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Friday, September 4, 2009

EDITORIAL 04.09.09

September 04, 2009

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Month September 04, Edition 000289, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

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2.      THE JOKE’S ON US































































2.      LEFT OUT













































































The death of Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy of Andhra Pradesh in a helicopter crash is a tragedy not just for the State or for the Congress but for Indian public life. Reddy’s helicopter deviated from its flight path and experienced a fatal accident in the thick Nallamalla forests in Kurnool district. Heavy rainfall, which reduced visibility to near zero, and the likelihood of lightning having struck the aircraft have been identified as among the reasons for the crash. The truth, including the airworthiness or otherwise of the helicopter, will be known in a few days. Whatever the result of the investigation though, it will not bring back Reddy, or ‘YSR’, as he was popularly known. There are few Chief Ministers who genuinely deserve the sobriquet of ‘State strongman’. YSR was one such. He was the face and the unchallenged leader of his party in the State, having revived a moribund entity — which had lost two successive elections — and leading it to a tremendous triumph in the 2004 Assembly election, and then to re-election earlier this summer. In his five years as Chief Minister, Reddy was the very embodiment of a mature politician. He was not vindictive — as Chief Ministers in, say, neighbouring Tamil Nadu have been known to be. He recognised elements of his predecessor’s achievements were worth embracing, and gladly did so. After initial attempts to talk to the Maoists, he realised they were no more than ideologically-driven hoodlums who wanted the total destruction of Andhra Pradesh’s economic edifice and the exile of, for example, all American IT companies. With a single-mindedness that had eluded previous Chief Ministers, Reddy gave the Greyhounds, Andhra Pradesh’s anti-Maoist commando force, free rein. In a matter of months, the People’s War Group and its guerrilla army had been decimated and key local commanders and mobilisers had been eliminated. The YSR model is now being scaled up and adopted in anti-Maoist operations elsewhere in the country.

As a business-friendly Chief Minister, Reddy was not very different from Mr N Chandrababu Naidu. He was intelligent enough not to make that his sole calling card. Indeed, he complemented his economic policies with some fairly impressive social sector programmes. A medical doctor by training, he introduced the Rajiv Arogya Sri health insurance scheme in the State, offering people living below the poverty line access to treatment in private and Government hospitals and covering about 900 diseases. The Government paid the premium and expensive surgeries suddenly became accessible to ordinary people. The Rajiv Arogya Sri scheme is today seen as a building block of a potential national health insurance plan. It is fairly unusual for a Chief Minister to leave his mark on both national security and health policy. Reddy was a rare achiever.

YSR turned 60 only two months ago. He was young by the standards of Indian politics and expected to dominate the Congress in his State for many years. As such, and so soon after his re-election, his party had not even thought of a succession plan. Given this, whoever succeeds him will be stepping into outsize shoes. The advantage he will have is YSR’s legacy — a mandate that has four-and-a-half years to run, Opposition parties that are on the ropes, and no Maoists to bother about. Few soldiers can do better service to a political party. Notwithstanding odd charges of favouritism and of condoning political violence is his native Kadapa, Reddy has left the stage with a near impeccable record. India will miss him.







Those of us who have grown up reading Tintin comics will remember the fantastic exploits of the young reporter and his dog Snowy — Milou in French — who travelled around the world fighting gangsters, thieves, and draconian political regimes. Whether it was Tintin trying to expose a gang of currency counterfeiters operating out of a Scottish isle or his tussles with the criminal mastermind Rastapopoulos or his encounter with extra-terrestrial intelligent beings, comic books spun around him were a fun mix of humour and satire. So, when Congolese accountant Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo accuses Tintin comic books of promoting racism, particularly in the context of Tintin in The Congo, and claims that they are propaganda for colonialism and amount to xenophobia, one finds it difficult to justify this position. Mr Mondondo has cited the depiction of Tintin’s Black helper boy in Congo as ‘stupid’ and ‘without any qualities’ to shore up his claim. It was two years ago when the accountant had first filed a case in Belgium — Tintin’s home — demanding symbolic damages of one Euro from Tintin’s Belgian publishers and that Tintin in The Congo be withdrawn from the market. It is when the Belgian justice system did not take his case seriously that Mr Mondondo, now claiming a political conspiracy to protect one of Belgium’s national symbols, has decided to launch a parallel legal proceeding in France and vowed to go all the way up to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.

The entire controversy regarding Tintin essentially boils down to whether the creator of the comic book series Georges Remi — or Hergé as his nom de plume went — intended Tintin in The Congo to be a subtle commentary on race as he perceived it. But this is something that is almost impossible to tell. If we are digging for a controversy one could, in the same vein, claim that Remi was a chauvinist given that he decided to name a dog after his childhood sweetheart. But these are things that only a detailed research of Remi and his works may throw some light on — if one is interested that is. But to say that Tintin in some way promotes racism and that one of the books should be withdrawn is way off the mark. If anything, the entire episode smacks of sensationalism. Mr Mondondo, it would appear, has a lot of time on his hands and, therefore, has decided to project himself as a Black rights activist by targeting a comic book. Nothing could be more hilarious. Given his sense of humour, we only hope that Mr Mondondo has a flourishing accountancy business to make up for it.







The allegation that Muslim men entice Hindu women into marriage for reasons other than love and as part of an Islamist conspiracy is usually dismissed as insidious Sangh Parivar communal propaganda. But a recent chance investigation by Kerala Police has brought out some ugly details.

The August 31 issue of Kerala’s foremost newspaper, Malayala Manorama, carried an extensive report on how a Pakistan-based terrorist organisation is planning, abetting and financing the enticement of college students from different communities in the State to become cannon fodder for its jihad in India. The report terms such young women as ‘love bombs’.

The modus operandi is very clever. Muslim youth in Kerala are employed by the terrorists to entice these young women. Handsome and dashing young men are selected and fully financed to have cars, motorbikes, the most expensive clothes and lots of cash. Their job is to move in groups, select their prey and then get the women to elope with them on the promise of marriage and a great life abroad.

After days of romancing, the women begin to believe that they have found their ‘Prince Charming’. Once they elope, a marriage is registered before a notary and then the woman is whisked away from place to place. The victim thinks that she has to undergo this to evade her parents who would be searching for her.

Hide-outs include places like Hyderabad that have a significant Muslim population. The victim is not allowed contact with any outsider and is subjected to propaganda videos that eulogise jihad and promise the ultimate victory of Islam. Though the racket has been going on for some years and several complaints of missing girls have been lodged with Kerala Police, the latter has ignored them, saying that the women had actually eloped out of their free will and, therefore, they could not do anything.

The racket came to light when one of the victims turned out to be the daughter of a ranking police officer and another somehow managed to send word to her parents about the reality of her situation. The parents in the second case approached the High Court with a habeas corpus petition that led the court to order the police to produce the victim before it. The plea that the woman had eloped on her own and that she was now legally married did not convince the court and it ordered that she be allowed to stay with her parents for a week before it again examined the case. After a week, the woman told the court the truth.

The police have now discovered a kidnapping racket to provide recruits to Pakistani terror outfits through ‘Love Jihad’. Further investigations have revealed that all over India some 4,000 young women have been recruited in this manner to be trained against their will as terrorists and suicide bombers. In Kerala alone the police suspect that over 500 women have fallen victim to the ‘Love Jihad’ racket.

According to the Thiruvananthapuram victim who gave a statement before Justice R Basant of the Kerala High Court, Islamist gangs have been freely operating without the police or intelligence agencies getting even a whiff a their activities. The operation is extremely well organised with several households and ‘safe houses’ ready to accommodate the unsuspecting women and their so-called husbands.

If jihadi outfits in Pakistan have been able to abduct and train as many as 4,000 Indian women for terror operations over the last several years, it speaks very poorly of our intelligence apparatus. The prevailing political environment that treats the perpetrators of jihadi violence with kid gloves is equally to blame, if not more.

A report from Hyderabad in the Indian Express on August 28 said that Mujeeb Ahmed, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1994 for waging war against the state and shooting an Assistant Superintendent of Police, was released under a special remission scheme in 2004. He then went underground and, as subsequently established by the IB and CID, he became an active member of the Hizbul Mujahideen and the ISI, and was a member of the first terror cell in Andhra Pradesh.

It was Rajasthan Police’s discovery of rifles, detonators and explosive material in a truck in Ajmer that led to the arrest of Mujeeb once again. He was charged with procuring arms from Pakistan to launch terror attacks in Hyderabad. This jihadi has now been convicted for sedition and terrorism.

Despite the fact that Mujeeb went back to being a full-fledged terrorist after his release on compassionate grounds, the Andhra Pradesh Government is now planning to release some 984 life convicts, many of whom have been charged with similar crimes as Mujeeb’s. The Indian Express report quotes police officers who have revealed that the State Government neither consulted the IB nor the State police before the list of convicts to be released was prepared. Like Mujeeb, a person who was arrested a decade ago for trying to carry out terror attacks in this country will now easily go back to being an active jihadi once he is freed.

That the jihadi cancer is widespread and eating into the vitals of our country is now becoming evident day by day. The Union Government makes all the right noises in acknowledging this cancer. But when it comes to taking action, the Government backs out. We should all watch out for the Centre’s reaction to the revelation of the abduction of thousands of girls for terror-training. And, finally, where are all the women’s rights activists who had painted the country red following the sponsored attack on an obscure pub in Mangalore by the self-styled Sri Ram Sene?







The Delhi High Court’s ruling that information about judges’ assets cannot be kept concealed and it must be disclosed to any citizen seeking the information under the Right to Information Act is remarkable. The historic verdict further held that the office of the Chief Justice of India is a “public authority” and it cannot enjoy special exemption from the RTI Act.

Despite opposition from a section of judges, the High Court went ahead with the ruling describing the transparency law as “powerful beacon”. This bold decision by the court will undoubtedly go a long way in uplifting the sagging image of the Indian judiciary.

It was hard to fathom any rationale behind the specious views expressed by certain Supreme Court judges that the RTI Act should never be applicable to them as unveiling information regarding the personal wealth of judges could undermine the independence of the judiciary.

Why should the sovereign thoughts of a judge be affected if his or her wealth is made public under the RTI Act? On the contrary, the law for public declaration of personal assets of a judge is likely to act as a potent deterrent against the proliferation of corruption within the judiciary. The level of public trust in the fiduciary obligation of our legal system has dwindled significantly in recent times for more reasons than one. In 2003, a Delhi High Court judge was put in jail for his involvement in the Delhi Development Authority land scam case. Then a judge in the Calcutta High Court was charged for misappropriation of court funds. He now faces impeachment. Earlier this year, the CBI caught two Supreme Court registry employees red-handed taking bribes for listing a case. There can be no reason to imagine that every member sitting at the highest level of our judiciary would somehow remain completely insulated from the decay in the system.

Moreover, judges are paid by the Government of India and they too are public servants. Even political leaders, under the ambit of the RTI Act, have to disclose their personal assets before elections.

Further, in my view, retired judges should not be immune from revealing their assets to the public. Just like the sitting judges, retired judges must also be held accountable if they are found to have accumulated disproportionate amounts of wealth.

A fair and unbiased judicial system is the basic foundation of democracy and plays a pivotal role for building of a successful nation.








After the announcement of the Maharashtra Assembly election schedule, political parties are bracing up for the battle to rule the State. For the last 10 years the Congress-NCP combine has been in power and after the May 2009 Lok Sabha election success the Congress seems upbeat, hoping for a third term in the Assembly. The election is slated for October 13.

Maharashtra is an important State not only because it is India’s financial hub but also because the State sends 48 MPs to the Lok Sabha. The State Assembly has 288 seats. And that is why on one side the Congress-NCP alliance, despite their initial differences on whether there would be an alliance or the two parties would go alone, is hoping to make a comeback while on the other the BJP-Shiv Sena coalition will try hard to get the throne back they lost 10 years back to the Congress.

Political equations have changed in the State in the last five years. The Congress is over-confident, the NCP is apprehensive, the BJP is demoralised and the Shiv Sena has faced split. Mr Raj Thackeray’s MNS has eaten into the vote-share of the Shiv Sena in the 2009 Lok Sabha election. Though the MNS could not manage to win a single seat, it got about 10 lakhs votes, which apparently caused the shrink in the Shiv Sena’s vote-share. Ambitious Raj Thackeray is now planning to contest 100 Assembly seats and is also open to alliances with smaller regional parties. The battlelines are drawn now with Balasaheb Thackeray throwing his weight behind his son Uddhav Thackeray.

One of the major factors in the Maharashtra election, Dalit politics, is also in shambles. The Ambedkarite movement is in a bad shape. All the three leaders of the Republican parties have lost the elections. Mr Ramdas Athawale of Republican Party of India, Mr Rajendra Gawai, son of Kerala Governor RS Gawai, and Mr Prakash Ambedkar all lost in the Lok Sabha election.

Relations between the Sena and the BJP are not so cosy after the BJP master strategist Pramod Mahajan’s death. Within the BJP all is not well as differences have cropped up between the State chief Nitin Gadkari and general secretary Gopinath Munde. The BJP has no leader of stature in the State. Moreover, there is an atmosphere of gloom in the BJP in view of the crisis at the national level. Despite all this, the two parties have quietly worked out an understanding to contest the Assembly polls. The Shiv Sena will contest 177 of the 288 seats while the BJP will fight the rest.

The Congress-NCP combine is in advantageous position but barely so because they are the incumbant. The Opposition is in disarray. The Congress is flexing its muscles after its better showing in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. Based on that it wants to contest more number of Assembly seats while the NCP is not agreeable to this formula. The trust between the two partners had never been smooth despite sharing power for the last 10 years.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar continues to remain the supreme leader of the party while there is fight for the second slot including Mr Ajit Pawar, Mr Chagan Bhujwel and Mr RR Patil. Mr Pawar too had lost some of his close lieutenants like Mr Datta Mehge due to internal power struggle. For him it is a do-or-die battle. If his party loses, his flock will desert him. The best case scenario for Mr Pawar is to improve the performance of his party or at least keep the status quo to survive. After all the NCP has three Ministers at the Centre and shares power in the State. The NCP has become a national party and has shared power in other States like Goa and Meghalaya.

Though it is likely that the Congress and the NCP will contest as a coalition, it is asking the NCP to acknowledge the changed ground realities after the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, in which the Congress won 17 seats to the NCP’s seven. The Congress wants the 2009 Assembly election formula to reflect this.

Besides Congress-NCP and Sena-BJP alliances, many small parties also have cobbled up to form a ‘Third Front’ in which around 20 parties and factions have joined. They have decided to contest all the 288 seats in the State.

According to a pre-poll survey conducted by the NCP, there is likely to be a close fight between the Congress-NCP combine and the Sena-BJP front. The Congress-NCP combine got 3.72 per cent votes more than the Sena-BJP combine in the Lok Sabha election. A slight turn-around in the poll percentage may ruin the chances for the Congress and the NCP as even together they are barely ahead.

For now, more than the Congress and anyone else it is Mr Pawar who has much at stake. Only an alliance with the Congress can help him come back to power. He does not seem ready for a merger which is being talked about by some Congress leaders. Neither will he do anything that puts the Congress off. On the other hand, even the Congress knows that for the party the way to power in Maharashtra goes through the corridors of Mr Pawar.








Of all the many scholars, historians and journalists who have written on the partition, no one has fully dealt with the Muslim League’s proposals. For example, how League leaders earnestly wanted an exchange of populations. The Dawn, a daily founded by the Quaid-e-Azam, in its columns through out 1946/47, again and again carried the statements of his colleagues. The journal was published from Delhi until partition and then moved to Karachi which is still its base.

While addressing legislators in Patna on April 8, 1946 Sir Feroze Khan Noon, who later became the Prime Minister of Pakistan, threatened to re-enact the murderous orgies of Chengiz Khan and Halaqu Khan if non-Muslims adopted an obstructive attitude against population exchange. Ismail Chundrigar, who also eventually rose to be the Prime Minister, had said in the same context that the British had no right to hand over Muslims to a subject people over whom they had ruled for 500 years. Mohammed Ismail, a leader from Madras, had declared that the Muslims of India were in the midst of ajihad. Shaukat Hayat Khan, son of the Punjab Premier, Sir Sikander Hayat, had threatened a rehearsal of what the Muslims would do to the Hindus eventually. The point that came through clearly was that transfer of populations was an integral part of the demand for Pakistan.

Khan Iftikhar Hussain of Mamdot, president of the Punjab Muslim League, had said that the exchange of populations offered a very practical solution for the problem of the Muslims (reported by the Dawn, December 3, 1946). Pir Ilahi Bux, the Sindhi leader, had said that he welcomed an exchange of populations for the safety of the minorities, as it would put an end to all communal disturbances, as reported by the Dawn on December 4, 1946. So also felt Raja Ghazanfar Ali who later became Pakistan’s envoy to New Delhi. On December 19, 1946, Dawn reported his having asked for the alteration of the population map of India.

At a Press conference which he addressed in Karachi on November 25, 1946 Jinnah had reiterated his anxiety by stating that the exchange of populations question must be taken up immediately by the Central as well as Provincial Governments. The issue was so much on the mind of the Muslim leaders that in the Dawn’s edition dated December 3, 1946 Sindh Premier Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah offered to provide land for mohajirs from Uttar Pradesh.

The idea of hijrat came more naturally to the Muslims than others. Prophet Mohammed himself had set the example by migrating from Mecca to Medina. Incidentally, the Islamic calendar is called hijri because it begins on the day of Prophet’s hijrat. By 1920, it was being realised that despite the ‘khilafat movement’, led by Mahatma Gandhi and Maulana Mohammad Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali, would fail to save the Caliph from being dethroned in Turkey. There was then little hope of India again becoming a Dar-ul-Islam which it was considered until 1857 when Bahadur Shah Zafar was the emperor. As a consequence, several lakh Muslims undertook a hijrat to Afghanistan and 20,000 of them actually succeeded in settling in that country.

The League leaders must also have been aware that in pursuance of the Turko-Bulgarian Convention of 1913, Muslim Bulgarians were re-settled in Turkey and many Turks were transferred to Bulgaria. This also took place on a much larger scale between Turkey and Greece under the Treaty of Lausanne signed on January 30, 1923 under the auspices of the League of Nations. Incidentally, Viceroy Lord Curzon presided over the population committee of the League of Nations. Former Vice-Chancellor M Mujeeb of Jamia Millia Islamia had an interesting experience which he narrates in his book Islamic Influence on Indian Society. At the UN General Assembly Session in 1949 he happened to be seated next to the Turkish representative. Seeing Mujeeb’s name, the Turkish representative at once asked: Are there still any Muslims in India? He thought that the sub-continent had been divided between Muslims and Hindus, with all Muslims on one side and Hindus on the other.

Prof M Mujeeb in his book Indian Muslims clarified the issue: If Jinnah was sincere in regarding the Muslims as a separate nation and demanding separate territory for them, it was his obvious and inescapable moral duty to define the boundaries of Pakistan. He should also have realised that a transfer of populations would be inevitable.

The demand for a transfer of populations is clearly mentioned in the official record called The Transfer of Power 1942-47 by Nicholas Mansergh and Penderel Moon. Jinnah stated: “I am not fighting for Muslims, believe me, when I demand Pakistan. Pakistan and Hindustan alone will mean freedom to both Hindus and Muslims.” He went on with a direct reference to the disturbances when he said: “The exchange of populations will have to be considered seriously.”

In his Pakistan or the Partition of India, 1940, BR Ambedkar recognised the problem of the transfer of populations and went on to quote its solution in Europe. He had studied the experience of Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. He stressed that the exchanges had worked and recommended their repetition in the Indian sub-continent.

Yet there has been an eerie silence on this all important subject.








On September 1, 2004, The North Caucasus town of Beslan became know to the world for a tragic reason. A terrorist group took hostage 1,128 people who gathered at a local school on that day; two days later, 319 hostages including 187 children were killed in the storming of the building. Hundreds of schoolchildren and their relatives were injured.

The predictable blamestorming resulted in an administrative change. The Kremlin began appointing regional governors, rather than electing as before, thus taking full responsibility for the distribution of forces in North Caucasus republics. Special services closed ranks, too: New anti-terrorist divisions began working more effectively; the masterminds of the Beslan attack were killed or sentenced to life in prison.

But can we announce a decisive victory over terrorism? The long list of terrorist attacks committed in the North Caucasus in the past few years suggests not. Some stabilisation has been registered in Chechnya, and the counter-terrorist operation was lifted there in April. However, the number of terrorist attacks in the area has recently grown. Local terrorists have re-adopted the practice of using suicide bombers: On July 26, one of them tried to plant a bomb in a Grozny concert hall, but had to set it off during a personal security check, killing himself and several police officers.

Moreover, this increase in violence is spreading to other North Caucasus republics. In Ingushetia, 107 people were killed and nine kidnapped between January and mid-May. The most high-profile attack was against the republic’s president, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, who barely survived the attempt on his life. Several Ingush officials were killed this summer, including the Construction Minister, Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Court, and former Deputy Prime Minister, Bashir Aushev. A police department was blown up in Nazran. The list is even longer, and more victims might follow.

In Dagestan, underground Islamic groups have started a massive hunt for officials and police and security officers. They get killed there almost every day. In June, a sniper shot a local interior department head. Apart from local officials, terrorists also target other undesirable activists. Natalya Estemirova, who worked for the Chechen branch of the Memorial Human Rights Centre, was killed recently in a high-profile attack. She monitored the situation in various ‘hot spots’ in the North Caucasus and reported her observations of growing violence to the international community.

Both federal and local authorities have been fighting separatism, religious extremism, and terrorism in the North Caucasus for one and half decades, but they aren’t reaching the underlying reasons of these phenomena.

The reasons might seem obvious, especially the economic ones. The old federal targeted programme for the development of southern Russia in 2002 through 2006 was not very effective, as admitted by Alexander Torshin, head of the parliamentary commission on Beslan.

The Southern Federal District is still far behind the other constituent entities of Russia in terms of social and economic indicators. For example, the unemployed account for 30 per cent of residents in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, and for up to 80 per cent in the republic’s mountainous areas. In Ingushetia, unemployment reaches 53 per cent, in Kabardino-Balkaria 27 per cent, Karachai-Circassia 20 per cent, and Adygea 16 per cent.

In Chechnya, only every third resident has a job, while it is obvious that unemployment creates a nourishing environment for terrorism.

Other important reasons for instability in southern Russian regions include obsolete structures for local economies, ineffective Government systems, flagrant discrepancies between social and economic classes, lack of highly qualified personnel, and most importantly, historic interethnic and clan differences.

President Dmitry Medvedev said at a Stavropol meeting on the situation in the region on August 19, “The main problem is, sadly, rooted in our country. You know exactly when conditions for the development of crime and religious extremism were established: Following the disintegration of the state. The roots of the problem are in the makeup of our lives: In unemployment, poverty, in clans who don’t give a damn about the people, but simply divide the cash flow arriving here among themselves, who fight for contracts and then with each other to settle scores, and in corruption which, indeed, has become very widespread within law enforcement agencies too.”

Corrupt officials also contribute to local tensions. Valery Gizoyev, deputy head of the North Ossetian parliamentary committee for law, legality and local self-government, said, “All financial injections intended to boost the North Caucasus economy are ineffective because of corruption. Part of the money might even go to the militants.”

According to analyst Svetlana Lipina, “The clan and corporate elite in power, ethnic-related in most cases, have monopolised the political and economic resources and established informal procedures for making political and administrative decisions. Can’t this be the reason why all attempts to solve North Caucasus problems by economic measures have produced no real solution?”

There are several important lessons to be learnt from the Beslan tragedy. Terrorism should be fought valiantly and consistently. The old knot of problems in the Caucasus should be disentangled with care rather than simply cut; it needs to be undone patiently, consistently and cleverly.

The writer is a political affairs columnist based in Moscow.







Uttarakhand, with its lush green hills, gurgling streams and brooks, seems an idyllic land where human beings live in harmony with nature. According to records, there were more than hundred brooks flowing through. But not anymore. Rivers across this pristine land are no more the full-flowing, life-giving waters rushing down from the Himalayas. For the last one decade, there is an entire new cycle in place. Scanty rainfall, hill streams and brooks are drying up and ancient water sources are getting depleted. Construction of mega dams in Tanakpur, on the India-Nepal border in Tehri, have contributed to pollution, all of which is taking its toll and destroying the very basis of life in the hills.

Last year, while water discharge in the Tauns river (local name for the Ganga) was 392 cumecs, this year it has shrunk to 129 cumecs. At Manerbhali, Garwhal region, in August 2008, the discharge in the Yamuna was 539 cumecs which has now gone down to 306 cumecs. What does this persistent drying up of rivers portend for a land and its people for whom water is the basis for life?

The sluggishness of the Ganga and the Sharada is symptomatic of a deeper change that is taking place, in response to which there seems to be little or no awareness by the Government to even understand the intensity of the problem, leave alone to confront this disturbing phenomenon. The rather knee-jerk solution by the Government and NGOs then remains myopic, limited and revolves around two things which are a carry-forward from previous times and have run the course of efficacy. This involves taking water from a given water source through pipelines laid across the region connecting villages. The second line of action is the installation of a line of hand pumps along roads. It seems of little consequence to the authorities that the water in these pipelines now comes in spurts and sometimes does not come at all. Or that the hand pumps which were once a lifeline are now drawing up polluted water.

Lok Kalyan Samiti, an NGO working in Bageshwar district, ran some tests on the available drinking water in various panchayats which threw up some very hard-hitting facts. The water from about 90 sources across the region was found unfit for drinking. Though the hand pumps were fitted with filters, it was not enough to make the water safe for human consumption. Interestingly, in many of these cases, the source of pollution itself were the hand pumps!


The crisis is unprecedented in the hill State. Bhaguli Devi, the village pradhan of Baijnath Dham, a place of tourist interest, says, “There is no scheme for swajal in our village, nor is any initiative by the Government for providing water to us. The villagers are occupied the whole day collecting water from the river and sources in neighbouring villages.”

Waterborne diseases like jaundice and typhoid caused by polluted drinking water are spreading. The primary health centre in Garud block in Baijnath district registered close to 1,500 patients in the last three months reportedly suffering from effects of water pollution.

Unfortunately the development path adopted in the State does not pay much attention to this looming crisis. The problem is compounded by mindless activities by the local population. Plastics and other waste material from markets and houses are disposed off without impunity and these not only pollute but also choke the rivers all along.

Somewhere the priority has changed amongst people who once cherished rivers for their pure and pristine life-giving waters. Gradual clogging of our rivers are a tragic living testimony to this. Where does the answer lie? With Government efforts to clean up big rivers proving to be ineffective, how can the conditions of smaller streams and rivers of rural areas be improved?









The untimely death of Y S Rajashekhar Reddy, in extremely tragic circumstances, is a body blow to the Congress. Reddy had built a formidable reputation as a grassroots politician, organiser and administrator during a remarkable political career extending over three decades. His successor as chief minister of Andhra Pradesh has a tough act to follow.

Reddy stood apart from his peers on account of his record in electoral politics. Few Congress leaders have won two consecutive assembly elections in recent times. In 2004, Reddy, with his padyatra and mass contact programmes, led the Congress to success in Andhra Pradesh after nine years in opposition. He retained office in 2009, even though with a reduced margin and helped by a fragmentation of opposition votes. More importantly, he ensured that Congress swept the Lok Sabha election in the state as well. In the past two general elections, Andhra Pradesh contributed the maximum number of Congress MPs, 29 in 2004 and 33 in 2009. Put simply, the UPA would have found it difficult to gain office at the Centre but for its remarkable success in Andhra. The party's central leadership rightly credited Reddy for scripting these victories against all odds.

What explains Reddy's success? He recognised the importance of mass politics and the party organisation. He was constantly on the move to connect with people and endorse government schemes, lending them a personal touch. He recognised the necessity of the many initiatives that Chandrababu Naidu, his predecessor as CM, undertook especially building urban infrastructure and facilitating new economy enterprises and continued with them. But he knew that the rural hinterland dictated electoral outcomes and that agrarian distress could be neglected only at great political cost.


The focus on irrigation projects, health care, public utilities and welfare schemes indicated that he had learned from Naidu's success and failure. Reddy was representative of the contradictions that characterise many successful Indian politicians: popular but authoritarian with a record of using violence to stifle opposition, efficient administrator but indifferent to norms of transparency and accountability in governance. These qualities clearly helped him to emerge as an undisputed leader in an otherwise faction-ridden party. In many ways, he resembled the state satraps of the Congress of the 1950s and 1960s who were leaders on their own terms.

Andhra Congress is not short on leaders, but it will be tough for the party to find a replacement who can match Reddy's charisma. The primary task is to keep the party together and ensure a smooth transition so that governance doesn't suffer. Stability at the top helped the government to keep issues like Maoist violence and Telangana separatism under control. With 42 Lok Sabha seats, Andhra Pradesh is one of the key states that influence government formation at the Centre. The Congress can't afford to let go the advantage it had under YSR.







A buzzword of the internet era is convergence. The idea that print, television and computers could come together over the internet to create a true transmedia experience has been trumpeted for a long time. Now, with the release of an ambitious new novel by the creator of a hit American TV series, that dream is coming true. The new book is what the author calls a 'digi-novel' and has, after every 20 pages, a code that can be used by readers to logon to a website to watch three-minute videos that will advance the narrative to the next chapter. At the same interactive Web extension of the book, readers will find a true crime blog to read while discussing the story and potentially contributing to a sequel.

In recent years, many television shows in the western world have developed strong online extensions to advance the story or explore hidden angles. Popular shows like 'Lost' and 'Heroes', for instance, have comic strips, Web videos and hidden clues to keep fans busy off-season. And an American weekly recently found a way to use video advertisements in print. But this goes a step further, because each medium is used to further the narrative.

With new gadgets, this experience could become even more commonplace. Right now, the only frictionless way to consume the digi-novel is to download an application on to iPods and iPhones. But with more consumers using e-book readers, even though the current generation of e-book readers does not support video, future devices will probably be able to stream motion pictures. Then, this kind of product, one that combines print, television and internet, will be consumed seamlessly.

How this will impact the audience is anybody's guess. In this particular project, the reader's engagement with the novel could reach another level. It is, after all, one thing to be limited to one's own imagination when it comes to grisly crimes being committed and quite another to see them play out in technicolour. Reading a book can often be a passive experience but the Web enables interaction with authors, giving readers the opportunity to provide feedback, discuss developments with other fans, even influence the further development of the storyline. With lifestyles and consumer habits changing all the time, cross-platform looks like the way to go.








On Twitter, the message is the thing. The medium is not the message, contrary to Canadian media scholar Marshall McLuhan's theory more than a generation ago that the meaning of a message is shaped and controlled by the medium in which it is embedded. On television, for example, the news sometime ago about the sex scandal in Kashmir provoking chief minister Omar Abdullah's impulsive offer to resign would have given us a different feeling and perception about the troubled Valley's political problems than if the story had been read in a newspaper. Call it the filtering effect, which in Twitter is minimal.

Twitter is unique. If you can't compose your thoughts in 140 characters, the maximum length allowed in Twitter, try something else. Buy an ad page, write a blog or stand up on a soapbox and harangue the world. In Twitter, the message dominates the medium and thus can carry an awesome punch, the impact of a direct force. ''Marg bar dictator!'' they chanted and tweeted and YouTubed ("Death to the dictator") in Farsi and English in Tehran in recent post-election rallies protesting the reported rigging that re-elected Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iranian president.

We saw how last November mobile Mumbaikars tweeted in real time about the Pakistani terrorist attack that killed 163 people, an event that highlighted the unprecedented role of new social media in our daily lives. And, in fact, tweeting about the Mumbai attack has become an important case study on American campuses.

"There's a plane in the Hudson. I'm on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy," tweeted Janis Krums on January 15 with the photo of the US Airlines that had belly-landed on the Hudson River, not far from New York's LaGuardia airport where the plane was struck by a bird. Before news media crew could get to the scene, Americans were stunned watching the rescue of passengers tweet-picture by tweet-picture, ferry by ferry.

From cybercasting ethnic riots in China's Uighur and Iran's cheating mullahs to accidents, from airing personal grievances to promoting business and services, people are using Twitter in myriad ways. But if you tweet publicly, be careful. Someone might feel offended and file a defamation suit. That happened to a Chicago tenant Amanda Bonnen who tweeted, ''Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it's okay.''


She was complaining about a water leak that had occurred in March making her apartment mouldy which Horizon Group Management, the realty company, had failed to fix. America is a litigious society and Horizon asked for $50,000 in damages, but whether the court takes it seriously or not is another matter especially when everyone from janitors to senators and Hollywood celebrities is urging us: Follow me on Twitter. Celebrities, who can't tweet, hire ghost Twitterers. But some do it themselves and get into trouble, as with Courtney Love.

Courtney Love, an American rock musician who was married to the grunge band Nirvana's singer-guitarist Kurt Cobain, tweeted against her clothes designer about excessive billing for custom clothing. She fumed in her shrill irreverent ungrammatical rant, ''oi vey don't f--- with my wardrobe or you will end up in a circle of corched eaeth hunted til your dead.'' Last March, Dawn Simorangkir, the clothes designer, filed a suit against Courtney in Los Angeles superior court for defamation, invasion of privacy and emotional distress, making it one of the myriad free speech (First Amendment) cases regarding the emerging social media. "The law is an ass" and can hit anyone with any leg at anytime, so a business should be careful before suing anyone.


The power of Twitter comes from its brevity and, as it evolves, it becomes a mass organising tool as well as a global listening post for the collective brain of a community. One reason why Barack Obama's presidential campaign was so successful against all odds was the deft use of social media including YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, MySpace,, LinkedIn and many others, which helped him raise millions of dollars to fund his political campaign. His message through the social media reached the younger tech-savvy mobile generation and his campaign kept the sites updated with the latest videos, photos and campaign messages.

Since entering the White House, Obama has continued to be in a political campaign mode, out of habit and out of necessity, especially when struggling to have his massive health reform Bill passed by Congress. Apart from hopping from one town hall meeting to another, he asks people on his website 'Organizing For America' to "Tweet Your Senator" and urge them to pass the health insurance reform measure that would guarantee health benefits to all Americans, something as revolutionary as the social security scheme passed by Franklin Roosevelt after the Great Depression. When people tweet, powers that be corporations, politicians, democrats or autocrats must heed their voices.


The writer is professor, communications and diplomacy, Norwich University, US.






Shabnam Virmani has been immersed for the last six years in the Kabir project a series of journeys in quest of the 15th century mystic. As part of the project, she has directed four documentary films, edited several music CDs and books, and is currently working on creating a Web-museum of Kabir poetry & music with folk singer communities. She tells Amrith Lal that Kabir has a message for all of us:

What made you take up this encyclopedic work on Kabir?

Actually the impulse was not to do a comprehensive survey, but to strategically bring forth the multiplicity of Kabirs, to underline the fact that so many different identities relate powerfully to the very same poet, often competing identities Hindu-Muslim, India-Pakistan, secular-sacred, folk-classical, East-West...

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. The films are being screened extensively along with live music concerts. So the singer friends we made on these journeys are now travelling with us to events organised by universities, NGOs, activist groups, cultural and spiritual organisations in villages and cities across India, Pakistan and the US.

How relevant is Kabir for us today?

Kabir is relevant certainly at a surface level because he asks us to rise above religion and caste and all the divisive identities afflicting society today. I think he has a deeper message for all of us, not just those communal minded people who riot and kill. He asks all of us to self-interrogate, to recognise the subtle dishonesties and violence concealed in all of us, on the basis of which we prop up our insecure egos through a sense of superiority and exclusion of some other.

His ruthless investigation of our paltry identity props can be devastating, if we are willing to listen. Not just Kabir, so many mystics have said this. Bulle Shah said famously ''Bulla ki jaana mein kaun?" At a time when society is erupting all around us with confident and acrimonious assertions of identity, a Sufi is saying he doesn't even know who he is! This is a profound "not-knowing". This deep sense of uncertainty about who we are is very healthy. It's the only thing that can lead to compassion, dialogue, and a way forward.

How diverse is the Kabir tradition?

Extremely diverse. He is in dialogue with so many - the Sikhs, the Kabir Panthis, the Sufis, the Buddhists, upper caste Hindus, Vedantis, Dalits, folk singers, classical singers, believers, non-believers, illiterate, educated...

What explains Kabir's popularity, cutting across time, caste, class, region and religion?

I think we are all relieved to be reminded that we are vaster than this small, constricted self. The burden of a heavy identity we carried around with us suddenly seems to lift. Because even as that identity gives us a seeming sense of comfort and security, it also gives us a lot of pain. It's a lot of hard work isn't it, to keep defending it, fighting for it, keeping it alive?







Mind it! If Quick Gun Murugun comes can Bang-Bang Bongopadhya be far behind? The huge success of QGM the rasum roughrider and udipi uberhero has inspired the creation of B-BB, the Kolkata Kowboy and the fastest shooter from the quip in the Ooild Ooest of Bengal.


If Quick Gun has yenna yacksent (accent) spelt yay-see-see-yee-yen-tee and his rascalas, Bong-Bong has his own Bangla eeshtyle of speech, in which 'v' becomes 'bhi', 'w' becomes 'oo', as in Ooild Ooest (Wild West), and rascals become raskails. And if QGM has his sidekicks Mango Dolly and Locket Girl, B-BB has for henchmen the redoubtable Double-Half and the indigestible Moghlai Porotha. Two such stalwarts as QGM and B-BB can't coexist in the same tinsel town. The time has come for yenna showdown. (Translations have been provided in brackets, where necessary):


QGM: Rascala, first I yam (am) finishing sambhar, then i yam (am) finishing you. Mind it!


B-BB: Ooiee ooeel (We will) see who finishes who, raskail! Knowing you that i am fastest oddabaaj (addabaaz) in all of Ooest (West) Bengal?


QGM: What is yenna oddabaaj? Is it new type of yonion (onion) uttapam i yam (am) not hearing of before?


B-BB: Nebher minding your uttopums and other Medrassi (Madrasi) foodings! An oddabaaj is ooan (one) who is ordering and finishing dobble-half (double-half) in dobble kweek (double quick) time.


QGM: Double-half? I yam not knowing yat (at) all what dobble this is you are halfing. Is it yay (a) double order of yay (a) masala dosa?


