes will rise in the future, they may decide to save the tax cut rather than boost consumption. In that case, the stimulus will have little positive effect on household spending, but will worsen the budget deficit.


An early assessment of the stimulus packages suggests that China's program has worked well. The sharp fall in China's exports to the U.S. has been compensated by a sharp rise in the Chinese government's spending on infrastructure - say, on subway construction in China's biggest cities.



In the U.S., the verdict is less clear. The tax cut has probably been saved rather than spent. The infrastructure component has not yet been spent because of long lags in turning the U.S. stimulus package into real construction projects. The third part - the transfer to state and local governments - almost surely has been successful in maintaining spending on schools, health, and the unemployed.


In short, the U.S. stimulus effects on spending have probably been positive but small, and without a decisive effect on the economy. Moreover, concerns about the enormous U.S. budget deficit, now running at $1.8 trillion (12 perent of GNP) per year, are bound to increase, not only creating enormous uncertainties in politics and financial markets, but also dimming consumer confidence as households focus their attention on potential future budget cuts and tax increases. The U.S. has reached the practical limits of reliance on short-term stimulus spending, and will need to start cutting the budget deficit and fostering alternative pathways to growth.


When the crisis deepened a year ago, Barrack Obama introduced into the presidential campaign the theme of a "green recovery," based on a surge of investment in renewable energies, new electric vehicles, environmentally efficient "green" buildings, and ecologically sound agriculture. In the heat of the battle against financial panic, policy attention turned away from that green recovery. Now the U.S. needs to return to this important idea.


Debt-burdened consumers in the U.S. and Europe will limit their spending for years to come as they rebuild their wealth and pension assets. But the resulting economic slack gives us the historic opportunity - and need - to compensate for low consumer spending with increased investment spending on sustainable technologies.


Government policies in the U.S. and other rich countries should stimulate those investments through special incentives. These include a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse-gas emissions, subsidies for research and development on sustainable technologies, feed-in tariffs and regulatory incentives for renewable energy, consumer subsidies and other inducements for the uptake of new "green" technologies, and implementation of "green" infrastructure programs, such as mass transit.


The rich world should also provide the poorest countries with grants and low-interest loans to buy sustainable energy technologies, such as solar and geothermal power. Doing so would add to the global recovery, improve long-term environmental sustainability, and accelerate economic development.


The crisis can yet be an opportunity to turn from a path of financial bubbles and excessive consumption to a path of sustainable development. In fact, seizing this opportunity is the only recipe for genuine growth that we have left.


Jeffrey D. Sachs is a professor of economics and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. - Ed.


(Project Syndicate)















Landholding has become a very crucial issue around the world. Land as basic resource for food production and has often been a source of conflict. The mechanism of land transfer determines its productivity and benefit to its owner. In Indonesia, traditional custom, religious law and formal state law mostly acknowledges that family members have equal rights to inherit property from their parents.


This is particularly relevant to farming families. Even in the era before Indonesia's independence, rural people widely bequeathed family property including farm land, livestock, furniture and gold, to their offspring.


Initially, the redistribution of property, such as farm land, is intended to guarantee the next generation enough area to secure their daily needs.


After the inheriting generation has set up their new household, they are expected to be independent and capable of fulfilling their own needs with the resources bequeathed by their parents. They can try to accumulate additional resources through purchase of more land, crop sharing and or renting their land.


In practice this means that the size of land - more specifically of arable land - becomes smaller and smaller. For instance, if a grandparent has one hectare of rice field and four children, and the property is inherited equally, each child will get a quarter of a hectare.


If each child then has four children of their own and there is no additional accumulation of property, each child in the third generation will get less than 0.1 hectare each. This amount of land is not enough to support even a modest life. If there is no significant change of the inheritance system, the future of farming looks gloomy.


Data from the Indonesian Agricultural Census confirms the continuously decreasing amount of land owned by the average farmer. In the 10 years between 1993 and 2003, the average amount of farming land per household has decreased from 0.50 to 0.40 hectare.


