August 31, 2009
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Month August 31, Edition 000285, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul
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1. BHAGWAT BOOSTS MORALE
2. KHAN IN BUSINESS AGAIN
3. BJP NEEDS TOTAL CHANGE AT TOP-ARUN NEHRU
4. INCULCATE VALUES TO CURB RAGGING-PK JAISWAL
5. BEHIND THE LACQUERED IMAGE-PREMEN ADDY
6. DRAWBACKS OF PROTECTIONISM-ADAM GREEN
7. REDRAFT THE NEW TAX CODE-SHIVAJI SARKAR
8. RURAL JOBS SCHEME FAILS TO STOP MIGRATION-ALOKA
THE TIMES OF INDIA
1. A GOOD FIRST STEP
2. SAFFRON EMBRACE
3. A GLOBAL CONCERN-
4. 'INDIA & PAKISTAN NEED TO BRING DOWN THRESHOLD OF MISTRUST'
5. THE RAPIER AND THE HATCHET- BACHI KARKARIA
6. THE ART OF DYING-
1. OR TAKE - SPEAKING OF SURVIVAL
2. SMALL ISN’T BEAUTIFUL-ROBERT SKIDELSKY
3. BETWEEN US - WILL ADVANI CALL IT QUITS SOON?-PANKAJ VOHRA
1. GROW UP
2. THEREFORE, WE WATCH
3. THERE ARE TWO
4. NO ONE LIKE US-ILA PATNAIK
5. THE ROAD TO MANDALAY-ALIA ALLANA
6. LEARNING FROM HISTORY-AIJAZ ILMI
7. OUR COMMITMENT TO THE COMMONWEALTH-GAUTAM BHATIA
THE FINENCIAL EXPRESS
1. FUTURE’S HERE, BUT POLICY IS IN PAST
2. TURNER TURNS ON BANKS, WRONGLY
3. A LETHARGIC 100 DAYS FOR UPA II-BIBEK DEBROY
4. DIVERSIFYING GIANT, BUT WILL IT SUCCEED?-NIKHIL PAHWA
5. HARLEY RIDES INTO INDIA, BUT WILL INDIA RIDE HARLEY?-GEETA NAIR
1. ADIEU, CHANDRAYAAN-1
2. SAUDI ARABIA’S BRUSH WITH TERROR
3. EVERYTHING FOR JUSTICE -V.R. KRISHNA IYER
THE ASIAN AGE
1. STAY FOCUSED ON SPACE, CAREFULLY
2. FOR OUR COURTS, ALL SPEECH IS FREE UNLESS IT’S IN CONTEMPT-SHYAM DIVAN
3. PLATITUDES, NOT CONCESSIONS, WILL DOMINATE TRADE MEET-BY PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA
1. YOU DID IT, MR ADVANI
2. FARMERS NEED HELP
3. COUNTERFEIT DAMAGE
4. BANGLADESHIS IN NORTH-EAST-BY SANJOY HAZARIKA
5. DEATH STALKS INDIAN ROADS-BY GOBIND THUKRAL
6. CHATTERATI-BY DEVI CHERIAN
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
1. A MANY-HEADED HYDRA
2. EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN
3. JASWANT SINGH: THE SAFFRON SCAPEGOAT-SAIKH MD SABAH AL-AHMED
4. REMEMBERING HARENDRA NATH BARUA-SUREN RAM PHOOKUN
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
1. RESERVATION IN PANCHAYATS
2. MASTER OF BOXING ARTS
3. SIZE MATTERS
4. NELP, A TEST FOR OIL & GAS POLICIES-SOMA BANERJEE
5. BOOSTING TRADE IS THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN-BY CATHERINE ASHTON
6. ENVIRONMENT: NEW CONSTRUCTS FOR BETTERMENT-SUDHAKAR RAM
1. STAY FOCUSED ON SPACE, CAREFULLY
2. SECURE FUTURE HEALTH, STRIKE THE RIGHT ‘CORD’ - BY JAYANTHI NATARAJAN
3. MARRIED! UNTIL MEDICAL BILLS DO US PART - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
4. OUR COURTS BACK FREEDOM OF SPEECH - BY SHYAM DIVAN
1. DEBTORS IN JEANS
2. KEEP OUT
3. THE SHAME FACTOR -ASHOK MITRA
4. TRAGIC TWISTS AND TURNS - GWYNNE DYER
1. DREAMS NEVER DIE ~ MARILYN’S TIMELESS MAGIC
2. NOT EXACTLY ‘MUSIC’ ~ UPGRADED ELECTRONIC EARS
3. IN ALIEN COUNTRY ~ SOUTH ASIA MUST COORDINATE ITS STAND ON REFUGEES -SAUMITRA MOHAN
1. THIS DROUGHT IS MAN MADE-BY DEVINDER SHARMA
2. LABOUR OF A HOUSEWIFE-MAYA JAYAPAL
THE NEW YORK TIMES
1. HOPE IN SOUTH AFRICA
2. QUESTIONS ABOUT AN EXECUTION
3. NEW RULES FOR PRIVATE EQUITY
4. CLUNKERS DON’T COME CHEAP
5. STOPPING START-UPS -BY ALAN PATRICOF AND ERIC DINALLO
6. MISSING RICHARD NIXON -BY PAUL KRUGMAN
7. THE BREATHALYZER BEHIND THE WHEEL -BY PHILIP J. COOK AND MAEVE E. GEARING
1. CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM
2. HOME TRUTHS
3. WOMEN & POLICING
1. IMPLICATIONS OF GILGIT-BALTISTAN PACKAGE
2. MR PM IT IS THE POLITICIANS THEMSELVES
3. WHY JUSTICE DOGAR SHOULD BE LEFT BEHIND?
1. SWINE FLU THREAT
2. CURRENCY FORGERY
3. NEEDED: NEW OPPOSITION…!-ROBERT CLEMENTS
1. CANBERRA NEEDS SPINE ON BOOKS ISSUE
2. A WORK IN PROGRESS
3. NO BILL, JUST RIGHTS
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
1. DEFENCE FORCE NOT THE BEST JUDGE ON MILITARY JUSTICE
2. SEASON TO REMEMBER WHETS APPETITES FOR SEPTEMBER
1. PARLIAMENTARY REFORM: THE LORDS TEST
2. THE MEDIA: AN AMERICAN IN EDINBURGH
3. IN PRAISE OF … CIRCUMABULATION
1. HISTORIC DAY FOR JAPANESE POLITICS
2. MEDIA CONNIVANCE IN WALKING THE DOGS OF WAR-BY HIROAKI SATO
THE KOREA HERALD
1. FLEXIBILITY, STRENGTH
2. N.K. SHIP SEIZED
3. HAMAS TAKES ON RADICAL JIHADI GROUP -MKHAIMAR ABUSADA
THE JAKARTA POST
1. REVITALIZING PETROLEUM SECTOR -MONTTY GIRIANNA
2. SPECIAL AUDIT OF CENTURY BAILOUT
BHAGWAT BOOSTS MORALE
RSS CHIEF PLAYS WISE COUNSELLOR TO BJP
Mohanrao Bhagwat’s media conference in Delhi this past week was planned long ago as a routine interaction between the new RSS Sarsanghachalak and journalists. However, given the recent turmoil in the BJP, the conference acquired an importance of its own. As expected, questions on the party, its infighting and high-profile rebellions, and its so-called ‘succession plan’ dominated the session. To his credit, Mr Bhagwat fielded the queries without losing his trademark sobriety and without breaching the line of correctness. He was firm that while the RSS was a crucial stakeholder in the BJP, the political party was an autonomous body, answerable not just to its Sangh associates but also to a variety of interest groups, in politics and governance and among the public and voters. As such, it was for the party to sort out its problems. The RSS could help the process when asked, but it wasn’t going to take over and micromanage the affairs of the BJP, as had been suggested in some quarters. This view was consistent with Mr Bhagwat’s oft-repeated opinion that day-to-day politics is not the core concern of the RSS — which has a deeper and long-term social and cultural mandate — and that the political professionals of the BJP are best suited to taking their party forward. However, Mr Bhagwat did make one commonsensical observation when he said he was confident the party would bounce back. This was not empty bravado. It came from a mature and measured reading of the political situation. The BJP has 116 seats in the Lok Sabha and runs half-a-dozen State Governments. True, since 2004 it has been troubled by wrenching generational change at various levels, a transformational process that is still incomplete but that is, as the RSS chief implied, entering its last lap. In a year or so, the party would have crossed the hump and would be back in rebuilding mode. This does not necessarily mean it will automatically win the next Lok Sabha election — only the bravest astrologer would try and predict the verdict of 2014 — but would certainly be in the reckoning. The precise agenda, election issues, faces and mascots will be identified in the course of time. The more important issue is that the journey downhill is finally being arrested. The RSS Sarsanghachalak’s meetings with key BJP leaders this past week made it clear he was lending his counsel and services to cooling tempers and helping old colleagues rebuild bridges.
Election defeats can be numbing and confidence-shattering. Some election defeats can be explained as technical losses — as the defeat of 2004 was by the BJP. Others, such as the defeat of 2009, necessitate a more profound assessment, accompanied as they are by tectonic changes in Indian society as well as the passing of a generation of leaders within the party. It is natural that such a moment will throw up both rancour and debate. It is equally to be expected that weathercocks and timeservers will use the juncture to leave the party and move to greener pastures. A big institution has to be robust enough to survive such nasty surprises, to regroup and strike back. This was the broad-sweep perspective that Mr Bhagwat offered the BJP and its ordinary workers and supporters. His message has come as a huge morale-booster, especially for the party cadre. Now, the party’s leaders have to match the Sarsanghachalak’s sagacity with an honest team effort on their part.
KHAN IN BUSINESS AGAIN
PAKISTAN SETS FREE PEDDLER OF N-BOMBS
It is not entirely surprising that the Lahore High Court should have ordered the Government of Pakistan to lift all ‘security restrictions’, such as they were to begin with, on rogue scientist AQ Khan who, by his own admission, is guilty of selling technology and blueprints for making nuclear bombs to at least three countries — Iran, Libya and North Korea. In 2004, the Bush Administration had confronted then Pakistani President and Army chief, Gen Pervez Musharraf, with irrefutable evidence of AQ Khan running a clandestine nuclear bazaar. Gen Musharraf had pretended great shock and outrage although it remains unexplained as to how AQ Khan could have operated without the Pakistani Army’s knowledge, especially given the fact that he would frequently travel abroad on military aircraft to hawk nuclear know-how and enrichment components. The American Government did not press this point for understandable reasons — Washington, DC cannot afford to antagonise Rawalpindi — although that does not make the US decision condonable. Be that as it may, Gen Musharraf had then summoned AQ Khan and made him own up to his crime and beg for clemency on Pakistani television. Subsequently, he was placed under house arrest and disallowed any contact whatsoever with the outside world, or so it was claimed by Islamabad. On February 6 this year the Islamabad High Court ordered the Government to set AQ Khan free, but stipulated that his movements would continue to be restricted. Those restrictions have now been set aside by the Lahore High Court which has ruled that AQ Khan is a “free man” and at “liberty to go wherever he wants”. The peddler of illicit nuclear technology is obviously “delighted” — he can get back to his briefly disrupted trade.
The Pakistani Government will no doubt claim that since it’s a court order, it has no other option but to comply with the judge’s ruling. That’s bunkum: It can always contest the order in the Supreme Court, but it won’t — just as it has not bothered to contest court orders setting the chief terrorist of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and the mastermind behind the 26/11 jihadi attack on Mumbai, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, free despite overwhelming evidence against him. It would be facetious to suggest that the judiciary in Pakistan is an independent institution and only fools would believe that the Government is helpless in the face of such flawed orders. It would be no less naïve to subscribe to the view that the Americans are detached observers of such shenanigans. Had the US Administration truly wanted to, it would would have taken custody of AQ Khan in 2004 and made him spill the beans about Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation. But the fact that it did not do so tells its own story.
BJP NEEDS TOTAL CHANGE AT TOP
A political party, after a stunning electoral defeat, is somewhat like a defeated army in retreat. What we are witnessing today with the BJP is sad but not unexpected. I firmly believe that we cannot pass judgement on these complicated issues. But let us see the ‘split’ issue with the help of events in the past. Mrs Indira Gandhi was challenged by the ‘Syndicate’ in 1967 after a series of defeats. Even though she emerged victorious then, in 1977 the Congress was routed in north India in spite of winning over 150 seats. Mrs Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi and many members of the Gandhi clan were hounded by the Janata Party Government. In the process, Mrs Gandhi was challenged by many in her party. However, within a year she had regained control and it was basically her image and capacity as a leader to deliver election victories that rallied the Congress cadre in her favour.
The BJP was confident of victory in 2004 under Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee but lost. Again in 2009, despite high expectations and a string of impressive Assembly election wins, it lost the Lok Sabha election. In 2004 the minority vote had tipped against the party despite the presence of Mr Vajpayee. In 2009 the BJP lost out on a broader front as public perception of the party was overall negative. I believe that the party, like the Janata Dal in 1991, will keep suffering ‘casualties’ unless a total leadership change is effected.
Nevertheless, this looks unlikely at the moment and in the immediate future there will be further ‘casualties’. The BJP also has several pressure points which is evident in the case of former Chief Minister of Rajasthan Vasundhara Raje. The party in my opinion has already shrunk by 50 to 80 seats and could go down further. The Congress, on the other hand, could well cross 250 seats if polls were to be held today in the country. The BJP is in total turmoil, the Left is in chaos and in Uttar Pradesh the BSP and the SP are facing a heavy assault by the Congress spearheaded by Mr Rahul Gandhi.
In Bihar the RJD and the LJP are in serious trouble with the Congress trying to find its space in the State. The DMK is maintaining its electoral advantage in Tamil Nadu along with the Congress, and the first 100 days of the new Government have done little for the losers in the Lok Sabha election.
Mr Jaswant Singh, thanks to the needless controversy and his unnecessary expulsion from the BJP, will make a little fortune out of his book, which he deserves. His Jinnah — India, Partition, Independence represents his perception of events that took place and he is fully entitled to express his views. Many of us hold contrary views, but respecting differing opinions has been the greatest asset of our democracy. One has only to look back in time to see the respect which Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister had given to Opposition leaders despite their criticism of him.
I think it is important to remember that barring 1985, the Congress won several Lok Sabha elections with less than 50 per cent of the popular vote, indicating to both the winners and losers the reality of the situation and the need to work together on national issues. It is sad that a few political leaders today should make harsh remarks about the past. This only reflects their own weakness. Very few people need to be told about Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Mohammed Ali Jinnah by all historical accounts is someone who cannot be judged by a single speech that he had given but by his actions over a period of time. From 1937 onwards Jinnah was communal and his objective was dividing the country.
A healthy debate in academic circles should always be encouraged. While we live in the present, there is no harm if we revisit the past. But I have my doubts if the subject of Jinnah has any value in the electoral politics of today. Mr Singh is a man of integrity and it would be churlish to attribute motives to him, and the same is true of Mr Arun Shourie. Both had serious reservations about the direction that the BJP was taking.
There are no simplistic solutions for the BJP and with Mr Vajpayee out of active politics there is no one in the party who commands moral authority to resolve the crisis. Things will get worse before they get better for the party. Its biggest loss will be the talented youngsters who will have little option but to look for greener pastures. One wonders if any of this would have happened had the BJP won the election.
Meanwhile, change is imminent after a disaster. The US had little interest in terror activities till 9/11 took place and suddenly it had to find a system to curb this menace. After many years the US still continues to struggle with the likely solutions.
The debt derivates which wrecked the financial system in the US, the UK and many countries in Europe have fetched attention to off-shore accounts, and secret Swiss banks and tax evasion have become huge issues. The black money parked in offshore accounts runs into hundreds of billions of dollars. The positive thing is that US President Barack Obama is putting intense pressure on cleaning the system and the UBS Bank in Switzerland has agreed to provide account details to the IRS. I wonder if we will have any such luck. Clearly, it is for the G-20 to take a decision to impose sanctions against any country which encourages tax frauds.
INCULCATE VALUES TO CURB RAGGING
The expulsion of four MCA students from Jawaharlal Nehru University immediately after two seniors were suspended from All-India Institute of Medical Sciences and the recent suspension of two students of Kirori Mal College are bleak reminders of our inability to curb ragging. It’s been five months when the death of first year MBBS student Aman Kachroo due to ragging in Dr Rajendra Prasad Government Medical College at Tanda in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh compelled the Supreme Court to issue fresh guidelines on ragging.
Ragging is not bad if done in a friendly way, but it gets ugly when some seniors students fail to draw a line. And in the guise of establishing a rapport they torment their juniors. Ragging needs to be seen in a larger perspective rather than just a discipline issue. The steps taken by college and university administrations are commendable but one needs to understand why ragging continues to remain unabated.
First, ragging is not something that a student commits at the spur of the moment; rather it is a behavioural pattern. This can be tackled by identifying potential ‘raggers’ or ‘bullies’ at the school level and helping them bring about desired changes in their behaviour.
Ragging is an abject reflection of our failure to inculcate human values in children. Therefore, it is advisable that all educational institutions should teach values that negate the concept of ragging to not only build the character of students but also to sensitise them to the distress and agony that victims of ragging go through. For this, the recent step taken by JNU teachers to sensitise students to the dangers of ragging for five minutes every day before classes begin is a welcome move.
Second, although the primary responsibility of curbing ragging rests with educational institutions, it becomes difficult when such incidents take place outside college campus. Therefore, educational institutions should make the system of orientation more than a cursory introduction. Senior students should be allowed to make freshers familiar with the college campus. This will give a chance to both senior and junior students to break the ice in a friendly way.
Last but not the least, ragging must be dealt with an iron fist and institutions must expel or suspend students indulging in this heinous activity. Regulatory bodies should cancel or reduce the grants-in-aid to institutions that try to hush up incidents of ragging.
BEHIND THE LACQUERED IMAGE
THE LATEST JINNAH EPISODE IS ONE FOR THE GODS. JASWANT SINGH WRESTLES WITH THE MYSTERIES OF BYZANTINE CONSTITUTIONALISM IN HIS MASSIVE DISQUISITION ON JINNAH. WHAT HE FORGETS IS THAT SARTORIAL FASHION, CULINARY PREFERENCE AND CANINE PETS OFFER NO ASSURED ROUTE TO VALHALLA
Thinking his prattle to be tedious” — a reference to Mr Jaswant Singh and the earlier echoes of Mr LK Advani, not to King Richard II — I shall join the fray on Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Quaid-e-Azam to legions of the Muslim faithful as they strove to turn Pakistan from word to flesh. Mob power prevailed, as the pied piper’s tunes awakened dormant mob passions. Jinnah has been described as aristocratic by temperament and catholic in taste. Much the same could be said of Count Dracula, whose merest kiss delivered softly at the throat transformed his victims into bloodthirsty vampires of the night. The crucifix, the stake driven through the heart and garlic, were administered as cures for this state of being. Such black arts are clearly foreign to the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon in Washington, and to 10 Downing Street and Whitehall in London, so Pakistan’s bloody woes are set to continue without let or hindrance.
But why Jinnah’s ghost should ride again in India is one for the gods. Mr Singh wrestles with the mysteries of Byzantine constitutionalism in Jinnah—India, Partition, Independence, his massive disquisition on Jinnah. Mr LK Advani had earlier opened a can of worms with a pean on Jinnah’s Damascene experience of secularism and democratic governance on the eve of his taking office as Pakistan’s first Governor-General. Sartorial fashion, culinary preference, canine pets and a chauffeur at call to drive a treasured Bentley or Rolls is no assured route to Valhalla.
Jinnah was a good lawyer in the narrow definition of the term. He accumulated vast wealth through a lucrative practice in Bombay and was a man of property. In sum, Jinnah was a conniving beau, a polished mediocrity of limited intellect, with a withered spirit beating time in a bleak and tuberculosis ravaged frame.
The Quaid’s Muslim League called for Direct Action Day on August 16, 1946. The pamphlet which followed said: “The Bombay resolution of the All-India Muslim League has been broadcast. The call to revolt comes to us from a nation of heroes... The day for an open fight which is the greatest desire of the Muslim nation has arrived. Come, those who want to go to heaven... Those who are thieves and goondas, those without the strength of character and those who do not say their prayers — all come. The shining gates of heaven have been opened to you. Let us all cry out victory to Pakistan.”
So began the ‘Great Calcutta Killing’, a pogrom against the city’s Hindu population organised by the Bengal Chief Minister HS Suhrawardy’s Muslim League Government. Soon the subcontinent was aflame, as the communal holocaust spread to Punjab and beyond.
Jinnah kept stoking the fires. Addressing the Pathans of the Frontier later that year, Jinnah advised: “Well, if you want Pakistan, vote for the League candidates. If we fail to realise our duty today, you will be reduced to the status of sudras and Islam will be vanquished from India. I shall never allow Muslims to be slaves of Hindus.”
Half a century earlier, the young Winston Churchill, describing his experiences of the area and its people in The Story of the Malakand Field Force, wrote: “That religion, which above all others was founded and propagated by the sword — the tenets and principles of which are instinct with incentives to slaughter and which in three continents has produced fighting breeds of men — stimulates a wild and merciless fanaticism.”
Lord Birdwood called these Mehsud tribesmen, the same who raped, pillaged and killed in the Kashmir Valley in October 1947, “the most ungovernable of a wild community.” (India and Pakistan: A Continent Decides). Quaiyyum Khan, Chief Minister of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, made a special grant to the marauders. Jinnah, in conference with Mountbatten, offered to “call off the whole thing” if the latter would agree to his terms.
So who has got Jinnah right: Jawaharlal Nehru, denounced for his alleged pro-Muslim proclivities and hence a hate figure among the BJP faithful, or the Hindutva ideologues Mr Singh, Mr Advani and former RSS chief KS Sudarshan? Writing to Jinnah on December 9, 1939, Nehru confessed, apropos of their encounter: “But what has oppressed me terribly since yesterday is the realisation that our sense of values and objectives in life as well as in politics differs so very greatly... the gulf appears to be wider than ever. Under these circumstances, I wonder what purpose will be served by discussing with each other the problems that confront us. There must be some common ground for discussion, some common objective aimed at, for that discussion to yield fruit.”
American academic Stanley Wolpert’s biography of Jinnah presented a lacquered image of the man. Partition was all Nehru’s fault, responsibility for it shared by Vallabhbhai Patel and, of all people, Krishna Menon. It’s an information war directed at Indian nationalism and the political integrity of the Indian state.
The animus against Indian nationalists — scheming ‘Brahmins’ or seditionist ‘Bengali Baboos’ — was a staple of the Raj. Nehru’s refusal to make his country a toady of the West in the unfolding Cold War earned him the ire of its scribes and politicians. That war may be over, but some of its critical contours — the drive for a US-led unipolar world, for example — have yet to be expunged.
In June 1992, the Financial Timescolumnist Joe Rogaly advised India to settle with Pakistan at any cost and cut the defence budget, “after the Russians have been paid off for what they have supplied.” He also suggested that Non-Alignment and other such Nehruvian “delusions of grandeur” be jettisoned, as “we now live in one-superpower world, and any acquiescence in bloody attempts to repress secessionist movements will depend on the US.”
Khalistan, he suggested slyly, rhymed with Kurdistan, which at the time was designated a no-go area by the senior Bush Administration for Saddam Hussain’s regime in Baghdad.
Frank Roberts, the spry British Deputy High Commissioner in Delhi between 1947-49, dismissed Nehru as a hopeless idealist unable to grasp international politics, as incorrigibly vain. As a British Foreign Office mandarin and time-tested Russophobe, he preened himself as a man of the world. Field Marshal Montgomery saw him differently: As a menace to his country with his “rigid constipated mentality”. Quite so. Iraq and Afghanistan and much that preceded them are hardly symbols of British diplomatic or strategic success.
The reviled Nehru laid the foundations of Indian democracy, the rule of law, a modern industrialised economy based on science and technology; a nation, which 45 years after his death is reaching out to the stars.
Contemporary Pakistan is Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s enduring monument.
DRAWBACKS OF PROTECTIONISM
GREATER STATE INVOLVEMENT CAN HARM FISCAL PLANNING
Brazil and Mexico are planning to increase the number of oil and gas jobs allocated to domestic companies. Like most protectionist schemes, the unintended consequences on employment, production and revenue outweigh the intended ones.
In Brazil, with a massive new offshore oil discovery, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is proposing to award some exploration and production rights to Petrobras, the state-owned but publicly-trading oil group, without options for foreign firms. A new state company Petrosal would also award over half of shallow-water contracts to local companies. In deeper waters beyond the capacity of local companies, foreign bids would be invited but those pledging to incorporate Brazilian staff or technical resources would be favoured.
Mexico is on a similar protectionist trend. President Felipe Calderón signed off in December 2008 on plans to increase “local content” in the Mexican energy industry to 25 per cent, partly by creating a support fund for Mexican companies.
Ironically, this protectionism in energy is the opposite of the open trade that Mexico and Brazil have adopted in regional trade agreements and international competition in other fast-developing sectors such as agriculture and aerospace. So why oil?
In fact, Governments both rich and poor intervene considerably in oil and gas — including in the labour market — because the revenues can change the fate of the country. Oil allowed Angola to repay IMF debt and helped revitalise the UK economy under Margaret Thatcher. Indeed, blocking bids from foreign companies was a strategy of Norway, which actually postponed drilling to allow the country to build up other domestic oil service activities to run alongside the burgeoning industry.
The logic driving such decisions runs thus: Countries without domestic oil and gas companies find the exploration and production process becomes an enclave economy, with foreign experts shipped in and out and the fiscal proceeds going straight to Government by way of royalties instead of to local companies and employees. But there are pitfalls to protectionism.
Firstly, state-owned oil and gas companies have proven less efficient than private corporations. “On average, NOCs (national, state-owned, oil companies) extract resources at a far lower rate than IOCs (independent oil companies),” says Mark C Thurber, Director of the Programme on Energy and Sustainable Development at Stanford University.
This is because monopolies are not subject to competition and are prone to corruption: Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas company, has debts totalling $ 40 billion and has brought only one new Russian gas field on stream since the early 1990s.
State companies also pursue political strategies not relevant to — and sometimes at odds with — the business of drilling. Iran, for instance, has just pledged to fund a refinery in Uganda. This makes no commercial sense, since Iran is struggling to develop its own small refining capacity (it rationed gasoline in 2006) and landlocked Uganda has no comparative advantage in refining. However, Iran may be increasing such overseas oil deals to complicate potential sanctions against its nuclear programme.
The problem is that inefficiency doesn’t simply mean getting consistently less oil, or getting it slower. It can mean sharper slumps in oil production than with more experienced and efficient firms. In countries where oil revenues generate a significant fraction of the economy, such slumps wreak havoc on Government budgets, leading to extravagant overspending or intolerable austerity.
Greater state involvement in exploitation can therefore harm fiscal planning. Venezuela shows the dangers.
“Hugo Chavez has remade PdVSA (Venezuela’s state-owned oil company) into a Government puppet that spends liberally on social programmes, but it consistently undershoots its production targets,” says Dr Thurber. This means the terms of foreign contracts are frequently changed to balance the Government books, deterring foreign investment, which further undermines oil production and thus Government spending upon which the population increasingly depends. Similar policies mean Venezuela is now short of once-abundant coffee and sugar too.
Protecting labour markets is, on balance, problematic if not incoherent. Mexico’s oil group Pemex is employing foreign firms to help improve its low oil recovery rates at the same time as the Mexican Government tries to increase the domestic labour share: It is precisely because its domestic industry has been unproductive that Mexico needs to invite foreign companies in.
In Brazil, the offshore reserves in question are enormous and could deliver up to 1.3 million barrels per day. Maximising the benefits of such a find would be best served by the competitive pressure of open bidding, yielding steadier tax revenue, from foreign firms as well as Petrobras.
In the current crisis, Governments everywhere are tempted to intervene in markets but what makes sense during the good times makes sense during the bad times too: The patriotic solution is to let the market do the work.
The writer is editor of Exploration and Production: Oil and Gas Review, an independent international journal published from London.
REDRAFT THE NEW TAX CODE
IF THE PURPOSE IS TO MAKE TAX LAWS PEOPLE-FRIENDLY AND GROWTH-ORIENTED, INSTEAD OF MERELY PUSHING UP REVENUE COLLECTION, THE PROPOSED NEW TAX REGIME FAILS MISERABLY
The new draft tax code brought out by the Finance Minister was supposed to be simple, unambiguous, easy to understand and help individual assess his tax liability without assistance. But it has miserably failed on these counts. The code has also not changed either the tax rates or the liabilities. Old wine in new bottle, if at all it can be called new, will not serve the purpose for which the exercise has been undertaken and the ostensible purpose of better tax compliance cannot be achieved.
While trying to ape the Western system in the new tax code, the Finance Minister seems to have forgotten that we needed to evolve a system that is best suited for our economic conditions. Joint families in rural and semi-urban areas still depend on one income. The tax code has ignored this aspect. It has also not taken into account the erosion of the purchasing power of the rupee while fixing the supposedly new rates. Mostly old rates have been retained as at present.
The euphoria that it is ushering in a low tax regime is misplaced. Tax rate at the lower level — Rs 1.6 lakh to Rs 3 lakh — has been retained at 10 per cent. This is the most vulnerable class of the society, which has faced severe erosion in income due to high inflation. At that level if one has to pay a tax of Rs 10,000-Rs 30,000, it would upset his/her home budget. This class needed to be integrated into the tax system but not in a punishing manner. It would be better if they would have been asked to pay a token tax between Rs 1,500-Rs 4,000 a year. In reality, income up to Rs 2 lakh should not be taxed at all.
The Government can say that it has given relief up to a level of income of Rs 10 lakh. But with the rise in food prices, house rent, health care, transport charges and cost of education, 10 per cent tax rate is extremely high. The code also has not taken into consideration future inflation rate.
The Income Tax Act was enacted in 1961. Almost after 50 years an effort is being made to usher in a change. But if it also carries the baggage of the past and lacks futuristic vision, it is better not to have a new tax document.
It is only going to complicate the issues further. Those earning up to Rs 10 lakh a year are far poorer than those who were earning Rs 10,000 a year in 1961, if we compare it on the basis of the prices and the cost of living indices. If the Government wants better tax compliance from this section, it needs to reduce the rate to five per cent at this level. The tax structure in the new tax code has been considered on the basis of the income of the salaried class. The code drafters apparently forgot that there are other sections of the people who in order to skip their running business cost and evade the tax fudge the accounts. The tax code has not tried to make the payment of tax lucrative for them. A lower tax rate at five per cent would have been an incentive.
Similarly, the slab above Rs 10 lakh also needs to be redone. There should be a slab of Rs 10 lakh to Rs 15 lakh, which should be asked to pay at 10 per cent. Those earning beyond Rs 15 lakh should be asked to pay a maximum of 20 per cent. There is no rationale for having a 30 per cent rate for individuals as even now an individual good at complicated tax calculations do not pay more that about 23 per cent of his income as taxes. The concept needs rationalisation.
It would definitely entail efforts at redrafting and cause some delay in implementation of the new tax law. But this will effectively bring down the rates and that would ensure better revenue realisation.
The corporate tax structure also needs a revision and it should be brought down to the effective rate of 25 per cent. At present, most corporates with minimum alternative tax and some other provisions end up paying almost 36 per cent tax. If the Government wants to ensure a low price regime, it also has to ensure low cost system, which unfortunately the new tax code does not promise.
It is also not wise to include leave travel concession, rent-free accommodation, medical reimbursement, retirement benefits and leave encashment in the tax calculation process. An employee is given LTC for two purposes — to see the country, help in the integration process and also generate business and incomes of people living away from the central hubs. Similarly, medical expenses are reimbursed for ensuring better health of an employee and his/her family. If it is taxed it would burden the nation with higher health care costs. A rent-free accommodation is often given for the purpose of carrying out a business and makes a job look lucrative. Taxing these does more harm than good.
The purpose of a new tax regime should be pro-people, growth-oriented and just not mere revenue collection. A tax instrument should be used as a tool for ushering in social change and honest behaviour.
The writer is a senior economic affairs journalist.
RURAL JOBS SCHEME FAILS TO STOP MIGRATION
TRIBAL WOMEN IN MANY BLOCKS OF JHARKHAND ARE LEAVING THEIR HOMES TO EARN A LIVELIHOOD ELSEWHERE, WRITES ALOKA
While the UPA Government gets ready to take its flagship programme NREGA to the next phase of implementation, some niggling doubts and unresolved issues of the previous phase of the NREGA and its present level of implementation need to be addressed.
Recently, there has been a surge in migration from rural areas with a largely tribal population in Jharkhand. Promise of jobs under NREGA has not left much here to one’s imagination. If the Government claims of providing jobs to the people in the remotest villages, why are they migrating in droves, leaving behind their homes and lands? According to various estimates, last year alone about 80,000 girls moved from Jharkhand to Delhi. The migration is mainly from tribal areas of Gumla, Giridih, Ranchi, Hazaribagh and Lohardaga. A large number of employment agencies that have sprung up in Ranchi, Gumla and Delhi for assisting these girls in getting jobs are a testimony to this disturbing trend.
Interestingly, a law was passed two years ago which clearly provides for an unemployment allowance to the targeted beneficiaries who are not provided with the stipulated 100 days’ of work and the ensuing wages under NREGA.
Poor villagers complain that the employment guarantee scheme has not benefited them in anyway. “It is impossible to meet the needs of my family with the wages earned by one member which is what the Government provides. This cannot cover even basic needs like food,” says Etwa Oraon of Tuki colony in Mandar block. Oraon’s daughter Rameeya has gone to Delhi in search of work. Many young women from Mandar, Budmu, Raatu and Kanker blocks have found employment in brick kilns in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.
The large-scale migration of women is not only a reflection of the lacunae in the NREGA but also at several implementation stages of the scheme. There is a strong nexus of middlemen and contractors at the block level which corners the benefits originally meant for poor women. NREGA implementation in Jharkhand is characterised by fake muster rolls, delayed payments and irregularity in job card distribution. In the absence of panchayat elections, Gram Sabhas in several villages have been inactive, thus adversely affecting implementation of the scheme.
In Budme block 40 women who worked for a week to dig a pond were not paid any wages by the contractor. These women had no choice but to join the bands of migrating workers. In another instance one Sukri Oraon was provided work for only six days but in her job card it was entered as 15 days. However, even for the legitimate six days of work Sukri did not receive any wages. The experience has left her bitter and today she has no illusions about the much-touted programme. Sukri, who has now moved to another city where she has found work, say that the NREGA cannot provide work to poor women like her.
One must, however, remember that unlike other states Jharkhand has unique geographical features and local communities are not entirely dependent on farming to earn a livelihood. Non-farming activities are very much part of their earning sources. Thus, wages for labour through NREGA would be highly appropriate in the region.
While many other women leave their homes and prefer working in coal mines in other districts of the State where they get a comparatively better wage of Rs 200 a day than a mere Rs 73 under NREGA, the reasons for doing this is quite clear. For the Government and its authorities at the programme implementation level it should be a wake-up call which reflects the inability to translate the potential of NREGA to transform the lives of the poor.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
A GOOD FIRST STEP
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), under the direction of the Union human resource development ministry, has decided to do away with class X exams in all schools that are affiliated to it from 2010. This decision is welcome. As we have argued in these columns India's education system, ranging from school-level education to higher institutes of learning, is in serious need of reform if the country's demographic dividend is to pay off. Introducing a degree of flexibility in the system by abolishing the class X boards is a good first step.
The implementation of this measure is a victory for HRD minister Kapil Sibal, who has been successful in alleviating the concerns of state education boards. They had previously expressed reservations about how a system without testing students in class X would work. However, many have since said that they will consider going the CBSE way if the method proves to be successful. That, hopefully, will be the case.
Students will be subjected to continuous comprehensive evaluation instead of having to write exams, while those who want to switch schools can test themselves by taking an optional online test. A related development is the introduction of a grading system to replace marks in CBSE schools, which will also serve the dual purpose of reducing exam stress on students while making the system more flexible. Educationists have stressed that continuous assessment of a student's performance in class is a much more effective method of evaluation than examinations, which might produce abnormal results due to the pressure to excel. Assessing students throughout the year is at the same time a more rigorous test of what they have learned. Mugging up textbooks in the two months leading up to the boards will no longer yield the desired result.
But these measures, while beneficial, cannot by themselves fix what ails our education system. Class XII exams remain the same, not to mention the deep-seated problems in our higher education system. Exam stress isn't caused by exams per se, but rather their use as a filtration device to narrow access to limited higher educational opportunities. The space for quality higher education needs to be opened up by allowing autonomy for colleges and permitting the entry of for-profit rather than pseudo-charitable institutions, ending the licence-permit-quota raj in this area. Such an approach to ending artificial shortages which would pay off at the school level as well must define the agenda ahead.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
The turmoil within the BJP is far from over even though RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat is confident the party will survive the crisis. At a rare press conference on Friday, Bhagwat also said the RSS can only offer advice, not run the BJP. Within hours, the party's ambitious second rung leaders were at the RSS headquarters in Delhi seeking audience with Bhagwat. Clearly, the BJP, three decades after its formation, continues to be dependent on the RSS to give directions on political and organisational matters.
The organic link between the RSS and the BJP was never in doubt, but the relations between the two outfits had been tense in the past few years. This was largely due to the growth and development of the BJP, first as a political party and, later, as a party in the running for office at the Centre. When the BJP began to expand its social base, it had to woo voters who were not schooled in RSS shakhas. As part of building political coalitions to gain office, the party had to relegate core issues of Hindutva to the back burner. The RSS leadership saw these tactical measures as a dilution of ideology while the BJP leaders justified them as essential compromises to project itself as a party of governance. Bhagwat has said that the RSS would do "stocktaking" on whether the BJP did justice to the role decided for it by the Sangh. That the RSS has no plans to build another party to execute its agendas is an indication that it expects the BJP to be its face in electoral politics.