B-BB: Sorbonash! (Untranslatable Bang-Bangese, the closest approximation being 'Damnation'!). Can you not get khabar jheenees (food items) out of your maathar mundu (head)? Dobble-Half, bring ooan (one) dobble-half and show this Medrassi what a dobble-half eej (is).


Double-half runs off and brings back a double-half: a cup of tea, half of which has been poured into a saucer so that two oddabaajs (addabaazs) can share the tea, one drinking out of the cup, and the other out of the saucer, thereby halving the price of the odda (adda).


B-BB: You are seeing? Thees (this) eej (is) dobble-half (double-half). Thees eej essence of oddabaaji (addabaazi). Pheesh and phootball! (Fish and football.)


Lal salaam! (Red salute). Cholbe nah! (It won't do).


Netaji leebhs! (Netaji lives).


QGM: Netaji? Yenna film-maker from Tollywood?


B-BB: Arr saala pachhi nah! (untranslatable phrase, roughly: I can't take this any more). Netaji eej (is) Netaji! You are theenking (thinking) of Manekda, no doubt known to ooide ooarld (wide world) as Sotyojeet Rai, maker of many-many famous bois (pronounced bo-ees, B-BBese for films).


QGM: Never i yam (am) hearing or seeing yany (any) such filliyums (films). Seeing only Rajnikanth and old-old MGR filliyums (films). Who is this Sotyojeet Rai fellow?


B-BB: Ki aaschorjo! (How astounding). Not hearing of maker of Pather Paanchali and Charulata? What kind of baggar phellow (bugger fellow) are you? What a nonsense! I ooil (will) educate you in Bangla kaalchar (culture) by seengeeng (singing) Robindro songeet compojed (composed) by Thakurda (Tagore). Oy, Moghlai Porotha play harmonium!


Moghlai Porotha plays the harmonium and B-BB begins to sing.


B-BB: Ayee Aagonair poroshmoni chhoo-ao pranay! A jibon purno korro, a jibon purno korro...!


QGM: Ai-yai-yo! Yenna yowling i have never heard before! Mind it? I yam (am) yout (out) of my mind!


B-BB: A small ooictory (victory) for Bang-Bang; a giant ooictory (victory) for Banglakind!







Sipping a cappuccino at a New York coffee shop, one couldn't help travelling back in time to Poonamallee, where kaapi, the desi and punchy Tamilian moniker for coffee, was brewed by my grandma as an early morning rite. A mellifluous matriarch, she had so perfected the art of making kaapi that brides-to-be of our family had from her their Coffee for Dummies tutorials. Rising with the first lusty crow of the rooster, grandma would paddle into the kitchen to reach for the coffee powder.


The stock would be fresh. Only the previous night she would have blended the raw beans, arabica cherry, robusta, or pea berry in a ratio held in secrecy like the hush-hush Coca-Cola formula and roasted them in a cylindrical contraption over red-hot embers with a strict quality-check, like a jeweller judging diamonds. She would then feed the roasted beans into the hatch of a portable grinder and rotate the handle, twisting a knob to control the powder's texture. The heavy brass coffee filter would now appear in the scene. A family heirloom, it would contain two compartments, the upper with holes at the bottom to take in the coffee powder and the lower to harvest the decoction. Boiling water would be poured over in the upper chamber and the lid secured tight after three staccato taps to coax snag-free percolation. Part A of Operation Coffee would be over.

By this time, the milkman would have arrived with his bovine beauty Lakshmi. Turning his milk pail bottoms up to prove to my vigilant grandma the absence of aqua at the bottom, he would work on the pinkish teats of the animal's swollen udder. The frothy fresh milk would then be boiled after equable dilution. Porcelain cups being taboo, the steaming milk would be poured into silver tumblers and thick decoction pipetted in droplets till the milk took the kaapi avatar.


Adding sugar, she would transfer the aromatic brew from the tumbler into the dabara back and forth to cool it to bearable warmth. The first swallow, taken without the lips touching the rim, would taste better than the previous day's brew, speaking volumes of her ever burgeoning expertise. Kaapi was so much in her blood that she rejected a girl, otherwise a good match for my uncle, simply because on her first visit to their place, she was not served kaapi but a cup of lukewarm, weak tea in which a fly had committed suicide!









Controversy was Y S Rajasekhara Reddy’s constant companion in politics — as one who represented violence-prone Cuddapah in Parliament, and the legislative Assembly since the late 1970s. But electoral triumphs buttressed by populist schemes transformed it all for the Andhra CM. In his death, the Congress has lost its strongest regional face in recent memory.


Mr Reddy’s 2004 triumph over old friend and formidable rival Chandrababu Naidu helped the Congress wrest power from the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in the state and the National Democratic Alliance at the Centre. A slew of sops and schemes helped him extinguish two challenges in one go: Mr Naidu and the Naxals who exploited the TDP’s urban-centric approach in the countryside. His people-oriented programmes even demolished the demand for Telangana as a poll plank.


In a state where successive droughts during the TDP rule led to farmer suicides, Mr Reddy, born into the family of a mason, provided rice for Rs 2 a kg for below poverty line families. He put revenues accruing from beneficiaries of first-generation reforms on the welfare route to arrange food, healthcare, insurance and rural employment for the marginalised.


He implemented schemes to help women and children and was known to encourage NGOs that wanted to work for the disadvantaged. That the Congress’s success in Andhra was fathered solely by Mr Reddy became evident with the party returning a larger chunk of MPs from the state in 2009 than it did in 2004. He defeated anti-incumbency despite a broken alliance with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (on the Telangana issue) and the Left (on the Indo-US nuclear deal).


Not only did he keep the promise made to Congress president Sonia Gandhi of adding to the party’s 2004 tally of 29, he raised the score by four to win 33 seats. Formidable reputations routed in the process included that of matinee idol and Kappu chieftain — popular film star Chiranjeevi, whose Praja Rajyam Party proved to be just a flash in the pan.


But that’s history now and so is Mr Reddy, whose death has left a void no Andhra Congress politician, young or old, can fill in the short run. If there was one person who genuinely carried out the UPA’s promise of delivering on its promises to the aam admi, it would have been Mr Reddy. But sadly, like so many others who held out great promise in politics, he is gone.













George Remi’s caricatures are as much about peoples as about the individuals the intrepid Belgian reporter meets in his adventures across continents. They’re all there: the goose-stepping Kraut, the maharaja and the naked fakir, the Chinese opium smuggler, the marauding Bedouin, the Soviet apparatchik, the Japanese warlord, the tin-pot South American dictator, the rapacious Greek tycoon.


Each is a parody of a nation that does not sit well with its modern image. But they did exist over the half century that Remi churned out his exquisitely detailed cartoons. And for generations of 10-year-olds reading their first travelogue, these stereotypes were very real — that’s what made them funny. We learnt to laugh at ourselves through potted history.


Sometimes the joke went too far. Remi sent Tintin to Congo in 1931, when it was a Belgian colony, and has since apologised for the naïve colonial view of his youth. Overtly racist themes were removed in a 1946 edition, and further sanitised in 1975. Yet, Tintin in Congo is off children’s shelves in both the US and Britain.


Now Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo, a Congolese, wants the book, where black Africans “look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles”, withdrawn. He is threatening to take Tintin’s Belgian publishers Moulinsart to the European Court of Human Rights.


The intellectual sophistry in applying modern sensitivities to events past is dangerous. A politically correct Great Books Index would make for a short read. And an acquaintance with history is our best armour against repeating it.








A decade ago when Sharad Pawar was quitting the Congress over Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin issue, he told a group of journalists, “In the Congress party, there is no place for genuine mass leaders. There is only the high command and the loyal followers.” That was 1999. Ten years later, it seems that Pawar was both right and wrong.


He was right because in the Congress, the high command is ubiquitous and the Supreme Leader is unchallenged. But he was wrong that the Congress could no longer throw up a regional satrap. Y S Rajasekhara Reddy was proof that it’s still possible to be a virtual one-man show in state politics, and yet survive in the Congress.


When YSR became chief minister in 2004, he was fighting both history and geography. Congress chief ministers in Andhra had mastered the art of musical chairs. The previous Congress government in 1989 had seen three chief ministers in five years and the one before that, four CMs in five years (a chaotic situation that eventually saw the rise of the idea of ‘Andhra pride’ in the guise of NT Rama Rao).


Even the wily PV Narasimha Rao, who was able to stay as prime minister for a full five-year term as head of a minority government, could only last for 15 months in Hyderabad in the 1970s. It was almost as if it was more difficult to manage the complex caste and regional factions in Andhra than it was to control politics at the Centre. More so in YSR’s case because he came from the relatively backward region of Rayalaseema, not seen as dominant in state politics.


And yet, he was able to prove the sceptics wrong by lasting the full five-year term, and, even more remarkably, by getting re-elected with an equally comprehensive mandate. What made YSR succeed where others had failed? His critics will tell you that his political style was more akin to Gujarat’s Narendra Modi than to any traditional Congress state leader.


He was ruthless (witness the manner in which he crushed all political opposition to him) and anti-democratic (notice how he jailed editors and sought to financially destroy those who spoke out against him). Unlike Modi, though, he was confronted with serious charges of corruption, which he seemed almost contemptuous of.


That YSR could get away with his authoritarian streak was due to his ability to build a firm rapport with the masses, a quality first detected during his hugely successful padyatra in 2003.


Chandrababu Naidu may have been fêted by the pink papers, but he was eventually consumed by the euphoria of having been anointed the CEO of Cyberabad. YSR, on the other hand, was able to combine strong doses of populism with a delivery system that reached out to rural Andhra.


Whether it was the success of his health insurance scheme, his irrigation projects or the spread of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, he was able to convince a majority of Andhraites that he would benefit the poor with direct cash transfers, even if it meant bypassing the traditional elites of the state. In the process, he was able to overcome the caste and regional divides that had previously stunted governance. The idea of a separate state of Telangana, for example, may have an emotional resonance, but what price statehood when there’s no cash in your bank account?


In that sense, YSR had the ‘common man’ touch, originally promoted by NTR, whose two rupee rice scheme, for example, revolutionised the trajectory of Andhra politics, creating the basis for a pro-poor programme that has since been replicated in other states.


YSR did not have NTR’s charisma and star appeal, but a certain down-to-earth welfarist approach to politics where he did not forget that his power was dependent on the support of the aam admi.


No surprises then that YSR was a great favourite of Sonia Gandhi, whose political philosophy is based on the core idea that the Congress’s future lies in reaching out to India’s poor. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to suggest that the UPA would not have been in power in 2004 and 2009 but for the remarkable success it achieved in AP.


In the process, the central Congress leadership ended up virtually ‘outsourcing’ the party in Andhra to YSR. While this might have bred resentment among a generation of state Congress leaders, it gave the workaholic ‘Tiger of Cudappah’ the space to carve out an identity for himself.


Unlike other Congress chief ministers who have felt undermined by faction-fighting, YSR’s success showed that it is possible for state leaders to flourish when they are given a degree of autonomy from the Centre.


But the flip side of creating a personality cult in a political party is that when the individual disappears from the scene, the resultant vacuum is almost impossible to fill. That will be the big challenge confronting the Congress as it comes to terms with the loss of its strongest chief minister.


Will the party revert to its time-tested formula of imposing a ‘weak’ leader on a state in the belief that such a CM will be acceptable to all factions? Or will it acknowledge that the YSR phenomenon demands a search for another tough, empowered state leader?


In resolving this dilemma, we will know if YSR was indeed the last Congress regional satrap. Or a lasting symbol of a new model of governance.








Given the public slanging match between India’s top scientists over the success of Pokhran II, the confusion itself calls for keeping our options open for future nuclear testing. In fact, quick and firm responses from the prime minister and a former president have only bolstered the credentials of this controversy, with various other voices joining the polemics. Even the foreign media is widely discussing, if not gloating, over the recent volley of remarks.


If one has followed India’s position on the subject, starting with former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s May 27, 1998, speech to the Parliament up until the Indo-US Agreement for Civilian Nuclear Cooperation signed on October 10 last year, we have gradually but firmly been closing our option for the ‘underground explosions’ type of testing. Surely, the benefits of such a commitment have been calculated, if not yet fully reaped.


The current debate becomes even more revealing in view of US President Barack Obama’s expressed commitment to work harder on his arms control agenda, including getting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) ratified in the US Senate. Ten years ago, the Senate had rejected the CTBT, thus taking the pressure off India, which had rejected the treaty draft in Geneva in June 1996, emerging as the global villain of nuclear peace.


Most experts, therefore, explain India’s decision to test in 1998 as one triggered by Clause XIV of the CTBT, which mandates that for the CTBT to come into force all 44 countries with nuclear reactor technologies (including India) must ratify it. Much hype centred around how, in case of this condition not being met within three years, a review meeting would be held to take ‘measures’ against defaulting parties.


The threat of ‘measures’, invoked in the early 1990s after North Korea’s withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), essentially implied challenge inspections and sanctions. This clearly left India with no choice but to test before such a review meeting was organised. So, the fact that we conducted our 1998 tests in a ‘hurry’ has been generally acknowledged by the scientific community.


This isn’t the first time that the veracity of India’s tests, especially the one claimed to have been a thermonuclear test, has been questioned. But this is first time that a member of the core team — K Santhanam — has raised his voice. What’s raising tempers is the fact that with the possibility of the US ratifying the CTBT, India is expected to come up with a counter-strategy — a difficult task given its transformed relationship with Washington.


Three moot questions seeking answers are: (a) how quickly and easily might the Senate agree to ratify the CTBT; (b) whether India has the required scientific data from its six tests to confidently move on to laboratory testing; and (c) whether in popular opinion, answers to (a) and (b) are clear, confusing or in the negative? By most estimates, the answers were always going to be confusing, except there now seems to be a perceptible tilt towards the negative, making public perceptions on nuclear issues pivotal to India’s security.


Given that nuclear weapons are primarily political weapons, and nuclear deterrence essentially a mind-game, their efficacy in achieving national objectives depends on what we’re ‘perceived’ to possess. Thus, such avoidable public controversies clearly undermine confidence in our national preparedness to deal with threats from nuclear adversaries. Clarifications also become crucial.


It is instructive to note that even at the height of the non-proliferation rhetoric, both China and France had conducted a series of tests before signing the NPT’s indefinite and unconditional extension in May 1995. Given this backdrop, our obsession with consistency rather than an evaluation of contingencies seems least inspiring.








Now that Force India has secured a podium finish in the Belgian Grand Prix, isn’t it about time we had an Indian driver in the hot seat? With rumours that Ferrari may be eyeing Force India’s Giancarlo Fisichella, Vijay Mallya and Co. might want to keep a replacement ready, so why not an Indian driver? And where better to scout for talent than saddi Dilli?


The driving ‘skills’ of some of the motorists in Delhi can surely put Jenson Button or Lewis Hamilton to shame. On any given day, you will come across members of the ‘speed breed’ displaying their exemplary driving skills on the Capital’s roads. As the traffic lights turn green (in fact, even before that), they’ll blow their horns with much gusto, as if they all have a flight to catch.


Even without a qualifying race, everyone seems to want a pole position. You have to give them the right of way or be prepared for physical and verbal abuse and/or get your car’s derriere spanked. The larger the vehicle, the greater the swagger. Most are from rich families and drive around in swanky cars with stylish arm candies.


As soon as they spy a smooth stretch, their vehicles shift to take-off mode. Many of them don’t even know what a driving licence looks like, but, what the heck? Blaring songs from their vehicles could easily give a rampaging herd of wild elephants a run for their money.


Well, might not it be a good idea to go after these errant drivers and groom these speedmasters into future F1 champs, before the traffic police gets to them? We’ve only had one Narain Karthikeyan in the F1 and he is not exactly setting the track on fire. Perhaps Delhi’s traffic police could organise practice runs on the Capital’s roads on Sundays to hone the driving skills of these gifted men and women to select the cream of the crop.


With Formula One set to make its Indian debut soon, wouldn’t it be nice if an Indian driver, driving for an Indian team, makes it to the podium? Well, Mr Mallya, are you listening?










Both as a politician and a helicopter pilot, my heart sinks every time there is a tragedy like this one, that took from us Andhra Pradesh CM Y.S.R. Reddy as well as his officials and his crew. While aviation accidents happen around the world, India seems to have a particularly tragic record involving political heavyweights.


In recent years, Madhavrao Scindia, G.M. Balayogi, O.P. Jindal and others have been suddenly snatched away in this manner. Every time such a tragedy happens, there is a wave of sensationalist discussion — rarely is there a sober, dispassionate analysis. This often leads to a general criticism of aviation safety that is at best uninformed, and at its worst actually exacerbates matters.


Let us look at the facts on the relative safety of various kinds of non-military air transport, and between aviation and road travel. Safety statistics are widely monitored by several international agencies: in the US, by the Federal Aviation Agency and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB, which also covers road, rail and other modes of transportation); in the UK by its Civil Aviation Authority and in India by the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation or DGCA.


The most comprehensive data is from the NTSB, an analysis of which has led one writer to conclude that “in the US 1 out of 6800 drivers dies in an auto accident. The rate for airline passengers is 1 in 1.6 million ...each year there are about 40,000 deaths per year in automobile accidents vs about 200 in air transport. To put this in perspective, the chance of dying in an automobile accident is about 1000 times more than winning a typical state lottery in a year.”


Comparing worldwide airline accident statistics, it is clear that the risk — usually measured as fatalities per million hours of aircraft flight time — is almost infinitesimal. The figure in developed countries is far less than one fatality per million hours, and the DGCA’s figures show that the risks in India are not significantly different.


On the other hand, a recent World Health Organisation report ranks India as having the worst road safety record in the world, with even more deaths than in more populous China. Thus you’re clearly better off travelling in India’s airspace — at least in big, commercial aeroplanes — than on the ground in a car. But the fact that this is not appreciated by Indian air travellers is evident from the number of people any of us would notice praying in aircraft vis-à-vis those in cars, buses or auto-rickshaws.


Whether Indian air travellers appreciate the comparatively high safety of airline travel or not, a natural question many have is about the relative safety of various types of aircraft. The facts are that while there is a statistical difference between commercial aeroplanes, small aircraft, and helicopters, they are all relatively safe — and have been getting safer with each passing decade.


“General Aviation” is the term encompassing small- and medium-sized aircraft and helicopters flown for pleasure or business — that is, not as an airline with scheduled operations. Most people assume that general aviation is riskier than airlines; and indeed they are technically correct. Worldwide statistics indicate risk that is an order of magnitude higher: that is, it is measured in terms of fatalities for every one lakh hours of flight, as opposed to the airlines’ norm of per million hours of flight.


But even then, it compares favourably with road travel risk.


NTSB statistics indicate an average fatality rate of less than 2.5 per one lakh hours of general aviation flight. Within that, there is quite a bit of variance, with a higher risk figure of around 8 for the sub-category of “personal and business” flying, to a low of much lower than one fatality per one lakh hours for the “corporate/ executive” category of flying. This last category, involving usage of professional pilots, more safety features and equipment in the aircraft etc, is what Y.S.R. Reddy’s flight was.

There are other variances, such as between helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, or flights undertaken in Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC) and Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC). What is striking is that while flying in a helicopter is somewhat riskier than in an aircraft, the risk rises sharply — by some measures, it quadruples — if the weather condition deteriorates into IMC, as was apparently the case with the accident this week.


There has been a fair bit of uninformed speculation put out there in the past two days, and that troubles me. Regulatory authorities and bureaucracies often respond to cries of wolf with knee-jerk reactions that ostensibly improve safety by imposing greater restrictions — but which more often than not have the opposite effect. The DGCA is not immune to these pressures.


To its credit, the directorate-general is refreshingly up-to-date in its understanding of new technologies in aviation, particularly those that contribute to safety. But it still labours under an Aircraft Act that was originally enacted before Independence, in 1934. Although the act has been continually updated, the bureaucracy’s natural instinct of imposing ever more restrictions has made parts of it impractical.


I am a licensed pilot in three countries, and find India’s regulations most cumbersome. When laws and rules become impractical, the inevitable consequence will be ever more violations. To use an analogy, remember when the marginal rate of income tax in India was nearly 100 per cent? It incentivised every tax payer to try and break the rules. At this time of tragedy, let us keep this in mind: India deserves a complete overhaul of the aviation act, one that is in line with worldwide best practices.


The writer is a BJD MP








As China approaches its 60th national day this month, it has begun obsessing over “harmony”. A nervous state has begun an aggressive hot-pursuit of harmony with a series of crackdowns on “troublemakers” for “subverting state power”. The old Dengist slogan — “stability is the overriding priority” — has made something of a comeback, with “stability preservation officers” being appointed to act as the eyes and ears of the government. But harmony is proving to be a fast-moving target, difficult to pin down; and the obsession is fraying state-society relations like never before. As it grapples with this policy-induced crisis, the question before China is: can harmony be saved from itself?


The Chinese characterisation of harmony has always been an odd compact between state and society. But the compact has held together, albeit with some unusual experiments in negotiating social space. For instance, stringent rules make it extraordinarily difficult for nonprofits to register with the Internal Affairs Bureau. Several organisations in China thus end up registering themselves as for-profit companies. Interestingly, there has been a fair degree of official tolerance for this. There are good reasons why. It is being acknowledged that conceding an increasing sphere of public autonomy will be in the government’s enlightened self-interest. Thus, the Sixth Plenum of the 16th Central Committee of the Communist Party in 2006 drew a direct correlation between continued prosperity and the need for a “democratic society under the rule of law”. All these seemed to augur well for an expanding sphere of public action and greater transparency in the decision-making process. Or so one thought.


The trouble has been that the goal posts of permissibility have been shifted once too often. This is not so much out of an inability on the part of the leadership to make up its mind as much as wishing to retain at all times a control over what measure of social space it is willing to concede. The current crackdowns have shown that it is not coy about drawing red lines without warning. Thus it has struck down hard on civil society initiatives, particularly singling out those working on human rights issues for harsh treatment. Recently, Xu Zhiyong’s Open Constitution Initiative, a prominent legal-research and advocacy group was closed down and slapped with fines of $205,000. Licences of more 50 lawyers known for their human rights work have also been revoked.


China might do well to ponder the wisdom of such backsliding at a time its society is going through a complex transition. Social unrest has risen, with several public expressions of anger in the form of protests, riots and strikes. Civil society initiatives have played a critical role in filling the accountability deficit — thereby shoring up regime legitimacy. If this operational space is now being systematically encroached upon, how will the Chinese state begin to identify social red alerts at an early enough stage? These will have serious implications for its political legitimacy — and even its survival. Why is the Party throwing it all away?


The problem has been that harmony is beginning to be seen as an end in itself. The democracy debate has reflected some of this confusion. Even as it permitted a growing arena of personal freedoms to its people, the political class convinced itself that democracy was the expendable, messy bit in the jigsaw of social harmony. But, India’s own experience of managing high growth rates with democracy presents a model muddle for China. What is striking about recent attacks in the Chinese media against the “so-called great Indian federation” is not their stridency but their peevish and petulant tone. Mocking at India’s laggard economic development had been standard fare in Chinese publications with their self-congratulatory tenor. But today, India’s experience confues and confounds these comfortable and simplistic beliefs.


An on-now, off-again approach to ordering social space is also creating a dangerous psychological barrier in the psyche of the Chinese citizen. Reneging now on the carefully-opened social space will mean throwing away all that has been cobbled together bit by excruciating bit. Regaining public trust is the biggest challenge facing the Chinese state today. The first step towards course-correction? Understanding that harmony is not a static concept but a dynamic, evolving one. Above all, the state must see it as a conversation: a two-way dialogue between itself and the citizen. Failing to do so will be like fighting with one hand tied at the back.


The writer is an associate professor at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi









The Maharashtra assembly election will set both tone and tune of the political orchestra currently being conducted by Dr Manmohan Singh and arranger Sonia Gandhi.


This is not to underrate the importance of the two other elections to be held on October 13, in Arunachal Pradesh and Haryana. But Maharashtra has special significance in the musical mosaic: Mumbai is still the corporate, cosmopolitan and even cultural capital of India. Business and Bollywood, cricket and fashion, Slumdog Millionaires and Shanghai, Marathi manoos and bhaiyyas, media and mafia all coexist in this chaotic metropolis.


Mumbai has 36 assembly constituencies out of a total of 288. But Mumbai influences the voting pattern in adjoining Thane, which is a sort of suburban extension incorporating New Mumbai. Thane has 24 constituencies. Together, they have 60. But the character of these 60 seats is qualitatively and even quantitatively different from the rest of Maharashtra. About two crore people — nearly one-fourth of the state’s population — share the Maximum City. Every single region of the state, every state in the country, each linguistic community, all castes and religions, gender and age group are represented in these 60 constituencies as nowhere else in India. Therefore, not only Maharashtra, but Mumbai and Thane will reflect, without exaggeration, the national sentiment following the Lok Sabha election.


Mumbai gets into the national media only when the Khans (Shah Rukh, Salman or Aamir) storm movie and TV screens or when the Thackeray brothers inflame the city’s streets. Yet, notwithstanding the Thackerays, the city has still retained its DNA of liberal pluralism. This is mainly because of its demographic configuration — but also because of the work-culture that shapes life in Mumbai and Thane.


Not every Marathi-speaking person agrees with the politics and style of Uddhav and Raj, though it is necessary to note that almost all Marathi speakers, irrespective of political hue, share the sentiment they express. The Thackerays have not been able to translate this widespread sentiment into political vision because they are blinded by the crowds and passions they can arouse and therefore cannot visualise a modern Maharashtra. Language and culture can be instruments of broader social consolidation and global vision. And yet, the Thackerays strangely feel compelled to exploit the inbuilt inhibitions and inferiority complex of the Marathi manoos. The violence that they manifest in their language and lumpen mobilisation is a reflection of the frustration born of that complex. They get intoxicated by the huge crowds and their collective rage.


The Congress, on the other hand, is a party which thrives on the divided opposition. Now even the Marathi manoos is divided between Uddhav and Raj. Indeed, without the presence of Raj’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, the Congress-NCP alliance could not have won the 25 Lok Sabha seats it won in May. Further adding to the Congress’s advantage, even the so-called Hindu political psyche is disintegrated. Not only on the Jinnah issue, but also because of internal conflict between Gopinath Munde and Nitin Gadkari. The BJP no longer has its self-styled Machiavelli, Pramod Mahajan, to aid it. Though, truly speaking, his skilful skulduggery did not really help the saffron alliance even in 2004. But in BJP-Sena circles there is still a strange nostalgia for him, as if he could have sorted out the conflicts.


In real terms, the Congress and the NCP have many advantages. The UPA has won the Lok Sabha elections, with the Congress itself raking in a stunning 206 seats; the images of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as well as those of Sonia and Rahul, still shine and even inspire faith and confidence; the opposition is in disarray — and yet the ruling alliance is so shaky that it could well fail to get the requisite majority of 145 seats. There is no panic in the Congress like there is in the NCP. But its complacence could prove its undoing. The main reason why the Congress-NCP alliance could even lose is because there is an enormous amount of anti-incumbency sentiment — latent today perhaps, but it could well surface and become a wave as the campaign picks up.


We have seen in the recent past — particularly in the other state assembly elections — that performance pays. It is governance that people seek and not any specific ideology. That is why voters elected the BJP in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and the Congress in Andhra Pradesh and Delhi.


In Maharashtra, the Congress-NCP alliance has been in power now for the past 10 years. In its first avatar, in 1999, the two parties formed the alliance after fighting the elections separately, and against each other. This was because Sharad Pawar had rebelled against Sonia Gandhi that year, over her “foreign origin”. He had initially thought of splitting the Maharashtra Congress vertically. He failed miserably in that objective, as well as in winning more seats than the Congress led by Mrs Gandhi. So his partymen decided to join the government by forming the alliance with her party. The excuse, obviously, was to keep “communal” forces — the BJP-Sena alliance — away from power. The alliance fought the election together for both the Lok Sabha and the assembly in 2004 and for the Lok Sabha in 2009. But in the general elections four months ago, the NCP’s performance was so pathetic that the Congress was emboldened to demand that it fight the assembly election independently.


That will not happen and the Congress-NCP alliance will survive, primarily because neither is sure what the electoral mood actually is. The Congress’s complacency at the senior leadership level apart, there is a distinct feeling among its rank and file that the government’s total non-performance over the past 10 years is going to explode in their face.


This explosion will occur once the ticket distribution process starts. Most of the ticket-seekers, today’s MLAs, the ministers and their sons, are so completely cut off from their roots that they do not even comprehend the mood in the rural areas, let alone in the cities. But they think that it is their ancestral right to get a ticket. At the same time, there is a huge waiting list of those who worked for the past many years, but were not even given recognition, forget tickets. So there is bound to be widespread rebellion in the ranks. That rebellion will then consolidate the anti-incumbency sentiment.


So if the Congress-NCP alliance fares badly, it will not be because the saffron alliance is more credible, but because the governments led by the Vilasraos, the Shindes and the Chavans have lost their credibility and connection with the people.


The writer is editor of ‘Loksatta’








As China approaches its 60th national day this month, it has begun obsessing over “harmony”. A nervous state has begun an aggressive hot-pursuit of harmony with a series of crackdowns on “troublemakers” for “subverting state power”. The old Dengist slogan — “stability is the overriding priority” — has made something of a comeback, with “stability preservation officers” being appointed to act as the eyes and ears of the government. But harmony is proving to be a fast-moving target, difficult to pin down; and the obsession is fraying state-society relations like never before. As it grapples with this policy-induced crisis, the question before China is: can harmony be saved from itself?


The Chinese characterisation of harmony has always been an odd compact between state and society. But the compact has held together, albeit with some unusual experiments in negotiating social space. For instance, stringent rules make it extraordinarily difficult for nonprofits to register with the Internal Affairs Bureau. Several organisations in China thus end up registering themselves as for-profit companies. Interestingly, there has been a fair degree of official tolerance for this. There are good reasons why. It is being acknowledged that conceding an increasing sphere of public autonomy will be in the government’s enlightened self-interest. Thus, the Sixth Plenum of the 16th Central Committee of the Communist Party in 2006 drew a direct correlation between continued prosperity and the need for a “democratic society under the rule of law”. All these seemed to augur well for an expanding sphere of public action and greater transparency in the decision-making process. Or so one thought.


The trouble has been that the goal posts of permissibility have been shifted once too often. This is not so much out of an inability on the part of the leadership to make up its mind as much as wishing to retain at all times a control over what measure of social space it is willing to concede. The current crackdowns have shown that it is not coy about drawing red lines without warning. Thus it has struck down hard on civil society initiatives, particularly singling out those working on human rights issues for harsh treatment. Recently, Xu Zhiyong’s Open Constitution Initiative, a prominent legal-research and advocacy group was closed down and slapped with fines of $205,000. Licences of more 50 lawyers known for their human rights work have also been revoked.


China might do well to ponder the wisdom of such backsliding at a time its society is going through a complex transition. Social unrest has risen, with several public expressions of anger in the form of protests, riots and strikes. Civil society initiatives have played a critical role in filling the accountability deficit — thereby shoring up regime legitimacy. If this operational space is now being systematically encroached upon, how will the Chinese state begin to identify social red alerts at an early enough stage? These will have serious implications for its political legitimacy — and even its survival. Why is the Party throwing it all away?


The problem has been that harmony is beginning to be seen as an end in itself. The democracy debate has reflected some of this confusion. Even as it permitted a growing arena of personal freedoms to its people, the political class convinced itself that democracy was the expendable, messy bit in the jigsaw of social harmony. But, India’s own experience of managing high growth rates with democracy presents a model muddle for China. What is striking about recent attacks in the Chinese media against the “so-called great Indian federation” is not their stridency but their peevish and petulant tone. Mocking at India’s laggard economic development had been standard fare in Chinese publications with their self-congratulatory tenor. But today, India’s experience confues and confounds these comfortable and simplistic beliefs.


An on-now, off-again approach to ordering social space is also creating a dangerous psychological barrier in the psyche of the Chinese citizen. Reneging now on the carefully-opened social space will mean throwing away all that has been cobbled together bit by excruciating bit. Regaining public trust is the biggest challenge facing the Chinese state today. The first step towards course-correction? Understanding that harmony is not a static concept but a dynamic, evolving one. Above all, the state must see it as a conversation: a two-way dialogue between itself and the citizen. Failing to do so will be like fighting with one hand tied at the back.


The writer is an associate professor at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi










In a political climate where everything was seemingly hurtling towards an ‘SMS your vote’ discourse and snappy ‘in-30-seconds’ politics, devoid of any context — historians must feel exhilarated that history is back with a bang. Jaswant Singh and his book on Jinnah has stirred the pot, and with a lot more drama than Advani’s words of praise at the Qaid-e-Azam’s grave in Pakistan.


History, the world over, continues to direct contemporary political debate. An argument has started on the Allies’ role in World War II and further, the erstwhile USSR’s role in battling Nazism. Quentin Tarantino in his latest movie, Inglourious Basterds has angered people over what is seen as reducing Nazi violence to a joke. The Spectator has reviewers concerned that this is “part of a dangerous trend in which the great evils of history become show business.”


So if history refuses to go away, why should the invocation of Jinnah incense the BJP so much?


The BJP has been no stranger to history. A lot about what the BJP was about and why it grew when it did, in the late Eighties and Nineties, had to do with its idea of medieval India and a sense of injury and hate it cashed in on — Babri Masjid — a 15th century symbol was picked, myth and history mixed and usefully turned into a concoction that resulted in a large political ‘movement’ — mass mobilisation, riots, hate and political mileage.


If the NDA years meant a Mandir slowdown, a more assimilative phase and the era post-Vajpayee seemed bereft of a central theme binding the party. The idea of contesting the election as a presidential one may have been a bad copy of the US election campaign, but it was also a good one to try and circumvent the entire problem of stating clearly what the BJP stood for, as its planks of ‘internal security’ and ‘pride in India’ seemed to have been effectively hijacked by the ruling party. In an era when the Congress seems to have monopolised the middle-class vote, the emerging India pride plank, it was perhaps inevitable that to be a struggle within the party for the ideas the BJP promotes. And History, not of the kind the BJP would want to pick, has come to haunt it.


The BJP (a young party, only twenty nine years old) did not have a foothold in the national movement. But to make it a ‘national’ force, Sardar Patel, the Congress’ first home minister was appropriated by the party and flattering references were made about him on a regular basis. LK Advani incidentally enjoyed the same portfolios as Patel (I&B in the Janata Party regime, home minister and deputy PM in NDA — he even unveiled a bust of Patel in London in 2003). Narendra Modi too, also mindful of the state he was in, and the need to keep the caste in good humour kicked off his re-election campaign with huge cut-outs of Patel next to his pictures in 2002.


Ironically, Jaswant Singh’s book too (if you ignore the clubbing of Patel with Nehru for half a second) — does its bit to help the BJP view of history along — its central theme is that the Congress (read Nehru) were also to ‘blame’ for the Partition (which has been the subtext all along, Nehru and his view of the world is attacked by the Sangh and associated wings, especially as Nehru’s direct descendants continue to be in politics and the BJP’s principal opposition).


But maybe the business of blame for Partition is exactly why the BJP gets so uneasy about Jinnah. Clearly, it can be no one’s case that a person or even a group of persons were responsible for Partition. It was a series of events and processes, channelled cleverly by a colonial power eager to take the power away from a national movement which was ensuring that the sun set on the Empire. And in that list of terrible events, if Muslim separatism finally pushed the tragic course of events, their Hindu counterparts too provided fuel that resulted in the loss of ten million lives in 1947. Vinayak Savarkar in a meeting in 1937, when he took charge of the Hindu Mahasabha, actively spoke of being in agreement with Jinnah’s view of Hindus and Muslims being two nations. B.S. Moonje, another leading light of the Hindu militant school founded the Bhonsla Military School in Nashik in 1935 — which pushed for aggressive/militant action to ‘guard’ Hindus. In essence, Muslim and Hindu extremism thrived on each other and still do — a sense of siege, hurt and aggression keeps both aggressive points of view active and going.


The British, when they decided on the Partition of Bengal in 1906 along communal lines and separate electorates, leading to the Swadeshi movement started writing the script of the nightmare of 1947. Having practiced partition to a fine art just before departing back for home, in Africa, Cyprus and in Palestine — it was a near-convention to break-up former colonies and India too could not prevent the grand design from being played out here. Events, popular opinion, resentments and no doubt, egos and impatience of leaders shaped events.


And that, fundamentally is the problem with Jinnah springing out of the bottle, he is an important part of history — but not the kind the RSS/BJP wish to necessarily discuss just yet. Discussing Jinnah raises uncomfortable questions about the RSS’ role then (they were banned after the assassination of Gandhi, ironically, by the then Home Minister Sardar Patel, who in correspondence with RSS leaders like Golwalkar clearly enunciates why they have been banned. The ban being lifted in 1949, only on assurances that the RSS will remain confined to ‘culture’, and on promises of ‘good behaviour’ and an undertaking by the RSS that they will shed spreading communal tension, “abjure their secret ways” — Patel in a letter to Golwalkar written in July 1949).


So — at a time when the Congress slogan is ‘ateet ki neev pe, bhavishya ka nirman’ (Constructing a future, on the foundations of the past), the RSS/BJP need to get their own idea/history narrative going. And any mention of Jinnah only confuses the picture and throws the party into deep turmoil. Jaswant may not have intended it quite this way, but history has a way of periodically popping up, just when we have all put our NCERT textbooks away.








Would we like it if our forefathers had set slow fire to the world, a fire that crested into visibility during our lifetime, and left it to us to deal with the problem? This is what climate change, a global externality, has been to us and our behaviour would determine what it would be like for our descendants. There is responsibility to act, both on ethical and prudential grounds and ‘business as usual’ attitudes must give way in order to ensure a viable climate future.


As climate models become more precise, it is evident that GHG emissions and other indicators are hovering near the upper boundary of IPCC projections. These include global mean surface temperature, sea-level rise, global ocean temperature, Arctic sea ice extent, ocean acidification, and extreme climatic events. We are now at 0.8 degree but the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is already enough to raise the mercury to 2 degrees. This accompanies recentfindings that 1.6 trillion metric tones of CO2 that had locked into Artic permafrost awaits melting as global warming increases.


Notwithstanding the fractious scenes at the G8 Summit, new ideas are desperately needed for fashioning an international framework that ensures that the world’s major economies contribute equitably and effectively to the global climate effort, so as to limit global warming to 2°C, with a caveat that weaker targets for 2020 increase the risk of crossing tipping points and make meeting 2050 targets tougher.


