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Monday, September 7, 2009

EDITORIAL 07.09.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


month september 07, edition 000291, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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

































































































Justice Secretary Jack Straw’s admission that the fate of a trade agreement with Libya played a “very big part” in the British Government’s decision to release Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, the terrorist convicted of blowing up, in 1988, a Pan American flight over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, is downright shocking. It comes only days after British Petroleum confessed it had warned Whitehall it would lose a major oil exploration deal in Libya if al-Megrahi was not made part of a prisoner transfer arrangement. The freeing of al-Megrahi was opposed by the local Scottish Government but insisted upon by higher authorities in London. Various justifications have been offered for al-Megrahi’s freedom, including his mental condition and eligibility for compassionate treatment. These have not completely convinced the rest of the world — including the families of the 270 people who died in the horrific terror attack. With it now being formally revealed that the British Government has bartered its determination to take on terror for a valuable petroleum deal, the response is only likely to get angrier. Indeed, it is impossible to not see such recreancy in the context of the overwhelming consensus in Britain, as expressed through numerous opinion polls and frequent statements from even Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Cabinet colleagues and policy advisers, that the country’s soldiers should get out of Afghanistan. If that is interpreted as surrender and results in the Taliban regaining control of Kabul, so be it. While commerce played a pivotal role in one decision — with regard to Libya — paranoia about home-grown jihad is defining the other. It has been well known for some time now that Britain’s Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy is essentially based on placating the so-called ‘Brit Pak’ radicals — younger, restive Britons of Pakistani origin, seen as potential recruits for Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. The fact is, after the Iraq War crippled Mr Tony Blair and pushed him into premature retirement, the line of least resistance has become the British politician’s abiding principle. With honourable exceptions, few see the conflict in Afghanistan as essential to safeguard British citizens at home. The capitulation to Col Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s long-time dictator, is particularly puzzling. It was after the determined Anglo-American assault on Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi strongman’s capture that Col Gaddafi saw reason, abandoned his nuclear weapons programme and turned over its facilities to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Today, the same Col Gaddafi is being sent an entirely different and ultimately self-defeating message.

The weakening of British resolve is not a new story. It has been as much a social as a political phenomenon since 1945. However, it has now reached a critical point; Britain is at the cusp of becoming a liability in the war against Al Qaeda/Taliban and their rampaging allies. Britain’s assumption of neutrality is not going to be as innocuous as, say, a Liechtenstein’s. Its geographical location, its centrality to air traffic between Asia and the Americas and, most of all, its massive and largely non-integrated South Asian Muslim population are all danger signs. If Britain opts out of the war against Islamism, it is in effect joining the dark side. It is also writing itself out of the history of the 21st century. Poor Neville Chamberlain could only exclaim “peace with honour”. Latter-day Chamberlains will perhaps boast of “peace with honour and an oil deal”.







The assault on two Indian priests at Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu on Friday needs to be condemned in the harshest of terms. That the attack came in the wake of protests against the appointment of the two Indian priests is no coincidence. Although the Maoists have not come forward to claim responsibility for the ghastly incident in which the victims were stripped, beaten black and blue and their sacred thread was torn, there is evidence to believe that it was the handiwork of hoodlums affiliated to the Young Communist League; the group’s stormtroopers were responsible for similar attacks last year. Of late, the YCL is being used by the Maoist leadership to protest against the appointment of south Indian priest at the Pashupatinath temple, a tradition that dates back to at least 800 years. The Maoists contend that since Nepal has embarked on a new era post the abolition of the monarchy, keeping with the spirit of nationalism the priests at Pashupatinath should also be Nepalis. It is quite apparent that the Maoists’ vision of a new Nepal is not exactly congruent with the democratic ideals that they had earlier consented to. They are clearly allergic to everything Indian, while more than accommodative of their mentors in Beijing.

Now that they no longer hold the reins of the Constituent Assembly, the Maoists are trying to subvert the Government through every way possible. Last week, the Constituent Assembly Committee on judiciary, which is headed by a Maoist, recommended that Nepal’s judiciary should not be independent and that it should be controlled by the legislature. The Maoists have also been open about their ambition to politicise the Nepali Army and that it is with this objective that they want the integration of their guerrillas with the former. This is also precisely the reason why they are demanding group entry of their fighters into the Army. It goes without saying that the Maoists’ disruptive politics and their attempts at creating a centralised state which they plan to usurp when the time suits them are detrimental to the larger interests of Nepal and the region. If the Maoists are truly seeking to represent the will of the people, they must abandon the path that they are presently treading and stay true to the 12-point agreement to which they were a party to, committing themselves to peace and democracy. They must realise that they are no longer fighting a civil war and are part of the political mainstream. And as responsible Opposition must support the Government in the creation of a new Constitution for Nepal as soon as possible and allow for a smooth integration of their fighters into the Nepali Army without any ulterior motives. The Maoists should also realise that an independent judiciary is in the best interest of Nepal. Failing to do so would be a betrayal of the trust that the people of Nepal had placed in them.



            THE PIONEER




VIP culture is so deep-rooted in our country that anybody who has made something of himself or herself in some field feels that he or she is an asset to the nation and does not deserve to be treated as a commoner, even in vital matters of security. Forget about flaunting this in India, they want the same treatment to be meted out to them when they are visiting other countries.

Recently, there was a lot of hue and cry over the questioning and security check of a Bollywood actor in the US. One Government Minister had said that we should take up the matter with the US Government and another had suggested that we should give the Americans tit-for-tat treatment. All these worthies are forgetting that the US never invited the actor in question as their guest. He went there on his own.

When you go to other countries you have to follow their rules and regulations. If you do not wish to be subjected to any security checks then you should better stay at home. It is not up to us to dictate what security measures any foreign country should adopt.

When millions of people undergo security checks in the US and all over the world, what does it matter if a film actor, however good he may be, is subjected to the same? The way the entire incident was blown out of proportion only goes to show that not only Ministers but almost everybody right from municipal councillors to village panchayat members want others to know who they are. They also do not want to be subjected to any security checks, which they feel is only for ‘ordinary’ citizens.

You have to hand it to the Americans that they give the same treatment to their Senators and business tycoons as they do to their common folk. One Senator was so thoroughly subjected to security checks that he was literally stripped naked because he had an iron rod inserted in his leg after an accident. To his credit he simply laughed the incident away.

If you have nothing to hide, why bother about security checks? Indians, particularly those who think they are ‘important’, want to be accorded a red carpet treatment even when they go abroad.

It is worthwhile to recall that the Delhi High Court had once observed that netas were not national assets and that if they were afraid of moving around without security cover, they should stay at home. If this is so, then film stars, who become paranoid if someone questions them for a few extra minutes, can’t expect special treatment.

Any Khan or Kapoor may be a celebrity in India, but he or she is still an ordinary civilian elsewhere. And for an immigration officer at a US airport, the name of any Indian Bollywood celebrity or politician means nothing, as it should be.

I agree with the general perception that security checks could be a nuisance and many a times they appear to be more of harassment. I also agree that quite often the questions asked by security officers are quite silly. Indeed, many security people do not know the difference between an iPod and a radio. My wife was told at Mumbai airport that she was not allowed to carry her iPod in her hand luggage and was advised to put it in the checked-in luggage, which, thanks to the security staff, was stolen. A cool loss of Rs 1,60,000.

Names can cause confusion. A former Secretary in the Union Commerce Ministry had once told me about his experience with immigration check at an airport. He was detained and asked to wait in a separate room. He said he was fuming and fretting as the security staff discussed his case. It so turned out that he shared his name with a dreaded Khalistani terrorist, Avtar Singh Gill, who was on the watch list. When he clarified who he was and that he was the holder of a diplomatic passport, he was cleared.

Notwithstanding how stupid they might appear, security checks are a necessary evil not only at airports but also at sea ports and at land entry points at our borders. People may fault the Americans for being too sensitive about security, but one must admit that after 9/11 their security measures have been effective enough to prevent terrorist attacks on their home soil.

The day the Indian actor was held-up at New Jersey airport, legendary American musician Bob Dylan was stopped while loitering in a New Jersey suburb by two young cops. They had no idea who he was and they did not care. He was taken back to his hosts to prove his bona fides.

In Baltimore, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps was involved in a road accident the same night. Although Phelps had had a beer before driving, he was within the prescribed alcohol limits. But the police found that he was driving with an expired out-of-State license. This has resulted in a court issuing him summons.

Former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, in 2005, wanted to be exempted from security checks while visiting Australia. This wasn’t to be. Therefore, he cancelled his visit. The Indian film star could do the same if he is so peeved by American security measures.

Unlike us, Americans do not have a culture of fawning over VIPs. If we had followed security drills along their lines, terrorism in India would have been non-existent. Unfortunately, the sway of the ranks and high positions is too much for us. We have to change this if we are to forge ahead as a nation.








Pretending that the Taliban and Al Qaeda are the main threats to peace, Pakistan is having the last laugh by hoodwinking the US not only to get massive aid but also using the same to wage a proxy war against India. It is, however, disconcerting that the US is still turning a blind eye to the terror sponsored by its ally. Whichever way one looks at Pakistan’s clandestine efforts of customising weaponry, it is clear that America is aiding and abetting Pakistan’s designs against India.

Notwithstanding the fact that President Barack Obama had promised during his election campaign to review military and civilian aid to Pakistan, it seems he has no intention of honouring his pledge. On the contrary, he has demanded that the US assistance to Islamabad should be delinked from its commitment to fighting terror.

Though Pakistan is known for acquiring weapons surreptitiously rather than producing them indigenously, the US must take this development seriously. Pakistan’s stockpiling of atomic weapons beyond the required deterrence also seems to be quite baffling and raises several questions. One naturally wonders whether the focus of such mindless additions of these deadly weapons is solely on India. Apprehensions of a similar nature were voiced by Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor last week saying that if such reports were true, it was cause for grave concern. Incidentally, this statement came close on the heels of an article published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists about Pakistan having 70 to 90 atom bombs.

While Islamabad has not refuted the charges of increasing its nuclear weapons stockpile, it has categorically rejected the accusation that it has reconfigured anti-ship missiles bought from the US, saying that the missiles were indigenously developed. It needs no reiteration that Pakistan, a major recipient of American largesse, has violated US arms export laws.

Now that the US Government has itself complained about Pakistan’s deception, we may hope against hope that something positive comes out of it. At the same time, there is an urgent need for the Obama Administration to reconsider whether Pakistan should be a recipient of US aid at all. As for India, the need of the hour is to shed our beseeching attitude towards the US and put pressure on the Obama Administration to stop all aid to Pakistan. The recent development shows that both New Delhi as well as international community will have to ensure that Pakistan’s sinister design is defeated at any cost.









Ah but I was so much older then I’m younger than that now :My Back Pages — Bob Dylan

It is quite possible to be several people at the same time, or more commonly, over time. Especially if it spans a long life, lived with what the French call ‘anime’.

And sometimes we are forced into changing our ways in answer to pressures not of our own making. But this need not be seen as a defeat or a bad thing.

Oscar Wilde, Irish dramatist, novelist, poet, wit and early champion of “the love that dare not speak its name”, famously wrote, “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative,” and was echoed later across the Atlantic by Walt Whitman, to wit: “Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds”.

But is this so much excuse making for breaks in the story-line that can’t be wished away? The jury is probably going to be perpetually ‘out to lunch’ on deciding this one. Meanwhile, other observers and theorists of socio-political evolution, even revolution, and its cultural side-cars, find virtue in the dialectics of contention and difference of opinion. They say, the action of opposing views is the fuel of change and renewal.

And the radical elements amongst them, Maoist theorists, even jihadis, see the spillage of blood, innocent and tainted alike, as a necessity to the process. Without this, they argue, there is only oppression, ungodliness, stultification, corruption, obtuseness, distortion, stagnation, demise and putrefaction.

But change is always resisted by forces of the status quo that stand to lose power and influence. And also change in one place induces change in another. In societal terms, it might be potentially ruinous keeping-up-with-the-Joneses. But how many desist because of this?

In politics, induction of youth in the ruling combine, particularly when it is seen to have paid electoral dividends, makes similar change inevitable elsewhere. Ergo, a change of guard at the RSS; and the induction of second generation heirs in the regional parties.

But in some cases, less dynastically configured, there is the contention and strife to go through first. But at the root, it may be nothing more than a generational struggle for power leavened by a search for an updated ideology that resonates with the voter in changed circumstances.

There is also the compelling cost-push of the changes wrought by political rivals in the ruling party, now enjoying its second consecutive term in power.

Short-term, there are a lot of embarrassing things being said by dissidents, but of an eventually inconsequential nature. But the strife will inevitably bring about the necessary changes in leadership and close the gap between factions. Much of the noise is a howl of protest at the passing of the torch in any case.

Though it may sound like capitulation to the losing side, on the wrong side of history, the beneficial effects of apparently destabilising change are well supported by history.

Witness that a young Henry the VIII of England, staunch Catholic and defender of the faith, was an entirely different kettle of fish from the latter-day ‘Good King Hal’. The latter became an apostate founder of the Anglican Church and defender of a markedly different faith. But did Henry know that his actions would put the ‘Great’ into Britain in the time of his successors?

Perhaps he did, in the corner of his mind, even as he enriched himself promptly by plundering Catholic Church lands and wealth. Nor did he tarry in pitting Anglican Britain alongside other European Protestant powers against the Papacy and its adherents.

Closer home, we have the transformation of Ashok the Great, from a ruthless empire-building conqueror to a Buddhist-pacifist.

He was followed, centuries later, by great Mughal Akbar’s tolerant policies, his experimental Deen-e-Elahi formulations. And both clearly laid the foundations for our present day ‘unity in diversity’ conceptions.

Or witness the tired tale of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, travelling the diametrically opposed route from nationalist Congressman and thoroughly modern Westernised gentleman, to inflexible, irreconcilable, prime-mover of the ‘Two-Nation Theory’. But was partition necessary after all, or just a consequence of his maniacal, consumptive, ego trip?

There are, in addition, a whole range and variety to the saga of changelings. Some brought about momentous changes by shifting gear, but thereafter maintained great consistency in their reinvented lives. Others have allowed themselves to wobble from time to time.

One such wobbly changeling was Edward Moore Kennedy, eulogised solidly on his recent passing as the 20th century ‘Lion of the US Senate’. But Ted Kennedy’s overall record was not unblemished. There was the infamous Chappaquiddick incident and other occasional lapses into dissolution. But these were dips and troughs in a long life dedicated to a great and liberal legislative agenda that saw the passage of several landmark laws, sometimes diluted a little, because Ted Kennedy wasn’t chary of settling for the support he could get from his political rivals across the aisle.

Legendary folk/rock musician Bob Dylan prides himself, even now, on defying categorisation. He sees his creativity and life as a multi-genre work in progress. His autobiography, Chronicles, Volume 1, suggests as much, and a Volume 2 to come.

Dylan draws inspiration for his lyrics from 19th century French poet/writers Baudelaire and Balzac; takes his stage name from 20th century Irish poet Dylan Thomas; and built his initial unplugged musical style influenced by Great Depression era folk and ‘Protest’ musicians such as Woody Guthrie.

But this didn’t stop him volte-facing with the use of electrified and amplified rock instruments; changing tone, tenor and content as often as he pleased, inspired by his own life events. There was the near-death inducing motor-cycle accident, drug usage, marriage, celebrity, fame, fortune, and later still, conversion to Christianity, for example.

A recent very stylish film, directed by Todd Haynes, called I’m Not There (2007) reflects this chameleon-like quality. It occasioned Haynes to use four separate actors to play an adult Bob Dylan, including the androgynous Cate Blanchett!

So, despite the sulphurous fire and brimstone, we may be witnessing no more than a rite of passage. As the new RSS Sarsanghachalak, Mr Mohanrao Bhagwat, busy mentoring the BJP of late, put it: The BJP will certainly “rise from the ashes”. But first, as has happened in the RSS, the old order must give way to the new.








There is an unseemly scramble by some of the Communist party of India (Marxist)’s poster boys in West Bengal to insulate themselves from potential damage. It is quite obvious that some within the CPI(M) are willing to break ranks, betray policy positions by both the Government in which they are Ministers and the party to which they belong in order to build a firewall around them.

The anticipation seems to be that when the inevitable happens, these leaders will have fortified themselves against disaster.

For instance, senior CPI(M) leader and once a firebrand, Minister for Housing Gautam Deb, has offered to work in cooperation with the Opposition, after clarifying that competition was bread and butter of politics. Mr Deb has surprisingly offered to broker a meeting between the Congress, the Trinamool Congress and his side, meaning the CPI(M)-led Left Front, so that a peace can be negotiated; a consensus arrived at on some issues or projects for the greater good of West Bengal.

Others like Minister for Land and Land Reforms Abdur Rezzak Mollah have gone further. Mr Mollah has made impassioned offers of appeasement which has compelled him to echo the Trinamool Congress line on opposing land acquisition for industrialisation and infrastructure, including urban housing, social amenities and life style services. Not only has Mr Mollah gone solo but he has denounced policy to which he as a Minister must be held collectively responsible.

The speed with which both Mr Deb and Mr Mollah have distanced themselves from the CPI(M) and the State Government’s past actions in the context of the Vedic Village imbroglio is revealing. The connection between Vedic Village and a land mafia necessarily brought into focus the political patronage enjoyed by the shady characters involved in the land grab.

Even more startling is the chorus of offers that Ms Mamata Banerjee is receiving for projects by the railways in West Bengal. Everyone who can make an offer of assistance is doing so. There must be a reason for such spontaneity.

Winners want to remain winners. Mr Mollah’s Assembly constituency of Canning East is located within Trinamool Congress’s newly acquired domain of South 24 Parganas. Even though Mr Deb’s constituency of Hasnabad in North 24 Parganas has disappeared post delimitation, he clearly wants to win once again from somewhere close by. Endorsing the discourse on what constitutes the best interests of the greatest numbers in West Bengal as described by the Trinamool Congress seems to have been adopted as a mantra to ward off the evil that an electoral defeat would signify.

It is intriguing that even though Mr Mollah, Mr Deb and others in the CPI(M) have broken ranks, betrayed the party’s policies at a time when it has grown feeble, for reasons internal to itself as well as fending off attacks by a revitalised opposition, retribution has not been threatened. By all standards, Mr Deb and Mr Mollah ought to have been asked to explain themselves, because their outbursts in quick succession must have acutely embarrassed the CPI(M). That they were asked nothing is the most telling indication that the CPI(M) or at least its current leadership cannot assert the authority that it is endowed with.

Since the formal line of command and control remains intact within the CPI(M), it would be meaningless to suggest that the party lacks leadership. It may, therefore, be more appropriate to suggest that the party is rudderless. Ever since the Trinamool Congress aided by a stealth attack by the Congress successfully forced Tata Motors to abort the Nano car project at Singur at the last minute, the going has got rougher and rougher for the CPI(M).

In a reversal of the natural order of things, instead of the CPI(M) being in control, the Trinamool Congress has established a new dominion and the CPI(M) has been transformed therefore into challengers. Because the CPI(M) is seen as condoning, as of now, the tactics of cutting losses in order to reduce the damage, there is growing demoralisation with the party. An old-timer pointed out “at every opportunity the State party secretary declares that he will throw out members who are no longer active. But how can he judge, because the level of activism is proportionate to the quality of leadership.”

There has been a steady increase in the volume of criticism that the CPI(M)’s leadership has become inefficient and effete. Its failure to rap wrongdoers across the knuckles, its failure to instil a renewed sense of purpose confirms this. There does not seem to be as yet a lack of faith in the idea of the CPI(M), however dissatisfied the rank and file may be with the current leadership. The crowds that came for Sports Minister Subhas Chakrvarty’s funeral and memorial meetings, the crowds that came for the 50th anniversary of the food riots and the crowds that continue to throng public meetings in the districts are indication that, despite the Trinamool Congress’s popularity, there remains a great deal of goodwill for the CPI(M). Since the problem is with the party’s leaders, the cure for the CPI(M) and its ills cannot work.









With a national responsibility having been assigned to Mr Nandan Nilekani and the high expectations we cherish from his unique identification card, it is useful to take a look at his book, Imagining India. Keeping his vocational passion for computers aside, Mr Nilekani seems to have written the book for the average reader interested in the progress of India and the prosperity of Indians. Even when he talks of information technology, it is easily intelligible to the lay reader. In the bargain, Mr Nilekani has drawn an expressive picture of India’s enormous potential, an eloquent portrayal in simple flowing English.

Mr Nilekani’s work should be popular with everyone in the world who wishes to estimate the technological potential of India’s economy, given a most-needed quality jump in education. The author has not, however, had the opportunity to understand either India’s history or its sociology. He knows the pathetic paradox of education in India; best when well paid, otherwise exploited and/or neglected. With the glaring exception of the sterling contribution made by convent schools and colleges, of which he makes no mention whatsoever.

Nor is there a single reference to madarsas, which are often the laboratory of non-educational religious texts. Nor is there a reference to the ulemas who, since the advent of the British in India, have inveighed against the learning of the English language and Western education, both of which Mr Nilekani considers the entry ticket to the global economy and higher incomes. Today’s history is written in the Sachar Committee Report and the proposal to set up a board of madarsas parallel to the CBSE, ICSE and the State secondary school boards. The committee’s intention evidently is to legitimise non-education for Muslim children, a combined objective of ulemas and secular elite.

Obviously, this is a plan to keep most Muslims away from modern education and let them remain backward. For an ulema, an uneducated follower is best for ensuring taqlid or unquestioning orthodoxy. For a secular elite, the backward Muslim vote-bank is a useful antidote to nationalists. Rather like, no manager of a circus would favour fully fed lions or tigers. Which should explain to Mr Nilekani why the Governments in India have not accepted the voucher system suggested by Milton Friedman in 1955 and, as confirmed by the author, so successful in countries like Chile, Sweden, Ireland and the USA.

Giving poor parents vouchers to enable his ward to get into any well-paid school is like funding the student directly. This would bypass a huge bureaucracy which reigns over education especially in Delhi. Similarly, why does not the Government in say Delhi allow unaided schools to teach twice a day instead of only in the morning? Although, Government schools run two shifts! Extending the same opportunity to the private sector would overnight create double private school capacity. Why does not the Government lease some of its failing schools to the private institutions which are popular and keenly sought after?

To go back to Mr Nilekani’s unfamiliarity with history and sociology, it would have been best for him to keep away from these. If he had struck to science, technology and business, he would have been authoritative. Then again, ignorance is one thing and prejudice is another. And motivated bias is worse. This the author first betrays in his book when he classifies India’s larger States into three categories: Dysfunctional ones like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh; more developed like Andhra Pradesh. Lastly, those economically advanced like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. But there is not even a mention of Gujarat, which is probably the fastest-developing of our States. Evidently, the writer wished to play safe with the secular elite. He does not forget the post-Godhra riots and goes out of his way to mention Qutubuddin Ansari whose widely published photograph showed him pleading for his life. Does not Mr Nilekani know that the CPI(M) took Ansari to Kolkata and gave him a job? And that he did not last there, returned to Ahmedabad and settled back happily?

On the other hand, Jawaharlal Nehru is the author’s hero. He has been discussed on 49 pages; the book comprises 531. He quotes from the great man’s article in a 1937 issue of Foreign Affairs which said that Indian leaders unanimously treated imperialism as the country’s enemy and national unity as the top priority! At the Allahabad session of the Muslim League seven years earlier Alama Iqbal had declared that Hindus and Muslims were separate nations. In 1940 came the notorious Pakistan Resolution at Lahore.

Yet, possibly for the sake of Nehru, there is not a single reference to either China or Pakistan as enemies, wars with whom have drained India’s resources. The disputes with both these countries, which began with Nehru’s misjudgement, are still unresolved and continue to bleed India. Mr Nilekani ends his book by calling fervent devotees of Ram at Ayodhya Hindu thugs. Terrorists and other anti-nationals go without any epithets, scot-free across the book. Yet, in the beginning, he claimed that he had put aside emotion in favour of rational arguments and would welcome any debate!








It took the Soviet Union less than two years to make its first plutonium bomb. A war-ravaged country risked launching two major defence projects — atomic and missile ones — without the help of its recent allies. These projects turned out to be interdependent and subsequently brought a huge conversion gain to Russia and the rest of the world.

The results of the Manhattan Project revealed themselves in the desert and then over two Japanese cities in the summer of 1945. On the eve of the Cold War and America’s post-Hiroshima intoxication, Moscow was faced with a challenge of bridging the nuclear gap in a short span of time. The relevant project did not receive a name but the end product was named RDS-1, which could be interpreted as the Russian acronym for “Russia does it itself” or “Stalin’s jet engine”.

A design bureau was set up at the Igor Kurchatov Laboratory in the Mordovian village of Sarov in April 1946 on the basis of artillery shell production. A reactor, a combine on the production of uranium-235, and a radiochemical plant were built near Chelyabinsk by 1948.

The rates were astonishing. Whole complexes were being built practically from scratch by Gulag prisoners and volunteers under the control of all-powerful Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Lavrenty Beria. A tough political regime would not tolerate any setbacks in testing the bomb.

The project was top secret. The construction site was called a ‘base’, ‘office’, and eventually Arzamas-16. The project’s security and reliability required tough discipline. Nuclear scientists were given exclusive powers and access to huge funds. When they asked for gold and platinum to experiment with the intensity of neutron radiation, Beria ordered the manufacture of 60 kg plates. These plates were under permanent protection, and their return had to be guaranteed.

Not a single detail was neglected. Detonator capsules, which guaranteed simultaneous explosion of the neutron fuse, exploded with a maximum time interval of 0.2 microseconds. About 3,000 single and group detonations were carried to achieve the required result. Several sets were made for the bomb. Attention to the minutest detail was typical for all components of the RDS-1. All of them were made thoroughly to achieve their failsafe operation.

Everything was ready by August 1949. To study the destructive effects of the new weapon, about 50 aircraft, armour hardware, and more than 1,500 animals were brought to the testing ground. Houses of brick and wood, a bridge, and three stretches of pits at a depth of 10, 20, and 30 meters (simulating the metro) were built. The blaze and the roar from the explosion were registered even 80 km away from the testing ground, and the bomb itself proved to be 50 per cent more effective than its rated capacity.

The Soviet Union had done it, and much quicker than America expected. It was also the first to test the hydrogen bomb and launch the first nuclear missile carrier, the first satellite, and the first cosmonaut. These achievements can hardly be called the inertia of enthusiasm, calculation, and a systemic approach.

One of the trickiest issues is whether this was a Soviet bomb or a replica of the American one. This is how head of KB-11 Yuly Khariton replied to this question: “We had to show in the quickest and most reliable way that we have also got nuclear weapons. More effective designs, which we had in mind, could wait.” The authors of the book Soviet Atomic Project wrote that “unit 501,” which actually copied the American invention, “was an objectively required minimum, dictated by political considerations.” At the same time, as the last Soviet Nuclear Minister Lev Ryabev put it, it was not a replica but a creative quest that determined the effort to invent new technology and design, build new laboratory and industrial units, and adopt new calculation methods.

Soviet success in building the bomb has largely predetermined the world’s existence without a global war. It launched an era of mutual vulnerability. As the great Khariton put it, “apparently, the greatest paradox of our time is that the most sophisticated weapons of mass destruction are facilitating the preservation of peace by being a powerful deterrent.”

There were also other factors in curbing the forces of aggression apart from strategic parity with the US, such as the position of nuclear scientists (Russell-Einstein manifesto on the inadmissibility of nuclear war, Pugwash movement documents, Andrei Sakharov’s appeals, and the development of the nuclear winter concept).

By the beginning of the 21st century, the perspective of the nuclear apocalypse became more remote. The US and Russia have embarked on the talks to reduce nuclear arsenals and delivery vehicles.

The writer is a columnist based in Moscow.








Free trade negotiations will resume in Geneva in mid-September, with the aim of concluding the Doha development round which collapsed in July last year. Commerce minister Anand Sharma has special reason to smile. In its eighth year now, the Doha session is back on the global radar thanks to a "breakthrough" at an informal meeting of world trade ministers where he played host. India can pat itself on the back for taking the initiative to re-energise dialogue. Credit is also due to the participating WTO members for agreeing to build on multilateral commonalities rather than dwell on nation or group specific differences.

True, these differences haven't gone away. So Doha's "end game" may take longer to play out than WTO director-general Pascal Lamy thinks. The mini-ministerial was only a warm-up. It's still not a given that the gridlocked sides will make the concessions required for real progress. The US and Europe must open up to agricultural imports to gain freer access for manufactured goods and services in China's or India's markets. Europe, Japan and America must cut farm subsidies, not a politically pleasant job for them. The US and nations like India and Brazil must agree on the tariff-raising leeway developing nations must have to shield farmers against import surges. Developing countries, pushed by domestic lobbies, must stop striking intransigent postures, since the best ways to realise developmental goals can be open to debate even domestically.

Another potential hitch is India's call for simultaneous talks on agriculture, non-agricultural market access and services. Others propose prioritising the first two items. India's position is valid since its IT sector alone won't be the gainer. Again, with Lamy talking about global warming, emerging economies may get their backs up about a possible linking of trade with climate issues. Anti-dumping calls will also create friction. Finally, there's a potential spoiler in the US's pinning of "added responsibility" on advanced developing economies while skirting similar obligations for rich countries to get a trade pact off the ground.

Yet, despite the hurdles 153 WTO member countries will doubtless face in building unity, there's room for cautious optimism. India and the US have new leaderships with seemingly fresh perspectives. The G-20 has called for political will to meet Doha's 2010 deadline. There's consensus on the need to resist protectionism at a time boosted trade can help accelerate economic recovery, global or national. Given the reality of global economic interdependence, the need for a fair, rule-based free trade regime is obvious. By all indications, the world's major trading blocs are back to thinking that, pitfalls notwithstanding, dogged multilateral engagement is the only way to achieve it. That's encouraging in itself










The Gujarat government's ban on Jaswant Singh's book was uncalled-for publicity for a book that is already selling very well. Now the Gujarat high court has rightly overturned the ban. The court in its ruling observed that there was no reason to believe that the contents of the book would "disturb public tranquillity or interests of the state". It added that when the state is dealing with the fundamental rights of citizens in this case freedom of expression extreme caution should be exercised.