The hold of the RSS over the BJP is unlikely to help the latter expand its base. The BJP's tally in the Lok Sabha has been on the decline since the 1990s. It has failed to expand its footprint in the southern and eastern regions or consolidate its base in its strongholds. By returning to its RSS roots, the party is unlikely to win electoral acceptance in these regions. For that the BJP has to rebrand itself as a political party that appeals to an increasingly young electorate and with a modern world view. That might be difficult if it continues to be dependent on the Sangh brotherhood for organisational muscle and ideological orientation.
This is the larger crisis facing the BJP, which is unlikely to disappear even if leadership tussles are amicably settled. The party may only have complicated its future by openly involving the RSS in its organisational matters at this critical juncture.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
A GLOBAL CONCERN
WASHINGTON: Afghanistan's presidential election is still a work in progress but its implications will be enormous. President Barack Obama's new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan needs a legitimate and credible outcome from this election in order to build support for what is now America's longest war both at home and abroad. The NATO mission in Afghanistan needs an Afghan partner who has the support of the Afghan people and can provide the decent governance that is essential to fighting an insurgency. War weariness is gaining ground in America and Europe, a flawed election would only add to discontent.
The preliminary results released on the Afghan elections so far are too small (only 17 per cent of the polling places) to mean much. The claims of victory by the contenders, including incumbent president Hamid Karzai (a Pashtun) and his main challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah (a Tajik), should also be given little attention; they are just spin. Charges of fraud and vote tampering need to be investigated thoroughly. Final results are not expected until next month and they will provide much more insight into the status of the war.
The actual voting day events violent and non-violent demonstrated that both sides of the war achieved some, but not all, of their goals. For NATO and the Afghan government, the major accomplishment was just holding the election in the face of the Taliban's announced determination to disrupt the process. This is a pretty low bar for a military alliance with almost 1,00,000 foreign troops and 1,50,000 Afghan security personnel on the ground but it was passed. The more difficult challenge of convincing Afghans and others that the outcome is legitimate and credible still lies ahead.
For the Taliban and its al-Qaeda partners, while they failed in their promised goal to disrupt the voting so as to prevent any semblance of an election, they succeeded in intimidating voters in many parts of the country, especially females, to effect a low turnout.
While we await the final results, it is useful to look back at Afghanistan's previous elections to set a base for interpreting the 2009 vote. In 2004, Karzai won Afghanistan's first election by getting 56 per cent of the vote with an official turnout of about 70 per cent. It was more of a coronation than an election. Everyone knew that Karzai was America's choice and the Taliban was unable to muster a serious challenge to the process.
Indeed one of the clear lessons of both 2005 and 2009 is the widespread disaffection of the Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group (about 40 per cent of the population). The south, heartland of the old Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, has never accepted the legitimacy of its overthrow in 2001. It will be very difficult under the best of circumstances to change that mood.
Next door, Pakistanis will be watching to see whether NATO or the Taliban look like winners and calculate their own policies as a result. Islamabad's calculation of the outcome is as important as anyone's. It will impact the Pakistani army's assessment of NATO's staying power which is currently very low. Pakistanis have seen America abandon Afghanistan twice before and expect it to happen again. The generals who run Pakistan's Afghan policies, therefore, keep their Taliban connections alive as a hedge for the future.
A credible election won't change Pakistani attitudes overnight; but it will provide the basis for a sustainable NATO presence in Afghanistan while the alliance builds up the strength of the Afghan army and police force probably doubling its size so they can contain the Taliban threat themselves, allowing foreign forces to begin their draw down.
So what next? If Karzai wins narrowly in the first round, he will owe victory to the politicians and warlords who endorsed him in the last months of the campaign, especially Abdul Rashid Dostam. Dostam is well known as an exceptionally brutal warlord who controls much of the Uzbek vote. If Karzai wins because of Dostam, then prospects for anti-corruption measures and good governance will be slim.
If no one gets 50 per cent plus one, we will have a run-off second round in October. Karzai and his likely opponent Abdullah Abdullah will have a real horse race. Each will seek endorsements from the other contenders and the warlords. Dostam could flip again. The Taliban will try again to assassinate the candidates and upturn the process. Much can and will go wrong. But a second round would also build legitimacy and credibility into the Afghan political process. More democracy not less is a good thing in this war. After almost eight years of neglect, the Taliban are winning. A new strategy, new commanders and more troops can reverse that trend but only if they have a credible Afghan partner.
The writer is a senior fellow in the Saban Centre for Middle East policy at the Brookings Institution. Reprinted with permission from YaleGlobal (www.yaleglobal.yale.edu). Copyright: Yale Cenrte for the Study of Globalisation, 2009.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
'INDIA & PAKISTAN NEED TO BRING DOWN THRESHOLD OF MISTRUST'
Imtiaz Gul has written extensively on Islamist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan and currently heads the Centre for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad. On a recent visit to India, he spoke with Vikram Sinha about the ongoing battle against militancy in both countries:
With Baitullah Mehsud's death, there is a pressure point that Islamabad can exploit. How do you see that shaping up?
The departure of Mehsud took away the magnet that was keeping so many militants together. He was the bridge between them and al-Qaeda. It will take his successor some time to rebuild that bridge. The context that existed for Mehsud and allowed him to ride a wave of popularity to the top does not exist for his successor. The Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP) stands discredited for what it tried to do in Swat and Malakand, resulting in the exodus of over two million people. Secondly, there is much greater cooperation between the Pakistani military and the US military. And lastly, there is much greater coordination between the civilian government and the security apparatus. These three factors go against any other leader galvanising the people the way Mehsud did.
The official line coming out of Islamabad is that they are protesting the US drone strikes within Pakistan, but obviously Islamabad has been feeding intelligence to US forces.
There is no dichotomy there. Obviously, drone attacks impinge on Pakistan's sovereignty. But this is a necessity. For public consumption and to appease opposition parties, they have to keep attacking the drone attacks. But as a necessity that has also demonstrated its utility, there is no issue at the governmental level.
There have been US statements lately that they would like to engage with second-tier Taliban leaders. Now that Mehsud is dead, do you see Islamabad employing similar tactics with the TTP?
The Americans and the Afghans have not managed to splinter the Afghan Taliban despite all the talk of good Taliban, bad Taliban. As long as the hardcore elements remain intact, whether in Afghanistan or Pakistan, it will not work. Taking out as many big heads as possible is a prerequisite. Until people actually see them captured or killed, the militancy might be whittled down but it will not go away. And also, the governments have to back it up with governance. Justice delivery, governance, economy, health, personal security, education, all these things have to move in tandem.
There has been apprehension in Pakistan about Indian reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.
Both countries need to bring down the threshold of mistrust. There is this fear of Indo-American-Afghan encirclement of Pakistan. This would be from the security establishment's point of view and it's a genuine apprehension. But you don't live by apprehensions. You have to engage in dialogue. You can't prevent a sovereign country from allowing another country to help it by constructing roads or hospitals. The solution, perhaps, is that Pakistan reaches out to Afghanistan and says it wants to do the same thing.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THE RAPIER AND THE HATCHET
Who would you rather be, Silva 'The Axe Murderer' or Antonio Banderas as 'Zorro'? Indeed, who would you rather be demolished by? Long before either the boxer or the film, Cassius in 'Julius Caesar' summed up the civilised mode of dispatch: "Let us carve him as a dish fit for the gods not hew him as a carcass fit for hounds."
That roughly, or exactly, is what distinguishes humour from conventional weapons of attack. It deploys the pinpoint thrust of the fencing sword, not the hammer blow of the cleaver. It calls for greater finesse, and creates less of a mess.
Much has been said about laughter as therapy; more should be said about it as pure theatre. Wilde vs Wodehouse is a controversy that will never be resolved. But two facts should pass unchallenged. One, the British are much better at it than the Americans (and the mass Irish migrations don't seem to have altered this). Two, each of these writers elevated humour to something beyond the joke book, just as Charlie Chaplin is enshrined as a great film-maker not as a circus clown.
More than literary satire or other genres of stylish humour, it is the political blade that bleeds best. It is a pity that we get to know as little about our politicians' sense of humour as about their proficiency in sex. One can't say categorically which would be worse: our netas having the wrong kind of both, or their having neither. Again you can't beat the Brits at this. There's a bottomless cornucopia of scalpel quips and anecdotes, made doubly sharp when exposing the historic rivalries.
No viciously unparliamentary speech could achieve the devastating end as a single insult delivered with the precision and quietness of a space docking. Churchill scores highest. He memorably said of Attlee, "He is a modest man, but then he has much to be modest about.'' But Churchill's formidable arrows were not necessarily his armour. The stiletto- tongued Dame Margot Asquith described him as a man who "would kill his own mother just so that he could use her skin to make a drum to beat his own praises".
This of course was the same haughty lady who, on a visit to Hollywood, was supremely irritated by Jean Harlow. The siren actress not only had the impertinence to address her by her first name but kept mispronouncing it to rhyme with 'pot'. She finally silenced her with arsenic politeness: "It's 'Margo'. The 't' is silent, as in 'harlot'."
It is telling that the least likeable of American presidents were the two with the least evidence of a sense of humour, Nixon and Bush. In fact, absence made the hearty laugh about them grow stronger, the 'used-car salesman' and the man 'born with a silver foot in his mouth' gave more grist to their rivals' mill than the current masochism of the BJP.
Which, too, endorses the point about the triumph of the quiet barb over the AK-47 assault. Jaswant Singh's attack had the quality of and about as much humour as a desert storm. Arun Shourie used a completely different tack while taking the wind out of the billowing ego of the party's top masts.
Smarter Shourie chose ridicule over recrimination. He made fun of the leaders, and did so with visible glee, bubbling over with wicked metaphors of 'kati patangs', 'Alice in Blunderland' and 'Humpty Dumpty'. He didn't go for the jugular, he went for the short and curlies. And as things have turned out, he's the one who has survived with his membership intact. So the next time you want to attack Pakistan or partymen, your own or theirs, don't send in the heavy artillery; simply deploy a Cyrus Broacha . Or a Param Vir Das.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
DEATH & PROFIT
THE ART OF DYING
NEW YORK: Death has always been the province of rebels and misfits, the ultimate act that defined martyrs and heroes. Contemporary capitalism has added a new dimension to death's finality. It has transformed it into a stellar business opportunity. The reported $100 million that Michael Jackson's estate made in the first seven weeks after he died easily surpassed the $52 million generated last year by the estate of Elvis Presley, formerly the highest-grossing dead celebrity, according to Forbes magazine. It is way ahead of Marilyn Monroe's $6.5 million last year, James Dean's $5 million and John Lennon's $9 million. Death has long been a savvy financial move in the visual arts: it guarantees that the supply of new works has come to an end, conferring scarcity value upon the existing oeuvre. For an artist it is better to die old, however. Death can reduce the value of young artists by taking them from the market before immortality is assured.
The soaring valuations of dead rebels are a more recent phenomenon. They tend to be most profitable when they die young. It was probably the 1960s that ushered in rebellion as a consumer good. Its first icon might have been Che Guevara, the Argentine heartthrob who was shot in Bolivia in 1967, setting off an eventual revolution in the T-shirt industry. But Alberto Korda made no royalties from his iconic photograph of Che as it was emblazoned across young chests from Greenwich Village to the Left Bank in Paris. The Jackson camp isn't making that mistake. According to reports, there is already a film deal, a commemorative coin, a line of school supplies and a $150 coffee-table book. And investors are weighing future returns. In 2004, an entrepreneur bought 85 per cent of the company that owns the rights to all of Elvis Presley's intellectual property. But for all the attractions of money, capitalism still poses a danger for the misfit, the rebel, the hero who risk being swallowed by the profit motive and spat back - in more marketable versions of themselves. In the 1990s, Apple Computer's 'Think Different' campaign saluted "the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers", and declared, "The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do." Many people were convinced these lines were from Jack Kerouac, who drank himself to death in 1969. They were pure ad copy.
OR TAKE - SPEAKING OF SURVIVAL
THE RISE AND FALL OF LANGUAGES LIKE SANSKRIT IS A NATURAL OUTCOME OF SOCIAL EVOLUTION
That old grandmother of languages, long kept on a ventilator by outdated school curricula, is being given a fresh lease of life by a group of determined enthusiasts. So while in Lucknow, an e-tutorial project aims to put a module of courses online to enable people to study Sanskrit, an academy in Gujarat is using the lure of Bollywood to resuscitate a near-dead language. The idea is not just to be able to read those great storytellers like Valmiki, Ved Vyas and Kalidas in the original, but also to help Sanskrit buffs incorporate its use in daily life. Many other traditional Indian vernaculars, however, have not been so lucky.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's (Unesco) 2009 Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger of Disappearing, India tops the list of countries where languages are precariously balanced between neglect and extinction. We have 196 endangered languages, including 84 that are `unsafe', 62 that are definitely endangered, 35 officially endangered and nine extinct languages. Those who mourn the loss of our diverse linguistic heritage complain about the neglect that has beset all those tongues not included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, which lists 22 `Indian' languages. All others are left out in the cold, being listed in the census as, well, `others'.
Unesco also lists about 2,500 of the 6,000 languages spoken in the world as doomed or likely to disappear in the foreseeable future. In India alone, the 2001 census catalogued a whopping 6,661 mother tongues, later distilled into about 122 scheduled and non-scheduled languages. Selfhelp aside, frequent demands have been made on the State to rescue local dialects and patois from being lost forever.
In this, we are not alone. There are 199 languages in the world spoken by fewer than a dozen people, often with a single person watching over a dying flame. Given this situation, the promotion of a language, familiar to a handful, by those protective of their mother tongue is one thing. But then others who want the State to come to the rescue of a provincial patois, spoken by one hundredth of a tiny village, might be asking for too much. Besides, languages, like living species, fall under the cold rule of evolution that sees them change, mutate or die. So to define languages as `pure' or `endangered' or `dying', with a need to protect them, is itself a flawed way of going about things. Gestures of statutory protection are little else but attempts at showing that the nation cares for its many peoples. It does little in real terms to `protect' languages.
SMALL ISN’T BEAUTIFUL
A year ago, tiny Georgia tried to regain control over its breakaway enclave of South Ossetia. The Russians quickly expelled the Georgian army, to almost universal opprobrium from the West. South Ossetia, together with Abkhazia (combined population 300,000), promptly declared their ‘independence’, creating two new fictional sovereignties, and acquiring in the process all the official trappings of statehood: national heroes, colourful uniforms, anthems, flags, frontier posts, military forces, presidents, parliaments, and, most important, new opportunities for smuggling and corruption.
So far, only Russia and Nicaragua recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian recognition was widely seen as retaliation for Western recognition of Kosovo (population 2 million), the breakaway province of Serbia, earlier last year.
A thousand miles to the west of Georgia is Moldova (population 3.5 million), which lies between Romania and Ukraine. Annexed by Tsarist Russia in 1812, joined to Romania in 1918, and re-annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, it seized its independence from Moscow in 1991. It is a member of the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the World Trade Organisation, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and various other prestigious international bodies.
Moldova’s claim to fame is King Stephen the Great, who defeated the Ottomans in a great 15th century battle. It also produces rather good wine. An enduring memory from my own recent visit to its capital, Chisinau, is the election poster of a local politician called Lupu, who holds a pair of spectacles to his eyes, whether to suggest visions or wisdom isn’t clear.
To get to Moldova from Odessa (now in Ukraine), one must drive through the self-proclaimed ‘republic’ of Transdniestria (population 700,000), a sliver of land on the north shore of the Dniester river. A clump of peeling buildings, rusting wire, and a filthy lavatory mark the start of Transdniestrian sovereignty.
Progress through this squalid, but well manned, frontier post involved the stamping of lots of documents and a liberal scattering of bribes, a process repeated on leaving the ‘republic’. A shadowy mafia-style company, Sheriff, owns most of the economy. It is said to have close links to the president and his family. It has built a giant football stadium in the capital, Tiraspol, which seems to be some kind of symbol of Transdniestrian virility. Unrecognised by the rest of the world, Transdniestrian ‘independence’ is secured by a Russian garrison.
The world’s population is about 6 billion. Suppose it was divided into independent political units of 2 million people each. That would mean 3,000 micro-States, each refusing to accept any sovereignty superior to its own. Of course, this would be a recipe for global anarchy.
Yet the trend over the past century has been towards a continuous increase in the number of small States, mainly owing to nationalist revolts against multi-national empires: the latest bout of state-creation followed the disintegration of the USSR. Even long-established States like the United Kingdom now have strong separatist movements. In its political life, the world has been regressing to a form of tribalism, even as its economic life has become increasingly globalised.
The equation of State with nation is the arch-heresy of our time. A ‘nation’ is, at root, an ethno-linguistic — occasionally religious — entity, and because it is through language and liturgy that culture is transmitted, each nation will have its own distinctive cultural history, available for use and misuse, invention and discovery.
The State, however, is a political construction, designed to keep the peace in an economically viable territory. There are simply too many ‘nations’, actual or potential, to form the basis of a world system of States, not least because so many of them, having been jumbled up for centuries, cannot now be disentangled.
Micro-States can never be made small enough to satisfy their advocates’ exalted standards of cultural integrity. So the unravelling of multi-national States is a false path. The way forward lies in democratic forms of federalism, which can preserve sufficient central authority for the
purposes of statehood, while respecting local and regional cultures.
Today’s upsurge of micro-nationalism is not just a consequence of the revolt against empires: it is also a revolt against globalisation. There is widespread resistance to the idea that the chief function of modern states is to slot their peoples into a global market dominated by the imperatives of efficiency and cheapness, heedless of the damage to non-economic activities. This feeling is strengthened when the global economy turns out to be a global casino. National assertion is a way of combating impersonal forces and remote authorities.
Globalisation promises too much in terms of welfare gains, particularly to developing countries, to be abandoned. But the lesson from the current crisis is that we will have to develop styles of global economic governance to manage, regulate, and mitigate the creative, but often disruptive forces unleashed by the global market. In the absence of an actual world government, this can be done only through cooperation among States. The fewer ‘sovereigns’ there are, the easier it will be to secure the necessary cooperation.
The Bretton Woods Agreement of 1944, which laid the institutional foundation for the post-war World War II economy, was made possible because the United States and Britain called the shots. When objections were raised to Cuba being put on the drafting committee, Harry Dexter White, the American representative, remarked that Cuba’s function was to provide cigars.
Such a cavalier attitude to the demands of lesser powers to be heard is no longer possible. But all this means is that the facades will have to be more subtle and the fictions more elaborate. Provided we do not deceive ourselves about where real power lies, let presidents and parliaments be three a penny if that is what makes people feel good about themselves.
Robert Skidelsky is a Member of the British House of Lords and Professor emeritus of political economy at Warwick University Project Syndicate
BETWEEN US - WILL ADVANI CALL IT QUITS SOON?
PANKAJ VOHRA, POLITICAL EDITOR
The statement of Mohan Bhagwat, sarsanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) , on the importance of ideology has put a question mark on the future of senior BJP leaders. Bhagwat's message to the BJP cadres, mostly drawn from the RSS, is that the party is in a mess because it has deviated from its ideology. Therefore, the only way to restore sanity is to go back to its core beliefs.
A simple interpretation of Bhagwat's press conference is that the RSS will now be required to put in place systems for the BJP to function properly. For the RSS, individuals are no longer important. There would be no larger-than-life leaders like L.K. Advani and A.B. Vajpayee in future.
Instead, the new leaders will have to be part of the established system and carry their work in accordance with the Sangh's ideology. Therefore, Advani's continuation as the top-most party leader is in doubt.
It is also unlikely that one of the four second-rung leaders, who are in their 50s, would be acceptable to the RSS to lead the party inside or outside Parliament.
There are four names doing the rounds as the BJP's next top leader: Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Venkaiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar. All of them may be capable but the RSS holds a dim view of their capacity to lead the party and adhere to its ideology.
By this yardstick, if any of the four continues to enjoy importance within the parivar in the post-Advani scenario, it will be a surprise. It is also certain that none of the four as well as Advani is going to give in to the RSS easily and may have to be forcefully persuaded to quit.
The future of these leaders is linked to Advani, whose credibility is now at an all-time low. His colleagues -- George Fernandes, Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha, Brajesh Mishra and Arun Shourie -- have accused him of lying about the Kandahar episode. Further, it is being alleged that he was the brain behind the cash-for-vote scam in Parliament in July 2008. Any leader who is painted as a `liar' by his own colleagues will be on the backfoot. His continuation, therefore, is untenable. It is for the party and the RSS to decide the timeframe for his departure. But it has to be sooner than later. Otherwise the BJP's credibility will sink further. The four second-rank leaders draw their strength from Advani since they have no mass base. All of them had a role to play in the party's electoral strategy and ticket distribution in 2009 and can be held accountable for its poor showing. Out of the four, only Ananth Kumar has the distinction of winning four consecutive Lok Sabha polls and may survive the crisis because of his good electoral record and also because he is one of the most-promising younger leaders from south India, where the BJP wants to make inroads.
There has also been an attempt to target Rajnath Singh so that the focus shifts from Advani. Rajnath's ability to lead the party was always in question and as a senior BJP leader put it, his is the case of a jawan becoming a general. He has been already told that he has to go but, like Advani, he is also trying to buy as much time as possible.
Many BJP leaders thought that Advani would not give in easily to the RSS and could contemplate severing links with the Sangh. But if he does that, he may discover to his dismay that there will not be too many supporters. He is a swayamsevak and knows what M.S. Golwalkar had stated: if a leader loses his relevance whatever his past contributions may be, he should not become a liability for the organisation but withdraw himself from the scene. Will Advani do that? Between us.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s supreme leader, Mohan Bhagwat, has so far said all the right things — by which it can be inferred he has said practically nothing, if at great length. The RSS, we are told, does not intend to fix the Bharatiya Janata Party, its errant progeny; but the BJP had better shape up. The RSS will not mandate who fills which role in the party’s structure; but the party had better get end its unseemly infighting now. Whether that message has hit home is not certain; but the flurry of meeting between the party’s and the Sangh’s top brass does seem to indicate that something is about to give.
The Sangh’s holier-than-thou attitude about BJP infighting, of course, may not be as universally supportable as it woiuld like. There have been enough well-substantiated incidents of second-rung RSS functionaries taking more than a neutral, observer’s stance in the BJP’s state-level decision-making — the people expelled dissident Jaswant Singh called “suvidhabhogis”, addicted to convenience. But if the RSS’ national-level leadership wishes to set a different, distanced tone, that could be welcome. What is certainly still open to question is how much that tone continues behind closed doors — and how much elements within the BJP will use the RSS’ approval or disapproval in their internal manoeuvring. But that will not remain a secret for long. One way or another, we will know soon: for the BJP and the RSS have come to a fork in the road, and how the RSS handles the BJP, and the BJP handles the RSS in this transition, will decide what sort of relationship they enjoy going forward.
Will that be the one that Mohan Bhagwat has announced is the preferred one? That the RSS, like the President of India, does not give orders, but certainly retains the right to advise, counsel and warn? Will it be closer, with the Sangh’s sanction, real or imagined, required for the broad ideological thrusts of the party, even in economic and foreign policy, and a quiet nod of approval expected for those filling major party posts? Or will it be more distant still, perhaps merely as a source of the intellectual heft of one strand of party thought? These are the options facing the BJP’s leaders now; they must realise that more will be settled in the next few days than their career paths for the next couple of years. The RSS can only be the BJP’s umpire-in-perpetuity at the cost of the party’s plan, if there is indeed any, to make itself a modern centre-right political entity.
THEREFORE, WE WATCH
Delhi’s Ambedkar Stadium is unaccustomed to stealing the spotlight from the Ferozeshah Kotla ground just metres away. Football just cannot seem to whip up the same enthusiasm in these parts compared to cricket, especially when it be a shorter version like a one-day international or a Twenty20 league match. Or so, at least, went the prevalent wisdom. Saturday’s Nehru Cup had the crowds occupy what seemed to be every seat in the house, and even India’s inability to level once the Syrians had taken a one-goal lead did not silence the good cheer. In a country that’s so convinced that cricket is the only spectacle that brings the crowds, following and, consequently the money, the takeaway from this could be that we have it just too pat. Two laments are equally overstated: that this country has attention only for one sport, and that cricket is somehow depriving oxygen for other sports to attract enthusiasm.
But with a full house in a city that’s begun to struggle to pack them in for a Test match — and in this it is quite representative of everywhere else in this country — the message is larger. It is the continued marginalisation of the spectator in planning what are spectator sports. Cricket has been especially complicit in this failure. The commerce of the game is so easily sustained by television rights, the big-ticket matches are so guaranteed to draw in the spectators no matter what, that there’s been little incentive to cater specifically to the spectator. But as cricket is now finding, the spectator is important even for a game that finds sustenance from TV. Marketing a Test match with empty stands as a backdrop, it turns out, is not that easy. Therefore, the omen now gathering echoes that Test cricket is endangered. Significantly, Test cricket’s great practitioners are less pessimistic; as Sachin Tendulkar suggested recently, just bring in schoolkids to Tests, and not just fill up the seats but also nurture another generation of players and followers.
That suggestion is valuable all-around. For instance, as India finds itself enamoured of its promising boxers, men and women, we still have not found ways of enjoying their craft. And boxing is a spectator sport, if ever there was a game designed for drama.
THERE ARE TWO
The Japanese have voted for change in a historic verdict that passes power from a party which has ruled for half of the past century. That a relative newcomer, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), has ended the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) monopoly over Japanese politics is momentous. The outcome of these elections has set the stage for a more politically involved Japan.
The hyper-modernised, industry-savvy Japan of the post-war era, born of both Japan Inc and the LDP, is at odds with current reality. The amicable relationship between politicians and bureaucrats has altered over the years; with the devastating effects of the Lost Decade of the 1990s, turned somewhat sour. Scandals ranging from bribery, insider-trading to money laundering rocked the government, causing calls for a clean-up to be heard from most segments of society. The processes allowing for multi-party rule have not been institutionalised overnight though. Electoral reforms were first introduced in the 1990s; by 1994 the mechanisms for a new electoral system were in place. The argument is that government had become too big, policymakers too weak, bureaucrats too powerful. Single-party domination was simply not an efficient enough way to run Japan.
This development, though welcomed by a cross-section of Japanese society, needs to be carefully watched. Given that the DPJ consists of politicians ranging across the political spectrum from left to right, it will have to battle its own factions. Furthermore, there have already been signs of divisions within the party over the landmark Article 9 of Japan’s constitution, which prohibits the former imperial power from either maintaining a military and or using force. The DPJ is untested. Although the newcomer may have driven the old stalwart from power, it’s task — changing Japan — is likely only beginning.
NO ONE LIKE US
In recent months many people have been heard saying that India escaped unscathed in the crisis, and that the world should learn from India on financial sector regulation. This isn’t new; each time the global financial system experiences problems, there is a resurgence of calls in India to block financial sector development and capital-account liberalisation. These come from those who take pride in India’s license-permit raj, through which, it is argued, India was undisturbed through the crisis. This “let us block development” chorus sprang up after the Asian crisis in 1997, and has sprung up again after the global financial crisis in 2008.
First, is this view of what happened in the crisis correct? Let us start with the claim that India got off lightly in the global crisis. While India did not have a financial crisis of the dimensions that the US did, the real economy was not unscathed. IIP growth crashed from a pre-crisis peak of 15 per cent annualised to a bottom of minus 5 per cent annualised. India was hit hard by the global downturn; its business cycle downturn is not out of line with what has been seen in the rest of Asia. The extent to which Indian growth dropped, compared with the high Indian trend growth, is comparable with the extent to which growth dropped in other countries, given their lower trend growth. India did as badly or as well as most of the other countries. It is certainly true that India got off lightly compared to the US, which was at the epicentre of the crisis. But then so did many other countries.
Let us turn to who else “escaped” the global financial crisis. Was it only other countries who had blocked financial sector development? A look around the world shows that most countries did not have a financial crisis. Even countries close to the US, like Canada or Mexico, which should have been badly affected, came out fine. All over Latin America, the macroeconomic and micro-prudential frameworks that were built in the 1990s fared fairly well. And throughout East Asia, financial systems that are more sophisticated than India’s, and more connected to the world, fared well. There is no evidence to support the claim that an Indian style license-permit raj, coupled with Indian-style capital controls, was of the essence in avoiding a financial crisis in 2008.
It is also interesting to look around the world from the point of view of what happened after the Asian crisis. If we were correct in our analysis that financial modernisation was the problem, then did the countries hard-hit by the Asian crisis turn their backs on financial progress and capital account integration? The evidence shows one country — Malaysia — which introduced substantial capital controls. Apart from that, Asia did not turn the financial clock back. Even South Korea, where there was widespread resentment against the terms of the IMF package, did not reverse course. Today, South Korea is an open capital account country — indeed, more open than it was prior to the Asian crisis.
The next question we need to ask ourselves today before patting ourselves on our backs: how are other countries responding to the crisis? If a systematic effort by government agencies at preventing progress in finance (backed by a detailed system of capital controls) is a good thing, are we seeing any other countries (rich or poor) moving in this direction? Once again, the answer is no. Paulson and Geithner have released proposals for the reform of the financial sector in the US. None of the things that they are envisaging are comparable with the intrusive system of central planning manned by RBI. The idea of the US importing ideas from RBI is a bit like the idea of Lalu Prasad Yadav making Japan more like Bihar. There are no financial reforms on the anvil elsewhere in the developing world that will introduce Indian-style financial and monetary policy-making.
Some from the Indian establishment have spoken out at various international meetings to praise India’s achievements — suggesting that the world now turn towards India’s path. In response, there is quite a bit of amusement in the room, and certainly no takers. A system in which the central bank specifies every tiny detail of the structure of financial products and the working of market processes is not how finance functions anywhere else in the world. A license-permit raj, where the activities that make up 90 pet cent of the ordinary life of global financial firms are banned in India, is nobody’s model of how finance should function.
It is important to recognise that India is a very poor country. We know very little about how to establish institutions or regulate markets that can support a sophisticated economy where a billion people can enjoy high productivity. Nobody in the world wants Indian-style monetary or financial policymaking. Our path ahead lies in learning how fiscal, financial and monetary institutions work in countries where per capita GDP is many times bigger than what we have in India. Our hope for making progress lies in learning these things with an open mind, and demanding a pace of change in India so that we can become more like an OECD country. A villager with no roads may foolishly boast of having no accidents, but he cannot teach people how to regulate traffic on busy intersections. It is important for policy-makers to remember that India has no lessons to offer to regulators operating in the sophisticated world of finance, and proposals suggesting that they should learn our style of regulation only make us look foolish.
The writer is a senior fellow at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Delhi firstname.lastname@example.org
THE ROAD TO MANDALAY
That the Burmese junta has a bizarre conception of democracy might be a gross understatement. But bizarre it is. Recent reports from the north of that country indicate that the government is now more than ever willing to buy democracy through the power of the gun. Fierce gun battles in the Wa and Kachin states between armed minority groups and pro-government forces have forced thousands to flee across the border to China.
This fighting is unlike any seen in the recent past. It breaks the 20-year old ceasefires which have loosely held the country together. The Than Shwe junta’s policy has been of appeasement to armed groups through individual ceasefires. These do not take stock of the political dimension; in no way do they resemble real treaties, which could address grievances. In fact German Burma specialist Gerhard Will likens them to “military gentlemen’s agreements.” These are now being shaken up due to the junta’s first challenge in 20 years: elections.
The ethnic tensions amongst minorities the agreements were meant to defuse have plagued the Burmese since British rule; with independence they exploded into a full-blown civil war between the army and the minorities. JNU academic G.V.C. Naidu says these minorities are both “religious and linguistic”; he adds that, “depending on their military strength, they have controlled up to 30 per cent of Burma’s territory at any one time.” Thant Myint-U in The River of Lost Footsteps gives us a sense of the longevity of these conflicts: “Some of the very same groups that first took up arms in the 1940s, when Mahatma Gandhi was languishing in a British jail and Joe Louis was heavyweight champion of the world, are still duking it out today.” That’s what makes the Burmese civil war the “longest-running armed conflict in the world.” The junta has been keen to point towards it as its raison d’être.
So why is the junta shaking up this unholy alliance? International scorn, mainly. That’s forced the army towards a makeover of sorts. Its “Roadmap to democracy”, a seven-point programme, includes the replacement of the military regime by one nominally elected as soon as next year. Though naturally, the junta will cling on to major handles of power, not devolving much authority at all. The constitution creates a state in which 25 per cent of the seats would be allocated to the junta, and the president would be from the military.
Within this set-up the ethnic minorities’ demands remain unaddressed. Barring one clause on “self-administered zones” under direct presidential control, they receive little. No concessions to federal principles seem likely.
The biggest point of contention, however, is the clause which requires armed groups to lay down their arms and be integrated into the national army, or serve as border guards. This hasn’t gone down well. Analysts with the International Crisis Group and at Jane’s expect further increases in fighting. The ethnic groups have in the past united against the government and may do so again. Currently, the government is fighting the Wa and Kachin minorities. The Karen might be drawn in as well.
But what if these groups could unite? Even if they entered the junta-sponsored “elections” — which Rangoon would like, as it would adding to any legitimacy the elections might have — would they form a credible opposition?
Ethnic minorities are acutely aware of the electoral dominance by the major ethnic group, the Burmans, as the 1990 elections made all-too-clear. Suu Kyi’s party obtained 392 seats (81 per cent) and the ethnic parties obtained 70 seats (14 per cent). Unsurprisingly the Ethnic Nationalities Council, which seeks to represent seven ethnic ceasefire states, has stated that despite its non-participation, “it would support the decision of ceasefire organisations should they decide to form or support political parties.” Hence the policies of the Kachin Independence Organisation, who despite possessing an army have endorsed the Kachin State Progressive Party. The key difference: rather than focusing on a purely ethnic platform, as did its parent organisation earlier, the party stands on a platform that talks of issues relevant to the entire state’s administration. Naturally, this increases its acceptability to voters.
Talks with the Kachin have meandered because of the governments’ hesitation over political grievances. The Karen, with their long-standing history of defiance are unlikely to come to the negotiating table. Nor are the Wa. Even within each group, divisions and splinter organizations proliferate. This disunity has traditionally given the Junta an upper hand.
The simple truth is that no matter how doctored the elections are, there will be a complete restructuring of the political structure. For groups representing the north’s minorities, this is a wake-up call: should they unite, they could benefit from the restructuring — and the Junta’s rule might face credible opposition.
The current top-down structure is, after all, to be replaced with a bicameral legislature and fourteen regional governments and assembles in the “most wide-ranging shake-up in a generation.” Within this new structure a unified northern bloc could be a force to reckon with.
LEARNING FROM HISTORY
As its ideological schisms blow up in everybody’s faces, the Jinnah debate now threatens to split the BJP right down the middle. These fault-lines , always present, have been sharpened since the voters rejected the BJP led NDA again in May 2009.
Jaswant Singh’s strong swipe at the BJP’s core ideology has opened a can of worms. He has single-handedly de-nuclearised the potency of India’s right wing opposition. India’s largely youthful population and polity had no clear idea that Sardar Patel was primarily responsible for banning the RSS after the cowardly assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Historically, the original Iron Man’s greatest contribution was his reining of the 600-odd princely states including Muslim-ruled states and integrating them as the core of post-partition India. A lot of citizens would share Jaswant Singh’s amazement at the ‘appropriation’ of Sardar Patel as one of BJP’s icons — given that one of the facts that everyone remembers from their history, and is uncontested, is that Sardar Patel was an integral part of the Indian National Congress for over three decades. Despite clashes with Pandit Nehru, consensus and conflict resolution dictated his tenure as India’s first home minister. In that sixty-year old, vanished world of courtesy and consensus-building, Jaswant Singh would not have been unceremoniously dumped.
Thankfully, the Indian Muslim clergy and leaders, both elected and self-styled, have maintained a studied silence unlike the celebrations in Pakistan. Ex-RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan’s endorsement of Jinnah’s stance during the Khilafat movement has further muddied the waters. Ironically, the greatest Hindu-Muslim amity ever witnessed was when Gandhiji, with the Ali brothers, led the Khilafat movement. He clearly emerged as the trusted and preferred leader of the Muslim masses. He was, is and remains the tallest leader among Muslims in India. As Nelson Mandela remarked “Gandhi-ism is one of India’s greatest contributions to the free world.”
Tragically for Jinnah, in the1920s popular opinion among his community was diametrically opposed to his ideas. History repeated itself again in 1947 when the majority of Muslims (correctly, in hindsight) chose to ignore his call to the ‘promised’ land. Little did he know that his Pakistan would play host to and also be ravaged by jihadist forces within 6 decades. Jinnah could never claim an unsullied halo and died in frustration. After three generations neither this muddled uproar, nor Jinnah’s personality, excites or agonises large sections of young India.
I certainly do agree with Sudheendra Kulkarni that “the BJP does not want this debate because the RSS played little organisational role in India’s freedom movement” but I beg to disagree with him on another point: that Indian Muslims still bemoan and rue the calamity of Partition today. Even for our parents, Partition is now a distant memory.
What is staring the community in the face is what Justice Sachar elucidated very recently. Over 50 per cent of the 170 million-plus Indian Muslims are in the vice-like grip of destituition, illiteracy and unemployability. The BJP and others can continue this debate till eternity, but for them every day is another day in misery. The present government must take action expressly. “Action expresses priorities” said Mahatma Gandhi. The UPA 2.0 might exult at the BJP’s plight, but smugness or complacency will hurt.