Therefore at Copenhagen, it is imperative to engage all major economies in a flexible international framework in which countries assume commitments best suited to their circumstances. Within such a variegated framework, some countries could have binding emission targets as under Kyoto, while others may commit to undertake national policies that reduce emissions such as efficiency standards, renewable energy targets, or measures to reduce deforestation sans any economy-wide emission limits. Some, in addition, could participate in sectoral agreements on targets, standards, or other measures addressing emissions from particular sectors.


Introducing this multi-track system provides a smooth transition into its different tracks. Consistent with UNFCCC fairness and common-but-differentiated-responsibility principle, countries would transition towards the next level well in time. This will enable each country to choose a pathway that best aligns the global interest in climate action with its own evolving national interests by precluding targets that impose enormous economic costs on them.


Thus, we need mix of egalitarian per capita approach (roughly 4.2 t/cap CO2 emissions for non-Annex countries), a variant of contraction and convergence principle that enjoins developing countries gradually to increase their emissions and a cap and trade approach which fixes responsibility primarily on developed countries by allotting them fixed quota to forestall emissions until, after a transition period, everyone has the same emission rights as others. That is, every country is given reason to feel that it is only doing its fair share, comparable to what others have done before it.


India must lead at Copenhagen by agreeing, in principle, to limit the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius in the interest of its vast population who is living under climate stress conditions. In this context, PM Manmohan Singh’s clear message to the states to come up with action plans to combat climate change that tends to threaten the fragile ecosystems and develop strategies consistent with those identified in the National Action Plan on Climate Change is a welcome step. The fetishism on growth ought to be avoided and the traditional command and control environmental mechanism in India needs to be strengthened into a cap and trade system which harnesses the forces of supply and demand to change behaviour and achieve environmental goals by supervising energy-intensive industries thereby limiting emissions from major industrial sources, including power plants, factories, refineries and electricity and natural gas distributors and giving complying industries a more level playing field. Innovative projects may include allowing companies to meet emission-limiting targets by investing in offset projects such as tree plantation and forest protection. At the same time, a distinction between survival and luxury emissions between poor and urban rich in India must be drawn by exempting emissions from agriculture and other relevant sectors from the cap, to avoid a free-rider problem while achieving environmental goals.


The writer is associate professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Jammu.








The origins of many a war in history remain disputed to this day. The 1965 War between India and Pakistan, however, has the unique distinction of there being utter confusion over the date on which it began. For Pakistan this happened only on September 6 of that year, when the Indian army started its march on Lahore. Remarkably, this date is still observed as the “Defence of Pakistan Day” every year. For many Indians the war started on September 1 and lasted 22 days. For, at the beginning of September a taskforce of Pakistani tanks had attacked the Chhamb-Jaurian sector in a bid to make a dash for Akhnoor, the fulcrum of the supply line from the rest of India to Jammu and Kashmir. The assault was thwarted by this country’s use of air power.


It is a different matter that all the resolutions of the UN Security Council demanded of both countries to withdraw their troops to the “positions they had occupied on August 5”. Most significantly, exactly this was the basis of the Tashkent Declaration that Lal Bahadur Sashtri and Field-Marshal Ayub Khan signed in the Central Asian city under the Soviet auspices on January 10, 1966. The prime significance of August 5 is that on that day were detected massive infiltrations of Pakistani troops in Mufti and other irregulars into Kashmir. As in 1947, so 18 years later this was Pakistan’s first step towards wresting Kashmir from this country.


The infiltrations, code-named Operation Gibraltar, were the brainchild of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, then foreign minister, assisted by the veteran and hawkish foreign secretary, Aziz Ahmed, Defence Secretary Nazir Ahmed and Major-General Ahktar Hussain Malik, General Officer Commanding of Pakistan’s 12 Division. The general drew up the operational plan. Ayub Khan, a cautious man, was most reluctant to risk a war with India. But Bhutto and his cohorts talked him into it. If Pakistan wanted to wrest Kashmir by armed force, Bhutto argued, 1965 was the “last chance”. The opportunity would vanish once the expansion and reorganisation of the Indian Army was complete in a few years’ time. At the opportune time, said Bhutto, India was badly shaken by its “humiliating” defeat in the 1962 War with China, Nehru’s death, his successor Shastri’s “ineffectualness”, acute food shortage and a virulent anti-Hindi agitation in the South. “It was now or never”. Bhutto’s logic did appear persuasive. But both he and Ayub failed to realize that its two fundamental assumptions — that the arrival of “raiders” would start a revolt in the “discontented” Kashmir valley, and that because of “fear of China”, India “would not dare” extend the fighting in Jammu and Kashmir into a “general war” — could be dangerously wrong.


Ironically, after the Bhutto cabal had succeeded in convincing him, Ayub suddenly put his finger on Akhnoor on the sand model during a briefing, and said: “Why don’t you go for the jugular and cut Kashmir off from India”? He sanctioned more men and money for this assault that was code-named Operation Grand Slam. He also declared: “Hindu morale would not stand more than a couple of hard blows at the right time and place. Such opportunities should, therefore, be sought and exploited”. The crowning irony is that — in the words of his information secretary, confidant, biographer and indeed alter ego, Altaf Gauhar — while Ayub uttered these words he “did not know that Gibraltar had failed”. By then Indian troops and paramilitary forces had not only driven the infiltrators out but also seized Pakistani strategic heights, most famously the Haji Pir Pass.


In order to cover up this stark failure, those who had kept the Field-Marshal in the dark immediately launched Grand Slam though it was meant to begin only after the infiltrators had succeeded in “setting the Kashmir valley on fire”. By this time, Major-General Akhtar Malik had become thoroughly discredited among his peers. The Army Chief, General Musa, relieved him of the command of Grand Slam and appointed swash-buckling Major-General (later general and army chief and later still president) Yahya Khan in his place.


Grand Slam was still stuck when at first light on September 6,Shastri did what he had publicly told Pakistan he would do. He sent the Indian Army into Pakistan’s heartland in Punjab in the direction of the prized city of Lahore. In a memorable phrase, Altaf Gauhar says in his biography of Ayub Khan that when “India attacked Pakistan the most surprised person was Ayub Khan”. He adds: “Ayub’s surprise was shared by the Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army (Gen. Musa) — Ayub was now facing the moment of truth”.


In the fog of war, as fortunes changed, both sides made mistakes. Pakistan had occupied the Indian village of Khem Karan just across the border on September 8. From there it launched its counter-offensive with its second armoured division in the vanguard. Strangely, the Indian side was unaware of the existence of this formation. Probably in a moment of panic the chief of the army staff, General J. N. Chaudhury, ordered the Western Army Commander, Lt.-General Harbaksh Singh, to withdraw to the east of the Beas river. To his credit, Harbaksh refused. Meanwhile Pakistanis were overconfident of cutting through Indian defences because they felt that their state-of-the-art Patton tanks would get the better of India’s outdated Shermans and Centurians. Precisely the opposite happened. After an epic battle, Asal Uttar, not far from Khem Karan, became the “graveyard of US-supplied Pakistani Pattons”.


Let Gauhar tell the rest of the story of “September 11, a fateful day”. Ayub had taken his acolyte into his office and showed him “on a map how the counter-offensive personally ordered by him was progressing and was extremely optimistic about its outcome”. At that precise moment, Ayub’s Military Secretary, General Rafi, “walked into the room in a state of great agitation and almost shouted that the Indians had breached the Madhupur canal — The Khem Karan counter-offensive had run aground, and with that had collapsed Pakistan’s entire strategy. For Pakistan the war was over”.


Yet it took 12 more days before the UN-sponsored cease-fire came into effect. Why and how will have to be narrated later.          


The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator.










If the extent of mass appeal and frequency of success at the ballot box are used to judge a politician’s worth, then YS Rajasekhara Reddy—the Andhra Pradesh chief minister, tragically killed in a helicopter crash on Wednesday—would rank among the most successful Indian politicians of his generation. More popularly known as YSR, he rose to the top of Andhra politics from the grassroots with a winning combination of astute political strategy, populism and a genial personality, matched only by his firmness in getting things done. For the Congress party, YSR achieved what was unthinkable some years ago—converting Andhra back into a Congress bastion, a bastion that had been shattered by NT Rama Rao in the 1980s. His successive and convincing victories in the assembly elections of 2004 and 2009 were evidence of Andhra returning to the Congress fold. Crucially, both the assembly elections coincided with general elections. In 2004, the 30-plus seats that YSR delivered to the Congress helped the party leap ahead of the BJP and stake its claim to form a government at the Centre after eight years in the wilderness. In 2009, defying conventional wisdom, he delivered an almost identical tally from Andhra Pradesh to the Congress in the Lok Sabha, again crucial in the party emerging on top at the political stakes in New Delhi. For the Congress, his contribution was equally important in wresting power in Andhra Pradesh and at the Centre.

His contribution to politics and government, however, extend beyond what he delivered to the Congress. He first gained the respect of the people of Andhra with a 1,400-km padayatra he undertook across the state in the peak of summer before the elections for 2004. He modelled himself as a populist chief minister who came up with numerous welfare schemes and other subsidies for the poor and the less well-off in the state. This was, in part, a conscious strategy to counter his predecessor Chandrababu Naidu’s more urban, tech-savvy image. While he delivered on various populist schemes—the Aarogyasri health scheme, free power to farmers, highly subsidised rice were among the better known ones—he did not entirely turn away from his predecessor’s vision of an industrialised Andhra Pradesh, even if he chose not to highlight this for political reasons. As someone who was viewed as a doer, he would likely have drawn more investment and more industry to Andhra Pradesh during the course of his second term. Now that task falls on whoever is chosen as his successor. For the sake of Andhra Pradesh, one hopes that his successor will continue to strive for the state’s development with the same energy and commitment as YSR did.







The recommendation of a government-appointed panel headed by pension regulator D Swarup to scrap the agent fee for financial products—charged to the buyer—is welcome and must be enforced at the earliest. Mutual funds have become no-load with effect from last month as is the New Pension Scheme. The same norm should apply to other financial products, particularly insurance products, which are often mis-sold. The current incentive structure induces agents to look after their own interest rather than that of the customer. The high front-loading of the commission comes from the archaic Insurance Act, 1938, where the commission for the first year can be as high as 40% of the premium. The Act was framed at a time when it was a single-player industry and front-loading was set on the premise that the agent would serve the policyholder over the entire policy life of 10 to 15 years. But times have since changed, and there are more than two dozen companies selling a plethora of insurance products. Now, each time an agent switches companies, or a new agent approaches a policyholder of some other company, he can potentially get those customers to sell their old policy and buy a new one. Churning a product where the customer has paid the service fee in advance for the next 10 to 15 years is an unfair practice loaded against an individual buyer. And with no system in place to refund the commission paid for the years foregone, the consumer ends up losing not just money, but also faith in the financial system. The regulation must, therefore, change to keep pace with changing market dynamics and prevent rampant mis-selling by agents.


Changing the commission structure will, however, not be an easy task for the regulator as Sebi learnt when it eliminated the 2.5% entry load on mutual funds in June this year. Agents across the country went on strike, and may now have lost the drive to persuade retail investors to invest in mutual funds. However, the onus ought to be on mutual funds, and in the future, insurance companies, to create an appropriate incentive structure for agents. Indians are, of course, conscious of the merits of savings—the household savings rate is over 30%—and an efficient conversion of this into investment is a major challenge. The growth in the number of market-linked insurance plans and home loans indicates that at least the middle class is experimenting with financial products and credit. Without the burden of an entry load and agent fee, many more people will be encouraged to put their savings in a diverse range of financial products. That can only be a good thing.








On Saturday, the finance ministers of the Group of 20 countries including India will descend on London to discuss if it is indeed time to discuss an ‘exit strategy’—a plan to unwind the unprecedented fiscal stimuli countries provided to their economies to shore up growth in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.


The developed world is itself quite divided on the timing. Though the global economy is beginning to recover slowly, the United States and the United Kingdom do not want to jeopardise growth prospects by withdrawing early. Germany and France are pushing for an early exit. In fact, they did not want a stimulus the day after they reluctantly agreed to one. The dominant or key question at the London meeting will be when to exit.


India is beset with its own problems, drought adding a new dimension. It has, however, made it clear that the expansionary fiscal stance it adopted since September 2008 needs to be reversed. More than once finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has expressed his intention to get back to the path of fiscal prudence at the earliest. He actually drove home the point in a meeting of the full Planning Commission chaired by the Prime Minister himself on Tuesday.


There are no two views that India has a runaway deficit—6.8 per cent of gross domestic product, highest in 16 years. Next year, what will hurt growth prospects more is a supply constraint rather than a shortage of demand. When supply is short, inflation is a real threat, and continuing with additional spending will only fuel prices. Fiscal consolidation during such times turns out to be pro-growth, exerting a downward pressure on interest rates, economists will tell you.


While all this is absolutely true, Mukherjee will realise how daunting the task is—with drought demanding copious Central funds, lower growth prospects this year and the next, inflation expected to rear its head again by March 2009, and a resource shortfall to the tune of Rs 1,60,000 crore—in the coming months. Even as he commences unwinding on the fiscal side, the Reserve Bank of India—already jittery over the inflation outlook—will rush to reverse its monetary stance.


India realised the severity of the global financial crisis last year only after it spread to the real economy. There was much denial in the early period of the crisis. It was almost July 2008 when the UPA government first acknowledged that India will be hit indirectly because of the crisis. A staccato of stimulus packages followed between September last and July 2009. These had two broad components—tax cuts and expenditure increases, and monetary expansion.


Political parties in India and the ruling United Progressive Alliance government were in the midst of preparing for general elections when confronted with the harsh realities of the global crisis.


The fiscal stimulus, naturally, got aligned to the political agenda of the UPA that was seeking a bigger mandate from the people for a second term. So, much of the extra resources or stimulus moneys was directed towards the UPA’s flagship programmes such as National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Bharat Nirman, Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission, etc. Political expediency may have demanded this of the UPA then, but the difficulty now will be in unwinding these.


When Mukherjee said he would restore the fiscal deficit to 5.5 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) by 2010-11 and further to 4 per cent by 2011-12, he had not anticipated the drought and its adverse fallout on agricultural output. He only knew that the 6.8 per cent of GDP deficit projected for 2009-10 was not sustainable. Sanity had to prevail on the fiscal side. For this, he will have to hike taxes (restore the rates to pre-September 2008 levels) and curb expenditure.


Raising taxes, we all reckon, is probably easier. Cutting spending will be difficult. What invariably happens in such a scenario is fund allocations for all schemes, including the good ones, get trimmed. Worse, new schemes are discouraged. They are put on the backburner to accommodate existing ones and the flagships. Even so, unless the finance minister directs his scissors to flagships, he can achieve little ‘unwinding’ or ‘exit’ on the expenditure front.


If the intentions of the government and the Reserve Bank of India are indeed to bind themselves to fiscal rectitude in the ensuing years, the market borrowings to meet the stimulus requirements should be of shorter duration.


The lowest tenure paper that the RBI has ever issued is five years. It makes immense sense to opt for three-year papers such that Mukherjee finds himself squeezed for funds in 2012. The huge repayments will ensure he does not have the money to top-up various Plan schemes. Besides, it will also save on interest payments. Good intentions, without policy action, are simply not enough.


The author is national business editor, The Indian Express








It is an interesting idea to have a public-civil society-private initiative on preparing development policy and a plan for a special region. This idea will face flack from those who are ossified in a particular statist mindset. Yet the time for it has come, and it is doable.


It is interesting that despite all the new initiatives taken on inclusive growth policies, particularly new institutional building at the local level including networking and planning, the corporate sector has remained largely in splendid isolation. Inspite of all the CSR initiatives, the dominant view is to stay off the government. Participation in the preparation of a development plan for a difficult region by civil society organisations would be an interesting and challenging exercise and I suspect has much larger consequences than those Rahul Gandhi has publicly hinted.


Bundelkhand is a special region. It has a typography of low hills, mounds, valleys and ravines. More than one-third of the land is not available for cultivation and the climate is arid. Irrigation intensity and cropping intensity are low and the region has illiteracy and poverty. The undulating typography, underdeveloped irrigation potential and rainfed farming suggest water conservation, soil management, ground water development, crop diversification and improved agricultural services as strategies. The area is rich in its cultural heritage and vastly increased and improved tourism is a possibility. The area is rich in its animal wealth and has long traded in cattle with regions as far off as Gujarat.


Cereals, fodder, oilseeds and pulses are grown here at very low yield levels. Yields of oilseeds and pulses are comparable to all-India levels which are abysmally low. For example, Canada, from where India imports more than half its pulses, has yields of around 1800 kg per hectare, but in India and in this region, it is as low as 600 kg per hectare. The level of agro services support in the area is abysmal.


This is a handicap because newer seeds are available for oilseeds and pulses and both benefit considerably from judicious pest management. Also processing and marketing would add to income, although the government of India has a very jaundiced policy for dryland crops and imports highly subsidised pulses and oilseeds with no tariff protection, to keep prices down. There is hardly any public procurement at minimum support prices here. There is substantial black cotton soil, so cotton is grown, although unlike other areas there is little Bt cotton. Tourism infrastructure and training for tourism services as also for agri services could create many jobs for unemployed youth.


The Ken Betwa Project could augment water resources in a big way. I opposed the initial project because it gave a lot of data from soil scientists to show that flood irrigation would destroy two-thirds of its soils. Limited irrigation (for oilseeds, cotton, fodder crops and pulses) could be very beneficial, but the actually designed irrigation for flood paddy would have been a disaster.


Hopefully these warts have been sorted out and a new Ken Betwa would bring prosperity. In the early 1980s, Jaya Bhaduri’s father had written a few articles in The Statesman from Bhopal to show that the Tawa project was creating havoc. Indira Gandhi wanted to know more. When I reached there, I found that a gate of the canal would not close and so it was mercilessly flooding good black cotton soil which becomes a nightmare when marshy. The Tawa had been designed for paddy and of course it would hardly grow in this soil. I asked them why they were forcing paddy on this soil. I was told that was the priority in the national plan. They had set up a research centre where they could grow nine quintal of paddy which was less than the unirrigated yield. I am supposed to be a big dam walla but swore to myself that if I have anything to do with it we would not spoil good land.


This level of detail in an opinion piece is essential because that’s what local planning is all about. The moral is to solve problems there. The Planning Commission is giving Rs 12 crore to build a district plan. It can be used for hiring experts, consultants and building good projects. It should also be used to build institutions which work and which may not always be the sarkar. I haven’t seen a single good plan yet. So, if you are a good NGO, a good self-help group or coop, a good company, and a good collector, let’s build a good plan. Do it in Bundelkhand but Rahul Gandhi won’t mind if you do it elsewhere too.


The author is a former Union minister and former vice-chancellor, JNU








In the current market environment, stressed companies are more likely to undertake divestment of non-core or non-performing assets to generate funds for core businesses. Intense pressure is bearing down on executives to create the right divestment strategies as companies are focusing more on consolidating their operations rather than on organic or inorganic expansion.


Consolidation is expected in most industries on account of the economic slowdown and interestingly M&A is coming across as a strategic decision for business growth. While it is hard to imagine a more challenging environment for M&A, with the current economic environment causing many companies to focus on survival rather than growth, there could still be unparallelled opportunities to acquire assets at very modest valuations, provided companies get their timing and preparation right. Those that are in a strong financial position will find opportunities in the market that have the potential to dramatically increase their market share .


There will be changes in the way deals are financed and executed. With lower leveraging ability, promoter contribution becomes more important, and banks may require additional comfort from borrowers. This will significantly reduce highly leveraged buyouts. Maximum debt levels are likely to be between 2.5-3 X EBITDA (post acquisition) vis-à-vis levels of 4-5 X EBITDA, structured through multiple levels of senior, subordinate, quasi and unsecured debt instruments.


Distressed sales are likely to go up on account of exit from non-core assets to raise cash and managing FCCB redemptions. Also, shares pledged by promoters to raise funds, which may be off-loaded either in the market or to other strategic buyers in the event the promoters fail to meet their obligations, could add to distressed sales.


Overall, M&A transactions, could be looked at as a strategic move to reposition for the future, post the economic slowdown increase existing market share and acquire new technology and competence.


The author is partner & national director in Ernst & Young’s transaction advisory services. These are his personal views








In the heart-rending tragedy of Yeduguri Sandinti Rajasekhara Reddy’s death in a helicopter crash, Andhra Pradesh has lost its most charismatic leader and the Congress its most politically talented and resourceful Chief Minister. A medical graduate, YSR, as he was widely known, was inducted into politics by his father, Y.S. Raja Reddy, a shrewd politician of Pulivendula in Kadapa district who was murdered by rivals. YSR proved a quick study. He became an MLA at the a ge of 29, a Minister two years later, and never lost an Assembly or Lok Sabha election thereafter. A devout Christian, he made pilgrimages to Bethlehem and Tirumala with equal piety, showing his broadmindedness. The real surprise was his metamorphosis from a factional leader whose detractors dismissed him as a rebel without a cause into a party unifier. The game-changing event was his 1500-km padayatra in 2003, which brilliantly tapped into mass unrest over the agrarian crisis and catapulted him to the seat of power a year later. For five years and three months, YSR strode the State stage as the Strong Leader. There was no effective challenge from the Opposition or, for that matter, from within what used to be a notoriously faction-ridden State Congress. Such was his self-assurance that when he made it back to power with a wafer thin majority, he did not perceive any real threat to his pre-eminence. He had accomplished something extraordinary in post-1971 Congress affairs: emerged from the long shadow of the high command without raising doubts about his loyalty.


YSR was a strategic risk-taker who looked around eclectically for ideas that would be useful to him and initiated a plethora of welfare schemes to alleviate extreme economic distress among the rural and urban masses. His most impressive political achievements were the confidence and can-do spirit he injected into his camp and the political credibility he won for his schemes through incessant mass contact. His tenure, however, was marked by controversy, with a number of allegations of corruption and misuse of power levelled against him and his regime. He also showed signs of intolerance of criticism, which was revealed in his government’s vendetta against the Eenadu group. YSR achieved the distinction of being the only Congress leader to serve a full five-year term as Chief Minister and was on course for a second full term. He tirelessly presented his mission as the transformation of agriculture and farmers’ lives and the ending of agrarian distress. His ‘Jalayagnam’ drive to irrigate ten million acres of land by 2014, his Agriculture Technology Mission, his vigorous implementation and expansion of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, and his schemes to supply rice at Rs. 2 a kg to the poor and provide free power to farmers won him enormous credibility on the ground. His death at the age of 60 is the kind of loss the Congress will find extremely difficult to recover from.







The sense of optimism in the wake of the release of the GDP data for the first quarter of the current financial year (April-June 2009) is rooted in the belief that the worst might be over. The rate of growth at 6.1 per cent might not be significantly higher than the 5.8 per cent recorded in the two previous quarters. But viewed in conjunction with other recent economic data it does indicate recovery, albeit a muted one. The index of industrial production (IIP) for June had suggested industrial recovery. At 7.8 per cent, it was the highest in 16 months. The GDP estimates reinforce the view that the turnaround in the industrial sector has begun. The manufacturing sector grew by 3.4 per cent. Construction, a laggard in previous quarters, grew by an impressive 7.1 per cent. The biggest segment in the services sector— trade, hotels, transport and communications — recorded a reasonably robust growth of 8.1 per cent. The segment comprising finance, insurance, real estate, and business services has actually fared better than last year.


Since the Finance Minister has ruled out new stimulus packages, future growth prospects will depend on spending by the private sector rather than by the government. The biggest uncertainty is over the performance of agriculture and allied activities. During the first quarter, agriculture, forestry and fishing grew by 2.4 per cent. The impact of the drought will be felt only in the subsequent quarters. Despite the tentative growth signals emanating from other sectors, agricultural performance in a drought-hit year is bound to drag down the rate of GDP growth during 2009-10. The Planning Commission, in a report issued ahead of the mid-term appraisal of the 11th Plan, forecasts a GDP growth of 6.3 per cent in 2009-10, slightly lower than last year’s 6.7 per cent growth and way below the 9 per cent average rate clocked in the three preceding years. It is likely that the impact of the drought on agricultural growth will be worse than anticipated. The Planning Commission’s projection is based on the assumption that there will be a turnaround in the fourth quarter and that agricultural output will fall by only 2.5 per cent, which seems an optimistic estimate in the light of the reported crop losses. Growth prospects would still seem to be marked by a great deal of uncertainty.









The catastrophic accident that wrecked Russia’s largest hydroelectric plant last month blew a gaping hole in Siberia’s energy balance and highlighted fatal flaws in government economic strategies.


On the morning of August 17, water gushing down the 245-metre high dam suddenly ripped off the lid of one of the station’s 10 turbines, tore up the rotor and hurled it into the air. Floods swept down the engine room, crushing everything on their way. Out of dozens of workers trapped on several floors of the engine room, only a few could escape. When rescue workers pumped out water days later, they found 74 bodies. One worker is still unaccounted for.


The accident caused a complete shutdown of the world’s fifth largest hydropower plant. Out of the station’s 10 generators, three were destroyed and three others badly damaged. Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said it was the most serious technological accident in Russia since the Chernobyl nuclear plant catastrophe. Built in 1979, the Sayano-Shushenskaya station is still Russia’s largest hydroelectric project with a capacity of 6700 MW, more than four times the capacity of India’s biggest Nathpa Jhakri station.


The shutdown of the plant knocked out a quarter of electricity generated by hydropower facilities in Russia, or 2.5 per cent of the country’s total electricity output. It will take at least four years and about 40 billion rubles ($1.25 billion) to repair the plant, said the owner, RusHydro company. The total loss to the Russian economy may exceed $3 billion.


The exact cause of the accident is yet to be established. Preliminary investigation found an unusual vibration in turbine No.2 a few hours before it went berserk. Experts also point to more general causes: lack of capital investment to renovate the Soviet-era creaking infrastructure and misconstrued economic reforms.


The Sayano-Shushenskaya plant is one of Russia’s newest hydropower projects, but it is already 30 years old. “Hydroelectric generators have a maximum service life of 30-35 years, thereafter they must be replaced, but this is not happening: there has been no substantial renovation and expansion of installed capacities during the years of reforms [1992-2009],” says Dr. Anatoly Kuzovkin of the Institute of Macroeconomics.


Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ordered a thorough check of all strategic infrastructure projects and asked the Energy Ministry to draw up a plan for their regular upgrade. But experts say the order came way too late. Massive investment in infrastructure should have been made during the oil boom. “The review will show that infrastructure needs hundreds of billions of rubles to renovate it, but there is no money in the crisis-hit state coffers,” said Professor Igor Nikolayev of the FBK financial consultancy.


The government’s failure to modernise the crumbling Soviet-built infrastructure is threatening the nation’s security, critics said. “Technogenic accidents are snowballing … Equipment and infrastructure are horrendously worn out and neglected,” columnist Sergei Leskov wrote in the Izvestia paper.


The Sayano-Shushenskaya accident has triggered a wave of criticism targeting Mr. Putin, who served as President for eight years before becoming Prime Minister in May 2008. While his predecessor Boris Yeltsin is held responsible for plunging Russia’s economy into the worst crisis since World War II, Mr. Putin is blamed for failing to use record windfalls from energy sales to renovate the ageing infrastructure.


When Mr. Putin succeeded Mr. Yeltsin in 2000, the Emergency Situations Ministry warned that decaying infrastructure would be the cause of most technological accidents in the coming years. Yet in 2002, the government cancelled a corporate profit tax rebate that allowed businessmen to use for capital investment between 50 and 100 per cent of profits tax-free. In response to repeated appeals from the business community, the Economic Development Ministry last year agreed to consider restoring the tax allowance, but the Finance Ministry vetoed the proposal.


“Russia today has almost no infrastructure and industry apart from what it has inherited from the Soviet Union,” says Dr. Mikhail Delyagin, director of the Institute of Globalization Problems. A senior official at the Energy Ministry admitted earlier this year that investment in the energy sector in the past five years fell 40 per cent short of what was needed. While many governments see the global crisis as an opportunity to modernise their economies, Russia looks set to miss this chance.


“The Russian government has set aside for modernisation less than 2 per cent of the anti-crisis package, compared with 12 per cent in the United States and 80 per cent in Korea,” said Dr. Boris Porfiryev of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of the Economy.


According to Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, the wear and tear in Russia’s hydropower industry is about 80 per cent. He blamed the privatisation and restructuring reform of the state-owned United Energy Systems (UES), Russia’s largest power company, for this state of the industry. Under the reform approved by Mr. Putin’s government, the monopoly was split into 10 wholesale power companies sold out to private investors and a federal grid. Mr. Mironov said the new owners were interested only in maximising profits.


“The state hoped the sell-off would draw massive investments to the power generation sector. But the hopes have failed to materialise even in the case of RusHydro, where the state holds a majority stake, let alone the fully private thermal power companies,” the Upper House Speaker said commenting on the Sayano-Shushenskaya accident. “Owners are cutting costs at the expense of maintenance, repairs and renovation of equipment.”


Lack of proper oversight at privatised facilities has aggravated the situation. “In the past 10 years, a three-tier system of specialised repairs that existed in the electricity sector has been destroyed,” said the former Deputy Energy Minister, Viktor Kudyavy.


Whatever efforts the state has made to improve safety procedures have been foiled by corruption that assumed endemic proportions during Mr. Putin’s presidency. “For a bribe one can get any certificate or permit,” complained Deputy Gennady Gudkov of the Lower House Security Committee.


The cosy relationship between the state and business tycoons under Yeltsin firmed up under Mr. Putin, creating a totally corrupt economic system, critics say. Dr. Dmitri Oreshkin of the Mercator think tank calls the system “burness,” an acronym for “bureaucratic business.” “This is when bureaucrats are engaged in business and business buys up the bureaucracy,” the analyst said.


The Sayano-Shushenskaya plant worked at over-peak capacity in recent months to meet the demand for electricity at Siberian aluminium smelters owned by the Kremlin-linked oligarch, Oleg Deripaska. His RusAl, the world’s biggest producer of aluminium, consumes 75 per cent of the power generated at the plant. RusAl buys electricity at cut-rate prices (electricity prices in Russia are set by the state). Mr. Deripaska once boasted that cheap Siberian electricity would enable the Russian aluminium industry to beat American rivals.


“Deripaska pays for electricity much less than other Russian consumers, including the households,” the Novaya Gazeta wrote. “The state could have taken away part of aluminium barons’ profits through more fair electricity prices, but it does not want to… Part of the money could be used to improve the safety at hydropower plants.”


A new study, published days before the accident, claims that despite Mr. Putin’s crackdown on oligarchs in the early years of his presidency, the business barons are no less powerful today than they were during the Yeltsin era, when they virtually took over the state.


“Today the oligarchs may not dictate their will but they speak on behalf of the state,” said the study prepared by respected economists Nikita Krichevsky and Vladislav Inozemtsev. The authors call Russian oligarchs “time-serving operators” who, with government connivance, have transferred industrial assets to offshore zones and have stashed away profits in foreign banks.


“It cannot be ruled out that government officials helping the oligarchs have been guided by selfish interest: they may be among secret beneficiaries of leading Russian corporations,” the study said.


In recent years, the oligarchs have been paying to themselves increasingly generous dividends that have sometimes exceeded company profits, even as their firms ran up huge debts. Mr. Deripaska, who recently ranked as Russia’s wealthiest oligarch, received $8.2 billion as dividends between 2005 and 2008. When the crisis struck, he applied for and got a $4.5-billion bailout from the government to refinance a syndicated loan to western banks. Economist Delyagin has formulated the underlying principle of Russian reforms under both Yeltsin and Mr. Putin as “privatisation of profits and nationalisation of losses.”


Ten days after the accident at the Sayano-Shushenskaya plant, the government approved a new energy strategy that calls for investing $40 billion in the power generation sector every year till 2030. Experts are sceptical of the success of the plan unless Russia reforms its unworkable economic system.


“While external factors — oil prices, hard currency reserves, foreign crediting — have changed since the Yeltsin era, the Putin economic model is basically the same that was then and that brought the country to a default in 1998,” concludes Dr. Delyagin.









It was about 6.30 in the evening on August 24. He broke away from addressing a gathering of bankers to have a chat with some of us on how the NREGS was doing in his State. And he was as concerned with its failures as he was pleased with its overall performance. The one point where Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy laughed was when we came to changing attitudes to the work among the village elites. Especially the decline of the contemptuous manner in which landowners used to summon Da lit or Adivasi labourers to work. “Those old attitudes had to change,” he said.


Rewind to 2004. Andhra Pradesh was seen as the one State where the Congress had no chance of making a comeback in the polls. Those were the glory days of N. Chandrababu Naidu. Something YSR was soon to demolish. The terrible summer of 2003 had seen thousands of non-state “gruel centres” trying to combat a rising tide of hunger across Telangana and Rayalaseema. Remember, there was no NREGS then (The Hindu Sunday Magazine, June 15 and 22, 2003: “Gruel Centres & the Politics of Free Lunches and Hi-Tech, Low Nutrition”).


Today, in the drought, the NREGS works where gruel centres struggled. But in 2003, the phrase “Congress leadership” was a contradiction in terms in the State. Most of the State’s senior Congressmen were themselves in awe of Chandrababu Naidu.



YSR thought differently. He went out on a mass contact ‘padayatra’ and walked through village after village tapping the rising discontent. It would be wrong to call it, as some have called it, “an undercurrent.” It was a torrent. One that YSR harnessed for a pathetic, demoralised, self-doubting party that leapt in alarm if the media just said ‘boo.’ Going to the spot was a practice he retained even after becoming Chief Minister. If he thought he saw a problem developing, he did not wait for it to come to him. This was so even with a natural calamity. As during the 2006 floods when he was all over the place directing relief operations — while his counterpart in Maharashtra, for instance, never got his feet wet.


Years before that, when the national media were still dismissive of a spate of suicides among distressed farmers, Rajasekhara Reddy was quick to visit Bandi Lakshmamma in Anantapur. She was the wife of the first reported farm suicide victim to have caught attention in Andhra Pradesh, thanks to some exceptional reporting by a few reporters in the Telugu press. By April 2004, farmers’ suicides were to be among the most decisive issues of the elections in Andhra Pradesh, both to the Lok Sabha and the Assembly.


One of the first things Rajasekhara Reddy did upon becoming Chief Minister was to appoint an enthusiastic Agriculture Minister — Raghuveera Reddy from Anantapur, the district that had perhaps suffered the worst of the crisis.


Together they tried to tackle the distress. No other State declared compensation payments to so many families affected by the suicide of their breadwinners. Andhra Pradesh set up a Commission, chaired by Professor Jayati Ghosh, to study the entire gamut of agrarian distress. The macro-policies of the State and the Centre conflicted with the thrust of the Commission’s excellent report, but this was still the first such effort by any State to engage with the farm crisis.



Rajasekhara Reddy as Chief Minister was ruthless, shrewd, alert and on-the-ball. Despite a larger vision that invited big trouble down the line — like his wrong and relentless stance on Special Economic Zones — he understood his State better than his colleagues. He saw the importance of hunger in all of Andhra Pradesh and not just in the rural regions. Rajasekhara Reddy massively added to the number of Below Poverty Line family cards in the State. His 2004 victory was viewed as a “rural revolt.” In 2006, he swept the urban bodies, leading the Congress to an absolute majority in 68 municipalities and grabbing the chairperson’s post in 75 out of 96.


The great “USP” of the Telugu Desam Party came with NTR’s promise (and delivery) of rice at Rs. 2 a kg. The Congress of that time ridiculed the measure (now firmly in place in several States) and was buried in the electoral avalanche that followed. Years after the TDP moved away from that legacy, YSR was to grab it and even project it (in factual terms quite wrongly) as a Congress idea — Indiramma’s dream. In 2009, cheap rice on the Public Distribution System proved a huge boost to all those governments providing it. Andhra Pradesh gave the Congress more MPs than any other State. More than Maharashtra and Karnataka put together. Rajasekhara Reddy had stolen the clothes the TDP had discarded. Among Congress Chief Ministers, he stood out as someone who was his own man. Irascible and on a short-fuse but decisive, he rose above and held together an incoherent and faction-ridden party. As a leader he was cocky, contradictory, yet often strangely convincing.


The 2009 polls also saw him at his shrewd best. YSR was delighted when the Left opted to go with Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP and not with Chiranjeevi’s PRP. He was gambling on Chiranjeevi doing what Chiranjeevi did — draw away the anti-Congress vote. Rajasekhara Reddy was going by the only precedent there was — the 1978 State elections when the then “Brahmananda Reddy Congress” polled roughly what the PRP did this time, diverting the anti-Congress vote and gutting the Janata Party. That was the year YSR entered politics, and he remembered its lesson well. He ends his innings as the only Congressman in the State with a mass following and appeal, so evident in the outpouring of grief across the State.



Rajasekhara Reddy’s time in power also saw charges of corruption against his government, and a range of scandals in both government and the crony corporate world close to it. Like the Satyam scam.


Some of those charges were serious, some of the scams massive.


And some policies were very regressive. Still, on the NREGS, aspects of rural development, welfare schemes and pensions, he promoted and encouraged a fine if small group of officers who delivered.


Distress migration fell as the NREGS expanded. In Anantapur, the number of people seeking work under the NREGS in just the first 15 days of August was 150 per cent higher than the number during the entire corresponding month last year. In many villages, almost every family sends a member to the NREGS site.

But YSR’s legacy will also carry the burden of some very damaging irrigation projects and a bizarre number of SEZs — 103 approved at last count. The displacement all these will entail will be stunning and will affect one and a half million human beings or more. Some of those irrigation schemes will incur bills no one can pay. In that sense, he was lucky in Elections 2009. The progressive policies paid off. The outcome of the more negative policies will be felt later, perhaps around 2012, had he lived on.


YSR was dynamic and effective, ruthless and authoritarian. An idea he liked would translate into an order shortly after he heard it. He seldom kept it pending. The suggestion that the Land Development Work under the NREGS in the State be prioritised to first benefit Dalit, Adivasi and women-headed households was such an idea. He also sat up at the mention of Dr. M.S. Swaminathan’s idea of sending all students and faculty members of agricultural universities and colleges to the fields and farms for two months in this time of crisis. You could see he was making a note of it.


Somebody was going to receive an order.