The Gujarat verdict should make the government rethink its policies of slapping a ban on works of art at the drop of a hat. On far too many occasions, the Centre or state governments have rushed to ban books or films which they thought could incite violence. Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses immediately comes to mind. In the late 1980s, Rushdie's book was banned following protests by Muslims across the world as well as in India. Subsequently, permission was refused to film Rushdie's book, Midnight's Children, for fear that it would inflame religious tensions. Nine Hours to Rama, a book written in 1962 on Mahatma Gandhi's assassination, continues to be banned. More recently, the West Bengal government has banned Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen's books for similar reasons.

Fortunately, there are also several instances where the courts have stepped in to revoke bans. After several states banned the Hollywood film, Da Vinci Code, the Supreme Court threw out petitions by Christian groups to outlaw the film. Similarly, the Delhi high court quashed criminal proceedings against M F Husain for allegedly hurting public sentiments through some of his nude paintings.

Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, is subject to several caveats. The Indian state and the courts also have to play a careful balancing act between the rights enshrined in the Constitution, guaranteeing freedom of expression and speech, and provisions of the Indian Penal Code which proscribe speech and writings that could incite violence. Section 153A of the IPC prohibits speeches or writings that promote enmity between different groups; section 295A prohibits acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class. Such laws limit the right to freedom of speech and must be seen in the context of maintaining order in a dizzyingly diverse country. But these can also be used as an excuse to gag authors and artistes. Bans should be imposed only in the most exceptional circumstances. Otherwise they undermine the very basis of a democracy.























WASHINGTON: A disturbing pressure is building up in the United States against the Afghanistan policy of the Barack Obama administration. It's disconcerting for South Asia, certainly for India, and it should make the world uneasy. But no one can do much about it unless President Obama remains determined to resist that pressure.

A new opinion poll says that more than half the people of America 53 per cent want US forces to get out of Afghanistan. That proportion, of Americans against US forces going to Afghanistan, was just 6 per cent in a poll taken in 2002, shortly after the war had begun. Meanwhile, reports suggest that the Taliban appears, for the moment, to be winning by becoming a more potent adversary than before through improved tactics. Add to that the inability of the US forces to protect Afghan citizens, and the pressure on Obama for a unilateral US withdrawal mounts by the day.

In his election campaign, Obama had described the Afghan war as "necessary" for long-term US and global security, in sharp contrast to the resource-draining and unnecessary Iraq war launched by the Bush administration. In power, he has so far not wavered from that position. Earlier this year, he announced a new approach towards Afghanistan, pointing out that the previous administration had starved that war of attention and resources. He changed the top leadership of his armed forces there, sanctioned increased manpower and asked Congress for more money.

In any democracy, however, public opinion matters. And public opinion amplified through the megaphone of 24-hour news media cannot be ignored. Today, public opinion in America is not as supportive generally of Obama as it was in the initial months of his presidency. At the same time, his attention span is dominated by a raging debate over his health care reforms initiative, which he still has to sell convincingly to a majority of the people amidst a growing feeling that he is unable to do so. Selling the Afghan war as necessary in such circumstances is going to be hard.

Yet, for the sake of American and world security, he must remain resolute. He must convince the American public that Afghanistan cannot be abandoned again, like it was after the Soviet forces had withdrawn 20 years ago. The rise of the Taliban to power, with active assistance and tactical guidance from Pakistan's armed forces, was an outcome of that earlier neglect. Today, the long-term security and stability of Afghanistan and, more importantly, of Pakistan must remain the world's clear goal.

Obama, therefore, has to answer his critics. To cite an example, the influential conservative columnist George Will on Tuesday last recommended, in an article in the Washington Post entitled 'Time to Get Out of Afghanistan', that US forces should be substantially reduced. The US should "only do what can be done from offshore". Instead of stationing troops there, it should use "intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters".

Yes, that's precisely it. Pakistan matters. And that's why it is imperative that the US maintains a powerful presence in the area, especially on that porous border. For what Will recommends is like what the Bush administration did for many years: kept a small number of troops in Afghanistan and outsourced the war not so much to a weak team of NATO troops but, effectively, to Pakistan's army and intelligence forces. In other words, they let the fox guard the chicken coop. Moreover, the Bush administration gave Islamabad's then military rulers, with scarcely any supervision, huge sums of money to boost the army's capacity to take on the Taliban and al-Qaeda; in fact, as reports later revealed, the money went some way to boost that army's nuclear and conventional capabilities against a traditional adversary, India.

To be fair, the Bush administration realised what was happening late in its second term. It then mounted pressure on Islamabad to take serious action. And it did its bit to encourage the return of democratic politics in Pakistan. President Obama has not only continued that revised policy, he has intensified it by leaning harder on Islamabad and by increasing the US armed presence in the area. We must continue to hope that the US will help Islamabad to carry on a genuine fight against all terrorists and the Taliban within its territory for the sake of Pakistan's very survival.

For, the Taliban has to be tamed within Pakistan before the capacity of the Afghan Taliban to wreak mayhem can be effectively rolled back. The world, with an unwavering commitment from the US, will have to support Pakistan's democratic forces while choking those shadowy folk in the Inter-Services Intelligence and Pakistan's army who tell their pet hare how to run while they hunt with the hounds.

In short, Obama has to stay the ground. More, he has to go out and tell the people why the stability of Afghanistan-Pakistan is vitally important for America's as well as the world's safety.







Uttara Asha Coorlawala teaches dance techniques and theories at Barnard College, Columbia University, and Alvin Ailey-Fordham University. A seasoned dancer, she has performed in India, Europe, Japan and the US. Coorlawala spoke with Romain Maitra :

Why is the overall scenario of Indian dance in India resistant to modernity?

In Indian dance, modernity has generated nationalism and expressions of nation. So if you consider modernity as an aesthetic, then i would say that the classical forms, as they are presented today, are modernist to the extent that they represent nationalist notions of identity and self. These forms generate comfortable definitions of local and traditional cultural values, because of the strict limitations of their aesthetics. Both classical and contemporary dance forms are celebrated with passion within circumstances of tremendous ferment and dramatic social and political change.

Even in innovative trends in Indian dance we see resistance to move from the age-old iconic and the symmetrical, from the expressive and the affective, to something entirely abstract and non-narrative. Why?

Indian dances may recycle connections with past aesthetic structures of Natya Shastra, Bhakti, Islamic and external influences, but the presentations are contemporary in the ways that they negotiate audiences and the demands of presenting institutions. For example, if abstract and group dance is in because it astounds and delights audiences, then we see more of this trend. If the call is for linear narratives, of adventure of hero and heroine, then this too is presented by classical dancers. If introspection and complexity is the order of the day, we focus on padams and their interior excavations of emotion. So the classical forms are not entirely oblivious to global demands of modernity and beyond modernity.

The art of choreography has not evolved in Indian dance presentations. Why?

The evolution of choreography is a moot point, when you look at how tightly it is linked (now) with notions of modernist creativity, austerity, asymmetry, angst, abstraction, individualism, revolution, and so on. Although, i find it amusing that the original meaning of 'choreographie' as in Raoul Feuillet's book, published in 1700, was derived from the notion of choreography as the craft of writing or graphing dances rather than as art.

However, we see our own dances and our histories through dominant Euro-American precepts of art and history. So the idea of choreography in Indian dance, at least in the modernist sense, is a very messy one leaving current artistes with the choice of addressing aesthetic conflicts head on, or obliquely. Also, with regard to the notion of the evolution of choreography, i think somewhere in our judgements, we also have to remember that the idea of cultural evolution is linked to memory and justification of power.

Much of what we know of past choreographies relies on textual and visual records. Texts and frozen images are too far from the physicality and living presence of live dance. Written descriptions are invaluable, but tricky.







The classic comedy scenario involves a man, preferably fat and pompous-looking, walking down the street, stepping on a banana peel and falling on his well-padded bottom. A spectator would find this comic because the prosperous, self-satisfied air of the fallen one has been so easily, and so incongruously, deflated by so humble a piece of refuse as a discarded banana skin. The episode which sums up the old moral science lesson that pride goes before a fall has about it an elegant symmetry, a self-evident justice, almost like a mathematical equation: 2+2 = 4; wealth + snootiness = retribution.

Change a few details in this scenario. Instead of an affluent, arrogant-looking individual getting his comeuppance thanks to the banana peel, it is a sight-impaired person, or someone on crutches. The comic equation immediately collapses. The evenly balanced scales of retributive justice he got what he deserved tilt to the side of injurious injustice: can't the municipal services keep garbage like banana skins off the street, so that the physically disabled and the infirm aren't put at risk of a nasty accident?

Comedy transforms into social activism. You rush across the street to help the fallen person. And then you in your self-righteous, do-gooder mode slip on another banana skin and go for a toss. Are you willing and able to laugh at yourself: mock-heroic Don Quixote tilting at windmills and coming a cropper because of his knight errantry?

This is what might be called the banana peel test of the ethics of humour. Perhaps of all forms of communication the tragic, the poetic, the prosaic, the descriptive humour is the one that is most in need of a code of ethics to regulate it. The reason is that humour has in it an intrinsic element of cruelty, of rejoicing in the misfortune of others (man slipping on banana peel). This innate element of cruelty requires a corresponding ethic of redemption, a moral mathematics which restores the karmic balance (the man slipped on the banana peel because, with his snooty nose up in the air, he didn't see the peel, serve him right).

So, it's OK to laugh at a high and mighty person taking a well-deserved tumble which he's brought upon himself through his own sense of self-importance. It is not OK (i.e., it isn't funny) to make a joke about a socially, economically or physically vulnerable person suffering an identical mishap.

Fine. But what if the person who slips on the banana peel is you? And not just you, but you wearing a brand new outfit which you had put on to impress whoever it is you were going to meet (your boss, your date, your in-laws) and now look what's happened, all because of that damned banana peel which made you go head over heels and land smack in a muddy puddle and get muck all over your bottom. In such a situation when the joke's on you, when you are literally the butt of humour can you laugh at yourself?

If you can, you've passed the first test in the ethics of humour: before you laugh at anyone else, first learn to laugh at yourself. Like charity, humour begins at home. If you can first laugh at yourself, you can laugh not at the world but with the world you have made yourself a part of through the camaraderie of comedy.

There is one proviso, which is the second test in the ethics of humour. Legitimate humour is always directed from the lower to a higher level: always laugh at (or with) those who are metaphorically above you, socially, economically, physically, or in any other way. Don't laugh at those weaker or in any way less privileged than you. A joke about a prince (or a Wall Street banker) is fine; a joke about a pauper is not; it's just plain cruelty without the comradeship of comedy. But if the pauper had once been a prince (or a Wall Street banker) and is now a pauper, then that is a joke. All the more so if it were you who had been a prince (or a banker) and were now a pauper. Funny, right?







It's that tricky time of the year yet again. Another deadly virus, but this one first spreads through newspapers and tabloids. Glazed eyes, gasps and rigidly clutched hands it can come on quite suddenly, especially in crowded malls or markets. The first symptom manifests itself in unnaturally bright eyes. The second stage is the gasping stage, which generally assails one in malls, and the third is clutched hands there is a purse clutched tightly in a person's hands and a zombie gait.


The victim is beyond help at this stage, because moments after this she crosses over to the other side. Once there, she loses her mind and sanity, albeit temporarily. Earlier this virus attacked our country twice a year, at the end of summers and winters. But the frequency has increased many times over in recent years, making it an almost year-round epidemic. It can take a new name and attack almost any time of the year. Summer, end of summer, fall, winter, end of winter, spring and maybe even end of spring... one wonders if any season has been overlooked by 'saleitis'?

Everywhere you look, the words 'Sale!', 'Genuine Sale', 'Flat 50% off', 'Buy 1 get 10 free' and more imaginative taglines assail and ensnare you. The gates of the so far unapproachable stores are thrown open to the devotees of the affordable and they respond with a huge cheer and cross over in hordes across the wide-open glass doors. From there, they emerge many happy hours later, their purses lighter but hands weighed down by the fat, colourful bags. Unlike other infections, however, the victims of 'saleitis' emerge rosier and happier after the illness.


At least until they become fully conscious of the fact that they have actually bought much more than they had originally intended. Or that the reason behind the 80 per cent discount was because the thing had failed the quality control spectacularly. It is at this stage that buyer's guilt surfaces, harassing the poor victim till he vows on the discounted holy book that he'll never fall for that again. But the pitfalls of buying a 25 per cent discounted holy book? The oath holds good only till the next sale season comes up!








The world is again ready to talk trade. A year after India was accused of putting the World Trade Organisation’s negotiations on the Doha Development Round into deep freeze, New Delhi last week succeeded in getting 35 trade ministers to agree to resume discussions in Geneva from September 14. The development should be read with the usual disclaimer. The entrenched positions that caused the deadlock still prevail. The principal characters involved in the more contentious haggling — the United States, European Union, Brazil and India — have not yet signalled a softening of their stance. Yet, India has brought everybody back to the table after walking off last July and the new Obama administration has indicated it does not want to re-invent the Doha round.


Good. But is it good enough to make the horse drink? The standoff is over cuts in subsidies and taxes on farm produce in the West, in return for emerging economies taking in more of their industrial goods. India has an added concern over dumped food. This has held all other aspects of the Doha round to ransom. The principles are not being contested, the degree of accommodation to reach a deal is. A wider body of view is seeking to take less knotty issues — the treatment of extremely poor countries, for instance — onto a different track. And there is growing realisation that talking in smaller groups has more chance of yielding acceptable outcomes.

A world sobered up by shrinking trade is trying to stitch together a rule-based system by 2010. It is also a world where Asia is emerging as a competitor to the US as the consumer of last resort. Both events will have shaped attitudes around the negotiating table. For example, trade is exerting an inordinate influence on India’s growth momentum although it has less than a 2 per cent share of global exports. Nomura Research reckons that net exports contributed half of the 6.1 per cent GDP growth in the last quarter because imports shrank twice as fast as exports on falling oil prices. This makes the domestic demand argument slightly wobbly. The rash of bilateral trade treaties being signed across the globe cannot hope to match the gains of a multilateral framework. The New Delhi meeting was an admission of this reality. Now it’s time to get cracking. The world is losing an estimated $250 billion every year after the lapse of the original deadline of 2005 for completing the Doha round.







Don’t we all dream of a day when we will be able to have our cake and eat it too? Well, such a situation seems to be upon us in which we can take care of both our temporal and corporeal needs. You can now set sail on a luxurious cruise and whoop it up at night with a topless show or two thrown in, nibble on Beluga caviar and down a few bottles of the good stuff. Now if most of us did all this, we would be wracked by guilt. Here is the good news then.


After soaking in the pleasures of life, you will be put through a religious discourse, vegetarian food and meditation. To the point where not even garlic, ginger or onion will touch your lips. After fortifying your soul, you can get back to your shenanigans later in the day. No less than the redoubtable Baba Ramdev, who has left formidable opponents like the CPI(M)’s Brinda Karat in his dust, will be on board to minister to your immortal soul. All this comes at substantial cost but then we Indians are always known to love a touch of our own culture wherever we go. Those terrifying group tours which many of us have been on would include homegrown delicacies like dal makhni even as the assorted gathering were springing up and down the Alps.


You might well ask why people did not venture to try out the local delicacies. The answer could be that you can take the Indian out of India but you can’t take the Indian out of him. Bengalis are known to be ferocious travellers and it is a comforting sight to see them in their monkey caps even when temperatures are touching sub-Saharan heights. But let us hope that our cruises of contentment will catch on. Nothing like yo, ho, ho and a bottle of Om. Bottom of Form








‘Saturdays feel like Sundays, and Sunday feels like Monday…” It’s a warm Delhi September day, overcast and humid. Perfect weather to hear Dean Martin warbling his way through the 1944 American pop standard ‘Baby it’s cold outside’ on the radio.


“Did you know he was born in India? I felt very happy to hear this…”


Cliff Richard sings sweetly about “being true until the leaves turn blue on the evergreen tree”, and I remember playing his 45 rpm records growing up in rainy Belgaum in the early 1970s.


“What a lovely, fantastic-type mausam…”


The morning goes into screaming overdrive as AC/DC slam into 1979’s ‘Highway to Hell’, one of the most popular songs in rock history.


Really, I don’t mind the restrained banter because the music is so good on my favourite radio station, All India Radio (AIR) Rainbow FM. In this age of Bollywood nonsense played by FM stations financially locked into urban, young India, it’s a relief to have a publicly funded broadcaster that can safely cater to niche audiences like myself.


It also helps that AIR’s radio jockeys don’t try to be perfect, don’t force us to hear fake laughter, don’t make funny noises and sound like what they are — happy, young people who fumble a bit.


Last week in Mumbai, I got a ride with Rajiv Anand, CEO of a financial services company, and, to my delight, he tuned into, what else, AIR. “I want to break free,” declared the soaring voice of Freddie Mercury (yes, our man, aapro Freddie Balsara, formerly of Zanzibar and Bombay).


Why AIR, I asked Rajiv. His answer: “Because it’s the only channel that plays great English music when I am driving to office. And the RJs are not shrill. And there are fewer ads. And I am fed up of Bollywood trash. That’s why.”


No one really knows, but many people from my generation are tuning their dials back to AIR. The main reason is music, not just Western but also old Hindi film songs. The other reason, I hear, is the lack of advertisements (thus the AIR jingle: “Oh, we got to let the music play, all the time, on Aaaa-l India Radioooooo!”).


I also like the news on AIR. It’s old-fashioned, from the Indian-news-reel era, shorn of the perspective that we (this paper included) now try to provide to our busy readers and address their tell-me-why-I-should-care attitude.


So, of course, that means hearing about the President’s greetings to teachers on Teachers’ Day, her greetings to the people of Moscow and her ‘useful talks’ with the Russian president. But the headlines also talk about the Nato airstrike on fuel trucks hijacked by the Taliban in Afghanistan. When the Afghan elections were on, I heard a daily first-hand report from AIR’s man in Kabul, never mind his unrefined Tamilian (or Bihari) accent and his successful massacres of syntax and grammar. Last week, AIR’s man in Tokyo also assaulted the English language but managed to convey the importance of elections in Japan, where (I hope you know this), the ruling party has been kicked out of office after 45 years.


On one of Delhi’s ubiquitous FM radio stations, I hear a caller gush about the new buildings and  malls in Noida, the strange suburb that straddles the decrepit cow belt and the endlessly acquisitive new India.


The RJ burbles: “Oh, the development is going higher and higher in Noida, na…dhan-te-dan!”


If you want something more cerebral, tune in to fake caller Ghanta Singh, who recently ambushed a receptionist at a computer centre.


Ghanta: “Agar main course join karoon, to job milega? (Will I get a job if I join the course?)”


Receptionist: “Haan, internship ke baad. (Yes, after internship.)”


Ghanta: “Hain? Mujhe ship pe nahin jaana hain. Huh? (I don’t want to go on a ship.)”


AIR has found fans like me — though let me confess that before I ‘discovered’ AIR, I was quite addicted to a radio spot in Mumbai called ‘Kamla ka hamla’, the random outpourings of a fast-talking transvestite — not because of a grand plan to counter the explosion of private radio but because it is a public broadcaster that is not beholden to the demands of the mass market.


Ideally, public-service radio must give voice to and reflect the needs of democracy’s silent majorities and minorities. It cannot be left entirely to the whimsical flick of a few hundred million wrists. “Broadcasting,” as Tony Benn, a British socialist politician once observed, “is really too important to be left to the broadcasters.”


Let’s be clear about this: AIR is not an ideal public service broadcaster. Those of us who tune in today do so because it is the only option to the mind-numbing prattle of private FM radio. Bolstered by those warm feelings for AIR, I tried to see if I could get its eclectic choice of music on my computer. I found AIR’s website, and clicked on the links to live audio and audio programs (why do they use an American spelling?). “The audio programs are currently not available.” There’s a madly interesting top link that reads: “Filling up post of DDG (security) on deputation basis in Directorate General: All India Radio.”


Does no one care?


As I write this, I am listening to a gravel-voiced man dish out an AIR English tutorial. “Marred.” intones the gravel-voiced tutor. “Koi cheez jo kharab ho jaati hain, jaise English mein ispoiled kehte hain (A thing that is spoilt, as they say in English, ispoiled).”


An AIR with vision and verve could lead India’s radio revival. Imagine if it became a National Public Radio, the wonderful public-radio network in the US. There are many like us, waiting for lively, intelligent radio.


Until that happens, there’s always Ghanta Singh.








Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s death has created a political dilemma for the Congress party. The party is in two minds about whether to select a suitable successor to the Chief Minister or succumb to pressure from a strong section of the Andhra Congress legislative party to appoint his son, Jagan Mohan Reddy, in his place.


The rise of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in the early 80s was on account of the fact that its then leader, N.T. Rama Rao was able to exploit the issue of central interference in state affairs to his political advantage. He convinced people that in the Congress, chief ministers were appointed from Delhi and not by those directly elected to the Assembly.


The manner in which T. Anjiah was treated always helped the TDP drive home the point that the Congress had no regard for Telugu pride. The TDP emerged as the state’s pre-eminent party first under NTR and subsequently under his son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu, a former Indira Gandhi loyalist.


The issue of Telugu pride has often put the Congress on the backfoot. NTR knew that this was a weapon that could be used effectively against the Congress. To this end, he decided not to put up any candidate against P.V. Narasimha Rao in 1991 when he was the Prime Minister and contested from Nandyal. After this, Andhra Pradesh has always enjoyed great political importance. Under Naidu, the TDP was central to the formation and continuation of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government.


Naidu extracted his pound of flesh for his support and the NDA had to bow to his whims and fancies, to the extent that Vajpayee decided to advance the elections in 2004 to enable the state Assembly and Lok Sabha polls to be held simultaneously. Both the TDP and the NDA fell by the wayside as the YSR juggernaut helped fulfil Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s dream of dislodging ‘the communal BJP’.


It would be safe to say that if Sonia Gandhi was the architect of the UPA victory in both 2004 and 2009, YSR played his role as an able general in delivering the numbers to her. Had the party not performed so well in Andhra, the UPA’s fate would have been in doubt. Thus, in two successive parliamentary elections, Andhra was the state that was key to the Congress party’s success. For both the UPA chief and the Prime Minister, YSR became a symbol of efficiency. His delivery system was outstanding in its pragmatism and efficiency. He ensured that the benefits of all schemes went to the common people. His implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) won him praise from both the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Prime Minister. There were also allegations of corruption, which were never substantiated by any investigative agency.


YSR was unperturbed and went about his job in a clinical manner. But the fact remains that had he not enjoyed Sonia Gandhi’s unflinching support, he would not have emerged as such a strong leader. His supporters need to recognise this truth and allow the Congress chief to take the appropriate decision.


The Congress High Command has to assess who will be an appropriate successor. A wrong move could boomerang. And if the party bows to the wishes of the emotional demand by a large number of legislators, there could be repercussions in other states. Other state leaders may be tempted to assert themselves.


The present model of the Congress High Command being the final authority could be altered. The rise of regional leaders in the states will, of course, be beneficial to overall development. But it could alter the rules of the game. A strong leadership in the states is the need of the hour to curb the regional influences of smaller parties. It remains to be seen how the Congress leadership will resolve the matter — in a manner that does not dilute its own authority and also, at the same time, keeps state functionaries happy. Between us.









Democracies often tend to panic before finding the resolve to face up to adverse circumstances. Almost eight years after ousting the Taliban from Afghanistan and barely six months after announcing a brand new strategy to turn the faltering war around, Washington is stricken by political panic. Domestic support for the Afghan war is rapidly eroding. The opposition is no longer confined to the left-wing of the ruling Democratic party, which never liked the war. The liberal anti-war sentiment has now been reinforced by important conservative and realist voices which suggest that the Afghan war is not winnable and therefore Washington must cut its losses and move on.


Despite the mounting domestic clamour for an American withdrawal, it is entirely unlikely that the US President Barack Obama will beat the drums of retreat. At least for now. All indications are that he might approve the request of his new commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, for a substantive increase in the size of the American military presence there. Given the searing memory of 9-11, and the fact that al-Qaeda remains entrenched in the borderlands of Pakistan, Obama will find it hard to declare victory and get out. Obama is already being reminded that the US had abandoned Afghanistan before and suffered 9-11 as a consequence. Obama would want to do and be seen as doing all he can before declaring that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable. In democracies, policy outcomes are always compromises among contending interests and competing views. In the next few weeks we are likely to see Obama making the case for patience, promising tangible progress and seeking more resources. Congress is likely to approve his request while imposing many benchmarks for measuring progress within a short time line. While the president will have his way on a more intensive engagement with Afghanistan, Congress will win the point that the costly American occupation of Afghanistan cannot be open-ended and unconditional.


Put on a short leash by Congress, Obama will have no choice but to go all-out to demonstrate progress in Afghanistan in the next few months. Whether Obama succeeds or not, the consequences will be significant. This is the time for New Delhi, which has a common interest with Washington in preventing an extremist take over of Afghanistan, to embark on active diplomacy and articulate ideas on how to stabilise the north-western frontiers of the subcontinent. India will help itself if it can assist the international community in prevailing over the Taliban and its friends in Afghanistan.







The logical end of censorship, Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once claimed, “is when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books that nobody reads.” In banning Jaswant Singh’s magnum opus Jinnah: India, Partition-Independence, the Gujarat government was certainly following the first half of this dictum: it banned a book that virtually everybody in the political class is ploughing through. This, even though the Gujarat government had obviously not read the book, a discrepancy which the Gujarat High Court pointed out in its order overturning the ban.


That the decision to ban Jaswant Singh’s book — a decision that ran concurrently with the BJP’s decision to expel its author — was politically motivated is a no-brainer. The ostensible reasons were either absurd (that the book would cause communal violence) or cynical opportunism (that derogatory references to Sardar Patel were made). In fact, the book’s references to Patel, for historians to nit-pick over, were clearly harmless, as the book’s consequences elsewhere show. The Gujarat High Court rightly pointed out that the Gujarat government’s notification did not make even the pretence of an argument. In such a situation, the notification was a violation of the constitutionally guaranteed rights of free speech and expression.


A party that glorifies these fundamental rights when it comes to books by Salman Rushdie or Taslima Nasreen demeans itself when it advocates censorship when convenient. The bogie of Sardar Patel was especially repugnant, the hope that some political harvest could be gained in the land of his birth. Not all of the BJP thought the same way:  Karnataka Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa refused to ban the book. But it seems that the Gujarat government has learnt neither from his example, nor the high court’s pronouncement: it might issue another notification, with fresh grounds for a ban. If that is indeed its intention, the state government should rethink. And it is hoped that political leaderships across party and state lines will read this as a sign that capricious bans are out.







History is a political tool to settle scores in the present. The return of Josef Stalin to Moscow’s Kurskaya Metro station is part of a trend: Vladimir Putin’s Russia rehabilitating Stalin. This reverses the “opening up” that began not after the Soviet break-up, but in 1986, when Gorbachev’s glasnost mid-wifed the rebirth of history in a land which had institutionalised collective forgetting. Debates questioning the Soviet version of history were being sponsored by the Kremlin itself. And yet, Stalin is popular on the Russian street. While the chaos of the Yeltsin era contributed to Putin’s revival of the Soviet past, there’s more to it.


At the heart of it lies geopolitics. After the Soviet collapse, Russia was a diminished state. Putin realised how past “grandeur” could make Russians feel big again, along with their newfound economic might from oil and gas. Medvedev’s recent threat to Ukraine about gas, near-routine clashes between Moscow and Kiev over gas supply and price, and last year’s war with Georgia show how Russia’s statist reinvention of its past — with a desire to regain old spheres of influence — is wedded to the geopolitical fallout of oil.


But what Russia thinks or does impacts not just its neighbourhood. As Poland demands an apology from Putin for the 1940 Katyn massacre by the Soviets, and Ukraine wants to politically and economically integrate with the West, it’s clear that Russia continues to define Eastern Europe’s past and present. One could have left Russia to whatever image of itself it cherishes, if it were not for Stalin’s victim states. Through them the continuing tussle over history impacts the European and global economy, as well as vitiating a volatile Central Asia.








There is palpable excitement over the prospect of higher education being seriously reformed. The one proposal that has caught immediate attention is a move to depoliticise the appointment of vice-chancellors. There can be no quarrel with the desirability of this move. According to reports, there is a proposal to have a collegium headed by an eminent person to make appointments. Keeping politicians out of the process is one thing, but having a single body make all appointments is quite another. In fact, there is something of a misunderstanding about the current system. In its intent, even in the current system, the selection is made by eminent persons. But they are asked to submit panels, and often ministries have the last word. One simple thing to do would be to remove the role of the ministry; you would still get the eminent panel, but without the centralisation.


In some ways the logic of this proposal is very much at odds with what the Indian system needs: greater decentralisation rather than greater centralisation. To grasp this point one needs to put the VC’s role in a broader context.


We have to recognise that the one institution that is central to the working of universities and institutes is the Executive Council — the EC — or an equivalent board. It is these institutions that are the most politicised, even more than the VC’s office. The sources of politicisation are both external and internal; externally because of government nominations; internally because of the political links of teacher representatives. More than the VC, the quality and composition of these councils matter to the university. These need to be radically depoliticised.


The Indian system is bizarre in that the EC, the main body that enforces accountability, doesn’t own the appointment of the institution’s head. In fact in well-run institutions two conditions are necessary: that the board be of high quality, and that it be broadly aligned with the chief executive’s vision. For the latter to happen, there has to be some direct board involvement in selection. Of course, the current composition of these boards is the source of the problem. A real innovation would be to rethink their size, composition and function.