But most interesting is the new light that this sheds on our more recent history. Jaswant Singh and Arun Shourie have enlightened our polity about Vajpayee’s desire to sack the Modi government holding it accountable for the Gujarat riots in 2002 so as to remove the ‘shameful blot’ from recent history. This will open a few eyes, even as the courts and the SIT go about their business chasing down the culprits. I sincerely hope that as Vajpayee’s conscience keepers, Jaswant Singh, Arun Shourie and Kulkarni had also requested the BJP/RSS to show at least some remorse for the riots under Modi’s watch, as an attempt to cleanse the ‘kalank’.
Paradoxically, calling Narendra Modi ‘Chhote Sardar’ is doing grave injustice to the original Sardar Patel. The internal haemorrhaging within the BJP will abate sooner or later but the nation does not have the luxury to look back. As Charles Kettering’s famous line goes: “My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there.”
The writer is chairman of the editorial board at the Kanpur-based Urdu newspaper ‘Daily Siyasat Jadid’
OUR COMMITMENT TO THE COMMONWEALTH
It is an image few forget: an opening day ceremony with Rajasthani dancers: turbaned men and choli-clad women, painted faces from Kerala, Vedic chanting as diyas float on an artificial lake. An old culture, captivating the new ones from Australia, Canada, and South Africa.
Yet when the games begin another India takes over. At the Games Village the shower issues puffs of air; the stadium entrance lies unpaved; during the evening high diving event the lights short circuit; the diver peers down into the darkness hoping there is water in the pool. Meanwhile athletes move about the city, caught in traffic jams, victims — like its citizens — of mismanagement, incompetence, and a civic apathy they have learned to recognise as truly Indian.
From the very outset the Commonwealth Games project was mired in risk and controversy. Unable to locate suitable land, buildings were sited in far flung areas of the city, sometimes on the flood-prone Yamuna, some within heritage zones. Naturally, connections between facilities so spread out needed due consideration. An 800-crore tunnel link between the games village and Nehru Stadium was proposed under Humayun’s Tomb; it was rejected by the Archaeological Survey of India. Then a raised highway link was suggested along other monuments in Nizamuddin. Its alignment was duly struck down by the Delhi Urban Arts Commission. In the last few years the congested city, teeming with history, has been under siege by the CPWD, the Metro and the other agencies on the Commonwealth bandwagon. Flyovers, metro stations, new roads, tunnels, underpasses and bus lanes, the daily torment to its residents has raised a larger question about the city’s long-term legacy. Who are the real beneficiaries of these continual interventions? Those who need the upgrade of living standards? Or those who need the convenience of a flyover?
Despite the appalling physical conditions within it— its lack of services, sidewalks, tree cover or public life — many have summoned the will to save Delhi from further ruin. Environmental groups raised doubts about the proposals and the dubious intentions of its agents. Public protests were staged against the cutting of trees; PILs were filed against roads endangering forests; reports on riverbed ecology and flood planning were issued. The idea was not to convert the city into a two-week sporting event, but to save Delhi for its permanent residents.
At the time the Commonwealth Games were awarded to Delhi, the 2010 World Cup of Football went to Johannesburg. If ever there was a parallel between places, it was between the two cities. Lacking infrastructure, set in an urban sprawl, high crime, a racist town plan filled with elitist malls and unsightly tenements, a description of the South African city could well describe India’s capital. Yet in the four years that Johannesburg has set about readying itself for 2010, it has enacted monumental changes: the parks departments’ plantation drive has greened the entire town, even creating plantations on wasteland. New roads, parks and housing have replaced many of Soweto’s tin shacks. In an effort to correct the inequality of its housing divisions, businesses and restaurants have sprouted in the inner city. The ten-billion dollar upgrade may have originally been granted for a two week sporting event, but its effect is being felt much beyond the playing field.
By comparison, Delhi’s preparations border on the lackadaisical and the absurd. A recent survey categorically placed 13 of the 19 sports venues under construction to be seriously mismanaged and flawed. Incomplete plans and construction delays have put not just the building quality in doubt, but also risk projects being finished on time. With more than 40 per cent of the work remaining in some of the key training venues — athletics, swimming, weightlifting, tennis — and most already over-budget, the government has long since given up hope of earning revenues from the games.
Then why host the games at all? India would doubtless be a commendable host to the world conference on religions, but how does a country with no sporting ability, no genuine feel for sport and few training facilities host an event of international dimensions? Would Sweden host the world Kabbadi Championships? Doesn’t the host have an obligation to actively participate?
Such trivial philosophical questions are of little concern to a government transfixed by fears of losing the games altogether. Given the current state of delays, the panic that the games may be moved out of Delhi to a more seasoned host is now well and truly justified. In the corridors of power, where large-scale construction projects are squalid with graft, this would be the ultimate national humiliation. Doubtless there would be questions in Parliament. But with bids for the 2024 Olympic city starting up, they too would be quickly forgotten.
The writer is a Delhi-based architect
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
FUTURE’S HERE, BUT POLICY IS IN PAST
Recent policy discussions in India have emphasised an integrated view of the government bond market, corporate bond market, currency market, and derivatives on these. All these markets, unified through arbitrage, are termed the ‘bond-currency-derivatives nexus’. In India, these markets tend to be illiquid, disconnected, and lack rationality in pricing. For many decades, the mainstream RBI strategy for these markets involved a club of banks. In imitation of genuine financial markets, a good deal of computer technology was put in. However, the heart of a financial market lies in the diverse beliefs of a diverse array of market participants. RBI chose to throw up an array of entry barriers, which prevented participation in the market. With only members of a narrow club being permitted to trade, and most of them lacking profit motive owing to being PSUs, it is not surprising that the bond-currency-derivatives nexus is underdeveloped. These problems were exacerbated by a series of other mistakes in regulation, which hindered the functioning of the market.
There is a certain sense of progress, with currency futures having found their feet and interest rate futures trading starting at NSE today. The last time interest rate futures trading was attempted, in effect it was a non-starter since RBI banned bank participation. This time, banks have been permitted some leeway. This is progress. It is quite likely that the interest rate futures product will gather momentum. At the same time, the overall policy approach on the bond-currency-derivatives nexus is riddled with problems. While currency futures trading on the US dollar has begun, all other currency pairs are banned. Currency options and swaps trading are banned. Participation by FIIs and NRIs is banned. While an RBI committee had suggested the launch of a futures contract on the call money rate, and on the 90-day treasury bill, these products have been blocked by RBI. Only the 10-year interest rate futures has been permitted. The RBI-Sebi joint committee has engaged in unnecessary micro-management, specifying every detail of the product. It is the job of government to ask car companies to control emissions, and to have brakes that work, but it is not the job of government to design cars. The ethos, philosophy, and knowledge of staff at RBI and Sebi need to be overhauled, so as to bring about a new way of thinking. That is the only way that Indian finance can eventually become world class. It’s in the interest of the future.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
TURNER TURNS ON BANKS, WRONGLY
The debate on the nature of financial regulation in the aftermath of the global economic crisis took a dramatic turn last week courtesy Adair Turner, the head of UK’s financial services authority. In a display of some rather unconventional thinking, Turner suggested that the activities of ‘socially useless’ banks—which according to him ostensibly continue to take too many risks and pay obscene bonuses—be curbed by the imposition of a Tobin tax on all financial transactions. The idea of the Tobin tax was first proposed by the Nobel prize-winning economist James Tobin 40 years ago—it was to be imposed on any transaction which involved the buying or selling of currency—with the express purpose of curbing global currency fluctuations. However, it was generally viewed as unfeasible, especially when applied to all financial transactions as Turner is now proposing. For it to be effective, all countries would have to agree otherwise finance would simply migrate to countries which did not have the tax. While Turner may be right about an over-extended financial sector in the UK—Iceland was the most dramatic victim of a financial sector which was easily larger than the real economy—imposing a tax on financial transactions of a bank in the UK will simply force banks and eventually finance to move their business out of the UK—hardly an optimal solution.
Critics have, of course, argued that Turner’s reaction is a political response to mounting criticism of the FSA, particularly from the opposition Conservative party which has threatened to abolish the FSA and return regulation to the Bank of England if they come to power in 2010. There may be some truth to this. But the fact remains that investment banks—their return to good profits and high bonuses very quickly—are back at the centre of public debate in the West. Still, the purpose of regulation shouldn’t be to curb profit but to ensure that the crisis is not repeated. To this end, Tobin tax may not be the appropriate solution, especially if it raises the cost of finance for borrowers. The more appropriate policy response is to ensure that banks are adequately capitalised and not overleveraged—something which is happening slowly. And to ensure that monetary policy doesn’t consciously fuel irrational bubbles. Interestingly, in India, UPA I introduced a Tobin tax-like Securities Transaction Tax in 2004-05—probably more to raise revenue than to control finance. Now the direct taxes code has promised to abolish it by 2011. That is a good move. Bad taxes should not be used to curb the potential bad habits of the financial sector or even to raise revenue.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
A LETHARGIC 100 DAYS FOR UPA II
UPA II completed 100 days on August 29. August 29 has been important in Soviet history. USSR exploded an atomic bomb on August 29, 1949 and followed it up with a hydrogen bomb on August 29, 1953. Much later, on August 29, 1991, USSR suspended communist party activities. UPA-I was hamstrung by the communist parties. With communist parties suspended in UPA-II (DMK and Trinamool are different), UPA-II will have produced big-bang bombs in the first 100 days and one doesn’t mean the one that exploded in Sharm el-Sheikh. One rather means the wonderful statements of intent outlined in the President’s address to Parliament on June 4, 2009. So runs a popular, but implausible hypothesis. First, if UPA-I had little to show in its five years, it was unlikely that big-bang reforms would happen in 100 days. (Actually, the schedule was 45 days for the Finance Ministry.) Second, most reforms, especially when they involve states, require more than 100 days. Third, there were plenty of reforms UPA-I could have introduced, without Left getting in the way. 100-day agendas were nothing more than PR and marketing, and not particularly good ones. With BJP and CPM both imploding, there was nothing to prevent UPA-II from getting on. UPA-II had nothing to fear but UPA itself.
The world is still charitable towards UPA-II. So the charitable hypothesis will incorrectly deduce that government has been derailed by drought, price rise and swine flu and allies like DMK and Trinamool. Add to this another charitable hypothesis that the NAC (National Advisory Council) has been defanged and we need it to drive reforms, like under UPA-I. Both NREG and RTI were ascribed to NAC. We have 33 Cabinet Ministers, 7 ministers of state with independent charge and 38 ministers of state. At the very least, we should have expected 33 (if not 40) 100-day agendas to be formulated. In passing, notwithstanding Mrs Gandhi’s exhortations, most MoSs without independent charge don’t know what they are supposed to do, since their seniors haven’t delegated. How many 100-day agendas did we get? To the best of my understanding, only from Ministries of Agriculture, HRD, Minority Affairs, Rural Development and Law. Finance didn’t produce a 100-day agenda, but one could argue its agenda was implicit in the budget. In addition to agendas, some ministries (especially in infrastructure) were supposed to produce 100-day targets. They haven’t bothered—power and coal being two prominent examples. That shows how seriously we should take 100-day agendas and first 100 days of UPA-II.
On specifics, not vague generalities from President’s speech, unique identity card will no longer be unique. Nor will it be mandatory. Consequently, Nandan Nilekani is unlikely to do a Sam Pitroda. The Rural Development Ministry won’t accept this ID, nor will it accept Planning Commission’s poverty figures. Revamping of NREG is stuck, with proponents of the original NREG protesting at civil society exclusion. The National Food Security Act has been pushed back. Opposed by Congress and Cabinet, Kapil Sibal’s 100-day plan has been reduced to a right to education legislation, plus whatever little he can do through CBSE and assorted medical councils. Land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement are on hold. There may be 50% reservation for women in panchayats, but one-third in Parliament is stuck. The PM and the Law Minister have talked about judicial reforms. But the law ministry’s agenda was reduced to an inquiries bill and an asset and liability bill. After having made a hash of it in Parliament, these bills might be enacted in the winter session. However, one should read President’s speech carefully. A roadmap for judicial reforms was promised in 6 months, not 100 days.
The President’s speech also mentioned, “A Delivery Monitoring Unit in the Prime Minister’s Office to monitor flagship programmes and iconic projects and report on their status publicly.” Great idea, but no one has publicly reported on status of the delivery monitoring unit itself and the person for whom this post was created has moved on to pinker pastures. Some deal has been done with the US on Doha, but the details are unclear. India may get credit for hosting a Mini-Ministerial and being more “flexible”. Roads have also picked up steam. There has been some action in Finance too, with GST promised, a reform-minded direct tax code and creeping disinvestment, notwithstanding problems with the National Investment Fund. If one leaves out Finance, the 100-day record of UPA-II has really been a KKK one. Not the one Jaswant Singh meant, but Kapil-Kamal-Khursheed. Some relatively younger ones have shot their mouths off (with tigers and without them) and others have tweeted. That’s not a great record for first 100 days. But what did one expect? This is UPA-I, with only the bumper changed. It will bump along and there will be drought, inflation and swine flu to blame, with no credible opposition in position.
The author is a noted economist
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
DIVERSIFYING GIANT, BUT WILL IT SUCCEED?
Over the past few years, Nokia has been gradually revealing pieces of a jigsaw. The mobile-handset behemoth announced a few days ago, its plans to launch the Nokia Booklet 3G, which will be powered by MS Windows. With this, Nokia is taking on Netbook manufacturers like Acer, Dell, HP, Asus, Lenovo and Toshiba, among others.
The Internet has become more mobile over the past couple of years, but from opposite directions: in the first case, users have taken the mobile route to the Internet, referred to as the Mobile Internet, by accessing websites from their mobile handsets. This has had its issues, since not all websites are geared up to fit into a smaller screen. The iPhone has helped address these form factor issues. On the other hand, the proliferation of Netbooks and laptops, which, helped by available WiFi networks and data cards, allows users to get the Internet experience on the mobile.
With the Booklet 3G, particularly by enabling GPS and a swappable SIM card on what appears to essentially be an Internet device, Nokia is marrying the Internet world with the mobile. The N97, which it calls a mobile computing device, was Nokia’s attempt at a similar connected device, but leaning more towards the mobile in the same manner that the Booklet 3G leans towards the Internet.
The other key piece of the jigsaw—and one that I don’t think has been executed well—is Nokia’s focus on becoming a services company.
Nokia began its transformation in 2008 by creating the devices and services business segments. At its last earnings conference call, Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo spoke about bringing the devices and services segments together in a “solutions” model. Kallasvuo expects the next billion users to access the Internet from a mobile device, not a PC, and this is driving the change in the way Nokia looks at itself.
There is more than just future-gazing behind this change. Services companies—particularly Internet services companies operating at scale—enjoy substantially higher operating margins as compared to handsets, particularly since handset margins have been driven down by intense competition in the low-price segment.
So it is not surprising that the Nokia Booklet 3G integrates some of the companies’ own Ovi services—Maps, by virtue of Nokia’s acquisition of Navteq, synching of contacts and calendars between mobile and Booklet 3G, probably video and photo sharing by virtue of Nokia’s acquisition of Twango, and music downloads from Nokia Music Store. These services are built to work on both the Internet and mobile.
Nokia may be excellent at manufacturing connectivity devices, and establishing and managing supply chain and distribution networks, but it just doesn’t appear to be geared up for services. The Ovi suite of products itself lacks the finesse and usability of, say, the iPhone, or services from Internet companies like Google and Yahoo. Even though my username and password may be the same for both services, I still need to sign in separately to access my Nokia account and my Ovi account. Even the Ovi services listed at both account pages are different. If you’ve ever tried to embed a file uploaded to Ovi, you know how tedious it is. Services require an increased focus on the consumer and a focus on every little aspect of the usage of the service, and require quick adaptability.
Nokia’s advantage is its reach, and its dominance of the mobile market makes it essential for developers to create software for its platforms. Developers tend to be versatile and adapt quickly to consumer needs, and Nokia is encouraging both developers and content providers to create products for the Ovi store, while choosing to themselves focus on a few key services. Whatever the developers do, the success of Ovi will still be determined by the success of these key services. Keeping that in mind, Nokia is setting targets for its services business much like an Internet company—by measuring Active Users. The company has set itself a target of 80 million active users by the end of 2009, and as many as 300 million active Nokia users by the end of 2011.
But how does this play out for Nokia in the larger scheme of things? Think about Apple’s music service iTunes, and applications for the iPhones. Music on iTunes and applications on the iPhone are an incentive for buying iPods and iPhones. With competition increasing in the market, and the threat of the iPhone and phones from other manufacturers replicating its form factor, Nokia’s high margin high-end phone market is increasingly under threat. By focusing on Internet ready, high-end and connected devices, and then powering essential platform agnostic services like email, social networking, file sharing, maps and music Nokia is looking to give people reasons to buy and continue buying its devices, apart from higher margins for the services business. Services remain the most important piece of the Nokia jigsaw.
The author is the editor of MediaNama.com
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
HARLEY RIDES INTO INDIA, BUT WILL INDIA RIDE HARLEY?
Harley-Davidson is finally in India, a move that may sweeten prospects for the iconic American brand as it struggles with numerous challenges, not least the continuing economic recession back home.
Harley-Davidson is expected to ship fewer bikes this year compared to 2008 both within the US and worldwide, the credit crisis continues and there are job cuts to deal with. The company is totally unfazed.
The silver lining is the loyal following of its cult bikers. Both sport similar attitude. When Harley-Davidson was being written off by the American media and critics, the company responded with this—“You can file our obituary where the sun don’t shine. Screw It. Let’s Ride” — that pretty much sums up what the company, its bikes and their cult bikers are all about. Here is a sample—“Only 2 kinds of bikers out there—those that ride Harleys and those that wish they did! ”
What is worrying, however, is that this loyal bike is aging and needs younger followers to keep it going. That is where a foray into India makes sense with an average age below 30 and a future that does look promising. The company plans to only import its motorcycles, accessories and riding gear. It would be blasphemous to suggest leveraging the low cost base in India to manufacture it here. But then who imagined their four-wheeled counterparts, GM, would ever file for bankruptcy.
So then can the all metal, low mileage Rs 7 lakh to Rs 15 lakh price tagged, Harley-Davidson work in the second-largest motorcycle market in the world used to riding cheap, plastic and economical bikes? These were the same questions luxury car makerMercedes Benz was asked when it came to India a decade ago, ditto BMW when it joined the race and then Audi too. None of them are complaining and there is a lot of room at the top.
The same could be the case with bikes. And for those who can’t ride the HD, there is the next best. In all probability, the accessories and merchandising turnover in India could outpace bike sales. In any case, the adventure begins.
India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission, the country’s first effort at deep space exploration, has come to a premature end. Radio contact with the lunar probe was lost 312 days after it travelled into space aboard the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. According to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), data were received from the probe till shortly after midnight on August 29. About an hour later, all communications ceased abruptly. Without these radio links, contr olling the spacecraft and getting data from it became impossible. Such an end was, in fact, expected. For much of the spacecraft’s operational life, ISRO chose to convey the impression of a mission that was proceeding smoothly and according to plan. In reality, the probe seems to have been beset virtually from the start by the failure of crucial onboard systems. Both star-sensors used to maintain the spacecraft’s orientation stopped working, as did one of two ‘Bus Management Units’ that performed vital control functions. In addition, thermal management to keep the spacecraft’s systems and instruments from being alternately baked and frozen was not easy. The radiation environment around the Moon turned out to be more hostile than expected. As a result of these problems, ISRO opted in May to move the spacecraft farther away from the Moon. But it was only in July that the space agency finally acknowledged the extent of the setbacks and admitted that the mission was in jeopardy.
Yet these problems make what has been achieved all the more remarkable. It is a tribute to ISRO’s mission management team that they could find ways to keep the spacecraft and its instruments operational for so long. Although the mission has fallen well short of the two years it was expected to last, a great deal of data has been gathered by the Indian and foreign instruments on the spacecraft. In the course of more than 3,400 orbits the probe made around the Moon, its instruments closely scrutinised the lunar surface using various wavelengths of light as well as x-rays and radar. Just 10 days ago, the crippled Chandrayaan-1 ably played its part in a complicated radar-based duet with the recently launched U.S. spacecraft, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. In the months and years ahead, data from the Indian probe will help scientists better understand the Moon’s origin and evolution, its mineral composition, and whether water might lie trapped in its permanently shadowed polar craters. Valuable lessons will no doubt be learnt from the Chandrayaan-1 experience. ISRO will now be better prepared to undertake the Chandrayaan-2 mission which, with Russian involvement, is expected to put a lander and robotic rover on the Moon in a few years’ time. But what India’s upstanding space agency needs to do better next time is square with the public that has given it its steadfast support.
SAUDI ARABIA’S BRUSH WITH TERROR
For those who had begun to suffer under the illusion that the Arabian Peninsula was on the threshold of liberating itself from the hydra-headed monster called Al Qaeda, the recent targeting by the terror outfit of a prominent Saudi royal has come as a real jolt. That a suicide bomber came close to assassinating Prince Muhammad bin Naf has shown that Al Qaeda, the organisation that has claimed responsibility for the attack, has not lost its ruthlessness in pursuit of an ide ology that seeks to topple the House of Saud. By all accounts, the attack was bold in conception and audacious in execution. The high-value target was a Prince who has spearheaded Saudi Arabia’s drive against terrorism. A string of recent successes had made him a symbol of the Kingdom’s resolve to root out terrorism from its desert stronghold. Had the assassination attempt succeeded, it would have shaken the Saudi monarchy to its core. For Prince Muhammad is the son of the Interior Minister, Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz, who is number three in the Saudi royal hierarchy. On a global scale, success would have boosted the morale of Al Qaeda, whose self-styled Emir, Osama bin Laden, has publicly declared war on the Saudi royal household.
But it may not be all or nothing. Despite the failure of the assassination attempt, the masterminds must now be hoping to derail Prince Muhammad’s rather successful counter-terrorism campaign, which has combined proactive use of selective force with a policy that encourages militants to surrender. Saudi Arabia would do well to continue this policy because, despite Al Qaeda’s palpable activism, the militant outfit has suffered hefty blows. It is heartening that Prince Muhammad has stated that the Kingdom would continue to pursue extremists, without changing course significantly. An uphill task awaits the Saudi royal. In a globalised world, the negative images of America’s war on terror, increasingly symbolised by the horrors of Guantanamo Bay, the Predator drone strikes that indiscriminately target innocents along the Afghan-Pakistan border, and the gross injustice meted out to Palestinians, continue to draw Muslim youth from countries in the region towards Al Qaeda. The House of Saud would also do well to adopt a less ostentatious lifestyle and erase the perception, real or imaginary, of moral decadence and material corruption which continues to push the Kingdom’s youth towards nihilistic extremism, which is falsely touted as pristine Islam.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
EVERYTHING FOR JUSTICE
THE BEST JUDGE WILL HAVE NOTHING TO HIDE AND EVERYTHING TO DISCOVER WITHOUT FEAR OR FAVOUR.
V.R. KRISHNA IYER
The Prime Minister and the Chief Justice demand more number of courts — in their thousands. This is part of the pathological arrears syndrome. The truth is: more courts, more arrears, more lazy judges, more examples of Parkinson’s Law and Peter Principle. The real cause of the escalating arrears is the absence of accountability and transparency.
The correctional strategy is an effective Appointments Commission in place of the dubious collegium, a vigilant Performance Commission, and periodic collegiate updating of jurisprudence. There is also a need to sensitise judges about socio-economic and political problems, to pare down redundant dockets and prolix hierarchy, streamline procrastination and ensure better-behaved precocity. On the whole, the Victorian system of justice administration should be eliminated and a transformation should occur. There should be periodic Law Reform Commissions whose recommendations are implemented by high-power judicial committees. There should be more itinerant decentralisation, evening courts, creative realism and a critical assessment of the curial hierarchy and public debate of judgments.
For more disposals, early finality and inexpensive justice, the purposeful therapy is not the arithmetical illusion of judicial numbers but intelligent selection of the robed brethren, of result-oriented technology, and summary procedure. One capable judge with sound social philosophy is a better instrument of justice than a dozen mediocre, indolent ignoramuses who will merely add to the adipose of the system.
The Bar contributes to the locomotion of the justice system. Typically, an American attorney delivers better arguments in 30 minutes than a Senior Advocate would do over three days in an inert Indian court. An efficient Bar is more promotive of the celerity of judicial disposal than an elaborate precedent — in a crowded, paper-logged, forensic, prolonged-performance system. The strategy of judicial excellence is not a play with numbers, or a game of hiding assets or delaying the delivery of judgments. The Supreme Court, which is inordinately the fifth deck of a poor system of justice, is infallible for the rich because it is final; not because it is wise, humanist and compassionate or within the reach of the poor.
The Chief Justice claimed that he had the title to represent the entire judicature, claiming an unknown power oblivious of the fundamental fact that he is only first among equals and can be overruled by just two of his brothers. It was a joy to read of the daring move of the judges together asserting the transparency principle, defying the chief and deciding to make their assets public. To hide is to arouse suspicion and suspicion is the upas tree under whose shade reason fails and justice dies.
Any judge who seeks immunity from truth under the cover of the robe robs the rights of We, the People of India, the sovereign of Bharat. Secrecy is unbecoming of the curial fraternity and shall be exposed if they justify their freedom from revelation from the People of India. The transparency of the socio-economic condition of the judges is not negotiably fundamental in any civilised system of justice. The court is an open book and if the Bench seeks an iron curtain between its economic interest and the litigant community it is violative of glasnost.
All’s well that ends well. The huge majority of the judges of the Supreme Court had to save their reputation, dignity and integrity over the most powerful constitutional institution. The Chief Justice of India is the noblest office of justice and is ordinarily infallible, but the court as the whole is supreme and is governed by perestroika and glasnost. What a wonder that the whole court has upheld the finest doctrine of openness. Nothing to hide, everything for justice.
This is why India holds in hallowed reverence the administration of justice. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. Fundamental rights, human values, sacred duties, peace and stability are governed by the performance of the court (Article 41).The best judge has nothing to hide and everything to discover without fear or favour and do justice to everyone, be he high or humble, without affection or ill-will.
The pity of it is that the Chief Justice made a case when he vainly made a futile assertion that judicial assets are a hidden treasure. No, he made a mistake. But the full court saw the wisdom of judicial assets being responsibly disclosed to serious citizens under accountable conditions, not to frivolous busybodies. The chief may be forgiven because even the great could go wrong.
It was Emerson who wrote: “Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh.”
In our murky world of gloom, greed and agony, our duty is to save the country by means of a compassionate recipe a la Vivekananda: “Feel, my children, feel for the poor, the ignorant, the downtrodden; feel till the heart stops and the brain reels and you think you will go mad. We talk foolishly against material civilisation. The grapes are sour… Material civilisation, nay even luxury, is necessary to create work for the poor. Bread; I do not believe in a God who cannot give me bread here, giving me eternal bliss in heaven. Pooh; India is to be raised, the poor are to be fed, education is to be spread, and the evil of priestcraft is to be removed… more bread, more opportunity for everybody….”
The awakened robes have righted the absurd wrong of the chief. I salute you for overruling the jejune wrong; the jurisprudence of concealment is corruption. Corruption is the power of the rich. The robe shall not permit to be robbed by the rich.
It is better to be ultimately right than consistently wrong. To conceal the truth with regard to assets is unbecoming of fiat justicia, civilised justice, justices and justicing. Sorry, chief. You still can hold a kindly light amid the encircling gloom. No more darkness, but light. You are still the leader of luminous law and untainted truth, without fear or favour.
EVERY TIME HEALTH CARE REFORMS SEEM CLOSER ON THE HORIZON, SPECIAL INTERESTS FIGHT WITH EVERYTHING THEY’VE GOT TO SCARE THE AMERICAN PEOPLE.
FIDEL CASTRO RUZ
A short while ago I dealt with the United States’ plans to impose the absolute superiority of its air force as an instrument of domination on the rest of the world. I mentioned the project that by 2020 they would have more than a thousand latest generation bombers and F-22 and F-35 fighter planes in their fleet of 2500 military aircraft. In twenty more years, every single one of their war planes will be robot-operated.
Military budgets always count on the support of the immense majority of American legislators. There is hardly any state in the Union where employment does not depend in part on the defence industries.
On a global level and with constant value, military expenses have doubled in the last 10 years as if there were no danger at all of any crisis. At this moment, it is the most prosperous industry on the planet.
By 2008, approximately $1.5 trillion were invested in defence budgets. The U.S. spends 42 per cent of world expenses in this area — $607 billion — not including war expenses, while the number of people who go hungry in the world has reached the figure of 1 billion.
Two days ago a western news dispatch informed that in mid-August the U.S. army exhibited a tele-guided helicopter along with robots capable of working as sappers, 2500 of which have been sent into combat zones.
A company marketing robots maintained that the new technologies would revolutionise the manner of directing the war. It has been published that in 2003 the U.S. barely had enough robots in its arsenal and, according to AFP, “today it has 10,000 land vehicles as well as 7,000 air devices, from the small Raven that can be hand-launched right up to the gigantic Global Hawk, a spy plane 13 meters long and with a 35 meter wingspan capable of flying at great altitudes for 35 hours.” This dispatch lists other weapons as well.
While the United States is spending such huge figures in killing technology, the president of that country is sweating buckets trying to bring health services to 50 million Americans who don’t have them. There is such confusion that the new president said that he felt he was closer than ever to achieving reform of the health care system but that the battle is becoming fierce.
He added that the story is clear, that every time health care reforms seem closer on the horizon, special interests fight with everything they’ve got applying their leverage, launching publicity campaigns and using their political allies to scare the American people.
The fact is that in Los Angeles 8,000 people — most of them unemployed, according to the press — turned up in a stadium to receive medical care from a travelling free clinic that provides services to the Third World. The crowds had spent the night there. Some of them had travelled from as far away as hundreds of miles.
“‘What do I care whether it’s socialist or not? We’re the only country in the world where the most vulnerable people have nothing,’ said a college-educated woman from a black neighbourhood.”
According to the report “a blood test can cost $500 and a routine dental treatment more than $1,000.”
What kind of hope can that society offer the world?
The lobbyists in Congress make their profits working against a simple law intended to provide medical care to tens of millions of poor people, mostly blacks and Latinos who lack it. Even a blockaded country like Cuba has been able to do it and is even cooperating with dozens of countries in the Third World.
If robots in the hands of the transnationals can replace imperial soldiers in the wars of conquest, who will stop the transnationals in their quest for a market for their artefacts? Just as they have flooded the world with automobiles that today compete with mankind for the consumption of non-renewable energy and even foods converted into fuel, so too they can flood the world with robots that would displace millions of workers from their workplaces.
Better yet, scientists could also design robots capable of governing; that way they could spare the U.S. government and Congress that terrible, contradictory and confusing work. No doubt they would do it better and cheaper.
THE POOREST MUST BE AT THE FOREFRONT OF OUR MINDS AS WE DECIDE WHAT SORT OF DEAL WE WANT AT COPENHAGEN. DOUBLY SO, BECAUSE THEY HAVE DONE THE LEAST TO CAUSE THE PROBLEM.
ED MILIBAND AND DOUGLAS ALEXANDER
With the clock ticking and less than a hundred days to go until ministers from around the world meet at the U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, now is the time for the U.K. and India to work together to get a climate deal that is fair to the region’s economy and its people.
We are here in South Asia to hear what climate change means for millions of people in India and Bangladesh. For this region, the case for the urgency of tackling climate change is beyond question. Flooding of the Kosi river over the past two years has driven millions from their homes in Nepal and Bihar. Cyclones Aila and Nargis have killed thousands and displaced millions more in Burma, Bangladesh and West Bengal. Torrential rains have caused terrible landslides across the Himalayas. And now a weakened monsoon is causing a drought which threatens hundreds of millions of farmers all over India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Once again, the number of farmer suicides is increasing. While none of these natural disasters can be directly attributed to climate change, scientists predict that they will become more frequent and more severe unless we act. Alongside the terrible human toll, these disasters exact an economic cost — with the loss of economic growth in South Asia from environmental causes equivalent to double that from the global economic crisis, each and every year.
It is the poorest who are most vulnerable to these natural disasters. And it is the poorest who are most severely affected by climate change. They must be at the forefront of our minds as we decide what sort of deal we want at Copenhagen. Doubly so, because they have done the least to cause the problem and their voices are rarely heard in the negotiations or the media. It is their voice we have come to South Asia to hear. Yet we have also come to listen to those communities, businesses and Governments around the region who are pioneering responses to climate change. From sustainable forestry in Nepal, to flood-resistant crops in Bangladesh, to renewable energy production in India, there is much to learn. We can also draw encouragement and optimism that the world is taking the issue more seriously. In July world leaders, including Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Gordon Brown, agreed to strive to keep global temperature rise within a 2 degrees threshold, beyond which the risks of dangerous climate change rise significantly.
As well as coming to listen, we have also come to South Asia to explain that we recognise the role that developed countries must play in facing up to our duties to help solve the problem of climate change. And we are here to work with the Indian and Bangladeshi governments, to help secure an ambitious, fair and effective deal in Copenhagen.
Firstly, the U.K. recognises developed countries’ historic responsibility for climate change. The developed world must lead in the response and must do more. That means ambitious commitments to reduce emissions, including from the United States and Europe. The U.K. has set out plans to reduce its emissions by one third by 2020 compared to 1990 and our Climate Change Act puts our stringent targets in legislation. We are prepared to go even further as part of a global deal.
Secondly, developed countries must meet our commitment to provide the finance and technology to help developing countries address the challenges of climate change. Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently launched a climate finance initiative which put a global figure of around $100 billion every year by 2020 to help developing countries address climate change, including adapting to its impacts. Finance needs to flow in the context of an ambitious global deal. Thirdly, on the basis on the basis that action must be lead by developed countries, we recognise that at this stage, developing countries in South Asia will not take on national emission reduction targets. But equally, we know that allied to strong action by developed countries, we need developing countries to pursue a low carbon development path if we are to have a hope of tackling the problem of climate change.
That is why it is welcome that India is taking important steps to increase the use of renewable energy, particularly solar power, to increase the energy efficiency of its economy and to increase forest cover. It is demonstrating the carbon savings that can be achieved through these actions. But it is taking these steps to put its economy onto a low carbon path because it recognises the benefits for its energy security and sustainable development. Bangladesh, a very low-energy consuming country, is pursuing a low-carbon growth path whilst building its resilience to climate change, reducing the risks climate change poses to national development.
This is the kind of action which the U.K. stands ready to assist. We are keen to learn how, as part of a global climate deal, we can help India and Bangladesh to build on these plans, thereby helping to tackle together the climate challenge and lift millions more out of poverty. We are here together because we recognise that whilst we cannot hope to eliminate poverty in South Asia without facing this global climate challenge; neither can we hope to achieve a global climate deal without facing this region’s development challenge. The decisions made in December at the climate conference will be some of the most important the world will take for decades and are vital for the future security and prosperity of South Asia.
We look forward to all countries playing their part in an outcome at the Copenhagen climate change talks which is good for development and good for the future sustainability of our planet.
To know more about U.K.’s position at Copenhagen, visit: www.actoncopenhagen.gov.uk
(Ed Miliband is British Minister for Energy and Climate Change. Douglas Alexander is the Minister for International Development.)
WRITS SERVED ON PUBLICATIONS IN TWO EUROPEAN COUNTRIES; LIBEL ACTION CONTEMPLATED IN BRITAIN.
Italy’s Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has launched an all-out attack on Italian and international media which have reported his involvement in sex scandals and questioned its implications.
His lawyer said he had served writs on newspapers and magazines in at least two other European countries and was taking advice on the scope for libel actions in Britain. In Italy Berlusconi is seeking damages of €1m from the Espresso group, who se flagship daily, La Repubblica, has spearheaded the campaign to get answers about his friendship with an aspiring teenage actress and his alleged involvement with self-acknowledged prostitutes.
A writ signed by the prime minister said 10 questions to which the paper has demanded responses for the past two months were “rhetorical and blatantly defamatory.” La Repubblica said that “for the first time in the history of Italian journalism the questions [posed by] a newspaper will end up in a civil court.”
Details of Berlusconi’s media counter-blitz emerged yesterday as his already strained relationship with the Catholic church was buffeted by fresh storms. The Vatican announced at short notice that a dinner for Berlusconi and the Vatican’s top official had been scrapped.
The announcement came after the billionaire politician’s family newspaper, Il Giornale, launched an unparalleled attack on the Italian bishops’ newspaper, Avvenire, accusing it of a “moralising campaign” against Berlusconi, and throwing a spotlight on the private life of the editor.
Il Giornale, the newspaper owned by Berlusconi’s brother, Paolo, said that in 2004 the editor of Avvenire had plea-bargained his way out of a trial for menacing behaviour towards the wife of his homosexual lover.
Avvenire’s editor, Dino Boffo, called the allegations “improbable, specious and absurd.” A statement from the Italian bishops’ conference said it had “full confidence” in him.
Following the Vatican’s move, the prime minister issued a statement dissociating himself from Il Giornale’s report in which he said: “The principle of respect for private life is sacred and should be valid always and in all cases for everyone.”
In what was widely billed as the basis for a reconciliation, Berlusconi was to have dined last night with the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, in the earthquake-hit city of L’Aquila. He was due to take part earlier in an annual service for the remission of sins.
But a Vatican spokesman said the dinner had been cancelled and the prime minister had pulled out of the penitential observance to avoid his attendance being used against him. Berlusconi was to have been accompanied by an entourage including his equal opportunities minister, Mara Carfagna, a former topless model who was at the centre of a previous controversy between the prime minister and his now estranged wife.