The empowerment of the less privileged is today a national priority, across political parties and governments. In this context, a look at how Sree Narayana Guru addressed issues of socio-economic and cultural reforms for the less the privileged in Kerala a century and a half ago will be relevant.


His empowerment programmes covered a sizeable deprived population in the Travancore, Kochi and Malabar provinces. His target groups were unorganised, mostly illiterate and without access rights to public places such as roads, markets, courts, temples, schools and even hospitals. In order to impose their supremacy, caste Hindus and rulers insisted that these sections follow separate dress and hair codes. Their status was that of slaves and bonded labourers. They were traded like commodities by landlords, even by governments and kings. When the British consolidated their power in India, the new rulers remained silent spectators of the social injustice. The marginalisation of the weaker sections enabled Christian missionaries to go ahead with mass conversions.


Sandwiched between the caste Hindu rulers and the tactful missionaries, the Guru sought to reach the unreached. It was a big task, for which he got no support from the ruling class. And, he had zero resources. He could, however, successfully address the subject without hurting the feelings of the rulers. He neither expected nor asked for help. He was confident in the strength of the poor. He awakened the hidden strength in them.


Following his own strategy, he could win the people’s faith and formulate a series of projects and programmes for them. He could also successfully implement them with the help of their leaders, although they had had no earlier experience in such tasks. He focussed on organisation, education, thrift, savings, investments, venture capital, trade and commerce, skill development and institution-building. He minimised wasteful expenditure on family and social functions, improved personal and neighbourhood hygiene, addressed issues of personal health care, and introduced good practices in family and in society.


He implemented these programmes successfully more than a century ago when there was poor access to transport, communication and resources, and no organisational support. The only driving force was the spirit to perform and cross hurdles. Yet the process of change resulted in a new confidence among the target group. They organised themselves, raised resources and volunteered their services for the reform process. The whole process survived for a couple of decades and slowly lost its spirit, yet left behind admirable and visible changes.


A comparison between what happened in terms of social changes then and what is happening now will throw light on the missing links in our current project formulation and delivery mechanism. India is an independent and growing nation. But it has a sizeable number of illiterate and poor people. Its poverty alleviation programmes are the largest of their kind with social instruments like Self Help Groups. Yet we continue to be less than efficient in eradicating poverty and empowering the less privileged.


We should then find the missing links. If it was possible for a social reformer more than a century ago, with an unfavourable support system, why are we failing to achieve our objectives as a mighty nation? Introspection and learning from our own success models should help. During the Guru Jayanti celebrations, those who hold in high regard such leaders and acknowledge their achievements, should address the subject and institutionalise the process.


Different forums can address this subject. A suitable mindset needs to be created first. Following social science research methodology, similar success stories in their respective contexts can be studied and documented. With the required changes, these tools can be further sharpened for need-based project formulation and implementation in local areas. Such methodology will be indigenous and therefore will have obvious advantages. It will reflect local aspirations and will therefore ensure peoples’ participation. In the process, we should find out any missing links. It may be the much required energy, or some other factor. We should find out.


When the success stories are available right here, why are we shy to acknowledge our own strengths? We do not need new ideologies and strategies to remove poverty from our land. We should rather perfect our skills and export them to remove poverty from the face of the earth. Local change agents can address the subject. This is possible only when we find value in our own skills and resources and start taking pride in them. In the process we could enrich our culture and emerge as winners in terms of social reforms.


From the Prime Minister to the anganwadi teacher, an added spirit to find values in our own strength is the need. If Mahatma Gandhi could ignite it for freedom and the Guru could generate zeal for the deprived in Kerala, why cannot this mighty nation fulfil its national priorities? We should pool our energies and enable others to optimise performance. That will bring forth the awaited glow, and our villages and towns will blossom with life.









The recent elections in Afghanistan were historic, but fraud eclipsed it. Democracy has never been easy in Afghanistan, but it now faces the twin challenges of surviving the vicious propaganda of the Taliban and the unscrupulousess of the Afghan polity. The elections were rife with fraud, especially in the insurgency-hit parts of southern Afghanistan. Terming them an unmitigated success or failing to investigate the fraud would constitute an injustice to the Afghan people.


The presidential and provincial elections were supposed to be a watershed. Unlike the 2004 presidential and 2005 parliamentary elections, these were not conducted by the U.N. An indigenous election commission (which was commendably efficient) was in charge. The Taliban called for a boycott, and rejected offers for a ceasefire during the elections. It warned voters of dire consequences. Given the deteriorating security situation since 2006 and the state of governance, there was strong support for opposition candidates.


The U.N. and its agencies that were assisting in the conduct of the election tried to keep expectations low. What could be expected was an “acceptably credible” election, they said, rather than an “expression of the will of the people” or a “free and fair election.” Such semantic acrobatics failed to predict the travesty that transpired.


The pre-election period was marked by intimidation of voters and candidates. While the Taliban threatened voters with bodily harm, the candidates bribed them. While focussing on the Taliban threat, the international community has ignored the corruption. Several instances of malpractice have come to light. There were significant complaints of intimidation of opposition candidates’ supporters and campaigners by police and security agencies. Some police officers allegedly took ballot boxes home in the guise of “protection” and returned them stuffed with ballots.


Voter turnout is being taken by much of the international media and observers as the barometer of the success of the elections. But in reality, the turnout varied widely. In the north, despite violence by the Taliban in provinces such as Kunduz, it was rather high, touching 50 per cent in some towns. This was due to better security there, and the desire of the ethnic minorities to make their presence felt in the next government.


But the clincher was going to be the south. There were two reasons. First, the leading opposition candidates who belonged to ethnic minorities such as Tajiks and Hazaras had their largest support base in the north. Notwithstanding last-minute deals with Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum and others which helped Hamid Karzai get a foothold in the north, Mr. Karzai’s main constituency lay in the Pashtun-dominated south. Secondly, the Pashtuns feel victimised by both sides of the war. They have borne the brunt of coalition airstrikes that went wrong; the majority of casualties in Taliban suicide attacks have also been Pashtuns. Secular Pashtun nationalism as a political force has been decimated by Islamic extremism. The Pashtuns feel the former Northern Alliance-dominated government in Kabul has been unrepresentative and unresponsive to them, with Mr. Karzai as a figurehead. Thus, the vote bank of the Pashtuns, who comprise the largest ethnicity in Afghanistan and are concentrated in the South, was crucial.


Naturally, the elections in the South were expected to be close. In the run-up, most of the candidates tried to identify themselves with voters in the South through tribal or other ties of kinship. But on polling day, the region was under siege by the Taliban. It would be surprising if the elections are considered to be a nation-wide success.


The elections were needed to legitimise the Karzai government and its political-military actions to fight insurgency. The fraud has thus created a Catch-22 situation. Questioning their credibility would aid the Taliban propaganda and would amount to a strategic loss for the coalition. Declaring them a success would fuel the sense of injustice among Afghans, creating recruits for the Taliban and feed conspiracy theories about the elections being stage-managed by the West. While this dilemma is not easy to resolve, declaring the elections a complete success would prove more costly than admitting the faults and investigating them.


Fundamental to such dilemmas are questions about the wisdom of having a democratic system for Afghanistan. One influential tribal leader in southern Afghanistan summed it up thus: “Why is democracy being imposed on us? Under the tribal system, people obeyed us leaders. They came to us to resolve disputes and we protected them.” His contention was that the West was asking Afghanistan to achieve democracy in a span of a few years, a task that the West itself took centuries to accomplish. Voting for a candidate was still largely along tribal lines. Tribal voters considered voting as a method of buying the patronage and protection (even from the law) of a powerful candidate. The argument is that democracy as the rest of the world understands it is unsustainable, if not unsuitable, here. This theory has several takers in the West; they think the political solution to Afghanistan’s travails is to accommodate the Taliban in the Kabul government.


Nothing could be farther from the truth. Nobody has considered what the average Afghan wants. Afghans, especially the youth, desire democracy. They have respect for the jirga system, but do not want to see it become the de jure system of national governance. Nor do Afghans, even in the Pashtun areas, desire the return of the Taliban. The U.S. and its allies may be in the throes of redefining their mission in Afghanistan as one of “denying Al-Qaeda the possibility of revival” rather than state-building, but for Afghans a Taliban triumph would amount to a renewed betrayal of the Afghan people by the West.


The value of the elections to the Afghan people cannot be under-estimated. Voter cynicism, caused by misgovernance, should not be mistaken for apathy. Justice should be done to Afghans by means of a thorough investigation of the cases of fraud, indictment of the fraudsters and revision of election results where necessary.


(Raja Karthikeya was an international observer for the elections in Afghanistan.)








The extraordinarily sympathetic reaction across the political spectrum to the tragic and untimely death of Andhra Pradesh’s dynamic chief minister and Congress leader Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy in a helicopter crash on Wednesday says a great deal. It is not hard to see that Dr Reddy’s opponents in politics read the popular mood, which was one of pervasive grief, as television cameras showed so comprehensively. Most leaders in public life get a pro forma expression of sympathy from many when death snatches them away. But that wouldn’t have done in the case of Dr Reddy. Routine condolences would clearly have been out of step with the people’s mood. No serious political party can afford to distance itself from an overwhelming public perception as that can have political costs. Such has been the impact of Dr Reddy’s passing that the BJP, the Congress’ chief political rival on the national stage, has announced it will fly the national flag at half-mast at its party headquarters, an honour reserved only for a few. Dr Reddy was an energetic and self-made political star. As chief minister he threw himself into development programmes that directly touched the lives of the poor with a passion that is uncommon. As the Leader of the Opposition in his state, he went on a 1,500-km padayatra in 2003 as a prelude to wresting power for his party in the Assembly election the following year from the redoubtable Telugu Desam Party, whose leader N. Chandrababu Naidu had earned a formidable reputation. This marked out the Congressman as someone to watch. Defying anti-incumbency, Dr Reddy repeated the triumph of 2004 in May this year, and also helped the Congress win most of the Lok Sabha seats in the state.


While YSR, as the late chief minister was popularly known, went about his development activities that were often labelled "populist" by his detractors, the administration he ran attracted the criticism of corruption from many quarters. But the main image of YSR during his time in office was one of a sturdy doer who had compassion for the downtrodden. The narrative he wove was one of saviour of the ordinary farmer in his state, who was buffeted by drought and debt during the earlier TDP government. In this he was quite different from his contemporaries and even from famous names from the past. In other respects, YSR was very much the accomplished politician. He was elected to the state Assembly and to the Lok Sabha four times each, a remarkable achievement by any measure. A good 10 years before he became chief minister he had already come to be seen as a powerful organisation figure in the Andhra Pradesh Congress. With luck, he could have been chief minister then and was very much in the reckoning. But the Congress leadership in P.V. Narasimha Rao’s day thought differently. Perhaps this worked to YSR’s advantage in the end. When he did come to the helm in the state, it was on the back of that massive padayatra which came to define him as the people’s man, and a stalwart in his own right. The departure of the powerful and popular chief minister is certain to leave the Congress with a problem. Replacing such a charismatic figure, who had also proven that he could deliver, is never easy.








The security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal has been a periodic cause for concern to the international community. A series of articles published last month have rekindled the lingering worries. The discussions were triggered by a piece written by Shaun Gregory, a respected analyst of Pakistan’s security affairs. Pointing to recent attacks on Pakistan’s nuclear installations, Mr Gregory observed that risk of terrorists gaining access to nuclear material was "genuine". He concluded that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons faced "a real and present danger" from the Al Qaeda and the Pakistan Taliban.


Pakistani officials and some analysts have sought to confute such claims, but with little success. They point out that despite attacks on these complexes there is no reason to believe that the nuclear weapons or materials were themselves ever at risk. Nevertheless, these arguments tend to be overshadowed by the grim picture of a Pakistan possessing well over 50 nuclear devices, and teeming with an assortment of terrorist groups.


Ever since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the possibility of terrorist groups acquiring nuclear weapons or material has kept awake the intelligence and security establishments of several countries. Although the Bush administration focused overtly on the threat of nuclear terrorism from Iraq, Iran, North Korea and Libya, Pakistan was always seen as a potential problem — one that was all the more tricky to handle because of its status as a frontline ally in the war on terror.


The administration sought to deal with the problem by offering technical help to enable Pakistan secure its weapons. The Pakistanis, however, were concerned that the Americans harboured designs on their arsenal, and so refused the offer. They did, however, take financial assistance amounting to $100 million over the next five years. Yet, Western intelligence agencies have continued to be concerned about reports indicating that terrorists could yet lay their hands on a Pakistani device.


Whilst the threat of nuclear terrorism from Pakistan cannot be ignored, it is important to take a measured view of the problem. It is rather more difficult for a terrorist group to carry out a nuclear attack than most analysts tend to assume.


For a start the Pakistanis have instituted several measures to secure their weapons. The physical measures include multi-tiered security systems to protect the weapons; use of underground storage sites; barriers and detection systems to provide warning against intrusions; the physical separation of warhead cores from the detonation components. The Pakistan Army has also dedicated sizeable numbers of troops for protecting the nuclear installations. The weapons themselves might be most vulnerable while in transit, particularly during crises or other emergencies. But even if a weapon fell into the hands of a terrorist group, it will be very difficult to use it without access to the codes. This suggests that collusion with insiders would be essential.


Under pressure from the US, the Pakistanis have instituted a Personnel Reliability Programme similar to the one used by the Americans. This programme screens individuals for Islamist sympathies, psychological disorders, drug problems and inappropriate external affiliations. Towards this end, the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) has created an in-house intelligence agency. This outfit also monitors bank transactions, religious habits, and political outlook of nuclear scientists.


These steps are unlikely to fully insulate the nuclear establishment from the wider currents of radicalism in Pakistani society. But they will make the terrorists’ job all the more difficult. For the most careful independent studies suggest that unless there is collusion with personnel at almost every link of the chain — from the SPD down to the base — getting hold of a weapon will be a major challenge.


Of course, it would be easier to get fissile material from installations controlled by civilians. Yet, even if some terrorists manage to lay their hands on nuclear material, fashioning a bomb is a daunting task. The Internet might be awash with information on building a nuclear bomb, but the actual requirements — metal works, machining, electronics — are far more demanding. To be sure, with the right team and adequate time, a terrorist group might be able to master the process. But let’s not forget that although nuclear weapons technology is decades old, few states have actually managed to successfully build a bomb. It would be much easier, and hence more tempting, for the terrorists to build a "dirty bomb". Such a device could disperse radioactive material over an area and create considerable panic; but its actual impact would be quite limited and manageable.


The nightmare scenario is that guardian of the Pakistani nukes, the Army, might itself hand over some assets to a terrorist group. Given the consequences that would ensue, this seems highly unlikely. Then again, it is difficult to treat this as pure fantasy. The Pakistan Army has a history of involvement in shadowy nuclear transfers. The so-called "A.Q. Khan network" could barely have existed, much less functioned, without the approval of the Army leadership.


The task for India is to deter such a move, however improbable, by the Pakistan Army. Any transfer of weapons or material to a terrorist group would be premised on the assumption of deniability. It is for India to ensure that Pakistan cannot bank on being able either to claim that the material was stolen or to pretend that the material did not originate from its arsenal.


The former would require India to affirm that the responsibility of safeguarding nuclear material rests with the state that controls it. This could be done either by official pronouncements or quieter back-channel communication. The latter would require us to develop technical capabilities to attribute an explosion or attack to the originating state. This would entail the creation of sophisticated methods to infer weapons design and isotopic details of the fissile material used. This would enable us to match an explosion to the fingerprint of a state. A demonstrable capability along these lines would act as a significant deterrent to nuclear assets transfer by any state. Nuclear forensics, then, is the next major challenge for India’s military-scientific establishment.


Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi








Watching the requiem mass for Senator Ted Kennedy, who died last week of brain cancer, you couldn’t help feel sad for the family. This is a family that has survived several tragedies. One brother dies at age 29 on a combat mission in World War II, and two are assassinated while still in their forties. A nephew, who everyone said is the heir apparent to the family’s political legacy, dies in a plane crash when he is not even 40.


My feelings were probably triggered by the solemnity of the church service, the calm cello performance by Yo-Yo Ma, a son’s emotional eulogy about his father ("And knowing what my cousins have been through, I feel grateful that I have had my father as long as I did", said Ted Kennedy Jr), and Kennedy’s second wife, Victoria, sitting gracefully in the front row, trying to choke back tears.


A friend watching the service on BBC (I don’t know why CNN didn’t show it live in this part of the world) remarked, "She’s still so gorgeous. Wonder how old she is". Next morning, one newspaper report asked, "Is it the end of Camelot?" Another called Ted Kennedy "The last knight of Camelot".


The service in the church reminded me of another funeral service — that of Princess Diana 12 years ago, in 1997. Diana died in a car accident with Dodi Al-Fayed. They were in love. It was a tragic end to a fairytale princess and I remember I was glued to television in my newspaper office. There was pin-drop silence, not quite normal for a newsroom. I could see tears in the eyes of many colleagues when we saw the white card on her coffin with the single word "Mummy" — a last note from one of her sons. It was a heart wrenching scene. Then there was her brother’s tribute that jarred in hindsight but touched a chord at that emotional moment. And of course, who can forget Elton John’s memorial song, a special version of Candle in the Wind.


"Poor thing", they said. "Just when she had finally found happiness". And you heard the words, "What a sad end to Camelot".


Mother Teresa died on the day of Princess Diana’s funeral. For an editor planning the day’s front page, it was a tough call: on one side, an absolute tear-jerker, the death of a young princess, and a nation in mourning; on the other, the story of an old woman known as the Saint of the Gutters, who had spent 50 years looking after the dispossessed. Of course, Mother Teresa was the main story of the day. For the destitute she looked after, her Home for the Dying must have been Camelot. Later, in his eulogy at her funeral, the archbishop of Kolkata said, "Her goodness was contagious. It invited others to share". What a beautiful line, I thought.


Diana was royalty; the Kennedys were America’s version of royalty. In legend, Camelot was the seat of King Arthur’s court, an era that is said to be idyllic. In real life it is the term often used to describe the presidency of Ted Kennedy’s eldest brother, John F. Kennedy. He was King Arthur — young, handsome, brave, inspiring and full of hope and optimism. I don’t know how "Camelot" came to be associated with JFK days. Some say it was his beautiful wife Jacqueline; I have read reports that it was the Broadway show about King Arthur’s court that was being staged in New York around the time Kennedy was sworn in President.


Some said the son — remember the kid giving the final salute before the flag-draped casket of his slain father, an image that made the whole world cry? — John Jr will keep the Camelot legend alive. After all, he had learned to walk in the White House. He was young, educated and handsome. People magazine called him "the sexiest man alive".


I saw many women fall head over heels when he visited Kolkata in late 80s on an unofficial visit to see Mother Teresa.


But alas, tragedy was to strike the Kennedys again. John Jr died with his wife Carolyn when a plane he was piloting crashed near Martha’s Vineyard in 1999. He was just 39.


In India we too have our own first family — Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi — who fitted into our notion of Camelot. They were married in 1968, the year Robert "Bobby" Kennedy, the middle brother of John and Ted, was assassinated. When Rajiv became Prime Minister he was young, inspired hope and together with Mrs Sonia Gandhi and the children, they created a beautiful picture of a happy family.


Like the Kennedy brothers, Rajiv was in his forties when he was assassinated. Mrs Sonia Gandhi, an outsider in a political dynasty, is keeping Camelot alive.


So what happens to Camelot after Ted Kennedy’s death? Camelot is a concept of Utopia that represents people’s aspirations, their idealism and hopes for a better world. If the image fades, we will find another King Arthur to live the dream. Every generation needs leaders with charisma, leaders who inspire optimism.


Camelot is a dream that can never die.


A year before Ted Kennedy died, he said at a speech endorsing Barack Obama’s nomination: "I have come here tonight to stand with you to change America, to restore its future, to rise to our best ideals, and to elect Barack Obama President of the United States". And he ended with, "The hope rises again. And the dream lives on".


You see, dynasties may come to an end but the concept of Camelot will survive.


Shekhar Bhatia can be contacted at










In the tragic demise of Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy in a helicopter crash along with four others on Wednesday Andhra Pradesh has lost a dynamic leader who had his finger on the pulse of his people. Ironically, when Fate snatched him away, Reddy was riding the crest of a wave, having led the Congress to impressive victories both in the parliamentary and assembly elections recently. There was virtually no challenge to his authority from within the party or from outside. He had marginalised the proponents of statehood for Telangana and, with growing prosperity in rural areas, he was succeeding in his mission to wean away disgruntled youth from Naxalism. There was indeed a perceptible level of satisfaction with his government which was owed largely to him.


Questions are naturally being asked on whether Dr Reddy fell victim to a callous system. The Bell-430 helicopter which he took to fly to Chittoor was pulled out from a hangar. As ill-luck would have it, the helicopter that the Chief Minister normally used after it was imported a year ago was away for overhaul. Doubts are being cast on the airworthiness of the ill-fated aircraft with some reports suggesting that its certificate of airworthiness had not been renewed for two years. There was a clear warning of inclement weather which ought to have been heeded. Only a full-scale inquiry would reveal whether Dr Reddy was exposed to avoidable risks. There have been many such disasters in the past, the most notable of which were those involving Sanjay Gandhi, Union Minister Madhavrao Scindia and former Lok Sabha Speaker Balayogi but the lessons that should have been drawn from them have not been learnt by the VIPs, their officials and those who fly them despite the bad weather and the risky terrain.


Andhra Pradesh and the Congress have lost a Chief Ministewr who was showing results on the ground. The balance that he struck between urban and rural development was a product both of his foresight and political acumen. The welfare measures that he took up won him the gratitude and vote of people at large. It would be a tragedy indeed if factionalism and bickering raise their head in the State Congress again. For his successor, there would be a legacy to live up to.








Pakistan’s nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan has been put under house arrest again after a two-judge Lahore High Court bench reversed the decision of a judge of the same court on Wednesday. This came about within 24 hours of the US stating that Khan continued to pose a nuclear “proliferation risk”. Khan was declared a free man in February by the Islamabad High Court with the condition that his movements would remain restricted. But a few days back a single-judge bench of the Lahore High Court ordered removal of the “security protocol” for Khan, setting him free. This was an alarming development, forcing the US to express its concern. Islamabad acted promptly as the legislation for clearing the $7.5 billion five-year aid package for Pakistan is already before the US Congress.


Going by the nuclear sales record of Khan, he should never be allowed to live as a free person. By his own admission, he sold nuclear bomb technology and design secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea. He admitted to running the nuclear proliferation network when the Bush administration in 2004 provided ample proof of the Khan nuclear bazaar to the then Pakistan regime headed by Gen Pervez Musharraf. The truth is that what Khan was doing had been known to the Americans, but they kept looking the other way as this suited their scheme of things in the region. Khan’s activities could not have been hidden from the Pakistan Army, too, as he used Pakistan Air Force planes for his visits abroad. The irresponsible nuclear scientist has not been adequately dealt with.


Those who have been reading A. Q. Khan’s articles frequently appearing in the Pakistani press know that the man remains as serious a threat to peace as he ever was. The Pakistan Army has apparently not been restrained in its nuclear ambitions by the Americans either. No one knows whether the Pakistan Army has taken effective steps to ensure that its nuclear arsenal does not fall into the hands of militant groups like Al-Qaida and the Taliban.








Wednesday’s Delhi High Court ruling that information on assets declared by Supreme Court judges in possession of the Chief Justice of India will come within the ambit of the Right to Information Act deserves to be lauded because it will promote transparency and accountability in the judiciary. Justice S. Ravindra Bhat has ruled that the CJI is a “public authority” under the RTI Act because he holds the information pertaining to asset declaration by him and his brother judges. The Tribune has been consistently maintaining in these columns that constitutional functionaries like judges should not claim immunity from the RTI.


Chief Justice of India Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, who is opposed to the judges’ inclusion in the RTI, had earlier led the other judges in favouring voluntary disclosure of assets by the Supreme Court judges. Only last week, he said that he would resist “tooth and nail” any attempt to share “confidential” information about appointments and transfers of judges and insisted that his office be kept outside the RTI purview. It is not clear why he has taken a rigid stand on the RTI, particularly because he and his brother judges have earned the nation’s appreciation after they recently agreed to disclose their assets in tune with the public opinion.


The CJI knows that the RTI will serve public interest better if he and other judges are deemed to be a part of the uniform application of law. The RTI has turned out to be a great check on the executive. Consequently, there is a strong case for extending the Act to sectors like the judiciary that remain insulated from it. While there is rationale behind exempting areas like national security, military deployment, international relations and the like from the RTI ambit, the judiciary has no valid reason to claim such immunity from public gaze. If judges support the RTI, like voluntary asset disclosures, it would enhance their moral stature, empower the people and give a fillip to the movement for the right to know.









Pakistan’s current war against the Taliban represents the first real war between the Islamic extremists and the army. The army had to employ all sorts of heavy weapons that are normally not used against the insurgents or the terrorists. However, it managed notable successes against the Taliban in Swat and elsewhere in months.


The army even pulled out troops from the eastern border with India for action along the western border with Afghanistan, some thing the army would never have done normally. The army’s outlook changed largely after May 2009.


Whatever the reason for this change, the American pressure on account of their own Afghan-Pak policy compulsions or their economic aid so urgently needed or Pakistan’s own internal threat perception that it was time for action and curtail likes of Baitullah Mehsud and his hordes who were gradually marching ahead with impunity.


Obviously, Pakistan and the army are entirely dependent on American largesse. Apparently, the army is no longer as powerful and dominant as hitherto. These developments are a welcome step from both India and Pakistan’s point of view.


Pakistan Supreme Court’s judgement on July 14 declaring November 2007 emergency imposed by Musharraf unconstitutional has also far-reaching consequences for Pak society. Even the lower judiciary has displayed rare courage by ordering registration of an FIR against the General for illegally detaining 60 judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts after promulgating emergency. These measures have emboldened the democratic forces in Pakistan which may change its future course besides deterring any General in the future from imposing dictatorial rule as in the past.


Though the Supreme Court judgement makes it easier to try Musharraf for high treason in Pakistan Assembly, the army may not be happy with the government taking such an extreme action against its former Chief. The fact that General Kyani has met Prime Minister Gilani a couple of times suggests army’s concern about it. Besides, some Generals including General Kyani himself were Musharraf’s “consultants” and hence a party in imposing the emergency in 2007.


Prime Minister Gilani took a cautious line that Musharraf could be tried for treason only if the National Assembly adopted a unanimous resolution which he knew wouldn’t be possible. Besides, President Zardari is also one of the beneficiaries of Musharraf’s clemency. The fact that such unprecedented measures are being considered publicly by the government against a former army Chief for usurping power is a positive indicator of gradual changes taking place in Pakistan society. The Army exercising authority without legitimacy is not being taken kindly any more.


Again, by presenting a list of 25 banned terrorists’ outfits to the National Assembly, the government seems to be telling the nation that it is fully conscious of its responsibility of tackling terrorism that has begun to hurt the very roots of Pakistan society. Hard to believe but the banned outfits include the likes of Jamaa-ud-Dawa (JUD), Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, amongst others. These were the groups that were involved in a variety of destructive activities including suicide bombings etc, often with the covert support of security agencies.


That’s how the Jud founder Hafiz Saeed was let off despite sufficient proof of his involvement in Mumbai rampage on 26/11. Unfortunately, the army still considers some of them as its useful “strategic assets.” Only time will tell whether Pakistan has really realised the dangers it faces to its own existence as a state from their home grown terrorists of varying hues.


Interestingly, President Asif Ali Zardari’s uninhibited address to former civil servants at the presidency on July 7 about the extremist shows how the thinking in Pakistan is changing as regards Indo-Pak relations. However, the President was careful in not stating that the security agencies under the military rulers created and nurtured these extremist organisations for meeting the requirements of internal and external agenda. In fact, these outfits were dubbed as “assets” in furtherance of strategic objectives in Kashmir and Afghanistan.


Apparently, this realisation has come about only after the extremists attacked the Continental hotel in Peshawar on June 9, the Federal Investigation Agency headquarters in Lahore on May 27, the police academy in Lahore on March 30 and the bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore on March 3, 2009.


This is the first-ever admission by the Pakistan President days after he said that the army would even target militants it had backed in the past for use against India as a proxy force. There has to be some understanding amongst the “top three”. Otherwise, such statements cannot not be aired in public so blatantly. Moreover, unlike in the past, President Zardari’s utterance have neither been denied nor retracted. The Army’s acquiescence in all these cases only suggests that it now stands weakened.


President Asif Ali Zardari also told his audience while speaking on the occasion of 62nd Independence Day, “From today, political activities will be started and will be allowed in FATA.” He further said” In the long run, we must defeat the militant mindset to defend our country, our democracy, our institutions and our way of life.” This can be seen as Pakistan’s attempt to draw the lawless region closer in main stream politics in order to overcome the problem of terrorism within the country. This also fits in well with the US strategy to defeat the Taliban and the Al-qaeda insurgents in Pakistan and Afghanistan


Over a period, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan had become a strong hold for hundreds of extremists who escaped from adjoining regions of Afghanistan into FATA after the Americans toppled the Taliban regime towards the end of 2001. These comprise seven “agencies” and six “frontier regions” and are governed through political agents who are appointed by the President. Political activities are banned in FATA and no foreigners are allowed there without the government’s permission.


By all accounts, while the Pakistan army and its ISI are seriously engaging the terrorists of varying hues operating along the western borders, they continue to provide shelter and succour to those operating across the eastern border. These extremists are considered “national assets” to be employed for destructive activities against India. As long as the Pakistan army remains paranoid of India, it is unlikely to shed its dual approach and Pakistan will remain embroiled in chaos. Terrorism ultimately strikes at its own mentor; a lesson the army refuses to learn despite the chaos created by multifarious terrorist organisations operating within Pakistan and having varying aims and objectives; some of them even challenging the state as well as the society. The army, despite its diminishing dominance, continues to assert itself.


Thus, the Pakistan government’s quest for restarting the dialogue with India in pursuance of trade and economic benefits urgently required for the country’s long-term interests will come to naught only. India at best can view these developments in Pakistan with cautious optimism.


The writer is a former Director-General, Defence Planning Staff








THE script, as so often, was written by the victors, but also on this first of many 70th anniversaries of the Second World War by the victims. Germany, on the grounds that Germany never tried to evade its responsibility for Poland's suffering. The Poles have in mind mostly, but not only, the Russian massacre of Polish officers at Katyn.


This does not mean, though, that Poland’s relations with Germany are anything like friendly or relaxed, either at a state-to-state or at a personal level. There is an edge there, and a body of agonized, if now mostly inherited, memory. Just as there is, though we are less honest about it, in Britain.


British-German relations have long been “normal”. We co-operate when necessary; all the proprieties are observed. What lingers, though, here as in Poland, is a knee-jerk tendency to accentuate the negative, along with a victor’s presumption of superiority. Decades on, a vast amount of comment on Germany, whether on politics, economics or social trends, seems to come with a warning swastika watermark.


Could this be why Germany’s election campaign, voting is on September 27, has been drowned out here almost before it has begun, as we tune up to recall Britain’s finest hour? There is a Germany that conforms to our stereotype and a Germany that does not. We naturally prefer the former, as it casts us in a more flattering light. But the result is a willful distortion of what 21st-century Germany is like.


As time has gone on, it might have been expected that the deep negativity would have faded, along with the myriad misjudgements that proceed from it.

Have they just! Let’s consider only the past four years in which Angela Merkel has been Chancellor.


The 2005 election was almost a tie. Ms Merkel, as leader of the majority party, was called upon to form a government. The first instinct on this side of the Channel was that she wouldn’t manage it. The second was that, if she did, the coalition had no hope of lasting. And the third was that, if she misguidedly entered a “grand coalition” with the Socialists and by some miracle it lasted, it would be “bad for Germany”. Oh yes?


Going into the election, it is not Ms Merkel, but her Socialist partners who are in difficulty. Their thunder has been stolen by the Linke, which is, as the name suggests, more to the left, and uncompromised by office. Ms Merkel has shown herself an adroit builder of consensus, and a shrewd judge of German opinion. As to whether the “grand coalition” has been bad for Germany, take a look at the reality.


Germany, along with France, was afflicted far less than Britain by the global banking crisis, not just because its financial sector was proportionately smaller, but because its attitude to credit was healthier.


These maligned pillars of “old Europe” are now leading Europe out of recession; far ahead of Britain, which, we were assured, was better equipped to withstand the downturn.


The Euro-zone, pace the doom-mongers, did not collapse. On the contrary, the euro remains strong, much stronger than the ailing pound. It has sheltered the sick economies of East and Central Europe (which were built on the sand of our very own Anglo-Saxon model).


Yet Germany is still being pilloried by the British economic establishment for its export-dependency, for its, wildly successful, car scrappage scheme (which we imitated), for not aiming at faster growth, for not fuelling domestic demand, and (now) for having an excuse not to learn from its mistakes. Er, what mistakes might those have been?


Over four years, Ms Merkel’s personal stock has risen, not just in Germany, but in Europe and beyond. She has emerged as an unostentatious, nuts-and-bolts politician, whose lacklustre campaign style, even now, belies her effectiveness in office. Yet how often is Ms Merkel, rather than the glitzier Barack Obama, held up as an example for modern politicians? How often do you hear about the pluses, rather than the minuses, of the German model? It is as though, in Britain, we can’t quite bring ourselves to do it.


Ms Merkel could be forgiven for approaching this month of anniversaries with gritted teeth. As a former East German, she grew up in the country that exemplified Germany’s punishment, which is a political advantage now. But it still cannot be easy to turn up, time and again, as today’s leader of yesterday’s defeated enemy; a necessary accoutrement of Europe’s still incomplete reconciliation. This is why, even in this election period, she must be ultra-discreet about Germany’s success. Our own, very British, reasons for under-rating Germany’s success are less noble.n


By arrangement with The Independent







THE grandson of Joseph Stalin has launched a libel suit against one of Russia’s leading liberal newspapers, accusing it of lying in an article. As the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, defended the reputation of the wartime leader in Poland, Yevgeny Dzhugashvili, the dictator's grandson, began his quest to claim nearly (pounds sterling) 200,000 from Novaya Gazeta.


“Half a century of lies have been poured over Stalin’s reputation and he cannot defend himself from the grave, so this case is essential to put the record straight,” Mr Dzhugashvili’s lawyer, Leonid Zhura, told Reuters.


Liberal critics say that the drive to rehabilitate Stalin has official backing, with the Kremlin keen to glorify Russia’s Soviet past and make Russians proud of their history, while glossing over Stalin’s crimes.


Dzhugashvili is Stalin’s real surname, and Yevgeny Dzhugashvili is the son of Stalin’s son, Yakov, who was killed during the Second World War. It is believed that the Nazis offered to trade Yakov for a captured German field marshal, but Stalin refused the offer. Yevgeny Dzhugashvili, however, remains an enthusiastic Stalinist.


His anger was raised by a Novaya Gazeta publication which referred to declassified secret documents ordering the execution of Soviet citizens and which are said to bear Stalin’s personal signature.


The lawsuit also accuses the human rights organisation Memorial of libel. It has collected testimony about victims of Stalin’s terror and the article appeared in a pamphlet that it published jointly with the newspaper.


The court case is part of an increasingly bitter conflict between liberals and Russian officials over control of Stalin’s legacy. Over the past decade, the Kremlin has sought to portray Russia’s victory in the Second World War as the most significant historical event of the 20th century.


Attention has been focused on Stalin’s supposedly heroic wartime leadership, and away from his crimes and repressions.


Last week, a Moscow metro station reopened after renovations, and horrified liberals found that an inscription lauding Stalin, which had been removed from the station after his death in the 1950s, had been restored.


”Stalin raised us to be loyal to the nation, inspired us to labour and great deeds,” says the inscription, which is taken from an early version of the Soviet national anthem. Sergei Mitrokhin, the leader of the liberal Yabloko Party, called the inscription “scandalous” and said that Stalin had perpetrated a “monstrous genocide”.


However Mr Zhura, Mr Dzhugashvili’s lawyer, came to Stalin’s defence. “He turned populations into peoples, he presided over a golden era in literature and the arts; he was a real leader. We want to rehabilitate Stalin.” Such views find wide support among Russia’s population, who are fed a diet of propagandistic television programmes and history textbooks about Stalin’s war leadership and “effective management”. Last year, in a competition to find the greatest Russian in history, the moustachioed dictator, who was actually an ethnic Georgian, came third.n


By arrangement with The Independent








The Central Government has adopted a tough stand on the issue of talks with the DHD(J), commonly known as the Black Widow group and perhaps the past experience of signing cease-fire agreements with the militant groups prompted the Centre to adopt such a tough stand. The Centre has given a deadline of September 15 to the Black Widow group to surrender and it remains to be seen whether the outfit accepts the deadline to bring an end to the era of violence in the trouble-torn North Cachar Hills district. The outfit has been creating havoc in the hill district for quite some time and it announced a unilateral cease-fire only after receiving severe setbacks following the arrest of its chief Jewel Garlosa and the killing of its Foreign Secretary Frankie Dimasa. The Centre made it clear that the outfit would have to surrender all its weapons and all cadres must move to the designated camps for the Government to accept its cease-fire offer. The Government further made it clear that all the top leaders of the outfit must come for talks, which is necessary in view of the experience of the Government in regard to signing of a cease-fire agreement with the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB). The cease-fire agreement with the NDFB was signed without the presence of the chairman of the outfit Ranjan Daimary, who later disowned the agreement, which led to a division in the ranks of the NDFB. It will be tough on the part of the Black Widow group to accept the deadline of the Government as the commander in chief of the outfit, Niranjan Hojai, who is the main man of the outfit following the arrest of Jewel Garlosa, is reportedly still out of the country.

Though the Government has adopted a tough stand against the outfit and announced that the operations would continue till the outfit formally surrenders, the security forces have not been able to achieve much success in the hill district. Of course, the terrain in the hill district always put the militants in an advantageous position and it is not easy for the personnel of the central forces, who are not well versed with the terrain, to launch successful operations. But steps must be taken to improve coordination between all the forces including police, CRPF and Army operating in NC Hills to mount pressure on the militants. With the Government having reports of involvement of members of the NSCN (I-M) in the recent ethnic clashes in the district, the issue should be taken up strongly with the leadership of the outfit, which is under cease-fire agreement with the Centre since 1997. The slow progress of the implementation of the mega projects like gauge conversion project of the Railways and National Highway project is a matter of serious concern as the projects are often hit by the attacks by the Black Widow members, while, the attacks also led to frequent suspension of the train services in the hill section, which not only affected the three Barak valley districts but also the States of Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura in the last couple of years. This might also have prompted the Centre to adopt a tough stand against the outfit.