The most peculiar feature of the appointment of VCs is that the appointing committees know almost nothing about the universities they are making appointments to. While some of them will loosely canvass names, none of them makes determinations about the kind of person a particular university needs at a particular juncture. There is also no mechanism for conversations with candidates about ideas they would bring to improve a particular university. This kind of conversation cannot be captured through the idea of an interview. It is more about discussing challenges a particular university faces. In some ways the risk is that centralised collegia will continue to exacerbate these distances and gaps of knowledge between the board and the appointee, between the selection committee and the university. In most successful universities outside India, it is the board-equivalent that is central to the appointments process and an ongoing conversation about the direction of the university.


In some ways, none of this mattered much because we had homogenised our university system so much. The vice-chancellor operated within a fixed set of rules on everything ranging from appointments to fund rising, to degree structures, to budget constraints. Very occasionally a VC would break the mould with a certain degree of improvised crashing at the gates, but these innovations would usually not outlast their tenure. The crucial challenge for the Indian system is to inculcate more institutional diversity, experimentation, and the ability of institutions to evolve their own character, to compete and make judgment calls about where to head next. Instead, much of the talk is about greater standardisation of the system. We want everything centralised, from admissions criteria to appointments. In some ways creating a centralised mechanism for the selection of vice-chancellors is of a piece with what is referred to as the “UPSCisation” of academic life.

It is fundamentally also a symptom of the fact that the one thing we do not really want to contemplate is giving universities charge of their own destiny. In our conception there must always be a body unconnected with the university to make so many of the key decisions that define the university’s character. There is also another fallacy implicit in this centralisation model: the fallacy of a quick fix. If Indian public universities are to be reclaimed they will have to be reclaimed one institution at a time, each with its own set of challenges. It will require the hard labour, not just of appointing VCs, but of ensuring that all bodies that enforce accountability in the system have their ideas aligned.


The one final thing that helped ruin the Indian system was the rise of the professional education bureaucrat. In some ways this would not be a bad thing: the skills required to run an institution are different from professorial skills, and you need both personality types. But in field after field, a small group of academics exercised inordinate power in committee after committee as gatekeepers of academic and institutional wisdom. And eminence was no guarantee of the manner in which power would be exercised.


While its exact composition is not known, a single centralised committee runs exactly this same risk of empowering a super-class of people; except that this group will now control a larger number of universities all at once. Concentration of power ought usually to be an object of suspicion; in the case of universities even more so. In principle, there will be one collegium for Central universities and states can have their own parallel structures. In all likelihood, particularly at the state level, this will merely shift the locus of politicisation to a different level; now it will be at the level of nomination to a colleguim rather than appointment of the VC. But it might also have the unintended consequence of concentrating even more academic power.


Restoring vitality to the university system requires that each university have a distinct sense of its identity, it has autonomy in that its functionaries take charge of key decisions, and it sees itself in competition for excellence with other universities. Centralising appointments of VCs is a bit like giving a country sovereignty only on the condition that its rulers be appointed from outside. If we want really radical reform, we should decentralise appointments and let responsible authorities in universities take charge of their own destiny.


The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi (








There’s a building demand to push “reverse migration”, from urban to rural India. Some cry foul because their public amenities are cracking under pressure; for others, their employment potential and that of their children is being affected due to the arrival of migrants hungry for work, willing to work longer and harder for less.


Others in urban India, some because of genuine ignorance, push for reverse migration as “these poor people have to live in such squalor and degrading conditions.” Ours is a democratic country. No one is held in cities in chains. The only reason migrants live in these so-called “inhuman conditions” is that here they can earn. Unless suitable conditions are created, what would they go back to? How would they feed their families, leave alone

educate them?


The latest World Development Report, which encourages migration from rural to urban centres, is bound to set the cat among the pigeons. People leave rural areas when agriculture and non-farm work in villages cannot sustain a growing population. Government after government has failed to provide alternate opportunities for village-folk. I have advocated in vain for almost two decades for government to incentivise the private sector to establish food processing plants in the hinterland. Over 40 per cent of our food rots due to the lack of infrastructure. What have we done about it? We have moved from processing one per cent of our total food production to just over two per cent. Over decades. The developed world processes over 35 per cent.


Factories would need to be established nearer growing areas, which would benefit farmers, as they would be selling directly to the end buyer with better prices. Ancillaries would create even larger employment opportunities, and different entrepreneurs would come up: dhabas, transport, wayside mechanics, printing and packaging. In addition farmers would gain from the practical protocols corporates would provide in order to increase yield and quality — as was seen with Pepsi and tomatoes in Punjab, or as is seen by Nestle with milk around Moga.


Government’s social schemes provide some sustenance to the poor, but will they give the rural poor cover for the long term? Without development in rural India, there will not be any change in the conditions there. Mamata Banerjee’s objection to Singur is something I cannot comprehend. I have already said on these pages that the people whose land is being requisitioned must get more than a fair deal; but, with Tata moving out of Singur, has the population there gained? So what did Mamata achieve? Why not instead negotiate a “great” deal for the affected people? Put a price on the objections and ensure that those affected gain substantially over what they currently have, and for a sustained period. Apart from those whose land is affected, the entire community would gain from employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in addition to increase in their land prices. This is Singur’s loss.


Similarly in retail. Here again, farmers would gain the most as the retail chains would need to source directly from growers to ensure freshness. Farmers would get better returns. Additional employment could be generated from grading and packing the produce before dispatch. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce said that lower “initial” prices would happen but “once competition was wiped out, they would be in a monopolistic position to dictate prices”. Prices are driven by supply and demand and competition. Had we adopted similar practices in telecom, our price per local call on a mobile phone would still be Rs16.


The arguments also suggest that organised retail will put the mom-and-pop shops out of business, and affect mandis. Our mandis exploit small farmers: by under-weighing, not paying for quality, making them wait for days to ensure they sell in distress. Smaller vendors will get affected to an extent, but mainly in towns where the retail outlets will come up, providing different employment opportunities. In the majority of the country, the smaller vendors will not be affected at all. However, in the larger towns where these outlets will come up, millions of consumers will gain from quality and price as the middlemen chain will have been broken.


Another opportunity in rural India is for logistics companies to set up hubs to break bulk for goods that would then be sold to the surrounding markets; and also, to aggregate goods from a fragmented supply-base of producers in those areas. These could offer numerous additional services to their clients: advertising, promotions, point-of-purchase material. Additional revenue could come from functioning as information kiosks, more popular by the day in rural regions. Rural research, which is currently a painful, suspect, expensive and time-consuming exercise could be offered much more efficiently. If such hubs could be established in the majority of districts, they would bring about huge employment in both the farm and non-farm sectors.


With the focus on urban India, with such glaring lacuna in the system for rural India, do you really expect migrant workers to go back to the conditions that exist in the village? I don’t.


The writer is CEO, Grassroots Trading Network for Women (







You are one of the particularly fortunate CMs for two reasons. One, you lead one of the very few governments which are entirely dependent on the Congress’s own MLAs. They don’t have any coalition partners to worry about and second, you ran this campaign and won and you built it over many years.


The first part is right. We have 190 MLAs. We don’t need to depend on anyone else. Out of 294, if we have got 191 MLAs, we have more than two-thirds MLAs. But the other part, running the campaign and all that, yes I did my best, but it was the Congress party’s campaign along with all of us in the state and, of course, our leader Sonia Gandhi.


n So, you can’t take the credit yourself.


Although I’m sure many of your colleagues will give it to you.


No, that’s not right. No one in the Congress party can say that it is all because of me. The Congress party’s approach is different, the party’s culture is different, the heritage is different. We believe in working together, taking the credit or even the discredit together.


n A very different thing about you and your political career is that in a party which is sometimes run by very senior people, you became a party president at a very young age of 32.


I was 33. It was because of Rajiv Gandhi. Rajiv’s eyes fell upon me, he recognised me.


n And how did that happen? Do you remember?


In one or two interactions with him, he thought that I’ll be a proper person at that time to head the state Congress party because I was quite young. He was impressed with my age, with the way I put things.


• My educational background. Somehow, Rajiv got impressed with me. I would not give myself all the credit, but he got impressed and he made me the state president. And since then, I have never looked back.


n And this in a state which had so many ‘senior’ leaders. In fact on a Walk The Talk with Sonia Gandhi, I had mentioned that sometimes her front row in Parliament looks like the ICU without the tubes. So, did you feel a generation gap?


That way, the Congress party is definitely better than the BJP or Communists. Well, national parties do have this problem. We can’t ignore experienced people, the elderly. But at the same time, we don’t shy away from bringing in new blood into the system.


n But did you feel a generation gap in the state? Because all your leaders were in their 70s.


Yes, I did. A generation gap was there.There was a little resentment in the beginning. People thought, how can a PCC president be only 33 years old? But Rajiv was a totally different kind of a person. He encouraged the youth and because of that a new generation came into the party.


n But the interesting thing is that your rival in the state is also your age, Chandrababu Naidu.


Yes, we are of the same age. In fact, we were together in Youth Congress, right from 1975 till 1983. When Chandrababu’s father-in-law became the CM, he left the party to join his father-in-law.


n And do you think, until then he believed in Congress values?


From 1978 to 1982, we were MLAs. Between 1980 and 1982, we were also ministers in the Congress party. We contested the 1983 elections as Congress nominees. I won and he lost. And in that election, Telugu Desam won the state. His father-in-law, N T Rama Rao, became the CM and three days after that he told [me] that there was pressure from home front and he wanted to change his party affiliation. I was really taken aback when he said that. I said, ‘What is this, Babu, till three days back, you were a minister in Congress party. The power is lost, fine, but it doesn’t mean that you go along with the power’.


n So, was it a pressure of power or pressure of the family?


I don’t know. He said that there was pressure from the party. I advised him against leaving the party but on the third day he left the party.


n But he said something very interesting lately. He’s now explaining his own loss of power to you. He is saying that the alliance with the BJP cost them a great deal. Do you sympathise with him, agree with him?


Maybe, he’s now thinking that the BJP is not that important for him. But in the last elections, in 1999, when he won, the BJP won that election. There was a pro-Vajpayee wave in the country. And he did win because of the BJP at that time.


n When will you roll back free power to farmers? Vilasrao Deshmukh offered free power after you did and then he rolled back in Maharashtra.


Unfortunately, Maharashtra doesn’t have a system like ours in the power sector. In spite of the free power, Andhra Pradesh Electrical Utilities have got the best of Crisil ratings.


n Some of it might be because of the reforms that Babu talked about?


Fine, reforms are good if they can do things like bringing down transmission and distribution losses. We are not against reforms. We never said that we are against reforms.


n But this was a good thing he did?


Bringing in reforms in the power sector was a good thing he did. And we are following it up in a more dynamic way.


n So, how much free power are you giving and to how many people? Is it really benefitting people or is it just a slogan?


It definitely benefits people. In the last one year, we gave free power to 23 lakh farmers. Since there was demand for more connections, we thought that we’ll zero in on those who actually need it more — those paying income tax, the big farmers, about 5 per cent of these people need not get free power. So, this year we are giving free power to 95 per cent of the farmers.


n You must be the only chief minister who says he can afford to give free power?


We are able to give them free power and there’s absolutely no problem. And it is really helping the farmers.


n And Maharashtra is no lesson to you?


Maharashtra has got its own problems and we have got our own problems and our own strengths. So, ultimately what we have to see is that if a farmer needs free power at a particular time, we have to help him.


n It’s like NTR’s Rs 2 per kg rice scheme.


No, it’s not that way. If by next polls, the conditions of the farmers are a lot more improved and at that time we feel that we can charge the farmers, we will tell the people that this is what we will do in the next term if and when we get re-elected.


n But still you don’t see it as a permanent thing, subsidising agriculture through free power. It is unsustainable?


Basically, as and when it is necessary, it has to be subsidised.


n So, you will keep reviewing it?


Yes, we will keep on reviewing it.


n But in my book it is like Rs 2 per kg rice.


The basic difference is that that’s an unproductive sop. This is a productive sop.


n How much extortion is now going on in your countryside by Naxalites?


In the first five or six months, we gave them an opportunity to talk and


police action was suspended. A rough estimate is that about Rs 50-60 crore has been collected by them and they procured good weapons, they planted landmines in a number of places. Well, it’s part of life and you get used to it.


n But are you feeling let down that they misused your ceasefire?


To some extent, yes.


n Was it a betrayal?


You can call it that if you want but originally when the talks started, we did say that the issue of arms has to be discussed. It was included as item number five in the agenda. They did discuss other aspects, but when it came to arms they said that we’ll discuss it the second round. But in the meantime, they tried to arm themselves. Okay, that’s what they thought. They wanted to use this opportunity to strengthen themselves. But in a democracy, for a strong government like ours, it’s not difficult. We’ll be able to maintain the law and order situation.


n So, what’s the solution now? Will you go after them or will you maintain a status quo?


Well, it’s not a matter of going after them. It’s a question of trying to win them over, win their cadres and ultimately if some kind of a situation can be managed where they will not have a breeding ground.


n Why did you let go of their leadership when the police had them surrounded? It is a mysterious incident. You had them in a jungle, you had them surrounded and you let them go. It gave the impression that your government was in league with them and there was some kind of a secret understanding.


It was not a question of letting them go. But the situation was such that if we would have gone ahead, the senior Naxalite leader, he would have perhaps got killed. But when the process of dialogue was still not discontinued, we thought let’s give them a chance.


n But it did demoralise the police because they thought, once we had them in our bag the politicians let them go.


Nothing like that. In a democracy, we have to find ways and means of how we can get the best out of a situation.


n But did you take that decision?


In fact, it was not mine. The home minister was contacted. At that time, I was in China.


n You were not contactable then?


I was not contactable then. But the government, by and large, stands by whatever he did.


n But law and order being a state subject, in a crucial situation like this, how could the decision be left to the Centre? If you were a non-Congress CM, you would never have allowed this.


I’m talking about my home minister not the Central government.


n Our impression was that the PM’s office was contacted. It was decided politically that it would be very uncomfortable if the entire top Naxalite leadership got wiped out in one operation.


It was not that way. The Centre had nothing to do with that.


n There was an article by K Gopala alleging that you gave your blessings to many killings and violence and your father himself was a victim of political violence. He died because of that.


That article is completely concocted. I don’t want to comment about it. My father getting killed in factional violence is totally different. Two years earlier to that, some Telugu Desam people were attacked by some Congress people in a neighbouring village and the Telugu Desam people wanted to take revenge on the Congress leadership.


n But there is a lot of political violence in Andhra, between Congress and TDP workers.


Unfortunately in the area called Rayalaseema, factional violence has been there for the past 80-90 years.


n Are you trying to control that now?


Yes. Totally in control now.


n Is that a priority now? To take away this shadow of violence — Naxalite or factional .


I’ll definitely try and do my best in this regard.









The Supreme Court’s celebrated Shah Bano judgment of 1985 cited Mohammad Iqbal’s observation: “The question which is likely to confront Muslim countries in the near future is whether the law of Islam is capable of evolution — a question which will require great intellectual effort and is sure to be answered in the affirmative.” Soon after Iqbal’s demise the question did confront the newly established nation-states of the Middle East and, as expected by India’s far-sighted poet-philosopher, was answered in the affirmative. Since 1969, I have been researching and writing on the reforms which country after country in the Muslim world has introduced into family law. Writing in the Indian Express recently, Javed Anand discussed that work to question why, ignoring religious sensitivities, the Law Commission of India failed to recommend the introduction of similar measures in India.


The oversensitivity of the Muslims of India in respect of their personal law is a social reality — and so is official consciousness of it. Muslim religious circles here have been incessantly intolerant to codification or reform; and the powers-that-be are always considerate to this intolerance. The Terms of Reference of the Law Commission are, each time it is reconstituted, set by the government — and never have these included any aspect of Muslim law. Of course, it can take up any important legal issue suo motu, but none of the 17 Commissions set up since 1955 had ever recommended any reforms in Muslim law. No consultation with the Commission was made before enacting any law for the Muslims, including the infamous maintenance law enacted for Muslim divorcees in the aftermath of the 1985 Shah Bano case and the 1995 Wakf Act. The Supreme Court’s recommendation in the 1995 Sarla Mudgal case that the issue of reform of minorities’ personal laws should be entrusted to the Law Commission (which in turn should interact with the


Minorities Commission) remains ineffective.


Mani Shankar Aiyer, commenting on the issue in his 2004 book Confessions of a Secular Fundamentalist wondered “What faith will the minorities have in the pronouncements of an all-Hindu Law Commission?” But the induction of a Muslim member in the 18th Law Commission in 2007 did not work either. Experience soon showed that on the question of perpetuating their ‘sacrosanct’ personal law — howsoever repugnant to the spirit of Islam its present practice may be — the community can disown even their most trusted well-wishers.


As in many family-law matters, Muslims are being inexplicably governed by outdated local customs repugnant to Islamic law, a report was drafted to recommend that — on the pattern of the scope of all other community-specific family laws of India — all Muslims everywhere in the country should, in family-law matters, be governed by Muslim law. The innocuous move was shouted down by religious leaders as a “conspiracy to pave the way for a uniform civil code.” The report had to be shelved.


The bigamy report addressed only the issue of sham conversions to Islam by unscrupulous non-Muslim men in a bid to escape anti-bigamy provisions of modern Hindu law. Since 1995, the Supreme Court has outlawed this practice: even by changing religion a married Hindu could not marry again without getting his first marriage dissolved. This report simply suggested that the judge-made law on the point, still being widely violated, be written by an amendment into the Hindu Marriage Act. It made no recommendation for amending Muslim law on bigamy — if it had, like the first report, this one too would have gone to the dustbin. We were not “terrified” by anything; we did say in our report that bigamy in its present form was against the spirit of Islam. We knew well that this realistic observation would create a storm in a teacup, and it did.


This emanates from certain myths: that what passes as ‘Muslim personal law’ here is the true Islamic law word for word; that blind adherence to it is covered by the right to religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution. Every exposition of the reality that Muslim law is applicable in India not as part of Islamic faith but as part of the Indian statute-book, and that the Constitution does in no way protect it, goes unheeded.


Thus any legislative reform or codification of Muslim law in this country is a distant dream. This state of affairs is of course not confined to India. In Bangladesh and Pakistan, Hindu law is stagnating where it stood on 15th August 1947 — its total overhaul in India remains foreign to those countries.


In this situation the judiciary has an important role to play. In some recent cases the courts have made admirable efforts to read principles of Muslim law in their correct perspective. Religious circles see these rulings as mudakhalat fid-din or interference in religion. That perception might continue, but so must the on-going process of judicial restoration of true Islamic law. The massive reform of Muslim law in the


Muslim countries may have no persuasive value for religious circles in India, but for the Indian judiciary it has.


The author is the Chairman of Amity University’s Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and member of the 18th Law Commission








You won't get enough out of college unless you cut through jargon, says a professor with 46 years of experience


FRESHMEN are often overwhelmedbytheintellectualchallenge of college -- so many subjects to be covered, so many facts, methods and philosophical `isms' to sort out, so many big words to assimilate. As if that weren't enough, what your different instructors tell you may be flatly contradictory.


Studentsunderstandablycopewith this cognitive dissonance by giving each of their teachers in turn whatever he or she seems to want. Students learn to be free-market capitalists in one course and socialists in the next, universalists in the morning and relativists after lunch. This tactic has got many a student through college, but the trouble is that, even when each course is excellent in itself, jumping through a series of hoops doesn't add up to a real socialisation into the ways of intellectual culture.


What the most successful college students do, in my experience, is cut through the clutter of jargons, methods and ideological differences to locate the common practices of argument and analysis hidden behind it all. Contrary to the cliché that no "one size fits all" educational recipe ispossible,successfulacademicsofall fields and intellectual persuasions make some key moves that you can emulate: 1. Recognise that knowing a lot of stuff won't do you much good unless you can do something with what you know by turning it into an argument.


2.Paycloseattentiontowhatothers are saying and writing and then summarise their arguments and assumptions in a recognizable way. Work especially on summarising the views that go most against your own.


3. As you summarise, look not only for the thesis of an argument, but for whoorwhatprovokedit--thepoints of controversy.


4. Usethesesummariestomotivate what you say and to indicate why it needs saying. Don't be afraid to give yourownopinion,especiallyifyoucan back it up with reasons and evidence, but don't disagree with anything without carefully summarising it first.


It's too often a secret that only a minority of high achievers figure out, but the better you get at entering the conversation by summarising it and putting in your own oar, the more you'll get out of your college education.











Initiated eight years ago, the Doha trade talks have been limping from one logjam to another, with a number of countries and international media holding India responsible for the latest one last year. Nine days and many wakeful nights into the longest ministerial meeting in the WTO’s history, director-general Pascal Lamy had pulled off convergence on 18 of the 20 items on his list. But India hauled up the reins on the special safeguard mechanism set up to protect developing countries’ farmers in the event of an import surge. It asked for a higher safeguard trigger than the US was willing to grant. With new trade leaderships taking over in India, EU and the US since then, there grew hope that the impasse would be sorted out, finally. Delivering on this hope, India initiated the mini-ministerial held here last week. That meet has in turn delivered a unanimous agreement from trade ministers of over 35 countries that they will resume stalled negotiations, reconvening in Geneva in seven days to make plans for sorting out the key, contentious issues. Committing to reenergising Doha, they also agreed that a deal could be done by the end of 2010. This is an important commitment taken together with that made by G20 finance leaders over the weekend: they will stick to already earmarked stimulus packages for now. A coordinated withdrawal looks likely by end of 2010. There would be nothing better than a new, global trade deal at that time, to take over the role of pumping vitamins into the international trading system.


Estimates vary on how a successful Doha round trade deal could boost the global economy—the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics’s calculation is that GDP gains will be between $300 billion-$700 billion a year. That may be too liberal, or too conservative, only time will tell. But what’s certain is that they will be spread between developed and developing countries. As WTO proponents like Pascal Lamy are fond of saying, history tells us that no poor country has ever become wealthy without trade. But stronger negotiators will obviously end up with better deals. That’s the nature of mercantilist trade negotiations. Much is expected of India’s new Commerce Minister on this front. He didn’t wait long after taking over the ministership before saying he was keen on a successful completion of the Doha round. Already a feather-in-the-cap strong with the Delhi mini-ministerial, he now has to lay out what his national constituency will be getting in return for breaking deadlocks and building consensus.






Momentum is really building up for December’s Copenhagen summit, where 192 countries will try to produce a new, global climate change treaty. This week, the Indian government published its first detailed emissions data since 2004. The country’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions at the time were calculated at 1.3 tonnes. Five new climate modelling studies—one each by the Energy Research Institute and McKinsey&Co reportedly didn’t get government support—project that these emissions will rise to 2.77-5 tonnes by 2031, remaining behind 2005 global averages even accounting for the most aggressive growth scenarios. Having long flaunted a unilateral commitment not to allow per capita greenhouse emissions to exceed those of developed countries, India will be using these studies to rebuttress its case at Copenhagen. On the one hand, the respectable credentials of studies’ authors lend strength to India’s claims. On the other hand, and this is what we have been consistently arguing, India’s official investment in per capita rather than absolute emissions may hurt its case in the long run. Like Nicholas Stern’s 2006 climate change review, various studies have argued that early action on emissions is much cheaper than deferring curbs to emissions. And the international press has been playing up the studies with a tagline you won’t hear the environments and forests ministry endorsing: India’s greenhouse gas emissions will quadruple over the next 20 years.


Resting on the equity principle, India keeps arguing that since climate change is not taking place due to current emissions alone, industrialised countries must make extra commitments to reflect their greenhouse leads. But the reality is that, say, the Obama administration is having a hard enough time domestically selling a 5% emissions cut over 1990 levels, while India has been demanding eight times that concession. And the stakes of such a stalemate keep going up. Of course, the US has threatened to impose punitive duties on imports from countries that don’t try to limit their carbon emissions, with India being among the most noticeable dodgers on this front. Now Pascal Lamy has suggested that the failure to reach an agreement at Copenhagen is likely to make the WTO deal difficult to achieve. More worryingly for India, which has often taken comfort from its official position being shared with the biggest of emerging giants, China and the US may be negotiating a two-way agreement ahead of Copenhagen. Plentiful studies are being released on that front too, but they are focused on dollar signs. Like how much it will cost to capture and bury carbon dioxide from China’s power plants. Those kinds of numbers look more likely to win actual markdowns, technological or otherwise.








The WTO is a curious creature. Formed with the objective of promoting the universal economic good, free trade, it is more often that not held hostage by mercantilist (give but only if you get something) or narrow national (read protectionist) interests. Also, hailed as the most evolved international organisation mainly because of its truly democratic constitution (one nation one vote), it suffers from all the problems that other ‘less evolved’ international organisations do—chiefly lethargy and indecision. It’s hardly surprising that the Doha Round has been going for eight years now—many of the previous successful rounds took a decade in negotiating.


Viewed by itself, the much celebrated Delhi ‘mini-ministerial’ did not seem to yield anything worthy of being tagged a ‘breakthrough’. However, when put in the context of the painful and protracted process that multilateral trade negotiations at the WTO are, the Delhi meeting, and by transitivity its host and chair, India, can claim some success.


Remember that the meeting on September 3 and September 4 was not a forum for negotiations, but a forum instead to kick-start negotiations that have now been stalled for over a year. The last time serious negotiations were attempted, in July 2008, they ended with such deep disagreement that Pascal Lamy, Director General WTO, was forced to temporarily suspend the Doha round. In the interim between then and now, ambassadors in Geneva tried to talk but with no serious interest from key capitals. The crucial ‘breakthrough’ achievement of the Delhi meeting is, therefore, that in about a week from now, starting September 14 chief negotiators deputed from country capitals (where all key decisions end up being made) are to re-start formal negotiations.


The fact that India insisted on inviting a diverse range of countries to the Delhi meeting, rather just a select few players lends the imminent negotiations more legitimacy than if they had been propelled by just a group of 4 or 5 key countries. The commerce ministry must, therefore, get credit for their organisation and chaperoning of this meeting.


That’s all very clear and perhaps well known. What’s in fact more interesting is the subtext of the Delhi meeting.


For Indian trade diplomacy, this meeting marks a significant departure in tactics. For a long time now, India has been viewed as the major obstacle to the conclusion of a new round of trade talks. Successive commerce ministers from India cutting across different governments—Murasoli Maran, Arun Shourie (very briefly), Arun Jaitley, all NDA and Kamal Nath, UPA I—made a global name for themselves as defenders of the interests of developing countries, by repeatedly (and often single-handedly) stalling crucial meetings of the WTO.


Of course, it can be nobody’s case that a bad deal is better than no-deal—there were no doubt occasions when India was justified in putting a spoke in the wheel—but acquiring the reputation of the perpetual game spoiler wasn’t necessarily in India’s best long term interest. Multilateralism is a difficult game, but it’s the best game—most equitable and most beneficial on the whole—in town.


India can stall the WTO, but only at the cost of ‘trade diverting’ free trade areas (many of which we have signed ourselves). In the longer term, it is the smaller developing countries (whose interests we claim to represent) which are hurt because of regional FTAs between bigger players.


Now, however, by hosting a meeting which has kick-started negotiations, India may have made the crucial change from being a disruptive spoilt sport, to a more constructive facilitator of multilateral trade talks. For Indian trade diplomats, this is perhaps the biggest achievement of the ‘mini-ministerial’ in Delhi. It positions us better for the negotiations when they restart—it will be difficult for other countries to pin us down as the spoilers if things do not go according to plan (always likely in complex negotiations).


There is, of course, another interesting subtext to India’s changed position. And that is the change of regime in the US in January this year. As long as the free-trading Republicans and George W Bush were in charge, the US was likely to agree on some deal.


Now, the reality of a Democratic administration and democratic majorities in the US Congress—both instinctively against free trade—will shift the onus of a real breakthrough to the US. India will, of course, have to concede some ground, most likely on agriculture and safeguards, but it will demand something in return, most likely on services, but also agricultural subsidies. It will be interesting to see how the current US administration responds (and not just to India’s demands). If they fail to budge on issues of concern, particularly to developing countries, then it will be clear who the spoiler really is.


The real game begins now, but India’s trade diplomats have already scored.








When concentrated interests effectively appropriate a collective narrative there’s a potent recipe for policy distortion. A striking example is the debate over health reform in the United States. The irony is that this blend is the biggest threat to the US long-term fiscal position.


To a non-American—and undoubtedly to many Americans—the health care debate has at times a surreal air. The problems seem obvious. There is something quintessentially American about a system that combines abundant spending, a seemingly in-built tendency to demand more, and greater exclusion than any other rich country.


As is well known, the US health system is extraordinarily expensive by international standards. In 20007—for which the OECD has comparable data—the United States spent 16 per cent of GDP on healthcare, compared with 9 per cent for the OECD average. The average annual cost is now over $8000 per person. This is a big problem for the US fiscal position because substantial parts of the health system are already publicly financed. Most important is Medicare, that covers the elderly. Medicaid, the publicly financed programme for the destitute, also contributes. The high cost of the overall health system directly affects these government programmes. Absent major change, they constitute a much bigger future threat to fiscal stability than social security or financial sector bailouts.


High costs are not delivering better results. Some Americans do receive excellent, high-technology service. But it is not at all clear that average care is better. The US actually has less beds, physicians and nurses per person than the OECD average. And overall health outcomes are bad by OECD standards, with lower life expectancy and significantly higher infant mortality than the average. So what is going on? And why is reform so hard? Here are three things.


First, unlike any other industrialised society, the US has no guarantee of health insurance. The core of the system is private insurance for the non-elderly, with no mandate on either citizens or insurers to provide coverage for all. The private health insurance industry has an interest in this system. It does not have an interest in greater public management that would hold down costs either by greater regulation (as in the Swiss model) or by competition from a public insurance agency (as was on the table in recent months, and may be off the table now.) This interest translates into influence: the health insurance industry is a big contributor to campaign finance, of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress.