The writ served on La Repubblica cited, in addition to the paper’s insistent questioning of the prime minister, an article published this week that reported coverage given to the affair in non-Italian newspapers and magazines. One of the articles cited was carried by the French weekly Nouvel Observateur.
Dario Franceschini, leader of Italy’s biggest opposition party, the Democratic party, described the writ as “incredible.” He added that Italians were “facing an unworthy strategy of intimidation ... unprecedented in a democracy.”
The move was also condemned by the Italian journalists’ professional organisation, the newspaper publishers’ association, and freedom of speech pressure group Articolo 21. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009
Top postal officials say the recession is to blame for the agency’s $7 billion deficit and a steep drop in the volume of mail, and they express confidence that mail, particularly advertising, will rebound.
But even the Postal Service acknowledges that some mail is gone for good. Earlier this week, the Postal Service said that it would offer cash incentives to get as many as 30,000 employees to voluntarily resign or take early retirement by the end of September and save $500 million next year.
With the Internet, the Postal Service has been experiencing what it calls “electronic diversion” with people moving online for correspondence and other activities.Javelin Strategy and Research, a research and consulting company for the financial services industry, says that 70 per cent of households that have computers pay bills online each month, up from 64 percent last year.
Mark Schwanhausser, an analyst for Javelin, said that people move to online bill paying for convenience, and because they are “fee sensitive” during a tough economic climate. “I don’t think this is going to be something that’s going to backtrack,” he said.
Another culprit: the electronic filing of tax returns. The Postal Service says there was a sharp increase in e-filing this year, with fewer people mailing in their forms. Many people will also receive electronic tax refunds, which were previously mailed as checks.
“It’s only growing,” said Kate Fulton, senior vice president for government relations at H&R Block, which helps customers file online. “The IRS is driving this. They want more e-filing, and we are embracing it too.”
The Postal Service is resigned to losing some business to online alternatives. But postal officials also say that, with the Internet in full swing, the volume of mail hit a record in 2006. That year, the Postal Service handled 213 billion pieces of mail because, even as it lost some business to the Internet, advertising mail was booming.
The Postal Service says that a decline in marketing mail, like credit card offers and bulk advertisements, is responsible for most of the drop in the amount of mail sent this fiscal year. About 175 billion pieces of mail will be sent in 2009, down from 202 billion last year.
“I believe that when the economy returns, marketing mail will grow,” Plonkey, the service’s vice president, said. “I think that we’ll continue to have electronic diversion, but I think that we can offset that loss.”
Advertising analysts agree with that assessment to some degree. Brian Wieser, head forecaster at the media agency Magna, says that advertising mail will grow but not get back to where it was before the recession within the next five years. — © 2009 The New York Times News Service
THE ASIAN AGE
STAY FOCUSED ON SPACE, CAREFULLY
Chandrayaan-I is dead. However, scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation, whose big budgets are beyond the usual audit umbrella and whose projects remain way above the comprehension of most people, including the babus who run the Indian administration, insist that the moon mission itself is alive and kicking. And that Chandrayaan-II will take off as planned around 2011-12 along with a lander-rover, which is quite similar to the lunar vehicles used by America’s Apollo missions before Neil Armstrong became the first man to land on the moon over 40 years ago. C-II will use its rover to pick up the moonstones for on-site analysis of the lunar surface and transmit the data to its earth station, the Indian Deep Space Network (ISDN), at Byalalu village near Bengaluru. It will not come back, but C-III — scheduled around 2015 — will return with samples of the lunar surface.
Independent of these Chandrayaan missions will be the manned trips into space. The first manned mission will orbit the earth five or six times before returning for a sea-splash sometime in 2015 or a year later. The training of astronauts will soon begin in Bengaluru, and if all goes well India’s maiden manned moon trip will take place in 2020. If all these claims are meant to combat the gloom in Isro after it lost Chandrayaan-I 14 months early, against its projected two-year life around the moon, it must also be remembered that India is the only country which has performed the hugely complicated manoeuvring of the spacecraft from earth orbit to lunar orbit in the first attempt itself. The Russians had lost a few spaceships in this most critical operation. Another significant gain is that C-I, before its premature demise, managed to map most of the hitherto unvisited polar part, commonly known as the dark side of the moon. The data it sent to Byalalu will greatly help the Indian exploration for water on the moon. Just the other day, Isro announced it had teamed up with Nasa to study possibilities of lunar water in this patch of the moon.
The most common question that pops up whenever a space mission fails is whether the nation was right to spend all those millions on "over-ambitious" adventures and if these had any relevance, specially when contrasted with the acute poverty still prevalent in India. Isro’s scientists have repeatedly spelt out how their work benefits the ordinary India in a variety of ways — forecasting weather for the farmer, spotting marine fishing zones and other natural resources, tele-medicine facilities for rural people, forest management, distance education and, of course, the revolution in telecommunications. The Internet, now such an integral part of our daily lives, and increasingly even in remoter areas, had its genesis in the US Apollo missions of the 1960s, when the American space programme for the first time used computer-aided data transfer and communication across the skies.
Having said all this, one cannot avoid a word or two of caution. The scientific community must introspect deeply on the reasons behind C-I’s death, so that valuable lessons are learnt on how to make future missions not only less vulnerable but also more productive. True, India’s space odysseys have been far cheaper than those undertaken by other countries, but that’s no reason to get complacent. While India can legitimately take pride that its space programme is zooming at par with those of other space nations, we must never lose sight of the fact that India is also the poorest among these countries. The ongoing debate among our nuclear and defence scientists on whether Pokhran-II in May 1998 was a success or failure only goes to show how our wider scientific community has remained a mystery, at times even unto itself.
THE ASIAN AGE
FOR OUR COURTS, ALL SPEECH IS FREE UNLESS IT’S IN CONTEMPT
Carlos Zafón introduces readers of his fine novel, The Shadow of the Wind to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books — a labyrinthine storehouse of books — books that have lost all their readers. The cemetery is located in Barcelona. Closer to home, it would seem that some of our states should be constructing a cemetery of banned books, with high walls and secure vaults to protect innocent and impressionable minds from being incited by a version of history. In a system that permits the state exchequer to spend on essentials such as statutes of our leaders and where the smiling visage of ministers leap out daily from adverts in national newspapers, surely, there must be a budgetary allocation for banned books as well.
Should the argumentative Indian just argue or is s/he permitted to express himself/herself by writing or through art or attire, without inviting the wrath of the censor’s scissor?
The Constitution protects free speech, elevating it to a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19 (1)(a). This right has been interpreted by courts to cover all forms of expression and to take in the right of the media as well. The Constitution itself subjects this right to reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of sovereignty, the integrity of India, the security of the state, relations with other countries, public order, decency and morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. Subject to these constitutional limits, every citizen has a fundamental right to freely express himself/herself.
In the six decades that we have worked our Constitution, the courts have strengthened the right to free speech. Allowing room for an occasional aberration, judges have usually concluded that free speech and all manner of expression must be protected, for debate and discourse are essential to build a just, progressive society where personal growth and fulfilment can be attained.
While judges express a robust regard for free speech on matters that concern society at large, the judiciary remains prickly and insecure when ruling in contempt cases. The contempt jurisdiction is the power of a court to punish for disobedience of its orders or for any actions that adversely impact the administration of justice. Our courts are unable, as yet, to ignore trenchant criticism of their own actions and continue to wield unsparingly the power of contempt, a relic in most mature democracies. The chilling effect of contempt proceedings forced the withdrawal of Hans Dembowski’s study on public interest litigation, Taking the State to Court. It is now available on the Web, reminding us of "that gallant man who thought to keep out the crows by shutting his park gate".
The law provides different ways to ban a book. States may resort to Section 95 of the Criminal Procedure Code which empowers the government to forfeit publications that are seditious, or promote enmity between different groups, is obscene or is calculated to outrage the religious feelings of any group. Where the publication is overseas, a ban may be imposed by prohibiting import under foreign trade and customs laws. This is how Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses was prohibited in 1988.
The high courts have subjected government prohibitory orders to strict scrutiny. In April 2007, the Bombay high court stuck down a Maharashtra government notification which forfeited James W. Laine’s book on Shivaji. The Calcutta high court struck down the prohibition imposed by the West Bengal government on Taslima Nasreen’s book Dwikhandita, finding that the book did not insult religious beliefs. The Supreme Court was more respectful of the Karnataka ban on Dharmakaarana that won the state Sahitya Academy annual award for best novel. The court found that chapter 12 of the novel was likely to offend readers and was calculated to promote feelings of enmity and hatred between different classes of citizens. Ironically, this did not deter the Supreme Court from reproducing the entire offending chapter in its judgment. The offending portion may now be read in the official Supreme Court reports but not in the novel itself!
The freedom of expression has received protection at the hands of the court in the visual arts as well. Emphasising the importance of artistic freedom, the Delhi high court quashed a series of private complaints made against the artist M.F. Husain for his depiction of nudes. A ban on posters depicting the Ram Katha in the Buddhist and Jain tradition imposed by the Delhi government in the wake of the Ayodhya controversy was struck down by the high court on the ground that the prohibitory directions were issued without application of mind.
In a diverse country such as ours, a wide range of voices with divergent views enrich social and political discourse and strengthen the fabric of society. As liberal democracy sinks its roots ever deeper, the power of the state is best directed at harnessing private energies towards development and social goals. Constructing a crypt for banned books ought to be off the government’s agenda. "A beggar’s book outworths a noble’s blood". Possibly Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s as well.
Shyam Divan is a senior advocate, Supreme Court
THE ASIAN AGE
PLATITUDES, NOT CONCESSIONS, WILL DOMINATE TRADE MEET
BY PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA
The informal meeting of over 35 trade ministers from across the globe that will take place in New Delhi on September 2-3 is India’s effort to resume the Doha round of negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that had been stalled for more that a year. However, there are strong indications that most of the outstanding issues that have stalemated the WTO’s Doha round of talks (that started in the capital of Qatar in November 2001) would remain unresolved. In fact, there is a possibility that new issues linking climate change with trade would harden positions in both developed and developing countries, making it that much more difficult to conclude the negotiations in the foreseeable future.
India has been seen by some as a "spoiler" for the manner in which this country has articulated the views of close to a 100 developing countries that argue that sovereign nations have the right to protect livelihoods (and not just trade) by helping subsistence farmers (not giant agri-business corporations). In July 2008, the WTO talks at Geneva broke down on the issue of a special safeguards mechanism in the agreement on agriculture that allows a country to temporarily increase customs tariffs in response to a surge in import volumes or a sharp decline in prices. India and China wanted a 10 per cent import surge to be the cut-off point whereas the US wanted the proportion to be 40 per cent.
The other issue that led to a breakdown of talks related to the demand by four cotton growing West African nations (Mali, Benin, Burkina Faso and Chad — called the C4) for a sharp cut in US government subsidies to cotton farmers in that country. In October 2007, the WTO had ruled against the American government’s subsidies and export credit guarantees to its cotton farmers and categorically stated that these did not comply with WTO regulations. The C4 countries believe that American subsidies have destroyed the livelihoods of an estimated 20 million cotton farmers in Africa by pricing them out of the market.
In the Doha round, the concerns of the poor countries were sought to be addressed through "special and differential treatment" when it came to reduction of import tariffs. It was also stated that there would be "less than full reciprocity" between developed and developing countries when it came to cuts in import tariffs. In other words, rich countries were supposed to reduce duties relatively more than poor nations. None of this has either happened or is likely to take place after the Delhi talks.
To some extent, the Indian government is aware of challenges that lie ahead in resuming talks at the WTO. A note that has been circulated stated that "the road ahead would not be easy… there are a host of unresolved issues, not just in agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA) but also in services, TRIPS (trade related intellectual property rights), rules…" Yet, the same note adds that "it is now time for (the 153 countries that are) members (of the WTO) to draw these separate threads together, weaving them into a response of solidarity to move the multilateral process forward…"
It is well known that the US and the European Union (EU) want to harmonise tariffs on chemicals, industrial machinery and electronic and electrical products across the globe to a level as close to zero as possible. It is now believed that the US and EU want to link trade with environmental issues by calling for the drawing up of a list of "environmentally friendly" products and arguing for the need to impose higher "carbon" tariffs on the products of countries that do meet emission targets. This is bound to be opposed by India, China and most developing countries.
On agricultural subsidies, the US and EU would agree to bring down these down drastically from the "bound" (or maximum) levels of roughly $48 billion and $100 billion respectively to $15 billion and $22 billion that would still provide scope for increasing farm subsidies substantially from current "applied" (or actual) levels of $7 billion and $15 billion. Once again, such proposals would not be acceptable to developing countries including India.
At one level, the Manmohan Singh government appears keen on "engaging" with the West and not confront the US and EU too hard on agricultural subsidies and NAMA. Yet, at a time when the international economic recession has not yet run its full course (despite a lot of optimism about so-called "green shoots of recovery" sprouting) and with world trade expected to fall by 10 per cent for the first time in living memory, despite the pro-West elements in the Third World, it appears unlikely that developed countries will be successful in following a "divide and rule" policy by offering "carve-out" lollipops to specific developing countries.
India’s commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma stated at a meeting of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry on July 29 that "a quick closure (of the Doha round) is unlikely, given the large number of issues remaining unresolved… A lot of momentum has been generated to restart the Doha discussions but the road ahead is filled with challenges…"
He said there had been demands for a "new approach" to the negotiations, one that would skip the "modalities" stage and move straight to "notifying individual commitments" by specific countries. "These new approaches are all a euphemism for getting members to reveal where their sensitivities lie. This is not acceptable to India and the majority of the WTO members. There must first be agreement on modalities", Mr Sharma declared, adding that "…the Doha round has seen eight years of hard negotiating work. Selectively reopening issues can jeopardise this delicate balance".
Two earlier rounds of trade negotiations, the Tokyo round and the Uruguay round, had lasted six years and more than seven years respectively. It would be unrealistic to expect the Doha round to be concluded in a hurry, despite India’s best intentions. The impending Delhi meeting of trade ministers and representatives of over 50 countries, is unlikely to go beyond platitudes.
Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator
YOU DID IT, MR ADVANI
JASWANT POINTS ACCUSING FINGER AT HIM
With every passing day, more and more skeletons are tumbling out of BJP leader L.K. Advani’s cupboard. While his claim that he was not aware of Mr Jaswant Singh going to Kandahar with freed terrorists has been torn to shreds by his colleagues in the Vajpayee government who were in the know, the strongest allegation made against him is by expelled Jaswant Singh that it was he who was behind the ugly episode of three BJP MPs displaying bundles of currency notes in the Lok Sabha during the trust vote last year, claiming they were being offered money as a bribe. Not only that, Mr Jaswant Singh has alleged that “Advani was telling the MPs to display the money in Parliament”. This, according to him, was just one of the numerous examples when Mr Advani would either keep quiet or transfer responsibility to others. The flaunting of money was the ugliest episode in Parliament’s history, and if Mr Advani orchestrated it, it is not too late for Parliament to take action against him.
The act was so sacrilegious that Mr Advani should face more than a mere rap even if he just happened to acquiesce in it. A parliamentarian of long experience, who has dreamed of becoming Prime Minister, should have been well aware that this was the worst form of protest that any MP could indulge in. By allowing it or orchestrating it, he and his party were guilty of an act which is impossible to condone by any Parliament.
Actually, Mr Jaswant Singh should have shown the courage to speak up at that very time and dissociate himself from a party which was stage-managing such a perverted show on the floor of the House. That would have only increased his stature and sense of responsibility to the House he was supposed to serve. Doing so now when he has been expelled from the party has compromised his position. Yet, the allegation is so serious and plausible that Mr Advani just cannot brush it aside through any sophistry or verbal jugglery.
FARMERS NEED HELP
PADDY AND WATER WOES IN PUNJAB
The Centre should compensate paddy growers in Punjab as they have not allowed the crop to fail despite a poor monsoon and insufficient power and canal water supply. They have not let down the Centre in its efforts to collect grains for the pool and hold the already high food prices. Whether that sense of gratitude takes the shape of a one-time bonus or some other form of relief is for the Centre to decide. But it is the maize and cotton growers who really should be encouraged for staying away from paddy, which is playing havoc with the state’s declining water resources.
Though farmers do need help for boldly facing a difficult situation, they should understand the price the state pays for growing paddy. According to the Akali-BJP delegation, which met the Prime Minister and the Agriculture Minister last week to seek a “drought relief package” of Rs 7,410 crore, the paddy growers should get Rs 4,400 crore relief. This excludes the cost of groundwater. The state electricity board needs Rs 1,420 crore for diverting power from the industry and the domestic consumer. Going by the Central definition of drought, no Punjab district is entitled to relief. Ninety-seven percent of Punjab’s cropped area is under assured irrigation.
What the state and the Centre should ponder is whether growing paddy is desirable in Punjab and Haryana, where the water table has sunk worryingly low. The paddy MSP disregards hidden costs, including the cost of installing a submersible pump, which comes to Rs 80,000 a set. The long-term consequences of the depleting water resources and neglect of proper water management and rainwater harvest are not understood. By giving free power to farmers, the government encourages the wastage of power and water and loses revenue too. Punjab has to learn to manage its finances better and strengthen its own natural calamities fund instead of looking up to the Centre for bailouts.
FAKE NOTES ARE CAUSE FOR ANXIETY
The RBI has tried to allay growing public fears over fake currency by stating that only four notes out of 10 lakh are fake. While the number may not be too large to trigger a nation-wide panic, it is still a cause for consternation. That the RBI itself is perturbed by the menace of fake currency is evident from the fact that only a few days ago it had issued an appeal to banks warning them of counterfeit currency notes of Rs 1000 denomination in circulation.
India has been trying to fight the sinister design of those who are trying to weaken the nation through “economic terrorism”. Time and again it has been exposed how fake currency is used to not only destabilise the nation but also to fund terror. The CBI’s revelation that the “secret template” used to print currency notes has been compromised proves that the rot runs deep. The Anti-Terrorist Squad recently seized a cache of fake notes in Mumbai. Several other rackets have been busted. The Gujarat ATS has even claimed a breakthrough. But the smuggling of fake currency into the Indian economy continues unabated.
The RBI has taken several steps like double scrutiny of notes put in the ATMs and setting up of Forged Note Vigilance Cells. According to the RBI’s annual report, the detection of counterfeit banknotes has shown a rising trend. However, much more needs to be done. Note sorting machines proposed to be set up in a phased manner at the 70,000 bank branches must be installed with greater urgency. While the move not to file an FIR against ordinary persons found in possession of a maximum of five fake currency notes is appreciable, those involved in rackets must not be shown any leniency. With Pakistan-based terror groups believed to be behind the pumping of fake currency into India, the government should take up the matter with it.
BANGLADESHIS IN NORTH-EAST
UIN CAN’T SOLVE MIGRATION PROBLEM
BY SANJOY HAZARIKA
The Government of India’s initiative to develop a Unique Identification Number for every Indian under the leadership of Nandan Nilekani is a master stroke. Yet, I am not sure it would be able to conclusively deal with the issue of citizenship, which is extremely sensitive and complex in the North-East, especially in Assam.
Despite a border fence, migrants still come for economic purposes, to work and earn a living. While it is clear that some of the movement is temporary — of people going back and forth for work, especially as unskilled labour — but another part of it is permanent, with people leaving their homes with the intention of setting up a new residence.
Some move to Assam and then travel to other parts o the North-East and go to different parts of India. An elaborate process of travel touts and organisers helps this movement.
There are an estimated 15 to 20 lakhs illegal migrants in Assam and no law or government is strong enough or determined enough to “throw them out” as agitators would have them do.
It is not as easy as it sounds: the concentration of migrants, the mixing with local communities (also Muslim and originally Bengali speakers who have adopted Assamese as their new language) and the dangers of communal clashes/ trouble leading to major law and order situations are the very reasons why no government in Delhi or Assam over the past 20 years, despite spewing hot rhetoric, has been able to do anything substantial about it.
No government wants to create a law and order problem for itself — and there are not less than estimated 20 million Bangladeshis in India: to put this figure in proportion, it represents 12 per cent of Bangladesh’s population or one-third of Assam.
Mr Nikelani’s commission must consult the old registers and lists related to citizens, settlers and voters. This is a huge, thankless and elaborate task, which assumes greater significance because still we do not know how many refugees India hosts or how many are migrants or illegal migrants. After all, who will be entitled to the UIN? How would you diffentiate between a foreign national who claims Indian citizenship and a bona fide Indian?
There should be a National Immigration Commission, but there should be ID cards for all residents in the region based on the National Register of Citizens of 1951 and then Work Permits for all who have come after 1971.
There is an agreement at the bilateral level between India and Bangladesh of 1972 on the position on citizenship as well as the agreement between New Delhi and the All Assam Students Union in 1985 that laid down conditions for allowing the pre-1971 migrants to vote and also said that those who came after 1971 would be identified and deported.
This has not happened because of the illegal migratnts determination by tribunal law of 1983, which was designed to protect settlers and applied only to Assam, was in place until the Supreme Court threw it out as ultra vires of the Constitution three years back.
The Centre resorted to subterfuge by amending the Foreigners Tribunal Order to make the relevant part applicable only to the Assam Government but that too was struck down by the apex court.
In the process a lot of time has been wasted. Yet, despite the emotions that the issue of migration arouses, it is important to look at innovative ways in which the border management and migration regulatory regimes need to be made practical.
Thus, the proposed work permits would not be an acceptance of permanent settlement nor would it confer the right to vote; it would confirm the temporary status of migrants and ensure they would not be eligible to the rights of a citizens — to acquire immovable property, move elsewhere in the country, marry locally and exercise franchise.
The significance of the work permits cannot be stressed enough — the Government of India plans to spend a staggering Rs 55,000 crore on developing road infrastructure in the North-East in the next few years. That will require labour — which does not exist.
The Arjun Sengupta Commission on Unemployment in the Unorganised Sector said that 23 lakh workers would be required by 2015. The North-East has bare three lakh. Where is the balance going to come from? No points for guessing: from other labour-producing parts of India, and probably Bangladesh.
Border management is crucial in a region which has 96 per cent of its borders with other countries and 4 per cent with the rest of India. In that process, the classification of the outflow from Bangladesh as a labour flow may help.
We need to be clear about some of these issues as rhetoric misleads and fudges the real point. While Constitutional guarantees must be provided to the locals with a majority of seats in the state assembly reserved for them in perpetuity, Mr Nilekani has his work cut out for him as far as the North-East is concerned.
It is our hope that some of the points given above will help in the process of developing a robust and realistic plan that silences doomsday pundits.
DEATH STALKS INDIAN ROADS
BY GOBIND THUKRAL
Not a day passes when the media does not report tragic deaths in road accidents. On August 26 six pilgrims returning from Vaishnodevi were killed and four others seriously injured.
Two days earlier five members of a family on their way to Haridwar to immerse ashes died in an accident near Mandi Gobindgarh. The deceased were travelling in a car when it slammed into a stationary truck-trolley at around 3 am on the Grand Trunk Road.
The same day one woman was crushed under the wheels of a jeep driven by a police officer near Jind in Haryana. In Jammu and Kashmir six persons were killed in different road accidents in Udhampur and Doda districts, while three Malaysian tourists died in Leh district.
Last year, in Chandigarh alone 146 people lost their lives while 440 were injured. Till May 16 this year, a total of 54 persons were killed in road accidents in the city while 105 persons were grievously hurt. How devastating for the bereaved families and friends!
Punjab tops in the number of road accidents and casualties. As many as 1,765 persons were killed in road accidents till June this year. Loaded buses either roll down the roads, fall into canals or meet accidents on unmanned railway crossings. These are becoming a routine. How cheap is human life!
The authorities have almost given up the effort, leaving it to fate. Punjab lost on March 29 a gentleman politician, Capt Kanwaljit Singh, in a road accident near Kharar. While Punjab politics will never be the same again without this public man, the government has done little to improve this killer road stretch. It continues to devour innocent travellers.
Casualties in road accidents in Uttarakhand up to July 21 this year have touched 150. In a single day in Dehradun district 10 persons were killed. This is a grim reminder of the abysmal condition of vehicles and roads.
All over the country the situation is depressing. More traffic, bad roads, poor driving sense, ill-maintained vehicles, lax traffic rules and drunk driving are some major reasons. Road rage often leading to deaths speaks ill about us as tolerant citizens. Indians can be rated as the most irresponsible people as far as road sense is concerned.
The National Crime Records Bureau’s latest figures show that close to 1.15 lakh people were killed in 4.18 lakh road accidents in India in 2007, the latest year for which data has been released. This was the second highest number of road casualties in the world, second only to China.
Estimates for 2008 suggest close to 1.3 lakh deaths. India now tops this unfortunate global list in road accidents, which account for about 10 per cent of the world’s total. And, we are yet to have the number of cars like America and other European countries.
As usual, as one study revealed, a substantial number of road accident victims are paedestrians, cyclists and two-wheeler riders. Two out of three road fatalities in the urban areas are of paedestrians.
It is indeed an intolerable situation. The senseless loss of innocent human life is easily avoidable. There is callousness in the way vehicles are driven on roads. Witness Chandigarh and see how youngsters speed up on motor cycles and in cars.
Notably, these fatalities are a result of a deep flaw in the way our cities and roads are planned, built and operated, besides how we drive. Urban areas in India have grown haphazardly, with poor municipal or government oversight. There is an unmanageable pressure on civic services and urban infrastructure.
Also, there is a systematic denial of services and resources to the poor. The rich continue to corner all for themselves. Can any paedestrian dare cross over at any point any of the busy roads like Madhya Marg or Dakshin Marg? He must hire an auto or car to go across the road.
Urban transport policy in our country is skewed in favour of one class of roads users, the car-owners. A study about Delhi shows cars transport only one of five road users while they dominate three-fourths of the road space. There is a massive increase in private vehicles, adding to traffic clogging.
The average vehicle speed in cities is 22 km per hour. To address this challenge, urban development agencies have rushed to widen roads and build flyovers, neglecting the public transport. The recent policy changes to have buses and metro rail transport are only in a few major cities. These are not adequate and do not ensure equal opportunity of mobility for all.
Our city roads are increasingly losing footpaths to the widening of roads under pressure from car owners. Paedestrian crossings are being reduced. Car users often bully paedestrians by pushing them off the roads through aggressive driving and parking on footpaths, all against traffic rules. Visit Chandigarh to comprehend this.
The stress on improving the mobility of only one class of road users by widening roads and building flyovers implies grabbing common urban resources for the use of one tiny class of citizens. Are we not aware that over a large number of the poor and middle-class people travel in the cities by walking or using the public transport?
Loss of human life apart, the economic cost is colossal. According to a study done by Forbes magazine (July 2009) in 2000, the cost of road accidents was Rs 55,000 crore, or 3 per cent of the GDP. This often quoted number comes from Dinesh Mohan, a professor at IIT, Delhi. He extrapolated this number to 2000 by taking into account higher fatalities (85,000) and increased cost of living.
If we extrapolate this to 2007, when the cost of living had risen by 39 per cent, the total cost exceeds Rs 1 lakh crore. The real toll — fatalities are under-reported by 5 per cent and injuries by half — could push the numbers even higher.
Make roads accessible to all users, build safe footpaths and enforce the laws. Introduce road safety audits. And build rapid bus transit system; provide dedicated lanes for buses, cyclists, paedestrians and cars.
THEY ALSO WIN: ‘INDIA’S GOT TALENT’
BY DEVI CHERIAN
It is refreshing to see a Chief Minister excited about a tiny dance group from his state taking part in a reality show. He explains how one evening his staff at home got a CD and forced him to watch it with them.
It is about some very talented people who formed The Prince Group. This group is from a small town, Behrampur, in Orissa and consists largely of the disadvantaged.
The Prince Group managed to enthral the judges, the audience and millions of viewers with their beautiful and original dances on a TV show “India’s Got Talent”. These handful of labourers also have two participants in the group who are victims of polio.
The Chief Minister was so impressed by this group from his state that he was requesting all to vote for these construction workers with humble backgrounds.
The prize money of Rs 50 lakh is going to be used to bring out more talent from Orissa. They are going to set up a dance academy and for them Patnaik announced a cash prize of Rs 1 crore and four acres of land to build this dance academy.
The 26-member troupe will now be sent to London and New York. The Chief Minister has also written to the Sports Minister for the group’s participation in the cultural programmes during the 2010 Common Wealth Games.
Hard work and commitment have got them here but it’s very rare to see a rags-to-riches story and yet rarer to see that the prize money goes back to help others. For Navin Patnaik, it was like a proud father showing off his very talented children to the world.
Imagine a Chief Minister walking around with a CD and explaining to his friends excitedly about the dance performance and then just saying in the end if you enjoyed them and you think they are the best, please vote for them. Now we know how Naveen did a hatrick by winning this election.
Delhi sometimes looks like a capital of intellectuals because there is a book launch almost every week. But the launch of Malvika Singh’s “Delhi” was refreshingly different. It was attended by a mix of politicians, bureaucrats and media personalities. It was a houseful at the Imperial Hotel.
The book was released by the Prime Minister’s wife, Gursharan Kaur, and Sheila Dikshit. Malvika was nervous but was reassured by the warmth towards her by close friends in the room.
Gursharan Kaur was happy to be a smiling presence and mingled comfortably with a host of Delhi’s movers and shakers. You had Kapil Sibal; Delhi’s local MP greeting Praful Patel; and Isher Ahluwalia, who chatted merrily with Renuka Chowdhary and her supermodel daughter.
Malvika Singh, the author, certainly knows Delhi, the imperial bits of it rather well. Her husband after all is the grandson of one of the builders.
With photographs researched painstakingly by Pramod Kapoor, who for the first time, mixed his roles as the publisher and the researcher and produced a stunning visual documentary. Rudrangshu Mukherjee gave the historic and Bengali link to this rather capital book.
The lady, who has made modern New Delhi what it is, Sheila Dikshit was the perfect choice for releasing the book. She lauded the book’s efforts to bring alive the history of a city that needs to look back even as it looks ahead.
This theme was also picked up by Malvika Singh in her brief remarks. Pramod and Rudrangshu sensed the mood of the crowd and intervened only briefly to share their views on the making of this town.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
A MANY-HEADED HYDRA
The 17th Biennial Conference of the CBI and State anti-corruption bureaus was as good a platform as any for Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to speak his mind. Though he did not mince his words in pin-pointing corruption as the source of most evils in our society he actually said nothing new, his home truths being mere reiteration of what every adult Indian knows by now. Corruption, indeed, is a many-headed hydra, sinking its poisonous fangs in multifarious ways to the detriment of social progress. As pointed out by Dr. Singh, pervasive corruption was tarnishing the image of the country, thereby discouraging potential investors from abroad. While the world respected our democratic, plural, secular and socialistic values, corruption apart from rubbing away much of the gloss from our image detracts from fair treatment and transparent dealings expected by foreign investors. Corruption is therefore a major hindrance in integrating India with the world economy and deriving benefits from technological innovations and resources from developed nations. In fact, shining India would have developed far quicker and shone far more brightly by now had it not been for twin impediments of corruption and red-tape amongst the bureaucracy. At the same time, corruption works against the socialistic and egalitarian ethos embodied in our Constitution, entailing as it does a few siphoning off resources intended for many.
The latest victim of this appears to be the NREGA scheme, with growing public outcry against the fact that much of what the governments provide does not reach the intended beneficiaries, whether it be subsidised food-grain or benefit of employment programmes. Corruption also distorts the rule of law and weakens institutions. The negative image of our law enforcing agencies is testimony to the fact that credibility of institutions is eroded when they reek of corruption. Dr. Singh’s exhortation to the anti-corruption agencies to “net the big fish” and prosecute the corrupt, in the context of current ground realities, is unlikely to fall on heeding ears. The twin hurdles confronting anti-corruption agencies while engaged in “rapid, fair and accurate investigations of allegations of corruption in high places” are political interference and tardy pace of prosecution. If one studies the “success” of institutions such as the CBI one finds that petty cases get tackled quickly while big fish escapes the net, thus showing the clout political and money power wield. Delay in the dispensation of justice is a major hurdle and, in many instances, criminals have been able to take advantage to influence witnesses and induce them into turning hostile. The greatest hurdle, of course, is the perception amongst the Indian masses that corruption is a way of life. Since resistance to this many-headed hydra must come from within society, it would continue to sink its fangs into the body politic unless there is a change to this perception.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN
A very significant step was taken by the Union Cabinet by deciding to raise the reservation of women at all tiers of Panchayati Raj from 33per cent to 50 per cent for which a bill to amend the Constitutional provision would be brought in the next session of Parliament.Similiar provision would also be made in respect of urban local bodies. This would increase the total number of elected women members of Panchayats from 12 lakhs to 14 lakhs out of a total number of 28 lakh elected members of the Panchayats in the country. Several States had already amended their Panchayat Acts to increase the reservation quota of women in Panchayats such as Bihar,Chattisgarh,Madhya Pradesh,Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh which had raised the reservation quota of women to 50 per cent. Even Sikkim had raised the quota to 40 per cent.The visionary Prime Minister of India,Rajiv Gandhi who gave the Panchayats and Municipalities a constitutional status and provided for reservation of seats for women, empowered women politically. This gender revolution made India a country with the largest number of elected women representatives without parallel in the world.
However while empowering women some States like Andhra Pradesh,Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa,Maharashtra and Chattisgarh had stipulated two-child norm which caused tremendous damage to the Panchayati Raj objectives. Even the Supreme Court upheld this stipulation in law as a result of which more than 400 elected women members were disqualified in Rajasthan only on the ground of having more than two children. This anachronism should be removed in the amendment proposed in the Constitution so that elected women representatives did not suffer for no fault of their own. The government should now bring the much awaited bill for reservation of seats for women in Parliament and Assemblies which could not be passed so far due to opposition from parties like RJ D,JD(U), Samajwadi Party though the Select Committee had processed the bill as far back as 1996.Even Pakistan and Afghanistan had reservation of seats in Parliament for women and therefore there was no reason not to have reservation in India. Consensus of political parties could not be obtained so far for smooth passage of the bill, some parties demanding diluting the reservation to 15 per cent or 20 per cent and some arguing for inbuilt sub quotas for Dalits,OBCs and minorities. Even then the introduction of the bill in the Rajya Sabha is a step forward in the right direction. Let us hope all the political parties would shed their differences and get the Women reservation bill for Parliament and Assemblies passed without further delay fulfilling a long felt and genuine demand of our women.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
JASWANT SINGH: THE SAFFRON SCAPEGOAT
SAIKH MD SABAH AL-AHMED
Just at a time when the entire nation was ploddingly trying to come to terms with the deadly H1N1 (swine flu) virus, yet another deadly sclerosis syndrome was slowly but surely affecting the entire convoluted saffron fabric of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Nothing seems to be going ‘right’ for this ‘rightist’ party after its dwindling performance in the recently concluded 2009 parliamentary polls. Rajnath Singh and his obsequious coterie seem to be hell-bent on committing a fatally unvarying saffron hara-kiri of sorts, portraying a sense of profuse political paranoia, devoid of even an iota of political pragmatism, gumption and maturity. The BJP seems to be tumbling from one crisis to another; trapped in a messy political quagmire of sorts, (self-created though), it seems to be gasping for breath for its very own survival in overall national statiological fabric of India. The BJP, led by its coterie of self-appointed saffron vigilantes are only heading down towards a slippery slope. The BJP now looks more or less like a political moraine; a dumping ground where a smattering of cretaceous, hollow, redundantly-archaic and heretical doctrines seem to rule the roost. The BJP seems to be frozen in a time warp. Profuse glorification of political anachronisms in today’s contemporary political scenario of a free and liberal democracy seems to be their only mantra.
On August 19, 2009, 71-year-old Jaswant Singh Marwah, a Rajput by birth, a former officer in the Indian Territorial Army in the 1960’s, a former Union Minister, who had held Defence, Finance and External Affairs portfolios and, now a Lok Sabha MP from Darjeeling was unceremoniously sacked from BJP after his book, Jinnah; India–Partition, Independence, eulogising ‘Quaid-e-Azam’ and founder of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah, came under scathing attack from the BJP and the saffron brigade. The ex-army Major was forlornly ‘court martialled’ without even a proper trial; just a phone call from the party president Rajnath Singh conveying his expulsion was all that he got in return for his nearly 30-years of dedicated service. It couldn’t have been more lacerating for this veteran founder member of the BJP, who has hitherto been serving as a loyal soldier, ever since this right-wing nationalist party was formed way back in December 1980.
The decision to insulate, discard and finally chuck out Jaswant Singh was taken at the Parliamentary Board of the party which met at Peterhoff Hotel in Shimla during the opening session of the brainstorming three-day (August 19-August 21) closed-door Chinon Baithak (assessment-cum-introspective session) of the creamy top-brass BJP leaders. The three-day conclave was originally scheduled to focus on the grubby state of affairs in the BJP against the backdrop of recent Lok Sabha poll debacle and internal bickerings that have marred its image. However, turmoil in the Rajasthan BJP unit, led by an ever adamant State party chief Vasundhara Raje Scindia and Jaswant Singh’s new book on Jinnah had hijacked the more pertinent issues like Lok Sabha poll defeat and other related strategies. The BJP high command was primarily facing a tough challenge over these two focal issues ahead of its Chintan Baithak. This apart, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) had also given clear signals to the BJP that it should start thinking in terms of a younger leadership and ending factionalism.