The Division Bench of the Gauhati High Court comprising Acting Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice BK Sharma in a land mark judgment severely indicted the Assam Public Service Commission for committing irregularities in the preparation of the select list of the ACS examination held in 2006 and published on the midnight of June 15 , 20 09 and declared the list invalid. The much maligned constitutional body-the Assam Public Service Commission-by its various omissions and irregularities had been losing the trust of the people which carried ominous portents for the future. The High Court observed that the credibility of any institution depends on the conduct of the person manning it. People of exemplary conduct, exceptional ability and utmost integrity who share a serious concern for public good alone should be inducted into such a body, observed the High Court. Every State government would like to pack up the Commission with their political favourites irrespective of their ability and integrity reducing the high constitutional body into a platform for corruption. The State government remained mute spectators while a Chairman of the APSC looted lakhs of rupees from candidates and became a member of the State legislature.

The demand for dissolution of the APSC raised by AASU and the AGP was without any legal basis. There are no provisions in the Constitution for dissolution of a duly constituted Public Service Commission. Removal of members or Chairman of a State Public Service Commission requires a lengthy procedure under Art.317 of the Constitution. Now all the members of Haryana Public Service Commission are under suspension because enquiries of misbehaviour against them are being conducted by a Supreme Court Judge at the request of the President of India. Such a procedure is rarely adopted unless the charges are very serious. There are many instances of members and Chairmen of PSCs being sent to jail on specific charges of corrupt practices. After the severe indictment by the High Court the Chairman and Members of the APSC should accept moral responsibility and make a dignified exit by submitting their resignation to the State government. Such a course of action would enhance the prestige of the Assam Public Service Commission and allow the government to reconstitute the same with persons of exceptional ability, unquestioned integrity and a commitment to serve the society.








The downstream plastic processing units of Assam Gas Cracker Complex should be planned in clusters or planned parks. This will help in organising the infrastructure required in a more effective and economical way.

The Assam Gas Cracker Project came as a part of Assam Accord signed on August 15, 1985. Subsequently a Memorandum of Settlement was signed between Government of India and All Assam Students Union and Asam Gana Sangram Parishad resusulting in a Letter of Intent issued in favour of Assam Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) on January 25, 1991 to set up a Gas Cracker Project in Assam as a joint venture. The project was for an original capacity of 31 lakh tonnes of Ethylene per annum. But mainly due to doubts about availability the scenario went on changing till the formation of Brahmaputra Crackers and Polymer Limited (BCPL) on October 18, 2006, a joint venture company of GAIL, OIL, NRL and Government of Assam. The plant was to be set up at Lepetkata in Dibrugarh.

The projected cost according to cost estimate in 2005 is Rs 5461 crore. To make the project financially viable there is provision for Government of India's capital subsidy and additional subsidies like a recurring feedstock subsidy during the initial period of 15 years amounting to approximately Rs 900 crore exise duty and income tax exemption for 10 years. VAT and State tax exemption for 15 years. In the era of globalisation of business and liberalised economy, these arrangements do not augur well for BCPL.

The foundation stone was laid on April 9, 2007 and the project is scheduled to be completed within 60 months from that day, that is in the year 2012. The project is planned to have a capacity of 220,000 tonnes per annum (TPA) of Ethylene and 60,000 TPA of Polypropylene. As feed stock OIL will supply 6 MMSCMD natural gas, ONGC will supply 1.35 MMSCMD upto 2011 and 1 MMSCMD of natural gas from 2012 and Numaligarh Refineries Limited will provide 1.6 lakh tonnes of Naptha per annum. From 2012 the ONGC will reduce the supply of natural gas by 0.35 MMSCMD, The product mix of the plant is intended to be 220.000 TPA of HDPE/LIDPE, 55,000 TPA of Raw Pyrolysis Gasoline and 12,500 TPA of fuel Oil.

North Eastern Development Finance Corporation had initiated a study on Assam Gas Cracker Project with M/s Mott Mac Donald Pvt. Ltd as consultant to study and recommend action plan for promoting downstream plastic processing and allied industries from Assam Gas Cracker Complex. The study report is already in the hands of Assam Government along with other recommendations. They have identified and have prepared the product profiles for the following downstream products from Assam Gas Cracker Project:

Pond/Canal lining, disposable syringes drip irrigation systems, geotextiles, greenhouse film HDPE pipes, moulded furniture, pre-fill PP polymer, toys, woven sacks, HDPE plastic combs, buckets, mugs etc, HDPE small bottles, small containers, HDPE mosquito nets, LLDPE biodegradable sheets and carry bags, PP blow moulded plastic products, moulded luggage, synthetic wood, LLDPE multi-layer film, water tanks, plastic crates, tarpaulins and covers bi-axially oriented polyprolylene (BOPP) films, Leno bags, ropes, PP disposable plastic cups/glasses.

Action plan for promoting downstream plastic processing and allied industries have already been prepared and submitted to the Government of Assam by the consultant M/s Mott Mac Donald Lts. Now it is up to the Government to act on this. Some of the products may be of interest for the people of Assam. Drip irrigation is a new concept in agriculture, used with great success in Israel. Considering the fact that water for irrigation has become more and more of a problem, drip irrigation can improve the agriculture in Assam. Geotextile is another product which needs a relook for application in flood and erosion control in Assam. Geotextile is a proven technology already used in various countries for erosion control and for building embankments. HDPE pipes have become more and more popular due to its cost effectiveness and have proved to be a better substitute for costly metallic and Non-metallic pipes. This products have large market potential in the North East itself. Synthetic woven sacks made from HDPE and PP have almost replaced the traditional jute material because of superiority in quality and economics. At present there are no units manufacturing laminated HDPE woven sacks in NE region, resulting in import from outside the region. Synthhetic wood is a new plastic material having similar characteristic to wood. This is more and more in use due to its role in saving depleting forest resources. It is water and insect resistant and generally last longer than traditional woods. Disposable cups and bottles are fast replacing conventional cups and glasses. With the changing lifestyle and attitude thermoformed products are becoming more and more part of modern living. These are the possibilities, but to convert these possibilities to reality there is an arduous path ahead.

In setting up downstream industries on BCML products what are the incentives? The North-East Industrial and Investment Promotional Policy 2007 (NEIIPP-2007) should be helpful to entrepreneurs. It provides 100 per cent excise duty exemption on finished products made in North Eastern region. 100 per cent Income Tax exemption is given under NEIIPP 2007. Capital Investment Subsidy of 30 per cent of the investment in plant and machinery is given under NEIIPP. The limit for automatic approval of subsidy at this rate is Rs 1.5 crore per unit. For Grant of Capital Investment subsidy higher than Rs 1.5 crore but upto a maximum limit of Rs 30 crore is granted by an Empowered Committee. Interest subsidy at the rate of 5 per cent on working capital is also available under NEIIPP-2007. Further incentives for investment are available under Assam Industrial and Investment Policy (AIIP), 2008. It focuses on development of quality infrastructure in terms of industrial parks, industrial clusters, industrial estates etc. Under AIIP, all elegible units will be entitled to 99 per cent exemption of the tax payable under Assam Value Added Tax Act 2003 and Central Sales Tax Act, 1956. Under AIIP 25 per cent of cost for drawing powerline including the cost of transformer will be subsidised. There are special incentives under AIIP for mega projects with capital investment of minimum Rs 200 crore or generating minimum regular employment of 1000 people.

Study reveals that though no support industries will be required for the Assam Gas Cracker Complex, support industries will be required by the downstream plastic proceeding units. Some of the identified areas are machine shop for repairing and maintenance of the machinery, spare parts manufacturing and supply, processing of coloured master batches, mould manufacturers and logistic transport service providers. Industries related to activities mentioned above will come up in close proximity of the Assam Gas Cracker Complex and the downstream plastic processing units. These units are also expected to generate skilled and semi-skilled employment opportunities for the local people.

The downstream plastic processing units of Assam Gas Cracker Complex should be planned in clusters or planned parks. This will help in organising the infrastructure required in a more effective and economical way. A plastic SEZ is proposed on 360 acres of land in the Tinsukia district at an estimated cost of Rs 89 crore.

Assam Gas Cracker Complex will not depend on the power supply of ASEB. But other entrepreneurs to try their luck with ASEB by setting up downstream industries will not be that lucky, considering the present power situation in the State. Generation of captive power by the downstream industries will not be economical. It is very unfortunate that the consultant appointed to study action plan for promoting downstream plastic processing and allied industries is also very vague about the present and future power availability in the State as well as estimated power requirement for the downstream industries to evoke confidence in the minds of the people of the State. If drastic action is not initiated to improve the power situation, this will be the main reason for failure or partial achievement of Assam Gas Cracker project downstream plastic processing units.

(The writer is a former GM of IOCL-BGR, BRPL)








Dr Bhubaneswar Barooah was born on September 4, 1893 at Sadiya. He was sixth child in a family of 13 children. Due to financial constraint Barooah joined as a Sub-Inspector of Schools after passing intermediate in the Science stream from Cotton College, Guwahati. He was very sincere and devoted in his work and impressed the then Inspector of Schools, Small. With the help of Small he was admitted in Calcutta Medical College with a stipend for studying. There he was under the guidance of Dr BC Roy and completed his MB degree and joined the Assam State Service as Assistant Surgeon. He served at different places of Assam and established his credential as an outstanding doctor. In 1924 he resigned from service and came back to Guwahati and started private practice and was actively involved in the freedom movement.

He was a simple man but widely respected for his humanism. As a doctor his observation and innovation and sense of creating awareness among the masses made him memorable, for which he was known as ‘Dhanantari’. He was instrumental in establishing Gauhati University, Nehru Stadium, Assam Medical College at Dibrugarh, Ayurvedic College, Lokapriya Gopinath Bardoloi TB Hospital, Kasturba Ashram, Deaf and Dumb School. He was instrumental in the formation of Indian Medical Association’s Assam State Branch in 1947. He was an institution by himself. He was always eager to lend a helping hand to the people and the people of Assam repaid their debt by calling him ‘Lokabandhu’ (peoples’ friend). Though he was offered Ministerial berth in the in Assam Cabinet of Independent India but he politely refused. Dr Barooah breathed his last at the age of 63 years, on September 25, 1956.

Doctors must rejuvenate and rededicate themselves of the profession and remember the famous statement from New Tetament: Physician, heal thyself’. The Indian Medical Council Act 1956 in its professional conduct, Etiquette and Ethics Regulation 2002 clearly states that the principal objective of the medical profession i.e. to render service to humanity with full respect for dignity of profession and man. Physicians should merit the confidence of patients entrusted on their care, rendering to each full measure of service and devotion and should try continuously to improve medical knowledge and skill and make available to their patients and colleagues the benefits of their professional attainments. They should practise methods of healing founded on scientific basis and should not associate professionally with anyone who violates this principle. The honoured ideals of the medical profession imply that the responsibilities of the physician extend not only to an individual but also to the society at large. Again the personal financial interest of a physician should not conflict with the medical interest.

Now let us focus on the responsibility and role of the patient towards the doctor. The patient has the right to have proper medical attention, courteous and considerate behaviour from the attending physician and staff, information and explanation of his diseases. Again the patient should be sober and polite, give truthful, correct and relevant information regarding the ailments. The papers and documents relating the treatment should be kept properly and report promptly whenever called for follow up.

There are appropriate forums and platforms to redress public grievances if there are any deficiencies of malpractices by the medicare service providers or an institution. One such forum is the Consumer Redressal Forum under Consumer Protection Act. One can approach Indian Medical Council (MCI) through State Registrar of MCI complaining about the rash, intolerable behaviour, racism, cast discrimination, sex selection of fetus or discrimination or unlawful act or negligence of a doctor which may jeopardise or cause harm to the life of a patient personally or in the society. Necessary action (punishment) will be taken, after enquiry by the MCI. The Medical Council Act 1956 provides for the setting up of the Medical Council of India with powers to control the medical professional. It can remove a doctor’s name from the register for immorality involving abuse of the doctor-patient relationship or for certain criminal convictions and on the recommendation of the State Medical Council.

A case may be directly lodged against a doctor in the appropriate court complaining about the anti-social activity or negligence. There are many laws for redress of such complaints under IPC and in such cases Court will take necessary action.

Negligence or rashness by a doctor is defined as not doing what is required to be done (act of omission) and doing what is prohibited to be done (act of commission) amount to negligence. Undertaking an assignment beyond one’s competence is a gross case of rashness. Rashness arises because the doctor neglects his or her duty to be careful about the patient’s safety and hence can be branded as negligence. Thus the term ‘negligence’ can be used generally to cover both rashness and negligence. In some situation it is possible that even if the doctor is negligent, the harm or damage done to the patient is partly the outcome of the patient’s contribution to the state of affairs. In law it is known as contributory negligence and liability for damage is to be suitably proportioned between the doctor and the patient.

Medical profession is advancing very rapidly and is passing through a critical phase. A small honour for their skill and dedication is a gesture of kindness at their time of distress and an expression of thanks for their effort to alleviate human sufferings. Both the doctor and patient should play a pivotal role on their respective parts which will contribute greatly in enhancing the doctors’ knowledge which is very important for the healing of pain. This will have a long term impact in maintaining good, effective and cordial doctor-patient relationship. It is true that medical profession carries a heavy responsibility with it, but people need to recognise that behind the white coat and stethoscope lies a normal being like in all other professions. Doctors too need appreciation for their work and efforts.








Confronted with a chronic power crisis, it was a matter of time before Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed of Bangladesh gave her government servants a dressing down on the issue. So, besides $6 billion plans for more power plants, she has decided that all male government employees will abjure suits, jackets and ties in favour of clothing more appropriate to the weather, and thus reduce the use of airconditioners and save electricity. Once this new dress code is adopted by bureaucratic circles — the civil servants’ official dress code written in 1982 has already been altered this week accordingly — there are indications that subtle pressure may be put on private businesses to implement similar policies. She has not insisted they wear traditional cotton kurtas with pajamas or ‘lungis’ (the unstitched lengths of cloth seen in various avatars across equatorial Asia) but says simple ‘bush’ shirts worn atop, rather than tucked into, trousers, would do for ministers and bureaucrats alike. As they would be wearing cooler garb, she has also ordered that airconditioners, if used at all, should not be made to cool down rooms beyond 24 degrees C.

Like Bangladesh, India too has been grappling with the power shortage conundrum for a while, and has been exploring several novel solutions. Till the civilian gains of the nuclear deal with the US start generating some benefits, perhaps Sheikh Hasina’s novel diktat may be considered this side of the Farakka barrage as well. Indian companies which have been pioneering green buildings — those which use less energy by incorporating India-specific ideas — have also advocated the use of appropriate clothing as a crucial element in reducing energy bills. Our political class still largely sticks to traditional attire, so our bureaucracy could easily follow suit. Yet officewear, particularly in the private sector, continues to be largely of the jacket-and-tie variety, necessitating fierce airconditioning to stay comfortable in Indian temperatures. But will anyone go so far as to deny themselves air-conditioned comfort?







Wednesday’s ruling by the Delhi High Court is a blow for Indian democracy. In ruling that all power, including judicial power, is accountable to the highest law of the land — the Constitution — the court has restored the faith of the public in the judiciary. We are entirely with Justice S Ravindra Bhat when he says, “Holders of power are expected to live by the standards they set, interpret or enforce, at least to the extent their office demands.” Indeed, we would go even further and say the spirit (if not the letter) of the Constitution demands unequivocal adherence to the principle that ‘holders of power must live by the standards they set, interpret or enforce,’ without any riders on “the extent of their office”. We also concur with the court’s view that the Chief Justice of India is a ‘public authority’ for the purpose of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The ruling, which came in the context of an appeal filed against a Central Information Commission order asking the Supreme Court to furnish information on judges’ assets under the RTI Act, is likely to be challenged. But it would be difficult for any bench to dispute the basic soundness of the argument that, “declaring personal assets is an essential ingredient of contemporary acceptable behaviour”. We would urge the government and the apex court to accept the ruling with grace. Yes, it is true there could be frivolous petitions. More importantly, such petitions could be used to pressurise the judiciary. But only if the judiciary has something to hide! If assets have been acquired honestly, as is case with most of our judiciary, there is no reason why any member of the judiciary should fear. Judges, moreover, are expected to dispense justice without fear or favour. If the Italian mafia today is a pale shadow of what it once was, the credit goes to judges like Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellini who refused to be cowed down by threats and paid with their lives. That might be an extreme example. But the point is fear of threats cannot be a reason for lack of transparency. The judiciary, like Ceasar’s wife, must not only be above suspicion, but must also be seen to be as such.







In Y S Rajasekhara Reddy’s untimely death, the nation has lost arguably the most powerful chief minister of the present era and the Congress party its tallest regional satrap. The 60-year-old leader was snatched away at the height of his power and glory, just 100 days after masterminding the stunning Congress electoral victory at the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. For Congress, he was not just a successful party CM but also one who played a crucial role — by holding the critical state of Andhra Pradesh — in catapulting the party to power at the Centre during the last two general elections. Reddy could be described in many ways — a mass leader, a dynamic administrator, a seasoned organisational man and an adept practitioner of local power-play. By the time Reddy met his traumatic end, he had emerged as the unifying political factor in AP politics, divided along caste, regional, social and factional fault-lines.

Like many leading AP politicians, Reddy too betrayed a feudal streak, inviting charges of being an authoritarian leader who dabbled in money and muscle power. But, what made him the antithesis of Narendra Modi was his demonstration that a CM can be a successful administrator, a propeller of development and a vote-catching machine without resorting to divisive politics. Socially sensitive AP never experienced a communal divide during the Reddy era. He was also as passionate as Chandrababu Naidu in promoting industry and courting investment. But he was seasoned enough to remain, unlike the TDP chief, connected deeply with the rural masses. After riding to power in 2004 with the historic 2003 ‘padayatra’, Reddy then conceived and executed popular and inclusive rural schemes that helped the state Congress to expand its base, neutralise pro-Telengana TRS and TDP and rob Naxalites of their grievance plank. His political charisma and skills ruined Chiranjeevi’s ‘NTR dream’. One lasting tribute the Congress high command can pay to Reddy is to revert to the tradition of grooming regional leaders as pillars of the national party. What makes finding a matching successor to him particularly challenging is not just the ‘YSR cult’ but also the AICC’s negligence in grooming second line leaders.








In his recent budget speech, the Union finance minister has announced that the Goods and Services Tax (GST) would be introduced with effect from 1April 2010. He has reiterated the same at a power gathering of 100 top CEOs and policy makers at the Economic Times breakfast session with the FM on 25 August 2009.

When viewed in the light of the discussions at a recent meeting of the Empowered Committee (EC) held on August 21, 2009 wherein doubts have been raised about the likely date of the introduction of the new tax, we have to look into the major issues that have come up.

First, DMK, the ruling party in Tamil Nadu, has questioned the legitimacy of the EC to decide the terms and conditions of the GST. Second, concerns have been voiced over the implementation date and the preparations of both the Centre and the states for doing so. Finally, there are various aspects concerning the nitty-gritty of GST, viz., the rate of the tax, compensation to the states and adequate administrative system.

It is, however, agreed by all that while India has traversed a long way in reforming its complex commodity tax system by introducing a dual VAT, the system is fraught with certain weaknesses. First, due to the separate taxation of goods and services there is the need to split the value of transactions into the value of goods and the value of services for taxation. This leads to greater complexities, and higher administrative and compliance costs. Second, due to the further globalisation of the Indian economy, a number of Free Trade Agreements have been signed in the recent years. This allows ‘duty free’ or ‘low duty imports’ into India. Hence, there is a need to have a nation-wide simple and transparent system of taxation to enable the Indian industry to compete not only internationally but also in the domestic market. Third, currently CenVAT is levied up to the manufacturing level only. This causes cascading and also results in a lack of transparency in the tax burden. It is, therefore, imperative to introduce GST to remove all these weaknesses. The system of GST would, therefore, be a step forward in the reforms at the national as well as the sub-national level.

Since the introduction of GST involves restructuring of central as well as state taxes, the process calls for an extensive process of consultation between the Centre and the states. This is being attempted through the EC, which is primarily a consultative body. As rightly pointed out by the FM of Tamil Nadu, this body can have no authority to force the states to adopt a particular structure. In fact, unlike the initial formation of the EC by a Resolution of Government (Gazette of India, Extraordinary, Part I, Section I, dated 30th November 1999), the current EC is a Registered Society under the Registration of Societies Act. It has no statutory authority to supervise the states. It is, therefore, important to have a supervisory body for the states to ensure uniformity in rates and procedures. A statutory body such as a GST Council of India should be set up under the Constitution to supervise the states.

The second aspect relates to the likely design of GST. As announced by the finance minister, the proposed GST would be a dual GST having two components — central GST (CGST) and state GST (SGST). These would be levied concurrently by the Centre and the states. So far, no final decision has been taken regarding the rate of tax under GST. Three working groups (WGs) have been appointed by the EC to finalise the rate, the base and the exemptions under GST. It is expected that the rate of GST would be in the vicinity of 8% for CGST and 8% for SGST. Petroleum products and tobacco would be out of GST and will have a higher rate of tax. If we look into the proposed road map for introducing GST, this exercise can be done in the next four months.

The third apprehension relates to the preparedness of the government for introducing legislation for the levy of GST. This calls for a central law for CGST and state laws for SGST. Once the design is final, it would be possible for both the governments to prepare the law and rules, and seek comments from the general public, particularly the taxpayers. In fact, charting of laws and rules for the dual GST can be done once the basic design of GST is complete. As this component will be ready in a month’s time, the work on preparing draft law for the Centre and the states can be completed during the second to fourth month. Therefore, the task of enacting legislation and interacting with the taxpayers would take another three months. During the same period, the Union government will have to announce reduction of CST to zero.

Fourthly, on the constitutional front, it is important to have two amendments. The first amendment is needed to allow the Union government to levy GST up to the retail level and the second is required to authorise the states to levy tax on services. The former will necessitate a change in the Union List of the Constitution. Consequently, the government of India will have to circulate the amendment Bill before the commencement of the next session of Parliament and then move the same in the winter session of Parliament.

It is useful to recall that the central government has already introduced a separate entry (i.e., 92C) in the Union List and inserted a new Article 268A to the Constitution to empower the Union Government to levy tax on services and assign this tax to the states. It is now possible for the Union government to assign tax on services to the states. However, under these provisions, the authority to levy service tax would continue to be vested with Parliament. If this is to become a state subject, the authority to tax should also be vested with the states.

This would require appropriate changes in the Constitution to give enabling powers of levy of tax to the states. Presuming that the states would have no opposition to the Bill, it would be easy to obtain majority consent of two-third of the total MPs for the passage of the Bill. This would be possible in the next four months. With the above aspects taken care of, the GST would roll out on time.

(The author is director, Foundation for Public Economics and Policy Research, New Delhi and former member-secretary, the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers.)









The extraordinarily sympathetic reaction across the political spectrum to the tragic and untimely death of Andhra Pradesh’s dynamic Chief Minister and Congress leader Dr Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy in a helicopter crash on Wednesday says a great deal. It is not hard to see that Dr Reddy’s opponents in politics read the popular mood, which was one of pervasive grief, as television cameras showed so comprehensively. Most leaders in public life get a pro forma expression of sympathy from many when death snatches them away. But that wouldn’t have done in the case of Dr Reddy. Routine condolences would clearly have been out of step with the people’s mood. No serious political party can afford to distance itself from an overwhelming public perception as that can have political costs. Such has been the impact of Dr Reddy’s passing that the BJP, the Congress’ chief political rival on the national stage, has announced it will fly the national flag at half-mast at its party headquarters, an honour reserved only for a few. Dr Reddy was an energetic and self-made political star. As chief minister he threw himself into development programmes that directly touched the lives of the poor with a passion that is uncommon. As the Leader of the Opposition in his state, he went on a 1,500-km padayatra in 2003 as a prelude to wresting power for his party in the Assembly election the following year from the redoubtable Telugu Desam, whose leader Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu had earned a formidable reputation. This marked out the Congressman as someone to watch. Defying anti-incumbency, Dr Reddy repeated the triumph of 2004 in May this year, and also helped the Congress win most of the Lok Sabha seats in the state. While YSR, as the late Chief Minister was popularly known, went about his development activities that were often labelled “populist” by his detractors, the administration he ran attracted the criticism of corruption from many quarters. But the main image of YSR during his time in office was one of a sturdy doer who had compassion for the downtrodden. The narrative he wove was one of saviour of the ordinary farmer in his state, who was buffeted by drought and debt during the earlier TD government. In this he was quite different from his contemporaries and even from famous names from the past. In other respects, YSR was very much the accomplished politician. He was elected to the state Assembly and to the Lok Sabha four times each, a remarkable achievement by any measure. A good 10 years before he became chief minister he had already come to be seen as a powerful organisation figure in the Andhra Pradesh Congress. With luck, he could have been chief minister then and was very much in the reckoning. But the Congress leadership in P.V. Narasimha Rao’s day thought differently. Perhaps this worked to YSR’s advantage in the end. When he did come to the helm in the state, it was on the back of that massive padayatra which came to define him as the people’s man, and a stalwart in his own right. The departure of the powerful and popular chief minister is certain to leave the Congress with a problem. Replacing such a charismatic figure, who had also proven that he could deliver, is never easy.










He could be totally frank one moment and canny the next. Alternately fierce and tender, a loyal friend to friends and bitter rival to rivals, Dr Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy was truly an ebullient and multifaceted man.
He started out as a local politician but grew to be a national figure. Though a known dissident for long, he quelled dissidence swiftly when he became the chief minister. He carried the “Rayalaseema” tag for many years but was later known to be the champion of a united state.

Born on July 8, 1949, in Pulivendula, Rayalaseema, Yeduguri Sandinti Rajasekhara Reddy started electoral politics in 1978 from Pulivendula. I knew YSR for long and could always discern his big heartedness beneath the rough and tumble of his politics.

YSR was an angry young man in those days but was also known for the parties he threw at the Idupulapaya Estates. Young YSR’s fiery temper was legendary.

For the first few years he confined himself to Pulivendula where his father Raja Reddy was in the mining business. Gradually he started participating in politics at the state level. During the Anjaiah regime he became a minister of state for rural development and then the health minister. He became quite powerful during Bhavanam Venkatram’s regime and was even known as the “de facto chief minister”.
In those days, YSR had a thick moustache and was always seen in the company of Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu and Mr K.E. Krishnamurthy. A natural leader, his rivalries ran deep. But when he felt affection for a person, his trust would be complete.

This particular trait led to several ups and downs in his three-decade-long career in politics. He was disappointed at not getting a berth in the P.V. Narasimha Rao Cabinet and gravitated towards Rajesh Pilot who he accepted as a “guru” in national politics. But YSR was never too keen on national politics.
It was Rajiv Gandhi who spotted the leader in YSR. After G. Venkataswamy, then Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief, quit his post following the Telugu Desam’s rise to power, Indira Gandhi chose 34-year-old YSR as the successor on the advice of her son. YSR’s honesty had impressed Rajiv. During the 1985 Assembly polls, YSR candidly told Rajiv that the Congress’ chances were bleak. “Don’t worry”, said Rajiv, “You select youthful and energetic candidates”. YSR dropped senior political leaders such as Madanmohan and Nedurumalli Janardhana Reddy from the list of candidates and put up new faces. After 1985, YSR had to quit the post of PCC chief. Many thought that this would be the end of his career.
YSR started his political innings as MLA in 1986 and got into trouble with the All-India Congress Committee. Despite this, YSR was trusted by political leaders because of his forthright and pleasant manners. He welcomed both friends and foes with a smiling face, always kept his word and would never lie.


YSR was an inveterate traveller. He loved to be on the road all the time. I travelled with him many times and once we even escaped a major accident while returning to Delhi from Tehri Dam. We were caught between a convoy of army trucks and YSR hit his head on the front seat but suffered no injuries. After filing a police complaint, we drove on to Delhi. Passers by laughed at our car — both the front and rear were damaged and one door was hanging.

Though YSR could get angry with his colleagues, he loved people and never lost his cool when he was with them. He used to write thousands of recommendation letters for the people who came to visit him.
The tough leader used to relax by listening to songs of Ghantasala but hated television. Whenever he stepped into his house, he would switch off the TV even if his wife, Vijayalaxmi, was watching it. He loved books and would always read something before going to sleep.

One quirk of YSR was his possessiveness about his toilet. A story that’s often told is that as chief minister, he transferred a senior IPS official because he had used the sanitised toilet meant for him just before his arrival at the Visakhapatnam guest house.

YSR was a smoker in the early 80s and would often borrow cigarettes. He kicked the habit in 1988 but still loved the smell of tobacco. In Parliament’s Central Hall he would sometimes take a cigarette from me, smell it and return it.

A fast eater, he would not wait for others to finish their meal before leaving the table. And as is well-known, he was also an early riser.

After becoming chief minister in 2004, YSR changed a lot. He became calmer and the customary angry retorts became less and less.

I still remember during the Kadapa Lok Sabha polls YSR asking his jeep driver to go full throttle towards the Telugu Desam men assembled there after learning that they had been resorting to bogus voting. But after becoming the chief minister, he used to say, “I have severed the anger nerve”.

There are some interesting anecdotes which illustrate YSR’s approach to issues and people. Once his father Raja Reddy came to see him and asked him to help one individual. This was during Mr Janardhana Reddy’s tenure as Chief Minister. YSR replied, “Naayanaa (daddy), I verified the case. This person is corrupt. How can I help him?”

In another instance, in the same period, YSR asked the then minister for technical education, Mr Eswar Kumar, to accord sanction in an issue. But when the complainants told YSR that the minister had not done it, YSR picked up the phone and said, “Mr Eswar Kumar, I want the G.O. by today evening”. To everyone’s surprise, Mr Eswar Kumar came to YSR’s residence and handed over the copy of G.O. That was YSR’s style.

YSR is often thought of as a person who helped only Reddys. But he was non-sectarian and secular. He advised his brother, Sudheekara Reddy, to allow his daughter to marry a youth belonging to another caste.
Though the YSR family got baptised decades ago, it remained a truly secular family where all religions were respected and festivals celebrated. He would often say, “I believe in Christ. So I forgive persons and also give them time to change”.

He was an efficient time manager and always found time for people and issues. He had made a habit of meeting his long-time friend KVP over lunch to discuss important issues. He would also listen to officials keenly but would take his own decisions.

YSR’s major passion, if one can say so, were people. He could not spend a day without meeting people and helping them. Even after becoming chief minister he would often give money to poor people who would come to his house. That is YSR for you — a man who loved his people.








For the first time in my life, I feel sympathy for Sarah Palin.Levi Johnston — you will remember him from his featured role as the father of Bristol’s baby at the Republican convention — has written an article for the new issue of Vanity Fair. It’s his take on the Palin home life, which Johnston says was “much different from what many people expect of a normal family”.

Given the fact that Johnston is a 19-year-old high school dropout whose mother was arrested last year on six felony drug counts, it is conceivable that he is not the perfect arbiter of normal families. But even if he were an Eagle Scout with a scholarship to Harvard, can you imagine anything worse than discovering your daughter’s teenage ex-boyfriend has been given a national platform to discuss his impressions of her mom’s parenting skills?

It’s hard to totally resist an article that has sentences that start with: “In early August, before I went hunting and Sarah was picked, Bristol and I were at a tattoo parlour in Wasilla...” Or information like the fact that baby Tripp’s middle name is Easton in honour of “my favourite hockey-equipment company”.

But somehow I have a feeling that even the most ardent Palin-haters are not going to be able to work up much sympathy for Levi’s complaint that Sarah made him cut off his mullet before his appearance at the Republican convention. Or that when she moved to Juneau after being elected governor, she tried to take Bristol with her in order to break them up.

In fact, trying to separate her daughter from Johnston could be filed away in the rather slim folder titled “Sarah Palin’s Good Ideas”.

Levi’s reports on Palin’s failings as wife and mother sound exactly like what any self-absorbed teenager might say about his girlfriend’s working mom. She doesn’t cook! He and Bristol had to do everything! They had to take care of the kids and go to Taco Bell to get Sarah a Crunchwrap Supreme!
Plus, Sarah fought a lot with Bristol’s dad, Todd, and they certainly didn’t look like a happy couple to Levi. She claimed to be a hockey mom but he didn’t notice her at the rink all that often. (Why do I have the feeling that the amount of time Johnston spent keeping tabs on his teammates’ parents was not extensive?)

It’s too bad Johnston is untrustworthy about every subject not covered by Field & Stream. Otherwise, this article might be fair payback for the Levi-Bristol convention appearance. In an effort to cement her family-values cred, Palin gave every teenage girl in the country a deeply unrealistic and dangerous vision of the wonderful way a boyfriend would transform once he discovered there was a baby on the way. (In the staged world, the handsome, expectant, unmarried couple held hands while the whole auditorium applauded. In the real world, after whacking off Levi’s mullet, Sarah had to veto his plans to go partying and force him to hang around the hotel with her pregnant daughter. “It was boring”, he concluded.)
Besides selling a fantasy about how easily a semi-delinquent, unemployed father-to-be could be turned into Prince Charming, Palin also spent her campaign trying to give the impression that running for vice-president and taking care of five children, the youngest a baby with special needs, was as easy as falling off a snowbank. Politicians who don’t want the federal government to address child care issues like to imagine that’s true. It absolves them from dealing with the question of who takes care of the kids when women make up almost half the work force.

So it would be helpful to know if Palin was “always in a bad mood and she was stressed out a lot”, as Johnston claims. But really, we’re going to have to wait for a more reliable witness. Maybe Piper or Willow are preparing their memoirs.

Levi and Bristol split up last spring, a few months after the birth of their baby. (“It was the happiest day of my life, but it was also terrible because my family couldn’t be there”, he writes. “I didn’t think Sarah wanted my mom around all the cameras because she had been arrested for selling prescription medication a week-and-a-half earlier”.) The Palins have accused him of trying to cash in on his relationship to the former vice-presidential candidate, and we can add this to a very brief list titled “Sarah’s Accurate Depictions of the World Around Her”.

However, I was fascinated by his claim that she doesn’t know how to shoot a gun. Hunting is one of the very few matters in which Levi Johnston seems like a trustworthy source, and if he says she showed no familiarity with weapons, I want to know more. In fact, I think Palin should never be allowed to bring that moose stuff up again until she appears at a rifle range and gives us a demonstration.










The security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal has been a periodic cause for concern to the international community. A series of articles published last month have rekindled the lingering worries. The discussions were triggered by a piece written by Shaun Gregory, a respected analyst of Pakistan’s security affairs. Pointing to recent attacks on Pakistan’s nuclear installations, Mr Gregory observed that risk of terrorists gaining access to nuclear material was “genuine”. He concluded that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons faced “a real and present danger” from the Al Qaeda and the Pakistan Taliban.

Pakistani officials and some analysts have sought to confute such claims, but with little success. They point out that despite attacks on these complexes there is no reason to believe that the nuclear weapons or materials were themselves ever at risk. Nevertheless, these arguments tend to be overshadowed by the grim picture of a Pakistan possessing well over 50 nuclear devices, and teeming with an assortment of terrorist groups.

Ever since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the possibility of terrorist groups acquiring nuclear weapons or material has kept awake the intelligence and security establishments of several countries. Although the Bush administration focused overtly on the threat of nuclear terrorism from Iraq, Iran, North Korea and Libya, Pakistan was always seen as a potential problem — one that was all the more tricky to handle because of its status as a frontline ally in the war on terror.

The administration sought to deal with the problem by offering technical help to enable Pakistan secure its weapons. The Pakistanis, however, were concerned that the Americans harboured designs on their arsenal, and so refused the offer. They did, however, take financial assistance amounting to $100 million over the next five years. Yet, Western intelligence agencies have continued to be concerned about reports indicating that terrorists could yet lay their hands on a Pakistani device.

Whilst the threat of nuclear terrorism from Pakistan cannot be ignored, it is important to take a measured view of the problem. It is rather more difficult for a terrorist group to carry out a nuclear attack than most analysts tend to assume.

For a start the Pakistanis have instituted several measures to secure their weapons. The physical measures include multi-tiered security systems to protect the weapons; use of underground storage sites; barriers and detection systems to provide warning against intrusions; the physical separation of warhead cores from the detonation components. The Pakistan Army has also dedicated sizeable numbers of troops for protecting the nuclear installations. The weapons themselves might be most vulnerable while in transit, particularly during crises or other emergencies. But even if a weapon fell into the hands of a terrorist group, it will be very difficult to use it without access to the codes. This suggests that collusion with insiders would be essential.

Under pressure from the US, the Pakistanis have instituted a Personnel Reliability Programme similar to the one used by the Americans. This programme screens individuals for Islamist sympathies, psychological disorders, drug problems and inappropriate external affiliations. Towards this end, the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) has created an in-house intelligence agency. This outfit also monitors bank transactions, religious habits, and political outlook of nuclear scientists.

These steps are unlikely to fully insulate the nuclear establishment from the wider currents of radicalism in Pakistani society. But they will make the terrorists’ job all the more difficult. For the most careful independent studies suggest that unless there is collusion with personnel at almost every link of the chain — from the SPD down to the base — getting hold of a weapon will be a major challenge.

Of course, it would be easier to get fissile material from installations controlled by civilians. Yet, even if some terrorists manage to lay their hands on nuclear material, fashioning a bomb is a daunting task. The Internet might be awash with information on building a nuclear bomb, but the actual requirements — metal works, machining, electronics — are far more demanding. To be sure, with the right team and adequate time, a terrorist group might be able to master the process. But let’s not forget that although nuclear weapons technology is decades old, few states have actually managed to successfully build a bomb. It would be much easier, and hence more tempting, for the terrorists to build a “dirty bomb”. Such a device could disperse radioactive material over an area and create considerable panic; but its actual impact would be quite limited and manageable.

The nightmare scenario is that guardian of the Pakistani nukes, the Army, might itself hand over some assets to a terrorist group. Given the consequences that would ensue, this seems highly unlikely. Then again, it is difficult to treat this as pure fantasy. The Pakistan Army has a history of involvement in shadowy nuclear transfers. The so-called “A.Q. Khan network” could barely have existed, much less functioned, without the approval of the Army leadership.