Second, there are structural incentives for high and growing costs. Doctors and hospitals have few incentives for looking for the most cost-effective solution to their patients’ problems when private insurance companies (or Medicare) will pay. The incentives are to go for more diagnostic tests and more procedures. Financial gains for medical firms and individuals are aligned with the seemingly virtuous pursuit of every medical pathway when health is at stake . In a compelling piece in the New Yorker in June, Atul Gawande, a medical doctor, visited the most expensive health market in the US, in McAllen, Texas—that has much higher costs per patient than other markets, including some markets with outstanding care, and even than nearby markets in Texas. This was not because of worse health conditions or better health care. It was because of a tendency amongst doctors to do more of everything, a tendency the author linked with a growing link with a culture of money, of looking, explicitly or implicitly, to the financial payoff from medical interactions with people.


Third, deeply American narratives of self-reliance and small government were appropriated by critics of health reform, often with bizarre accusations of how public involvement works in practice. “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!” was a refrain in August townhall meetings. Apart from the fact that Medicare is a government programme, there is a larger irony. In the absence of either more public involvement or public regulation of this unusual market, there will be ever greater public spending, alongside continued influence of health insurance and medical interests. That is surely not what these citizens had in mind.


So what does this imply for health policy reform in the US, and indeed to change in general? There are good technical alternatives on the table. But more important than this is the need to pay attention to the incentives that shape the existing system, to the power of concentrated interests, and to not lose control of the narrative. After all, providing decent health care for all and resisting the power of special interests are persuasive, and indeed American, narratives.


The writer is at the Harvard Kennedy School, Institute of Social & Economic Change and the Centre for Policy Research







Sebi introduced Clause 49 (Corporate Governance) of the Listing Agreement with a mission to ensure adoption of best practices in  corporate governance. Undoubtedly, this regulatory provision by Sebi has added value in this direction.  As one of the steps towards this goal, the government introduced nominee directors, including independent directors, on the boards of public sector enterprises (PSEs) who were conceptualised as the bridge between the government and enterprise. As such, these independent directors were given the twin objective to safeguard the interest of the government, other shareholders and the enterprise. To play this dual role, they are supposed to approve the agenda in board meetings, keeping in view the twin objectives. They are also required to fairly assess that all statutory liabilities, loan repayments as agreed with financial institutions and interest on loan capital have been duly paid.


It is now the time to review the performance of these independent directors. The problem is, if there is no feedback/review mechanism on their performance, there is a likelihood of many aberrations depending upon the quality, nature and aptitude of independent directors.  So, while there is no denying the fact that independent directors are the real watchdogs, there is no harm in continously evaluating their performance.


Now, even though there is a provision for laying down code of conduct (which could be one way to evaluate independent directors) for all board members of the company, this has been limited to a few ritualistic disclosures by them. There is a need to develop a universal code of conduct, taking into consideration past experience and also going by international experience. It appears some exercise has already been initiated by the department of public enterprises (DPE) and Public Enterprises Selection Board (PESB), but the exercise will not be complete unless the views of all stakeholders like government departments, academicians, researchers and CEOs of PSEs (and private sector) are shared at one platform to arrive at a meaningful code of conduct. 


The author is director general, SCOPE








In ruling that the office of the Supreme Court of India falls under the purview of the Right to Information Act 2005, the Delhi High Court has adopted a bold and legally unexceptionable position that has far-reaching implications for judicial accountability. All those who believe that greater transparency will not only improve the functioning of the judiciary but also strengthen public faith in it will welcome the broad features of the judgment. The verdict was a result of the Supreme Court’s peculiar decision to petition the Delhi High Court against an innocuous Central Information Commission order. In that, the CIC had asked the Supreme Court to disclose to an RTI applicant whether judges were declaring their assets to their respective Chief Justices in accordance with a 1997 court resolution. In his 72-page judgment, Justice Ravindra Bhat strongly controverts the Supreme Court’s contention that the Chief Justice of India holds information about judges’ assets in a “fiduciary” capacity and so this information is exempt from disclosure under the RTI Act. At the same time, he makes a distinction between the information that was sought by the RTI applicant (namely, whether judges were disclosing their assets pursuant to the 1997 resolution) and the actual content of the asset declarations. As far as the latter goes, it is not ordinarily subject to disclosure and may be accessed only under Section 8(1)(j), which applies to cases where the “larger public interest satisfies the disclosure of such information.”


In the recently changed circumstances in which Supreme Court judges and many High Court judges have agreed to publicly disclose assets, the impact of the Delhi High Court’s ruling is likely to be limited. The wider ramification of the judgment lies in its view that the office of the CJI is a public authority under the RTI Act. A section of the judiciary fears that this will open other information — for example, communications relating to appointments and promotions — pertaining to the functioning of the Court to public scrutiny. In most cases, holding back information from the public domain is not really justified and greater transparency will only boost the people’s confidence in the judiciary, while opposing it will only strengthen the impression there is something to hide. As Justice Bhat’s judgment persuasively asks, when the office of the President of India is covered by the RTI Act, is there really a case for keeping the higher judiciary insulated from it? The Supreme Court should accept the Delhi High Court judgment with grace and resist the temptation of appealing against it. If it does otherwise, it will weaken public confidence in the judicial system.





After coming to power in February 2008, the Pakistan People’s Party made promising moves for reconciliation with Balochistan. A military operation from 2002 had left the people of the province chafing against the federation of Pakistan. The alienation climbed new heights after the August 26, 2006 killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, the face of the Baloch struggle for more provincial autonomy. Balochistan is the country’s largest province in geographical terms; it is richest in natural resources thanks to its gas and oil fields, but least developed and most poor. For decades, the Baloch have demanded greater control over provincial resources, a more generous share of the royalties from the federal government’s sales of the gas to other provinces, plus a larger slice of the national financial pie. The Musharraf regime’s heavy-handed military response to a low-level insurgency led to killings and disappearances of Baloch nationalist activists on an appalling scale. When the PPP took over, Asif Ali Zardari as the leader of the party sagaciously offered an “unconditional apology” and pledged to “embark on a new highway of healing and mutual respect.” But since then the government has done little to keep this pledge. Instead Baloch nationalists see the PPP government continuing with the Musharraf legacy — the killings and arrests have not stopped; political activists remain jailed; and, with the increase in the activities of Baloch militant outfits, a demand for the military’s withdrawal from the province has gone unheard.


A parliamentary committee recently made recommendations for improving Balochistan’s uneasy relationship with the federation. While Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has approved this package, the government needs a road map for its implementation. It is evident that no package for Balochistan can be implemented without military approval. A further complication is the presence of a large ethnic Pashtun population with demands of its own, while the existence of Taliban safe havens in and around the provincial capital Quetta has compounded the security situation. Baloch nationalists allege that the government is not serious about going after the Taliban in the province as they serve to undermine the nationalist cause. For its part, Islamabad alleges an ‘Indian hand’ in the troubles. Pakistan is yet to come up with any concrete evidence on this but externalising a more than three-decade-old problem can bring only limited returns. With a government committed to democratic rule, Pakistan will be best served if it comes up with bold measures to address the grievances of the Baloch people.









Unfazed by either drought or swine flu, the Congress party in the State was celebrating a victory in the upcoming Assembly elections even before these had been announced. The Congress-NCP alliance had won 25 of the State’s 48 Lok Sabha seats in May this year. The rival Sena-BJP front won 20 and others took 3. This convinced the Congress of two things. One, they would repeat their win in the Assembly polls now set for October 13. The ‘bounce’ from the Lok Sabha win will boost them further. And two, the NCP is at their mercy (which at this point it does seem to be).


In the Lok Sabha polls this year, the Congress-NCP led in 133 of 288 Assembly segments. That’s just eleven more than the number of segments the BJP-Sena alliance led in. If this were repeated in the Assembly polls, neither side would have a majority on its own. And new fronts will cause upsets in sundry seats. Then what accounts for the confidence? In two words — Raj Thackeray. The MNS’s showing torpedoed the Shiv Sena in the Mumbai-Thane region. (Never mind that these polls could be fought on different terms and issues.)


With voting just over a month away, it’s worth asking: How has this State done in the past few years? How have governments performed?


Maharashtra lost two million jobs before the “economic slowdown” began. Food production was reckoned to have fallen 24 per cent — oilseeds 49 per cent and sugarcane 43 per cent — in 2008-09. All that, without a drought. The State is third from the bottom in the country in terms of people living in poverty. Fifth from the bottom in terms of percentages. Over thirty million people, or close to a third of Maharashtra’s population, are BPL. It is also the State worst-hit by a policy-driven agrarian crisis — a very different thing from drought. It has seen over 40,000 farmers suicides since 1995.


The State government’s own economic survey reveals plenty. It shows that employment in Maharashtra, “which was on the rise till 2004-05 at 4.3 crore, declined to 4.1 crore in 2007-08, clearly indicating the footprint of recession.” The last six words are a joke. That figure ends at March 2008. The global shock struck more than five months later. It does raise the question, though: if the State could lose so many jobs before the slowdown, how many must have vanished once that began?


Maharashtra lost those two million jobs in 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08. It means that, on average, over 1,800 people lost their jobs every day in that period. In a time of rising food prices (and falling foodgrain output in the State). So how did it fare in 2008-09? We don’t know the half of it. But we do know that employment generation under various schemes fell 30 per cent. In fact a drop of 18 million days compared to 2007-08.


However, it was also during that time that India made steady progress in the Forbes lists of dollar billionaires, crossing the 51 mark (i.e. Rank 4 in the world) by 2008. More than 20 of those billionaires had an address in Mumbai. One of them is doing the city proud, building what must rank amongst the costliest residences in the planet. That, while over half the people in his city rot in slums. His Xanadu — with 27 storeys and three helipads — will be a tourist landmark. Also a shining symbol of the obscene inequality this State revels in.


As the price rise shredded household budgets these past few years, some governments tried to reduce its impact on their people. Those in Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, amongst others, unilaterally increased the “BPL population” in their states. They then gave them cheap rice at Rs. 2 a kilo. (Or even Rs. 1 a kilo as in Tamil Nadu). The government of Maharashtra did nothing of the sort. The number of workdays fell when a hungry population needed them most.


Next door, Andhra Pradesh mourns a chief minister who will be remembered for boosting the NREGs, old age and women’s pensions, and rice at Rs. 2 a kilo. The previous chief minister of Maharashtra’s most memorable moment came when he visited the terror-attack shattered Taj and Trident Hotels with his actor son and Bollywood’s Ram Gopal Varma in tow. Disaster tourists checking out the rich cinematic promise thrown up by the tragic events. But he too cared for the down and out, too, he told the media. After all, pointed out Mr. Vilasrao Deshmukh, he had not prosecuted all those farmers committing suicide in his State on his watch. “Committing suicide is an offence under the Indian Penal Code. But did we book any farmer for this offence? Have you reported that?” (The Hindustan Times, October 31, 2007).


The present Chief Minister, less given to such talk, nonetheless declares he will take the State even further ahead. “It is my dream to raise the per capita income in the state to Rs. 1 lakh.” Well he’s got part of it right. It is a dream. The government is proud that Maharashtra’s per capita income (2007-08) “is higher than the national income.” And that “the State ranks second after Haryana among the major states of India.” The State’s per capita income was a hefty Rs. 47,051. Per capita National Income was a piffling Rs. 33,282.


The State’s per capita income is an odd construct resting on a few rich regions. Move out of those and it plummets. Mumbai — home to more dollar billionaires than all the Nordic nations put together in 2008 — has a per capita income of Rs. 73,930. In the well-off Konkan region that is Rs. 66,197. Get down to Aurangabad in Marathwada and you’re looking at Rs. 30,499. Cross into Vidharbha and you’re a little over Rs. 29,000. So the Rs. 47,051 figure reflects no one’s reality well. What’s clear are the stunning regional, class and caste inequalities of the State.


Only Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have more human beings below the poverty line than Maharashtra does. In percentage terms (at 30.7 per cent BPL), the State moves up a slot — above Madhya Pradesh amongst bigger states. In 1993-94, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Maharashtra had more or less the same BPL ratio — around 36 per cent. By 2004-05 those two states had sharply reduced their poverty figures both in absolute terms and in percentages. Maharashtra’s percentage fell much less than theirs. And the Sate’s total BPL number went up not down. But heck, let’s dream. Rs. 1 lakh per capita income it shall be.


Mumbai, too, with all its wealth, has its own Third World within: The National Family Health Survey (NFHS - 3) shows us that 40 per cent of children below 3 years of age in Mumbai are malnourished. That, by the way, is higher than the Sate’s average. Mumbai also has millions who live on less than Rs. 19 a day. Yet rural-urban disparities, too, are real. As the NGO Sathi points out in its “Report on Health Inequities in Maharashtra,” the rural parts of the state have 22 hospital beds per lakh of population. In urban Maharashtra, that is 431 beds. This does not stop the government from claiming to be “at the forefront of health care development in India.”


Per capita foodgrain production in Maharashtra was just about 100 kilograms (2004-05) says the State’s economic survey. (That’s a nearly 40 per cent deficit against its minimum requirement.) It was around 212 in Madhya Pradesh, 166 in Andhra Pradesh, 186 in Karnataka, all neighbours. It was 262 kg in Bihar at the time.


And then there’s all those farmers the government was nice to. The suicide victims it did not prosecute. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data reveal 40,666 farmers suicides in Maharashtra between 1995 and 2007. The State accounts for over a fifth of all such deaths in India. In 2007, Maharashtra logged over 38 per cent of all farm suicides in the five States worst-hit by the phenomenon. It was the only State that saw, since 1997, an increase of over 100 per cent in farm suicides — while actually recording a two per cent decline in suicides by non-farmers.


All this has not dampened the Congress’ spirit. It is sure it will win the way it did in the Lok Sabha polls: against a split opposition, with the Shiv Sena hobbled by a lame duck BJP on the one hand and undercut by an aggressive Raj Thackeray on the other. But there are more fronts in the fray across the State this time. And with multi-cornered contests in almost all seats, there could be some major upsets. The more so in a situation where no one is sitting on a majority.








In this media era, people expect stories and information to be constantly updated; the correction is, in essence, a form of update, albeit one that addresses past error rather than breaking news. Corrections must not be ghettoised or hidden or perceived as punishment; rather, they should be part of the job of reporting and editing.”


Craig Silverman in his Regret the Error — How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech (Sterling Publishing Co. Inc., New York. 2007)


One of the three “key objectives” behind the appointment of the Readers’ Editor of The Hindu, as stated in the preamble to the terms of reference, is “to create a new visible framework to improve accuracy, verification, and standards in the newspaper.” The other two aims are to institutionalise the practice of self-regulation, and to strengthen bonds between the newspaper and its readers including those of the online edition.


It is true that in respect of the objectives of self-regulation and strengthening newspaper-reader bonds, there is still a long way to go, given the complexities of the tasks involved. However, in the case of the objective of commitment to accuracy, I think even the sceptical among readers will recognise that the initiatives taken, over a three-year period, by the office of the Readers’ Editor with the cooperation of readers from many publishing centres have succeeded to a large extent in ensuring early detection of errors, resolving ambiguity in expression, and publishing timely corrections and clarifications.


What happens in this process is a joint effort by the newspaper and its alert and discerning readers dedicated to the cause of an error-free newspaper. Errors in the different editions of the paper spotted by readers in different parts of the country (and sometimes abroad) reach the office of the Readers’ Editor in Chennai through various channels of communication. After preliminary verification, they are sent, mostly by e-mail, to the heads of the editorial desk, bureau chiefs, or other persons connected with the production of the newspaper in the relevant centres for their response. Thus, only after checking with the journalists concerned does the Readers’ Editor decide on the corrections and clarifications. This procedure evolved by my predecessor, K. Narayanan, has been working remarkably well.


This is not possible without the support of the reporters and the editorial staff, independent of their place in the institutional hierarchy. If the reader observations are correct, the journalists confirm the mistakes and send their replies, promptly in most cases, for inclusion in the “Corrections and Clarifications” column, which is published in the Op-Ed page five days a week, Tuesday to Saturday. All error-related messages from readers are directly sent to the journalists or others concerned and their replies are obtained. There is no need for any reader to conduct personal verification with the reporter or other staff members. This rules out tensions and undue pressures that may possibly be generated by direct and possibly subjective confrontation between reader and journalist. (The reality is that some readers use intemperate and uncivil language in their letters, phone calls, and emails while commenting on reports in which they find errors.)


Most readers who participate in the process of corrections seem to be happy with the present arrangement. However, unfortunately, a few readers get the telephone numbers of the reporters or other editorial staff members and try to put pressure on them to get information. This not only embarrasses the journalists concerned but also affects their morale. A senior correspondent, known for his articles on subjects relating to issues of strategic importance, and interviews with leading scientists and technologists, says that under the pretext of seeking clarification these people try to extract from him information that goes beyond the article or interview. A young reporter says that such callers use harsh words, which badly affect “our commitment to the profession and also our self-respect.” Another says: “The journalists, particularly the young ones, are not necessarily experts in every field they report on. Whatever information we have we are willing to share with others. We can at best direct them to experts in the field. But they ask for more.”


It is evident that journalists working in a pressure-cooker situation, writing on a variety of subjects to tough deadlines, need to be protected from such pressures. However, as I have noted, only a small number of callers with hidden interests indulge in such games. Early in my role as Readers’ Editor, I was pleased to learn that notwithstanding the occasional unpleasant experience, The Hindu’s journalists have a good attitude: they willingly join knowledgeable and serious readers in this long process of achieving an error-free newspaper.


The effort to ensure accuracy, however, needs more than this. Training the journalists, providing necessary tools to them, and rewarding them for good work and for measurable improvement will go a long way in achieving this. Training, in fact, must begin much before young women and men enter the profession. The journalism schools can contribute a great deal to the cause of accuracy in journalism, which has been described as “the discipline of verification.”









* America’s image in Pakistan is worse off today than before

* Paradoxically, Pakistanis also long for better relations with the U.S.


One thing that the United States should have learnt several times over by now about its complex relationship with Pakistan is that the Beatles were right: money really can’t buy you love. In the coming months, the U.S. Congress is expected to adopt the Kerry-Lugar Bill authorising the Obama Administration to triple non-military aid to Pakistan, translating into $1.5 billion annually, or a total of $ 7.5 billion over five years. Separately, military aid is also set to increase from the current annual $400 million.


Both Pakistan and the U.S. have held this up as a reflection of the new will in Washington to build a long-term partnership with Pakistan and strengthen democracy through development, rather than view bilateral ties through the narrow prism of the Afghan war and related security issues.


But the promise of more money has not helped win Pakistani hearts and minds, seen as crucial for the success of U.S. efforts in neighbouring Afghanistan. If anything, America’s image in Pakistan is worse off today than before.


The raging controversy over the expansion of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad is an example. Reports in the Pakistani media project the new under-construction premises as a high-tech spooks-and-soldiers centre for undercover agents and hundreds — by some accounts thousands — of Marines, that will give the U.S. a bigger “strategic footprint” in Pakistan. The $1 billion building is coming up on 18 acres in the highly-guarded Diplomatic Enclave.



The negative publicity forced the U.S. Embassy to hold two rounds of rare on-record briefings for local journalists to justify the expansion, one by Ambassador Anne Patterson. The envoy was at pains to stress that the number of Marines would be fewer than 20, strictly for guard duties at the Embassy. She also explained a planned staff increase as required to administer the larger amounts of financial aid to Pakistan.


While the envoy did not succeed in drawing a line under the controversy, near-daily incidents involving Americans are fuelling more Pakistani suspicions and animosity towards the U.S.


These days, despite U.S. and Pakistan government denials, it is all about Blackwater. Rumours are rife that the controversial U.S. security company to which the CIA has reportedly outsourced some of its anti-terror operations in Afghanistan has deployed countless personnel in Pakistan.


A recent encounter between the police and four American citizens travelling in two cars with weapons and their local aides has fuelled the suspicion. The Americans protested at being stopped and questioned but were hauled off to a police station anyway, where a Pakistani army officer had to be dispatched for their release. The popular verdict: “Blackwater.”


Residents of posh sectors in Islamabad and Peshawar are suddenly complaining of too many “foreigners” in their neighbourhood. A television channel showed close-up clips of houses in Islamabad where, it said, “FBI and CIA agents” were staying, forcing the American residents in those houses to pack up and move out within hours for fear of being attacked.



A Pew Global Attitudes survey in Pakistan this June found an overwhelming 64 per cent of respondents see the U.S as an enemy. At U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2008 election, his Muslim middle name Hussein caused much excitement in Pakistan, but the survey showed only 13 per cent had confidence in him, the lowest in the world.


Concerned the continuing negative image could undermine the new Afpak strategy even before it has got off the ground, the U.S. has been desperate to clear the “misconceptions” about its role in the region. So far it has been a losing battle.


When Richard Holbrooke visited Pakistan in June with a promise of additional U.S. financial assistance for people displaced by the fighting in Swat, , the Afpak Special Envoy urged Pakistani media to tell “the truth” about how much the U.S. was doing in Pakistan as its single largest donor.


Sadly for him, media attention was taken up by the perceived protocol breach committed by President Zardari in holding a joint press conference with a mere special envoy.


Diplomatic observers are often struck by the contrast between this and the deference with which Pakistanis view Saudi involvement in their domestic issues. Pakistanis believe the U.S. must only blame itself. Interestingly, a lot of the anti-Americanism is linked to the blossoming of U.S.-India ties.


Pakistanis see the U.S. as having forced the present Afghan war on them, and this as the reason for their country’s problems. The planned U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan has no support. The growing U.S.-India friendship, including their cooperation in Afghanistan, has set off fears that the two are plotting together to break up Pakistan and seize its nuclear weapons. The U.S. is blamed for not working on India for a settlement on Kashmir. In the Pew survey, 54 per cent respondents saw the U.S. as generally siding with India.


Pakistanis hate the U.S. for the drone strikes in the tribal areas for the alleged killings hundreds of innocents. They also see the drones as a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.


Pakistani grievances include U.S. support to military rulers, and the manner in which it abandoned their country after the anti-Soviet Afghan war. The unresolved Palestine issue and Iraq are seen as evidence of America’s “anti-Muslim” mindset.


Pakistanis see the U.S. as duplicitous, on the one hand making soothing sounds about its importance as an ally, and on the other leaking to the American press “anti-Pakistan stories” whether it is about concerns for the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, or the recent accusations that Pakistan retrofitted the Harpoon missile. Some have seen a link between the Harpoon controversy and the possible delays in the adoption of the Kerry-Lugar Bill.



Tariq Fatemi, a former diplomat and foreign policy adviser to opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, lays at least part of the blame for the current wave of anti-Americanism on the government’s inability to create a national consensus for cooperation with the U.S.


“If the anti-Americanism continues to grow, and there is no effort by the government to explain to parliament, to opposition parties why this relationship is important and what benefits it holds for Pakistan, you will see a reduction in the public support for the kind of operations that the army is presently engaged in,” Mr. Fatemi said.

For instance, he said, unless the government won national support for an operation in South Waziristan, which the U.S. wants the Pakistan Army to carry out, Pakistanis were likely to oppose it as something being done at the behest of a foreign power.


The U.S. too believes the government should be more pro-active in defending the relationship, but the PPP-led set-up, with a weak leadership already seen as far too pro-American, clearly does not want to risk it.


Diplomatic observers suspect some of the recent bad press was orchestrated by sections within the Pakistani ruling set-up in response to American pressure on the Pakistan Army to begin the South Waziristan operations. The Americans are apparently keen that the operation must begin before the adoption of the Kerry-Lugar Bill.


Virtually helpless to stop the tide of negative opinion in Pakistan, the U.S. Ambassador has now reportedly taken to personally calling media house bosses to complain about the coverage.


But the paradox, or the good news for Washington, is that Pakistanis also long for better relations with the U.S. The Pew survey found that a majority of 53 per cent respondents felt it was important for relations between the two countries to improve.


On blogs and on the streets, Pakistanis think this can happen only if the U.S. packed up and left Afghanistan, named and shamed India for its alleged meddling in Balochistan and weighed in on the side of Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir.



Shafqat Mahmood, a political commentator, has a simpler prescription. According to him, there is a significant section of Pakistanis who have a positive view of the American role, but these are the English-speaking elite beneficiaries of the educational, official, military and business ties with the U.S. He suggested it was time U.S. spread its money further so the “masses” could see some benefit for themselves in this relationship.


“People still want to know what happened to the $11 billion that was given by the U.S. to the Musharraf regime,” he said. His advice to the Americans: build free hospitals across Pakistan or construct a mass transit system in Lahore or Karachi, and see the American image improve.


Or, as Mr. Fatemi said, give Pakistani goods access to the U.S. market, which would be appreciated more than hand-outs as it would bring direct benefits to local industry and employment.


Meanwhile, President Asif Ali Zardari is off on an official visit to the U.S. later this month. Aside from the U.N. General Assembly, he will attend the summit meeting of Friends of Democratic Pakistan, a grouping of donor countries put together by the Obama Administration. The U.S. Congress too will reconvene at the same time after a recess and is expected to take up the Kerry-Lugar Bill. But there is no sign yet of an operation in South Waziristan. President Zardari’s visit will be judged at home for how well he presents Pakistan’s case and concerns, a new test of his legitimacy and credibility, as it will for America’s “intentions” and image in Pakistan.









* While the term astroturfing goes back to the mid-1980s, the practice began many more years ago

* Despite checks and balances, some people remain concerned that the power remains firmly with the astroturfers


What do healthcare reform, climate change and financial regulation have in common? The answer is that they are all issues covered by astroturf, the practice of creating fake grassroots movements, usually by lobbyists and PR experts. These attempts to manipulate the media and public opinion seem to be on the rise — spurred on in part by the political mood and the reach of the internet.


“Astroturf front groups have been everywhere this summer, spreading misinformation about healthcare reform, carbon emission caps and financial regulation,” says Timothy Karr, the campaign director for the U.S. website “A healthy 21st-century democracy doesn’t need phoney front groups. We need openness, accountability and real debate.”


Just a couple of weeks ago, Greenpeace uncovered a campaign in which American oil industry workers paraded as part of a supposedly spontaneous movement opposed to climate change regulations being considered by U.S. legislators.


Thanks to a leaked memo from the American Petroleum Institute, Greenpeace learned that the “Energy Citizens” protest group was founded by the oil industry trade association and therefore indirectly funded by ExxonMobil, Shell and others. At the same time, a congressional inquiry found that letters to lawmakers attacking the proposed legislation — letters purporting to be from concerned members of the public — were also backed by energy groups.


The API responded to the accusations by saying that the Energy Citizens meetings were an attempt to lift the morale of oil industry workers, not to influence politicians. “There’s a lot of folks out there that would like to suggest that anybody that doesn’t agree with their views somehow doesn’t play by the rules,” the API president and author of the memo, Jack Gerard, said. “We disagree strongly with that.”


The Energy Citizens example is not a one-off, however. While the term astroturfing goes back to the mid-1980s, the practice began many more years ago. Unscrupulous marketers and lobbyists have long found ways to advance their paymasters’ agendas — including manufactured mail campaigns, fake crowd protests and, increasingly, use of the web.


A “sock puppet” is a fake online identity created to support an argument - and, in many cases, they are untraceable. Richard Levangie, who writes about climate change astroturfing at the One Blue Marble website, says he first came across it in the mid-1990s. “I was passionate about slowing the rise of teenage smoking in my home province, and thought about starting an advocacy group that would work with teenagers ... that’s where I first came up against astroturfing, in the form of smokers’ rights groups who were ignoring the science about secondhand smoke, and who were trying to reframe the issue as freedom of choice.” Astroturfing can range from a few forum posts or a comment praising a company to something closer to harassment, and from genuine disagreement and independent troublemakers to organised “trolls”, all the way to the entirely fake campaigner.


News organisations are increasingly finding themselves pawns in this game. While political tit-for-tat is common in web forums and on sites, the proliferation of certain comments around certain topics often leads to the suspicion that somebody else may be pulling the strings. “It’s frustrating. They should have zero credibility, but they’re still around, still peddling misinformation,” says Levangie.


That is not to say that all dissenters are puppets, of course. Climate change is just one area where strong feelings are common and run deep enough to encourage a hard core of protesters to spread views that exist at the fringe of scientific thinking. Just last week, one comment on the Guardian website said: “There is no concrete evidence that man is responsible for climate change.” In some cases, however, commenters offer fake credentials or pose as disinterested parties when the opposite is the case - and from time to time they are caught red-handed.


Several authors have been found leaving glowing reviews of their own books on Amazon, while a bizarre case emerged in 2007 involving John Mackey, the chief executive of high-end U.S. supermarket chain Whole Foods, who used a pseudonym to disparage competitors on message boards. More recently, a US PR company was found to have been writing fake positive reviews of a client’s iPhone software.


The question of astroturfing comes up regularly in the world of public relations, says Jon Silk, the creative director of Lewis PR in London. “Clients new to online PR will often ask the question: ’Can’t we just anonymously post positive comments?’,” he says. “It takes time to explain how influence works — that it should start with a good product or service, and have a clear message that must be communicated to the right people in the right way.”


Ann Bartow, a law professor at the University of South Carolina, believes the most straightforward way to combat astroturfing is to force commenters to use real names. “The obvious solution is to require some transparency and not accept anonymous comments - but there’s also this idea that anonymity is important - that you can get certain information if people’s identities aren’t tied to it,” she says.


At the very least, this would allow publishers to trace suspected astroturfers. However, it can be difficult to expose those who cover their tracks — and may only be possible by comparing personal details across a number of websites to spot patterns of behaviour.


This opens up privacy concerns - though, as Bartow points out, few outlets that publish comments would run letters from readers they suspected of being mouthpieces for an organised smear campaign.


Fortunately, while the web lets astroturfers spread their message, it can also be used as a means of trapping them. Last month (AUG), the New York attorney-general, Andrew Cuomo, sued a cosmetic surgery chain that had been caught leaving fake testimonials online.