This figure conceals the reality in farming communities. Over a million farming households are virtually landless and work as daily hired workers, their income dependant on the availability of seasonal work.


The remarkable distribution through inheritance system will obviously lead to increasingly smaller plots of land in the future.


Small plots of land are inefficient and less productive, meaning they are more likely to be converted for other, non-agricultural purposes. The mass conversion of farm land, especially in Java, where about one million hectares have been converted in the last 30 years, is connected to this process of ever smaller scale ownership.



Policy makers and development planners should be aware of this problem. If the current system of farming inheritance continues, it can be assumed that farming and food production will face very serious problems in the future.


The idea of reducing division and physical distribution of farm land, as practiced in Japan, should be considered. If a grandparent inherits one hectare of land, their succeeding generation should manage almost the same size of land.


A relatively large plot of land allows enough space and flexibility for a household to optimize their resources efficiently and has proved to be enough to meet daily needs and even to generate additional resources for the next generation.


The introduction and implementation of new policies relating to the inheritance of farm land is crucial. The government could offer credits to farmers to be used in lieu of the physical distribution of land. The money could be used as investment for the higher education of family members.


Family members with better education would hopefully easily get jobs outside the agriculture sector. The family could select one member to inherit the farm. This scenario could prevent the further division of farm land.


The average size of farm land is already too small. Therefore, the implementation of land reforms promised by SBY-JK some five years ago, should be quickly realized.


The smooth implementation of a new mechanism of land inheritance will ensure the sustainability of agricultural. Of course, reforming the inheritance system is not enough to revitalize the Indonesian agricultural sector, and must be complemented with other policies that offer incentives for farmers to improve productivity and quality.


The writer is a lecturer at Gadjah Mada University's School of Agriculture, a PhD candidate at the University ofTokyo and chairman of the Indonesian Agricultural Science Association (IASA) - Japan.







When the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) became the biggest faction in the City Council (24 percent of the total 75 seats), people had mixed reactions. Some feared the capital city of Indonesia might lose its cosmopolitan appeal with the Islamic party cracking down on alcohol consumption and entertainment venues. Others expected good governance to get a boost as the party has a strong anti-corruption platform. However, none of those fears and expectations ended up materializing in the last five years. How about the next five?


In the April legislative elections, the Democratic Party (PD), President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s party, won about 30 percent (32 seats) of the total 94 seats. Will the party succeed in pushing Governor Fauzi Bowo to perform better? To be honest, it is hard to imagine the PD performing better than the PKS in that matter.    


Jakarta has the largest annual budget out of Indonesia’s 34 provinces. Its budget this year alone is no less than Rp 22.4 trillion (US$ 2.24 billion), but one of the city’s most chronic problems is how to spend it.


However, there is one undeniable fact. The inauguration of 94 Jakarta councilors on Tuesday marked a new era for the people’s representation in the City Council. The new councilors are supposed to be closer to their constituents because the people voted directly for the councilors who would represent them in the legislative institution. These newly elected legislators are now sitting in the legislature because they obtained the largest number of votes in the party list – not because their name was higher on the candidate list, as in the previous system.


People have a more powerful say now and play an important role in the career of a politician. The results of the recent legislative election is a case in point. Under the new election process, Jakartan voters removed most of their representatives in the City Council. Only 23 of the 94 current councilors are old faces.


We therefore welcome the statements made by a number of legislators about their readiness to do their jobs.  “I expect all residents to be covered by a proper healthcare scheme, and all children in the city to have access to a proper education,” Wanda Hamidah, an actress turned politician from the National Mandate Party (PAN), told reporters after the inauguration ceremony.


But Jakartans have often heard such promises from councilors in the previous term, and were invariably disappointed because many of politicians forgot their promises once they won their seats. They chose to fight for their own interests rather than for their constituents. They listened to their party leaders instead of the people.


So be mindful, councilors. Jakartans are watching you closely!







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