The task for India is to deter such a move, however improbable, by the Pakistan Army. Any transfer of weapons or material to a terrorist group would be premised on the assumption of deniability. It is for India to ensure that Pakistan cannot bank on being able either to claim that the material was stolen or to pretend that the material did not originate from its arsenal.

The former would require India to affirm that the responsibility of safeguarding nuclear material rests with the state that controls it. This could be done either by official pronouncements or quieter back-channel communication. The latter would require us to develop technical capabilities to attribute an explosion or attack to the originating state. This would entail the creation of sophisticated methods to infer weapons design and isotopic details of the fissile material used. This would enable us to match an explosion to the fingerprint of a state. A demonstrable capability along these lines would act as a significant deterrent to nuclear assets transfer by any state. Nuclear forensics, then, is the next major challenge for India’s military-scientific establishment.


Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi








For centuries, intrepid explorers went in search of Arctic treasure — but pursued only a mirage. From the time of Marco Polo, numerous expeditions were made to map a mythical Northwest Passage between East and West, but many ended in tragedy and a viable route was never found. Others vainly scoured neighbouring lands for fabulous gems. Martin Frobisher, for example, sailed there in 1577 to find gold but returned only with worthless iron pyrite — infuriating Queen Elizabeth, who lost a large investment.
Today, however, hopes are raised that climate change could at last make such dreams a reality. Many scientists are convinced that, as the ice retreats, the region can soon be properly explored and vast natural resources exploited. And there is speculation that before long the Northwest Passage and Russia’s Northern Sea Route could offer cargo ships a shortcut to the Far East, bypassing the Suez and Panama canals. Right now, vessels belonging to a Bremen-based shipper, Beluga, are moving along Russia’s northern coasts without icebreaker assistance to test the route.

But like their predecessors, today’s merchant adventurers also risk being seduced by a mirage in the Arctic. True, sea ice is vanishing — it reaches its annual minimum at this time of year, and now covers around two-thirds of the area it covered 30 years ago — but business opportunities in the region remain limited and their prospects overhyped.

For example, it is likely to be several decades, perhaps half-a-century or more, before much of the Arctic Ocean is ice-free for most, let alone all, of the year. Climate change seems to be changing how ice is formed — its thickness, and how much survives from one year to the next — but the latest computer models strongly suggest that the region will remain frozen over in winter for a long time to come.
This means that journeying through such waters will remain very difficult, forcing shippers to fork out large sums for icebreaker escort. Even in the summer months, ships will need specially strengthened hulls to keep their insurers happy, and fitting them is not only formidably expensive but commercially risky: they perform badly in normal conditions, and are virtually redundant in the winter months if weather conditions are too bad to operate.

But, even in high summer, ships could easily strike unexpected ice that would cause very costly delays. The Suez and Panama canal routes may be much longer — the Northern Sea route cuts the distance from Rotterdam to the Far East by about a third — but they will long remain commercially safer.
High hopes of finding a viable long-term source of energy in the Arctic are also likely to be dashed. It is rich chiefly in natural gas, which accounts for nearly all of its discovered petroleum and around three quarters of its estimated “undiscovered” reserves, reckoned by the US Geological Survey to be around 1.6 trillion cubic feet. Not surprisingly, European leaders have expressed hopes that these resources might break Russia’s supply stranglehold and enhance the European Union’s security of supply. But extracting these reserves, and then transporting them, will be extremely difficult. Most are located deep beneath icy waters where in some places, such as Canada’s Baffin Bay, icebergs float freely. Building the infrastructure and the thousands of miles of pipelines needed to bring this gas to destination markets could prove prohibitively expensive.

The Arctic does boast two big discoveries, Russia’s giant Shtokman field, and a massive Norwegian complex at Hammerfest, but both have been dogged with technical problems and cost overruns. Although discovered in 1988, Shtokman’s gas is not expected to flow until at least 2013. Even then, it will depend on high market prices to be viable. And the Arctic’s resources are more likely to tighten Gazprom’s grip over Europe than to lessen it, since the main “niche” opportunities — the ones where important discoveries can be tapped into existing infrastructure at relatively low cost — are mainly in Russian territory, notably the largely unexplored Pechora Sea.

Fortunately, climate change is gradually opening up other important opportunities, such as in Greenland, where glaciers are retreating to give access to a large and ancient mineral seam. In the West, the British company Angus & Ross recently bought the disused Black Angel zinc mine and predicts that its newly discovered resources will have a productive lifespan of at least 20 years.

More than 20 other companies, mainly from Australia and Canada, are exploring for gold, copper, zinc, lead, uranium, tantalum and other rare earth minerals. And Greenland’s flagship project is at Kvanefjeld in the south-west, one of the world’s most important new sources of rare elements such as uranium and sodium fluoride.

The mineral deposits of Canada and Alaska also boast some big opportunities. The Red Dog Mine is one of the world’s leading sources of zinc, and the iron deposits at Mary River, on Baffin Island, are now beginning to reach European markets. Russia also has vast resources of precious metals, such as the Norilsk mine near Dudinka, the world’s largest source of nickel and palladium, while its Siberian oil fields have a voluminous output, transported from a newly opened oil terminal at Varandey in the Barents Sea that is used throughout the year by specially designed ice-breaking tankers.

Such opportunities are of course very important, but any high hopes for the wider Arctic region are likely to be dashed. There are other parts of the world where petroleum can be exploited at a far lower commercial and environmental cost than north of the Arctic Circle: the United States has apparently limitless supplies of oil shale, while Europe would do better to look to liquefied gas and piped supplies from North Africa to break Russia’s supply grip.

In other words, like the brave sailors and explorers of previous ages, whose imaginations were seized by fantastic stories about the region and who often sacrificed their lives on daring but futile voyages, we too are at real risk of pursuing a mirage in the Arctic.


By arrangement with the Spectator








It’s 4 am. I’m drinking coffee. The kids are sleeping.

And I’m writing in my journal. (Journaling is all about having a conversation with yourself. Helps you build a superior you.) Reflecting. And listening to Maná’s CD Amar Es Combatir. I love it. Here’s the question: How much music do you invite into your life?

Music has helped me get through very painful times.

It offered me inspiration when I needed it, joy when I craved it and peace when I ached for it.

It made me a more colourful, engaged and alive human being.

I suggest that to live and work at your best, we need to be overflowing with passion, happiness and a relentless desire to win. Music will help. A lot.

It will make every moment better. It is the soundtrack to a brilliant life. And you can start with Maná.


Excerpted from The Greatness Guide 2 by Robin Sharma. Published by Jaico Publishing House, [1]









Year-on-year, quarterly gross domestic product growth shows a slight rise to 6.1 per cent from the depressing 5.8 per cent it showed in the previous two quarters. This rise has led to an outburst of optimism. The prime minister told the Planning Commission that the global economic downturn was ending and that normalcy would return. He also told policy-makers not to be too pessimistic. That could be a sign that things are better than how they see them — unless he was merely cheering them up. He could have been referring to the note circulated by the Planning Commission which weighed in the effect of the drought; it said that foodgrains production could drop this year by 29 million tons, and growth could fall to 5.5 per cent.


What is known with certainty is the past; and the past is known only up to April-June this year, to which the latest GDP figures pertain. They show an uptick in mining, manufacturing and public utilities — precisely the sectors that had led the slowdown. That suggests its end. The figures also show a fall in the contribution of the government to GDP growth; this suggests that the figures are not being artificially inflated by unproductive government expenditure. So the possibility can no longer be dismissed that there is a genuine upturn.


That is how it looks if the focus is on GDP figures ignoring the rest. The trade figures were released at the same time as GDP figures, and they tell a different story. Monthly goods exports were below the previous year’s figure for the tenth month running; in the past five months, they have been almost a third lower than the year before. If they had not fallen, GDP would have been four per cent higher. That is an exaggeration, since imports too would have been higher. The point is that there is one sector of the economy that has done extremely badly; so have those whose livelihood depends on exports. Almost half the gem-cutters have lost their jobs; so have a third of garment makers. Their woes do not figure high on the radar of the finance ministry or the Planning Commission. For most of the exporters are small; while politicians pay them homage on appropriate occasions, they are simply not present in the corridors of power. Unbeknownst to the men in power, those small enterprises have been doing their best — to save themselves more than the nation; they have fought back. According to the Reserve Bank of India’s figures, merchandise exports have fallen much less than imports. So, the trade deficit halved in January-March 2009 in comparison to the previous quarter. Exports of services, including information technology, have also been sustained well. It is a pity that these small exporters are just the people whom the trade policy, replete with red tape, serves least well.






An elected government is one of the few things that the people can call their own. There must be strong enough reasons, therefore, to deprive them of their right to have such a government. The Election Commission has not cared to explain why it left Jharkhand out of the state assembly polls scheduled for next month. The state has been under president’s rule since January this year and the assembly kept in suspended animation. The commission’s silence is somewhat intriguing, given the Union home minister’s assurance in the last session of Parliament that the polls to the state assembly would be held after the monsoon. Obviously, the commission believes that the situation in the state is not suitable for the polls now. But it should have spelt out the reasons behind its decision for the sake of transparency.


What is thus an act of omission on the commission’s part has led to an unnecessary political controversy. The state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party has smelt a Congress “conspiracy” in the commission’s decision and decided to move the Supreme Court. In the Lok Sabha polls in the state, the party handed the Congress a humiliating defeat. The commission’s decision to further delay the polls in Jharkhand has prompted the insinuation that it is giving the Congress more time to put its house in order. Of course, the BJP’s conspiracy theory may well be a political ploy. The commission and the Centre may have felt that the Maoist challenge makes the Jharkhand polls a special case. There is no doubt that the rebels are the biggest threat to any election in the state. The commission would be absolutely right if it thought that it needed more time to ensure a free and fair poll in Jharkhand. But it needed to dispel any misgiving by explaining its decision. It can, and actually should, do so even now. It does not have to answer politically motivated charges, but it has a duty to assure the people that their democratic right is not being unnecessarily withheld.








Earlier this week, a BJP-watcher in the media proffered the novel suggestion in a web article that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief, Mohan Bhagwat, should hold concurrent charge of the Bharatiya Janata Party. “I would go a step further,” she wrote, “and state that since he is so clearly the Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh of the BJP/RSS he should also take-over the constitutional post of Leader of the Opposition … In fact, Bhagwat should eventually consider being Leader in both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha but since that would involve amending the Constitution of India he should first focus on fixing the BJP Constitution to ensure him unlimited power and authority that he seems to enjoy anyway.”


Since irony and sarcasm in the English language tend to go largely undetected, this plea for one-man-all-posts could well be interpreted as a logical extension of Arun Shourie’s theatrical pronouncement that the RSS should “take over” the Bharatiya Janata Party. Conversely, since Bhagwat has affirmed many times over in his media interactions that the RSS is merely a “cultural organization” that doesn’t give gratuitous advice to the BJP, many will view the suggestion as simply insolent.


It is difficult to anticipate how the RSS will react to the suggestion that it shed all pretence and assume a formal political role. It is said that Sardar Vallabbhai Patel once suggested precisely such a course to “Guruji” M.S. Golwalkar, the iconic, second RSS chief. It was rejected because Golwalkar believed that politics is a “cesspool” and jumping into it would contaminate the RSS’ s larger “nation building” project. Since then, keeping an arm’s length from politics has defined RSS orthodoxy. This detachment, however, has never negated the discreet advice of the organization to its swayamsevaks in public life. Occasionally, as happened during the tenure of K.S. Sudarshan, the distinction between advice and instruction was almost obliterated.


Despite Bhagwat’s denial that the RSS was assuming charge of the BJP, there is an impression that last week’s crisis management sessions in Delhi resulted in a coup and the quiet transfer of control of the BJP from the politicians to the RSS. L.K. Advani’s resignation from the post of leader of the Opposition — a post he unwisely held on to after the May 16 defeat — is now a foregone conclusion, as is the non-renewal of Rajnath Singh’s term as party president. More to the point, the RSS appears to have indicated that it has no confidence in the ability of the BJP’s second-rung leadership to steer the party out of its present disarray.


The RSS has mounted a global search for a new face who can undertake the party re-building project. The choice may well be a politician (even one with a mass base), but real decision-making will be vested in the hands of full-time RSS pracharaks on deputation from Nagpur. As things stand, the organization secretaries (deployed at all levels) undertake party responsibilities, but are not subject to the political control of the party. Their appointments and removal are the sole responsibility of the RSS.


It is undeniable that many despondent BJP workers, perhaps a majority of them, have reacted favourably to the RSS chief assuming a pro-active role. The impression that a fractious and ambitious bunch of politicians were incapable of extricating the BJP from the depths to which it has sunk may be over-simplistic, but at the same time it was very real. Since the RSS chief wields both moral and organizational authority within the larger sangh parivar, his no-nonsense intervention has been heartily welcomed, even if it involves replacing dual control with just one power centre.


A comparison of the RSS “takeover” with a military coup ostensibly aimed at saving “the nation” from democratic turbulence is irresistible.


The problem with authoritarian solutions in argumentative societies is that the immediate exhilaration at the restoration of order is invariably replaced by long-term disappointment. Apart from a mismatch between the Sergeant-Major mentality and competitive politics, the honest brokers soon find themselves sucked into the role of participants. The RSS should know the feeling. In 2006, after Advani was removed as party president following his controversial remarks on Jinnah, the RSS sent some 250 pracharaks into the BJP to bolster the organization. They were appointed organizing secretaries at the Central and state levels and the 2008 Uttar Pradesh election was managed almost entirely by pracharaks on special deputation.


The overall experience wasn’t happy. Apart from the uneven quality of personnel deployed, the image of the RSS as a distant moral authority was subsumed by the emergence of the RSS as a faction, often at loggerheads with mass politicians. The factionalism in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan were a consequence of troubles fermented by those who claimed to speak in the name of the sangh. If the process of pracharak implantation is speeded up without a thorough assessment of the past experience, there is a possibility that the BJP could witness even more strife and major desertions. Bhagwat needs to be mindful that greater RSS control of the BJP is a high-risk strategy.


Secondly, an unstated feature of the RSS intervention is the belief in the vanguard role of the RSS and the superior qualities of those who have dedicated themselves full-time to the sangh. Compared to the “lateral entry” politician who is in the BJP because it is the most meaningful non-Congress formation, the swayamsevak is projected as something akin to a chosen people. Apart from the sheer arrogance of a belief that casts all those who didn’t attend shakhas as lesser beings — and this includes every woman — this caste system runs counter to the very purpose of a political party — to win the support of the majority and create a representative leadership profile. The cultivation of enhanced self-worth may be necessary to nurture commitment to a religious order or a brotherhood, but political leadership cannot be settled on the strength of Indic versions of the old school tie and membership of a Masonic Lodge — at least not in a 21st century where hierarchies are constantly being unsettled.


The fundamental question the BJP has to address is: why is it in existence in the first place? If upholding Hindu interests is its main leitmotif, it is not dissimilar to a grander version of the Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Musalmeen, which controls the Muslim ghettos of Hyderabad and routinely wins a Lok Sabha seat. The MIM, an offshoot of the original Razakars, resonates with nostalgia for a lost sovereignty and an eroding high culture. It will always be a factor in Muslim politics of the Deccan but a non-starter in all calculations of governance.


If the BJP wishes to be a party aspiring to some 80 Lok Sabha seats, with a presence in the Hindi-speaking states, it can persist with the cohesiveness of the erstwhile Jana Sangh. If its ambitions are greater and it seeks to challenge the Congress’s all-India presence, it has to open its doors wider to diverse currents and interests. The RSS is an important input into the BJP, but it is not the only input. If the BJP wishes to mirror the richness of the nationalist experience, it must become a Kumbh Mela of diverse tendencies. With his stature and goodwill, Bhagwat can play a constructive facilitator of such a process. However, the creation of “structures and procedures” he has repeatedly stressed must be premised on the principles of inclusiveness, accommodation and, above all, competence. A one-size-fits-all approach based on loyalty is too eerily reminiscent of the failed ideologies of the 20th century.








The time has come to act swiftly and efficiently to overhaul and restructure our museums and archives both at the Centre and in the states. There is no getting away from the clear and disturbing fact that all the institutions that house the tangible objects of our varied culture are in a dreadful condition, being ruled by the most archaic management norms and regulations. The excuse given is that there is not enough money to conserve, restore, protect and display. This is not true at all. The real problem is that people disconnected with and disinterested in the business of museums are at the helm. More often than not, they are frustrated babus marking time, waiting for a better posting. It is tragic and criminal at the same time.


The first step is to release all such institutions from the clutches of the government and re-convene them as equal public-private partnerships. This will bring in the first injection of professionalism and upgradation. Working closely with the finance ministry, special tax concessions need to be introduced that will encourage individuals and private institutions to participate in all such ventures. Museum heads must be selected in the way they are they are in all countries across the globe. A fresh act needs to be crafted and tabled in Parliament for a vote that will liberate the functioning and revenue-generation of our museums. The restructuring could be straightforward if backed by a true will to change.


It is quite shameful that 62 years after Independence we have a national museum where all the negative aspects of museum management is showcased. As you climb the steps to enter the portico, you are greeted with careless, nose-picking, scratching ‘officers’ on duty chatting with one another as you wait to have your hand bag examined and your body checked. Disgusting welcome. Then you walk straight ahead to a sales counter where, once again, the babu employed is lazily speaking on the phone to a friend or colleague. You ask to see a reproduction of a painting or a book and you feel as if you have intruded into a ‘private’ domain where trespassers are prohibited. Everything is always unavailable. The counter could be shut down and the babus on shift sent home. It would save the exchequer.



The badly lit galleries, where great sculptures and unmatched objects are displayed with zero imagination, insulting the master creators, watched over by bored, sleepy, uncouth, ‘guards’ in grubby clothes, makes one wonder why there is so much disrespect for India. Desperately trying to move away from complete disillusionment, the natural attraction is for some quick retail therapy. One walks into the Handicrafts and Handlooms Export Corporation managed ‘art shop’ on the first floor where the minder is having his lunch of dosa and sambhar on the cash counter. The smell of masalas and hing overwhelms one’s senses. The products on sale represent the worst of that which is made in India. One shudders with embarrassment and beats a hasty retreat.


There can be no adequate explanation for this terrible and shameful reality. All over the world, museums and archives have been restructured to make them user-friendly and resource-generating public spaces. Why does babudom in India insist on destroying the spirit of such places? Why do they not model themselves on The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the British Museum, or the Louvre? And then, to top it all, the same babu and his boss, the politician, gets all hot and bothered if any criticism comes their way. They do nothing to make these institutions user-friendly. But museums and restored areas are of enormous interest to people and they generate large resources that can be ploughed back to add continuous value.










New York, 3 SEPT: Google’s video sharing site, YouTube is in talks with major Hollywood studios for streaming movies on a rental basis, says a media report.

Streaming movies are generally those where the user does not have to download the file and the content over the Internet which is displayed in real time.

“Google'’ YouTube is in discussions with movie major studios for streaming movies on a rental basis, a test of whether the online video giant can persuade millions of users to pay for premium content,” The Wall Street Journal said.

For Hollywood, the move could represent a bold attempt to offset its dwindling DVD sales with online revenue.

If YouTube talks bear fruit, viewers for a fee might be able to stream hit movies, perhaps as soon as they are out on DVD. 

The report said that YouTube is talking to Lions Gate Entertainment Corp, Sony Corp, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc and Time Warner Inc's Warner Bros on charging for new titles on the existing YouTube site. In some cases, these titles might be available on the site on the same day they come out on DVD. 

Some studios already make full-length movies available on YouTube free, though they tend to be older and lesser-known films. It is unclear to what extent older movies or television shows would be a part of the new agreements, it added.








Kalyani University in West Bengal may not be a Central university; but there is a quirky coincidence between the national government’s decision to unshackle the appointment of Vice-Chancellors from political intervention and the intra-CPM bickering that has held up the appointment at KU. Faced with the differences within the ruling party over the next incumbent, the Governor, in his capacity as Chancellor, has had to extend the tenure of the present VC, Prof Aurobindo Das, by two months. That extension doesn’t quite stave off the crisis with the rival CPI-M factions in the party’s education cell equally determined to have their way in the appointment of the next VC. At the most, a showdown has been deferred. Clearly, both groups are intent on upstaging the university’s court that had nominated Prof Alok Banerjee. The group opposed to the nomination wants the incumbent to continue. This is political meddling in academic appointments at its most brazen. Indeed, of a kind that ought to end in the Central universities if the new plan of action is implemented earnestly enough.

With politics having permeated the groves of academe, state as much as Central, the union HRD minister, Kapil Sibal, has been bold enough to dispense with the traditional system of a government panel nominating VCs. It was a system that merely served to entrench political interests. The task of shortlisting candidates will now be entrusted to a collegium of experts. Aside from discontinuing with government intervention, the new system should hopefully end the double standards that had plagued the functioning of Central universities. While the HRD ministry has officially been committed to a free hand, those at the helm of these institutions have usually been handpicked by the ruling political establishment in Delhi. Of course, the immediate provocation behind the move has been the bitter tussle over the appointment of the next VC of Jamia Millia Islamia University. The collegium, to be constituted by an Act of Parliament, should be able to ensure an independent selection of VCs to Central universities. A message there for the states as well. For once, the HRD ministry has initiated an eminently sensible move.









A CAPTAIN of the Gorkha Rifles would hardly warrant description as a leading light of the Indian army, yet one of them has just ensured that the image of the military officer gets further darkened. His insistence that the lights in an AC-II coach of the Upasana Express be kept burning through the night because he was “on duty” reeks of the high-handedness that is costing the military the support and respect of the average citizen. According to fellow passengers he was in uniform, and threatened them with a handgun. The trouble began when he boarded the train at Bareilly, and continued virtually all through the journey. The train was delayed at intermediate stations where police tried to persuade him to be considerate to his fellow passengers. Eventually the railway police handed him over to their military counterparts. No doubt the army will probe this act of indiscipline and take requisite action against the officer, but since the people he harassed will never know if and how he was punished the unfavourable impression could long linger.

To write off the incident as stray, to try and make light of it as the army tends to do would be unhealthy. There have been far too many recent cases of soldiers riding roughshod over civilians to tolerate. The worrying factor is that the top brass appear to be doing little to ensure that officers and men conduct themselves in accordance with once-acclaimed ethos and traditions. That on several occasions the defence minister has had to openly express displeasure over harassment (sexual or otherwise), ill-treatment of civilians, corruption etc adds up to a poor reflection on the prevailing quality of training and leadership. It is high time that Army Headquarters appoints an expert panel to investigate causes for this erosion of such military essentials, and sends out very strong signals that it is determined to restore the aura of the uniform. What the army must understand is that the exemplary commitment and dedication displayed by soldiers serving in most demanding conditions can so easily be obliterated from the public eye by men like the Captain who refused to let co-passengers in a sleeper-coach catch a little shut-eye.







IT was with faint hope rather than any sense of conviction that most people kept abreast of the most intensive and sophisticated search operation mounted in this country. Alas, just under 24 hours after the state government’s helicopter carrying the Andhra Pradesh chief minister lost contact with the ground, was its wreckage spotted on the crest of a densely-forested hill. A little later came reports that five bodies, obviously one of them being that of YS Rajashekhar Reddy, had been found at the crash site. Had it not been for the extreme weather ~ initially presumed to be the cause of the chopper going down ~ the wreckage would have been spotted earlier. The bare facts established, now the queries will flow: the wisdom of flying a helicopter in bad weather, the mechanical state of the Bell 430, why the system that automatically sends out location signals after a heavy landing was not activated, why there was no satellite-phone on a VIP flight etc. A probe might answer some of them but it is now paramount that a safety code for VIP flights be prescribed ~ and more importantly implemented, with the pilot being authorised to take a professional call. There have been far too many cases of politicians pressuring pilots to take extreme risks so that they could keep their appointments. This has to stop, and pilots given due “protection” when they decline to compromise with safety. Right now, as is inevitable, the passing of the chief minister will be the focus of public attention, but four others have also lost their lives. The human tragedy extends to their families too: no statues will be raised in their memories, and whether their financial security will be assured remains unclear.

The people of Andhra Pradesh in general and the Congress party in particular will find YSR hard to replace. For he was well advanced in the process of establishing himself as a tall leader: maybe not directly a major player on the national stage, but his making light of the anti-incumbency factor and simultaneously “sending” a number of Congress candidates to the Lok Sabha made him a “banker”. Not surprisingly he was held in high esteem by the party/government’s leaders: churlish though it may appear, it is fair to ask if a “lesser” man would have triggered the unstinted deployment of national assets in the search mission Obviously at this point in time emotional eulogies will flow, then the political fallout will have to be countered. As well as the regime for VIP flights have to be scripted.







What are the chances of opening a national daily and not seeing page after page of advertisements adorned with pictures of preening politicians? And God forbid if it happens to be some worthy leader’s birthday, (living or departed). You’ll be lucky if you find any news tucked away somewhere in those sheaves of newsprint, masquerading as a newspaper but really a government glorification dossier.
The UP Chief Minister, Mayawati, had a point when she responded to the opprobrium heaped on her for going on a binge erecting statues of herself contending that the Central Government was hardly in a position to complain. Surely, advertisements proclaiming the government’s achievements and glorifying their leaders with airbrushed photographs day after day at a huge cost to the tax payer could not be much more refined than Mayawati’s megalomania? I am not sure if anyone has filed an RTI query on how much the government spends on advertising, but I am quite sure it must be enough money to feed several million hungry people every year.


DOES the government have a legally sustainable right to advertise or to glorify itself at the tax payers’ expense? Thinly disguised as dissemination of information in the public interest, it is really political advertising by the party in power at the cost of the public exchequer.

The right to advertise, what is known in legal parlance as commercial speech, flows from the fundamental right to freedom of speech under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. Many years ago, the Supreme Court in the famous Hamdard Dawakhana case had excluded advertising from the realm of free speech protected under Article 19(1)(a) on the ground that advertising was for commercial gain or profit-making and, therefore, was not entitled to the same protection as other forms of speech.
Much later, in the Tata Press (Yellow Pages) case, the Supreme Court declared that advertisements could not be denied the protection of Article 19(1)(a) merely because they were issued for commercial purposes. The court recognised the importance of advertising, not merely from the point of view of the information that it facilitated to the citizen but also on account of its invaluable role in economically sustaining the media.

The court observed: “Advertising is considered to be the cornerstone of our economic system. Low prices for consumers are dependent on mass production, mass production is dependent upon volume sales, and volume sales are dependent upon advertising. Apart from the lifeline of the free economy in a democratic country, advertising can be viewed as the life blood of free media, paying off the costs and thus making the media widely available. The newspaper industry obtains 60/80% of its revenue from advertising. Advertising pays a large portion of the costs of supplying the public with the newspaper.
For a democratic press the advertising ‘subsidy’ is crucial. Without advertising, the resources available for expenditure on the ‘news’ would decline, which may lead to an erosion of quality and quantity. The cost of the ‘news’ to the public would increase, thereby restricting its ‘democratic availability’. ‘’

Interestingly, in the Sakal Papers’ case which arose in the early 1960s, there was a challenge to the Newspaper (Price and Page) Act, 1956 which empowered the government to regulate allocation of space for advertisements. The court held that the curtailment of advertisements would be hit by Article 19(1)(a) since it would have a direct impact on the circulation of newspapers.

“If the area for advertisements is curtailed the price of the newspaper will be forced up. If that happens, the circulation will inevitably go down. This would be no remote, but a direct consequence of curtailment of advertisements…. If, on the other hand, the space for advertisement is reduced, the earnings of a newspaper would go down and it would either have to run a loss or close down or raise its price. The object of the Act in regulating the space for advertisements is stated to be to prevent ‘unfair’ competition. It is thus directed against circulation of a newspaper. When a law is intended to bring about this result there would be a direct interference with the right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a).” 


Ironically, far from seeking to curtail advertising space, the government is today the largest single advertiser in the country swallowing up more newsprint than news itself. There is no denying the fact that in times of an economic slowdown the advertising revenue pumped in by the government is a welcome relief. We live in times when globally newspapers are on the brink of closure, being unable to compete with faster technologies which bring news that comes at virtually no price to the reader. The strides in technology have resulted in a tectonic shift in dissemination of news ~ most young people increasingly accessing news free of cost on the Internet, gradually rendering the newspaper redundant.
But the question still remains whether the government can defend what is really political advertising ~ a self-glorification campaign by squandering away the tax payers’ money. It also makes one wonder whether the Press can continue to be objective about the government it is so financially beholden to.
This is a dangerous trend because it means that the political party in power can mould and manipulate public opinion by its command over the media. This is what Noam Chomsky calls “the manufacture of consent”, anathema to the very essence of free speech.












The economic slump dubbed the “Great Recession” is receding although consumer confidence remains low, reducing the possibility that the US will soon spend itself out of economic crisis. Key data released here in Washington on Wednesday reveal that the US economy, the engine of the global economy, is slowly recovering. “Slowly”, is the key word here, say economists consulted by Deccan Herald.

Home sales in July rose 3.2 per cent compared with June and 12 per cent compared with July 2008. The government's policy of giving an $8,000 credit to those willing to buy homes for the first time has helped spur sales. Similar credits of $3,500-$4,500 to car buyers have boosted vehicle sales as well. The manufacturing index rose to 52.9 per cent, indicating that the economy is expanding rather than contracting. Manufacturers have used up inventories, are now making new products and are employing staff.

However, these indicators have not had a positive impact on the financial sector where stocks, which rallied in spring, fell sharply on Tuesday following a drop of 6.7 per cent in the Chinese stock market. European markets followed suit. The abrupt plunge demonstrated global economic interdependence and revealed that the fate of the US economy is closely linked to developments in the major Asian powerhouses, China and India.

Other indicators are contradictory. Speciality clothing stores - where a large percentage of the goods are from India - sold $13 billion in merchandise during August as compared with $11.9 billion during the same month last year. But outlets for other goods have not seen similar rises.  Oil prices fell 3 per cent to $68 a barrel on Tuesday when funds flowed into safer investments. Consumer optimism had boosted oil prices from $32 last December. Finally, the dollar once again became a safe haven rather than more productive investments.

Across the US there are wide swathes of improvement and pockets of distress.  Michigan, once the centre of the powerful automotive industry, remains in deep recession. The unemployment rate in Detroit, “Motown”, is the highest in the US. General Motors, formerly the largest vehicle producer, has not recovered and is cutting benefits for workers and retirees. They expect further punishment. But Ford and Japanese car makers are doing well.

In the pleasant suburb of Birmingham, Deccan Herald spoke to Lynne Lyman the wife of Larry Lyman, 60, a teacher who took a $125,000-a year job teaching English literature in a secondary school in Abu Dhabi. For Lyman, the job is both challenge and adventure, as he had never travelled in West Asia before flying there last month. More than 350 teachers, some youngsters in their 20s, others in their 50s, have taken up jobs there, following the well-trodden path of unemployed Indian teachers and professionals.
In Boston, a major financial centre, banks have been stabilised by the government’s injection of funds but uncertainty continues to plague the sector. Salisbury, Connecticut, a picturesque village on the border with Massachusetts and New York, has had a reasonably good tourist season. “Rich people from Boston and New York City still come here,” stated the desk clerk at the 150-year-old White Hart Inn.

Anny Souri at Byzance, a shop selling fashionable Indian clothing and jewellery, said that business has been very good this summer. Other stores along Main Street have also prospered because wealthier citizens have spent their holidays touring local beauty spots instead of travelling abroad.

A lack of consumer confidence is the main reason recovery remains slow. Recent surveys show that the confidence index fell from 66.0 in July to 65.7 in August. The chief worry is about the “sustainability of the recovery”, said Christopher Low, a leading economist in New York. “It's clear to me that we cannot count on growth through next year as long as consumers are still on the ropes.” The end on August 22 of the government programme to subsidise car sales and the November halt for credits on first homes are certain to have a negative impact on commitment to such major expenditures. Furthermore, the spike in spending on school supplies and autumn clothing expected during the coming long Labour Day weekend is unlikely to reflect a resumption of consumer confidence.


The problem is, of course, that people have little confidence in the financial sector or the ability of the manufacturing and commercial sectors to recover. Confidence begets confidence and encourages people to spend.

Unless consumers regain their confidence, they could continue to hold onto the cash they possess in the hope that the economy will pick up. But this will not happen as long as they do not spend.









Standing by the door with his clean shaven face and impeccable dress, Yuvrajkumar put up an exterior of a loyal sentinel in an alien country. Kept away from the revolutionary rumblings of his homeland (Nepal), he is fighting another war to meet both ends -- weaving dreams of a bright future.

When the Maoists started tearing apart the societal fabric using high-octave revolutionary slogans and life-threatening weapons, Yuvrajkumar thought that they might succeed in bringing down the monarchy for the greater good of his countrymen. The very moment the revolutionary Maoists strode to the pinnacle of power, Yuvrajkumar hoped a new beginning for the Nepalese rooted in radical, social and political justice.  But this high regard for the Maoists vanished the very moment they started savouring power.

“They spilled the blood of commoners to liberate our land from the clutches of royalty. When they  succeeded, they forgot the great promises they had made,”  said an emaciated Yuvrajkumar. When the zeal and zest with which they fought against the rule of authoritarian royalty was found withered at the altar of power, it was heartbreaking for him. “They could have roped in all and sundry to help build the pillars of democracy.  Instead they took cudgels against all those who stood against them,”  he adds.
Accusing the Maoists and the current ruling dispensation of riding roughshod over people’s democratic rights, he says Nepal’s cataclysmic journey from monarchy to democracy could not keep the pulverising issue of belly away. If discord creeps into democracy it can be seen as the leaders’ failure to fufill people’s aspiration. And if force is used to stymie dissent it vitiates the democratic fabric of a nation.

Are the rulers, whether from the Left, Right or Centre, belong to the same class in all civilisations? Or do they have any other agenda for butchering their own citizens?  What the political establishment in any country would do well to understand is that the vote is not a blind endorsement, but the expression of a fragile hope of a rational participatory relationship with the government.








So far, the Obama administration’s plan for dealing with the budget deficit — an estimated $9 trillion over a decade — is to not dig the hole any deeper. That’s an important first step. President Obama deserves credit for proposing ways to pay for his two big initiatives to date: health care reform and energy legislation. Reducing the growth in health care costs, in particular, is vital to curbing future deficits.


As for the hundreds of billions of dollars in economic stimulus, their impact on long-term deficits is marginal because the spending is temporary. More important, deficit spending is warranted in a recession because it eases the downturn and in so doing, averts even worse damage to the economy and the budget.


But, sooner than he may prefer, Mr. Obama will have to face up to what he has so far avoided: the need to raise taxes broadly to rein in deficits.


The deficits are not of his making. Some two-thirds of the $9 trillion shortfall resulted from policies that predate his administration; most of the rest is the cost of policies that both parties consider necessary, like continued relief from the alternative minimum tax.


But when he inherited the burden of the budget mess, Mr. Obama also inherited the responsibility to clean it up. Neither economic growth nor spending cuts will be enough to fix the projected shortfalls. Nor is there enough to be gained by confining tax increases only to families making more than $250,000 a year, a campaign promise that Mr. Obama still says he will keep.


Assuming the economy has begun to recover by 2010, next year would be the natural time to start raising taxes. That’s because the Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire at the end of 2010. If Congress does nothing, taxes will revert to higher levels for everyone; if it extends all of the cuts, taxes will stay low for everyone; if it extends some and lets others expire, taxes will stay low for some taxpayers and go up for others.


Since 2010 is also a Congressional election year, lawmakers will be reluctant to raise taxes at all, and certainly not without considerable support from the White House, which is already worried about the 2010 elections.


Under these political pressures, Congress might be tempted to extend all of the Bush cuts at least through 2011 — and that would be a dangerous move because time is not necessarily on Mr. Obama’s side.


No one is angling to raise taxes during the recession, but the longer it takes to show real progress on deficit reduction, the greater the possibility that the nation’s creditors will demand higher interest rates on loans to the Treasury. That would worsen the deficit by raising the nation’s borrowing costs. And with the recovery of both the financial system and the housing market dependent on low interest rates, an unanticipated or uncontrolled rate increase would be a crisis in its own right.


The question then is not whether taxes must go up, but when, how and how much. The White House budget director, Peter Orszag, has said the administration is working to bring the deficit down in the 2011 budget, due early next year. But when asked recently by The Wall Street Journal for details, including the possibility of higher taxes on families making less than $250,000, Mr. Orszag said that the administration was not yet giving any specifics on the next budget.


In the meantime, the tax code remains inadequate to the task of raising sufficient revenue — and high-income taxpayers are about to benefit once again. Next year, a misguided law enacted in 2006 will take effect, giving high-income taxpayers the chance to shelter much of their money from future tax increases.


The law will let high-income taxpayers transfer traditional individual retirement accounts into so-called Roth I.R.A.’s. Unlike regular I.R.A.’s., no tax is due when money is withdrawn from a Roth. That often makes Roths a better deal, especially if you believe that tax rates will be higher in the years to come — and they are bound to be higher. Taxpayers who switch to Roths will have to pay tax upfront on the amounts they transfer, so the government will get a jolt of revenue. But later, the transfers will be a money loser for the government as high-income Americans and their heirs make tax-free withdrawals that would have been taxable at tomorrow’s higher rates.


The Obama administration may not want to talk about the need for broad tax increases while other issues dominate the agenda. But if the administration and Congress do not act rationally and in a timely way, they risk being forced to act by circumstances beyond their control. In that event, the economic harm to Americans would be far greater than simply acknowledging the obvious and acting accordingly.







It was probably only a matter of time, but the oil lobby has taken a page from the anti-health-care-reform manual in an effort to drum up opposition to climate change legislation in Congress. Behind the overall effort — billed, naturally, as a grass-roots citizen movement — lie the string-pullers at the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s main trade organization and a wily, well-funded veteran of the legislative wars.


Greenpeace, the advocacy group, uncovered a letter last month from the A.P.I. president, Jack Gerard, to industry C.E.O.’s revealing that the campaign’s central objective is to “put a human face on the impacts of unsound energy policy,” specifically the Waxman-Markey bill recently passed by the House.