The company, Lifestyle Lift, had been encouraging employees to post fictional reviews, and after emails emerged in which managers told staff “I need you to devote the day to doing more postings on the web as a satisfied client”, their days were numbered. The outcome was a $300,000 fine for the firm.


Silk says that while the rise of social media means a planted message on Facebook can reach people very quickly, it can also backfire when the truth is discovered. “The one thing that many companies don’t understand is that the desire for a quick hit often ends in failure,” he says. “Positive sentiment takes time to build. You wouldn’t try to make friends at a party by going up to strangers and telling them how great you are.”


However, whatever checks and balances are put in place, some people remain concerned that the power remains firmly with the astroturfers: as soon as they convince somebody to buy the wrong product, drown out other voices or torpedo important policy debates, the damage is done. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009










Among the traditional brick and clapboard structures that line the streets of this sleepy East Texas town of Huntsville, a few houses stand out: Their roofs are made of license plates, and their windows of crystal platters.


They are the creations of Dan Phillips, 64, who has had an astonishingly varied life, working as an intelligence officer in the Army, a college dance instructor, an antiques dealer and a syndicated cryptogram puzzle maker. About 12 years ago, Phillips began his latest career: building low-income housing out of trash.


In 1997 Phillips mortgaged his house to start his construction company, Phoenix Commotion. “`Look at kids playing with blocks,”’ he said. “I think it’s in everyone’s DNA to want to be a builder.” Moreover, he said, he was disturbed by the irony of landfills choked with building materials and yet a lack of affordable housing.


To him, almost anything discarded and durable is potential building material. Standing in one of his houses and pointing to a colourful, zigzag-patterned ceiling he made out of thousands of picture frame corners, Phillips said, “A frame shop was getting rid of old samples, and I was there waiting.”


So far, he has built 14 homes in Huntsville, which is his hometown, on lots either purchased or received as donations. A self-taught carpenter, electrician and plumber, Phillips said 80 per cent of the materials are salvaged from other construction projects, hauled out of trash heaps or just picked up from the side of the road. “You can’t defy the laws of physics or building codes,” he said, ``but beyond that, the possibilities are endless.”


While the homes are intended for low-income individuals, some of the original buyers could not hold on to them. To Phillips’ disappointment, half of the homes he has built have been lost to foreclosure — the payments ranged from $99 to $300 a month. Some of those people simply disappeared, leaving the properties distressingly dirty and in disrepair. “You can put someone in a new home but you can’t give them a new mind-set,” Phillips said.


Although the homes have resold quickly to more-affluent buyers, Phillips remains fervently committed to his vision of building for low-income people. “I think mobile homes are a blight on the planet,” he said. ``Attractive, affordable housing is possible, and I’m out to prove it.”


Freed by necessity from what he calls the “tyranny of the two-by-four and four-by-eight,” common sizes for studs and sheets of plywood, respectively, Phillips makes use of end cuts discarded by other builders — he nails them together into sturdy and visually interesting grids. He also makes use of mismatched bricks, shards of ceramic tiles, shattered mirrors, bottle butts, wine corks, old DVDs and even bones from nearby cattle yards.


“It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a complete set of anything because repetition creates pattern, repetition creates pattern, repetition creates pattern,” said Phillips, who is slight and sinewy with a long gray ponytail and bushy mustache. He grips the armrests of his chair when he talks as if his latent energy might otherwise catapult him out of his seat.


Phoenix Commotion homes meet local building codes. And Phillips frequently consults with professional engineers, electricians and plumbers to make sure his designs, layouts and workmanship are sound. Marsha Phillips, his wife of 40 years and a former high school art teacher, vets his plans for aesthetics. — © 2009 The New York Times News Service








The WTO mini-ministerial meeting that recently concluded in New Delhi, which was meant to re-energise the resumption of the Doha development round of talks leading up to a world trade treaty, was a pyrrhic victory for India. New Delhi succeeded in getting the trade ministers of 35 countries to agree to resume negotiations in Geneva later this month. The talks, in limbo since July last year, will now restart on September 14 in Geneva, WTO’s headquarters. But the main stumbling block — the opening of developing countries’ agriculture and services sectors to exports from developed countries, keeping the flexibility of imposing duties when the need arises, and the issue of the huge hidden subsidies provided to American and European farmers — still remains. On the issue of developed countries subsidising their farmers, it is in fact claimed this is the only way they would be able to sell food cheap globally. Farmers in India are, on the other hand, convinced that their produce could become competitive if the US and Europe did not subsidise their farmers with such huge hidden subsidies.


The two worlds remain as divided as they were, and nothing has really changed since July 2008. India, for instance, has very little options. If this country opens its agricultural sector to the developed world, it would be a betrayal of its farmers and of rural India, already facing the impact of some other free trade agreements already signed. Farmers’ suicides continue till this day despite the loan waivers and other welfare schemes, showing the tremendous distress, particularly in the non-irrigated farmland areas, which form the bulk of rural India. There are even fears in certain quarters that the government might relent on reducing or doing away with tariffs as a trade-off to get more HI-B1 visas from the United States for the high-profile information technology sector.


The United States is extremely unlikely to change its stand on the basics, and in fact US trade representative Ron Kirk said at the New Delhi meeting that rich developing nations such as India, Brazil and China had the added responsibility of making tough decisions in order to make the Doha Round successful. This drew the immediate retort from Brazil’s feisty external affairs minister Celso Amorim that developing countries had already made significant concessions while the rich countries only paid lip service to the development dimensions of Doha’s agenda but had brought nothing substantive to the table. He went on to note that after the recent global economic crisis, both developed and developing countries had difficulties in living up to the reforms and commitments that the new Doha round would require. Much has indeed changed across the world since July 2008 due to the deepening economic crisis and the scars it left, particularly in the rich countries. As a result, they have become even more protectionist: as WTO chief Pascal Lamy pointed out, in the case of the US, if it makes any commitment it would have to pass the scrutiny of its Senate, which will not be easy given the rising American unemployment figures. France, usually far more liberal and internationalist in matters of trade, has also turned more protectionist due to pressure from its trade unions. The undercurrents at the New Delhi ministerial meeting and the official summary issued at its end, in fact, clearly demonstrated that none of the substantive issues had moved an inch towards resolution since the Doha round in Hong Kong a couple of years ago.








This is an essay of an old fashioned radical, who feels at home in the world but out of place with politics and the way ideas are discussed. Earlier one lived in a world where we differed ruthlessly with opponents, yet in an odd way became their friends over the years. Events like the Emergency, the complex questions of rights made for strange alliances and friendships. One could assume some sense of honesty on all sides. Even those who were corrupt were a bit naive and thus forgivable. Maybe the ground rules were different and more accommodating. Maybe life’s gambles and roulettes created unlikely neighbours.


Democracy in the little public spaces we valued, —like the seminar, the maidan, the club, the newspaper, the café, the dhaba and the radio, — survived quarrelsomely. This was a world where Left, Right, Centre, liberal shared friendships. One binding force was that these ideologies alternated in generations. The powerful centrist bureaucrat of the Emergency often discovered that his daughter was a Naxalite doing a PhD with a liberal professor. It was a cross pollination which demanded irony, shock and humour.


Today it is precisely democracy that seems fragile. Let me put it paradoxically, democracy has become a threat to democracy.


Our celebration of democracy emerges from a sense of machismo. It comes from the illiteracy of "the first class first", a type whose moral luck makes him appear more open ended than he is. Short of "the Emergency", we have not been haunted by totalitarian and military rule. Now an India flexing its youth, its knowledge and its middle class feels a confidence which is blinding us to our future. The statesman who said there is nothing to fear but fear itself could have added, there is nothing to fear but confidence itself. Our confidence is blinding us to the fragility of our institutions. Majoritarian groups are tired of minoritarian demands and minorities insist that justice has dried up. A democracy without a sense of the future, without a contradictory quirky imagination paves the way for tyranny.


Few things in particular frighten me — the telescoping of media mob and memory in today’s spectacles.


Let us begin with the media. I love our newspapers. They might be pompous, arrogant but there was always a public display of our stupidity which was deeply cleansing. Even TV was fun as it gave a new generation a different sense of reportage and the sheer immediacy of news. NDTV, CNN-IBN produced memorable spaces, but what was best was while they probed and quizzed they never lost their sense of balance and civility. But the recent interrogation around Bharatiya Janata Party’s Lal Krishna Advani is a bit worrying.


I have long been an opponent of Mr Advani. I admired his courage during the Emergency, yet I have fought the man for his role in Ram Janmabhoomi and for his irresponsibility during the Gujarat riots. He appears pious, ambitious, ruthless and tired of waiting for a prime ministership to grace his career. His attack on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as a weakling was unnecessary. Yet the question one has to ask is, can the media carry out the interrogation of Mr Advani the way it does so today.


Let us assume he is wrong. Let us grant that what Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie, Jaswant Singh said was right. Let us assume he lied, that his lapses were not symptoms of tiredness. Yet can one interrogate a man in such a ruthless way. Let us concede that Sudheendra Kulkarni was as seedy as the critics predicted. Yet is TV a kangaroo court, and does a search for truth allow such forms of inquisition?


I don’t think it is the Muhammad Ali Jinnah event that makes Mr Advani guilty. In our hysteria about Jinnah, we have forgotten the memory of colonialism. Are we facing a selective amnesia that forgives imperialism but not Pakistan? What are we punishing Mr Advani for? Are we unforgiving because his mask of machismo collapsed and that he traded 170 passengers for three terrorists? Let us be clear, it was not an easy decision and to say one tractor could have stopped the plane reveals the arrogance of hindsight. Mr Advani has made mistakes. True. But is TV the place to try him in absentia. Often the media, in its rush to representation, asks Mr Advani to answer in the name of the Indian people. When did media represent India or its people? Interrogation in public often turns inquisitional. Worse, there is an ominous sense of judgment first, trial afterward.


We are facing new Savonarolas of the media who, in the name of the new orthodoxy of security, nationalism, territorial integrity and efficiency, are ready to attack with impurity any false icons available. The repetitiveness of the attack, the redundancy that adds hysteria to the change makes for an unseemly ritual. Should not due process be available on TV or is "contempt for TV" as punishable as "contempt for court". Civility, table manners, procedures for fairness can be laughed away as bourgeois. Yet these fragile rituals are all we have to guarantee the civic minimum of a decent society. The other question that intrigues one is why the hunting of Mr Advani is not accompanied by follow-ups into the Gujarat riots. Is it because it does not suit the Congress? It is not Mr Advani’s ideas of Jinnah that threaten, or even his lies over Kandahar. It is the silence of Mr Advani, Mr Jaswant Singh and Mr Shourie about Gujarat, a silence across the years that worries one.


The media’s arrogance about who it represents and what it can do is worrying. One is not denying that many behaved with dignity but one is insisting that the aggressive fringe is hogging the show, creating the beginnings of McCarthyism in media that needs to be challenged now and openly. The media as kangaroo court is the last invention we need. Truth and justice are abandoned for fresh TRPs.


One can smell the reek of McCarthyism in the air disguised by the incense of patriotism. One has to face this quietly and dissent. Dissent might sadly be marginal but the margins will never forgive us for our tacit silences.


Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist








The Planning Commission’s recent review of the Indian economy has clearly brought out the real concern of our policymakers — what will happen to India’s economic growth? The recession in the world led to a fall in growth in India from nine per cent a year till 2007 to about 6.7 per cent last year. This is better than most other countries, but it has raised many uncomfortable questions: Will we able to get back to the high growth trajectory in the near future? Have we become overly vulnerable to fluctuating growth performance of industrial countries? Is our growth equitable and inclusive, and not limited to a small fraction of the population? Answers to these questions hold grave economic repercussions, especially in the political compulsions of our democracy.


The Planning Commission’s review addressed these questions only partially but optimistically. The Indian economy is apparently getting out of the recession. It is expected to get back to an average growth rate of 7.8 per cent for the 11th Plan, moving up to the rate of nine per cent in two-three years. If that happens we shall be able to resolve these uncomfortable questions since high growth means higher revenues and increased capacity to spend on social development.


These growth projections can, of course, be contested in many ways. They do not conform to the projections of other agencies like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank or major think tanks. There is a distinct decline in growth in our service sector. Manufactures’ growth, which picked up recently after years of stagnation, has again declined. The high rate of investment in the private corporate sector, which was primarily responsible for sustaining India’s growth till 2007, fell because of lack of finance either from the domestic capital market or from loans and equity contribution from outside. There is little justification for claims that international financial flows will increase significantly for India with the revival of financial markets. We are still not able to break the vicious circle of poor infrastructure, low profitability and uncertain markets. The area where such uncertainties could have been overcome is exports where Indian performance has fallen by 27 per cent and there may not be much improvement till there is a decisive break in global recession. With depressed consumption and lack of public investment in infrastructure, there is little sign of revival in domestic demand. In such a situation it is doubtful that economic growth can pick up significantly in our industries or services.


On top of all these is the shortfall in our agricultural growth, especially after the recent drought. The Planning Commission talks of a 2.5 per cent contraction of agriculture as a result of the drought. There is a worst-case scenario where agriculture growth falls by six per cent and the overall gross domestic product (GDP) growth comes down to 5.1 per cent. But somehow this is not taken seriously and the Commission is keen on establishing that given a low weightage of agriculture in the GDP, a fall in its growth rate is not going to have much impact on the overall growth performance. There is no indication of how they have taken into account the transmission effects of a fall in the agriculture GDP on the rest of the economy. There are several econometric models of direct and indirect effects of contraction in agriculture that will show a much higher fall in the overall growth.


The Planning Commission clearly has a vested interest in the overall growth performance. If growth can be revived quickly we shall be back to our glorious record of economic performance of the post-reform period. I have no quarrel with the Planning Commission on that. But we do expect from the Planning Commission answers to some of the major concerns of the United Progressive Alliance-2 government as enunciated by the Prime Minister and championed by the Congress president — inclusive development and improving the welfare of the common man.


For instance, there is no mention of what will happen to poverty and unemployment if agricultural growth comes down sharply and when that reduction spills over to the non-agriculture. More than 50 per cent of our population lives on agriculture, sharing roughly 15 per cent of GDP among them. A contraction of agriculture would mean a shortfall in the purchasing power of all these people, increasing not only their level of poverty but also their dependence on public distribution. What is the programme the Planning Commission is suggesting to take care of these problems? There will be a contraction of employment throughout the economy, going beyond the production of goods and services used in agriculture.


Similarly, a general recession will affect much more the small and marginal producers who suffer most from any crunch in demand or resources. The Planning Commission’s study does not indicate what measures they have in mind, without which even if economic growth revives the overwhelming poor and vulnerable population of India will continue to be left out.


The most uncomfortable part of this report is the reference to an "exit policy" from fiscal deficit implied in fiscal stimulus. It is obvious that if growth in the corporate sector has to be sustained by a higher rate of investment, fiscal deficits must be cut back and the so-called fiscal stimulus must be reversed. But then what happens to the rest of the economy? How are you going to provide increasing purchasing power to the millions of people who may lose their livelihood in the aftermath of the drought and who remain unemployed through a very substantial increase in National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGs) and employment programme?


If it is implied that these policies could be sustained by non-deficit creating revenue expenditures, they must be spelt out in detail. There cannot be a free lunch. You cannot have an anti-poverty and employment-expanding public investment programme without holding back expenditure from some other sectors or without raising taxes on higher incomes. It is a zero-sum game especially when the growth of GDP is stagnant. If the poor have to be sustained, the rich must sacrifice.


Dr Arjun Sengupta is a Member of Parliament and former economic adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi









THE Gujarat High Court has rightly revoked the ban on expelled BJP leader Jaswant Singh’s book, Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence and in the process exposed the hamhanded manner in which Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi had banned it without reading the book. The High Court has also upheld the writer’s fundamental right to freedom of expression as guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution. A Bench consisting of Chief Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan, Justice Akil Kureshi and Justice K.M. Thaker has ruled that the government’s notification banning the book fell short of the statutory requirements and thus failed the test of legal scrutiny. It came down heavily on the government for issuing a ban order that showed “lack of thinking, caution and prudence” which was required in cases pertaining to the fundamental rights of the citizen.


The Bench was fully convinced with the stand of the petitioners — Prakash Shah and Manishi Jani, both writers and social activists — that the government banned the book in a tearing hurry without substantiating its claim that the contents of the book were “highly objectionable and against the national interest”. It is also silent as to how the contents of the book would disturb public tranquillity. Ever since the book launch on August 17, there had been no untoward incident anywhere in Gujarat. The government’s mala fide intent can be proved by the fact that the book was banned just two days after its release.


The ban is indicative of the Modi government’s increasing intolerance towards a differing opinion even though constructive thinking, writing and criticism strengthen democracy. If Mr Modi differs with Mr Jaswant Singh’s opinion about Sardar Patel, he should have issued a statement instead of banning the book which smacks of sheer arbitrariness. In a liberal democracy, a government cannot behave abrasively and trample upon the citizens’ fundamental rights. The Modi government will have to do a lot of explaining before the Supreme Court when it takes up Mr Jaswant Singh’s petition against the ban order on September 8. Mr Modi would do well to accept his folly and pledge to respect dissent and debate.









THE spate of deaths due to shock and grief in Andhra Pradesh over the demise in a helicopter crash of former Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy is astounding. That the toll was a high 67 until Friday (over 100 as per unofficial reports) of which 20 were suicides shows how emotionally-charged these people must have been and how they were guided by blind faith in their leader. Several of them died of sudden heart attacks after watching the news of their beloved leader’s death on television channels which have made it their business to go overboard whenever there is a chance to exploit public sentiment. Indeed, there is a conscious effort made to arouse mass hysteria to raise the channel’s TRP ratings on such occasions.


According to the ‘Accidental Deaths and Suicide in India — 2007’ report prepared by the National Crime Records Bureau, at 14,882 suicides, Andhra reported the second highest number of suicides during that year after Maharashtra. Ending life due to ideological affiliations and hero worship was part of this. Hero worship especially in southern India is not a new phenomenon. Cine star-turned politicians M.G. Ramachandran in Tamil Nadu and N.T. Rama Rao had evoked similar response from their army of fans, but this time the hysteria was even greater due to the swaying power of the electronic media. Some politicians and film-stars have acquired cult status as fans hero-worship them and go to extreme lengths to display their affection. This is particularly so in Tamil Nadu and Andhra, where huge cut-outs of their images adorn intersections and supporters perform rituals and prayers at temples dedicated to them. It is this gullibility that politicians exploit for their own selfish ends.


Ironically, while some people were dying of grief over YSR Reddy’s death, there were others who were setting just the example that any well-meaning leader like YSR would have abhorred at such a juncture — playing power politics. Politics indeed is increasingly becoming the game of the unscrupulous but it is sad that while some get so overpowered by grief that they pass away, others, especially politicians, shed crocodile tears while they go about their business of furthering their interests even in grief.







AIR India is again in the news for wrong reasons. Air India’s ageing fleet of aircraft has been a cause for much concern, and the plane that escaped a tragedy in Mumbai on Friday happened to be the third aircraft after the first two developed technical snags and were discarded, which had been deployed for carrying the passengers to Riyadh. The fact that the 15-year-old aircraft was to be abandoned next month in any case should have prompted much greater caution and even more stringent safety checks than at normal times and for newer aircraft. But the continuing disregard to air safety norms is frightening and it is to be hoped that the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation ( DGCA) will not be content with merely a formal inquiry or with looking for scapegoats.


Ignorance, as far as Air India is concerned, actually turned out to be a blessing at Mumbai airport last week. It was due to the pilots’ unfamiliarity with the geography of the airport, suggest media reports, that a jeep was pressed into service to escort the Air India Boeing flying to Riyadh from the tarmac to the runway. The ground staff on the jeep first detected fuel leaking from the plane and alerted Air Traffic Control which asked the pilots to switch off the engines. Had the jeep not been there, it is possible that the plane with 213 passengers on board would have taken off and may not have been able to avoid a major disaster.


Luckily, what could have been a major disaster was averted. Would Air India on its own punish the officers responsible for negligence or commissioning an ill-checked aircraft into service? It does not have to wait for the DGCA’s report, which can take time.















THE debacle in two consecutive elections to the Lok Sabha came as a traumatic shock to the Bharatiya Janata Party. Most leaders within the party and also political observers outside have drawn a single conclusion that the projection of a wrong personality for the highest position was the first mistake, and his campaign strategy and selection of issues for it was the second blunder. They also have a sure cure for the malaise afflicting the party. Replace the individuals who were in charge with a new crop and everything will fall in line like a well-oiled machine to catapult the party to power at the next election.


The Congress minds can never emerge out of their fixed mindset that their victories depend entirely on the charisma and magic of the Gandhi family. They firmly believe that the unexpected crop of more than 200 seats in the Lok Sabha in the last election was entirely a product of the Gandhi family and its charisma. But they are not willing to ponder even for a second why the same magic did not work in several elections since the first electoral debacle in March 1977.


Indian mindset is glued to a single obsession that only personalities matter in the election. It would seem that it never occurred to them to ask a fundamental question as to what constitutes the political mind of the Indian voter. Perhaps, the towering personality of Jawaharlal Nehru and his easy victories in the first two general elections led to a misconception that elections in India are personality-based. Apparently they were so overwhelmed by the personality of Nehru that they overlooked that Nehru was the architect of a dream of new India and was a driving force for economic and social development. It was an idea to put aflame the imagination of even illiterate and poor voter. He or she may not have learnt to read or write but he certainly had common sense to understand what is good for him.


He was already on slide-down in the third election in 1962 as his programmes left a huge disappointment due to their failure to deliver what was promised for two decades. The Congress had nothing to offer when it faced the fourth election in March 1967. It had neither a personality nor a programme. Its majority in the Lok Sabha reduced to a razor-thin edge and it lost power in several states. The trauma of defeat forced Indira Gandhi to adopt a programme of left orientation because she was fighting the rightist elements within the Congress who were entrenched satraps of different interest groups. Her one slogan to remove poverty led to an electoral miracle. India Gandhi became a mass leader overnight. As she could not deliver on her promises, she lost the next election even after turning India into a nuclear power. People were more impressed by the positive stance adopted by her rivals that they would restore democracy.


Indira Gandhi in 1980 and Rajiv Gandhi in 1984 won the mandates merely on their promise to maintain integrity and unity of India. But Rajiv Gandhi had no brilliant idea to back his electoral strategies and so he could not return to power. But his opponents also could not win a clear verdict because their campaign was based on a negative idea of abusing the Congress and denigrating Rajiv Gandhi. Personal vilification has never been an idea that found popular approval. Only middle class snobs are impressed because they have no mind to participate by exercising their franchise. For seven elections to the Lok Sabha, verdicts have always been fragmented with no party emerging even 80 per cent closer to the requisite majority to rule on its own.


Even with all assistance rendered by Lord Ram and a promise of a temple to commemorate him left the BJP short of a 100 seats to a clear majority even at its peak in 1998. It has been sliding downwards from that peak in each election and has not been able to open its account in several states. The BJP leaders refused to learn from the consistency of failures of Ms Mamta Banerji till the Marxists did not adopt a clearly negative programme in place of the positive campaign based on its ideology in the last election. The response of the electorate was uniform in all three states under Marxist rule. Personal abuse never pays.


If there was a shortage of evidence, it was provided by the BJP with its personal attacks on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh describing him as a “weak personality” who was amenable to dictations of Sonia Gandhi. The BJP had nothing positive to offer except for a few crumbs by way of cheaper food and subsidised life for a section of society. There was not a single sparkling idea to catch the fancy of the masses.


The defeat has less to do with personalities than with lack of new ideas. Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee was leading the BJP in the 2004 election with a successful record of six years. Its Shinning India idea also proved counterproductive because the hard reality of life was not visible to rulers. Yet the Congress could get only seven seats more than the BJP in the 14th Lok Sabha. This was despite the fact that Ms Sonia Gandhi was at the helm of affairs. It also did not have anything positive to offer.


The Congress could cross the mark of 200 seats in the last election only because of the follies of others. The BJP leader had displayed merely a negative approach for the entire five years before the election. He did not offer anything positive but wanted to win on the negation of the Congress on every count, including on the nuclear deal, though the Vajpayee government had set the ball rolling for the nuclear deal to fructify five years’ later when it was occupying the Opposition bench. The Opposition was merely to defeat the government and not on any negative aspects of the deal was evident. The vote-for-cash drama enacted inside the Lok Sabha was the height of a negative approach. No one believed that three BJP MPs had a high moral standard to walk away from the huge bribes offered which they claimed to have happened. The drama and its instigators merely displayed their ignorance of the public mind.


Every Congress man and many friends in the media believe that Rahul Gandhi achieved a miracle of winning 21 seats in Uttar Pradesh. Did anyone consider the blunder committed by Ms Mayawati in believing herself as the divine incarnation that she could get away with any strategy including sponsoring unknown rich persons as her party candidates everywhere so that she could mobilise resources for the party? She believed that the Dalits had no place to go except her party. Only after the shattering blow she rectified her notion and won hands down in the assembly by-polls in her state that followed the Lok Sabha elections. A simple question can answer why the Congress did not perform equally well in Bihar where it had decided to go it alone as in Uttar Pradesh on the basis of a strategy evolved by Rahul Gandhi. And why could 45 Congress candidates not get more votes than required to retain their security deposits in UP where Rahul Gandhi worked so well?


How can corruption be an electoral issue in the public mind that is so used to bribing the Almighty in return for his help in overcoming his immediate difficulties of life? This is a practice in every religion in India. The supposed “live deities” of different sects provide enough evidence of it. Every human being is affected daily by rampant corruption at every step in life because of the greed of those who hold some power and authority. Corruption at the high level does not affect their life directly and intensive campaigning against it never moves the masses as no leader has been able to convince the common man how it does affect his life more than what he has to pay to a police man or a babu in the government office even to get what is his legitimate right like the ration card and the voter identity card.


One cannot escape noticing that victors in these elections were ultimately considered to be the underdogs of their times. Indira Gandhi was harassed with ambitious veterans when she fought her away to the 1971 election. The Janata Party leaders who faced the might of Indira Gandhi had emerged recently from their long-duration but unjust detentions during the Emergency. Indira Gandhi appeared as a persecuted and wantonly punished woman when she faced the 1980 election. Rajiv Gandhi had lost his mother. But he was no more helpless when he went in for polls in 1989 December. Not even the sustained campaign against him on the basis of corruption could give a clear verdict in favour of his opponents.


Anyone who is not overwhelmed by the dazzle of the election campaigns would inevitably come to the conclusion that the Indian electorate does not make up its mind merely on the basis of personalities. Other elements are more important. Poverty, democracy and the integrity of India became issues for him during different elections. Essentially a brilliant idea is the basis to attract him to decide his vote. In the focus of an idea all other considerations, including caste and ethnic affiliations, are of secondary importance for him. This is an overview, but I am sure an extensive study on the subject would only confirm the reading of the election results of the past.







FIRST visit to France?” The French immigration official’s voice at Charles De Gaulle airport was friendly but his look said it all. What kind of a freak would wait to lose his hair and get old before visiting Paris? He leafed through my passport once again, looked up and asked quizzically: “Are you here on business?”


“No, I am here to attend a wedding, my daughter’s,” I replied as nonchalantly as I could. He quickly lost interest and waved me through. Outside, it was a brilliant sun shining through an azure sky and the slight hint of a chill in the air. “Ah, what a perfect and early winter,” I thought but quickly realised that in August, it was actually summer in Europe, with everyone on vacation, flowers in full bloom and the beaches packed like sardines with people, or more like vehicles in a traffic snarl in India.


As the day wore on, the afternoon sun caught us by surprise. We were sweating enough for my concerned wife to suggest we take a break near the Notre Dame cathedral. Acutely conscious of the value of the Indian rupee, we asked for nimbu paani or lemonade, if you like. The relief and the pleasure of sitting on a sidewalk café to watch life go by lasted till the bill arrived. It was a cool 40 euros. Ten euros for a glass of nimbu paani, I exploded within. Back home we could have entertained five guests to a sumptuous dinner, I thought bitterly.


It was the warmest day during this summer, I later learnt, with the mercury touching 34 degrees Celsius in the middle of August. A fortnight later it had settled to a far more acceptable 22 degrees. But climate change is certainly becoming a huge concern in Europe, large parts of which never required air-conditioning. But in recent years, an increasing number of offices are switching over to air-conditioners.


Paris seemed familiar, disappointingly so, even on a first visit. One of the most photographed and filmed cities in the world, virtually every landmark has been so over-exposed that I was robbed of the tingling sensation of suspense. It was disappointing to see Mona Lisa at the Louvre, dwarfed by the wall-to-wall painting on the opposite wall and by the ubiquitous gaggle of Japanese tourists shooting everything in sight and jostling for space.


Used to the vast expanse of the Indian rivers and the width of the Brahmaputra, the Seine looked more like a well-maintained canal dividing the city in two and the Eiffel Tower looked exactly what it is, a transmission tower.


People from the subcontinent either travelled in groups or loitered around the Eiffel Tower, selling key rings. One of them walked over and said in Hindi, “uncle ji, lena hai to le lo, sasta hai” while another tried to run away in vain before being pinned by two policemen. Illegal immigrants with no work permit, explained my daughter.


A little later during the mandatory cruise on the Seine, one of the Indians in the group drew attention by waving at every woman he sighted leaning on the bridges above. I watched his antics grimly, barely suppressing my urge to punch him. It was much later in the evening that I felt a little better to find Aamir Khan and Kajol speaking perfect French and singing Hindi songs in Fanaa, dubbed and telecast on French TV.










THE price of Kalashnikovs has doubled in Afghanistan. For a country awash with arms, the fact that the weapons are now fetching $600 apiece is a cause of some surprise, but a surge of demand is to blame for the increase, with a steady stream of weapons said to be heading for the north.


This is the Tajik constituency of Abdullah Abdullah, the presidential candidate who claims the election is being stolen by the incumbent Western-backed President, Hamid Karzai.