Before embarking on a detailed analysis of the entire Jaswant Singh expulsion episode, it would be a more prudent exercise to rewind a little backwards and start from the root cause; the embryonic stages from where it all began, a posse saffron mutineers sounding the bugle of dissent. The genesis of this saffron mutiny was actually an article by party ideologue, strategist and close LK Advani aide Sudheendra Kulkarni to a magazine, immediately after the BJP’s disastrous show in 2009 Lok Sabha polls that had really set the cat among the saffron pigeons. Sudheendra Kulkarni has since resigned from the BJP, citing “ideological difference”. Former Union Minister and senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha on June 13, 2009, had shockingly resigned from all party posts; that of BJP vice president, national executive and in-charge, Karnataka affairs, amidst growing differences within the BJP after the defeat in the recent Lok Sabha elections. The MP from Hazaribagh in Jharkhand had sent a five-page letter to Rajnath Singh and other members of the party’s core group in which he said it was difficult to avoid the impression that in BJP “we put a premium on failure”. As if these doppelganger disconcerting embarrassments were not enough to fluster the BJP, a trinity of saffron mutineers comprising Vasundhara Raje Scindia, Arun Shourie and former Uttarakhand Chief Minister BC Khanduri have also recently raised a banner of revolt. Already faced with an unprecedented turmoil, these are ominous omens for the BJP. It might soon slip into a state of political oblivion; lost in the overall statiological wilderness of the country.
Coming back once again to the entire Jaswant Singh expulsion episode, which really came like a bolt from the blue, the less said the better. Jaswant Singh’s much hyped 669-page book, Jinnah: India–Partition, Independence, which is now selling like hot cakes, ironically proved to be his ultimate nemesis; in essence, he had to meet his political nemesis for this ideological thesis or vice-versa. In his book, he has held Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel responsible for the partition of India and that Jinnah has been “demonised” in India. He also claims: “Mohammed Ali Jinnah did not win Pakistan as Congress leaders, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel ‘conceded’ Pakistan to the ‘Quaid-e-Azam’, with the British acting as an ever helpful midwife”. Raising several questions on partition, he asks: “How did you divide a geographic (also geo-political) unity? Through a ‘surgical operation’, Lord Mountbatten (the last British viceroy) had said, and tragically Nehru and Patel and the Congress party had assented”.
If one carefully browses through the entire book, one would quickly fathom the fact that it’s not only a refreshing reading experience, but throws new light upon certain virgin vistas of the hallowed saga of India’s independence. But, the BJP, it seems, had other ideas; the book proved too bitter a pill for the BJP to swallow down their taut ideological throats. Poor Jaswant Singh was made the hapless scapegoat. This amateurish attitude on the part of the BJP in expelling a senior party member like Jaswant Singh, not only weaves in more complication for them, but throws up an entire gamut of uncomfortable questions, with no immediate snuggly cozy answers in the offing. Is ideology a useful ploy to sidestep hard issues? Could ideology be slyly used as a convenient distraction? Can the garb of ideology be used to cocoon political exigencies? This is a sort of a reality check questionnaire that the BJP must carefully answer, first to themselves, and then to their obsequious saffron electorate. They can have their own parameters and barometers of political pragmatism for an honest political prognosis. Only then can one expect a saffron sanity of sorts to prevail. If not, the BJP, given the present spiraling mess, is more or less likely to be relegated to a party of reclusive vagabonds and sanyasis.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
REMEMBERING HARENDRA NATH BARUA
SUREN RAM PHOOKUN
In the demise of Harendra Nath Barua Assam had lost a pioneer and front-ranking journalist, a freedom fighter and public man who had for the past sixty years been upholding the cause he had found right and just. Barua like many others of his time took up journalism as a mission but soon be found that the newspaper is a powerful medium to mould public opinion. In the pre-independence days Indian newspapers with nationalist outlook espoused the cause of freedom and backed the Congress and in Assam, Barua was then the leading Editor to fight for the nationalist cause. Though he never lost faith in Mahatma Gandhi and his ideals, he came out boldly when Assam’s interest was endangered. He did so when the Muslim League Ministry in Assam posed a threat to the State’s interest, at the time of the notorious Grouping Plan and during the language movement of 1960. When the State had to fight on the foreigners issue to save the Assamese identity he was not working in any newspaper but nevertheless contributed useful articles and was instrumental in constituting the Mehta Commission to inquire into the atrocities committed on the people.
Harendra Nath Barua needs no introduction to the people of Assam. He was the Editor of the new defunct Natun Asomiya which was published from Kalipur area of Guwahati when there were fewer number of vernacular dailies. So naturally readers either go through the pages of The Assam Tribune or the Natun Asomiya which was edited very successfully by the former front ranking Editor. Barua possessed a very fluent pen to rouse public sentiment on burning issues like the establishment of oil refinery, the bridge over the mighty river Brahmaputra, the identity of the Assamese people and what not.
Precisely he was a journalist par excellence. He was a renowned freedom fighter and out a Congressman who suffered imprisonment for the cause of India’s independence. For some years, he was the Chairman of Guwahati Municipal Board and did yeomen’s service for the welfare of the Harijans. He was a public activist who had been upholding the cause he had found right and just. As an Editor he was a crusader for the nationalist cause.
He took journalism seriously as a noble profession. With his bold, forceful and informative writings he could mesmerise the readers. In 1926 Pandu session of the Congress in Which Deshbhakta Tarun Ram Phookun was the president, Barua was a volunteer. He was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth and had to struggle hard for the survival of his family. Simple and unassuming by nature, Barua fought relentlessly against heavy odds. He was a warrior, and indomitable crusader on many burning issues. His honesty, dedication, devotion, boldness and impartiality in discharging his responsibilities as an Editor cannot be questioned. Soon after Cripps Mission and the conspiracy of the Muslim League to include Assam in Pakistan he wrote a book titled Reflections of Assam cum Pakistan in which he forcefully declared under no circumstances Assam could be a part of Pakistan. It is worthmentioning that during the States Reorganisation Commission’s visit there was a conspiracy to include Goalpara within Bengal, but HN Barua objected to it vehemently and said that Goalpara is a part and parcel of Assam Barua always fought tooth and nail to get justice for the welfare and development of the State. His fruitful writings always aroused public sentiment. Thus he wrote strongly worded articles supporting Assamese language as the official language of the State and medium of instruction in educational institutions. His booklet Asomor Bideshi Nagarikar Samasya created a wave among all shades of public opinion.
Harendra Nath Barua enrolled himself as a member of the Indian National Congress in 1928 and during the civil disobedience movement, he was asked by stalwarts like Tyagbir Hem Baruah and other movement leaders not to court imprisonment but to work round the clock to keep the movement alive. Under the Defence of India Act, Barua was detained for a year as a security prisoner in Tezpur jail in 1934. Although he was a front ranking freedom fighter, his first love was journalism. He was associated as an Editor for long 50 years. He retired from active journalism in 1976. During this golden period, he highlighted the multifarious problems of Assam and moulded public opinion to fight them unitedly.
Barua was a dedicated journalist. Though he was a Congressman he never hesitated to criticise Congressmen or Congress Governments if they committed any mistake. And impartial and objective assessment of any problem in a given situation is the yardstick of a true journalist and Harendra Nath Barua possessed this capacity in full. Particularly after he assumed the responsibility of an editor, Barua knew that this was a very responsible job of guiding the people his readers in the right direction. In a backward State like Assam where there were only two or three dailies the editors had to be men of wisdom and judicious perceptions. There were also difficult problems to face. The Calcutta Press has always been at hammer and tongs with Assam. Whenever a situation arose when it became necessary for Assam to raise her voice either for a particular industry, declaration of the official language, etc, the Calcutta Press, at least a section thereof, raised such a hullabaloo that any normal man was apt to lose his cool. Editors like Harendra Nath Barua and Lakshminath Phookan, therefore had to play a restraining role and pacify emotions and passions lest they explode into violence.
Harendra Nath Barua voluntarily assumed that role of a watch dog not only of democracy but also of the cause of Assam and the Assamese. The continued neglect of the Centre towards this State after independence must have hit him very hard and his pen therefore assumed the power of mighty sword. During the States Reorganisation Commission’s visit there was a plan hatched by protagonists of Greater Bengal to include Goalpara in the Bengali speaking State, but Barua by his reasoned and objective writing with facts and figures opined that Goalpara could not be severed from Assam. Harendra Nath Barua came out strongly for any demand for the welfare or development of Assam. His forceful writings inspired hose who fought for Assam’s cause. His long service period as a journalist from 1943 to 1976 was perhaps a ‘golden time’ in the field of journalism in the State.
On the fateful morning of August 31, 1987, after his return from a morning walk death snatched him away at the age of 79.
(Published on the occasion of death anniversary of HN Barua).
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
RESERVATION IN PANCHAYATS
With last Thursday’s Cabinet approval of the proposal for 50% reservation for women in panchayats, a significant step forward has been taken on the issue of women’s empowerment. This decision to enhance the reservation for women in village councils across the country — around 2,52,00 of them — from one-third to 50% will entail an amendment to Article 243D of the Constitution. Given the state of women’s participation in public life in India, such legislation is sorely needed to further women’s development, emancipation and inclusion in the decision-making process. Achieving that objective in full measure surely means that so much more still needs to be done. There are certain aspects of our perceived ‘tradition’, translating into some norms and everyday practices in personal and public life, which ensure that women largely remain subjugated and marginalised. Any sort of legislation can hardly hope to quickly change or affect such deeply ingrained traits. But, inversely, given that very fact, there is possibly no other way to change the state of affairs except through such positive discrimination. Indeed, some states had already increased women’s reservation in panchayats to 50% and above. Replicating that across the country would also mean a strengthening of the panchayats, given that they traditionally excluded certain sections, including women. While another positive is that this reservation will cover all tiers, from the gram to zilla panchayats, it should also logically extend to posts — like, say, of the sarpanch — in order to ensure a greater female role in local administration. That would be necessary in order to bridge the gap between mere representation and actively being part of the decision-making process.
That said, there also remains more to be done on the wider issue of local governance, on devolving the requisite powers and capacity to the panchayats. The wider objective of a greater female role in public life would also mean the issue of reserving 33% of seats in Parliament and state assemblies for women is resolved. Of course, despite the Bill on that count being introduced in the Lok Sabha in 1996, the government is yet to evolve a consensus. And the kind of opposition the Bill aroused is indicative of the sort of problems that persist.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
MASTER OF BOXING ARTS
In good times or bad, there’s always a demand for a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA). In times of economic boom, the media keeps harping on how the average salary for an MBA entering the job market keeps going up, year after year. In times of slowdown or recession, career counsellors point out that an MBA could add value to one’s earning potential and the job market will improve in the two years it takes for the student to complete the course. And so, whether in developed economies like the US and the UK or in the big emerging markets like India, students prefer to hibernate in an MBA course during a slowdown. The name of the game is to utilise the slowdown to enhance earning potential before entering the job market.
The demand for an MBA seat reached a new high or low in Karnataka on August 28. That was the day when the director of the Vokkaligara Sangha, which runs a chain of educational institutions, entered the office of the association president to demand a seat in the MBA course for the son of a friend. Whereupon, according to a report in The Times of India, an argument ensued and the director left the chamber with an injured head. The director, Prof Nagaraj, alleged the association president had hurled a paperweight at him. Association president Kenchappa Gowda claimed there was a round of fisticuffs and that Prof Nagaraj had hit his head on a window latch. Karnataka’s Vokkaligas are a distinguished community which has given not just CMs to the state but also a PM for the country in Deve Gowda. But this joust between the Vokkaligara Sangha’s president and director or the hurling of a paperweight at someone’s head are both somewhat unprecedented. An MBA in Karnataka could now be expanded to mean a Master’s in Boxing Arts!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
When the chairman of India’s largest bank expresses helplessness that our banks just do not have big enough balance sheets to meet the needs of rapidly globalising Indian companies, it is clearly time to look at certain policy issues with a sense of urgency. At an ET event last week SBI head O P Bhatt got everyone thinking when he said Indian banks just could not step into the breach when some big global banks, post Wall Street crises, reneged on their commitments to Indian companies operating abroad. China today has four banks which are among the top 20 in the world by balance sheet size. India’s SBI ranks 64th among the global biggies. One cannot quarrel with the fact that size matters if you are to be taken seriously in the world of finance. In India this debate has been on for many years. Former FM P Chidambaram had mooted the idea of PSU bank mergers way back in 2005, but there was resistance from managements. FM Pranab Mukherjee wholeheartedly agreed with O P Bhatt at the ET discussion forum but said the initiative must come from the banks themselves. The point is top PSU bank managers may not appreciate the larger benefits of bank consolidation and prefer to protect their turfs. That is only human, and they cannot be blamed for it. So the government, as owner of these banks, may need to become far more proactive in nudging banks to look at building scale through consolidation.
The present timing may be just right as global (read western) banks are recovering after getting adequate steroids in the form of additional capital and guarantees from their respective governments. They may not come out to lend as liberally as before. Going forward, one may feel the need for Indian banks with truly global size and operational flexibility to meet the needs of Indian companies expanding operations abroad. Such banks could also provide some cushion and comfort when India opens up its financial sector further to foreign competition and brings sophisticated derivative products, such as credit default swaps, into the Indian market. And some global-size banks would be essential as India moves towards fuller capital account convertibilty. There is a certain inevitability about this evolutionary process among Indian banks. The sooner we recognise this, the better.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
NELP, A TEST FOR OIL & GAS POLICIES
Auctioning of exploration blocks in the oil and gas sector has come to be an annual affair for the Indian government, where officials, politicos and a handful representatives of some successful game-changing exploration companies go touring around the globe to display the hydrocarbon wares of the country. It is now almost a decade since the government launched this auction round christened as the New Exploration Licensing Policy. But this time around, the bidding for blocks is not just about attracting investors. The success/ failure of the auction round is a litmus test for the government and its policies. The results of this auction round is bound to throw up some interesting lessons and questions on India’s policy consistency, ability to honour contracts and its regulatory framework.
Consider this. Year 2009 has seen two major milestones as far as new oil and gas is concerned. In April, Reliance Industries began producing gas from its D6 block in the Krishna-Godavari basin on the east coast. It is estimated to pump out 80 million standard cubic metres per day of gas in four months from now, thereby doubling India’s gas production. Second, Cairn India has started production from Mangla fields in the western state of Rajasthan. This field is estimated to yield as much a 25% of India’s oil imports at its peak. The success of these two discoveries, which has now translated to additional oil and gas for India, should have been the biggest platform and a stellar year to attract investments.
But hold on, this is also the year which has seen the biggest uncertainties over policies and contracts in the energy sector. It has been a year fraught with legal battles, accusations and counter arguments, involving high stakes. There are questions being raised on contractual obligations, the independence of regulators and policies that govern the future of this sector. So much so that the success of the new finds and the additional availability of oil and gas in the country that has major macro-economic implications is somewhat lost amidst the rather ugly public spat.
The government, in particular the petroleum ministry, is having to spend time in resolving legal issues where it is a party, and answer questions raised on the consistency and transparency of policies. Even a welcome move by the finance ministry in clearing the air and extending tax holidays for future gas producers at par with oil producers (which was a grey area after Budget 2008-09 and has been a long standing demand by the industry) has failed to distract attention from the current controversy.
While the representatives of oil majors are careful not to make any adverse comments publicly, privately most of them are tracking the fallout of the current legal battle. The Directorate General of Hydrocarbons (DGH) was reported to have received letters from some of the global energy majors wherein they had expressed concern about the implications of the current public spat for the gas sector. Some have even gone on to say that the ongoing controversy, which is like a daily column and headline in every news bulletin, will end up as epitaphs to India’s oil and gas story. The fundamental question in this controversy on which the government needs to come clean is about contractual obligations. The Production Sharing Contract (PSC) is a legal document that binds the contractor and the government to certain obligations. Any move to break away the commitments or obligations will only deter investor confidence.
While it is commendable that the petroleum ministry, aided by the DGH, has launched its annual auction round under NELP-VIII, not deterred by the ongoing storm over the biggest gas find in India (showcased at almost every NELP roadshow since 2003), the final test of the pudding will lie in how many investors actually dip in to taste and eat the pudding. The much-famed road shows have already travelled across the Atlantic to the oil capital of the US in Houston where the Big Oil companies of the world take calls on when and where the money needs to be pumped in based on the future of the energy markets, the prospects of the sedimentary basins in various parts of the world and most importantly the laws/policies of the particular country. Petroleum ministry officials who attended the Houston and Calgary road shows are more than happy with the turnout and have come back optimistic that India’s oil and gas story is on track.
Private and national oil companies within India too have attended the first road show, this time in Mumbai, with the same (if not more as claimed by the petroleum ministry and DGH) enthusiasm and eagerness to bid for blocks. Going by the turnout which attracted energy majors like Exxon Mobil, Chevron, British Petroleum, not to forget by the Indian majors, Reliance Industries Ltd, ONGC, OIL, Cairn, there is every reason to believe that the legal tussle which has forced parliamentarians and law makers debate and huddle into late night meetings to ensure a fair stand has not impacted investment sentiment. So far so good. But does the story end here? Or is this the beginning of an illusive journey that may end up in dismay and disappointment.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
BOOSTING TRADE IS THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN
BY CATHERINE ASHTON
This week, trade ministers will gather in Delhi to set the future course of multilateral trade negotiations. The commitment of most of the world’s economies to open trade has been made clear, and by and large countries have not resorted to new protectionist measures. What is missing is serious movement to find new opportunities for trade as a way to lift countries out of the current slump and help get the world economy running again.
India has already joined the EU and others in playing a leading role in freeing up global trade. The country has benefited from greater integration with the world economy, with sectors such as software and high-tech services showing resilient export performance even during the economic crisis. Still, more than other growing Asian economies, India’s impressive growth in recent years has been driven by domestic demand. It therefore particularly stands to profit from new trade opportunities.
So far, a returning government in Delhi has shown initiative and energy, offering to host the ministerial meeting on the Doha Round and seeking to move forward bilateral trade talks with the EU and others. I welcome my counterpart minister Anand Sharma’s resolve and I look forward to working with him.
As Mr Sharma has pointed out, a fair and satisfactory outcome to the Doha trade negotiations is important if we are to break free of the economic crisis. The European Union and India must work together to make this happen in 2010 — by leading the WTO membership into the end game of the negotiation. To do so, WTO members need to pick up the discussions on agriculture and industrial goods where we left them in 2008, and give negotiators the necessary flexibility to close the outstanding issues.
We must also move on the wider range of key areas that should be part of the final deal. India and the EU have common interests here, and have already worked together effectively in some of these: on services, rules, bio-diversity and geographical indications. We need to redouble our efforts, especially on services, the fastest growing sector of world trade. Constituting 55% of its exports, this is one area where India should be keen to find a deal.
The way forward on Doha should include a “roadmap” with the WTO Ministerial meeting at the end of the year in Geneva giving the negotiations an additional push. Doha should also be a key part of the debate at the G20 in Pittsburgh, which will focus on promoting world economic recovery.
The stakes are high: securing a Doha deal would favour a quick and smooth recovery — without additional fiscal costs — by injecting a significant boost to the global economy. It will above all play an important role in the fight against poverty as it will create the potential for more economic growth and employment. Significantly, an agreement would reform agricultural subsidy programmes throughout the developed world, an important boost for farmers in developing countries.
At the same time, if we fail to conclude a deal we risk a global economy under siege: trade-distorting measures have already started to emerge and they may spread further. The sooner we close this deal, the sooner we will safeguard the global economy against the threat of protectionism. This will strengthen the multilateral system, giving us the confidence to meet other common global challenges, such as climate change.
Besides Doha, I also look forward to working closely with Mr Sharma in order to drive forward our bilateral trade agenda, and in particular our negotiations for a comprehensive trade and investment agreement. The proposed deal would represent a landmark agreement between the world’s largest trading bloc and a major emerging economy. Because the agreement would liberalise trade further in a broader range of areas it can be a robust complement to the Doha Round.
By deepening our economic integration, both the EU and India stand to gain new markets for our goods and services. At just over e60 billion a year, EU-India trade is important but still far short of our potential. To put it in perspective, our bilateral trade is less than one-fifth that of the EU’s trade with China. An ambitious agreement would help us realise this untapped potential by significantly enhancing our bilateral trade and investment flows and by making it easier to do business with each other.
The collaboration between Bosch and Tata Motors is a good example of successful joint efforts, launching a product as distinct and innovative as the Tata Nano. I believe that an ambitious bilateral agreement will lead to many more such success stories.
As we gather in Delhi to discuss the way forward for the Doha round, some see signs that the global crisis is bottoming out. But even as output picks up, unemployment is on the rise and world trade is still in a slump.
Concluding valuable trade deals — multilateral or bilateral — would prove that we can reconcile the legitimate aspirations of developing countries with the expectations of the developed world and create a path for sustainable growth.
(The author is European Commissioner for Trade)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
ENVIRONMENT: NEW CONSTRUCTS FOR BETTERMENT
Since the late 17th century — a relatively short time in world history — the Industrial Age has showered immense wealth and prosperity on a billion people. For the rest of the six billion people on earth, however, the quality of life is no better — and perhaps worse — than it was for the typical peasant farmer or hunter-gatherer of the Middle Ages. Moreover, industrialisation has left the world a poorer place in terms of natural resources, fresh air, and potable water.
As the Industrial Age gives way to a new era — let’s call it the Connected Age — this pivotal moment in human history offers us the opportunity for a sustainable, inclusive future for the world and all its people. We cannot rely on vague hopes that our problems will be solved by governments or scientists or God. We all need to change our thinking.
Our lives are now ruled by a set of beliefs and assumptions — I call them “constructs” — that drive our attitudes and actions. These seven constructs are success, learning, work, consumption, wellness, governance, and globalisation. We have been acclimated to accept what the Industrial Age tells us is normal for each of those constructs. But these deeply rooted constructs have become constraints. We need new constructs to help us take the next leap forward in history.
As the chairman of an information technology company, my job is to find solutions. To find the best solutions, I need the best people to share their best ideas. This article is aimed at launching a community of ideas and discussion to help us move ahead and share our ideas for the new constructs.
Let’s look at where the old contexts have left us. Over 60% of the earth’s ecosystem has been degraded or used unsustainably, according the Center for Environment and Population, based in the United States. It is clear that our current way of life is unsustainable on this planet. China and India are starting to approach the levels of consumption of their role model — the US, the crown jewel of the Industrial Age and the old constructs. If the trend continues, the planet is literally going to be too small for the US, China, and India. Despite all this information and awareness, global leaders have been slow to address the looming problems. We, the average citizens, maintain our current lifestyle with occasional concessions to signal that we are environmentally aware. We hope for a bright future, and try to make our small contributions, but we continue to live as consumers under the old constructs.
With a world GDP of $60 trillion for a population just over six billion, simple math tells us that we have a GDP per capita of around $10,000, quite adequate to provide for everyone’s need and then some. We have the potential to create a sustainable world where 100% of the population lives comfortably and in harmony with our environment.
However, this would require a fundamental shift in our mindsets and assumptions about how we should live and operate as individuals, as organisations, as countries, and as a planet.
Here’s one example of how we might begin to shift our mindset. Steven Covey suggests that humans act out of two opposing perceptions — scarcity or abundance. Under the old constructs, we are motivated too often by a scarcity mentality. We look at the fast depleting oil reserves, the lack of fresh air, and the shortage of fresh water as signs of scarcity and predict a future of doom and gloom. In response, coming from a scarcity mentality, the US pressures China and India to set emission controls. The reaction, of course, is resentment. Why should those who have prospered under the old constructs deny the rest of the world the same opportunity?
In contrast, let’s consider an abundance mentality. Buckminster Fuller noted that we have a vast potential supply of solar energy that could be leveraged to sustain the planet with up to 400 million times the energy we consume today. Shifting to an abundance mentality requires us to channel human ingenuity into applying design principles for everyday living that emphasises the productivity of natural resources, substantially reduces energy consumption and waste, and mimics nature in creating a zero-waste consumption chain.
The following is my summary of the constructs that need reinvention:
Success: Every age has its own definition of success that drives most behaviour. Do we need to move beyond material measures of success — wealth, market cap, GDP, etc., to more holistic measures of success in the new age?
Learning: Education is probably one of the most unscientific of human endeavours. We have never validated the utility of education, but have just used it as a passport to the right jobs, creating a self-perpetuating system. Do we need more integrative, just-in-time and lifetime approaches to learning going forward?
Work: Industrial Age has promoted division of labour, high levels of specialisation and ‘silo-ed’ thinking. Will the new age call for a new definition of roles as well as new forms of engaging as teams, outside of an employment relationship?
Consumption: In today’s world, producers are distinct from consumers. It is taken for granted that higher levels of consumption are desirable to boost economic growth. Are these requirements for the new age, or will we need a different approach to consumption, leisure and entertainment?
Wellness: With the advancements in medicine and the focus on treating illnesses, are we losing touch with the need for wellness? Are the advances in medicine making us less accountable for taking ownership for our own health? Will approaches to healthcare be more holistic, treating the entire human being, and more open to alternative systems of healing in the coming age?
Governance: We have a single planet with more than 180 countries and 180 captains steering this ship. This is probably a major reason why we are not able to accelerate actions towards sustainability. Do we need to rethink governance at all levels to able to steer us forward?
Globalisation: Movement of food nationally and internationally releases five to seventeen times more carbon dioxide than regional or local food systems, according to environmentalist and writer Bill McKibben. Further, food that is regional and seasonal is considered healthier, according to dieticians. Can we live and consume more locally that we have been doing so in the past?
These questions are merely a starting point for discussing the new constructs. What questions do you have? What answers? What thoughts to share? The new constructs initiative is an attempt to harness the connected intelligence and creativity of all it participants in the process of envisioning and realising the new age.
As a modest start, www.TheNewConstructs.com is being set up as a Collaborative Book (C-Book) to create a community — people like you — who can share their ideas and experiences to explore, discover and generate these new constructs.
The problems facing humanity today are too large and too complex to be left in the hands of the few. All of us have to take personal responsibility for the world we will leave behind for future generations. New constructs is an opportunity for each one of us to connect, collaborate and co-create the world that we will rebuild for posterity. Long Live the Earth!
(The author is the CMD of Mastek Ltd)
STAY FOCUSED ON SPACE, CAREFULLY
Chandrayaan-I is dead. However, scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation, whose big budgets are beyond the usual audit umbrella and whose projects remain way above the comprehension of most people, including the babus who run the Indian administration, insist that the moon mission itself is alive and kicking. And that Chandrayaan-II will take off as planned around 2011-12 along with a lander-rover, which is quite similar to the lunar vehicles used by America’s Apollo missions before Mr Neil Armstrong became the first man to land on the moon over 40 years ago. C-II will use its rover to pick up the moonstones for on-site analysis of the lunar surface and transmit the data to its earth station, the Indian Deep Space Network (ISDN), at Byalalu village near Bengaluru. It will not come back, but C-III — scheduled around 2015 — will return with samples of the lunar surface.
Independent of these Chandrayaan missions will be the manned trips into space. The first manned mission will orbit the earth five or six times before returning for a sea-splash sometime in 2015 or a year later. The training of astronauts will soon begin in Bengaluru, and if all goes well India’s maiden manned moon trip will take place in 2020. If all these claims are meant to combat the gloom in Isro after it lost Chandrayaan-I 14 months early, against its projected two-year life around the moon, it must also be remembered that India is the only country which has performed the hugely complicated manoeuvring of the spacecraft from earth orbit to lunar orbit in the first attempt itself. The Russians had lost a few spaceships in this most critical operation. Another significant gain is that C-I, before its premature demise, managed to map most of the hitherto unvisited polar part, commonly known as the dark side of the moon. The data it sent to Byalalu will greatly help the Indian exploration for water on the moon. Just the other day, Isro announced it had teamed up with Nasa to study possibilities of lunar water in this patch of the moon. The most common question that pops up whenever a space mission fails is whether the nation was right to spend all those millions on “over-ambitious” adventures and if these had any relevance, specially when contrasted with the acute poverty still prevalent in India. Isro’s scientists have repeatedly spelt out how their work benefits the ordinary India in a variety of ways — forecasting weather for the farmer, spotting marine fishing zones and other natural resources, tele-medicine facilities for rural people, forest management, distance education and, of course, the revolution in telecommunications. The Internet, now such an integral part of our daily lives, and increasingly even in remoter areas, had its genesis in the US Apollo missions of the 1960s, when the American space programme for the first time used computer-aided data transfer and communication across the skies. Having said all this, one cannot avoid a word or two of caution. The scientific community must introspect deeply on the reasons behind C-I’s death, so that valuable lessons are learnt on how to make future missions not only less vulnerable but also more productive. True, India’s space odysseys have been far cheaper than those undertaken by other countries, but that’s no reason to get complacent. While India can legitimately take pride that its space programme is zooming at par with those of other space nations, we must never lose sight of the fact that India is also the poorest among these countries. The ongoing debate among our nuclear and defence scientists on whether Pokhran-II in May 1998 was a success or failure only goes to show how our wider scientific community has remained a mystery, at times even unto itself.
SECURE FUTURE HEALTH, STRIKE THE RIGHT ‘CORD’
BY BY JAYANTHI NATARAJAN
Here are some facts some of which are well-known and others not quite public knowledge. All of us are aware that the population of our country is well over one billion. Many are aware that there are probably 10,00,000 reported births every month, but certainly only a miniscule percentage of us will know that every year, we have about 1,00,000 children with blood cancer and 10,000 with thalassemia. For the parents of these children these are not mere statistics but painful and living reality. In the chaotic pace of our daily lives and the riotous crises of politics and governance, the daily trauma of our civil society and even the ordinary drudgery of the day-to-day grind, it is easy to forget or ignore that there live among us these families who are in terrible pain and who deal with the brutal reality of seeing their young children waste slowly away from the ravages of blood cancer or thalassemia.
When news reports of children requiring blood donors or of indigent parents requiring financial help to save a loved one appear in the morning daily, most sensitive persons would read it with sympathy. Some might even go the extra mile and take steps to help the suffering family. However, it is all too rare that as a collective society or even as public policy, we come up with really innovative and incredibly useful initiatives which will bring light and hope to the lives of thousands of families. That is why I was moved and impressed with the initiative undertaken by a non-profit organisation called Jeevan headed by Dr Srinivasan, who has come forward to take the message of the incredible benefits of harvesting cord blood or the blood from the placenta and umbilical cord.
In a country where there are 10,00,000 reported births a year, umbilical or cord blood is a resource that is a very precious and yet available resource to harvest. When this is harvested and properly stored, it can be used through stem cell medicine to treat children with blood cancer and thalassemia. The success rate of this treatment is over 80 per cent. It has the potential to bring hope and cure to literally thousands of families with sick children. And yet, this is something which is not particularly well-known or discussed in the public domain. It is ironical that our TV channels and newspapers beam daily about swine flu but simply do not find the TRPs of reporting on issues such as umbilical cord blood banking that is rewarding enough to give it the importance it deserves.
To be fair, nor do lawmakers like us or those in the field of health policy making or other stakeholders give such issues the primacy they deserve. More importantly, budget allocation. The prospects and the compulsions are stark and striking. Cord blood, which is plentifully available in India, is, in brief, a precious and astonishingly effective medical resource which can not only cure children suffering from blood cancer or thalassemia, but also prove effective treatment in about 70 other diseases, including and particularly diabetes and heart diseases.
When we stop to consider that India is the undisputed diabetes capital of the world and will soon be home to the largest number of diabetics in the world, as also the largest number of patients suffering from heart disease, it would be nothing short of criminal if our public policy, particularly our health planning, does not seriously consider the huge advantages of cord blood harvesting and its storage to help cure the large number of children suffering from cancer, diabetes, heart disease and all the other diseases that have the possibility of being treated with cord blood.
At this point in time, the cost of harvesting cord blood from one birth would be about Rs 30,000, including the storage of the harvested blood for 21 years at proper temperatures and in the prescribed fashion. Jeevan estimates that it would be essential to have a minimum of 30,000 stored units in order for needy patients to have a good chance of finding a matching donor. Jeevan has so far succeeded in harvesting and storing just over 100 units and the way ahead is rather long.
It is in this context that our policy planners need to think about the imperatives of establishing public-private partnerships in initiatives such as this. In terms of finance, while corporates can and do pitch in to help, in terms of the prohibitive cost, meaningful impact can only be achieved if the government becomes a stakeholder in such projects. These projects are meant to benefit every section of society irrespective of caste, creed or income. In other countries, families who have the wealth and the knowledge to make use of this technology take steps to store cord blood units.
However, ordinary families in countries like ours have neither the money nor the knowledge of the science to initiate or have access to miracles such as stem cell treatment. In a country where cord blood is plentiful and the technology and expertise freely available along with the services of organisations which are prepared to make the treatment and benefits available to ordinary citizens, free of cost or at affordable cost, it becomes morally incumbent upon decision-makers to do everything in their power to invest in such worthy initiatives and ensure that public health money is spent upon an eminently worthy cause.
Needless to say that when government creates a public-private partnership or if only private players or NGOs are in the field, great care will have to be taken to ensure that those who are requested to donate cord blood be made aware of their rights and give their informed consent.
Although their blood may be used to save other lives, it is still vital that their donation is willing and informed since, as past experience has shown, it is all too easy for innocent donors to be exploited. In the ultimate analysis, while patients should benefit, the rights of donors should never be violated.
Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.
The views expressed in thiscolumn are her own.
MARRIED! UNTIL MEDICAL BILLS DO US PART
BY BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Critics fret that healthcare reform would undermine American family values, not least by convening sombre death panels to wheel away Grandma as if she were Old Yeller.
But peel away the emotions and fear-mongering, and in fact it is the existing system that unnecessarily takes lives and breaks apart families.
My friend M. — you’ll understand in a moment why she’s terrified of my using her name — had to make a searing decision a year ago. She was married to a sweet, gentleman whom she loved, but who had become increasingly absent-minded. Finally, he was diagnosed with early-onset dementia.
The disease is degenerative, and he will become steadily less able to care for himself. At some point, as his medical needs multiply, he will probably need to be institutionalised.
The hospital arranged a conference call with a social worker, who outlined how the dementia and its financial toll on the family would progress, and then added, out of the blue: “Maybe you should divorce”.
“I was blown away”, M. told me. But, she said, the hospital staff members explained that they had seen it all before, many times. If M.’s husband required long-term care, the costs would be catastrophic even for a middle-class family with savings.
Eventually, after the expenses whittled away their combined assets, her husband could go on Medicaid — but by then their children’s nest egg would be gone, along with her 401(k) plan. She would face a bleak retirement with neither her husband nor her savings.
A complicating factor was that this was a second marriage. M.’s first husband had died, leaving an inheritance that he had intended for their children. She and her second husband had a prenuptial agreement, but that would not protect her assets from his medical expenses.
The hospital told M. not to waste time in dissolving the marriage. For five years after any divorce, her assets could be seized — precisely because the government knows that people sometimes divorce husbands or wives to escape their medical bills.
“How could I divorce him? I loved him”, she told me.
“I explored a lot of options with an attorney here in town”, she added. “The attorney said, ‘I don’t see any other options for you’. It took about a year for me to do the divorce, it was so hard”.
So M. divorced the man she loves. I asked him what he thought of this. He can still speak, albeit not always coherently, and he paused a long, long time. All he could manage was: “It’s hard to say”.
Long-term care constitutes a difficult and expensive challenge in any health system. But the American patchwork, full of cracks through which people fall, has a special problem with medical expenses of all kinds bankrupting couples.
A study reported in the American Journal of Medicine this month found that 62 per cent of American bankruptcies are linked to medical bills. These medical bankruptcies had increased nearly 50 per cent in just six years. Astonishingly, 78 per cent of these people actually had health insurance, but the gaps and inadequacies left them unprotected when they were hit by devastating bills.
M. still helps her husband and, quietly, continues to live with him and care for him. But she worries that the authorities will come after her if they realise that they divorced not because of irreconcilable differences but because of irreconcilable medical bills. There were awkward questions from friends who saw the divorce announcement in the newspaper.
“It’s just crazy”, she said. “It twists people like pretzels”.
The existing system doesn’t just break up families, it also costs lives. A 2004 study by the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, found that lack of health insurance causes 18,000 unnecessary deaths a year. That’s one person slipping through the cracks and dying every half an hour.
In short, it’s a good bet that our existing dysfunctional health system knocks off far more people than an army of “death panels” could — even if they existed, worked 24/7 and got around in a fleet of black helicopters.
So, for those of you inclined to believe the worst about President Barack Obama, think it through. Suppose he is indeed a secret, foreign-born Muslim agent who is scheming to undermine American family values while killing off as many grandmothers as possible.
If all that were true, why on earth would he be trying so hard to reform our healthcare system? We already know how to prod families into divorce and take a life unnecessarily every 30 minutes — all we need to do is reject reform and stick with exactly what we have.
OUR COURTS BACK FREEDOM OF SPEECH
BY BY SHYAM DIVAN
Carlos Zafón introduces readers of his fine novel, The Shadow of the Wind to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books — a labyrinthine storehouse of books — books that have lost all their readers. The cemetery is located in Barcelona. Closer to home, it would seem that some of our states should be constructing a cemetery of banned books, with high walls and secure vaults to protect innocent and impressionable minds from being incited by a version of history. In a system that permits the state exchequer to spend on essentials such as statutes of our leaders and where the smiling visage of ministers leap out daily from adverts in national newspapers, surely, there must be a budgetary allocation for banned books as well.
Should the argumentative Indian just argue or is s/he permitted to express himself/herself by writing or through art or attire, without inviting the wrath of the censor’s scissor?
The Constitution protects free speech, elevating it to a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19 (1)(a). This right has been interpreted by courts to cover all forms of expression and to take in the right of the media as well. The Constitution itself subjects this right to reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of sovereignty, the integrity of India, the security of the state, relations with other countries, public order, decency and morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. Subject to these constitutional limits, every citizen has a fundamental right to freely express himself/herself.