The Waxman-Markey bill seeks a 17 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, partly by requiring emitters like power plants and oil refineries to invest in cleaner technologies or, if they cannot reduce their own emissions, to buy permits from companies that can. Either way, the bill will saddle polluters with new costs. The Senate will take up its own version of the bill this month.


So far, A.P.I. has organized nearly 20 rallies in oil-producing centers like Houston and smaller Rust Belt towns like Lima, Ohio, and Elkhart, Ind. The immediate audience typically consists of several hundred local residents, and the atmosphere is festive — marching bands and hot dogs. The ultimate audience is fence-sitting senators who may be persuaded to reshape the House bill to the industry’s liking or vote against it altogether.


Local residents are not, of course, invited to debate the consequences of global warming, or dwell upon those parts of the bill that could lead to a whole new industry — and the jobs that would go with it — based on alternative energy sources, or to a future in which people save money by buying more fuel-efficient cars. The narrative they get is one of unrelenting gloom —unaffordable gasoline, stratospheric home heating bills and shuttered industries.


One can always expect hyperbole from Washington lobbyists when billions are at stake, but two elements of the industry’s campaign are particularly annoying. One is the assertion that Waxman-Markey will inevitably mean $4-a-gallon gasoline. Two reputable studies of the bill — by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Information Administration — say that gasoline prices will increase by about 20 cents a gallon at most by 2020, an estimate that does not account for the effects of new investments in clean vehicle technology.


The second claim is that the bill treats the oil industry unfairly compared with, say, the electric utilities. But the bill does not prevent the oil companies from passing along whatever costs they incur to consumers. And let’s not forget that over the years few industries have profited as handsomely from government policies as the oil and gas industries.


What the oil companies are probably worried about is that people and industries will use less of their product as alternatives appear and consumers become more energy-efficient. But isn’t that the point of the exercise?







The rara avis search for Republican moderates has suffered an arresting moment in the Virginia governor’s race.


Just when the Republican Party candidate, Robert McDonnell, was scoring in the polls with job creation and other economic issues among the state’s northern moderate base, he suddenly had to confront his own impassioned conservative thesis from 20 years ago in Christian evangelical school. There, he demanded that government “statutorily and procedurally” favor married couples over “cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators.”


Feminism, Mr. McDonnell wrote, was “one of the real enemies of the traditional family,” while federal child-care programs were a detriment to the family by encouraging women to work.


His thesis, composed as an action paper for the Republican Party before he successfully ran for the state legislature, upbraided the Supreme Court for upholding contraception for unmarried couples and urged an end to “conventional folklore about the separation of church and state.”


That was 20 years ago and no longer represents his views, Mr. McDonnell insisted this week after the thesis surfaced and stirred a furor that he was cynically trying to rebrand himself a moderate after a successful career as a conservative legislator and attorney general.


The candidate pulled out a familiar dodge used by politicians when asked to explain damaging positions they’ve taken in the past. He said he was “simply doing an academic analysis” back in his graduate student days. “My views on many issues have changed as I have gotten older,” said Mr. McDonnell, who was 34 when he composed the thesis.


In campaigning, Mr. McDonnell briefly cited a thesis on “welfare policy” to a Washington Post reporter, Amy Gardner, who diligently tracked it down. She compared his conservative action program to his actual statehouse deeds across 14 years and found considerable overlap, for example in repeatedly seeking abortion restrictions and opposing a resolution to end wage discrimination between men and women.


We’ll let Virginia voters sort out whether Mr. McDonnell has moderated since his start-up days as a conservative firebrand. He’s got trouble on both sides, since it’s unclear whether the state’s potent conservative base will warm to his claims of political growth.


For now, it’s fascinating to watch any flicker of Republican moderation — pragmatic, realistic, contrived. The party and the nation could certainly use it.








If I were magically given an hour to help Barack Obama prepare for his health care speech next week, the first thing I’d do is ask him to read David Goldhill’s essay, “How American Health Care Killed My Father,” in the current issue of The Atlantic. That essay would lift Obama out of the distracting sideshows about this public plan or that cooperative option. It would remind him why he got into this issue in the first place.


Goldhill’s main message is that the American health care system is dysfunctional at the core. He vividly describes how the system hides information, muddies choices, encourages more treatment instead of better care, neglects cheap innovation, inflates costs and unintentionally increases suffering.


The essay is about the real problem: the insane incentives. Goldhill is especially good on the way the voracious health care system soaks up money that could go to education, the environment, economic development and a thousand other priorities. Health care, he writes, “simply keeps gobbling up national resources, seemingly without regard to other societal needs.”


Then I’d ask Obama to go to the Brookings Institution Web site and read a report called “Bending the Curve: Effective Steps to Address Long-Term Health Care Spending Growth.” This report was written by a bipartisan group of battle-tested experts, including Mark McClellan, David Cutler, Elizabeth McGlynn, Joseph Antos and John Bertko.


This report also focuses on the key issue: perverse incentives. It’s got a series of proposals on how to restructure insurance markets, reorganize provider payments, change the way effectiveness-research findings are implemented and cap the employee tax deduction.


These aren’t pie-in-the-sky ideas. The authors have combed through the bills that are already out there. They’ve taken good ideas that are now in embryonic or neutered form. They show how the ideas would work if fully implemented. We’re not going to revolutionize 18 percent of the American economy overnight, but these proposals would put us on the path toward real reform.


We’re not on that path right now. Several months ago, President Obama made a promise: People with health insurance would be able to keep exactly what they have.


We all understand why he made that promise. He wanted to reassure people who are happy with what they’ve got. He wanted to mollify the industries that have a vested interest in the status quo.


But Obama’s promise sent the reform effort off the rails. It meant that efforts to expand coverage marched ahead, but efforts to fundamentally reform the system got watered down.


Instead of true reform we got a series of bills that essentially cement the present system in place. The proposals do not fundamentally challenge the fee-for-service system. They don’t make Americans more accountable for their own health care spending. They don’t reduce costs. They just add more people into the mess we’ve got.


The president made this promise to ease passage. But it ended up hollowing out the substance of the reform. And the political benefits didn’t even materialize. Voters are still spooked by the costs, the centralization and the cuts they are sure will come.


If I had a magic hour with the president, I’d tell him this is his ninth-inning chance. He can stay on the current path. He might be able to pass some incremental bill that extends coverage. But he won’t have tackled the fundamental problems that first drove him to this issue. He won’t have cut health care inflation. He won’t have prevented a voracious system from bankrupting the nation, defunding the schools, pushing down wages and impoverishing the young.


On the other hand, he can shift back to the core issue: the perverse incentives that make this system such a mess. He can embrace proposals—like the Brookings proposals or, more comprehensively, the Wyden-Bennett bill — that address the structural problems instead of simply papering over them.


This remains a politically risky strategy. There are many industries that have an interest in making sure health care spending rises to 20 percent of G.D.P., and then 22 and then 24. But the president’s in political hot water already. He got there trying to dodge the hard issues. He might as well be there because he’s fighting for something real.


There are many people telling him to go incremental. They’re telling him to just enlarge the current system a bit and pay for it by pounding down a few Medicare fees. But did Barack Obama really get elected so he could pass the Status Quo Sanctification and Extension Act?


This is not the time to get incremental. It’s the time to get fundamental. Reform the incentives. Make consumers accountable for spending. Make price information transparent. Reward health care, not health services. Do what you set out to do. Bring change.


Paul Krugman is off today.








THE Afghanistan debate is increasingly focused on two words: troop numbers.


Those numbers certainly deserve serious attention as President Obama decides whether to raise them even further this year. But in Afghanistan, as in past counterinsurgencies, it is important to remember that all troop numbers are not created equal. When it comes to indigenous forces, quality often matters more than quantity, and quality often declines when quantity increases.


Current recommendations of American and Afghan troop strengths are, for the most part, based on the size of the Afghan population. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, has produced figures using a ratio of 25 troops for every 1,000 Afghans. His methodology assumes that increasing American troop strength by, say, 20 percent will increase counterinsurgency capacity by roughly the same amount. That assumption is correct, because the quality of the additional American units will be broadly similar to that of the others.


Where the methodology fails is in its assumption that doubling Afghan troop strength, as many now advocate, will double counterinsurgency capacity. In reality, such an increase is likely to cause quality to fall. With Afghan security forces already two-and-a-half times as large as the American forces, and America lacking the political will to reduce that ratio, the counterinsurgency cannot afford such a drop.


Why would a rapid expansion of Afghan forces result in their deterioration? Because the Afghan army and police simply have too few good officers to lead the forces already in existence, let alone new forces. Past counterinsurgents who tried to expand under similar conditions, like the British in Malaya (1948 to 1960) and the Salvadorans (1980 to 1992) discovered that too many inexperienced officers took command and the experienced officers were spread too thinly. In addition to fighting poorly, badly led troops usually alienate the population by misbehaving and they often desert or defect.


Historically, counterinsurgents have needed at least 10 years to turn raw soldiers into officers suitable for essential commands. They also need solid government training programs, something Afghanistan did not have until recently.


Clearly, big improvements in Afghan officer quality are several years away. At the same time, a growing number of Americans, including many in Congress, are demanding progress in 12 to 18 months. So what can be done?


There are some simple first steps. First, the United States must pressure senior Afghan leaders to weed out bad commanders. Second, we must assign more and better officers to advise Afghan units. Third, American units should work more closely with Afghan units.


Given what is at stake, however, the United States should also consider more drastic techniques. One is direct control over selecting commanders, a model that the United States used to excellent effect in Vietnam with the Provincial Reconnaissance Units, paramilitary forces that proved successful against the Vietcong. By appointing the units’ indigenous commanders, the C.I.A. eliminated the political and other non-merit considerations that plagued other South Vietnamese forces. That arrangement would benefit Afghanistan, as cronyism and nepotism run rampant there.


Regrettably, these measures may not suffice. We therefore should consider the most drastic method, which is also the method most likely to increase quantity and quality simultaneously — foreign command of indigenous units.


In the Philippine insurrection of 1899 to 1902 and in the Malayan revolt in the middle of the last century, indigenous soldiers worked well under the command of able American and British officers. Effective indigenous units were thereby deployed at much lower financial and political costs than foreign units.


Some will object that those colonial wars are not relevant to our postcolonial world. Yet in postcolonial Vietnam, foreigners commanded indigenous troops through the combined-action program, an initiative long heralded as a paragon of enlightened counterinsurgency. The program succeeded by placing South Vietnamese militias and United States Marines under the leadership of American commanders.


Foreign intrusion into the leadership sphere will elicit accusations of neocolonialism and will slow the development of indigenous leaders. But the short-term benefits may justify the long-term costs if the indigenous leaders are grossly incapable, as they too often have been in Afghanistan, and if political realities demand rapid improvement. It could be better t.o protect the weak fledgling from its predators and teach it to fly later, than to insist on self-reliance and take the chance that it will be eaten on the ground.


Mark Moyar, a professor of national security affairs at the United States Marine Corps University, is the author of the forthcoming “A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency From the Civil War to Iraq.”










Just as suddenly as it had moved into its vicious offensive against the PPP, delivering ultimatums and warnings of dire consequences if these were not met, the PML-N seems to have taken several steps back. The ultimatum issued by the party's information secretary has been withdrawn by the party chief who has laid down several conditions in exchange for full support to the PPP. These consist essentially of an undoing of the 17th amendment and the trial of former president Musharraf. These of course are not new issues but have formed the core of PML-N demands for many months. It is hard to know what brought about the change. It has been reported that members of both parties have been holding meetings behind the scenes. There has also been concern that the animosity was deliberately created by agencies in a game to weaken the democratic setup. We have no way of knowing if this is true but certainly the hail of accounts that suddenly emerged regarding past misdeeds is suspicious.

We do not yet know what new chapters have yet to unfold. But we must hope that the parties will continue to show a greater readiness to work together. To do so they need to develop greater maturity. The question is not, as Mian Nawaz Sharif put it, of being seen as a 'friendly' opposition, but as evolving as one that is willing to work within the existing framework and accepts that any elected government has a right to complete its tenure. Criticism too should come but it needs to respect the bounds of democracy and not take the form of threats. Our major parties face a big task. It is up to them to demonstrate that they possess the awareness of the need to push aside agencies and not be swayed by their antics.







As a commentator on a private TV channel said on Sept 2…"We solve all our problems abroad. We send our children abroad for their education and the same with our political problems. We never seem to sort them out ourselves here at home." Thus the sight of our previous president jetting in to Saudi Arabia on an aircraft sent by the Saudi government and then being received with full protocol should not surprise us. Neither should we be surprised at the apparently coincidental arrival of assorted government figures in Saudi Arabia at the same time as a past president and not surprised either that they did not – of course they didn't – meet or have any contact whatsoever with him. And no deal regarding his future, or any trial, was even thought about let alone agreed upon and signed with a discreet handshake. No, nothing like that at all.

Much turns for us on the Saudi hinge, and it has long been the antechamber in which out-of-favour Pakistani politicians have waited for a shift in the political winds allowing their safe return to the homeland and places at the top of the governmental tree. The Saudis are happy for this cycle to continue as it allows them a degree of control over our internal affairs – and here we were fretting that America is pulling our strings behind the scenes when it was our friends from the Gulf all the time. Our politicians are not averse to the idea of a political parking-lot either, because it allows them to do nothing about solving the problems that bedevil our political system; while appearing to be busy-busy rushing around signing MOUs and opening 150-yard stretches of freshly-laid tarmac road. The Saudis have an investment – literally – in our stability and will do what they can to preserve what for them is going to be an important factor in their own future food security. Parking past presidents and politicos in Arabian palaces suits all players. The theatricality of our domestic politics is for local consumption … the real drama is being acted out in a theatre across the waters.







The minister for religious affairs has been extremely fortunate. He narrowly escaped death in what was apparently a determined assassination attempt in Islamabad. His driver, killed as a hail of bullets fired from two directions by the assassins who followed the car over a short distance pelted the vehicle, has not been quite as lucky. The immediate conclusions are predictable. The minister, an outspoken critic of the Taliban, had been on the hit list of extremists. His status as a scholar, opposed to the orthodox, hard line view of Islam taken by the Taliban, also made him unpopular with them. We have been seeing the Taliban enter a new phase. The recent spate of terrorist attacks, at Torkham, in Mingora and now in Islamabad shows us a force that is far from being vanquished. There have also been less dramatic attacks in other places in the northern areas. The climate we live in means that incidents that cause few or no deaths go virtually unnoticed. In the most recent case, questions also arise about security arrangements. We are told the police commandos assigned to protect the minister had not been performing their duties at the time of the attack. Is this merely coincidence, or a consequence of the inefficiency we see everywhere? Or is something more sinister involved?

The possibility of a security lapse is being mentioned. While it is true that every street corner across our country cannot be policed, there may be some benefit in looking at the training and expertise available to our police and other forces. At least as far as VIP security goes this could make a difference. Our western allies should be able to help out in this respect. But this of course will do nothing at all to deal with the attacks on policemen at pickets or on other ordinary citizens who do not have access to top-notch security. We need a strategy with many prongs. The Taliban may be preparing for a new offensive that is fiercer still than those that have come before. This is ominous. The authorities need to cast aside the smug complacency we have seen over the past few weeks and accept that the struggle ahead will be a long and hard one.








PAKISTAN and Saudi Arabia enjoy unique relations that are not person specific but on state-to-state basis. Over six decades of this relationship has proved beyond any doubt that the Kingdom keeps integrity, stability and defence of Pakistan close to its heart and considers its well-being as its own.

Many instances can be quoted that whenever Pakistan faced difficulties, Saudi Arabia felt the pain and extended sane advice and assistance to overcome them. Particularly the present King, Khadim-e-Harmain Sharifain Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz is known for his love for Pakistan and is taking keen interest for its stability and well-being of its people. Whether it was the devastating earthquake of 2005, the IDPs of Swat and Malakand or the economic sanctions imposed after the 1998 nuclear tests, Saudi Arabia was in the forefront to extend assistance to Pakistan. Even during political crises in our history, the leadership of the Kingdom had played significant role and defused them. When things were getting hard for Mian Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan after overthrow of his government in 1999, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz exercised his influence, got cases against him dropped and extended royal hospitality during his period in exile. It is also a known fact that the King was the only personality who played important role in the return of Mian Nawaz Sharif and certain things were decided before that when Saudi Intelligence Chief Prince Mukaran visited Pakistan. As the controversy for the trial of former President Pervez Musharraf generated heat at home, the King apparently felt concerned, invited him as a royal guest and discussed issues pertaining to political situation in Pakistan. In our view it was a clear and loud message to the leadership in Pakistan that the Kingdom stands committed to its words. Interior Minister Rehman Malik was conveyed a similar message when he met the King a couple of days earlier. In this background we urge all and sundry to give due respect to the message from the close friend and well-wisher of Pakistan. We are also confident that every body particularly Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif will understand the importance of goodwill gesture of King Abdullah and appreciate the positive role he (the King) played in his and Pakistan’s life and let this controversy of trial of former President come to an en.








INDIA, which never missed an opportunity to malign Pakistan and its nuclear programme, has once again intensified its malicious propaganda against Pakistan’s nuclear programme. The story about alleged modifications by Pakistan in the American supplied Harpoon missiles has provided another chance to New Delhi for Islamabad-bashing.

There have been several statements from across the border aimed at creating panic about Pakistan’s defence and nuclear capabilities. A few days back the Indian Naval Chief had expressed concern over reports about modifications in the missile terming them as a threat to his country conveniently ignoring that his was one of the largest naval powers in the world. Now Indian Army Chief General Deepak has claimed that Pakistan was going well beyond the degree of deterrence in enhancing its nuclear capabilities. What a strange argument that India is getting technology and uranium from all sources to boost its nuclear capability and opposing Pakistan’s indigenous research efforts in this field. Interestingly, his statement comes at a time when India has entered into an agreement with Namibia for the purchase of Uranium, the fifth one in the series after those with the US, Russia, France and Kazakhstan. This is typical Indian style of propaganda against Pakistan that a number of statements have been made over Harpoon and nuclear issue just within a week and Indian media, which always toes the line of the Establishment so far as national strategic interests are concerned, is orchestrating the campaign. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s nuclear programme and the legendary nuclear scientist Dr A Q Khan have already become target of criticism of all sorts by Indian and Western lobbies and the latest tirade would further aggravate the situation. One may say that India has acquired mastery over anti-Pakistan propaganda and issues are created and exploited by it to present a distorted picture of the country. It is regrettable that there seems to be no systematic and cogent approach on the part of Pakistan to counter such venomous campaigns. The anti-Pakistan thinking of the Indian rulers and Establishment itself is testimony to the fact that Islamabad was well within its right to take steps to safeguard its national interests. Therefore, we must not adopt apologetic approach and if needed, defend our case at all available forums.








A latest public opinion poll has revealed that opposition to the war in the Afghanistan has grown to an all time high in the United States. Fifty-seven per cent of Americans expressed their opposition to the war, which is 11 points up since April and is the highest ever since the launch of the US military aggression in Afghanistan soon after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

It is a fact that anti-war feelings are increasing not only in the United States but also in other Western countries. Some of these countries had withdrawn or reduced the number of their troops in the face of rising opposition to military adventure. The rapid growth in anti-war feelings in the US should be seen in the backdrop of election pledges made by President Obama about the change and promotion of peace around the globe. People were, therefore, expecting some major policy initiatives by President Obama towards achievement of these objectives but it seems he too has fallen prey to the superpower syndrome. The war in Afghanistan is also having severe financial impact on the economies of the Western world, which are already under tremendous pressure because of global recession. People in these countries are questioning wastage of the taxpayers’ money on a war the objectives of which are either unclear or non-achievable. In this backdrop, it is quite obvious that the US administration will ultimately have to give serious thought to the exit strategy from Afghanistan. It is, therefore, time that Pakistan should also analyse the impact of such a scenario and put in place a strategy to safeguard its interests. Strategists, policy planners and media should thoroughly debate what scenario will emerge in Afghanistan in case US troops quit the country and how it will affect the situation in Pakistan.












The National Education Policy-2009, eighth such policy since the independence of the country, submitted by its formulation committee to the education minister on Wednesday, seeks to reorganise and reshape the country's education. The primary level will extend upto class-VIII instead of class V and the secondary level will be from class IX to class XII. It also prescribes a one-year pre-primary education for children aged 5 or 5-plus. For higher education, however, there will be four years' honours and one-year master courses as usual.

The restructured levels are important but more important are the substances on which to build up the learning process. Sure enough, the committee has rightly focussed on what it terms 'inclusive, people-oriented, balanced, universal and quality education.' All this sounds nice but we are interested to see that the system incorporate different streams of education into a single one as was promised earlier. 'Inclusive' used euphemistically means education for all. And quality education to us is no less than modern, liberal and world-class education with the cutting edge of science and technology enjoying a priority.  
The good thing is that there have been no protests from any quarters so far against the new education policy. This shows it has something for every segment of society. In the past no policy could be pushed ahead to the implementation stage; this time the government says it is serious about delivering on its promise from December next. If it does, it will surely be an addition of a feather in its cap.


What, however, remains to be a cause for concern is the development of required infrastructure, appointment of adequate and qualified teachers, their training and the integration of the existing level of primary education with the next three classes of the old secondary level. The introduction of new syllabi, accommodating the areas of emphasis such as environmental science, moral education, information technology and communication science will pose the greatest challenge. Printing of books according to the new syllabi is impossible before 2011. However, we appreciate the promptness with which the government pursues the matter and hope for the best.   






The government has taken up a plan to distribute a total of 2.65 crore of energy-saving bulbs among the rural and urban poor in order to save electricity, the supply of which is currently far shorter than the demand. The power these compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) will save, an estimated 350 megawatts, would be used to irrigate paddy farms in the coming Boro season. The World Bank will bear the total cost of procuring these bulbs, which would be distributed in two phases in the months of February and March among the target people.

According to the report published in this newspaper last Wednesday, the Rural Electrification Board (REB), Power Development Board (PDB), Dhaka Electric Supply Company (DESCO), Dhaka Power Distribution Company (DPDC) are among the organisations, which will distribute the bulbs. The government has already floated tender for import of 1.05 crore bulbs at a cost of US$ 15 million for the first phase of the programme.

The decision of minimising electricity use through distributing energy-saving bulbs is, however, a welcome one. And we, in this column, suggested this measure quite a long time ago. The criteria for collecting fluorescent bulbs for families that use at least two bulbs are submission of the last electricity bill and two active ordinary bulbs.

Ensuring proper distribution

Programmes of free distribution often could not bring the desired results in our country. It was seen that the sanctioned items for free distribution were often clandestinely sold in the market or went to such people who did not really deserve those. Therefore, the authorities have to take adequate precaution against any move aimed at channelling these costly bulbs to undesirable destinations.








"…Pokhran II was a fizzle not big bang: Scientist…" Times of India, 27th Aug.

What a big noise we made eleven years ago. Vajpayee strutted as if he'd personally put the nuclear bomb together and other members of the then government pranced and paraded like peacocks, clenched fists at Pakistan, clenched same fists at opposition parties then clenched fists at each other. According to K.Santhanam senior scientist and DRDO representative at Pokhran II the Big Bang Bomb was a mere fizzle! "What's a fizzle?" I asked my dictionary. "To hiss or splutter, to come to nothing, to be a fiasco!"
I say politely, "Thanks!" You got to be polite to them dictionaries, and law books and rulebooks because they speak the truth, and the truth is that our politicians lie to us. "You lied to us!" Politician in hot denial, "Of course not!"

I, "It wasn't a big bang it was a fizzle!" Politician, "We make fizzles into big bangs, that's our job!" I ask incredulously, "What?"  Politician, "Come on, come on, we are imaginative people, look around you, what do you see most of us doing?" I answer, "Inaugurations! Bhoomi Poojas!" Politician, "And what do we do at these inaugurations?" I say, "You announce the start of a bridge over the sea! Or a scheme to eliminate poverty in the country! Or a bomb that will destroy Pakistan, China and even America if it acts tough!" Politician, "Then what happens?" I reply, "The people jump and shout and scream with joy, roll with laughter and guffaw as they imagine Pakistan going up in flames, China bursting into a ball of fire and the US being blown to smithereens!" Politician, "Now tell me, what happens while they imagine all this?" I whispered, "They forget the realities of famine, of corruption of epidemics, all they think about is the big bang!" Politician, "It's a surefire formula!" I asked, "What happens if you get found out, like now?" "It's too late, governments have changed, people have forgotten and people are so involved in screaming and shouting at the next big bang announcement at the next bhoomi pooja that they forget that it's all just…''

"A fizzle fiasco for us fools..!" I said sadly as the crafty politician chuckled and broke a coconut on the inaugural stone of a proposed plant that would convert salty sea water to good drinking water and thus, "No person will ever be thirsty again!" he announced. And the people clapped and cheered at the new fizzle…!









GIVEN an electoral mandate to repeal the Howard government's Work Choices legislation, the Rudd government opted to put in place a system that reaffirmed the award system and the power of the industrial umpire.


The trade-off for business was to be an award streamlining, which John Howard had failed to achieve. It has been a rocky endeavour from the start and this week's ruling from the Australian Industrial Relations Commission suggests it is not going to get any easier.


For months, the Rudd government has sold the modernisation of the awards as cost-neutral, a process where there would be no losers, only winners. Under its Fair Work legislation, the push to collapse 2600 state and federal awards into no more than 130 national awards could only benefit business and workers, went the rhetoric. A process that business wanted and that Howard squibbed in 2006 would be delivered without costs to employers or loss of employee wages and conditions.


It always looked like an impossible aim and so it has proven to be, with confirmation from the AIRC (to be replaced by Fair Work Australia at the end of the year) that in the massive slicing and dicing of thousands of awards, "some award conditions will increase, leading to costs increases, and others will decrease, leading to potential disadvantage for employees". The upshot is a business lobby still angry about the award changes and an ACTU vowing to fight to protect workers' wages.


The government has been ducking and weaving on the real impact of the process for months, arguing that the AIRC would sort it all out. Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard was out of the firing line in India yesterday but Kevin Rudd was not giving ground on ABC radio, arguing that the government's objective was to ensure no one was worse off. His best shot seemed to be that workers should take the awards outcome on the chin because the only alternative was a return to the dark days of Work Choices.


The good news for business is that introduction of the new awards will be delayed for six months and will come into play in July next year. As well, the penalty rates that are at the heart of the problem for some companies will be phased in over five years, cushioning the impact of the adjustment. All of this will provide some relief for business which feared that the new award provisions would prove inflexible for a modern service economy.


Ms Gillard had already been forced to intervene in some awards to create special provisions for workers in the fruit and horticulture, restaurant and catering industries. This was to her credit, but the problems that emerged so rapidly underline the dangerous re-regulation of the nation's IR structures at a time when small business, in particular, is so vulnerable to the fallout of the global financial crisis.


The AIRC followed through on the revised requests from the minister, delaying the introduction of penalty rates for as long as possible. But the result is that the AIRC now faces a bottleneck of applications for special pay top-ups from workers who will be worse off because they will lose conditions from January next year. Overall, it is not a good look for a Labor government that promised workers they would not be disadvantaged by the process.








REVELATIONS in Paul Kelly's new book that John Howard did not seek public service advice before participating in the war to remove Saddam Hussein will convince opponents of the invasion that once Mr Howard decided to back the US he wilfully ignored alternative arguments. Insofar as the reason for the war - Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction - turned out to be wrong, they have a case. But not a very good one. Rather than reflecting any stubbornness on the part of the then prime minister, the decision for war was made on the basis of Australia's system of government, our strategic circumstances at the time and the immutable fact that single-issue morality is irrelevant in practical politics. It is the job of the prime minister and those of his ministers he consults to decide defence policy. The executive answers to parliament and the electors, not administrators, and while bureaucrats provide advice on policy, they do not make it. In any case, as Kelly reveals, senior officials, the people with access to intelligence assessments, were not opposed to the war.


While it is important to have this on the record, it will not surprise anybody with an objective interest in the circumstances of 2003. The US and its allies were still staggered by al-Qa'ida's declaration of war on the modern world on September 11, 2001, and the West was sensitive to threats from hostile regimes such as Saddam's that boasted about their arsenals. It was also important for Australia to demonstrate it did not expect to passively shelter under the US alliance. Iraq gave Mr Howard an opportunity to show the Americans that Australia was an ally, not a client state. Compared with the cost of Kevin Rudd's alliance war of choice in Afghanistan, Iraq was economical in Australian blood and treasure. And if opponents of the war argue Mr Howard's was a cynical strategy, that assisting the Iraqi people came second to advancing Australia's interests, the answer is obvious - this is every prime minister's ultimate obligation.


Whatever single-minded moralists argue, life-and-death decisions in politics are never easy. The choice Mr Howard faced was stark - invade Iraq or leave its people to suffer. Certainly the US occupation was at first incompetently administered. An unacceptable number of innocent Iraqis died at the hands of religious zealots more interested in murdering Muslims who held to different doctrines than in fighting the US. But this does not mean the dictator should have been left in place. It was a dilemma honestly acknowledged at the time by some critics of the war. While Robert Manne opposed the invasion and denounced Mr Howard's role in it, he accepted there was a case for fighting. "I do not see how those who, like myself, have opposed this war can evade a simple recognition, namely that if our opposition had been successful the Iraqi people might have had to endure another 10 or 20 years of Saddam's rule," Professor Manne wrote in the week after the invasion.


But while opponents of the war could agonise over the argument safe in the knowledge that Iraq's fate and Australia's wellbeing were not in his hands, Mr Howard enjoyed no such luxury. In March 2003, he and his ministers had two decisions to make: first, how best to serve Australia and second how we could best help the Iraqi people. And regardless of how much advice, or how little, Mr Howard took, in the end he, with the support of cabinet, had to decide. It was his job.








DUTCH authorities intend to charge the Arab European League for publishing a cartoon suggesting the Holocaust did not happen. An infringement of free speech? A parallel to the 2005 Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed?


No, and no again. The Dutch prosecution does not deny anybody's right to vigorously express a controversial opinion. Nor is the Holocaust cartoon a joke about a political or social matter on which there is room to comment and disagree.


Rather the AEL's cartoon seeks to subvert universally agreed facts of history - that the Holocaust happened, that the Nazis sought to exterminate an entire race of people from the earth. Some 70 years after World War II began, this fact is too easily ignored. Worse, it is now being manipulated or denied by enemies of Israel, who seek to deny the Jewish state's right to exist and fabricate history to make their case.


In recent years, Palestinian extremists and their allies have argued that Gaza is a ghetto and the Israelis are oppressors, implying, indeed asserting, an equivalence between Israel and Nazi Germany.


This is as much of a fiction as their claim the Holocaust did not occur. Both are nonsense and have nothing to do with politics in the modern Middle East.


Just as the use of Nazi regalia is unacceptable in European nations that suffered under Hitler, it is understandable that the Dutch fear a perversion of the historical record in the interests of politics.








LABOR did not promise much change before the last federal lection - except in industrial relations. The Coalition's Work Choices policy was so widely disliked that it almost won government for Labor on its own. Having promised change, though, the Rudd Government is now becoming entangled in its consequences - specifically, an unwise promise that no one would be disadvantaged in the process.


Business small and large has always feared Labor's union connections would dominate when it came to industrial relations changes. Without doubt they are influential, but Labor's Employment Minister, Julia Gillard, is too sharp a political operator to allow the unions' agenda to control the process. Labor cannot afford to alienate business if it is to consolidate its power over two or more terms. Gillard's approach has been to allay employers' worries over the dumping of Work Choices and the return of unions to the workplace with a promise of something for employers, too - a simpler system with about 150 national awards to replace the patchwork of more than 2500, state and federal, that cover workers now. It is a tempting offer, which would streamline industrial relations, increase efficiency and reduce costs. National businesses in particular, which now comply with six separate state awards, need only follow one, broader and simpler set of rules.


Unfortunately, Gillard has gone too far in the allaying of fears. She has been promising that no one will lose under the changes - not workers, not employers. Given the vast complexity of the task, that was always most unlikely. She has been intervening piecemeal, with some success, as different interest groups - now restaurant owners, now fruit and vegetable growers - have drawn her attention to changes which adversely affect them. But she cannot intervene in every case where someone is disadvantaged by the change.


Her unwise reassurance has now been fatally undermined by a statement from the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, which is managing the vast project of simplification. Quite simply, the reform cannot be achieved without some winners and some losers on both sides of the employment divide.


Does that matter? It matters for Gillard's credibility, obviously. That is important but not crucial. It matters for those workers and employers disadvantaged by the changes. That is more important, because both will have made plans based on a certain level of income which may not now be forthcoming. Overall, though, it does not matter that reform cannot be achieved without some people losing out. Reform is necessary and overdue, and should begin without delay.







AT HIS latest community cabinet meeting in Port Macquarie last week, Kevin Rudd pointedly warmed up his audience with chilling figures linking Australia's ''explosion'' of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other chronic health problems with ''lifestyle choices''. Decoded, this was also a link between an epidemic of childhood obesity and junk food. A week later, a taskforce report the Rudd Government commissioned has called for sweeping measures aimed at saving up to 500,000 obesity-related deaths by 2050. A government with health and hospital reform (including soaring costs) at the top of its agenda cannot afford to ignore them.


Australians may once have died younger, but lifestyle had little to do with it. Food, though dully prepared, was at least mainly natural. Walking for many was a sheer necessity, not a choice. Modern Australia, by contrast, is a nation of paradoxes. On one side are those addicted to jogging and gyms. A somewhat larger proportion stays wedded to home entertainment screens, and a spread of processed foods once unimagined in scope. Frozen pizzas and takeaway fried chicken are only part of the problem. Equally worrying are so-called energy drinks, fundamentally unhealthy products marketed as fun, yet also a growing cause of problem behaviour among young people.


Rudd told his Port Macquarie audience that one thing going wrong with the health system was the tiny proportion of its budget spent on preventive strategies: just 2 per cent, compared with 70 per cent devoted to treating chronic diseases once they have set in. On present trends, the problem will only get bigger. Australia has the rich world's highest population growth rate (about 2 per cent last year), with a population projected to rise to 42 million over the next 40-odd years. The Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, says of the taskforce's report: "We are killing people by not acting.'' The question is, how to act?


The report wants junk food and drink advertising on television before 9pm eventually banned. This big brother approach is hardly the best. More scope lies with recommendations to raise taxes on cigarettes and alcohol, and to lower taxes on healthy foods. Rudd says the Government's response will come early next year in the context of the report on the tax system by the Treasury Secretary, Ken Henry. Manipulating taxes may compromise freedom of choice. But it would also save lives, cut health costs and send signals, without big government getting inside every kitchen dictating what people eat. Ultimately, though, parents and individuals must take responsibility for preventing lifestyle illnesses early on.




                                                                                                                      THE GUARDIAN




The America which President Barack Obama plans to address next week in a joint session of Congress is a changed land from the one that swept him to power last winter with a 70% approval rating. Mistrust of big government has returned with a vengeance. The need for fiscal restraint, after the bank bailouts, is animating the political centre ground. Faith in the transformative powers of Obama the orator has slipped.


Most Americans still want their president to succeed, but for that to happen he now has to deliver. All these turbulent currents converge into a mighty roaring river on the issue that Mr Obama, perhaps overambitiously, made the centrepiece of his domestic agenda – healthcare reform.


The progessives in this debate have had a bad August. They have been battered by claims in town hall meetings so specious that even leading conservative experts fret about the harm done to reasoned debate; the centre ground has shifted to the right. Mr Obama has not budged from his core purpose – to extend cover to the uninsured 46 million – but how this target will be achieved is looking increasingly vulnerable to barter. There is no talk yet of dropping the idea of a government-run insurance plan that would force private insurers to lower premiums, but it could be delayed or phased in, if private insurers fail benchmarks. The chosen targets of these messages are not the millions who persuaded themselves that their time had finally come when Mr Obama came to power. They are a handful of fiscally conservative Democrats, and the one Republican senator who appears open to a deal, Olympia Snowe. These people have become the bellwethers of success. Even then, there is still no guarantee of a bill passing. Each time another compromise is floated, opponents smell blood.


In agreeing to address Congress, Mr Obama may be stepping right back into the shoes of Bill Clinton, who outlined specific plans for universal coverage in 1993, only to find them scuttled a year later. It was to avoid that trap that Mr Obama talked only of core principles, in the hope that Congress would hammer out the details. That approach has failed. The gap between the camps is so wide that the president is once again enjoined to lead from the front and to be specific.


He should do so, do so now, and do so boldy. There are few reliable signs that the collective purpose of the opposition is to build a bipartisan consensus, and many worrying signs of sheer obstructionism. As one Republican senator put it, if they are able to stop Mr Obama it will be his Waterloo. The president should abandon consensus and push reforms through, using the majorities in the Senate that he has.








The way that we are policed is the bread and butter of political life. In their exercise of the power of the state, it is the police who give visible expression to our laws. But while what is an offence is decided by parliament, which offence constitutes the greatest threat to community wellbeing can vary widely from one town to another, and even within a town – particularly one as big and varied as London. The jealously guarded notion of "operational control" does not preclude political pressure to meet public anxiety. So policing is unavoidably torn between national and local priorities, all the more so when different parties are in power nationally and locally. Add in some vigorous personalities with their own political ambitions, and the constitutional skirmishing that we first reported yesterday is predictable.


That does not make the assertion from the deputy mayor of London in charge of policing, Kit Malthouse, that City Hall has elbowed out the Home Office any less serious. In a letter to today's Guardian, the new commissioner of the Met, Sir Paul Stephenson, retorts that no one other than him has operational control of his police force. Mr Malthouse did not (quite) claim otherwise, only that it was the mayor's office rather than the Home Office setting the agenda. It is in such linguistic inexactitude, in the distinction between operational control and political priorities, that the current muddle over police accountability resides – and not only in the capital.