The arms shipments are a source of alarm in a country where political stand-offs have often been settled at the point of a gun. Few Western diplomats claim there is an immediate danger of civil war but tensions are mounting after polls which have been mired in bitterness and recrimination.


Mr Karzai has 46 per cent of the votes, counted predominantly from the north and west which should be the stronghold of Dr Abdullah, the former foreign minister who trails with 33 per cent.


The ballots yet to be tallied will be from the Pashtun south and east, in which the President is the overwhelming favourite to win.


Mr Karzai’s opponents are putting their faith in more than 2,500 complaints of voting irregularities – 691 of them described as serious charges – that the complaints commission has received. Most of them emanate from the south – The Independent witnessed what appeared to be flagrant fraud at Nad-e-Ali in Helmand, with ballot stuffing on behalf of the President.


Investigators say many of the complaints will be difficult to prove and even if officials are found guilty of malpractice, the penalty would be fines and disbarment from taking part in future elections rather than the wholesale discounting of votes.


Analysts point out that even if the commission decided that votes from some polling stations in the Pashtun belt were invalid, Mr Karzai would be the overwhelming beneficiary of the ones still considered valid.


Western powers, whose soldiers are fighting and dying in Afghanistan, supposedly so democracy takes root, are embarrassed by the apparent fraud.


The Obama administration, which has taken a noticeably harder stance against Mr Karzai than the Bush White House, is said to prefer a second-round run-off between Mr Karzai and Dr Abdullah to at least maintain the appearance of probity. During Mr Karzai’s tempestuous 19-minute meeting last week with Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the American diplomat is said to have stated: “Too many votes have been stolen by your side, there has to be a second round” prompting Mr Karzai to storm out. Mr Holbrooke’s officials maintain that the talks were amicable.


Yet, according to some analysts, a second round would be seen as having been engineered by the Americans and would lead to deep Pashtun resentment. “The Americans are fighting in the south, killing Pashtuns, they are pressing for a second round to prevent a Pashtun, Hamid Karzai, from being President as long as possible. This may be simplistic but it is how a lot of Pashtuns will look at this,” said one analyst, Waheed Mujhda.


“It will look like interference by the West, especially by the Americans. It will not be good for the country.”


Fellow analyst Zalmai Afzhali said: “Some people in America have their views about Mr Karzai. But he is an Afghan and the fact is that we are having these elections which have mainly gone off peacefully, with him in charge.”


One reason that Mr Karzai appears to have done well in the north is because of block votes secured for him by allies Mohammed Fahim and Abdul Rashid Dostum, ex-warlords and power-brokers in the region.


But Mr Mujhda said that consensus may fall apart if there was a second round. “Then the voting would be Pashtun versus Tajik, south versus north, and there is definitely a fear that this may spread into violence.”


In the Panjshir Valley, the heartland of the Northern Alliance where Dr Abdullah fought beside Ahmed Shah Masoud, the legendary commander murdered by al-Qa’ida at the behest of the Taliban, a former Mujaheddin fighter said the Tajiks would not tolerate being deprived by a fraudulent poll.


At his home, as he unwrapped an oiled cloth to show off a Kalashnikov and a Glock pistol, the former Mujahedeen commander Gul Shah Mohammed declared: “We know how to use these weapons; we haven’t forgotten how to fight.”


By arrangement with The Independent








IN the media-fuelled near hysteria that consumed the national consciousness soon after the deadly swine flu outbreak, it has been conveniently forgotten that India’s health card has anyway been nothing to write home about. The health of its people, especially women and children, continues to be poor. As if the previous surveys pointing out abnormally high figures of malnourishment and anaemia were not enough, here is yet another indictment that India doesn’t provide adequate healthcare to its children. According to District Level Household Survey’s latest data, only 54.1 per cent of the nation’s children are fully immunised. Nearly 11.3 per cent children have not received any form of vaccination. While Uttar Pradesh emerges as the worst offender, with only 31 per cent children fully immunised it is followed by Meghalaya, Tripura, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.


No wonder that the Microsoft Chairman, Bill Gates, too, had expressed concern over India’s low immunisation rates that he deemed were worse than Bangladesh and Africa. While Africa fares better than India as far as controlling measles death is concerned, despite massive polio drives, the nation has yet not been able to fully eradicate polio, a cause for great concern. In fact what the PM had said in 2005, “Reaching 25 million infants and providing them the required vaccination in time remains the biggest challenge for our government” still holds true.


Immunisation gains tremendous significances among infants and children for they are vulnerable to complications from vaccine preventable diseases. In fact, the benefits of vaccination are manifold as it not only reduces mortality but also morbidity i.e. illness and disease. Vaccinated children are healthier, and healthy children are better learners. In fact according to experts, vaccination has benefits beyond disease management and translates into demographic transition that leads to lower fertility and higher economic growth.


On the health front, immunisation is considered one of the most cost effective public health interventions that not only prevents disease but also leads to its eradication. India has been successfully able to get rid of the scourge of small pox through effective vaccination programmes. Actually, India’s immunisation programme, though it came into being three decades after Independence, is one of the largest in the world in terms of quantities of vaccines, number of beneficiaries and other parameters.


Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) began in 1978 to control Vaccine Preventable Diseases. Initially, six diseases diphtheria, pertussis i.e. whooping cough, tetanus, poliomyelitis, typhoid and childhood tuberculosis were covered and the programme targeted 80 per cent children. Later, the programme was universalised and renamed Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP) in 1985. Measles vaccine was included and typhoid vaccine was discontinued.


The Universal Immunisation program has made sufficient progress and the disease burden of vaccine-preventable diseases has come down considerably. In his address at the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations GAVI meet in 2005, Dr Manmohan Singh said since 1975, there has been a 72 per cent decline in the incidence of diphtheria, a 91 per cent decline in the incidence of whooping cough, and a 61 per cent decline in measles. Realising the dangers of Hepatitis B, the government expanded the Universal Immunisation Programme to include Hepatitis B vaccine in the year 2002. This was done in 33 districts and 15 large cities with support from GAVI. In the year 2004, in the pilot project, 1.2 million children were vaccinated, with three doses of Hepatitis B. The government plans to take the vaccine to the entire nation by 2009.



In fact, viewed in the light of these startling facts that one in every 20 Indians is a Hepatitis B virus carrier and one per cent of total deaths in adults in India is due to Hepatitis B virus that causes 80 per cent of liver cancers, there is a strong case for adult immunisation for Hepatitis B too.


Now, GAVI Alliance, a public-private partnership which brings together Indian government, the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, donors, industry and the H1B Initiative will target more than 18 million children. They will be immunised with a pentavalent five-in-one vaccine that will among other diseases also cover Hib (haemophilus influenza type b) that can cause severe pneumonia and meningitis. Hib kills more than 3,70,000 children less than five years every year across the world out of which nearly 20 per cent children are from India. Survivors are often permanently paralysed, deafened or brain damaged. Besides, India is also toying with a national policy on vaccines that will monitor the production viability and affordability of vaccines with UIP in mind.


However, mere policies cannot ensure universal coverage. For that ground realities have to be reassessed. Cold chain system an important component of immunisation programme needs to be strengthened further. Safe injection practices too must be an integral part of immunisation drives for otherwise the results can be disastrous. Attention must be paid to the vaccine effectiveness as well.


As recommended by Gates whose the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is actively involved in immunisation drives, India must open its mind to new vaccines. Besides, to make immunisation coverage more efficient, awareness campaigns must educate and inform parents, particularly mothers, benefits of complete immunisation and the serious consequences of failure to do so.


More concerted efforts aimed at the urban poor and rural children alone can ensure that India meets the National Population Policy (2000) goal of complete protection of all children against vaccine preventable diseases by 2010. India cannot afford to be lax in its immunisation drives. Already complacency cost it dearly as polio cases began to pile up. India is one of the four countries trying to fight polio.


The nation which is the largest exporter of vaccines can’t afford to let its children the most vulnerable section of society go unvaccinated. With 43.5 per cent children below five years underweight as it is its children are far from in the pink of health. Immunisation is one of the key parameters that defines and realises a child’s well being and can only be ignored at the peril of the future of those who are the nation’s future.








October 13, Haryana’s date with its electorate looked very far away. Though the election date was announced by the Election Commissioner that afternoon, nothing was going to come in the way of Deepender’s date with his bride-to-be. It is a match clearly made in heaven. Almost like the grand political alliance of the past, Haryana’s ruling Jat family is set to tie the knot with the reigning Rajasthan royals, at least in Jat terms. The Mirdhas of Rajasthan have been in politics over three generations. But politics aside, the beaming and beauteous bride-to-be was clearly the belle of the ball as she radiantly received a seemingly endless stream of well-wishers. The venue in mid-town Delhi was a cavernous pandal appropriately air-conditioned and bursting with paparazzi, family, food and bandobast. Deepender, the boy wonder in Parliament is clearly well loved by his young parliamentary colleagues all of who turned up to root for their colleague. They ranged from Priyanka and Robert Vadra to Farooq Abdullah with family; Jitendra Singh of Alwar along with several young ministers, unmindful of impending elections. The ring ceremony was performed as soon as Sonia Gandhi reached the venue.


Bhupinder Hooda was just a doting father as he personally and warmly received guests along with his graceful wife Asha. They of course had to ensure that the large families on either side were also feted. The girl’s sister and MP from Rajasthan, Jyoti Mirdha, was also on hand to ensure that the stream of political heavyweights, Gulam Nabi Azad, Ambika Soni, Amarinder Singh, Praful Patel, Motilal Vohra and Ahmed Patel, really relished the delicious vegetarian food. Even a large number of media heavyweights made their presence felt, laughing with some familiar faces, making the evening a grand Delhi do with the warm touches of rural Haryana and Rajasthan never quite far away. The Prime Minister came nearly at the fag end but stayed long enough to make his presence felt. Vice-President Ahmed Ansari was at home at this gracious do of the first family of Haryana.



The popularity of politicians is because they make a lot of friends over the years. Along the way, as they climb to the top, they try and please every person they can. But one lady, Mehbooba Mufti, is making enemies not only in the Opposition but also in her own party. It is a known fact that she has time and again used the once most presentable face in her party, Muzaffar Hussian Beig, to do her ‘dirty’ work. She used him in ensuring that the Azad Government fell, then by alleging that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is on the list of CBI framed in the sex racket in 2006.


As expected, Muzaffar Beig is very unhappy with her as now he feels used. In all these games, a lot of Beig’s own personal life, the dirty linen of his past was washed in front of the public and the media. But this is a lady who has lost all respect and friends due to her inability to keep quiet. She recently embarrassed her own father when she finally announced in the State Assembly that due to her father as India’s first Muslim Home Minister it was he who had brought the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act to J&K. What does one say to a lady who gets so carried away and ends up embarrassing herself and others close to her every time she opens her mouth? This is surely called foot-in-the-mouth disease.








Nothing better illustrates the conservative nature of Japanese society and its predilection for abiding with tradition than the long stint enjoyed by the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP). For almost 55 years the Japanese people have lent their support to the LDP through thick and thin, despite occasional periods of political instability and frequent changes of individuals at the helm. In the immediate post world war years it had appeared that the people’s faith had paid off, for the LDP initiated a unique three way partnership between legislature, executive and corporate sectors that witnessed Japan being elevated to the second largest economy in the world. Naturally, it had been the imagination and enterprise of the people themselves, reputed to be one of the most industrious in the globe, which had made Japan the top technologically innovative nation. But the sheen had rubbed on to the political set up, deservedly or not, which explains why the Japanese electorate had no desire to upset the apple-cart. It had been only towards the last decade that Japanese disenchantment with the LDP had begun to manifest itself as the economic boom showed signs of petering out and the process of stagnation began. Thus Japan became a soft target of the global economic melt-down, drop in production and export, wide ranging job and wage cuts combined with sky high inflation signalling that the LDP’S days were numbered.

Yet no one had expected that the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) led by Yukio Hatoyama would win by such a staggeringly huge majority over Tara Aso’s LDP, the former having won 308 seats in the lower house of the Japanese Diet against the 119 of the latter, just one short of two thirds majority. Political experts have unanimously asserted that the anti-incumbency factor was primarily responsible for the heavy defeat. “Political arrogance” has been one of the oft-repeated phrases with regards to the LDP, over half a century of unbroken rule having made its members vain glorious and cut off from the common people. Equally to blame has been the recession which Japan is currently passing through, a great majority blaming it on the faulty economic policies of the LDP. The DPJ’s triumph marks the end of an era since it has changed the prevalent political status quo and initiated the two-party system in Japan in the true sense of the term. However, Hatoyama’s would be no bed of roses, and the DPJ has its work cut out, particularly in resolving the mess Japanese economy is currently in. The party had fought the elections promising to wrest financial control from the executive while bringing about wide social and economic reforms and playing a more proactive role in global affairs. But only time will tell how far it succeeds in taming - well entrenched and conservative bureaucracy.







Completion of the much-awaited gas cracker project can bring a sea change in the employment scenario of Assam and the Government must plan ahead so that the youths of Assam are ready to work in the downstream industries of the project immediately after these are set up. The North East Development Finance Corporation (NEDFi) carried out a detailed survey on the possibility of setting up of downstream industries with the products of the gas cracker project and as per the study, as many as 1250 plastic processing units with an investment of Rs 44.38 crore can be established with the products of the gas cracker project and these downstream industries will be able to provide direct employment to at least 45,000 people and indirect employment to more than 64,000 others. But the Government will have to play a major role to ensure that the youths of Assam are benefited from the employment opportunities in the downstream industries and special courses on plastic processing should be introduced in the ITIs of the State. A good number of Higher Secondary schools of Assam have vocational streams and the feasibility of introducing such courses in those schools should also be examined so that the youths of the State become eligible to work in the plastic processing units immediately after the gas cracker project starts functioning. The Government should also launch entrepreneurship development programmes to ensure that entrepreneurs of the State can make full use of the products of the gas cracker project to set up downstream industries.

The NEDFi report dwelt at length on another key aspect of ensuring success of downstream industries and pointed out that the Brahmaputra Crackers and Polymers Limited (BCPL), the joint venture company formed to set up the gas cracker project, should establish a business development cell with two branches –one in the project site and the other in Guwahati for the benefit of the entrepreneurs willing to set up downstream industries. As per the proposal of the NEDFi, the cell should provide technical guidance to the entrepreneurs willing to set up downstream industries, which is vital for the success of such industries. The NEDFi also highlighted the need for providing marketing support to the downstream industries , which is one of the most vital aspects of survival of any industry. The Government will also have to play its part in ensuring success of the downstream industries as in a State like Assam, the Government departments will have to be the major buyer of the plastic processing units, while, at the same time, the Central Government should initiate moves to explore the feasibility of exporting plastic products to the neighbouring countries like Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.








The recent sensation created in the Indian media about an obscure Chinese strategist’s 'research' calling for the division of India in more than two dozen nation states is the continuation of the myth of Sinophobia which has been nourished in India by certain establishments ever since the 1962 war concerning boundary disputes. This sensational report was preceded by News Live's discovery of a Google map showing Arunachal Pradesh as a Chinese territory with names in Cantonese of various places in the state. In the last three decades we have been witnessing such Chinese aggressive moves in the North East, like the entry of a hot air balloon in North Lakhimpur in 1979, the building of a helipad at Chum-Durrung-Chu in 1988, and Chinese help to insurgent from North East in the 1980s. All these happened during the height of the Cold-War era when China’s relation with India entered the frozen stage mostly due to the boundary dispute and New Delhi’s close ties with Moscow, which had differed with Deng Xiao Peng’s policies. But after the landmark visit by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to Beijing in 1988, which heralded a new era in Sino-Indian relations, a concerted effort has been going on in India and by some other think-tanks abroad to jeopardize normal relations between these two Asian giants. The media verbosity in India following the write up of an unknown Chinese blogger is the latest one in this series.

The Chinese strategic analyst who had called for territorial break up of India is in fact an unknown blogger who posted his write up in an equally least known Chinese website named IISS. It is not the London based famed Institute for International Strategic Studies nor the CIISS (Chinese Institute for International Strategic Studies). Zhong Guo Zhuan Le Gang, the name of the bloger, as stated by the Indian media is actually a Chinese term meaning 'Chinese strategist’ that appeared on the website to state the anonymity of the bloger. It was the Chennai based think-tank, Madras Institute of Chinese Studies which created all the fuss calling it a secret move by Beijing to disintegrate India by supporting the secessionists of Kashmir and the North East. Any reader with minimum knowledge of foreign policy would know that a country that is itself engaged in an ethnic turmoil in Xingiian can hardly afford luxury to plan a split in a bordering nation. It is our common misconception that China, being a centralised Communist country controls its media tightly and any views expressed there is endorsed by the state. The anonymous blogger who has in depth knowledge of India is of the view that ‘Hindu’ India should be split up into a dozen of nation states like the EU appears for us like a view shared by Beijing owing to our ill perceived conception concerning Chinese media.

However, these misconceptions about the Chinese media have been deeply rooted in our minds because of the prevailing system seen in the 1970s and 80s. During that time any opinion coming out of China was voiced through the state-run organs. But over the years there has been a sea change in China concerning media and information dissemination and interpretation. Dozens of new newspapers, a few dozen think-tanks and intemet proliferation has emerged in the last decade taking China into a new media landscape. According to Ananth Krishnan presently there are four main avenues in China through which information emerges. First and the most influential is the official Chinese channel (CCTV, Xinhua etc) through which Beijing’s Foreign Ministry voices the official position on issues. The second is the print media, which is rather complicated as most of them are state owned and enjoy unique relationship with the government and the Communist Party of China (CPC). As a result of this nexus, their opinions need to be interpreted contextually. For example, the People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the CPC often carries views that do not represent official Chinese position. Many lobbies and factions within the CPC also make diverse opinions, sometimes taking very hawkish stand on India in their own newspapers, which often creates a stir in Indian establishments. The third avenue are the think-tanks whose diversity and names also create confusions in India concerning expression of opinions and policies.

Over the years the Chinese government has spent a lot of money aimed at establishing a strong foreign relation studies and research in comparison to India. For example presently India does not have enough language experts concerning Central Asia whereas China is far ahead. These think-tanks play a greater role in shaping policy making and decisions. Interestingly the website where this anti-India blogger posted his views is not at all a policy research centre but a mere anti-Japanese propaganda site by an ultra-nationalistic organization called 'Fenquin' meaning 'Angry Youth', founded by one Kang Lingyei. The fourth one is the intemet which is the largest source of information from China where the government does not have full control or accesses. Presently, China has 338 million intemet users and more than 100 million blogs and website. The post appeared in one of them. China officially censors anti-Chinese political dissents like Tibetan resistance, Taiwanese broadcasts, politically sensitive issues like the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1988 and the Falun Gong cult and blocks their websites. But that does not necessary mean that Beijing shares any ultra nationalist move posted on one of the countless websites that negates the territorial integrity of any sovereign country. Kang Lingyei, the founder of the website where that post appeared represents only a fringe element of firebrand Chinese nationalism which has very little space in the mainstream media of that country.

Even he distanced himself from this view and clarified that his organization did not endorse what the unknown blogger had said about India. The Chinese Institute for International Strategic Studies also expressed its lack of knowledge of the IISS, in China and rubbished the views of the post. Thus it is very evident that the post by an anonymous Chinese blogger appeared in an obscured website does not represent the official stand and endorsement of Beijing concerning India. However there are instances of some official hard-line positions by China concerning India that irks us a lot. The continuous demand of Arunachal Pradesh as a Chinese territory, the border dispute and Beijing’s all weather friendship with Pakistan creates a lot of unease in India. However, the recent upsurge of Chinese aggressive posture on Arunachal and reports of military mobilisation on its borders can be attributed to New Delhi’s growing defence engagements with Washington since 1999.

It is very unfortunate that when the Indian media created such a hullabaloo about the Chinese threat a great Chinese Indologist who translated many ancient Hindu mythologies died unnoticed in Beijing. It was our ex-foreign minister Jaswant Singh who informed the Indian readers about his death. Therefore,, before making a sensation on a possible Chinese “threat” and over reacting on any blogger’s post, we must remember the contributions of those who are still working sincerely for Sino-Indian friendship and cooperation.
(The writer teaches English in Lakhimpur Commerce College).








The State government deserves appreciation for the initiation to formulate an Agriculture Policy for Assam. The declaration of the pragmatic process has come at a time when the State’s agriculture is a challenge. The daunting task ahead is to take the debilitating situation in agriculture to a satisfactory and sustained level. The policy is expected to lead the State’s agriculture in the right direction for achieving a concrete long-term goal and tackling dwindling food production and productivity, abnormal climate behaviour, farmers’ dissatisfactory participation and pressure arising out of burgeoning population and unevcn growth of settlernents.

The National Agricultural Policy (NAP) is already in vogue and follow-up action has been undertaken in appropriate way. But the State Agriculture Policy (SAP) could not gain shape for want of clear-cut advice from the government. At the willingness of the present Agriculture Minister of the State, the proccss for formulation of the said poilcy has gained momentum. The SAP will address the regional problems and loopholes in the sector and focus on a distinct plan to shape the State-agriculture meeting for future challenge of food production with best utilisation of land and water resources. However, the SAP will follow the basic principles and suggestions of the NAP so that there is no major shift from the country’s national agricultural programmes and agenda.

Agriculture production in the State has shown a declining trend after 2000-2001 when a record production of 41.72 lakh metric tonnes of foodgrains was achieved. The food grain production came down to 30.62 lakh MT during 2006-07. Through 27.53 lakh hectares about 35.1 per cent of the State’s geographical area has been achieved as net cropped area. Recurring annual flood and drought in recent years has restricted the growth of agriculture, especially during the kharif season. Huge area under winter-rice has become uncultivable due to siltation, soil erosion etc. Further, nearly 57 per cent of land in the State is still not available for cultivation, which includes 19.33 lakh hectares of forest land, 10.81 lakh hectares land put to non-agricultural use, 14.53 lakh hectares of barren and uncultivable land.

However, the cropping intensity could be increased from the present level of 144 per cent to 170 per cent during the 11th Plan period by increasing the present double cropped area of about 12.04 lakh hectares to 15 lakh hectares. There is huge potential of assured irrigation from the underground sources of which only 29 per cent have been utilised so far. This will help in increasing the double cropped area programmiing in about 15.48 lakh hectares mono cropped area. There is vast scope of mechinisation of the State’s agriculture by way of introduction of modern machineries and agricultural implements. A research based agronomical manipulation to achieve 350 to 425 panicle of rice per square metre to achieve high yield of 5 to 6 metric tonnes per hectare will be an added opportunity in the State. However, the low per capita holding of 1.14 hectares restricts heavy investment in agriculture as well as crop diversification. With the strength of 12.64 lakh agricultural labourers, about 53 per cent of total work force in the State and 27.12 lakh farm families, the target is to produce food for more than 2.67 crore population of the State.

The first ever NAP was announced on July 28, 2000. It defines to actualise the vast untapped growth potential of Indian agriculture, strengthen rural infrastructure to support faster agricultural development, promote value addition, accelerate the growth of agro business, create employment in rural areas secure a fair standard of living for the farmers and agricultural workers and their families, discourage migration to urban areas and face the challenges arising out of economic liberalisation and globalisation. Over the next two decades, it aims to attain: a growth rate in excess of 4 per cent per annum in the agriculture sector; growth that is based on efficient use of resources and conserves soil, water and bio-diversity; ensures growth with equity, ie, growth which is widespread across regions and farmers; growth that is demand driven and caters to domestic markets and maximises benefits from export of agricultural products in the face of challenges arising from economic change-over; growth that is sustainable technologically, environmentally and economically. The NAP seeks to promote technically sound, economically viable, environmentally non-degrading and socially acceptable use of country’s natural resources – land, water and genetic endowment to promote sustainable development of agriculture. The use of bio-technologies has been promoted for evolving plants which consume less water, are drought resistant, pest resistant, contain more nutrition, give higher yields and arc environmentally safe. Conservation of bio-resources through their ex-situ preservation in gene banks, as also in-situ conservation in their natural habitats through bio-diversity parks. etc, is receiving a high priority to prevent depletion of bio-diversity. Balanced and conjunctive use of bio-mass, organic and inorganic fertilisers and controlled use of agro chemicals through integrated nutrients and pest management has been promoted in the said policy.

A major thrust has been given to development of rainfed and irrigated horticulture, floriculture, roots and tubers, plantation crops, aromatic and medicinal plants, bee-keeping and sericulture for augmenting food supply, promoting exports and generating employment in the rural areas. The development of animal husbandry, poultry, dairying and aqua-culture is receiving high priority in an effort for diversifying agriculture, increasing animal protein availability in the food basket and for generating exportable surpluses. The regionalisation of agricultural research based on identified agro-climatic zones is accorded high priority. Application of frontier sciences like bio-technology remote sensing technologies, pre and post-harvest technologies, energy saving technologies, technology for environmental protection through national research system as well as proprietary research has been encouraged. The research and extension linkages have been taken up for strengthening to improve quality and effectiveness of research and extension system.

In the SAP, emphasis must be paid so that the government will create a favourable economic environment for increasing capital formation and farmer’s own investments by removing distortions in the incentive regime for agriculture, improving the terms of trade with manufacturing sectors and bringing about external and domestic market reforms. Rural electrification must be accorded high priority as a prime mover for agricultural development.

Local planning, decentralised implementation of major programmes, and farmers’ congregation in most of the agricultural activities are effective in tackling the regional agriculture doldrums. How the aforementioned issues will be best addressed while formulating the SAP is of utmost observance. It is hoped that the envisioning of SAP will promote agriculture growth in the State with ample food production and by raising the standard of rural farming community and contributing to the proclamation of a vibrant, self-sustaining surplus cconomy.

(The writer is an engineer in the Department of Agriculture, Assam).








Has the informal mini-ministerial of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) held in Delhi last week provided the 'value-addition' commerce minister Anand Sharma was looking for when he unexpectedly sprung the idea of hosting a meet earlier in the year?

To the extent trade ministers representing the broad cross section of interests of its membership have agreed to resume talks in Geneva later this month, it has done that and more. It has breathed fresh life into the Doha round.

But as with most things related to the WTO, the answer is not a simple yes or no. There is a school of thought (admittedly a minority) in whose view the meeting only served to reaffirm the divide among member countries.

Witness the sharp rejoinder from India disputing the west's claims of an 'endgame' and WTO director general Pascal Lamy's statement that only about 20% of the issues remain to be resolved. The reality, as the commerce minister pointed out, is that there are "still a large number of unresolved issues".

But then the Delhi meet was never intended to discuss, let alone resolve, specific issues. It was meant to energise a round of trade talks that had gone in to a limbo and at one stage looked dangerously close to staying that way. The Delhi meet has changed all that. It rekindled interest in the multilateral process at a time when protectionist tendencies are on the rise and free trade agreements are proliferating by the day.

From the Indian perspective, the fact that we were able to place our concerns — the need to move forward on services negotiations along with agriculture and industry rather than leave opening up of services for later — is also a plus.

It is unlikely other members will go along with this view — talks are scheduled to resume where they broke off in December last, on texts that deal only with agriculture and nama (non-manufacture market access).

It is unlikely also that the round will conclude by December 2010. But then, trade negotiations involving more than 150 countries are bound to be a tortuous process. Stumbling blocks are inevitable. But a 'development round' that fails to take on board the concerns of developing countries is a non-starter. It is time the developed world woke up to that.









President Obama's decision to send out a "welcoming message" to American children returning to school at the beginning of a new academic year has caused a rift along ideological lines, with the Republicans suspecting a propaganda angle.

Though the US President will supposedly stick to homilies such as the need to work hard and achieve goals, his opponents see this as an attempt to railroad students into supporting his agendas. At the heart of their angst is not the idea of addressing children directly — former President George HW Bush had already set that precedent in 1991 — but the 'activities' that the students would be encouraged to engage in later, which included writing "letters to themselves about what they can do to help the President."

Though this was later rephrased as writing "letters to themselves about how they can achieve their own goals", it was enough to set off accusations of "socialist indoctrination" and encouraging "personality cults".

Yet all Obama's spin doctors have done is to cleverly adopt the same principle that makes advertisers pitch their buying spiel to kids (in the hope that they will persuade their parents to buy the product) just when their boss has hit the first set of Capitol Hill's famed speedbreakers, if indeed that is the motive.

What is not so apparent is why parents are so scared of letting their children listen to him, considering they have no objection to their watching commercials without any caveats. The significant political gains (or losses, from the opponents' point of view) of a 20-minute address from the White House, are difficult to fathom.

Lofty political figures speaking directly to children to enthuse them to do better in school seems an unexceptionable idea, even if the Democrats try to claim ownership of it. Had we such similar networks connecting schools in India, we surely would not quibble about politicians furthering other agendas, as long as they got the main message across: students should try to do the best they can, for a better future.








The government has clarified the ambiguity over foreign direct investment (FDI) norms for micro and small enterprises (MSEs). They can have foreign investment up to the applicable sectoral limit. Though this opens another option for this generally capital starved sector, a rush of FDI is unlikely anytime soon.

What is needed is some way of revitalising the smaller exchanges, which would allow MSEs to raise risk capital from local investors who are likely to be more appreciative. Most micro or small enterprises lack access to any sort of formal funds, and are forced to rely on costly informal credit.

Ironically, this is largely because organised lenders do not find them creditworthy, as many of them would not have the balance sheet strength to meet the basic eligibility conditions. The truth is functional MSEs are meeting the far more exacting terms of informal credit.

If this informal credit could be substituted by FDI, small and micro enterprises would see a sharp jump in their profitability. The large interest component on their profit and loss account would disappear and minus the debt, the balance sheet would look good too.

The ability to plough back profits would allow them to expand and reap economies of scale. However, for the very reason MSEs cannot access formal credit, they are unlikely to interest some investor in an overseas country. The FDI that they may attract is likely to be venture capital type, which is very expensive and therefore may entail huge dilution by the promoter.