In the six decades that we have worked our Constitution, the courts have strengthened the right to free speech. Allowing room for an occasional aberration, judges have usually concluded that free speech and all manner of expression must be protected, for debate and discourse are essential to build a just, progressive society where personal growth and fulfilment can be attained.
While judges express a robust regard for free speech on matters that concern society at large, the judiciary remains prickly and insecure when ruling in contempt cases. The contempt jurisdiction is the power of a court to punish for disobedience of its orders or for any actions that adversely impact the administration of justice. Our courts are unable, as yet, to ignore trenchant criticism of their own actions and continue to wield unsparingly the power of contempt, a relic in most mature democracies.
The chilling effect of contempt proceedings forced the withdrawal of Hans Dembowski’s study on public interest litigation, Taking the State to Court. It is now available on the Web, reminding us of “that gallant man who thought to keep out the crows by shutting his park gate”.
The law provides different ways to ban a book. States may resort to Section 95 of the Criminal Procedure Code which empowers the government to forfeit publications that are seditious, or promote enmity between different groups, is obscene or is calculated to outrage the religious feelings of any group. Where the publication is overseas, a ban may be imposed by prohibiting import under foreign trade and customs laws. This is how Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses was prohibited in 1988.
The High Courts have subjected government prohibitory orders to strict scrutiny. In April 2007, the Bombay High Court stuck down a Maharashtra government notification which forfeited James W. Laine’s book on Shivaji.
The Calcutta High Court struck down the prohibition imposed by the West Bengal government on Taslima Nasreen’s book Dwikhandita, finding that the book did not insult religious beliefs. The Supreme Court was more respectful of the Karnataka ban on Dharmakaarana that won the state Sahitya Academy annual award for best novel. The court found that chapter 12 of the novel was likely to offend readers and was calculated to promote feelings of enmity and hatred between different classes of citizens.
Ironically, this did not deter the Supreme Court from reproducing the entire offending chapter in its judgment. The offending portion may now be read in the official Supreme Court reports but not in the novel itself!
The freedom of expression has received protection at the hands of the court in the visual arts as well. Emphasising the importance of artistic freedom, the Delhi High Court quashed a series of private complaints made against the artist M.F. Husain for his depiction of nudes.
A ban on posters depicting the Ram Katha in the Buddhist and Jain tradition imposed by the Delhi government in the wake of the Ayodhya controversy was struck down by the High Court on the ground that the prohibitory directions were issued without application of mind.
In a diverse country such as ours, a wide range of voices with divergent views enrich social and political discourse and strengthen the fabric of society. As liberal democracy sinks its roots ever deeper, the power of the state is best directed at harnessing private energies towards development and social goals.
Constructing a crypt for banned books ought to be off the government’s agenda. “A beggar’s book outworths a noble’s blood”. Possibly Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s as well.
Shyam Divan is a senior advocate at theSupreme Court
DEBTORS IN JEANS
Hard times are pinching people’s pockets — even the spaceless pockets of the slim and the smart. One by one, they are kicking their addiction. From one a week, their jean purchases are falling to one a month, one a quarter, and so on to infinity. It has come to a point where young Bangaloreans are no longer ashamed to be seen wearing last year’s jeans. After all, some of the expensive jeans have gaping holes in them. Indigent, indigenous jean-wearers have been known to spend weekends tearing up their jeans to make them look upmarket. There is a risk that this marginal handicraft may turn into a flourishing industry. Amateur jean-manglers may turn into professional hole-makers. The closely held technology of making jeans look decrepit may be overtaken by rampant copying; the back streets of Bangalore may come to be lined by artists skilled in making fake worn-looking jeans out of perfectly good cheap jeans. It was a prospect that could not be faced. It brooked no delay; there was no time to think. The time had come for quick and resolute action. Even in such critical times, the heirs to the empire of Levi Strauss showed that they have not lost his touch. Now the techies of Bangalore will be able to buy jeans on credit. They can pay a third of the price and take the jeans away, as long as the third exceeds Rs 533. The remaining two-thirds can be paid in two monthly instalments. This magnanimous offer has postponed the worry of Bangalore’s geeks about what they would wear to the next party. They can still don the latest model, and worry later about payment.
However, it is not for them to worry; if they do not pay their instalments, it will be Levi Strauss’s worry. True, some of what they default on will be the company’s profit. But at whatever cost it gets its jeans manufactured, it seems unlikely that Levi Strauss’s profit margin is more than 200 per cent; as long as it is less, the company is taking a risk. On the other hand, its gambit may lead to useful information. It may separate honest buyers from dishonest ones. After they have paid off their debts to the company, the honest ones may get letters offering more jeans at a discount. Even better, they may be given dealerships. Giving credit is a good way of establishing relationships, and relationships come to matter in bad times.
But there is still a path that Levi Strauss has omitted to explore, and that is to sell jeans in bits and pieces. After all, a pair of jeans is a combination of a belt, a crotch and two legs sewn together; if Levi Strauss sold each of these separately, it could leave the stitching to buyers. Just imagine how much thread it would save.
Last month, when the right to education bill, 2008 was tabled in the Rajya Sabha, about one-fifth of the members were present on the occasion. It may not be unfair to see this dwindling attendance as a reflection of the attitude of India’s politicians towards the issue of universal education. The history of the bill does not exactly reinforce the people’s faith in their elected public servants. As early as 1950, the Constitution had directed the State to secure the right to education for all, although precious little was done for the next fifty years. After lying dormant for decades, the directive principle was turned into a fundamental right through an amendment in 2002. Yet, subsequent governments were not exactly proactive about the right to education bill until the United Progressive Alliance resurrected it after being re-elected to power this year. As far as education is concerned, politicians, so far, have been indifferent at best and, at worst, taken a mercenary interest in the matter. So, it is hardly surprising that the National Council of Churches in India has raised serious objections to a section of the bill that endorses the involvement of politicians in the working of schools in their constituencies. Clause 21 of the bill states that elected representatives will be made part of local school committees, a provision that leaves open an alarming scope for the misuse of political authority.
The influence wielded by local leaders over the managing committees of schools, both state-funded and privately-run, is no secret. From gaining admission to schools to the recruitment, transfer and promotion of teachers, most aspects of the education system in India are often biased towards those who know the right people in the political pecking order. A clause that now officially sanctions political meddling is going to deepen such exploitative trends. The only good that politicians can do to the education system is by keeping themselves outside the teaching machine. The latter should be left exclusively to educationists, who understand the ground realities far better. Politicians can facilitate the working of the system by lending fiscal support and advice from outside.
THE SHAME FACTOR
The country’s Constitution cannot be faulted. The set of directive principles of state policy it starts with is most uplifting. Consider the catch-all entry, Article 41, “The State shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement and in other cases of undeserved ones.” Close on its heels comes Article 45: “The State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of the Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen.”
For full six decades, these articles have lain dormant. Along with other assumed obligations on the part of the State, imparting education, including induction of children into primary and secondary schools, has remained an unfulfilled pledge. In both the articles just quoted, there is, of course, an escape clause. Article 41 indicates a rider: the State will perform such and such tasks, “within the limits of its economic capacity”. Article 45 is even more generous: the State should only “endeavour” to send children to school. Whether the State has actually put in the endeavour, or merely gone through the motions, was going to be difficult to determine in all seasons.
The ground reality is daunting though. Close to one-half of the nation continue to be functionally illiterate. Some who are enumerated in the census as literate are barely able to inscribe their signature, but, among them, the proportion of those who lapse into illiteracy is frighteningly high. While the proportion of literate children in the age group of six to fourteen has gone up over the decades, the rate of drop-outs hardly shows any sign of decline. The gender divide is equally daunting; female literacy as well as school attendance among girls lag way behind. It is a sorry picture, and it is so despite grandiose schemes such as mid-day meal schemes and the Total Literacy Campaign.
A directive principle, a few wise ones thought, was not strong enough; to transform the landscape, education must be declared as a fundamental right. The outcome was the 86th amendment to the Constitution and the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act. Doubt nonetheless refuses to be a fugitive. Despite the punctilious — even finicky — details in the new legislation, will statutory elevation of education as a fundamental right make much of a difference? If the prerogative of receiving education free of cost is denied to a child, a complaint might be posted on its behalf to the nation’s highest judiciary. The Supreme Court could issue a directive to the authorities concerned, to look into the matter. It is a big country, the source of the complaint might be a remote village thousands of miles away from New Delhi. The authorities could submit the plea that they were doing their best in the matter. If their best were judged as not enough, the Supreme Court might, at most, hold the authorities guilty of contempt of court. That, as such, would not advance the cause of primary education. In addition to the existing National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, a special National Educational Rights Commission too could be set up along with similar commissions for the states. These commissions might work round the clock and receive unending representations. But the impact of their findings is unlikely to be any more impressive than that of the assorted human rights commissions.
No mystery actually lies behind the failure to live up to the promises of the Constitution with regard to literacy and elementary education. Those in charge of shaping the nation’s destiny have not ever considered the issue as one of life and death. Passion can move mountains. If there were enough national passion for the cause, illiteracy could have been wiped out from the country within the space of a few years by launching a massively big push. China could do it within a decade of the establishment of the People’s Republic; the embers of the fervour which drove the revolution were still burning — that did the magic. Or take the instance of a small country in Central America, Nicaragua, which had as high a rate of illiteracy as 92 per cent when the Sandinistas assumed power for the first time in the 1970s. In the course of a bare quinquennium, they brought that rate down to less than 10 per cent.
We did not go through a revolution. Still, we have the commitments in the Constitution reflecting national aspirations during the freedom movement. But, at a certain stage, the passion that ignited those pledges was spent. Whether the poor are taught letters or remain dumb, or whether children from impoverished families attended school, ceased to bother the power brokers. Even where passion was dysfunctional, fear that the deprived millions could turn against them in the polling booths might have propelled ruling politicians to positive action. Notwithstanding their state of ignorance — or conceivably because of it — the poor have, however, continued to exercise their franchise in the manner that the governing oligarchs wanted them to. A little learning, who knows, could in fact be a dangerous thing; if a morsel of literacy imbues the poor with a quantum of social awareness, they might begin to vote errantly; better play safe.
Cynicism, or myopia, or whatever, if only it could be snuffed out, objectives such as 100 per cent literacy and school attendance of all children in the age group of 5-14 should not be beyond the nation’s reach. But it presupposes a return to what is now derisively described as idealism. Conventional modalities per se are unlikely to make much headway. Why not, instead, raise an education army of one million dedicated young graduates who will spread -eagle themselves across the states and Union Territories, and act as a vanguard, under appropriate guidance, of a national literacy-cum-schooling campaign? There were, at the last count, 350 universities and 60,000 colleges in the country, with a total student population exceeding one crore. It should not be difficult to recruit one million earnest ‘literacy scouts’ to take up the challenge. These scouts will be the constituents of a network of state, district, taluk, village and muhalla squads, and reach out to the humblest household in the remotest towns and villages. Each scout may be assigned the responsibility for ten households that have lagged behind or been left out of the literacy race. He will be charged with the mission of ensuring that each child attends school and each adult is literate. The authorities may consider offering the scouts a monthly stipend of say, Rs 15,000. There will be need for further outlays, including some on account of construction of new schools and for essential educational equipment, such as textbooks and other accessories. To reduce drop-outs and persuade economically hard-up parents to agree to send their children to school, monetary compensation may also be called for. Subsidies to raise the nutritional standards of school-going — and even pre-school-going — children should not be ruled out either. All told, the total annual outlay could be of the order of Rs 50,000 crore, supplemental to spending under official auspices pursuant to the recently enacted legislation.
This nation lays aside close to Rs 150,000 crore in the name of defence. A further amount of around Rs 30,000 crore is put aside, it is a fair guess, to ensure internal security, which includes the provision of regalia for a battalion of mostly useless politicians. A system that makes this much of outlay in order to feel safe should not be under any strain to spare another Rs 50,000 crore for universal education. But no: a suggestion of this nature is bound to meet with instant disapproval. For there is no lobby for either universal literacy or primary education. In the absence of pressure groups, the authorities will not deviate from the beaten track. It is an aspect of felt emotions. We are ashamed at the prospect of being given a bloody nose by Pakistan or China. We, however, experience no sense of shame if the majority of our compatriots are horrendously poor or their children fail to attend school because they cannot afford to.
TRAGIC TWISTS AND TURNS
Abdel Basset al-Megrahi was an intelligence agent. Since he worked for the Libyan government, he probably did some bad things. But he probably did not do the specific bad thing for which he was sentenced to 27 years in prison in Scotland. He only served eight years. Recently, he was released on compassionate grounds, and flew home to Libya. He is dying of cancer, but his release outraged the Americans whose relatives died aboard Pan Am Flight 103 in December 1988. They believe that al-Megrahi is a mass murderer who should die in jail.
Back in 1 988-89, Western intelligence services saw the bombing of Pan Am 103 as an act of revenge. The US warship, Vincennes, had shot down an Iranian Airbus five months before, killing all 290 passengers, and the Iranians were getting even. There was some evidence for this ‘Iranian revenge’ theory. In 1989, German police found the same kind of bomb that brought down Pan Am 103 in a house in Frankfurt used by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. The PFLP-GC was based in Syria, and Syria and Iran were allies, so maybe....
But then, in 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The US needed Arab countries like Syria to join the war against Saddam so that the liberation of Kuwait looked like a truly international effort. Syria’s price for sending troops was its removal from America’s ‘most-wanted’ list. Suddenly, Syria was no longer the prime suspect in the Pan Am case — and if Syria was out, so was Iran.
Soon new evidence began to appear. It pointed to al-Megrahi, who had been working as a security officer for the Libyan Arab Airlines in Malta in 1988. A Maltese shopkeeper identified him as the man who had bought children’s clothing like the ones found in the suitcase that contained the bomb that brought down Pan Am 103. It was pretty flimsy evidence, but Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s ruler, was desperate to end the Western trade embargo against his country. He never admitted blame in the Pan Am affair, but handed al-Megrahi and his colleague over for trial in a Western court.
Al-Megrahi’s trial took place in 2001. His colleague was freed, but he was jailed for 27 years (in Scotland, because Pan Am 103 came down in Lockerbie). As time passed, however, the case began to unravel. The Maltese shopkeeper who had identified al-Megrahi turned out to be living in Australia, supported by several million dollars that the Americans had paid him for his evidence.
The allegation that the timer for the bomb had been supplied to Libya by the Swiss manufacturer, Mebo, turned out to be false. And this year it was revealed that Pan Am’s baggage area at Heathrow airport was broken into 17 hours before Pan Am 103 took off on its last flight. (The police knew that 12 years ago, but kept it secret at al-Megrahi’s trial.) The theory that the fatal bag was put on a feeder flight from Malta became even less likely.
All of which explains why the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission announced in 2007 that it would refer al-Megrahi’s case to the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh because he “may have suffered a miscarriage of justice”.
The review commission’s decision caused a crisis, because a new court hearing would reveal how shoddy the evidence at the first one was. Happily for London and Washington, al-Megrahi was now dying of cancer, so a deal was possible. He would give up his plea for a retrial, no dirty linen about the original trial would be aired in public, and he would be set free.
A miserable story, but hardly a unique one. A man, probably innocent of the charges against him, a loyal servant of the Libyan State framed by the West and hung out to dry by his own government, has been sent home to die.
DREAMS NEVER DIE ~ MARILYN’S TIMELESS MAGIC
Diamonds, they say, are forever. So too it seems is the appeal of the sex-queen of the silver screen who had crooned that ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend.’ Now 47 years after she was laid to rest in the Corridor of Memories at Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles, the vault above has been auctioned for $ 6.4 million. A certain “OS” ~ the name is presently being kept confidential ~ deemed it worth that much when responding to an eBay advertisement entitled “Spend eternity directly above Marilyn Monroe”. More than 20 offers had been made, only bids of over $500,000 had been considered. The vault is actually being cleared of its original occupant, the remains of Richard Poncher. His widow, Elsie, will use the money to clear the mortgage on her Beverly Hill home. Will she be haunted for her apparent heartlessnes? Maybe she’s just getting her own back, or taking a cue from Richard ~ he had insisted he be buried face down. The next occupant will surely be in good company, the adjoining vault has been sold to Playboy editor, Hugh Hefner, for a measly (by comparison) $75,000: also laid to rest in Westwood Memorial Park are Truman Capote, Dean Martin and Natalie Wood.
So yet another chapter has been added to the saga of Marilyn Monroe. Born Norma Jean Baker, she took her step-father’s surname, she had a difficult early life, shifting from family to orphanage and back. She was working in an aircraft factory when a photographer chronicling the war effort of women saw that “something special” in her: it was on to modeling and then a successful film career that she moved. A series of broken marriages and affairs (allegedly with John and Robert Kennedy too) somehow enhanced her allure. For despite her great looks and sex appeal ~ which she flaunted ~ Marilyn always appeared vulnerable, in need of protection. The manner of her death in her sleep remains mysterious: suicide, or worse. When OS is laid to rest the least of his troubles will be the dreary aroma that pervades cemeteries, crematoria etc. Marilyn said all she ever wore to bed was a few drops of Chanel No.5!
NOT EXACTLY ‘MUSIC’ ~ UPGRADED ELECTRONIC EARS
TECHNOLOGICALLY its development may prove professionally challenging and satisfying but it is difficult to share the enthusiasm of the head of the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT) over a project aimed at enhancing the government’s capacity, courtesy a centralised monitoring system being prepared by that telecom research and development organisation, to listen in to telephone calls, both mobile and landline. True that this is a national counter-terrorism project, true also that to an extent the capability already exists, but there can be no forgetting the tragic truth that such “snooping” power has consistently been misused. Everywhere. If the American people are now waking up to how their post-9/11 concerns over security had enabled Uncle Sam to invade their privacy and trample their basic rights underfoot, we in India have had similar experiences. Consistent have been the complaints of telephone tapping from Opposition party leaders in the Centre and the states, at least one otherwise-reputed chief minister had to quit over such charges. And who can deny the intelligence services, again both Central and state, “pay their way” by providing the government political feedback rather than concentrating on curbing criminal or terrorist action? Giving them more potent “weaponry” would send shivers down many a democracy-respecting, freedom-loving spine.
Sure, even now, safeguards are provided ~ on paper. But who can be assured that by limiting the “bugging” authority to, among others, police officers equivalent of the rank of joint secretary and above, the technology will not be employed for political or even corporate vendetta? Remember that there were safeguards spelt out too for MISA, TADA and POTA, and how they meant so little at the (mis)implementation stage. Despite all they may say, when in power a dictatorial streak is evident in most politicians and their bureaucrat-minions: particularly those entrusted with the management of home affairs. Why, even media criticism has them fuming for “silencing power” ~ remember who “pushed” the infamous Defamation Bill in the late 1980s. Not everyone can seek judicial protection, and even that can be circumvented as was proven during the Emergency. The argument that the terror-threat requires such empowerment of the security agencies would convince only those in the isolated environs of a conference hall. Out there in the real world the track record of authority-abuse and bitter experience would have most liberty-honouring folk running scared. Only a foolhardy nation would trust politicians with its liberty, especially those of the calibre we have.
IN ALIEN COUNTRY ~ SOUTH ASIA MUST COORDINATE ITS STAND ON REFUGEES
THE history of South Asia is unique in the context of population displacement. People have been pushed beyond their borders in the wake of wars or they have left their country of origin on ethnic, racial, ideological or religious grounds. Migration has taken place for environmental or developmental reasons as well.
Since Independence, India and Pakistan have witnessed a massive movement of refugees. After Partition, 7.5 million Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan crossed over to India and 7.2 million Muslim refugees went over to Pakistan. It was the largest recorded refugee movement in history.
There was little international assistance to cope with this massive humanitarian crisis. In 1971, 10 million refugees crossed over to India during Bangladesh’s liberation struggle. In 1979, 3.5 million Afghans fled their country in the wake of the Soviet invasion and received asylum in Pakistan, of whom 1.2 million are still said to be there in the refugee camps. From the seventies to the nineties, Bangladesh witnessed the influx of over 300,000 Muslim refugees from Rakhine district in Myanmar, of whom nearly 30,000 are yet to be repatriated. Similarly, 90,000 Bhutanese of Nepali origin were expelled and a substantial number have been accommodated in the refugee camps of Jhapa district of Nepal. However, many of them have recently been resettled in third countries by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
ISLAND OF REFUGEES
Sri Lanka has often been described as an ‘Island of Refugees’ because of the external displacement of Tamils and internal displacement of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. Though Sri Lanka is not regarded as a country that grants asylum, it is well known as a “refugee-producing country”. Since 1983, Sri Lanka has produced hundreds of thousands of refugees apart from over 500,000 Sri Lankan Tamil ‘jet refugees’ to the Western world. The majority of Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu were voluntarily repatriated, but over 60,000 still remain because of the disturbed conditions in north-east Sri Lanka.
Since the 1960s, India has played host to over 100,000 Tibetan refugees and 50,000 Buddhist Chakma refugees from the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. Some of them were repatriated recently. India has permitted the UNHCR to assist about 12,000 Afghan refugees on humanitarian grounds. Maldives is the only SAARC country which has neither produced nor received a significant refugee population.
Despite the movement of refugees and the humanitarian issue of asylum, none of the SAARC countries has acceded to the 1951 International Convention on Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, which has been ratified by 136 countries. However, all the SAARC countries, except Bhutan and Nepal, have offices of the UNHCR ~ the UN agency responsible for the promotion of the “Refugee Instruments” and marshalling of international humanitarian assistance.
The reasons advanced by the SAARC countries for not acceding to the 1951 Convention or the 1967 Protocol are very similar. They argue that they have well-grounded traditions of asylum comparable to international standards, sometimes even better than what is practised by some of the signatory states to the International Refugee Instruments. Therefore, they are in favour of dealing with the issue on the basis of ad hoc bilateral policies. However, these countries ~ with the exception of India ~ have welcomed international humanitarian assistance based on the need to share the burden.
The SAARC countries further argue that the 1951 Convention or the 1967 Protocol are inadequate to comprehensively address the issue, largely the outcome of internal conflicts and not the fear of persecution by the states per se. In support of their contention of inadequacy of the International Refugee Instruments, they cite the regional refugee instruments of Africa, the 1958 Organisation of African Unity Convention and the one for refugees in Latin America, the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees. These, they claim, are more comprehensive in their definition of refugees.
The situation in South Asia has affected both national security and inter-state relations. The countries are generally reluctant to discuss the problem on a humanitarian basis. Since all refugees are technically considered illegal aliens, they have no institutional protection or the protection of the rule of law. In this context, a regional convention or declaration by the SAARC countries will be timely and relevant. Such an agreement on fundamental questions as the definition of a refugee, the granting of asylum and the exceptions thereto, and the voluntary nature of eventual repatriation will curb friction between the state interlocutors. A SAARC Refugee Convention or Declaration will mark a major step forward in developing a humanitarian regime in the region.
In the case of India, the courts have addressed certain humanitarian concerns of the refugees on the basis of constitutionally guaranteed human rights. But no such progress has taken place in any other SAARC country. The prevailing political and security concerns of the member-states determine the standard of treatment of refugees. And such standards may differ from time to time and from country to country.
By formulating a regional convention or declaration, the SAARC countries will be able to streamline the existing humanitarian policies. They will also be able to develop a set of non-contentious principles, which will enhance the solidarity of the grouping and its commitment to human rights. It will not be a borrowed document that is unsuitable for the specific needs of the region, but one developed by SAARC as part of international law.
Opinions vary on the advisability of having a regional or a national instrument, but there is unanimity on the fact that there should be a specific legal instrument on refugees in the region to guide the governments. The South Asian dispensations will have to decide whether to accede to the existing international refugee regime or enact a piece of legislation on their own. However, there are certain issues that can be better dealt with within the multilateral regional framework.
It is high time the South Asian countries took a definite stand on the refugee regime issue. Hence the need for a specific refugee legislation. Since these countries have been accepting and hosting refugees, the suggested legislation can be specially designed to factor in the respective national interests, in accord with the sub-continental reality. This would be more rational than to accept the international refugee regime that was drafted in the context of the Cold War and appears to be out of touch with the ground realities in South Asia.
By doing away with the element of discretion and putting in place an organised framework to deal with refugees, the new system can be finetuned to serve regional and national interests. Such a system would make the regional reaction to the refugee problem more consistent, coordinated and predictable. It would also help the countries to meet their international obligations under the UN system. The preparation of a ‘Model National Law’ and the ‘Draft Regional Declaration’ on refugees under the leadership of the UNHCR are positive developments. Hopefully, the countries of South Asia will be able to live up to their reputation of being a liberal host to the refugees on their shores.
THIS DROUGHT IS MAN MADE
UNLESS ECONOMIC POLICIES ARE REDESIGNED, DROUGHT WILL CONTINUE TO HAUNT THE COUNTRY.
BY DEVINDER SHARMA
In another 15 years, the food bowl of the country — Punjab and Haryana — will go dry. There will be no underground water to be pumped for irrigation. A 2007 report of the Central Ground Water Board had projected that groundwater availability for irrigation in 2025 would be negative. Punjab, for instance, is over-exploiting underground water at the rate of 45 per cent more withdrawals annually than the natural recharge.
Another report by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), based on data supplied by twin satellites GRACE, has pointed to the alarming depletion of groundwater in the Indo-Gangetic plain extending from eastern Pakistan to Uttar Pradesh to Bangladesh. Groundwater withdrawal in this densely populated region is 70 per cent more this decade than in the 1990s.
Accordingly, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan are consuming 109 cubic kms of water. With paddy being cultivated in 38,061 sq km, the north-western part of the country is losing groundwater at the rate of a foot each year. But don’t blame agriculture alone for the impending water crisis; growing cities and rapid industrialisation are becoming major water-guzzlers.
CAPITAL TO GO DRY
Delhi’s water requirement is 4,275 million litres against the availability of 3,375 litres. To meet its ever-growing need, water is being drawn from Ganga, Yamuna, Uttarakhand, Bhakra Nangal Dam and Renuka Sagar dam in Himachal Pradesh. And yet the projections are that the capital would run out of groundwater by 2015.
Punjab is now sketching a master plan for 44 new townships. These towns will obviously need water, which will be met from drawing on water resources from neighbouring regions. Such process of urbanisation is happening across the country and the pressure for water therefore is going to deepen. Agriculture will be the biggest casualty.
So don’t blame the rain gods alone. Most of the reasons for the prevailing drought are man-made. The rate at which we are mining underground water reserves, a small delay in monsoon rains wreaks havoc. With or without drought, groundwater has sunk so low that it adds to human miseries with the situation worsening with every year.
The fact is we have not learnt any lessons. In Punjab, the food bowl of the country, it has been repeatedly said that of the 138 development blocks, 108 have already been declared dark zones. The level of groundwater exploitation in these blocks has been in excess of 98 per cent against the critical limit of 80 per cent. In Uttar Pradesh, the Central Ground Water board has identified 22 overexploited and critical blocks, of which 19 are located in western UP. With the water table plummeting, the impact of any dry spell magnifies and turns into a drought.
There is, therefore, an urgent need to redesign agriculture, to ensure that the cropping pattern is based on the availability of water. It makes no sense to grow water-guzzling crops in dry lands. Such crops would only turn land barren. I see no justification in growing water-intensive sugarcane in the semi-arid tracts of Rajasthan. Or, for that matter, cultivate mentha, which requires 1.25 lakh litres of water for every kilo of oil, in the dry lands of Bundelkhand.
Worse, the government is now busy pushing GM crops. First it promoted BT cotton, whose water requirement is 10-20 per cent more than even the hybrids.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is making the right statements, but acting otherwise. In his Independence Day speech the prime minister said that control over the natural resources should be with the people. But surprisingly, the government is actually pushing for private control over natural resources, including land.
Water is being brought under private control. But what is more worrying is the way industry (including real estate) is being allowed to over-exploit groundwater. What is the use of saving water in the parched and arid lands of Rajasthan if we allow the marble industry, producing almost 91 per cent of the total marble in India, to guzzle every hour around 2.75 million litres of water.
Recurring dry spells have turned into sever droughts because of the economic policies the country has invested in. Unless we redesign the economic policies in tune with three essential parameters of sustainable growth — soil health, water availability and the resulting climate change — the spectre of drought will continue to haunt the nation more frequently and more severely. I do not think the Union government, or for that matter the state governments, are even remotely concerned. We will, therefore, have to live with recurring droughts.
LABOUR OF A HOUSEWIFE
A NEW TERM ‘DOMESTIC GODDESS’ HAS BEEN COINED FOR HOUSEWIVES.
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.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
HOPE IN SOUTH AFRICA
For years, South Africa was an international laughing stock for its tragically absurd approach to the deadly AIDS epidemic. Now, that national nightmare may be ending.
The new government of President Jacob Zuma seems to have a clearer-eyed view of the problem, its remedies and the need to improve the overall health care system than its predecessor did. Fixing what’s broken will not be easy, but we are encouraged by signs of a commitment to do so.
To see how far South African leaders have come, one needs to recall where the country was.
The former president, Thabo Mbeki, compiled a record that is still hard to fathom: he embraced crackpot theories that disputed the demonstrable fact that AIDS was transmitted by a treatable virus. He insisted that antiretroviral drugs were toxic and encouraged useless herbal folk remedies instead. He even claimed he knew nobody with the disease, although nearly 20 percent of the adult population is said to be living with H.I.V.
Thousands of Africans were needlessly sickened and died. And the most influential country in sub-Saharan Africa squandered the opportunity to contain the AIDS epidemic. Although it has less than 1 percent of the world’s population, South Africa now accounts for 17 percent of the world’s burden of H.I.V. infection.
A saner approach began to take shape last year after Mr. Mbeki was forced out of office and Barbara Hogan was named health minister. Last week, the new health minister, Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, went further.
He accepted a withering critique by South African scientists, who said the governing African National Congress party’s record on AIDS and health care was deeply flawed, and promised remedial action. “We do take responsibility for what has happened and responsibility for how we move forward,” Dr. Motsoaledi said in an article by The Times’s Celia Dugger.
South Africa’s leaders must espouse sensible, scientifically based advice about AIDS and put in place programs that seek to both treat and prevent the disease. That means expanding efforts to prevent mothers from infecting their babies, discouraging people from having multiple sex partners and offering circumcision to men, a relatively simple surgical procedure proved to have greatly reduced the risk of infection in South Africa.
The problem is bigger than AIDS. Even though South Africa spends more on health than any other African country, tuberculosis is rampant and child mortality rates are rising. The government must work to improve the quality of health care, ensure that all South Africans have access to the system and fire incompetent staff.
None of this will reverse the damage and deaths of Mr. Mbeki’s disastrous legacy, but it can offer the people of South Africa a better future.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
QUESTIONS ABOUT AN EXECUTION
People should have no illusions about the brutal injustice of the death penalty after all of the exonerations in recent years from DNA evidence, but the case of Cameron Todd Willingham is still shocking.
Mr. Willingham was executed for setting a fire that killed his 2-year-old daughter and 1-year-old twins, but a fire expert hired by the State of Texas has issued a report casting enormous doubt on whether the fire was arson at all. The Willingham investigation, which is continuing, is further evidence that the criminal justice system is far too flawed to justify imposing a death penalty.
After the fire, investigators decided, based in large part on burn patterns on the house’s floors, that it was intentionally set. Prosecutors charged Mr. Willingham, who escaped from the burning home, with capital murder. Mr. Willingham protested his innocence until the day the state killed him by lethal injection in 2004.
The following year, Texas created the Forensic Science Commission to investigate charges of scientific mistakes or misconduct, and the panel began looking into the Willingham case. It commissioned Craig Beyler, a nationally recognized fire expert, to examine evidence.
Mr. Beyler issued a report last week that painted an ugly picture of what passes for expert scientific investigation and testimony in a capital case in Texas. The report found that the official inquiry into the Willingham fire did not meet prevailing scientific standards of the time, much less current ones.
The investigators “had poor understandings of fire science,” Mr. Beyler said, and their “methodologies did not comport with the scientific method.” He determined that the opinions of one main investigator were “nothing more than a collection of personal beliefs that have nothing to do with science-based fire investigation.”
The report concluded that a “finding of arson could not be sustained.” The Forensic Science Commission is now asking the state fire marshal’s office for its response. It anticipates issuing a final report next year.
The commission is to be commended for conducting this inquiry, but it is outrageous that Texas is conducting its careful, highly skilled investigation after Mr. Willingham has been executed, rather than before.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
NEW RULES FOR PRIVATE EQUITY
When a bank fails, the preferred course of action by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is to sell it, quickly, to a healthy bank. That protects the insurance fund and, by extension, taxpayers, because a sale is considerably less costly than liquidation. But with several hundred banks poised for failure in the months to come, there may not be enough ready buyers to clear out the anticipated inventory.
This is the crunch moment for which private equity firms have been waiting. The firms have long styled themselves as saviors, able and willing to spend billions of dollars to buy failed banks. The problem is, they are not banks and their partners don’t act or think like traditional bankers; they have thin track records running banks, and they do not want to be regulated as banks.
They are private firms, whose partners and investors have thrived on high-flying and highly leveraged deal-making. Many have amassed great wealth, but too often, they have reaped big gains while saddling their acquisitions with debilitating debt. Normally, private equity firms would not be anyone’s first choice to run a bank. But they have a lot of money and the government is going to have a lot of banks to sell.
Last week, the F.D.I.C. ably navigated that problem with new rules that seek to safeguard the insurance fund — and taxpayers — while inviting in fresh capital. Under the rules, private-equity-run banks would be required to maintain substantially larger capital cushions than traditional banks, and would be barred from selling an acquired bank for three years. That helps to compensate for private equity’s scant banking track record and to ensure that buying a bank is not just another get-rich-quick proposition. The rules bar the acquired bank from lending to companies affiliated with the new owner.
The F.D.I.C. also wisely encouraged private equity firms to pair with traditional bank buyers, by agreeing to exempt them from the higher capital standards if they work in partnership with a bank.
The F.D.I.C. could have gone further. It dropped a proposed rule that private equity firms serve as a so-called “source of strength” for the acquired bank, which would have required the firm to put up more money in the event of an emergency. But given the other safeguards, dropping that particular proposal was within the realm of reasonable negotiating. The F.D.I.C. has also said that it will review the rules in six months.
Private equity firms should view the requirements as an opportunity to show that they can be responsible bankers. If they don’t bid for failed banks because the rules don’t suit them, the F.D.I.C. must not take that as a sign to loosen the rules further. Rather, it would signal that private equity firms are indeed unsuited for banking — a business that has a public purpose and regulatory obligations, along with the potential for profits.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
CLUNKERS DON’T COME CHEAP
The $3 billion cash-for-clunkers program that ended last week worked well as a jolt of economic stimulus. Nearly 700,000 people used the rebate to buy new cars in July and August — adding about 0.3 to 0.4 percentage points to economic growth in the third quarter, at an annual rate.
But there’s also another lesson in the cash-for-clunkers experience: such rebates are a spectacularly inefficient way to implement environmental policy. Sure, the new cars deliver about nine miles per gallon more than those traded in, on average. But the benefits — measured in terms of reduced greenhouse gas emissions — come at inordinate expense.
On average, cars are driven 12,000 miles per year, according to government statistics. Considering that the traded-in clunkers had an average fuel economy of 15.8 m.p.g. while the new ones deliver 24.9 m.p.g., a swap saved some 278 gallons of gas per year — which would have released almost 2.8 tons of carbon dioxide when burned.
Assuming the clunkers would have been driven four more years, the $4,200 average rebate removed 11.2 tons of carbon from the atmosphere, at a cost of some $375 per ton. If they would have been driven five years, the carbon savings cost $300 per ton. And if drivers drive their sleek new wheels more than they drove their old clunkers, the cost of removing carbon from the atmosphere will be even higher.
To put this in perspective, an allowance to emit a ton of CO2 costs about $20 on the European Climate Exchange. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that a ton of carbon would be valued at $28 under the cap-and-trade program in the clean energy bill passed by the House in June.
The program might have been more efficient with modifications, like a smaller rebate. But even if the new cars bought under the program had zero emissions, the price of removing the clunkers’ carbon dioxide from the atmosphere would have been nearly $140 per ton.
The best tool to induce Americans to drive more fuel-efficient cars would be a gas tax that provided rebates for low-income drivers. Another, though inferior, alternative — if Congress couldn’t face the political risks of a gas tax — would be a program that provided a rebate for drivers of clean cars while imposing a fee on drivers of gas hogs.
In any case, as environmental policy, it’s just too expensive to buy clunkers to take them off the road.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
BY ALAN PATRICOF AND ERIC DINALLO
VARIOUS pieces of legislation now making their way through Congress would require private pools of investment capital to be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The goal is to curtail abuses and protect the public from questionable practices. The proposed laws would cover the range of funds that deal in derivatives, auction-rate and mortgage-backed securities, highly leveraged transactions and a slew of other instruments so complicated as to defy description.
In registering, these funds would need to open their books to the government so that they could be duly monitored, thus limiting further risks to the financial system.
Unfortunately, however, with good intentions, the Obama administration and some members of Congress are aiming this legislation at all pools of private capital. That includes venture-capital funds, which pose no systemic risks and which, especially now, should be kept free of any new reporting rules and allowed the freedom to flourish.
Venture-capital funds deal solely with privately purchased equity securities in start-up companies, which are not traded in public markets. They have as their limited partners only people who meet the S.E.C.’s definition of a “qualified client” (meaning they possess a substantial amount of money to invest). These investors, who typically allocate a small percentage of their portfolios to venture capital, are familiar with risk, but it is long-term risk, stretching out 7 to 10 years. They put their faith not in publicly traded securities but in entrepreneurs, emerging technologies and new markets.