The claim that policing has become dangerously overcentralised is now a political commonplace. But it is not just a slogan. Good policing depends on local support, on the willingness of individual citizens to come forward as witnesses or to report dubious activity. Local councils – a fifth of whose budgets are now spent on policing – claim that targets and standards set nationally take precedence over their priorities, and that this is jeopardising the shared identity between police and the community they serve, a relationship in which British policing has been rooted for more than 200 years. Labour and the Conservatives are right to address these concerns. Democratic accountability, both in the sense of retrospective answerability and in a responsiveness to current problems, is not only desirable but essential, as the success of the Northern Ireland's partly elected police boards has shown. Labour proposals for directly elected members of police authorities have been dropped amid fears of capture by extremists. The Tories continue to hanker after sheriff-style elected police commissioners. The standoff in London should persuade them of the difficulty of this route. The Met – with its local and national policing roles, its indirectly elected police authority, now chaired by the directly elected mayor, and the legitimate interest of the home secretary, who appoints the commissioner – is more complex than most police services, but the confusion here merely reflects the lack of a guiding principle. It is curious, if Boris Johnson and Mr Malthouse really do want to exercise a legitimate influence over the way Londoners are policed, that they have had so little to say about – for example – policing tactics at the G20 protests last April in which a bystander, the news vendor Ian Tomlinson, died.


Senior voices in the police blame the confusion over accountability partly on politicians refusing to tackle harder questions. Political accountability is only one aspect of a much bigger question about the changing nature of security threats and the best way of organising to meet them. Politicians who bear the scars of attempts at major reform will dismiss the charge. But the Labour government always claimed devolution was a process rather than an event. It can no longer avoid the conclusion that it will have to be the catalyst for an overdue review of the relationship between the politicians, the police and the policed.







Part of a dramatic landscape both real and metaphorical, Keswick's Theatre by the Lake is celebrating its first decade alongside the lapping waters of Derwent Water. No other theatre in Britain sits in such a splendid spot, between the woods and the water, the peaks of Skiddaw and Blencathra and fields of grazing Herdwick sheep. The battle to get permission to build it was a tale in itself – the Lake District national park authority being understandably reluctant to see a large, lottery-funded new building, complete with fly tower, put up in such a sensitive spot, while the theatre's architects struggled with suggestions from planners that they make it look like a stone barn, and build it with hardly any windows. A compromise was necessary, given the pressing need to replace the theatre's eccentric predecessor, the Blue Box, which was once hauled around the countryside before grinding to a halt in Keswick in 1976. Since then the new theatre has beaten all expectations, staging 88 productions, including two world premieres this year, and selling on average eight out of 10 tickets each night. This year so far 135,000 people have been to a performance, which is some going for a venue in a town of just 5,000 people, two hours' drive from the nearest big city. Some of them are visitors to the Lakes, perhaps attempting to escape the rain; but the theatre is part of local life too, a sign of Cumbrian vibrancy, and proof that culture in the Lakes extends beyond Wordsworth, cagoules and Kendal mint cake.








Singer and actress Ms. Noriko Sakai was indicted Aug. 28 on a charge of possessing a stimulant drug (amphetamine). Her arrest and indictment are regrettable not only because her popularity as a pop idol extends beyond Japan to China, Taiwan and Hong Kong but also because she took part in a government campaign against narcotics use and starred in a public relations film to enlighten people about the introduction of the lay judge system.


Her indictment followed similar action against actor Mr. Manabu Oshio on a charge of violating the Narcotics Control Law. These incidents suggest that the use of narcotics is widespread in the entertainment world. People in the entertainment community have to keep in mind that their behavior can strongly influence people, especially young people who may be fans. Production firms and associations in the entertainment industry should make concerted efforts to drive illegal drugs out of the industry. They should not automatically endorse the comeback of showbiz people who have been involved in narcotics-related incidents.


The information says Ms. Sakai possessed 0.008 gram of an amphetamine in her condominium in Minato Ward, Tokyo, on Aug. 3. The amount is small compared with the average 0.03 gram that habitual users take at one time. But the prosecution decided that her case was serious because she was on the run for several days to avoid a urine test for drugs; a large number of straws for inhaling amphetamine smoke were found in her condominium; and the drug was carefully wrapped in aluminum foil.


Ms. Sakai should honestly tell the court why she started using the amphetamine and how she obtained it. It is important that investigators unravel the transaction route of the amphetamine involved. In 2008, the police took action against some 11,000 people in connection with stimulant drugs. Nearly half of them had no connections with gangs, and more than 40 percent were first offenders. Schools, companies and communities should make people, both young and old, aware of the harm that narcotics can cause to their body and mind.







The Democratic Party of Japan, which will soon take the helm of government, has started trying to implement its election promises. It has decided to suspend disbursement of ¥3 trillion in allocations from the ¥14 trillion fiscal 2009 supplementary budget and to revive the once-abolished ¥18 billion in payments to mother-and-child households on welfare, in an extraordinary session of the Diet this autumn.


A complete reworking of the supplementary budget will be carried out in a Diet session to be convened in January 2010.


As for the fiscal 2010 budget, the DPJ has decided to review budgetary requests from government ministries and agencies from scratch. This will be the first step of the DPJ's plan to rework the nation's ¥207 trillion annual budget to free up money necessary to carry out election promises.


The Aso administration had set a ¥52.67 trillion ceiling on fiscal 2010 policy-related expenditures. In accordance with the imposed ceiling, the ministries and agencies submitted their budgetary requests to the Finance Ministry by the end of August.


Departing from the traditional budget drafting process, the DPJ plans to thoroughly examine expenditures to detect waste. Outlays for organizations in which former bureaucrats landed jobs will be among the targets. The party wants to make about ¥7 trillion available for measures such as paying a child allowance and ending the surcharge on road-related taxes.


What the DPJ plans to do is easier said than done. The traditional budget drafting system is so complicated that it is difficult for outsiders to determine which projects are really necessary. It will be challenging work for the DPJ, which has no experience in governing. Reviewing and reworking the budget draft are expected to take a while. The DPJ also wants to free up money by eliminating waste in central government subsidies to local governments. Resistance from bureaucrats is very likely.


A delay in budget compilation could negatively affect Japan's economic recovery. If necessary, the DPJ should concentrate on executing only a few of its select policy measures in the first year of its ruling.








SINGAPORE — Industrialization and urbanization across Asia have encouraged the misconception that they are the main gluttons of water. But the dominant force in Asian water consumption is agriculture.

Of the estimated 319 billion cubic meters of water used in Southeast Asia each year, 86 percent goes to agriculture, 8 percent to industry and just 6 percent to towns and cities. Agriculture's share is even higher in South Asia (90 percent) and Central Asia (95 percent). It is bit lower (69 percent) in Japan and elsewhere in Northeast Asia. There, industrial water use accounts for 24 percent of the total and municipal use, 7 percent.


The world's demand for water, chiefly to grow food, has been rising sharply for over a century as the population increases and material living standards improve. In 2000, half a billion people lived in countries that were chronically short of water, out of a global population of around 6 billion. By 2050, the number of people living in water-short conditions is projected to grow to 4 billion, in a population of about 9 billion.


To continue to thrive, and perhaps even to survive, as demand for water intensifies while climate change brings more erratic weather and rainfall, Asia and its farmers will have use less water to produce more food. This is a major challenge.


Irrigated agriculture and other improvements in farm productivity since the Green Revolution started in the 1960s have boosted food output and cut poverty, providing a basis for political order and economic modernization. Indeed, rural resilience has been the foundation of Asia's growth and its impressive rise in world ranking over the past few decades.


Today, this is often forgotten. Instead, there is massive under-investment in agriculture and in making irrigation more efficient. While only 17 percent of the world's arable land is irrigated, it produces over one-third of total food supply. A reliable supply of water allows farmers to grow two or even three crops a year.


As a recent report by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows, Asia is the heartland of global irrigation. It contains 70 percent of the world's 277 million hectares of irrigated land. While accounting for only 34 percent of Asian arable land, the irrigated zone produces 60 percent of the continent's rice, wheat and other staple food grains.


But there is a dangerous downside. As practiced now, irrigated farming is very water-intensive, especially for growing rice, Asia's main staple, in saturated paddy fields. Asia uses some 73 percent of the 2,664 cubic kilometers of water the world withdraws annually for agriculture.


There is massive wastage of water. Many of the canals, channels and other parts of the irrigation system are old, inefficient and in need of upgrading. They no longer meet farmers' needs. So millions of smaller-area landholders have bought pumps and drilled bore holes to extract water from rivers, lakes, underground aquifers and their own storage ponds whenever they choose.


Surface water is being sucked dry in some major river basins in India, China and Indonesia. Recent surveys show that ground water tables and aquifer levels also are falling, as water is withdrawn faster than it can be replenished.

Yet the demand for food, and the water to grow it, is rising as more and more Asians migrate from the countryside to cities in search of jobs and better living standards. By 2025, 52 percent of Southeast Asians are predicted to be living in urban centers. For Northeast Asia also, the ratio is expected to be 52 percent; for South and Central Asia, 45 percent.


As people join the urban middle classes and become richer, they tend to eat less cereal. Instead, they consume more fruit, vegetables, milk and meat. For example, meat consumption in China, the world's most populous nation, has more than doubled in the past 20 years and is expected to double again by 2030.


For Asian farmers on irrigated land, these trends have generally been good. Many are taking advantage of improved access to national and international markets. But growing more profitable niche crops (including food for animals) to satisfy urban consumers, especially those on increasingly meat-based diets, often takes much more water.

A kilogram of potatoes (not much in demand in Asia) requires just 500 liters of water to produce. The same amount of rice grown in paddies needs 1,900 liters. But a kilo of poultry absorbs 3,500 liters, while beef gulps 15,000 liters.

An estimated 5 billion people will live in Asia by 2050, 1.5 billion more than now. The continent has three broad options for meeting its food needs: Import large quantities of cereals from abroad; improve and expand rain-fed agriculture; focus on irrigated farmlands.


Many governments attach a high priority to food security, especially after the surge in grain prices in 2007 and the first half of 2008 led to export-restrictions and shortages. So there is a reluctance to rely on foreign supplies.


Still, Southeast Asia as a whole is better placed than other parts of Asia to expand irrigated land. There is a large gap between the 44 million hectares of land considered suitable for irrigation in Southeast Asia, and the currently irrigated area of 17 million hectares.


For the rest of Asia, the IWMI-FAO report suggests that the main thrust of future reform and investment in agriculture should be directed toward improving irrigation systems, with help from farmers and the private sector.


Michael Richardson is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.








Until the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)'s win in Sunday's election, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) had dominated Japanese politics for more than half a century except for short intervals.


The impact on the U.S.-Japan alliance is still not clear. It is hard to divine it from the abstract words of the DPJ's "manifesto" for the election campaign: "In order to build a close and equal U.S.-Japan alliance, Japan will fulfill her responsibilities by sharing them with the United States, based upon an autonomous Japanese diplomatic strategy."


The manifesto contains two concrete proposals: to promote a U.S.-Japan free trade agreement (FTA) and to revise the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). An FTA would reflect urban, free-trade thinking in contrast to the LDP's policy influenced by its strong constituency in the farming districts. But faced with criticism from farmers, the DPJ toned down its FTA stance during the election campaign.


The call for a SOFA revision reflects strong leftist, anti-American thinking. In fact, under the existing SOFA with the U.S., Japan enjoys stronger rights with regard to criminal jurisdiction than do South Korea or Germany. With little room for improvement in this regard, short of abolishing the U.S. bases outright, leftists have pushed for revision as part of an anti-U.S. base campaign.


It is doubtful that the DPJ can deliver on either of its campaign proposals mentioned above. Moreover, the future of political realignment in Japan is unpredictable. Some coalition will be arranged, but nobody knows how long it will last.


It's quite possible that conservative forces will prevail within the DPJ. In fact, conservatives make up a large majority, including followers of former DPJ chief Ichiro Ozawa (former Liberal Party members and "Ozawa children"), moderate conservatives (DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama, former Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata and former Democratic Socialists), and realists (former DPJ leader Seiji Maehara, Yoshihiko Noda and some younger members).


However, we need to exercise caution. It often happens in history that a leftist minority prevails over a less aggressive majority. The anti-U.S. base campaign is a good example. The legacy of the former Socialist Party still remains strong in the DPJ party secretariat, and the DPJ needs a coalition with leftists in the Upper House to maintain a majority in that chamber.


Sometimes an American ally gets an anti-American leader. South Korea had the Roh Moo Hyun government (2003-2008), yet the U.S.-South Korea alliance, after weathering all manner of friction, remains sanguine today.


I don't believe the DPJ government of Japan will become as much a source of friction as the Roh government was. I am fairly certain that Americans will be able to conduct business as usual with the new Japanese government.


Behind the changing political landscape, there is an encouraging development for the alliance. In the past, under the LDP absolute majority, the opposition party did not need to present a policy alternative; it was simply engaged in criticizing the government. This time, the DPJ was forced to present a manifesto, and the LDP countered with measures to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance. The LDP manifesto proposed strong U.S.-Japan missile defense cooperation, including contingencies for shooting down enemy missiles headed toward the U.S. and assisting U.S. naval vessels engaged in a joint operation.


For Americans or anyone with common sense, these are natural duties toward an ally, but at present the Japanese government is prohibited from carrying them out due to a theological argument against "exercising the right to collective self-defense."


At present, this is the policy of the LDP, and will be realized under any future LDP government. It may yet be adopted by the new DPJ government. The government- appointed Council on Security and Defense Capability issued a report to this effect in August. The report is to be reflected in the new Defense Outline adopted toward the end of this year. The DPJ government will face a decision on whether to adopt it.


One thing remarkable about the LDP manifesto is that it was not involved in theological polemics; it simply advocated what common sense dictates. This stance might facilitate a bipartisan agreement on the issue.


After all, as the prohibition against a collective defense is the result of a extremely stretched interpretation of the Constitution, it is fair to say it is not really a constitutional issue.


The American side should not hesitate to point out that the issue is a matter of duties toward an ally.


Hisahiko Okazaki is a former ambassador to Thailand.










The past year has been painful for all Korean economic players. For instance, the government has had to borrow and spend its way out of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression.


It has been the same with households, whose combined debt has surpassed the 700 trillion won mark. For their part, many Korean businesses have had to struggle with tumbling sales in both domestic and foreign markets.


Nonetheless, the Korean economy as a whole has fared much better than many others. Some sectors have reportedly regained their pre-crisis levels of vitality. With its recovery gaining momentum, as evidenced by quarterly growth rates, Korea is finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.


There is a building consensus among international economic think tanks and organizations that Korea will be one of the first countries to recover from the crisis. The Korea branch of Nomura International has recently upgraded its 2009 outlook for the Korean economy from 1 percent contraction to zero growth.


Much of the due credit should be given to leading Korean corporations, which have turned adversity into an opportunity to reinvent themselves as global industrial powerhouses. Among them are Samsung Electronics, the Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group and LG Electronics.


The Korean companies have outperformed many of their global rivals, as evidenced by a surge in their market value. Samsung's market capitalization, which stands at $101 billion, has already surpassed Nokia's $47.2 billion and is nearing Intel's $106.9 billion, according to figures provided by the Korea Exchange.


Samsung has almost doubled its market value since September last year. The surge reflects Samsung's prowess in the manufacturing of a variety of high-tech products ranging from Haptic cell phones to LED TV sets and high-resolution AMOLED flat-panel displays.


No less impressive is the performance of Hyundai-Kia. Just as Samsung is pushing ahead in electronics, so is Hyundai-Kia in the auto industry. The Korean automotive group, which has edged Ford of the United States in terms of market value, is catching up with BMW of Germany.


Underpinning the momentum Hyundai-Kia has been gaining in competition against its global rivals is an eye-opening improvement in the quality of its models that have recently debuted in the markets. Hyundai-Kia is a global player to be reckoned with, not the laughing stock it was when it began to export shoddy Pony subcompacts in the 1970s.


As such, the automotive group's U.S. sales hit a record monthly high of more than 100,000 vehicles in August. The figure breaks down to 60,467 for Hyundai and 40,198 for Kia, up 47 percent and 60.4 percent from a year ago, respectively.


True, the automotive group benefited greatly from the U.S. "cash for clunkers" subsidy program. But there is no denying that the upsurge in sales is impressive. Few could have imagined several years ago that Hyundai-Kia would edge out Chrysler in the U.S. auto market.


LG Electronics and other large corporations have also done well, if not as well as Samsung or Hyundai-Kia. Of course, changes in exchange rates and share prices may upset their rankings in market capitalization. Still, their top managers merit recognition for all the efforts they have made to overcome economic hardship and bring their corporations to the forefront of global industrial prowess.


Now the question is whether or not they will be able to maintain the high ground they have achieved when their rivals recover along with the global economy. If they have such ambition, they cannot afford to let their guard down and bask in their newfound fame.


In fact, critics claim that the Korean corporations could not have come this far, had it not been for a weak Korean currency, which they have been using to promote their exports. The critics wonder aloud if they will do as well as they have done when the won strengthens.


They may well reflect on what they did when they were drawn into the 1997-98 Asian financial meltdown. The first job they had to do in order to survive the crisis was to make themselves lean and mean by cutting their payrolls and selling off non-core assets. Then they spent more on research and development. Such survival strategies not only saved them from collapse but helped them gain an edge over their global rivals.


What they need to do now is to accept innovation as a guiding principle in management. The brand-new, innovative products or business strategies they have now are destined to become mundane or obsolete as time goes by. As such, they will have to embrace "creative destruction," as advocated by the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter decades ago.


Coming out of the cocoon of "business as usual" in pursuit of innovation will be painful. A company may have to venture into a new area of business after shutting down an entire business operation that has become obsolete and laying off the workers there.


But that is what Korean corporations will have to do if they want to keep themselves from fading into obscurity, as so many world-renowned corporations did.


Such examples are Xerox and General Motors. Xerox, once a copier behemoth, no longer dominates the industry. It is the same with GM. No one would say that what is good for GM is good for America any more.


Samsung Electronics, Hyundai-Kia and other leading Korean corporations will have to learn a lesson from those companies which, once renowned for innovation, have fallen to mediocrity, or oblivion.








In a recent column, I asked: Where did all the hacking go? At what point did we stop re-wiring our consumer electronics, tinkering with our cars and writing our own software? What is it about our society, our business practices and our educational system that discourages technological self-exploration rather than embracing it?


Perhaps a more important question is: How do we bring hacking back?


To answer that, we must first consider the anatomy of a hacker and discover what makes hackers tick. Recall that "pervasive computing" defines hacking as "interacting with a computer or any other technology-infused system in a playful or exploratory way, or modifying an existing system (hardware, mechanical or software) to improve performance or create an application that differs from the device's original purpose."


Hackers have a passion for technological exploration. They sail the seas of innovation and climb the snow-covered peaks of invention. They drill deep to discover the secrets of their iPods and laptops and learn what components were used inside. They brave high temperatures and electrical burns to dismantle the dashboard of their brand-new hybrid electric vehicles to install sensors and determine the true operating parameters of the system. They take apart their newest gadgets, peeling back the layers of plastic and metal to reveal the system inside like a child unwrapping a present. They revel in knowing how everything works. This joie de vivre cannot be taught, but it can be encouraged and cultivated in our children, our students and even our employees.


But hackers are not satisfied with technology. They love their new e-book readers, but won't hesitate to delve into the software, bypassing the modem in favor of the USB network and adding a true PDF reader. It is only a matter of time before someone cracks one open and adds solar cells to extend the battery life.


Hackers are the first to discover flaws in new products and blog about them. But their work does not stop there. After documenting a problem, hackers do not go about their daily lives hoping that someday the manufacturer will remedy the situation. They do not wait for someone else to take the initiative. Instead, they take a trip to the nearest hardware store or electronics supply store, or head straight for the internet and industrial supply catalogs and start ordering parts to fix it themselves. As a result, hackers are often also the first to discover the solutions to various technological problems which they helpfully publish online.


Hacking may seem to be an intimidating world full of specialized tools, high voltages, complex schematics and esoteric vocabulary that is home only to the engineering elite. But is what they do really so different than the daily lives of ordinary people?


How often have you observed a friend or relative look at something at a bakery and have them remark that they would rather make the same item at home because it would taste better, cost less and be healthier for them? Good home cooking is frequently better than restaurant fare.


It is a time-honored tradition to bring clothes home from a store and then take them straight to the tailor (or your sewing machine) and start ripping off bows, modifying cuffs, hemming pants, removing shoulder pads, adding buttons, enlarging openings or otherwise customizing your clothing. College students who sport punk or gothic fashion do so armed with little more than scissors and safety pins.


How many times have you seen a new product advertised just to think that you could accomplish the same goals with items that you already have in your home? Duct tape alone is sufficient to solve many problems around the house.


Your kitchen may be more vegetable-infused than technology-infused, but the basic principle is the same. Hacking is fundamentally about modifying, customizing and improving the environment that you live in and the objects that you interact with on a daily basis. It is the technological embodiment of the human spirit striving for a better and more comfortable life.


No one is born knowing how to solder and design circuit boards, any more than we are born knowing how to cook or sew. We learn to do these things as the need and the desire arise. Thus, hacking is also about self-directed learning, prompted by necessity instead of government mandates or next week's exam. It is joyful, exploratory, creative learning - often the best kind.


Bringing hacking back does not require advanced degrees in electrical engineering, a high IQ or super powers. (Although, I admit that X-ray vision would be useful.) It only requires the acknowledgement that we can all be agents for change, the motivation to spearhead that change and the freedom to try.


Mary Kathryn Thompson, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. She can be reached at - Ed.









Climate change is perhaps the most controversial international issue today. The scientific debate on the need to limit GHGs (green house gases) that are responsible for global warming has not ended, but it is no longer the main issue at this point in time.


The Declarations of both the G8 and the Major Economies Forum (MEF), held in L’Aquila (Italy) in July 2009, stated the leaders’ agreement with “the scientific view that the increase in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels ought not to exceed 2 degrees C”.


The real issue is how this would be achieved. As of today, the planet is already 0.8 degrees C warmer than at pre-industrial time, and the rise in the world’s average temperature has continued to accelerate. Establishing an international climate regime is seen as necessary to deal with this global problem.


This effort began with the agreement in 1992 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that led to the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and its entry into force on Feb. 16, 2005.


The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol that started in 2008 will end in 2012. It is not likely going to deliver much as the world’s largest emitter, the United States, has not ratified it, essentially because developing countries were exempted from commitments.


To produce an improved, successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol in Copenhagen at the end of this year, parties to the UNFCCC have entered into a full negotiating mode in 2009, particularly since the second session last June in Bonn, to be followed by three other sessions. An improved agreement is understood to be one that is seen as fair by all parties and goes beyond the narrow focus on mitigation.


President Obama has pledged to provide US leadership within the multilateral effort to produce a new international climate agreement. The US House of Representatives has recently passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and the US Senate is developing its own bill, the American Clean Energy and Leadership Act, to tackle climate change.


It remains to be seen whether the final legislation will help or hamper the US to effectively play that role. Many developing countries are now giving greater attention to the issue of climate change mitigation and adaptation and are participating more actively than before in the global negotiations, as they have better appreciation of the risks of climate change. These are positive developments.


The economic crisis could have some positive effect if it leads to the adoption of “green”, low-carbon growth strategies in pursuing economic recovery and beyond. But it could negatively affect the negotiations that are currently underway as governments tend to hold back on their climate agenda.


The crisis has weakened the resolve in many developed countries to introduce meaningful GHG
emissions reduction measures as concerns are mounting that these could further erode the international competitiveness of their industries.


This is especially so, since major emerging developing economies are not seen to be willing to make similar commitments.


The UNFCCC commits developed countries to “move first”, justified on the basis of their “historical responsibility”.


In the recent G8 Summit, developed countries failed to agree on specific targets to reduce GHG emissions in the near term (2020).


The G5 leaders that met in parallel have urged developed countries “to pledge to fulfill quantifiable, ambitious and comparable goals to reduce emissions, through the reduction of their combined emissions in 2020 to a level that is at least 40 percent lower than those of 1990, as proposed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).


The crisis also affects the ability, if not the willingness, on the part of developed countries to provide substantial resources to finance the efforts by developing countries to undertake meaningful mitigation and adaptation efforts.


The UNFCCC also commits developed countries to compensate developing countries for “the agreed full incremental costs” that they will bear for any action they should choose to take to mitigate climate change (Article 4.3).


China, for instance, has argued in its May 2009 submission to UNFCCC that developed countries should provide funding, mainly through the public sector, of 0.5 to 1 percent of GDP on top of existing ODA. Without securing such a commitment from the developed countries, the developing countries are not likely going to make a major move.


If anything, the crisis merely reinforces and accelerates a trend that is already happening, which
is the decline in the ability of key developed countries (the US, the EU, and Japan) to lead in the crafting of new global agreements, whereas the newly emerging economies (China, India, and Brazil) that aspire to play a greater role in global governance are not ready as yet to make the big leap and to take on a greater share of the responsibility in accordance with their increased international profile.


They conveniently place one foot within the grouping of developing countries (G77) to avoid having to make binding commitments by using UNFCCC’s principle of “common but differentiated responsibility”.


They are holding on to this as a first principle for fear that making binding commitments could obstruct economic growth, the catching-up process and poverty reduction efforts.


The writer is Senior Fellow at the, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Jakarta.







The Export Financing Agency, more popularly known as Indonesia Eximbank, that the government launched on Tuesday is the country’s first full-fledged credit agency for financing foreign trade, similar to its counterparts in developed economies, such as the Ex-Im Bank in the United States.


As the first trade-financing institution, whose establishment is based on a special law (Law No.2/2009), Indonesia Eximbank is not a conventional bank like.


Even though Eximbank is still required to maintain strict risk management and good corporate governance like other commercial banks, it is mandated to provide financing services with different terms and conditions from ordinary loans and credit based on export transactions.


Operating with an initial equity capital of Rp 4 trillion (US$400 million), which will be replenished with another $200 million next year, Eximbank will be especially helpful to medium and small companies that cannot put up security for loans.


As a state-owned company with a high credit rating, Eximbank will be able to raise low-cost funds from the market to strengthen its lending resources. It is also authorized by the law to raise additional operational funds from multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, foreign governments, Bank Indonesia and domestic and foreign finance companies. It will thus be able to extend credit with lower interest rates than commercial banks.


Set up especially to finance export trade in its broadest sense, Eximbank is authorized to provide not only credit but also all other services needed by companies engaged in the production and exporting of goods. It can extend credit not only for financing exports but also for the procurement of raw materials for processing into products for exports.


Put another way, the new bank will be able to meet the different needs of exporters and assess their different business risks inherent in the different types of products they export.


It will not compete with commercial banks, but will provide financing services that fill gaps in trade financing, including working capital guarantee, export credit insurance, loan guarantees and consultancy.  As a state company it is also authorized to assume credit and country risks that other commercial banks, which are subject to strict prudential rulings by the central bank, do not touch on.


In brief, Eximbank will enable companies, large and small, to tap export opportunities around the world, including new export markets, thereby contributing to strengthening the national economy.


The timing of the launch of Indonesia Eximbank couldn’t be better, as global trade is projected to contract by 12.2 percent this year, squeezed by the deep slump in developed and emerging economies and the credit crunch caused by the global financial turmoil. The government itself has forecast that Indonesian exports this year will most likely decline.


Certainly, as a specialized financial services company that must fund its operations with its own revenue, Eximbank should devote resources to assessing the risks associated with international trade based on the information and market intelligence it gathers from various markets and buyers overseas.








China's agreement to buy the first bonds issued by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for up to US$50 billion will understandably spark hot domestic debate over how the country should deploy its increasingly huge foreign exchange reserves.


However, as part of the global effort to increase IMF lending resources, this unprecedented note purchase agreement should, to a large extent, be measured by how it will enhance the Fund's role in fighting the global financial crisis.


Admittedly, as the IMF pointed out, the agreement offers China a safe investment instrument.


With more than $2 trillion in foreign reserves, China is in dire need of a new investment vehicle to help diversify its foreign holdings beyond US treasury bills, in which it is believed that the country has kept a disproportionately large share of its reserves.


Though it appears unnecessary to cut its holding of US treasury bills in the near term, the country's foreign exchange reserves will only get more diversified in the long run.


In this sense, the purchase of IMF notes marks a welcome step forward towards diversifying China's foreign exchange reserves.


More important, it can also boost IMF's capacity to help its members - particularly the developing and emerging market countries - weather the global financial crisis, and facilitate an early economic recovery.


Emerging signs show that the global economy is putting the worst behind it, but recovery is expected to be sluggish and financial systems remain fragile.


By significantly expanding its lending capacity, the IMF is making needed preparation for any unforeseen economic downturn that the world still cannot rule out.


A thickened financial cushion will certainly enable the Washington-based IMF to better finance those countries hit hardest by future economic downturn.


But that does not amount to a sufficient response to the worst global financial and economic crisis since the 1930s.


Consider this: Although Asia has almost $4 trillion in currency reserves, the combined voting rights of Japan, China and India in the IMF are lesser than that of the United States and half of the EU members.


Without taking steps for reforming the IMF in line with this new global economic reality, how can this institution possibly mobilize global resources proportionately and thus efficiently address global challenges?


Global leaders have reached a consensus on the significant role of the IMF in dealing with the current crisis. It is hoped that the issue of IMF bonds will lead to changes that can make this Fund more representative, and hence, more relevant in pulling the world economy out of the worst recession since the World War II.








How to improve the image of big State-owned enterprises (SOEs) has become a matter of concern for the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) when scandals involving some of these enterprises under its auspices have been exposed one after another.


Squandering of public money in headquarters building refurbishment and purchase of a lot of commercial houses at lower prices for employees have put in the limelight two petroleum giants - China Petrochemical Corporation (SINOPEC) and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNAC). Some other SOEs are exposed to be on the list of bribery cases under US judicial investigation.


However, a SASAC deputy director's suggestion for management of public opinion by improving and strengthening the information release mechanism of SOEs is vague on what it proposes to do about the matter.


If he means to have a better spokesperson system for these SOEs to tell the truth about their status or dispel misunderstandings from the public, then there is hope that the SOEs will learn how to operate in the interest of the State and the general public.


Most of these SOEs as listed companies are actually owned not only by the State but also by those who hold their shares. In the broadest sense, SOEs are owned by all citizens of this country. In this sense, citizens are entitled to question any SOE about whatever they believe to be problematic about it.


As far as these scandals are concerned, the right thing to do for the SOEs involved is to come clean and tell the whole truth. For the SASAC, which is supposed to be the patron of big SOEs, the best way to keep up public confidence in these enterprises is to conduct thorough investigation of the scandals and punish those who are responsible according to rules.


Given their powerful monopoly status, most big SOEs are too arrogant to care about how they impact public opinion. They believe that they are entitled to enjoy favorable policies from the central government and their employees, too, are entitled to higher-than-average income and other privileges that non-SOEs or smaller SOEs can never get.


In this context, it is even more necessary for the general public to know the whole truth about the scandals clouding their image. The public is also entitled to know whether those who are found responsible are duly punished. It would do no good to the building of a harmonious society to let the general public gain the impression that big SOEs get favorable treatment because of their bigger contributions to the State coffer.


To let these big SOEs cover up their scandals or even to help them do so will not contribute to their own development in the least. It is also unfair to other non-State owned firms, which contribute less to the public exchequer, simply because they do not enjoy monopoly positions.


We hope what the SASAC will do to strengthen these SOEs' information release mechanism is not just to spin public opinion in favor of the SOEs but also increase the transparency of their operations and functioning. Only then can big SOEs develop in a healthy manner.







In the past few weeks, the Indian media have reported a downturn in China-India relations. But the two countries' recent interactions on regional and global issues show some positive signs. Indian Minister of State for Environment Jairam Ramesh's three-day visit to China at the end of last month was one of those promising signs, for the growing importance of the climate change debate in international relations is likely to change the political climate further and cement the trust between the two neighbors.


The passing of an important resolution on climate change by China's National People's Congress (NPC) last week was a fillip to the positive trend. The resolution says China will accord priority to evolving new policies on carbon emission, renewable resources, efficiency and conservation in energy use and other fields to combat global warming.


The efforts are the precursor to a big policy announcement that is expected to strengthen Beijing's position at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December. Though China has already addressed some of these issues in its white papers and its last Five-Year Plan, the NPC resolution shows it is committed to becoming a major player at the Copenhagen climate talks. And the lessons have not been lost on India.


Indeed, Ramesh was in Beijing to explore common China-India grounds and strategies to take on the developed world at the Copenhagen talks. What pairs the two countries is their wish to confront the shrill rhetoric of industrialized nations on the general chaos in developing countries, especially the rising green house gas (GHG) emission levels in China and India.


The developed world wants an agreement that would serve their narrow national interests to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. It's true that GHG emissions are increasing sharply in fast developing countries such as China and India. But counted in per capita terms, their emissions remain very low compared to that of the developed countries.


We do not need rocket science to understand that GHG emission has to be counted on per capita basis because every member of society uses energy, and thus emits harmful gases. But that's not the way the developed world wants to see it or use as a basis to devise its future regimes.


China and India have more than a billion people each, and hence high emission levels, which the developed world alleges is aggravating the climate crisis. China's industrialization is much faster and on a larger scale than India's because it is serving more people across the world, a large part of them in the developed countries. So its GHG emission is higher than India's. Conversely, it also means China has been investing more heavily to develop new policies, technologies and norms to fight climate change. And this is another lesson for India.


China and India have begun to realize the importance of coordinating their policies to maximize their say at international negotiations. The developed world, for obvious reasons, is not interested in facilitating a China-India consensus. Instead, it seems interested only in passing the climate buck to the two countries. This leaves little scope for the two most populous developing countries and the industrialized world to work jointly on constructive common solutions to the climate change problem.


The industrialized countries not only do not show any remorse for not meeting their agreed emission-reducing targets under the Kyoto Protocol, but also refuse to engage in any meaningful dialogue with other paradigms proposed by China and India. The US refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol even after 183 countries did so. Though Barack Obama has now expressed interest in the Copenhagen talks, neither the US nor the European Union has responded to China's and India's attempts to include technology cooperation and carbon tariffs in the Copenhagen climate talks.


China and India have begun coordinating both at bilateral and multilateral forums. They have agreed to form a joint experts' working group on the environment, and India will seek help from China for its afforestation and remote sensing information projects. The experts' group is scheduled to meet in November and also find ways to check trafficking of animal parts and poaching of tigers and antelopes. The two neighbors have agreed, in principle, to share information and grant permission to scientists conducting research on the fast receding glaciers in the Himalayas to visit each other's country.


India has even said it is willing to initiate mitigation measures under international supervision provided funds and technologies are made available to it. So far, the developed world has refused to respond, and this makes China and India suspect its real motives.


This fear of the developed world trying to impose another one-sided agreement that suits its interests remains a strong driver to make China and India to work jointly. The globalization of a few powers' vested interests is nothing new for China and India and explains why they need to strengthen their coordination, and draw other marginalized stakeholders to their table. The rising of China and India to their historic responsibility holds great hope for a fruitful bilateral relationship that could influence the course of the world.


The author is professor of diplomacy and disarmament at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi








It is reported that the US economy began pulling out of recession in August. The US consumer confidence index reached 54.1 in August, a better than expected 6.7 points higher than in July, and a record since May. We should, however, note that the US recovery is a bit later than other economies in this recession.


China's rebound began in the first quarter of 2009. Its GDP growth in the first half year rose by 7.1 percent over the same period of last year. Major economies in East Asia have, in general, seen recovery in the second quarter, including Hong Kong SAR with a 3.3-percent rise, Singapore with 20.7 percent, the Republic of Korea (ROK) with 2.3 percent and Japan with 3.7 percent. In developed countries, only Australia, Germany and France saw a slight growth while negative growth prevailed in the European Union, the US and the UK.


In the earlier economic crises, the US played a leading role in bringing the world economy back from brink. This time it is different. It is China and other East Asian emerging economies that first rebounded, and led import and export worldwide and global consumption to recovery. Since the second quarter of 2008, the US economy has contracted for four consecutive quarters by 3.9 percent - the worst since the 1930s.


More than 7 million Americans lost their jobs since Dec 2007 when the recession began. Although the economy is recovering, the unemployment rate in US and Europe is still expected to reach 10 percent, dubbed by economists a "jobless recovery".


According to Justin Yifu Lin, World Bank senior vice-president, one of the main reasons of the international financial crisis is the world's excessive manufacturing capability. With the development of automation, intelligentizing and informationization and the scientific and technological progress these brought, the overall demand of manufacturing capability will be limited; the employment opportunities they offer will also be limited.


This financial crisis has seriously damaged the once-booming modern banking industry while having a negative impact on traditional banking. Although the business is picking up steam, US banking experienced its second quarterly loss of $3.7 billion in 18 years in the second quarter of this year. A total of 81 banks have closed and hundreds more are to follow suit.


The huge amount of capital invested in new energy and environment protection by the Obama Administration cannot create enough jobs for the Americans. However, the driving force of consumption recovery is very weak, for without employment and income growth, how could we expect consumption expansion?


If the US economy recovery remains slow, can we find a new development powerhouse, such as the emerging economies in East Asia, the most vigorous region in world economy, as a replacement?


The Democratic Party of Japan winning in the historic House of Representatives election on Aug 30, has time and again elaborated its "new security policy". According to it, the new Japanese government will seek a less subservient partnership with its traditional ally, the US, and actively promote its relationship with other East Asian countries such as China and ROK.


China has become the largest trading partner of Japan and ROK, while ROK is the third largest trading partner of Japan. The total trade volume among China, Japan and ROK has surpassed that among UK, France and Germany. Rana Foroohar said in a recent signed article in Newsweek that Japan can seek new growth points from its cooperation with China, ROK and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), just like France whose per capita income has risen by 42 percent thanks to the EU common market, since the establishment of European Union in 1993.


The China-ASEAN Free Trade Area would be set up on Jan 1, 2010 as scheduled. The world's largest free trade zone with a population of 1.8 billion will definitely accelerate regional economic development. Although the EU and the US are still China's No 1 and No 2 trading partners respectively, trade between China and other East Asian countries has maintained a robust momentum.


Meanwhile, there are also worries among East Asian countries, such as the increasing inflow of hot money, instability of exchange rates among East Asian currencies due to the fluctuation of US dollar, and interest rate hike by some central banks in East Asia as the volume of circulating currency expanded grossly.


Therefore, ASEAN plus Three (ASEAN plus China, Japan and South Korea) need to make their cooperation closer and practical for maintaining development continuity inside the region and improving their capability as a whole against possible financial and currency risks outside. The subtle change in East Asia has been sensed by the US government, which is trying to utilize its "soft power" to engage in the game as part of its global strategy. In the future, competition and cooperation in East Asia will become more and more complicated as well as fascinating.


The author is coordinator of China Cooperation Program of the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore.







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