Micro and small enterprises need smaller local exchanges where they can raise capital easily from investors who are likely to appreciate them better because of proximity. Access to the bigger national exchanges is difficult for smaller enterprises and they are also unlikely to get a good valuation. Despite Sebi’s efforts, the regional exchanges have been a non-starter.

The next best solution is for existing profitable exchanges to develop the regional markets or invest in the regional exchanges and put in place a viable business model for them. The obvious way of doing that is to allow more equity exchanges. The competition would encourage product innovation and diversification.














Being born to a new life and a new world is prompted always by changes within, which are often very subtle and delicate, involving not just mere intellectual convictions but the very chemistry of the entire psychosomatic system.

Various parts of the body, including the glands, regulate, control and influence all aspects of one’s personality. These ultimately also thus tell upon his very future and destiny.

Nobel laureate Otto Loewi’s revelation that active chemicals are involved in the action of nerves suggests how, with alterations in the composition of the different aspects of the system (blood, hormones, etc.), the desired changes can be brought about. These tangible and healthful modifications, involving also one’s habits, addictions, mood swings, depression or cravings, would also stand the test of time and the pressures and demands from without.

Yoga also addresses this objective through yama, niyama, asana and pranayama. Subtle changes can thus be generated within through the experience of total physical and mental peace and harmony. This is that state, where the body-mind mechanism is coaxed to trigger those vital chemical composition changes within, generating also, in this process, its own right secretions and the needed antidotes for perennial good health.

Swami Satyananda Saraswati's delineation of yoga nidra is also highly revealing, in this regard. In fact, even simple life style and habit modifications, besides natural exercises and 'cognitive therapy' also help.

Dr M N Sankar, a renowned authority on acupuncture, in a recent television interview, had also referred to the need to address genetic and hereditary factors, where necessary, if lasting solutions are to be found.

He noted how inherited aberrations can be modified by balancing the different aspects of the system through acupuncture and acupressure at the appropriate points. He also referred to the exciting possibility of treating expecting mothers, which would leave a healthful impact on the foetus, pre-empting acquired ills in the future, such as diabetes, blood pressure, asthma, etc.

Whatever be the technique adopted, this should be holistic and integrated, leading to attainment of excellent physical and mental health and that "sacred, substantial, never fading bliss", both within and without.









A little less than a year ago, on 15 September 2008, Lehman Brothers, the once venerated US investment bank, filed for bankruptcy. Though death throes began more than a year earlier in August 2007 when the bank was forced to close down its sub-prime lender, it was events of the last few days, from 9 to 15 September that really sealed its fate. And with it, the fate of the world as well!

In the year since then, the global economy has turned topsy-turvy. To understand just how dramatically Lehman's collapse impacted the world economy, take a look at the London Economist's table of GDP growth estimates for 42 select countries that together account for close to 90% of world's GDP, before and after the bank's collapse (see table). The contrast could not be starker.

From a scenario (pre-Lehman) where every country was expected to register positive growth in 2009, a year after the event, there are only a handful, China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Egypt that can hope to see any economic growth at all. Every country, bar these five emerging market economies, is expected to end the year poorer than it started.

The extent of decline varies — from 6.4% in Japan to a mild 2.6% in the US, the epicentre of the crisis. But there's no getting away from the cataclysmic change in the global economic outlook triggered by Lehman's collapse.

Our 'goldilocks globalisation' (not too much, not too little) in the words of Arvind Subramaniam, is likely to see us emerge as the second-fastest growing economy, after China. But will we be able to put Lehman behind us and return to the 'nice' (non-inflationary continuous expansion in the words of Bank of England governor, Mervyn King) period of 9% GDP growth and 3% inflation a year from now?

No! The global economy and its financial under-pinning have changed in fundamental ways. As far as India is concerned, these changes can be categorised under six broad heads.

First, and foremost, the crisis has brought us down to earth. The irrational exuberance that saw the sensex zoom past the 21,000 mark (intra-day) and had starry-eyed observers see double-digit GDP growth as the new Sardar rate of growth has been replaced by a welcome sobriety.

From the highs of 9% GDP growth we are now down to 6% or thereabouts. And though there is no doubt growth will improve in tandem with global recovery, there is now much greater realisation that if high growth is to be sustained, we need to do more. Trickle-down will not work. We will have to pay more attention to long-neglected areas like infrastructure, physical and social, agriculture, governance and so on.

Second, it has brought home the importance of fiscal discipline. Good times are meant for governments to build nest eggs so that they have the fiscal space needed to embark on counter-cyclical policies in bad times. In a crunch when private spending dries up, governments have to step into the breach.

This means governments like Chile (which saved the equivalent of 12% of GDP in a special fund during the boom) are on a much stronger wicket than India where the government used higher tax revenues in good years to boost (wasteful) spending. Hopefully, we've learned our lesson; even if is the hard way.

Third, while the dominance of fiscal policy over monetary policy will continue (and is, perhaps, inevitable in an elected democracy that has so many poor people), the moral authority of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has been strengthened. There is a subtle shift in the tide of opinion, at least among the cognoscenti, away from government towards the RBI.

After all, even its worst enemies will find it hard to fault a central bank under whose watch not a single bank has collapsed (contrast this with the US where close to 100 banks have gone under). So unlike in the past, when the finance ministry was seen as reform-oriented and the RBI as the spoiler, there is empathy for the latter's concerns.

Fourth, asset-price inflation and macro-prudential supervision (jargon for monitoring the health of the financial system), long regarded as infra-dig in the esoteric world of central banking, have acquired a new respectability.

Inflation targeting, especially targeting of commodity price inflation, however measured, is clearly out. Like many ideas in economics — the Tobin tax being the latest example — it might make a comeback. But for now, multi-tasking central banks with multiple objectives in the mould of the RBI have become the favoured model.

Needless to say, this could be a mixed blessing. There is a fear, not entirely unwarranted, that if the RBI remains in its present self-congratulatory mode, we could regress in many areas where we need to move forward. The governor, to his credit, is aware of this and periodically talks of the dangers of excessive caution coming in the way of innovation. But the RBI's bureaucracy is yet to internalise this.

Fifth, while exports will continue to be encouraged, some of the lustre attached to the export-driven growth model of the Asian tigers and China has faded. If the 1997-98 crises had cast doubt on the invincibility of the export-driven model of growth, the present crisis has shown up its shortcomings more tellingly. As global markets capsised and export demand in western markets shrank, China's excessive dependence on exports became a liability rather than an asset while our large domestic market turned out to be our trump card.

The last, and no less important, change as far as India is concerned is in the international arena. To the extent the crisis has focused minds everywhere on global imbalances and related reform of multi-lateral institutions, the G20, with India a key member of the grouping, has at last found its place in the sun.

Of course, nothing will change overnight and I dare say the Pittsburgh summit later this month will not make a dent either. But thanks to Lehman, long-pending issues that had been discussed only desultorily in the past have acquired a new prominence and urgency.

So, as and when a new financial architecture does take shape, we will have a say in it. Like in the WTO, where we punch much above our weight, we will be heard with new respect — the respect due to an economy that sailed through stormy seas even as many supposedly stronger economies were brought down to their knees.








It's been announced in the Capital that a new expert committee would go into the vexed issue of pricing oil products like petrol, diesel, etc. And also suggest how to compensate state-run refiners for selling products below imported costs and markups, when international crude prices rise and flareup, which is often enough.

It is another matter that while several expert panels on pricing petro-products have made sensible recommendations, retail oil prices continue to be a heady mix of populism, high taxes and rigid market design.

Yet the latest expert committee seems more likely to deliver the goods as it were, given the reform of indirect taxes underway, the growth expected generally in the organised retail segment and the real possibility of fuel alternatives like solar lamps.

Note that it is barely a year ago that the High Powered Committee on Financial Position of Oil Companies submitted its report, and which of course was never really implemented. Earlier in 2006, another expert panel on petro-goods pricing had put out a list of recommendations, only to meet a similar fate.

There have been still other oil-sector reports since the mid-nineties, and all willy nilly have been routinely dumped. Now the standard policy response in the face of bouyant crude prices has been to keep retail prices unrevised by fiat, and then to issue government bonds to state-owned oil companies in lieu of the "under-recoveries" of the latter.

But since the oil bonds are to be redeemed from budgetary funds, albeit over a number of years with interest, and given the huge volumes in oil, such a stance is not just unsustainable. It also sends out entirely wrong policy signals on oil consumption when the relative prices are artificially kept unchanged, and thoroughly over-extends government finances in the bargain.

The point is that there are a panoply of rigidities in the oil economy which do need to be addressed and can no longer remain in the policy back-burner. The lack of reform would be at huge national cost.

We do need to rationalise taxes on oil products, which can make up over half the retail price. It's plain distorting. It is a fact that taxes on petro-products have traditionally amounted to a very substantial chunk of government revenues. There are several reasons for such a tax design. Collecting fuel taxes is rather straightforward, fuels as a consumption item are seen as relatively price inelastic, and fuel demand is known to rise with income or that demand is income elastic.

The twin characteristics imply buoyant revenues as incomes and retail prices — which tend to remain sticky by policy design — move up, especially with the regime of ad valorem (price-linked) levies that's in place.

But we clearly need to modernise the tax regime. The way ahead is to broad-base taxes across goods and services, and not rely disproportionately on petroleum taxes. In any case, high taxes and duties on oil products would merely imply high relative tariff barriers for those products.

And heightened duty protection does mean continuing with a high-cost oil economy. It can be argued, rightly, that oil products with their negative externalities do need to be appropriately taxed so as to discourage usage and decelerate the societal harm of oil pollution and the like.

There's certainly a case for a cess on oil products that's specifically earmarked for proactive environmental measures, cleaner fuels and the common good. But it cannot be gainsaid that a general regime of high taxes on oil products — essentially as a revenue measure — is incongruous in a supposedly reforming economy.

While the more progressive tax regimes abroad do levy high taxes on petro-goods, in tandem there's usually a modern system of value-added taxes operational including for petro-products.

In glaring contrast, we continue with a system of cascading taxes on oil products complete with its umpteen anomalies. Such a regressive tax treatment would hardly fastforward a modern goods transport and logistics sector.

Further, the tax differential between petrol and diesel has verily egged on a fuel-switch and almost certainly aggravated pollution levels as well. There are other negative implications of the warped policy. Notice, for instance, the huge margins on sales of aviation turbine fuel. There's much opacity in oil pricing.

So, there's a pressing need to open up and reform the oil market. For example, oil retailing need hardly remain a cosy monopoly of the oil companies. The fact is that in the mature markets, independent retailers have for decades now accounted for a sizeable chunk of retail oil offtake.

With a rapidly growing retail industry, if we continue to effectively ring-fence retail oil sales, we would fail to reap efficiency gains and productivity improvements in a large, high-growth segment. There's also the need to phase out open-ended subsidies on domestic fuels, and to popularise the use of solar power. The bottom line is that as one of the largest consumers of petro-goods, much of it imported, we can no longer afford routine opacity, runaway populism and monopoly prices in oil.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The WTO mini-ministerial meeting that recently concluded in New Delhi, which was meant to re-energise the resumption of the Doha development round of talks leading up to a world trade treaty, was a pyrrhic victory for India. New Delhi succeeded in getting the trade ministers of 35 countries to agree to resume negotiations in Geneva later this month. The talks, in limbo since July last year, will now restart on September 14 in Geneva, WTO’s headquarters. But the main stumbling block — the opening of developing countries’ agriculture and services sectors to exports from developed countries, keeping the flexibility of imposing duties when the need arises, and the issue of the huge hidden subsidies provided to American and European farmers — still remains. On the issue of developed countries subsidising their farmers, it is in fact claimed this is the only way they would be able to sell food cheap globally. Farmers in India are, on the other hand, convinced that their produce could become competitive if the US and Europe did not subsidise their farmers with such huge hidden subsidies. The two worlds remain as divided as they were, and nothing has really changed since July 2008. India, for instance, has very little options. If this country opens its agricultural sector to the developed world, it would be a betrayal of its farmers and of rural India, already facing the impact of some other free trade agreements already signed. Farmers’ suicides continue till this day despite the loan waivers and other welfare schemes, showing the tremendous distress, particularly in the non-irrigated farmland areas, which form the bulk of rural India. There are even fears in certain quarters that the government might relent on reducing or doing away with tariffs as a trade-off to get more HI-B1 visas from the United States for the high-profile information technology sector. The United States is extremely unlikely to change its stand on the basics, and in fact US trade representative Ron Kirk said at the New Delhi meeting that rich developing nations such as India, Brazil and China had the added responsibility of making tough decisions in order to make the Doha Round successful. This drew the immediate retort from Brazil’s feisty external affairs minister Celso Amorim that developing countries had already made significant concessions while the rich countries only paid lip service to the development dimensions of Doha’s agenda but had brought nothing substantive to the table. He went on to note that after the recent global economic crisis, both developed and developing countries had difficulties in living up to the reforms and commitments that the new Doha round would require. Much has indeed changed across the world since July 2008 due to the deepening economic crisis and the scars it left, particularly in the rich countries. As a result, they have become even more protectionist: as the WTO chief, Mr Pascal Lamy, pointed out, in the case of the US, if it makes any commitment it would have to pass the scrutiny of its Senate, which will not be easy given the rising American unemployment figures. France, usually far more liberal and internationalist in matters of trade, has also turned more protectionist due to pressure from its trade unions. The undercurrents at the New Delhi ministerial meeting and the official summary issued at its end, in fact, clearly demonstrated that none of the substantive issues had moved an inch towards resolution since the Doha round in Hong Kong a couple of years ago.








The Planning Commission’s recent review of the Indian economy has clearly brought out the real concern of our policymakers — what will happen to India’s economic growth? The recession in the world led to a fall in growth in India from nine per cent a year till 2007 to about 6.7 per cent last year. This is better than most other countries, but it has raised many uncomfortable questions: Will we able to get back to the high growth trajectory in the near future? Have we become overly vulnerable to fluctuating growth performance of industrial countries? Is our growth equitable and inclusive, and not limited to a small fraction of the population? Answers to these questions hold grave economic repercussions, especially in the political compulsions of our democracy.
The Planning Commission’s review addressed these questions only partially but optimistically. The Indian economy is apparently getting out of the recession. It is expected to get back to an average growth rate of 7.8 per cent for the 11th Plan, moving up to the rate of nine per cent in two-three years. If that happens we shall be able to resolve these uncomfortable questions since high growth means higher revenues and increased capacity to spend on social development.

These growth projections can, of course, be contested in many ways. They do not conform to the projections of other agencies like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank or major think tanks. There is a distinct decline in growth in our service sector. Manufactures’ growth, which picked up recently after years of stagnation, has again declined. The high rate of investment in the private corporate sector, which was primarily responsible for sustaining India’s growth till 2007, fell because of lack of finance either from the domestic capital market or from loans and equity contribution from outside. There is little justification for claims that international financial flows will increase significantly for India with the revival of financial markets. We are still not able to break the vicious circle of poor infrastructure, low profitability and uncertain markets. The area where such uncertainties could have been overcome is exports where Indian performance has fallen by 27 per cent and there may not be much improvement till there is a decisive break in global recession. With depressed consumption and lack of public investment in infrastructure, there is little sign of revival in domestic demand. In such a situation it is doubtful that economic growth can pick up significantly in our industries or services.
On top of all these is the shortfall in our agricultural growth, especially after the recent drought. The Planning Commission talks of a 2.5 per cent contraction of agriculture as a result of the drought. There is a worst-case scenario where agriculture growth falls by six per cent and the overall gross domestic product (GDP) growth comes down to 5.1 per cent. But somehow this is not taken seriously and the Commission is keen on establishing that given a low weightage of agriculture in the GDP, a fall in its growth rate is not going to have much impact on the overall growth performance. There is no indication of how they have taken into account the transmission effects of a fall in the agriculture GDP on the rest of the economy. There are several econometric models of direct and indirect effects of contraction in agriculture that will show a much higher fall in the overall growth.

The Planning Commission clearly has a vested interest in the overall growth performance. If growth can be revived quickly we shall be back to our glorious record of economic performance of the post-reform period. I have no quarrel with the Planning Commission on that. But we do expect from the Planning Commission answers to some of the major concerns of the United Progressive Alliance-2 government as enunciated by the Prime Minister and championed by the Congress president — inclusive development and improving the welfare of the common man.

For instance, there is no mention of what will happen to poverty and unemployment if agricultural growth comes down sharply and when that reduction spills over to the non-agriculture. More than 50 per cent of our population lives on agriculture, sharing roughly 15 per cent of GDP among them. A contraction of agriculture would mean a shortfall in the purchasing power of all these people, increasing not only their level of poverty but also their dependence on public distribution. What is the programme the Planning Commission is suggesting to take care of these problems? There will be a contraction of employment throughout the economy, going beyond the production of goods and services used in agriculture.

Similarly, a general recession will affect much more the small and marginal producers who suffer most from any crunch in demand or resources. The Planning Commission’s study does not indicate what measures they have in mind, without which even if economic growth revives the overwhelming poor and vulnerable population of India will continue to be left out.

The most uncomfortable part of this report is the reference to an “exit policy” from fiscal deficit implied in fiscal stimulus. It is obvious that if growth in the corporate sector has to be sustained by a higher rate of investment, fiscal deficits must be cut back and the so-called fiscal stimulus must be reversed. But then what happens to the rest of the economy? How are you going to provide increasing purchasing power to the millions of people who may lose their livelihood in the aftermath of the drought and who remain unemployed through a very substantial increase in National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGs) and employment programme?

If it is implied that these policies could be sustained by non-deficit creating revenue expenditures, they must be spelt out in detail. There cannot be a free lunch. You cannot have an anti-poverty and employment-expanding public investment programme without holding back expenditure from some other sectors or without raising taxes on higher incomes. It is a zero-sum game especially when the growth of GDP is stagnant. If the poor have to be sustained, the rich must sacrifice.


Dr Arjun Sengupta is a Member of Parliament and former economic adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi








On August 29, the New York Times carried a front-page headline that should make your blood boil: Karzai using rift with US to gain favour. The article said that Obama officials were growing disenchanted with the Afghan President, Mr Hamid Karzai, whose supporters allegedly stuffed ballot boxes in the recent elections, while Mr Karzai struck deals with accused drug dealers and warlords, one of whom is his brother, for political gain. The article added, though, that in a feat of political shrewdness, Mr Karzai “has surprised some in the Obama administration” by turning their anger with him “to an advantage, portraying himself at home as the only political candidate willing to stand up to the dictates of the United States”.

If this is how our “allies” are treating us in Afghanistan, after eight years, then one really has to ask not whether we can afford to lose there but whether we can afford to win there.

It would be one thing if the people we were fighting with and for represented everything the Taliban did not: decency, respect for women’s rights and education, respect for the rule of law and democratic values and rejection of drug-dealing. But they do not. Too many in this Kabul government are just a different kind of bad. This has become a war between light black — Karzai & Co. — and dark black — Taliban Inc. And light black is simply not good enough to ask Americans to pay for with blood or treasure.

This is the most important and troubling fact about Afghanistan today: After eight years of work there, we still do not have a reliable Afghan partner to hand off to. And it is not all our fault. Lord knows, Iraq still has problems. The outcome there remains uncertain. But the reason Iraq still has a chance for a decent future is because a critical mass of Kurds, Sunnis and Shias were ready to take on their own extremists and hold reasonably fair elections. The surge in Iraq started with key Iraqi communities wanting to liberate themselves from their own radicals. Our troops helped them do that.

The strategy that our new — and impressive — commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is pursuing calls for additional troops to create something that does not now exist there — a reasonably noncorrupt Afghan state that will serve its people and partner with America in keeping Afghanistan free of drug lords, warlords, the Taliban and Al Qaeda. His plan calls for clearing areas of Taliban control, holding those areas and then building effective local, district and provincial governments — along with a bigger Army, real courts, police and public services. Because only with all that can we hold the support of the Afghan people and avoid a Taliban victory and a return of Al Qaeda that could threaten us. That is the theory.
And it may, indeed, be the only way to go, but we should have no illusions: We’re talking State Building 101 in the most inhospitable terrain and in one of the poorest, most tribalised, countries in the world.
As the military expert Anthony Cordesman, who has advised the US Army in Afghanistan, explained in the Washington Post recently, it requires “a significant number” of US reinforcements and time to do what the Kabul government has failed to do, because it remains “a grossly overcentralised government that is corrupt, is often a tool of power brokers and narco-traffickers, and lacks basic capacity in virtually every ministry”.

To put it another way, we are not just adding more troops in Afghanistan. We are transforming our mission — from baby-sitting to adoption. We are going from a limited mission focused on baby-sitting Afghanistan — no matter how awful its government — in order to prevent an Al Qaeda return to adopting Afghanistan as our state-building project.

I recently looked back at Stephanie Sinclair’s stunning 2006 photograph in the Times of Ghulam Haider, an 11-year-old Afghan girl seated next to the bearded 40-year-old man she was about to be married off to. The article said Haider had hoped to be a teacher but was forced to quit her classes when she became engaged. The furtive sideways glance of her eyes at her future husband said she was terrified. The article said: “On the day she witnessed the engagement party... Sinclair discreetly took the girl aside. ‘What are you feeling today?’ the photographer asked. ‘Nothing’, the bewildered girl answered. ‘I do not know this man. What am I supposed to feel?’”

That is the raw clay for our state-building. It may still be worth doing, but one thing I know for sure, it must be debated anew. This is a much bigger undertaking than we originally signed up for. Before we adopt a new baby — Afghanistan — we need to have a new national discussion about this project: what it will cost, how much time it could take, what US interests make it compelling, and, most of all, who is going to oversee this policy?
I feel a vast and rising ambivalence about this in the American public today, and adopting a baby you are ambivalent about is a prescription for disaster.








This is an essay of an old fashioned radical, who feels at home in the world but out of place with politics and the way ideas are discussed. Earlier one lived in a world where we differed ruthlessly with opponents, yet in an odd way became their friends over the years. Events like the Emergency, the complex questions of rights made for strange alliances and friendships. One could assume some sense of honesty on all sides. Even those who were corrupt were a bit naive and thus forgivable. Maybe the ground rules were different and more accommodating. Maybe life’s gambles and roulettes created unlikely neighbours.

Democracy in the little public spaces we valued, —like the seminar, the maidan, the club, the newspaper, the café, the dhaba and the radio, — survived quarrelsomely. This was a world where Left, Right, Centre, liberal shared friendships. One binding force was that these ideologies alternated in generations. The powerful centrist bureaucrat of the Emergency often discovered that his daughter was a Naxalite doing a PhD with a liberal professor. It was a cross pollination which demanded irony, shock and humour.

Today it is precisely democracy that seems fragile. Let me put it paradoxically, democracy has become a threat to democracy.

Our celebration of democracy emerges from a sense of machismo. It comes from the illiteracy of “the first class first”, a type whose moral luck makes him appear more open ended than he is. Short of “the Emergency”, we have not been haunted by totalitarian and military rule. Now an India flexing its youth, its knowledge and its middle class feels a confidence which is blinding us to our future. The statesman who said there is nothing to fear but fear itself could have added, there is nothing to fear but confidence itself. Our confidence is blinding us to the fragility of our institutions. Majoritarian groups are tired of minoritarian demands and minorities insist that justice has dried up. A democracy without a sense of the future, without a contradictory quirky imagination paves the way for tyranny.

Few things in particular frighten me — the telescoping of media mob and memory in today’s spectacles.
Let us begin with the media. I love our newspapers. They might be pompous, arrogant but there was always a public display of our stupidity which was deeply cleansing. Even TV was fun as it gave a new generation a different sense of reportage and the sheer immediacy of news. NDTV, CNN-IBN produced memorable spaces, but what was best was while they probed and quizzed they never lost their sense of balance and civility. But the recent interrogation around Bharatiya Janata Party’s Lal Krishna Advani is a bit worrying.

I have long been an opponent of Mr Advani. I admired his courage during the Emergency, yet I have fought the man for his role in Ram Janmabhoomi and for his irresponsibility during the Gujarat riots. He appears pious, ambitious, ruthless and tired of waiting for a prime ministership to grace his career. His attack on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as a weakling was unnecessary. Yet the question one has to ask is, can the media carry out the interrogation of Mr Advani the way it does so today.

Let us assume he is wrong. Let us grant that what Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie, Jaswant Singh said was right. Let us assume he lied, that his lapses were not symptoms of tiredness. Yet can one interrogate a man in such a ruthless way. Let us concede that Sudheendra Kulkarni was as seedy as the critics predicted. Yet is TV a kangaroo court, and does a search for truth allow such forms of inquisition?

I don’t think it is the Muhammad Ali Jinnah event that makes Mr Advani guilty. In our hysteria about Jinnah, we have forgotten the memory of colonialism. Are we facing a selective amnesia that forgives imperialism but not Pakistan? What are wepunishing Mr Advani for? Are we unforgiving because his mask of machismo collapsed and that he traded 170 passengers for three terrorists? Let us be clear, it was not an easy decision and to say one tractor could have stopped the plane reveals the arrogance of hindsight. Mr Advani has made mistakes. True. But is TV the place to try him in absentia. Often the media, in its rush to representation, asks Mr Advani to answer in the name of the Indian people. When did media represent India or its people? Interrogation in public often turns inquisitional. Worse, there is an ominous sense of judgment first, trial afterward.

We are facing new Savonarolas of the media who, in the name of the new orthodoxy of security, nationalism, territorial integrity and efficiency, are ready to attack with impurity any false icons available. The repetitiveness of the attack, the redundancy that adds hysteria to the change makes for an unseemly ritual. Should not due process be available on TV or is “contempt for TV” as punishable as “contempt for court”. Civility, table manners, procedures for fairness can be laughed away as bourgeois. Yet these fragile rituals are all we have to guarantee the civic minimum of a decent society. The other question that intrigues one is why the hunting of Mr Advani is not accompanied by follow-ups into the Gujarat riots. Is it because it does not suit the Congress? It is not Mr Advani’s ideas of Jinnah that threaten, or even his lies over Kandahar. It is the silence of Mr Advani, Mr Jaswant Singh and Mr Shourie about Gujarat, a silence across the years that worries one.

The media’s arrogance about who it represents and what it can do is worrying. One is not denying that many behaved with dignity but one is insisting that the aggressive fringe is hogging the show, creating the beginnings of McCarthyism in media that needs to be challenged now and openly. The media as kangaroo court is the last invention we need. Truth and justice are abandoned for fresh TRPs.

One can smell the reek of McCarthyism in the air disguised by the incense of patriotism. One has to face this quietly and dissent. Dissent might sadly be marginal but the margins will never forgive us for our tacit silences.


Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist








In 2005 and 2008, despite pressure from China, two historic Tibet lawsuits were accepted in the Spanish high court under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, a doctrine that allows courts to reach beyond national borders in cases of torture, terrorism, genocide and crimes against humanity. These two cases seek to hold Chinese leaders accountable for killings, imprisonment and torture in Tibet.

As part of the legal process, Spanish judge Santiago Pedraz has written to New Delhi seeking permission to interview Tibetan exiles resident in Dharamsala in order to gather evidence for the cases. Why is Delhi delaying its response to this judicial request?

Governments routinely collaborate on judicial matters to share information and arrest and extradite criminals in order to prevent crime and impunity on an international level. In most cases it is not only a right, it is an obligation under international law and specific treaties. Most people naturally approve of this “globalisation of justice” when it is applied in order to prevent bombing, drug dealing or piracy, but it is a different matter when exactly the same legal mechanisms are applied to international and universal crimes such as genocide, torture, and crimes against humanity.

The discomfort increases exponentially if the countries affected by the application of international law are extremely powerful, like China.

When Judge Pedraz informed the Chinese ministry of justice on May 5, 2009, of rulings against eight Chinese leaders, including Tibet Autonomous Region party secretary Zhang Qingli, in the Spanish high court in connection with the harsh crackdown on dissent in Tibet that has been ongoing from March 2008, the Chinese reaction was swift and uncompromising.

Beijing demanded that the Spanish government — which holds the European Union presidency next year — immediately ensure that these “false lawsuits” were dropped. Privately, Chinese embassy representatives suggested that if Judge Pedraz sought to pursue his investigations in China, he could be arrested.
China’s heavy-handed tactics over the Tibet lawsuits are consistent with its attempts to block all debate on Tibet on the international stage, and its subversion of international forums where its human rights record comes under scrutiny.

But this should surely not affect India’s response to a legitimate request from one of the top Spanish judges in Madrid’s high court? Sadly, it seems this is already the case. The last time the Spanish court sought India’s permission for one of its judges to interview Tibetans exiled in India who were witnesses and victims of repression, the Indian government said no — on the basis of New Delhi’s lack of recognition of both the Spanish cases and the concept of “universal jurisdiction”. This was despite the fact that India had signed a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with Spain in 2006 which included the assistance in legal cases by ensuring people could testify or help with investigations.

India’s response was disingenuous to say the least. It may, indeed, be argued by India that it did not support the establishment of the International Criminal Court, but the Indian government did ratify the Genocide Convention and the Convention Against Torture, to name just two, like most other countries. In addition, there is a clause of “compulsory law” (ius cogens), dating back to the Nuremberg trials, which is tacitly agreed by any country in the United Nations and also binds governments to respond and collaborate in the face of certain international crimes.

A few years ago we were asked by a veteran Indian journalist about the progress of the Madrid Tibet lawsuits, which have been acclaimed by civil rights experts, progressive lawyers and those who seek to hold leaders accountable for human rights abuses internationally. This journalist, who is proud of India’s democracy as well as the hospitality offered to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan exile community, was deeply saddened when we told him about the Indian government’s refusal to accede to Madrid’s request to interview Tibetan witnesses on Indian soil.

On January 19, Spanish Judge Pedraz submitted his request to travel to India to interview Tibetan victims and witnesses in Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama in Himachal Pradesh. So far no answer has been forthcoming.
Judge Pedraz repeated the same request to the Indian ministry of justice on July 19, but again there was no response.