Because their business is contained within the ecosystem of limited partners, venture-capital funds and the companies in which they invest absorb all the risk: there can be no domino effect in the world financial system.
Venture-capital funds do not leverage investments with debt either, so they’re not tied to commercial banks. They don’t sell short, trade in public securities or employ any hedging techniques.
These funds already comply with Securities and Exchange Commission requirements for reporting of private offerings on Form D. This information is adequate to allow the government to keep track of an industry that, with less than $200 billion under management, makes investments that amount to no more than 0.2 percent of gross domestic product. Venture-capital funds also comply with all rules for the private placement of securities and the formation of private, unregistered investment funds, including screening investors for suitability.
The venture-capital industry has been the target of new regulations before and has experience with unintended consequences. The better part of this decade has been spent working through those created by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which was meant to curb accounting abuses at large corporations like Enron but ended up imposing burdensome accounting rules on small, often venture-backed companies. One section of that law, which was meant to get large corporations to lay bare their accounting practices, has cost these small companies millions of dollars a year in labor, extra audit fees and external consulting expenses.
A side effect of Sarbanes-Oxley has been to discourage initial public offerings, reducing the amount of expansion capital available for start-up companies. Indeed, the number of venture-backed public offerings, which reached 1,353 from 1991 to 1997, declined to 392 from 2001 to 2008.
It would be a shame to impose any new limits now, when venture capital is the asset class that can best help build and nurture the companies that bring about growth and job creation. The figures are compelling. In 2008, venture-backed companies that went public in previous years accounted for 12.1 million jobs and $2.9 trillion in revenues for the United States Treasury.
The names of companies financed by venture capital are legendary: Cisco, Google, Facebook, Apple, Federal Express, Staples, Yahoo, Amazon, Genentech and on and on. The privately purchased equity securities that helped start these companies supported new technological and scientific ideas, all of which led to new jobs.
Expanded regulation in financial services is inevitable and in some instances necessary. But at a time when venture capital for young companies is already squeezed by the recession, and when the economy is in serious need of new jobs, Congress should find ways to stimulate, not risk hindering, the formation of venture capital.
Alan Patricof is a founder and managing director of a venture-capital firm. Eric Dinallo, a former insurance superintendent for New York State, is a professor of finance at the New York University Stern School of Business.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
MISSING RICHARD NIXON
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
Many of the retrospectives on Ted Kennedy’s life mention his regret that he didn’t accept Richard Nixon’s offer of a bipartisan health care deal. The moral some commentators take from that regret is that today’s health care reformers should do what Mr. Kennedy balked at doing back then, and reach out to the other side.
But it’s a bad analogy, because today’s political scene is nothing like that of the early 1970s. In fact, surveying current politics, I find myself missing Richard Nixon.
No, I haven’t lost my mind. Nixon was surely the worst person other than Dick Cheney ever to control the executive branch.
But the Nixon era was a time in which leading figures in both parties were capable of speaking rationally about policy, and in which policy decisions weren’t as warped by corporate cash as they are now. America is a better country in many ways than it was 35 years ago, but our political system’s ability to deal with real problems has been degraded to such an extent that I sometimes wonder whether the country is still governable.
As many people have pointed out, Nixon’s proposal for health care reform looks a lot like Democratic proposals today. In fact, in some ways it was stronger. Right now, Republicans are balking at the idea of requiring that large employers offer health insurance to their workers; Nixon proposed requiring that all employers, not just large companies, offer insurance.
Nixon also embraced tighter regulation of insurers, calling on states to “approve specific plans, oversee rates, ensure adequate disclosure, require an annual audit and take other appropriate measures.” No illusions there about how the magic of the marketplace solves all problems.
So what happened to the days when a Republican president could sound so nonideological, and offer such a reasonable proposal?
Part of the answer is that the right-wing fringe, which has always been around — as an article by the historian Rick Perlstein puts it, “crazy is a pre-existing condition” — has now, in effect, taken over one of our two major parties. Moderate Republicans, the sort of people with whom one might have been able to negotiate a health care deal, have either been driven out of the party or intimidated into silence. Whom are Democrats supposed to reach out to, when Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who was supposed to be the linchpin of any deal, helped feed the “death panel” lies?
But there’s another reason health care reform is much harder now than it would have been under Nixon: the vast expansion of corporate influence.
We tend to think of the way things are now, with a huge army of lobbyists permanently camped in the corridors of power, with corporations prepared to unleash misleading ads and organize fake grass-roots protests against any legislation that threatens their bottom line, as the way it always was. But our corporate-cash-dominated system is a relatively recent creation, dating mainly from the late 1970s.
And now that this system exists, reform of any kind has become extremely difficult. That’s especially true for health care, where growing spending has made the vested interests far more powerful than they were in Nixon’s day. The health insurance industry, in particular, saw its premiums go from 1.5 percent of G.D.P. in 1970 to 5.5 percent in 2007, so that a once minor player has become a political behemoth, one that is currently spending $1.4 million a day lobbying Congress.
That spending fuels debates that otherwise seem incomprehensible. Why are “centrist” Democrats like Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota so opposed to letting a public plan, in which Americans can buy their insurance directly from the government, compete with private insurers? Never mind their often incoherent arguments; what it comes down to is the money.
Given the combination of G.O.P. extremism and corporate power, it’s now doubtful whether health reform, even if we get it — which is by no means certain — will be anywhere near as good as Nixon’s proposal, even though Democrats control the White House and have a large Congressional majority. And what about other challenges? Every desperately needed reform I can think of, from controlling greenhouse gases to restoring fiscal balance, will have to run the same gantlet of lobbying and lies.
I’m not saying that reformers should give up. They do, however, have to realize what they’re up against. There was a lot of talk last year about how Barack Obama would be a “transformational” president — but true transformation, it turns out, requires a lot more than electing one telegenic leader. Actually turning this country around is going to take years of siege warfare against deeply entrenched interests, defending a deeply dysfunctional political system.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE BREATHALYZER BEHIND THE WHEEL
BY PHILIP J. COOK AND MAEVE E. GEARING
HERE are two compelling facts about ignition-interlock devices for preventing drunk driving. One is that these devices are highly effective, despite the logical possibilities for bypassing them. The second is that they are rarely installed in the cars of people who have been known to drive while intoxicated.
People driving while intoxicated still cause about 13,000 deaths a year in the United States. And of the 1.4 million arrests made, one-third involve repeat offenders. The greatest potential of ignition interlocks is to reduce this recidivism.
These hand-held devices, typically attached to dashboards and connected to the ignition, use fuel-cell technology to measure the concentration of alcohol in a person’s breath. Although they are made by various companies, all ignition interlocks conform to strict standards of accuracy set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. If too much alcohol is detected, the car will not start.
A person who has been drinking might naturally think of fooling the device by persuading a sober person to start the engine, but that is not enough to subvert the system, because the device requires breath samples while the person drives — at random intervals of five minutes to an hour. (At least one company is also integrating cameras with the interlocks to photograph the driver when he provides a breath sample.) The unit keeps a log of all tests, and it is sealed so that any attempts at tampering can be detected.
Ignition-interlock devices are not perfectly effective; a drunk can often borrow another car. But in one recent study they were found to reduce repeat drunk-driving offenses by 65 percent. If they were widely installed, the devices would save up to 750 lives a year, a recent National Highway Transportation Safety Administration report estimated.
Many states have recognized their potential. Eight states now mandate that interlocks be installed in the cars of all drunk-driving offenders, and another 25 require them for repeat offenders or those whose blood-alcohol content was far higher than the legal limit. Still other states give judges the option to order interlock installation. But implementation of these measures has lagged.
Judges often fail to order installation, even when the law requires it. Offenders routinely ignore orders to get interlocks. And in areas where the installation is voluntary, few offenders install them. In 2007, only about 146,000 interlocks were in use.
Part of the problem is that many already overburdened courts may lack the resources to monitor compliance. Some states make driver’s license renewal conditional on the installation of an ignition interlock, but there is often inadequate integration between courts and motor-vehicle departments. Finally, the cost of the interlocks discourages people from complying with court orders.
The price of renting and maintaining a unit is $70 to $100 a month, and installation can be another $70 to $175. These charges increase the offender’s temptation to simply drive without a license.
How can we get more drunk-driving offenders to use interlocks? Better oversight by, and coordination among, authorities would help, as would efforts to make the units less expensive. New Mexico, which has been a leader in interlock legislation, has created a special fund to help pay the cost for low-income people. This has the side benefit of helping judges overcome their reluctance to order the use of interlocks.
It is also important to link ignition interlocks to substance-abuse treatment. Currently, court orders simply specify that the units be installed for a fixed period of six months to two years, regardless of whether the person has shown progress in curbing his drinking problem. That helps explain why, as research has shown, the devices have no lasting effect on the likelihood that a person will be arrested for drunk driving again after the interlock order is lifted. Mandates for interlocks should be tied to requirements for substance-abuse treatment, and removal of the devices should not be allowed until the offender has gone for an extended period without trying to start his car after drinking.
The ignition interlock could be an extraordinarily effective way to prevent drunk-driving recidivism. But it can save lives only if we make sure people use it.
Philip J. Cook, a professor of public policy at Duke University, is the author of “Paying the Tab.” Maeve E. Gearing is a doctoral candidate in public policy at Duke.
I. THE NEWS
More than 80 per cent of the 2.3 million IDPs who fled in the face of a determined onslaught on the Taliban have now returned home and the operation to repatriate the IDPs has gone reasonably well. There have been choke-points caused by very necessary check-posts and not all of the financial arrangements for those returning have worked as they should, but it could have been a lot worse. Aid workers are expressing concern that those returned are at risk as the military continues with ‘mopping up’ operations but in an interesting development that bodes well for the future, it seems that the worm has turned for the Taliban. Lt-Gen Ahmed, chairman of the Special Support Group for the displaced, has told Reuters that the people who had returned were now helping to identify and track-down those who had previously terrorised them. He said… “They are ones who are saying to us ‘we will take you to the tunnels, we will take you to the caches, we will take to the places where they have been storing ammunition and explosives and suicide jackets’.”
If nothing else this points to a return of confidence in the army by those they are there to protect. Lt-Gen Ahmed was also realistic in his assessment of the short- and medium-term prospects. He said it was going to take (unspecified) time to stop a large-scale insurgency such as the one seen recently but this did not mean that people could not lead a nearly-normal life as it wound down. Insurgencies may take decades to finally end, he said, and instanced Sri Lanka, India and Afghanistan in our own region as recent examples. There is far to go but there are, at last, grounds for cautious optimism. We fought for this land and these people – now we have to hold it, for all our sakes.
I. THE NEWS
America seems to be going through a process of awakening, and gaining a more realistic sense of itself and how others perceive it in the process. It is difficult to comprehend the depth of hatred felt by many in Pakistan and across the world for the US. It finds its outlet in all manner of ways from flag burning to open warfare, and it is a hatred that has grown exponentially since 9/11. An early attempt to understand why America is so hated was made with the book titled ‘Why do people hate America’ (Sardar and Davies, 2001) and finds its latest exposition in an article originally written for the official military journal Joint Force Quarterly by none other than the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Admiral Mike Mullen. He writes that no amount of public relations exercises will repair the credibility of the US if American behaviour overseas continues to be perceived as ‘arrogant, uncaring or insulting’ — which it not infrequently is, whether it be by design or accident. Mullen offers a simple yet profound insight…“To put it simply, we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate.” In other words what do our actions as a state say to others, how do they perceive and understand us as a consequence of what we do?
Writing about the problem that America has in countering the highly effective Al Qaeda propaganda machine he comments that the organisation lives among the people, and is able to control and intimidate from within, and not using a megaphone to shout from the sidelines. American messages to counter Al Qaeda…“lack credibility, because we haven’t invested enough in building trust and relationships, and we haven’t always delivered on promises.” Mullen cuts right to the core of the problem with this statement, and acknowledges that America can be shown to be untrustworthy and duplicitous, and cannot be trusted to keep its word – and as America is currently engaged in warfare with states and peoples where a man’s word and honour is paramount it is not difficult to see where the trust deficit comes from. Translating this level of insight and self-awareness into hard policy is not going to be easy, but the good news is that America has the rest of the Obama presidency to turn the ship around – though hate is one of those emotions that take millennia to abate.
I. THE NEWS
WOMEN & POLICING
Women police officers are rarely visible anywhere nationally. Some are beginning to appear as traffic police in Lahore and Karachi and they are occasionally glimpsed in Islamabad. Data on the numbers of women who are police officers is almost as scarce as the officers themselves, with only Punjab having an online breakdown of female police posts by rank and number on a website that is a model of clarity and navigability. As a nation we remain deeply ambivalent about women having any sort of role in public life outside the traditional jobs of nurse, doctor, bank clerk and accountant and teacher. Despite this, there are signs that things are changing as social mobility increases and the need for another working hand in the family is ever-more pressing, and the police service is increasingly becoming a career option for women.
Things are even changing for women in places like NWFP. We welcome the announcement that the NWFP government has decided to deploy female police officials at various bazaars around Peshawar during Ramazan. Police sources say that they will patrol in Meena Bazaar, Jinnah Street in Saddar and University Town. Further, women serving in the traffic police will also be given ‘special duties’ during Ramazan with the emphasis on providing security for women. This is a considerable move forward from the position recorded by researchers from the University of Bergen in 2004 which revealed that policewomen are not allowed to leave the door-step of the their police station without the permission of the senior male police officers. It is possible that this may still be the case, but the fact that women police are to openly patrol with a mandate to specifically protect women in areas which women frequent is in itself several steps in the right direction. If it is possible in NWFP then it is possible in other provinces as well, but women remain poorly integrated into a service that is completely dominated by men and have yet to establish an authority-base which would give them a national voice.
IMPLICATIONS OF GILGIT-BALTISTAN PACKAGE
BARRING those few who will see some sort of conspiracy in this major initiative taken by the Government giving a self-governance Reform Package with new name and full internal autonomy to the Northern Areas, people of Pakistan in general and Northern Areas in particular will welcome it. In fact it was the long-standing demand of the people which has been fulfilled by the PPP Government, said Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani while announcing the package after approval by the Federal Cabinet.
In the past too such moves were initiated particularly when Mian Nawaz Sharif was Prime Minister but elderly Kashmiri statesman Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan and other Kashmiri leaders had opposed it, on the ground that it will have implications for the thorny issue of Kashmir. Their argument was that this would be the first step towards division of Kashmir. Anyhow with the passage of time its fuller impact on the Kashmir issue will be discussed and analysed by the experts. But it is a step forward and in a sense the first major political initiative taken by this government. The crux of all problems, even the issue of extremism and tendency of separatism is hesitancy on the part of the Centre to grant full autonomy to the federating units for greater participation of people of the respective Provinces in their local affairs. In that sense people of the newly named Gilgit-Baltistan are lucky as they would have full internal autonomy and their own legislative assembly which will elect the Chief Minister to run the affairs of the area. Gilgit-Baltistan is also a vital link of Pakistan with China and it is necessary to give more attention to its development. However historically many forces are active in the area and certainly require special attention to ensure the participation of the people in all spheres of activities there. By and large people have welcomed the package as it gave them a sense of participation and naturally generate a lot of positive developments. That is a good beginning particularly at a time when the Parliamentary committee is considering constitutional reforms to address the grievances of politicians and provinces and we hope that same approach of giving autonomy to the Provinces will be followed.
MR PM IT IS THE POLITICIANS THEMSELVES
PRIME Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has described the recent disclosures by some retired intelligence officers pertaining to distribution of money to politicians as a conspiracy, being hatched to discredit the political leadership. In fact the disclosures and the blame games being witnessed in the media have raised the eyebrows of political analysts because whenever such things start surfacing they create instability and uncertainty.
We wonder how come Mr Prime Minister, who now is supposed to be a genuinely mature politician having first hand knowledge of the affairs of the State and role of various institutions, has come out with such a routine statement, usually issued by the second tier political leadership. In our view it is easiest to pass the buck, indulge in blame game and absolve one from all the responsibilities. In the past too whenever there was any intervention, analytically speaking, the politicians themselves were responsible for democratic interruption. Even now we are sorry to say Mr Prime Minister, the politicians on the whole have not risen above their personal and party considerations. Of course there appears to be some maturity in the country and every body and institutions, including this newspaper are desirous that this government like the previous one, should complete its constitutional tenure of five years. But if one goes through the last one and a half year, there have been accusations, political threats, rising culture of long marches and things like that. There were threats and intimidations on the part of certain politicians also for the fulfilment of their demands, which is against democratic norms. We categorically say that politicians during this period have not shown the desired maturity, far sightedness and greater sense of responsibility to ensure that the ongoing democratic process succeeds. Yes there had been statements from them that they want the democratic process to succeed but in practical term their acts and deeds negated those claims. Therefore we would urge upon the Prime Minister that he being a young politician and having a long innings ahead to play, instead of making lame excuses, do some serious home work to ensure that the democratic process moves smoothlyand the country particularly the economy is stabilized, inflation is brought down significantly and people are provided jobs. The need of the hour is that the politicians must collectively work to show the people that they can deliver on their promises, rather than indulging in self serving petty politics being witnessed now a days, and that is the answer to counter conspiracies against the democratic system.
WHY JUSTICE DOGAR SHOULD BE LEFT BEHIND?
FORMER respected Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan Abdul Hameed Dogar has engaged Justice Malik Qayyum (R) to challenge the verdict of 31st July,2009 of the Apex court. Malik Qayyum while confirming the report said that consultations are being held in this connection.
In our view this plan of the former Chief Justice is perfectly in line with the present Pakistani culture of looking back and a detestable practice of opening Pandora boxes. Of course the former CJ was humiliated and some elements including political stalwarts ridiculously described his era as ‘Dogar Courts’ and even refused to appear before him. Not only that, some of his family members too were dragged in the media columns and humiliated. Therefore Justice Dogor’s reaction appears to be natural to challenge the verdict. In our view persons of the stature of Justice Dogar and other prominent figures in national arena should for God’s sake, rise above their personal considerations, limited sphere of thinking, forget the past and avoid plunging the country into further confusion, chaos and uncertainty. The country’s economy had suffered a lot in the past because of law and order, terrorism, and strikes and long marches and it can no more afford to witness such thing in future. We feel sorry that the very fabric of the society and morality is crumbling and this is being totally ignored. There is dire need for focussed attention of all the institutions of the state to get the problems of the common man resolved and look ahead to protect strategic interests of the country, rather than diverting their attention to the happenings of the past.
SWINE FLU THREAT
Swine flu is increasingly becoming menacing. The World Health Organisation (WHO) - the United Nation's health affairs organisation -- has warned that the pandemic could further worsen and affect upto two billion people or one-third of humanity. The last such epidemic, the Hong Kong flu, killed a million people, in 1968.
The situation in Bangladesh is also grim with the number of people affected by the flu, literally, increasing by the day. Raising the alert level to three is under consideration. The pattern of the victims is also changing: whereas in the past most of the affected people were those coming from abroad, now the affliction is spreading locally.
The government and the WHO have advised people not to be panicky; rather, they have urged that those affected should be quickly identified and quarantined. People suspected of having the disease are advised to remain in their houses and avoid going to educational institutions, offices or other public places.
The most common features of the flu are heavy breathing coupled with high fever - no less than 104 degree Fahrenheit, frequent coughing and sneezing. Physicians have advised people not to sneeze or cough publicly and others, who have not been affected, to keep the victims at arms' length. Basically, the whole point boils down to good public hygiene. This should be maintained, anyway, but the outbreak of the pandemic makes it all the more urgent.
Development of a vaccine is in the pipeline and should be available in a month or two. The WHO is trying to get hold of it, as soon as possible. The Bangladesh government also should make parallel efforts to do the same. For the time being, it is comforting to know that medicines required to treat the flu are already there in Bangladesh and in sufficient quantity. The only thing a patient has to do is to go to a doctor as soon as the disease is identified. Hospitals, both state-owned and private, have been kept on alert to accommodate swine flu victims on a priority basis. Hopefully, this should be adequate to face the crisis.
That no fewer than 50 counterfeiters are engaged in manufacturing fake legal tenders of many countries including the US dollar and Bangladeshi taka is very alarming. Still more alarming is the fact that these criminal gangs have intensified their activities for circulation of their forged notes of 100, 500 and 1,000 denominations at a time when people are on a spending spree ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr festival. They are bent on taking the advantage of excessive rush in the market during this time. The good news is that the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) has also made special preparation for nabbing the counterfeiters.
From available information we get the impression that many people have easy access to the technology for forgery of currency notes and quite a good number of them are getting involved in this crime for reasons understandable. The fact that a number of the currency forgers were arrested and released on bail because of legal loopholes warrants a review of the law. Light punishment, instead of acting as a deterrent, will encourage more people to get involved in this criminal act.
Since we have no anti-forgery department here, we certainly need to raise the level of expertise of the intelligence agencies keeping tabs on such illegal activities. The RAB claims that the forgers and their agents usually concentrate their operation in slums. If that is the case, it should not be impossible to carry on a counter-intelligence drive to get at both the source and the supply line of fake currency. As for the forgery of the note of 1,000 denomination, the allegation is even more serious because it points fingers at people responsible for production of the legal tender. This further confirms that the agencies keeping watch over this serious issue must acquire a higher level of related expertise to catch the culprits.
NEEDED: NEW OPPOSITION…!
People have had enough with hate, tired with violence and the angry rhetoric that spews from the mouths of former leaders. Voters are now a little more educated than they were ten years ago, the children of yesterday who watched silently their fathers and mothers either being killed or killing, do not want to indulge in such senseless acts anymore.
Today we see the fruits of education, a populace who want peace, who realise that more can be resolved with debate than with stone throwing. Oh yes, we still have the stone thrower, the violent political street fighter, but there are less of his ilk then there were before. I talked to a political leader the other day and he told me, "Bob, there was a time when it was easy to arrange a morcha, not anymore, I wonder why?"
Ah yes my dear political leader, you wonder why do you? It's because the new generation don't believe in those methods anymore. When the terrorists came to Mumbai, a hundred thousand youngsters maybe more gathered outside the Taj a week later and in silence demanded the shifting of the chief minister and his deputy and their silent words were noted and both were sacked. No buses were burnt, no shops were closed, no bandh was called. They did not use stone or muscle, they used the threat of their finger; the vote!
Today we need a new opposition; one that understands that the day of the old is gone. The shrewd Congress with young Rahul at the helm has understood this, but the BJP with its herd of rabble rousing, slogan shouting, hate mongering crew hasn't seen the writing on the wall.
Maybe another election another defeat will teach them what they seem reluctant to learn, that their days are over.
A new opposition is needed. Intellectuals, educated people, visionaries, selfless social workers, compassionate men and women, servant leaders!
Yes servant leaders! Not this brand of politicians who go about in their Land Cruisers and Mercedes Benzes behaving like maharajas and kings but men and women who have one purpose to serve people and country. Many such stood in the last elections and lost. But sir, madam do not be disheartened, the public know your face, and also by the next elections even more of the youth will be ready to vote, and will vote you in. A new young educated India is in the offing and a new opposition, ready to stand and fight to take the country forward is needed.
Meanwhile say goodbye to this bunch who have over the years only divided you with their hate, spite and rage. Namaste, Salaam and Vanakam to the new opposition...!
CANBERRA NEEDS SPINE ON BOOKS ISSUE
NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO GIVE IN TO THE PROTECTIONISTS.
OUR politicians appear to be wilting in the face of an unholy alliance opposed to free trade in books. Writers and publishers have been joined by trade unionists in a campaign to maintain protection for the local publishing industry, and they are having an impact in Canberra. After decades in which Australia has torn down barriers to the free movement of goods and services, it is extraordinary that the Rudd government might consider retaining the parallel import restrictions that prohibit the sale of books published overseas. But that is exactly what is under way as a Labor Party working group, set up after a brawl at last month's national conference, prepares to tell the government it should ignore a Productivity Commission recommendation to drop the ban on imports.
The main rallying call for those who want to keep the rules - which prevent bookshops selling a book published overseas if a local publisher has published the book here within 30 days of its overseas release - is culture. Or rather, the erosion of. The argument is that if we remove the advantage given to local publishers they will not be able to invest in local authors, which in turn means a less vibrant and local culture.
To which we can only say, come off it, fair shake of the sauce bottle and pull the other one. The Australian is the first to acknowledge the power of the written word, but the claim we will be culturally weakened if some local books are not published is frankly exaggerated. Lobbyists argue that the big increase in the number of Australian books in the past couple of decades is due to the restrictions on overseas imports. But the Productivity Commission report does not make that causal link. What is clear, when considering the boom, is that we have a much more educated population with more discretionary income and a publishing industry in which costs have decreased because of new technology. Not to mention the global trend to consumption and lifestyle, which has generated new markets in gardening and food and wine titles.
Two other arguments are advanced by the lobbyists - that writers' royalties will be reduced and that the local publishing industry will be threatened because imports will replace local product. It's clear prices will come down, but there are conflicting claims about what that will mean for the industry - an ambivalence apparently worrying some in the government. Instead of backing away from the principle of free trade, the vacillators should take a look at the local CD industry after restrictions on parallel imports were lifted in 1998. The total royalties paid have more than doubled, and an extra 50,000 artists shared in the bonanza. And you only have to flip back through your CD collection to confirm the 32 per cent reduction in the average price of CDs. That's the bit that is being lost in the debate about books - the price advantage to consumers when the tariff walls come down.
The Rudd government should think about that as it weighs its decision. In this issue it has a golden opportunity to demonstrate its reformist credentials. This is an area of micro-economic reform that has been squibbed by politicians over the past two decades, yet one which lines up squarely with Australia's approach to open markets and competition. The government should be brave about books and drop the ban, rather than giving in to unions and other rent-seekers, including those who assume the mantle of cultural leadership to argue the case for protection.
A WORK IN PROGRESS
TEN YEARS ON, THE CHALLENGES CONTINUE IN EAST TIMOR.
A DECADE ago, the people of East Timor embraced optimism, risking all on August 30, 1999, by voting for independence from Indonesia. Centuries of Portuguese colonial control had been replaced 20 years before by an equally alien Indonesian occupation and the East Timorese had had enough. But in asserting their independence, they took a great risk.
They risked a backlash from the Indonesian military and they risked civil strife if the independence fighters fell out out over the spoils of victory. Above all, they faced the risk independence would leave them in the permanent poverty the vast mass of people endured for centuries under Portuguese rule and then under the Indonesians.
At various times in East Timor's short sovereignty all three outcomes looked possible. Without the intervention of a UN force, spearheaded by Australian troops, pro-Indonesian militias, perhaps even rogue units of Indonesia's army, could have strangled the nation at birth.
At times over the past 10 years the nation's fractious political elite has focused on the small spoils of power instead of improving the education, income and pathetically short life expectancy of ordinary people. There have been political plots and attempts at something close to coups. In 2006, troops from Australia and Malaysia, New Zealand and Portugal had to be deployed to save the country from strife between rebel soldiers and troops loyal to the government. And a decade on, despite or perhaps in part because of the work of international aid agencies, the vast majority of East Timorese are appallingly poor.
The nation ranks 150th out of 177 countries on the UN human development index. According to the World Bank, where a third of East Timor's population lived in poverty at independence, half do now.
And yet while East Timor staggers as a state it need not fail to the extent that outside intervention will again be needed. Elections have been free and largely fair. The country has passed the litmus test of democracy with power changing hands between political parties. Money for desperately needed infrastructure and services is literally in the pipeline, with East Timor set to earn US$50 billion in oil revenues by the end of the next decade. There are prospects of more to come from new discoveries and gasfields coming onstream.
Money will be less East Timor's problem than knowing how to use it in the interest of its people. It is a huge challenge and one that the nation's politicians must urgently address.
NO BILL, JUST RIGHTS
WE DON'T NEED A BILL OF RIGHTS WHEN WE HAVE PARLIAMENT.
THE notion of a bill of rights has fluttered around the edges of Australian politics since the Whitlam era, but has become no more compelling since. Just why it is so unnecessary was cogently put by John Howard in his 2009 Menzies Lecture last week when he argued we don't need a bill or charter of rights to protect us because parliament is already equipped to do the job better.
His comments will not be a surprise to Frank Brennan, who is preparing a report on a bill for Attorney-General Robert McClelland. Mr Howard is a long-time opponent, arguing that it would turn the judiciary into a third house of parliament.
He's not the only one worried about the judges. Last week, NSW Chief Justice Jim Spigelman warned that judges could be tempted to ignore the wishes of parliament if they were given wider powers on human rights. The danger, according to the Chief Justice, is that judges could interpret legislation contrary to the intention of the elected politicians who had passed the laws.
As Mr Howard says, a bill would weaken the role of parliament and "in a very basic way, the quality of our democracy". In other words, if you want parliament to be taken seriously, don't hand its authority to others.
The advocates of a bill are not worried, of course, about messing with the separation of powers. In fact, that shift is crucial to their project of embedding rights that may not have public - and thus parliamentary - support. Yet there is no evidence that our system is deaf to minority rights or that it fails people whose rights are transgressed. One argument advanced for a bill of rights is that our framework is piecemeal. But if there are gaps, these must be addressed directly by our legislators.
Australia may be unusual in not having a code but that is no reason to adopt one. Not every country has found it useful. Britain passed a human rights act in 1998 but it has proved to be a haven for the litigious.
The likelihood of a constitutional bill of rights for Australia has faded in recent months. Even the Attorney-General has hinted at a less radical approach and Father Brennan may end up offering the government an exit strategy. But an alternative charter of rights, enshrined in an act of parliament, while less undemocratic, would still transfer power to judges.
Apart from human rights lawyers whose work will increase exponentially, and those on the Left keen to entrench minority rights, support for a bill of rights is not widespread. The government should pay heed to the views of that broader constituency.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
DEFENCE FORCE NOT THE BEST JUDGE ON MILITARY JUSTICE
THE Howard government was not noted for its esteem of the Senate. It preferred to use the Senate majority it gained in the 2004 election to push through legislation that owed more to a desire to placate interest groups than to careful scrutiny by the house of review. The defunct WorkChoices industrial relations system is the best-known example, but last week the High Court brought another to the nation's attention. By a 7-0 vote, the justices ruled that the Australian Military Court, which the Howard government created in 2006 against the unanimous advice of an all-party Senate committee, was constitutionally invalid. In consequence of the High Court's decision Australia's system of military justice has collapsed, and the status of at least 170 cases that the Military Court has heard in the past two years is now in doubt.
In June 2005 an inquiry by the Senate's foreign affairs, defence and trade committee found that the military had failed properly to investigate cases of abuse, violence and racism. The committee's report called for comprehensive reform of the military-justice system, advising that a court be established according to the provisions of chapter III of the constitution, ''to ensure its independence and impartiality''. In other words, the new court should not be subject to the Australian Defence Force chain of command, a proposal that alarmed the ADF hierarchy and which the Howard government chose to reject. The government argued that a military court must ''have credibility with, and acceptance of, the Defence Force'' and insisted ''the chapter III requirements are not consistent with these factors''. Its solution was to establish a tribunal presided over by military judges, and this hybrid, more than traditional court martial but not a constitutionally enacted chapter III court is what the High Court has struck down. In the judgment, Chief Justice Robert French and Justice Bill Gummow said the government had taken the risky approach of trying to give the military court the ''reputation of the judicial branch of government for impartiality and non-partisanship'' without using the judicial power - but had also gone beyond the defence power.
The new court was vulnerable to constitutional challenge from its inception, and inevitably one arose. Lawyers acting for Brian Lane, a former navy seaman charged with indecently assaulting a superior officer, argued that the Australian Military Court was unconstitutional, a point that the High Court has now settled. Mr Lane, who denies the offence of which he was accused, may still have to answer a charge when the present Government devises a solution to the mess bequeathed by its predecessor. Of the other cases now in legal limbo, Defence Minister John Faulkner says about 40 per cent concern alleged travel-card fraud, but others arise from allegations of assault, theft, indecency and property damage.
What must be done is obvious. The Rudd Government should move promptly to establish a ''chapter III'' court, as advised by the Senate committee. And, the implications of the High Court ruling for the Howard government's reputation are equally evident: ignoring informed advice to create a new level of judicature incompatible with the constitution is astonishing and reckless misjudgment. The deepest lesson of this affair, however, lies in what it reveals about the undue influence exercised over government policy by the defence establishment.
The shadow attorney-general, Senator George Brandis, concedes that a mistake was plainly made when the military court was established in 2006, and has accused his former colleague Robert Hill, who was then defence minister, of having caved in to pressure from the Defence Department. Such public disowning by Opposition politicians of actions taken when their party was in office is extremely rare. WorkChoices, for example, has yet to receive such emphatic repudiation by any member of the Coalition frontbench.
The Defence Department and the Australian Defence Force have long been regarded as enjoying privileged status when governments are drawing up their budgets. The military court debacle suggests that the privileged status extends to other matters as well - although in this case the influence wielded by the Defence hierarchy has misfired spectacularly. Senator Faulkner, as a recently installed Defence Minister, clearly has his work cut out for him.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
SEASON TO REMEMBER WHETS APPETITES FOR SEPTEMBER
IT HAS taken 158 days and 176 games of football to settle the AFL finalists, as the home-and-away season held interest to the very end. Four games this weekend still mattered for the seven confirmed finalists and the two contenders for the eighth spot. Among the also-rans, attention has turned to the inevitable turnover of coaching and playing stocks, yet most of these clubs played their part in a wonderful season of epic contests, big comebacks and astonishing upsets. In terms of football contests, season 2009 ranks among the best, with the round 14 clash between the then undefeated St Kilda and Geelong rated among the best ever.
The quality of the contests helped sustain attendances during an economic downturn, but the AFL didn't help its cause. Fixturing blunders halved the number of people privileged to witness much-anticipated matches such as the Saints-Cats game and other blockbusters played at Etihad Stadium. The season-long feud between the AFL and stadium management continues and clubs and supporters are paying the price. It is ridiculous that some clubs had to pay to play at the Docklands venue even when they drew a reasonable crowd. Some will suffer serious financial losses as a result. Other things that must be fixed are the allocation of Friday night matches and the ever-frustrating uncertainty that surrounds the tackle and bump rules.
But these are matters to consider in the off-season. All eyes are on the finals, which look much less predictable than many thought mid-season when St Kilda and Geelong seemed destined to play in the grand final. Collingwood and the Western Bulldogs have emerged as serious contenders, and the other four finalists have all had impressive wins against one or more of the top four. If the finals sustain the standard of the home-and-away rounds, this will go down as a classic season.
PARLIAMENTARY REFORM: THE LORDS TEST
Last week, the justice secretary, Jack Straw, told the Guardian that he would produce a draft bill for a reformed second chamber before the election. Yet for nearly 13 years the government has procrastinated on reform, inching along by committee and consensus, as if a revolution could be negotiated. The need for a new upper house has been acknowledged by all the main parties for most of the past century. Deciding what to put in its place, that is the hard part.
Last year, almost despite themselves, Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats agreed an outline of an upper house that would maintain its current relationship with the Commons and its limited power to revise and to delay. The parties agreed that there would be no overall control, and finally accepted that it would be mainly or entirely elected. But there was no agreement on the final size, on the system of election or even on the process by which existing peers would be retired. David Cameron is said to regard reform as a third-term issue.
Whoever wins, the next election will be a watershed, for there is no provision in the current interim system to accommodate political change in the Commons. A returned Labour government would be faced with heavy demand from retired or unseated MPs looking for a way back to Westminster. An incoming Conservative one would find an upper house where they had fewer, older peers than Labour and a strong case for the immediate appointment of a large group of Tories. In either event, the wholehearted opposition of the existing House of Lords to an elected second chamber would be reinforced.
But the real challenge to completing reform is that the interim arrangements have resulted in a second chamber that has become reasonably effective at causing the government to pause and reconsider. It would be easier to deal with anomalies in the current system than it would be to reform it. Proposals to abolish the remaining hereditary peers and to strengthen the appointments commission are already planned. Meanwhile, democratisation leads directly into the political minefield of electoral systems, the role of parties and how best to protect independents.
This cautious government has reluctantly instituted a constitutional revolution. Devolution, freedom of information and the new supreme court, which starts business in October, amount to a new basis for politics. But for as long as the unelected still have a place in the legislature, there is a hole in the programme's heart. This government must make the case that the system by which we are governed shapes what governments do. It must lead the fight for an elected second chamber.
THE MEDIA: AN AMERICAN IN EDINBURGH
Twenty years after his father lectured the British media on their failings, James Murdoch flew into Edinburgh at the weekend to do the same. One was Australian at the time, the other is American: both relish their outsider status. Both chafe at what they see as an over-regulated industry indefensibly dominated by a public-service broadcaster. To James Murdoch, the British media is like the Addams family – unhappy in every way.
The unrelenting Murdoch attack on the BBC has echoes of the recent attacks by the American right on the NHS. Both are institutions which, when push comes to shove, the British people use, treasure and trust. They may moan about them and complain about their shortcomings, but in the end they feel grateful to have them and regard them as pretty good value for money. This may seem inexplicable to some on the American right, who regard both organisations with barely concealed contempt, but that's the way it is.
In James Murdoch's analysis, creativity, investment and innovation are being choked off in the UK by the twin evils of the BBC and the media regulator, Ofcom. He would like British TV to be more like the press – opinionated, lightly regulated (if at all) and totally independent. In other words, he would like Britain to be more like America. The problem is that the American newspaper sector – untroubled by either the BBC or very much regulation – is on its knees. The free market can no longer support the work of keeping communities informed. The same is true in the UK, where the job of systematically reporting public authorities and courts is increasingly beyond the ability of desperately struggling local newspapers. Yes, the Times has a Baghdad reporter. But the paper is currently losing tens of millions of pounds a year and is able to do its fine journalism only by virtue of enlightened Murdoch cross-subsidy. Good for the Murdochs, who have, over the years, invested admirably in journalism, but don't pretend this is an example of the free market at work. And remember it was the Murdochs – now arguing for plurality and the customer paying a fair price for quality journalism – who cut the price of the Times to 10p in the predatory hope that weaker papers would go to the wall, an act that affected newspaper pricing in the UK for 15 years.
Sky has done extraordinarily well in Britain, thanks to the Murdochs' vision, tenacity and willingness to take risks – and, in part, to a regulatory regime that has not been unhelpful to their ambitions. It is not obvious that the company has been held back by the presence of the BBC. Any fair analysis of the woes of the media industry in America and Europe today would have questioned the growth and alarming dominance of Google. It is a shame that Mr Murdoch allowed these twin obsessions to distort a speech that made some good points. There are aspects of the BBC's size and purpose that should be scrutinised. Regulation should change with the times. He was right to highlight the way convergence is producing "an all-media market". He is right to talk about the need to trust consumers, even if the underlying purpose of his speech will be seen as one of self-interest.
All countries' media ecosystems are different. The American way is no more desirable in the UK than the Italian way – in which a very powerful media magnate has ended up with a dangerously large slice of the cake. What works rather well in the UK is a mixed economy of private and public. Newspapers are lightly regulated, fiercely opinionated and proudly independent. Public-service broadcasters are more heavily regulated in return for their subsidy. It's not a perfect mix, but its part of the texture of life in the country. The idea of decimating it in order to allow a sort of Fox News UK to flourish is a prospect that should truly chill our souls.
IN PRAISE OF … CIRCUMABULATION
Buddhist and Hindu worshippers have circumambulatory rituals at holy places. Muslim pilgrims, too, choose to walk counter-clockwise round the Kaaba stone in Mecca. The rest of us walk round in circles because we don't know where we are going. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute at Tübingen have just confirmed those Victorian adventure stories about lost travellers. People who do not know where they are going really do tend to walk in circles.
This aimless circumambulation has been monitored by experimenters in the deserts of Tunisia and the forests of Germany, and confirmed by GPS readings. When people had a clearly visible landmark to aim for, or could see the sun or the moon, they generally kept on in a straight line. Without a reliable landmark, according to the team's report in Current Biology, most participants in the study would unconsciously begin a turn that would take them back on their own tracks. The scientists used blindfolds to test an old theory – that, since most people are asymmetric, there would naturally be a built-in bias to the left or the right. But this proved not to be the case. The same blindfolded volunteer could turn clockwise or widdershins, and keep turning. So the platitudes are true. Successful people are goal-oriented, know where they are going and keep their eyes on the prize, while the rest of us – and that may include governments that have lost their way – maintain the illusion of progress, by going round in small circles.
THE JAPAN TIMES
HISTORIC DAY FOR JAPANESE POLITICS
In a historic change in Japan's parliamentary political history, the Democratic Party of Japan defeated the Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito ruling coalition in Sunday's Lower House election. The DPJ has captured 308 seats out of the 480 seats in the all-important chamber.
The DPJ's victory ends almost 55 years of uninterrupted rule by the LDP, which was formed and first took power in late 1954. The election also represents the first Lower House election in the postwar universal suffrage era in which one opposition party has won a majority in the chamber by defeating a ruling party that enjoyed a majority. Japan's democracy has matured to a stage in which the people will readily vote for a change in government when they are dissatisfied with the status quo.
The election's outcome should not be interpreted as a simple "yes" vote for the DPJ, despite its landslide victory. It was, in fact, a "no" vote for the LDP, as demonstrated by an Asahi Shimbun poll in which just 25 percent of those surveyed believed Japan would head in a positive direction if there was a change of government. Up to 54 percent thought the situation would not change. Clearly, the DPJ government faces a tough road ahead.
In the September 2005 Lower House election, voters enthusiastically supported Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's LDP, whose slogan was "Don't stop the reform." But people's lives have not improved and disappointment has prevailed. Even when the economy was expanding, workers' wages failed to rise and most people did not share the fruits of growth. Irregular workers now account for one-third of the labor force and stable employment eludes millions of people. Poverty has become a serious issue.
The retrenchment policy introduced by the Koizumi administration has degraded welfare, medical and nursing care services. The lost pension records fiasco, which took place under LDP rule, has also increased people's worries about the future.
Following Mr. Koizumi's resignation, three members of the LDP assumed the office of prime minister without a voter mandate, further eroding popular trust in LDP-led politics. Prime Minister Taro Aso's tenure, which was marked by frequent flip-flops over important issues such as the ¥2 trillion cash handout to individuals and reorganization of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, raised doubts over his qualifications to lead. These and other negative factors helped buoy support for the DPJ.
During the campaign, none of the political parties came forward with grand designs for the future. Instead, they more or less concentrated on policies that directly affect people's financial well-being. Still, differences cropped up.
Most conspicuous was the DPJ's proposals to take the initiative for policy development from the hands of bureaucrats. They include sending about 100 lawmakers to oversee government ministries and agencies, forming Cabinet committees composed of Cabinet ministers to deal with particular issues, and establishing a national strategy bureau under the prime minister to work out a national vision and budget outline.
The DPJ aims to break the traditional triangular network of politicians, bureaucrats and industry — the basis of LDP politics. But to achieve this goal, DPJ lawmakers must first be able to persuade bureaucrats to disclose key information, which is often hidden, then analyze that information and lead bureaucrats in the correct policy direction.
The DPJ is taking the reins of government at a time when the nation's economy is in dire straits. Not only does the DPJ have to improve the unemployment situation — now the worst ever — and revive the economy, it must tackle the long-term issue of repaying the nation's long-term debts, which will amount to about 170 percent of gross domestic product by the end of next March.
DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama's key concept is "return to the idea of fraternity" and to rectify the excess of market fundamentalism, under which "people are treated not as an end but as a means." He calls for "policies that regenerate the ties that bring people together, that take greater account of nature and the environment, that rebuild welfare and medical systems, that provide better education and child-rearing support, and that address wealth disparities." Achieving such results will require deft political skills and enormous effort.
In the field of foreign policy, the DPJ government must ensure relations remain on a positive footing with other nations — especially the United States. The Japan-U.S. security alliance is indispensable for Japan's defense and for regional stability. The new government must also deal with China's growing economic and military power. Given the monumental tasks that await the DPJ government, Mr. Hatoyama will need to exhibit leadership that is both farsighted and decisive.
THE JAPAN TIMES
MEDIA CONNIVANCE IN WALKING THE DOGS OF WAR
BY HIROAKI SATO
NEW YORK — For five days following Japan's surrender this month in 1945, the Mainichi Shimbun, by then reduced to a single sheet because of severe paper shortages, published editions with a good deal of blank space: on Aug. 16, Page 2 totally blank; on the 17th, not just Page 2 but also a third of Page 1 blank, and so forth.
This startling outcome was a result of the daily's editorial director Kojiro Takasugi's plea, with his own letter of resignation, that either the newspaper company be shut down or its top executives resign at once. How could a national newspaper that had "glorified and inflamed the war" up to the day of surrender, predicting a certain victory, make an about-face with defeat? The upshot: the executives resigned, including the president.
Mainichi's competitor, the Asahi, chose a more gradual approach, thereby throwing itself into a much fiercer in-house debate on its "war responsibility." Still, on Aug. 23, the paper published an editorial to "punish itself" and apologized to its readers, the Japanese. "The responsibility of a speech organ with the closest relationship" to what people do, think, and feel is "extremely grave," the editorial said. On Nov. 7, the company's top executives and editors resigned.
These may be well-known stories, but I learned about them only recently when I came across Toshiyuki Maesaka's detailed account of the conduct of journalism in wartime Japan, "Taiheiyo Senso to Shimbun" (Kodansha, 2007).
Maesaka begins his history of the Japanese government's stifling of the freedom of the press long before the Pacific War, in the Newspaper Law of 1909, which equipped the government with insidious tentacles to seize and smother anything it did not like. The 1925 Security Preservation Law, which strengthened the "thought police," empowered the government to arrest and jail those with "dangerous thoughts."
As if that was not enough, militarists and their allies began to wield intimidation overtly in the 1930s. Among their weapons was a boycott that could put a paper out of business far more effectively than government censorship.
Initially, newspapers put up a good fight, at least some of them, at times nobly. One outstanding example that Maesaka cites is the Kahoku Shimpo, published in Sendai. When the Manchurian Incident occurred, in September 1931, the paper at once saw it was a hoax. But the government did not just fail to punish the military for its illegal conduct overseas; it allowed the military to take over the task of governance instead.
When the Kahoku Shimpo derided this development, the commander of the Sendai Regiment, accompanied by officers of the thought police and Kempei, visited the daily's president, Jiro Ichiriki. He accused him of "slandering the military" and threatened to start a boycott campaign.
To this, Ichiriki responded in military terms: "This ramshackle building of ours is a fortress for the freedom of the press. All of our 400 employees will defend it with death. If attacking us is His Majesty's order, go ahead and bombard us. We will be ready anytime.
He added: "A decision not to buy our paper is our readers'. If they decide not to do so, we will not deliver it."
Ichiriki's resolute attitude perhaps cowed the commander. He stopped pressuring the Kahoku Shimpo and dropped the idea of boycotting the paper. Other papers were not that lucky.
Worse, for the national newspapers, the Asahi and Mainichi, the Manchurian Incident became a dramatic turning point. Rather than try to get down to the truth, they seized it as a great opportunity to increase their circulation. They had ample resources to engage in competitive reporting, and they did.
They also took the notion of "supporting our troops" to new heights. The Asahi, for one, started a "cash donation" campaign for "our personnel engaged in the grave task of defending our interests and preserving security," a catchphrase that never fails to excite people. They printed the donators' names and addresses. The campaign proved to be a wild success, inflaming chauvinistic nationalism.
Underlying it all was the policy they established of defending the military for "international justice." It was "My country, right or wrong." That, Maesaka points out, opened a way to further government control of the press.
By the time the press realized they had been grievously wrong and decided to turn around, it was too late. The most famous case occurred in February 1944. With full knowledge of Japanese defeats in battle after battle in the South Pacific, the Mainichi finally printed a few articles, including an editorial, suggesting that the nation faced annihilation if the government stuck to its avowed strategy of fighting it out in the homeland.
This enraged Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo. He demanded that either the publisher be shut down or the reporter who wrote the articles be sent to the front. Thirty-seven-year-old Takeo Shinmyo, draft-exempt as a reporter, was drafted and sent to the front, despite the paper's valiant efforts. Fortunately, Shinmyo, who covered the navy and wrote articles with its connivance, was protected by the navy and survived. But the 250 men in Shinmyo's age group whom the navy recruited for appearance' sake — and who were too old to be redrafted in normal times — were sent to Iwo Jima. All of them were killed there in the spring of 1945.
Maesaka says he decided to pursue the role of journalism in war as his lifelong subject when, a few years after his employment by the Mainichi, he met Hiroshi Masaki (1896-1975), the iconoclastic lawyer famous for his relentless fight for justice. Maesaka came to believe that "a study of failures" is indispensable to prevent something similar from happening again.
But we, of course, do not really learn much of anything from the past. By the time Maesaka was giving finishing touches to the book discussed here, the Japanese media was mindlessly following America's lead in its "war on terror."
And that reminds me: Who with his mind open could not see that the threat of weapons of mass destruction was U.S. President George W. Bush's fraudulent concoction? Yet how happily the American media coalesced on the destruction of another country!
Translator and essayist Hiroaki Sato is at work on a biography of Yukio Mishima.
THE KOREA HERALD
North Korea released a South Korean boat and four fishermen last Saturday, 30 days after the boat strayed into North Korean waters in the East Sea. On Friday, the Red Cross of South Korea and North Korea agreed to restart reunions of families separated by the Korean War. Earlier in the month, a South Korean worker detained by North Korean authorities for 137 days was freed.
These events can be taken as indicators that Pyongyang is reaching out to mend fences with its neighbor after more than a year of virtually frozen relations. While there is no change in Seoul's position that North Korea must irreversibly denuclearize, that goal does not preclude talking with each other about other inter-Korean issues in the meantime.
The restart of the reunions of families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War is a good place to start exchanges between the two countries. The reunions will take place from Sept. 26 to Oct. 1, the first since October 2007. It will also be the first such event since the Lee Myung-bak administration took office last year.
The reunions, which will be at the Mount Geumgang resort in the North, will reunite 100 persons from each side with their families across the border. These numbers are hardly enough to allow the tens of thousands of families who have not seen or been in contact with each other since the war. It has been almost 60 years since the war broke out and many of those separated family members have passed away or are quickly approaching their deaths.
The reunion program began after the historic 2000 summit meeting between then President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Since then, more than 16,000 Koreans from both sides have met face-to-face. Some 3,200 others have been able to talk to each other through video link.
The South Korean side is said to have dropped a number of key demands to realize next month's reunion. At the three-day Red Cross talks, the South Korean side dropped the demand for reunions on regular basis and the demand that the reunions include South Korean prisoners of war and civilians kidnapped by the North.
Although the negotiations for the family reunions took place through the Red Cross of the two countries, the meetings can be seen as de-facto government-level talks. The Lee administration exercised considerable flexibility during the talks: Rather than insisting on demands that would have stymied the talks, Seoul took the position that those demands would be pursued in future meetings.
The Lee administration's new flexibility was demonstrated earlier when Lee met with the North Korean delegation - which included high-ranking officials in charge of inter-Korean relations - who were in Seoul to attend former President Kim Dae-jung's wake.
Flexibility does not mean softness. In fact, flexibility and strength go together, hand in hand. When talks on the resumption of inter-Korean joint projects take place, the North should not misread Seoul's flexibility as indicating that it has gone "soft" on the North.
THE KOREA HERALD
N.K. SHIP SEIZED
For the first time since the United Nations Resolution 1874 came into force on June 12, a North Korean ship carrying weapons has been seized.
The United Arab Emirates on Aug. 14 seized a North Korean cargo ship carrying weapons bound for Iran. What were labeled as machine parts turned out to be rocket launchers, detonators, munitions and ammunition for rocket-propelled grenades.
The U.N. Resolution 1874 calls for financial sanctions aimed at stopping cash flow to North Korea, as well as stricter inspections of shipments going to and from North Korea and an arms embargo.
In June, the U.S. navy tracked a North Korean cargo ship suspected of heading to Myanmar but the vessel eventually turned back. Earlier in August, the Indian navy intercepted another North Korean ship mooring illegally in the Bay of Bengal and is inspecting its contents.
The discovery in the U.A.E. shows that the North continues to export weapons to raise cash. In fact, its arms proliferation activities have been the major source of income for the cash-strapped communist state. In 2007, Israeli warplanes destroyed what was suspected as a nuclear reactor being built in Syria with the assistance of North Koreans.
The capture of the North Korean ship by the U.A.E. comes as North Korea appears to be making efforts to improve ties with the United States and South Korea. This month, the North released two U.S. reporters sentenced to 12 years hard labor for illegally crossing into the country in March. North Korean delegates to the United Nations in New York traveled to New Mexico to meet Governor Bill Richardson, conveying the message that Pyongyang wants direct, bilateral talks with Washington.
Vis-a-vis South Korea, just in this month, Pyongyang has released a South Korean worker detained for 137 days and freed a South Korean fishing boat and its four crewmembers that strayed into North Korean waters after holding them for 30 days. The Red Cross of the two countries have announced that reunions of separated families will take place Sept. 26 to Oct. 1.
In a meeting between the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and Hyundai Asan Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, the two sides agreed to resume tours to Mount Geumgang, suspended after a South Korean tourist was shot dead, and normalize operations at the Gaeseong industrial park.
Such reconciliatory gestures by the North are a sign that the U.N. sanctions are having an impact. Pyongyang, finding itself more isolated than ever and without the means to raise cash, is seeking to restart inter-Korean projects that have been sources of hard cash for the regime.
Unlike the previous U.N. resolution against North Korea, which lacked teeth - it was never strictly enforced - Resolution 1874 is being applied by countries around the world. Such concerted international efforts should continue and bring the North back to the denuclearization talks.
THE KOREA HERALD
HAMAS TAKES ON RADICAL JIHADI GROUP
GAZA CITY - The recent shoot-out in a Gaza mosque between Hamas security officers and militants from the radical jihadi group, the Warriors of God, brought to the surface the deep tensions that divide Palestinian Islamists. Twenty-two people died, including the Warriors of God's leader, Abdel Latif Moussa. But Palestinian security officials doubt that these will be the last casualties.
With Hamas in control for more than two years, the Gaza Strip has long been considered much more traditional and conservative than the West Bank. Nevertheless, in Gaza's political milieu, Hamas is a moderate Islamic group that opposes al-Qaeda-style extremism. But such extremist Islamic groups have been gaining support in Gaza, and Hamas has noticed. The shoot-out in the mosque shows that Hamas will be ruthless in taking them on.
Various Salafi extremist groups have been operating in Gaza for years. Salafis, whose name is derived from the Arabic phrase for "righteous ancestors," known as "Salaf al-Salih," insist on a return to what they consider the purity of the practices of the first Muslims.
Hamas has, in the past, cooperated with some of the Salafis, assuming they would stand behind Hamas's leadership. The Army of Islam joined in the raid that abducted the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in June 2006. The group also took responsibility for the 2007 kidnapping of the BBC's Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston, who was later released after negotiations led by Hamas.
The Warriors of God is one of a handful of radical, al-Qaeda-inspired groups to have appeared in the Gaza Strip in recent months, first coming to public attention in June after claiming responsibility for a failed horseback attack on Israel from Gaza. Their website shares images, language, and music with al-Qaida and other jihadi groups. In a recent declaration, the group made favorable mention of al-Qaida leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The Warriors of God demands a pure form of Islamic practice throughout the Gaza Strip, including the implementation of Sharia religious law and a rejection of democracy. Indeed, the confrontation at the mosque followed the declaration of an Islamic Caliphate in Gaza, a flagrant rejection of Hamas's authority.
Many young men in Gaza have become increasingly radicalized. Pakistani-style dress has become common, as is the long hair that is thought to resemble the style of the Prophet Mohammad. At the same time, violence against "law-breakers" is on the rise. Internet cafes have been bombed, institutions with Christian affiliations burned down, foreign schools attacked, and wedding parties assaulted.
There are substantial ideological differences between Gaza's Salafi al-Qaeda affiliates and Hamas. As the ruling party, Hamas has insisted that its sole concern is the Palestinian people, not a global Islamic revolution. Hamas has not imposed Islamic law in the Gaza Strip.
The Salafi groups, however, appear increasingly influenced by the growth of radical al-Qaeda-style extremism in Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan. While traditional Salafi movements have stayed away from politics, the younger groups see activism and violence as the best means of realizing their goals.
But Hamas's failure to establish and implement Islamic law is not the only issue that rankles. One of the reasons for these groups' increased appeal is the de facto cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, which has led some in Gaza to charge that Hamas has been neutralized as a resistance force. With the border closed under Israeli blockade for more than two years, levels of poverty, unemployment, and despair have grown, with young men increasingly interested in joining the global jihad as it comes to Gaza.
Indeed, Hamas' confrontation with Salafi groups comes as Israel is charging that dozens of foreign terrorists have crossed into Gaza from the Sinai Desert to join the violent underground. Hamas's crackdown thus highlights its desire to maintain control over its conflict with Israel.
The threat of Salafi extremism in Gaza is far from over. Salafis have threatened to retaliate against Hamas, particularly the security brigades that led the counterattack on the mosque. A new Salafi group called the Brigade of Swords of Righteousness has declared its obedience to the Warriors of God, and has warned Gazans to stay away from government buildings, security headquarters, mosques attended by Hamas leaders, and other official buildings. The group now considers these legitimate targets.
With hundreds of tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip and Sinai, it is very difficult to control the flow of arms, ammunition, and possibly foreign fighters. Hamas's battle with these radicals, who detonated suicide bombs and killed six Hamas security men during the mosque fight, is just beginning. Residents are afraid that Gaza could become another Iraq, with bombings and mass killings a daily occurrence.
Hamas will use all means necessary to protect its power, and to break the jihadi groups now spreading in Gaza. In the process, Hamas hopes to win the international legitimacy that it has long sought.
Mkhaimar Abusada is a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza. - Ed.
THE JAKARTA POST
REVITALIZING PETROLEUM SECTOR
Statistics show that Indonesia is richly endowed with hydrocarbon resources. Total oil and gas resources amount to approximately 87 billion barrels of oil (BBO) and 385 tera cubic feet of gas (TCF); proven and potential reserves currently amount to about 8.5 BBO and 180 TCF gas.
Over the years, this endowment has contributed substantially to the national wealth. Statistics show that for more than 20 years, oil revenues have been contributing considerably to the national revenue via export sales.
Last year, when the price of oil reached more than US$100 per barrel, oil revenues hit the highest level in 10 years; gas sales hit their highest levels ever. Together, oil and gas revenues account for more than a quarter of the country's national budget.
But this endowment is not a "free-lunch". Foreign currency earnings from oil and gas come at the cost of domestic oil and gas supplies. The domestic oil market is large and is characterized by an exceptional high proportion of high-value fuel products: Premium, kerosene, and diesel. Across the country, Premium consumption has been steadily increasing, reaching close to one million barrels per day today.
This demand will definitely continue to grow, largely fueled by increasing transport needs, unless breakthroughs are made in the public transport sector. Kerosene and diesel consumption will grow with the rate of population and industrial growth.
For the last five years, domestic supply has not been able to keep up with demand, and the shortage has been filled with increasing imports. This is primarily because domestic oil production has fallen and refining capacity remains stagnant. The declining production rate of the nation's aging oil fields is the main reason for this. But this is nothing new, and many have warned that a shortage of investments in new exploration exacerbates the oil supply-demand mismatch.
With increased imports and high global oil prices, low domestic prices amount to more explicit subsidies. With the historical high prices in 2008, subsidies balloned, putting severe pressure to the state budget. This mismatch of domestic oil supply-demand and explicit subsidies has restrained the budget. Higher world oil prices and their volatility constantly change the structure of domestic oil pricing and consequently the profile of national budget.
In fact, since 1999, there have been no less than 10 changes made to the oil pricing structure, forcing a number of revisions to be made to the annual budget. Unpredictable changes to the budget make the management of public expenditures more difficult. In order to accommodate the higher burden arising from fuel subsidies, other planned expenditures, typically for basic needs, have to be displaced.
Aside from the difficulties in managing public expenditure, these fuel subsidies have created an effective monopoly regime, and undermine the potential gains of a competitive fuel market.
Although Oil and Gas Law No. 22/2001 ended monopolistic practices and public service obligations can now be awarded to other qualified entrants, the national oil and gas company Pertamina still effectively maintains its monopoly, controlling the supply of nearly all of the fuels delivered for domestic consumption.
Consequently, other market players, such as Petronas and Shell, are effectively excluded from supplying the 60 percent of the market that receives subsidized petroleum fuels.
Of course, there are a number of other factors that constrain entry to the market, and these need to be addressed to reap the full benefits of a competitive domestic fuel market. Nevertheless, the fact that only Pertamina has been granted the right to supply subsidized fuels across the country is a key reason for the limited competition in the domestic market.
Transformed to a state-owned limited liability company, Pertamina should be more commercially independent and undergo corporate reforms for the shareholder's best long-term interests. Any social obligations that are imposed on this company should be adequately compensated. Reforms should also transform the company into an internationally competitive entity, focusing on its core business areas. Activities that are somehow peripheral should be divested.
This transformation is necessary if the country is to reap the benefits of an open domestic petroleum fuels market, but is also important for the NOC to become an internationally competitive and respected oil company. Evaluation of the petroleum sector against the country's objectives as expressed in the Law must address the inadequacy of the present oil supply, pricing and subsidy policy.
At the same time, efforts to effectively open up the domestic market to new entrants and to reform Pertamina must be facilitated to gain the maximum benefits of a competitive domestic fuel market.
These two key points must be considered by the new administration if the country's vision for the domestic petroleum fuel sector is to be achieved.
The writer is director for Energy, Mineral Resources and Mining at the National Development Planning Agency (BAPPENAS). This is his personal opinion.
THE JAKARTA POST
SPECIAL AUDIT OF CENTURY BAILOUT
We support the recommendation made by the House of Representatives financial commission on Thursday to the Supreme Audit Agency (BPK), to conduct an investigative audit of the bailout of Bank Century.
However, we don’t share the commission’s doubts as to the legitimacy and urgency of the central bank’s move late last November to put the financially distressed bank under the control of the state-owned Deposit Insurance Corporation (DIC).
We don’t have any reason to question the urgency and imperative to bail the bank out, given the great financial uncertainty, the crash of the Jakarta stock market, the rupiah in turmoil and the severe liquidity problems at many banks between September and December 2008 in the fallout from the global financial crisis.
The global financial crisis and its effects on Indonesia’s financial system during the last quarter of last year were so adverse that letting Bank Century go would have trigged a massive run on many banks.
In turn this could have set off a vicious cycle within the banking industry, with strong market rumors that more than a dozen other banks were mired in financial problems.
The government did confirm at a hearing with parliament on Wednesday that 23 other mid-sized banks could have collapsed under massive runs by depositors had Bank Century been left to fail.
The big question, however, as several House members noted, is why the ultimate cost of Bank Century’s bailout as of last month had reached Rp 6.76 trillion (US$676 million), way above the preliminary estimate of around Rp 1.3 trillion.
A general audit, we reckon, would not be enough to get to the root of this problem. Only a special or investigative audit would be sufficient to uncover bank fraud or other irregularities that may have made Bank Indonesia’s preliminary assessment of Bank Century’s financial distress way off the mark.
The four tranches of capital injection made by DIC to Bank Century — on Nov. 23, Dec. 5, Feb. 3 and July 21 — gave rise to suspicions that the new management (put in place in by the DIC) had not been fully apprised of the real condition of the bank, notably its liabilities, right from the outset.
A forensic audit, for example, is necessary to investigate who made the massive deposit withdrawals of Rp 5.67 trillion from the bank during the first three weeks in November and a few days after the bank was bailed out and put under DIC control on Nov. 21, and how the depositors were related to the bank’s shareholders and boards of management and commissioners.
We find it disturbing to learn that that members of state-owned Labor Insurance Company (Jamsostek), PT Tambang Timah tin mining company and the Sampoerna family, one of the richest in the country, were among the big depositors.
Such special audits are needed not only to find more evidence of banking crimes but, more importantly, to establish what went amiss with the central bank’s examination of Bank Century and what lessons can be learned to further improve the competence and integrity of its bank supervision department.
CHANGE IN JAPAN
The widely expected win of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in the parliamentary election is an event of great significance.
For it would not only end more than 50 years of almost unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), but also herald more promising prospects for the long-term development of Sino-Japanese relations.
The relationship between the world's second and third largest economies was frayed from time to time by the sensitive "history issue", which refers to Japan's attitude toward its wartime past of aggression. Though Japanese leaders have on different occasions expressed remorse and apologized for the immense misery Japan had inflicted on the Chinese people, no apology in written form has ever been offered to China, which casts doubt over Tokyo's sincerity.
Bilateral ties have witnessed an upward momentum since 2006, which culminated last year in the unprecedented frequency of exchange of visits, when Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Japan twice, and Japan's two prime ministers set foot on China.
The improved relationship has been achieved only after Japanese leaders - unlike former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi from 2001 to 2006 - refrained from paying homage at Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which includes World War II war criminals among the honored dead. This illustrates the weight of the history issue on China-Japan relations.
DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama, who is poised to take office, has announced that he will not visit the war shrine, seen by the Asian neighbors as a sign of Japan's militaristic past. This is a welcome promise, which has given rise to hope that the history issue, for the first time, will not remain a core issue in Sino-Japanese relations.
Yet this development does not guarantee smooth sailing for bilateral ties. Other issues ranging from the Diaoyu Islands to Japanese rightists' support for separatist forces in Tibet and Xinjiang - if not handled properly - could easily crop up and rupture the hard-won improvement in ties.
Tokyo has so far insisted that the Japan-US security treaty is applicable to China's Diaoyu Islands. It has also considered Taiwan within its "surrounding areas" in which military action might be deemed lawful under the country's pacifist constitution. The tough stance hurts mutual trust and runs counter to the spirit of a 1978 joint treaty vowing to "solve all disputes through peaceful means".
Any expectation of a drastic change in Japan's foreign policy would be unrealistic. The above-mentioned issues may continue to haunt China-Japan relations, and it requires great political wisdom on the part of leaders of both nations to prevent those issues from derailing bilateral ties.
Yukio Hatoyama told voters yesterday that the election would change Japanese history. He also has a chance to markedly advance China-Japan relations.
With relations across the Taiwan Straits improving, the new Japanese administration should clarify that Taiwan is not included in its sphere of "surrounding areas". This will help dispel mutual distrust, ease the security concern of both China and Japan and open a new chapter in the bilateral strategic relations of mutual benefit.
Some say this is a lose-lose situation for authorities on both sides of the Straits, and a win-win for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The Dalai Lama can visit Taiwan now, on a mission claimed too noble and glorious to be rejected.
Everybody knows it is a case of treating the foot when the head is aching. We wonder how much a Buddhist monk can bring to the heavily Catholic and Christian communities of southern Taiwan. We would have thought that he has been too busy to even attend to his own religious responsibilities lately, given his increasingly political globe-trotting.
That obviously does not matter to the DPP politicians. The havoc Typhoon Morakot wreaked, the worst in 50 years for the island, is an opportunity they cannot afford to let go. The excuse of having the Dalai Lama there to comfort the dead souls and pray for the survivors is too humanitarian for the Ma Ying-jeo administration to refuse.
The sinister DPP hardball did score in terms of narrow-minded political calculations. The authorities in Taiwan gave way. Those on the mainland have displayed conspicuous restraint while reiterating its consistent opposition. DPP schemers may in private rejoice over this as a fabulous homerun. People concerned about the hard-earned recent rapport across the Taiwan Straits may worry whether the fine momentum will suffer.
We, however, find comfort in the way the matter is being dealt with on the mainland. Very real comfort - in the face of a challenging dilemma, the authorities here have made a choice that will ultimately demonstrate who cares about what when our compatriots are in trouble. With the mainland offering to provide whatever it could possibly deliver to assuage the pains of the typhoon victims, the DPP has appeared more interested in turning disaster relief into a political circus.
Good for the poor victims, and for the long-term good of cross-Straits ties, the mainland has instead kept relief endeavors away from the DPP-directed political tricks. Beyond sincere concern for the typhoon victims, we see political sensitivity and strategic insight. With that, we have confidence they would not play into the hands of the DPP, whose overriding goal is to drive a wedge between the two sides of the Straits.
That the DPP hardliners ignited such a potentially explosive issue at this point again reveals their true colors as political opportunists who do not mind exploiting people's suffering for their own political ends. What surprises us is this happens in the very constituencies of the DDP.
What benefits can the victims draw from the whole farce? We cannot see any. For us, they are mere hostages of the DPP's partisan interest to carry out political blackmail. If the whole thing is to be measured in terms of winners and losers, there is no bigger loser than them.
CROSS-STRAITS RELATIONS AFTER MA’S ELECTION TO THE KMT CHAIRMANSHIP
Since Ma Ying-jeou was elected the leader of Taiwan in 2008 after eight rocky years of Democratic Progressive Party's rule led by Chen Shui-bian, the island's relationship with the Chinese mainland has changed dramatically. Ma, who advocates closer relations with Chinese mailand, reached out to Beijing and relations quickly improved.
Clearly, Taiwanese politics – and particularly the island's senior leadership – plays a key role in cross-straits relations. That makes Ma's July 26th election as chairman of the ruling Kuomintang party especially interesting.
Ma will formally succeed Wu Poh-hsiung on September 12th, and it is widely accepted that this will help create new momentum for increasing cross-straits ties. The conventional wisdom says this will strengthen Ma, by enabling him to draw more support from the KMT for his policies in the island's "Legislative Yuan," where the KMT holds a majority. In the long term, a meeting between Ma and Hu Jintao, general secretary of the Communist Party of China, as heads of the two ruling parties, may even happen.
But are these expectations realistic?
While Ma's new position will certainly enhance his power, that is not at all the same thing as an upgrade in cross-straits relations. Ma is unlikely to be more positive about cross-straits relations than Wu, or at least not dramatically so. And the main factors that restrict the development of the cross-straits relations still exist, and are unlikely to shift in the foreseeable future.
First, the basic structure of the island's political situation remains unchanged. Although the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was weakened in recent elections because of corruption cases surrounding Chen Shui-bian, the opposition still commands roughly 40 percent support within the island.
As a result their ability to interrupt the peaceful development of the cross-strait relations should not be underestimated. Unsurprisingly, the DPP has strongly criticized Ma's pro-engagement mainland policy, accusing him of trying to "sell Taiwan," and claiming that he will become a dictator like Chiang Kai-shek.
In addition, improvement of the cross-strait relations is not in line with interests of US or Japan.
It is true that the US and Japan share more interests with the mainland, especially in the current financial crisis. However, from the old perspective of cold-war thinking, the US and Japan still consider Taiwan a key link in a Southeast Asian island chain to contain the Chinese mainland.
Indeed, the two countries have done a lot to damage peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits. In October 2008, the US sold arms worth of about $6.5 billion to Taiwan in the biggest deal of its kind since 1992. The sales included the Patriot III anti-missile system, E-2T airborne early warning aircraft upgrade system, Apache helicopters, and Harpoon submarine-launched missiles.
Masaki Saito, Japan's unofficial representative in Taiwan said publicly that the status of Taiwan had not been decided yet – a statement that clearly reveals Japan's anxiety over the improvement of the cross-strait relations.
In short, Ma's election as chairman of the KMT does not address any of the major underlying obstacles to a deepening engagement between Taiwan and the mainland. Therefore, it is unlikely to accelerate improvements in cross-straits relations.
The author is a researcher of Institute of Taiwan Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
The article reflects the opinion of the author only.
THE CASE FOR A SOLID RECOVERY
Positive changes have taken place in China's economy since early this year, especially in the second quarter, as the central government's stimulus package gradually begins to pay off. We have foreseen a clear and strong recovery. If the recovery can be sustained and strengthened, the world's third largest economy can grow at 8 percent or more for the full year.
It should be pointed out, however, that the economic upswing is not yet solid or balanced.
The recovery is unstable because investment in the real economy just began to pick up without full confidence; and the current increase in consumer spending, propped up by government policies, will be affected as the combined impact of unemployment and relative income decline looms large.
The recovery is not balanced as is evident from the slow recovery of the export-oriented industries in southeastern coastal areas in contrast to the fast growth in infrastructure construction and related industries. Large State-owned enterprises and major projects financed or supported by the government enjoy abundant capital. But the majority of small- and medium-sized enterprises have difficulty in getting bank loans.
The pattern of the recovery so far is not sustainable. Huge government fiscal investment cannot last long. The large amount of credit issued since the end of last year is an expedient measure and cannot be carried on.
We should make energetic efforts to maintain stability and sustain the economic upturn, with emphasis not only on "quick" recovery but also on "sound" growth. Therefore, the following three concerns should be carefully addressed.
The first is the relationship between investment growth and consumption increase. In recent months, although consumption kept growing with a good momentum, investment growth has played a leading role in the rebound process. From January to July, urban fixed-asset investments increased by 32.9 percent - a record high in recent years. We have realized the necessity for improving the consumption rate, which is a "slow variable" involving a series of structural and institutional changes.
When the economy's downtrend stopped, the negative impact of excessive growth of investment stood exposed. Because measures to expand consumption will not take instant effect, we need to strive further to readjust the investment structure and channel government investment to the consumer demand, which, in turn, can contribute more to speeding up economic growth.
The second concern is to coordinate the relationship between expanding domestic demand and stabilizing external markets. Expanding domestic demand is a long-term basic principle with which we have persisted. This crisis exposed our high reliance on external demand and severe impact of such reliance on our real economy. The rising savings rate and a corresponding decline in consumption rate in the US are structural factors that will diminish our external demand in future. So it is imperative to continue to boost domestic consumption as a long-term strategy, which would cushion the impact of plunging exports.
Making good use of two markets and two resources is also a long-term principle we must adhere to, irrespective of the impact of the crisis. Strategic planning and arrangements should be established in order to adapt to the post-crisis international environment, make good use of external resources and markets, accelerate economic restructuring, transition and upgrading, and substantially improve international competitiveness of national products, industry and the overall economy. In the short term, a stable and rising external demand will play an important role in reducing uncertainty and excessive reliance on investment growth in the current recovery.
The third concern is how to reach the targeted growth rate while creating enough jobs and ensuring social stability. In fighting the international financial crisis, we should give top priority to ensure economic growth, considering that a fall in growth rate would probably lead to closure of numerous firms, massive unemployment and social instability. The problem may worsen in the absence of a sound social security system in China.
It is vital to achieve a certain level of economic growth. What's more important is to create enough jobs, ensure social stability and protect the environment.
It should be noted that maintaining a steady and fast economic growth does not necessarily bring enough employment opportunities. Not many jobs will be created if more funds and resources are poured into capital-intensive industries, big businesses, and major projects or even some bubble-creating asset fields involving less labor demand. Therefore, more capital should be encouraged to flow into small- and medium-sized enterprises in the real economy where it can promote more employment and greater social stability.
Excerpts from a lecture to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress by the author, who is Vice-President and Senior Research Fellow, Development Research Center of the State Council.
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