The purpose of the Tibet lawsuits is not only to seek justice for the Tibetan people, but also to provide an opportunity for the truth to be known and not to be repeated and for the individual Tibetans who have undergone immeasurable suffering due to Chinese policies to bear witness after 50 years of impunity and passivity. India must adhere to its legal and democratic commitments, not to mention its noble tradition of free expression and democracy, and should not block these ground-breaking cases of international justice any further.


José Elías Esteve, professor of international law and international relations, University of Valencia, Spain, is the main research lawyer in both Tibet lawsuits, and Alan Cantos, president of the Spanish Tibet Support Committee,is the main plaintiffin both cases.








LISTENING to criticism and appreciation of Jaswant Singh I was reminded of a conversation I had a few months ago with a Baloch nationalist who was trying to explain to me how an independent Balochistan would happily build links with the independent states of Punjab, Sindh and Pakhtunkhwa. He did not seem to appreciate for a minute that there would be rivers of fire flowing through any new partition in the region. He was forgetting that 62 years after Partition people have still not managed to avoid the pitfalls.
The story of Mr Singh’s book exposes the mindset of the people. I do not plan to comment on the book. Instead, this is a commentary on attitudes observed after the book’s publication. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) threw out one of its key members and there were many others in India who reacted sharply to Mr Singh’s analysis. Obviously, the BJP and others in the same mould didn’t even read the book else they might have seen that Mr Singh was, in fact, being fair in analysing Partition.

Equally quick were those in Pakistan whose commentary was that Mr Singh’s fate depicted Indian imperialism and intolerance. One would like to remind such people of two other books that received similar treatment. The first one, which is closer to Mr Singh’s book, is Ayesha Jalal’s The Sole Spokesman about Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Partition. This book had generated controversy. I distinctly remember angry reactions from some who thought Ms Jalal had committed sacrilege by arguing that Jinnah did not have a grand plan for the Partition of India.

Ms Jalal was luckier than the great Urdu novelist and short-story writer Qurratulain Hyder. The reaction to her novel Aag ka Darya from certain right-wing quarters was severe. Pro-establishment intellectuals were upset that her novel did not take a position for the Muslims. Her narrative included the lives of both Hindu and Muslim characters — the way they lived, their sociology and politics — who were not very different from one another. For the rightwingers, it was atrocious for Hyder not to have described Muslims as the ultimate victims.
It is apparent that many, especially the religious and political right, are not able to cross the blazing rivers of imagination to a place where the “other” cannot be described as a victim or praised. It is difficult to admit but a lot of us in South Asia are extremely intolerant when it comes to the “other”. Partition was a collective experience in which all sorts suffered. I remember chatting with the Sikhs in Amritsar, hailing from my mother’s neighbourhood. In 2006, I sat chatting with men and women about Muslims who lived there before 1947. They had fond memories. The reality is that the Hindus who migrated from Pakistan to post-Partition India were actually foreigners with behaviour patterns that the people in this neighbourhood were not used to. The story on the other side of the border was similar. People had to learn to live with total strangers!
During our conversation I asked one old Sikh gentleman why then was there such killing and bloodshed. It all seemed like an accident to him. According to him, the carnage was the reaction of a mob to the news of the arrival of trains from across the border full of dead bodies of Sikhs and Hindus. I am sure the gentleman, his family, elders, friends and neighbours did not know then that people on the other side had heard similar tales and had reacted in the same fashion.

Collectively and individually, people from the northern tip of the subcontinent engaged in mass killings that they then tried to explain away by making demons out of the other side. I am reminded of the story of a calm and collected gentleman with an extremely gentle appearance. In the last days of his life he confided to his family how he had killed a family hailing from a different faith.

In our six-decade history, we have not managed to face the reality regarding our involvement in acts of brutality, nor have we tried to investigate where and how the carnage started. Such a historical inquiry, which is still possible, is necessary for a closure of our past bitterness — imperative for crossing the river of fire.
A phenomenal development in the past couple of decades has been the transformation of the Indian-Pakistan dispute from a territorial to an ideological one. The new generation on both sides has been fed on the belief that the “other” never intended any good. So, while there still is some fascination to visit the other side, the divide has now become almost impassable.

I can speak about the experience of teaching in at least one public-sector university in Pakistan where children did not even think it necessary to build cultural ties. We have to admit that in these so many years we have managed to extend the river of fire rather than build a bridge across it. And so, what some writers have to say might create temporary excitement but it later falls on deaf ears. I wonder whether the Baloch leader would appreciate the loss that nations and civilisations create for themselves.


The writer is an independent strategicand political analyst(By arrangement with Dawn)








EVENTUALLY the bullet has been bitten, or at least partially so. There is reason to commend the home ministry for displaying the political courage to dispense with providing 24 VIPS with X-category security cover, and reducing from three to two the number of personal security officers (PSOs) attached to another 50-odd persons in that bracket. Hopefully there will, progressively, be a trimming of persons provided a higher level of protection so that more policemen can be made available for regular duties. A fresh look could also be taken at the system of heavy deployment along the routes taken by VVIPs, there are just not enough cops available to indulge in such luxury. Indeed, over the years “security” has become a status symbol, hence the fitting of red and blue flashing-lights on politicians’ vehicles, and the manner in which some of the lesser lights covered actually misused their bodyguards as personal aides was demeaning. Whether these PSOs are actually capable of protecting is another story, there have been instances when terrorist fire on a VIP target has remained unchallenged despite his bodyguard carrying a weapon. Since the threats cannot be eliminated a core group of PSOs could be formed and specially trained for duties that should in no manner be taken lightly. In fact the less visible the bodyguard the more effective he could prove.

What, however, is difficult to appreciate about the recent security downgrade is that the list of some of the people who will cease to be protected has found its way to the media. Maybe not through any formal statement, perhaps through those calculated leaks that have become routine. Those individuals had been under some sort of threat at a given point in time, maybe the threat has diminished but to publicise the withdrawal of protection might be exposing them to renewed danger. Should even one of them be targeted by a terrorist the political fallout would suffice to derail the entire review process. The government’s publicists might feel that aam aadmi would lap up “news” of security withdrawal, but they are not entitled to seek media attention at the cost of any individual’s personal safety. That, quite frankly, is simply “not on”.








India is going to be the home to the world’s largest population of street children, according to a recent UNICEF report. Their number is estimated to be over 18 million. Forty per cent of these children are in need of care and protection. The Government of India has also admitted that the number of children on the streets is on the rise.
It is not a uniquely Indian phenomenon. Street children exist all over the world, and their number is increasing both in the developed and developing countries. The United Nations Department On International Economic and Social Affairs has estimated that there are 100 million street children in the world. Should the trend persist, the number will rise to 800 million by 2020.


There are certain factors that are common to both developed and developing countries, chief among them being poverty. The other factors are lack of educational facilities, insufficient family earnings, poor living conditions, inadequate shelter, broken homes and irresponsible behaviour of the parents, migration to cities, exploitation and abuse, political turmoil, economic recession and natural calamities.


THE child is lured to the street by the prospect of income, entertainment, freedom from parental pressure and studies. Street children constitute the most vulnerable section of society. It is a vulnerability that is compounded by the denial of such basic human necessities as food, healthcare, nutrition, education and protection. Most of these children work in an unhealthy environment and suffer from several ailments. Common among them are skin disease, tuberculosis, dental problems and parasite diseases. A social science survey has described them as “pale, pitiful, thin and malnourished”. Several studies have confirmed that around 80 per cent of these children consume drugs to cope with the pangs of hunger, fear, loneliness and despondency.

Street children are often involved in “survival sex” with adults merely to sustain themselves. A government-commissioned survey (Child Abuse, India 2007) covering 13 states revealed shocking details. Street children in Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Delhi reported the highest percentage of sexual assault. In due course of time, they suffer from various sexual and reproductive problems. AIDS and HIV infection is on the increase. They lack self-worth, will power, discipline, spiritual and moral values.

In the perception of society, street children are viewed as trouble-makers, generally violent, immoral, uncontrollable and addicted to drugs and liquor. The society’s attitude is unsympathetic and negative, reflecting its inability to take care and share their problems. Social scientists argue that street children feel further aggrieved because of this hostile perception.

The most neglected and ignored segment of society, street children have of late attracted national and global attention. Improving the quality of life is a difficult and challenging task as they represent a “floating population” with a transitory lifestyle. Yet, these children have the right to survive. Towards that end, certain positive steps and support mechanisms are imperative.

This segment has always been denied the rights guaranteed to children by the Constitution and the United Nations Convention on the “Right of the Child” to which India is a signatory. Governments, both at the Centre and in the states, have adopted a number of measures for their welfare and to ensure basic rights. Yet there are gaps in the actual realisation of their rights. A lot more needs to be done in terms of education, nutrition, health care, shelter and protection.

There is an urgent need for an educational programme that is geared to ensure their protection. Community centres should be set up in towns and cities so that these deprived children can have an easy access to all social services, recreation facilities, social integration to the extent possible and the potential for individual development. The community centres should be in a position to provide the basic education and training for the development of skills so that they can start a family life some day. In other words, these community centres ought to facilitate the transition from the street to the family and society.


Another intervention programme called the “Life Enrichment Education” has been remarkably successful in improving the street children’s quality of life. This programme lays emphasis on developing physical, psycho-social and vocational strength. It can address the problem of growing up in difficult circumstances.
Kolkata is home to a large number of street children, estimated to be over 100,000. And they are spreading over almost all the 141 municipal wards. They are concentrated in areas close to railway stations and markets, places where odd jobs are available. They are often subjected to the most extreme forms of social, psychological and physical harassment. Lack of education renders them helpless in an alien world.

A number of reputed private schools have extended support by engaging their students to teach these children. The idea is that both schools and students can play an important role in providing education to the underprivileged street children. A volunteer base of young and committed “peer-educators” from about 12 leading schools in Kolkata has been formed to teach them. “Save the Children”, a leading international organisation working in India for mother-and-child rights, is partnering various NGOs on a project called “Creating educational opportunities for street children in Kolkata”. 







London, 6 SEPT: Ever wondered why some people get bitten more than others by mosquitoes? Well, the answer lies in their sweat, say researchers.

A new study has revealed that people whose sweat smells sweet are less vulnerable to insect bites as compared to those who have lower levels of fruity smelling compounds in their sweat.

According to the researchers, these compounds known as ketones actually repel mosquitoes ~ and that’s why people who produce high levels are less likely to be bitten.

Lead researcher Dr James Logan of Rothamsted Research was quoted by The Daily Telegraph as saying: “Mosquitoes can detect a wide range of different chemicals and signals to help them identify something as a human being. “The higher concentrations of these ketones seems to trick the mosquitoes into thinking what they are smelling is not a human. It could be that these chemicals carry a message about the people who produce them that makes them unattractive to mosquitoes.” Dr Logan and colleagues at Aberdeen University analysed the body odours produced by a panel of volunteers found to be resistant to mosquitoes and compared them with the body odours of those who attracted the insects to reach the conclusion. The subjects were all asked to stick to strict diets, not to drink alcohol and avoid using perfumes and deodorant so their natural body odour could be collected. The study found five ketones that were effective at repelling the mosquitoes and when they were sprayed on skin of volunteers who were normally attractive to mosquitoes, insects were repelled. PTI





IN 1986, democratically-elected chief minister Lalthanhawla of the Mizoram Congress stepped down to make room for rebel supremo Laldenga of the Mizo National Front. This he did for the sake of peace in a state that had been ravaged by nearly 20 years of rebellion. Had the NSCN(IM) leadership followed the Mizoram example, perhaps some sort of political settlement would have been in order. But not only are they cool to such niceties, they are determined not to accept anything less than sovereignty. Only last month they laughed off the Centre’s reported offer to give Nagas greater power under Article 371F, something which the Nagas already enjoy. Given this, Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio’s latest offer to vacate his seat if needed for a final political settlement makes little sense. He has repeated this umpteen times. Rio could not have been occupying the hot seat today but for NSCN(IM) proxy support. He was bold enough to desert SC Jamir’s Congress ministry five months before the 2003 assembly elections and he did so with the overt support of the NSCN(IM), whose primary objective was to oust Jamir’s “puppet” government. But despite being pro-NSCN(M), Rio’s government is not part of the peace process. It has even failed to fulfil its part as facilitator. Rio’s Nagaland People’s Front has embarked on an ambitious campaign to make the party broadbased by setting up offices in other Naga-inhabited areas of adjacent states, a clever ploy to whip up sentiments for the greater Nagaland concept. Rio said that since the ceasefire came into effect in August 1997, as many as 1,040 people had been killed ~ the figure is only for Nagaland ~ but he should realise that most of these killings took place during his reign. He takes pride that during the truce period not a single Army personnel has been killed in Nagaland. A sign of how far he will go to popularise himself was clear from the help he reportedly sought from the Marxists in Bengal “to integrate people from different social backgrounds in Nagaland into a party structure”. Rio would do well to concentrate on checking the rampant extortion which today has become a greater threat to peace than insurgency.







IF 52 Sundays ~ if not Saturdays as well ~ are added to the current entitlement of 146 days’ leave a year, simple arithmetic indicates that school teachers are on vacation for more than half the calendar year. A more ridiculous set of terms and conditions of service than exists in West Bengal would be difficult to imagine. Not to put too fine a point on it, neither the teachers nor the government are doing justice to their salaries, still less their profession. What the Chief Minister described as tamasha in another context will be reinforced in the schools and as a matter of policy. The school education minister, not much of an improvement over the previous incumbent, has assured teachers of another category of leave to be styled “personal ground”, whatever that may mean. It immediately begs the question as to what precisely “casual leave” is for? No less uncalled for is the new embroidery called “earned leave” for a profession whose members are entitled to three vacations a year.


Partha De betrays an overriding anxiety to placate the All Bengal Teachers’ Association, traditionally an influential front unit of the ruling party. Ergo, the objective behind allowing school teachers more holidays is nothing if not political. There can be no defence of the indefensible. Indeed, there seldom was so conscious a move to upset the academic schedule and education in the larger context.

Mr De, however considerate he may appear to be to the target audience, must also have the honesty to admit that this bout of fatuous benevolence comes at the cost of learning. There can be no greater injustice to the student than to attend school with a fair percentage of absentee teachers on any given day of the week. The teachers owe the students a lot more than the government is prepared to grant. Substantial is the risk of school education going haywire. To benefit a political constituency, the minister is intent on reducing the teachers to an excessively pampered lot. The decision, announced with considerable fanfare last Thursday, deserves to be shot down at the threshold by the Chief Minister. As it took a few brave judges to break the deadlock on declaring assets, it is time for groups of teachers to stand up and announce they will not be bought off thus.








The tragic death of Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy leaves a problematic void in Andhra Pradesh for the Congress. Reddy had managed to hold together the unusually fractious state Congress unit, and this was one of the achievements that made him particularly valuable to the party high command. The efficiency, shrewdness and practical thinking that marked his intra-party strategies also lay behind his achievements as political worker and chief minister. His personal ambitions seldom got in the way of his mass appeal; rather, the Congress found in him a leader who convincingly devoted himself to public welfare. Reddy rose to claim the top job of the state and bagged it twice. For this, he depended on his political acumen and his feel of the popular pulse, and certainly astuteness, all of which are demonstrated by the fact that he never lost an election and was the only Congress chief minister to complete a full term in Andhra Pradesh. Where his predecessor, N. Chandrababu Naidu rather lost the plot, Reddy managed to strike a balance between agricultural and industrial development. Irrigation, the guarantee of free electricity, rural employment, housing facilities, healthcare for the poor and pension schemes had been given as much, if not more, attention as urban development, infrastructure and industry. Reddy, who twice gave the Congress a vast chunk of its seats in Parliament, in a way redefined the relationship of a centrist national party with its regional satraps.


It is its crucial dependence on Reddy’s stature that makes the Congress’s task difficult in Andhra Pradesh now. To a large extent, Reddy had been a one-man show. Since there is no comparable leader, the choice of the next chief minister has been compromised. K. Rosaiah has been made to stand in, but it is doubtful if he will be able to hold out against the renewed faction-fighting and the claims of Reddy’s son, Jaganmohan Reddy, to the political mantle. Given the Congress’s long tradition of dynastic politics and the outpouring of emotions in Andhra Pradesh, the top leadership may find it difficult to subsist on an unpopular decision. Yet, the moment calls for a clear head and a strong will. These are needed to carry forward Reddy’s policies, many of which may not reap the harvest they did for Reddy without adequate attention. If the party fails to fulfil the public expectations YSR aroused, it may find the political initiative passing on to the Telugu Desam Party. This time, the TDP may not repeat its earlier folly of treating the other anti-Congress vote-puller, the Praja Rajyam Party, as a pariah








At the root of the word, ‘science’, is the idea of knowledge. It is important to remember this when education in India seems to be forgetting the crucial distinction between pure learning and the teaching of skills or the practical application of classical systems of knowledge. So when a premier centre of advanced science research like Bangalore’s Indian Institute of Science thinks up an undergraduate course in the classical sciences, then it is time to start feeling somewhat reassured. To create a broad and high-calibre foundation in the basics of pure science, mathematics and engineering, rounded off with training in the rudiments of research is a solid idea. When the majority of the best minds in science tend to move towards turning themselves into techno-coolies, one hopes that the creation of such opportunities will produce other forms of excellence in Indian higher education. The prime minister’s recently voiced concerns regarding this would also get addressed in the process.

But it is not enough to create such pockets of pure learning only in a few well-funded institutes. The country’s best universities also need to become centres of classical learning and research, with their faculty compensated and encouraged similarly for this to happen. This is not an elitism-versus-accessibility issue at all, but one of resurrecting universities as centres of learning. In fact, some would argue that burdening advanced research institutes with undergraduate teaching may not be an entirely good idea, and that universities are the best places where this kind of teaching ought to be strengthened. But young learners and advanced scientists could also challenge one another in ways that could benefit both. Moreover, this move towards high-quality options for pure learning should not remain confined to the sciences. It is only when the role of the humanities in themselves is also recognized in a similar way, and not merely as a humanizing supplement to a scientific education, that Indian higher education will attain the proper balance that it risks losing now.










The telecommunications regulatory authority of India was the first independent regulatory commission, soon followed by the Orissa electricity regulatory commission. The Electricity Regulatory Commission Act in 1998 was the comprehensive legislation that led to the creation of the Central and state electricity regulatory commissions. Some states had their own legislation for electricity regulatory commissions — Orissa, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and so on. Subsequently, others came into being for oil and gas and for competition. Many are in the offing — for coal, civil aviation, roads, railways, airports, ports (absorbing the tariff authority for major ports or TAMP), energy as a whole, broadcasting, cable television, communication (a sectoral regulator to promote, facilitate and develop carriage and content of all communications), water supply and sanitation, and for groundwater. Education and health may also be regulated by independent bodies.


Prayas (a highly qualified non-governmental organization) conducted the first survey of electricity regulatory commissions in 2000. The report was reviewed by an expert group consisting of E.A.S. Sarma, Madhav Godbole and myself. My book, Governing Power, was the first comprehensive review of independent regulation as a form of governance.


These and other papers and conference findings identify gaps between the different regulatory commissions on each of the major issues: independence and autonomy, their empowerment, accountability, transparency and public participation and enhancement of the quality of professional inputs for the regulatory bodies. New legislation that the government is considering for a standard approach between the different bodies must take account of suggestions. The purpose must be to make regulatory bodies sturdy and independent, and with common objectives and functions.


Thus, selection committees for regulatory bodies must not be ad hoc standing committees. Delays in constituting them must not take place, delaying (as they have repeatedly done) the selection process. Statutory selection committees must not be composed primarily of current or ex-bureaucrats but of others like sitting or retired superior court judges nominated by a chief justice, directors of reputed institutions like the Indian institutes of technology, lok ayuktas, the chairman of the Central administrative tribunal, and the chairman of a national regulatory commission, with the ministerial secretary as convener. Not more than one current or retired government official, if at all, must be selected for any regulatory body, to signal the independence of the commission. The selection committee should justify its recommendations and the government, if it does not accept the selections, must record its reasons. These documents should be placed in the public domain and reported to the appropriate legislature.


The age limit for all appointments should be with reference to the date of appointment to ensure that appointees serve one full term of not less than five years. The procedure for the removal of members should ensure absence of political considerations. There must be no second term of office. No member or convener of a selection committee shall seek appointment as chairman or a member of any of the regulatory bodies.


To provide financial autonomy to the regulatory bodies, each must have a separate fund raised through a cess on the regulated item. The bodies should be allowed to fund inhouse consumer advocacy, promotion of consumer organizations and professional consulting support.


The government’s directives to the regulatory bodies must be transparent and severely constrained, so that there is minimal interference in the work of the bodies. All the regulatory, licensing and other related powers must be incorporated as inherent powers of the regulatory body and not subject to government discretion. This will avoid the present farce of regulatory bodies created but not notified with their authorities.


The primary accountability of the regulatory body should be to the concerned legislatures before whom their annual reports must be placed within a prescribed time limit. These reports must explicitly disclose the number of public hearings held, the orders pronounced and their implementation by the government concerned, the directives issued by the government either under the statute or otherwise, the views of the regulatory body thereon, and the administrative and financial constraints imposed by the government on their functioning. It must also disclose the decisions, statements or announcements of the government on matters that are essentially within the domain of the regulatory body as well as such other decisions that tend to preempt the decisions of the ERC.


Government audits of regulatory bodies must be only of the expenditures, not of their decisions or their financial effects on the government. All proceedings of the regulator should be translated into local languages and made available to the public, if necessary, by suitably pricing them, and through publication on the web. All regulatory orders should be circulated to the print media, especially in local languages. The regulator must be permitted by law to formulate a scheme to fund consumer organizations, provide for their training and to hold public hearings in states or districts, as the case may be, by rotation.


The objectives of regulatory bodies must have common features. Thus they must encourage, even stimulate, competition; in cases where natural monopolies or other factors inhibit the development of competition, simulate its effects by regulation. In sectoral regulation, they must have the powers not merely to promote competition, but also efficiency of operations and capital employed, to achieve rapid growth, and enable equity of access and geographical dispersion of services. All regulatory bodies should have powers to make regulations, issue licences, set performance standards, determine tariffs of the whole sector and not just parts of it, to enforce regulations, lay down licensing conditions, and take punitive measures including suspension or cancellation of licences in case of violation.


The present structure of independent regulatory bodies has developed in a haphazard manner. It needs to be more uniform. The suggestions made here will go a long way towards making it so. However, legislatures and the executive are reluctant to allow the creation of such quasi-judicial bodies that will take away authority from them, giving it to non-elected bodies. Already it is accepted that they should not be given adjudicative powers, which must be with appellate bodies that are headed by someone from the higher judiciary. Electricity, telecom, competition, securities, already have them. They will surely come up for other sectors. We must try to limit the proliferation of both the regulatory and the appellate bodies by combining them, also ensuring coordinated functioning.


This new institution of governance enables public involvement through transparent functioning. It involves all stakeholders in decisions that affect them. Accountability is ensured by the fact that they justify all decisions.

The author is former director- general, National Council for Applied Economic Research









A quarter-century after a million Ethiopians died in the great hunger of 1984-85, the country is heading into another famine. The spring rains failed entirely, and the summer rains were three weeks late. But why is famine stalking Ethiopia again?


The Ethiopian government is authoritarian, but it isn’t incompetent. It gives fertilizer to farmers and teaches best practices. By the late 1990s, Ethiopia was self-sufficient in food in good years, and the government had created a strategic food reserve for the bad years.


At present, infant deaths are already over two per 10,000 per day in Somali, the worst-hit region of Ethiopia. (Four per day counts as full-scale famine.) Country-wide, 20 per cent of the population already depends on the dwindling flow of foreign food aid, and it will get worse for many months yet. So what have the Ethiopians done wrong?


The real answer is that they have had too many babies. Ethiopia’s population at the time of the last famine was 40 million. Twenty-five years later, it is 80 million. You can do everything else right — give your farmers new tools and skills, fight erosion, create food reserves — but if you don’t control the population, you are just spitting into the wind.


Even if the coming famine in Ethiopia kills a million people, the population will keep growing. So the next famine, 10-15 years from now, will hit a country of a 100 million people trying to make a living from farming on land where only 40 million faced starvation in the 1980s. The whole question of population, instead of being central to the debate about development, food and climate change, has been put on ice. The reason, I think, is that the rich countries are secretly embarrassed, and the poor countries deeply resentful.


Suppose Ethiopia had been the first country to industrialize. Suppose some mechanical genius in Tigray invented the world’s first steam engine in 1710. The first railways were spreading across the country by the 1830s, and, at the same time, Ethiopian entrepreneurs and imperialists spread all over Africa. By the end of the 19th century, they controlled half of Europe too.


Baby boom


Never mind the improbabilities. The point is that an Ethiopia with such a history would easily be rich enough to support 80 million people now. If it could not grow enough food for them all, it would just import it like Britain (where the Industrial Revolution actually started) imports food. Money makes everything easy.


The problem is well understood. The population of the rich countries has grown about tenfold since the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution, but for the first half of that period it grew quite slowly. Many babies died, and there were no cures for most epidemic diseases. Later, the death rate dropped, but by then, with people feeling more secure in their lives, the birth rate was dropping too. Whereas in most poor countries, the population hardly grew at all until the start of the 20th century. But once the population did start to grow, thanks to basic public health measures that cut the death rate, it grew faster than it ever did in the rich countries.


Sadly, economies don’t grow that fast; so these countries never achieved the level of comfort and security where most people will start to reduce their family size spontaneously. At its current rate of growth, Ethiopia’s population will double again in just 32 years.


You’re thinking: that will never happen. Famine will become normal in Ethiopia well before that. No combination of wise domestic policies and no amount of foreign aid can stop it. And you are right.


History is unfair. Conversations between those who got lucky and those left holding the other end of the stick are awkward. But we cannot go on ignoring the elephant in the room. We have to start talking about population again.











US President Obama has already dispatched an additional 21,000 American troops to Afghanistan and soon will decide whether to send thousands more. That would be a fateful decision for his presidency, and a group of former intelligence officials and other experts is now reluctantly going public to warn that more troops would be a historic mistake.

The group’s concern is that sending more American troops into ethnic Pashtun areas in the Afghan south may only galvanise local people to back the Taliban in repelling the infidels.

“Our policy makers do not understand that the very presence of our forces in the Pashtun areas is the problem,” the group said in a statement. “We do not mitigate the opposition by increasing troop levels, but rather we increase the opposition and prove to the Pashtuns that the Taliban are correct.”

“The basic ignorance by our leadership is going to cause the deaths of many fine American troops with no positive outcome,” the statement said.

The group includes Howard Hart, a former Central Intelligence Agency station chief in Pakistan; David Miller, a former ambassador and National Security Council official; William J Olson, a counterinsurgency scholar at the National Defence University; and another CIA veteran who does not want his name published but who spent 12 years in the region, was station chief in Kabul at the time the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, and later headed the CIA’s Counterterrorism Centre.

“We share a concern that the country is driving over a cliff,” Miller said.


Hart, who helped organise the anti-Soviet insurgency in the 1980s, cautions that Americans just don’t understand the toughness, determination and fighting skills of the Pashtun tribes. He adds that if the US escalates the war, the result will be radicalisation of Pashtuns in Pakistan and further instability there — possibly even the collapse of Pakistan.

These experts are not people who crave publicity; I had to persuade them to go public with their concerns. And their views are widely shared among others who also know Afghanistan well.

“We’ve bitten off more than we can chew; we’re setting ourselves up for failure,” said Rory Stewart, a former British diplomat who teaches at Harvard when he is not running a large aid programme in Afghanistan. Stewart describes the American military strategy in Afghanistan as ‘nonsense’.

I’m troubled because officials in Washington seem to make decisions based on a simplistic caricature of the Taliban that doesn’t match what I’ve found in my reporting trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Among the Pashtuns, the population is not neatly divisible into ‘Taliban’ or ‘non-Taliban’. Rather, the Pashtuns are torn by complex aspirations and fears.

Many Pashtuns I’ve interviewed are appalled by the Taliban’s periodic brutality and think they are too extreme; they think they’re a little nuts. But these Pashtuns also admire the Taliban’s personal honesty and religious piety, a contrast to the corruption of so many officials around President Hamid Karzai.

Some Taliban are hard-core ideologues, but many join the fight because friends or elders suggest it, because they are avenging the deaths of relatives in previous fighting, because it's a way to earn money, or because they want to expel the infidels from their land — particularly because the foreigners haven’t brought the roads, bridges and irrigation projects that had been anticipated.


Frankly, if a bunch of foreign Muslim troops in turbans showed up in my hometown in rural Oregon, searching our homes without bringing any obvious benefit, then we might all take to the hills with our deer rifles as well.

In fairness, the American military has hugely improved its sensitivity, and some commanders in the field have been superb in building trust with Afghans. That works. But all commanders can’t be superb, and over all, our increased presence makes Pashtuns more likely to see us as alien occupiers.

That may be why the troop increase this year hasn’t calmed things. Instead, 2009 is already the bloodiest year for American troops in Afghanistan — with four months left to go.

The solution is neither to pull out of Afghanistan nor to double down. Rather, we need to continue our presence with a lighter military footprint, limited to training the Afghan forces and helping them hold major cities, and ensuring that al-Qaeda does not regroup. We must also invest more in education and agriculture development, for that is a way over time to peel Pashtuns away from the Taliban.

This would be a muddled, imperfect strategy with frustratingly modest goals, but it would be sustainable politically and militarily. And it does not require heavy investments of American and Afghan blood.










Every afternoon, at 2 pm, a stooped, silver-haired elderly man stands at the park gate opposite our house. This beautifully maintained park has a walkway around the landscaped lawns and ornamental shrubs tastefully planted in the corners. Gulmohurs, Tabebuias and jackfruit trees lend their shade to this green scene. A gazebo on a small raised portion of the park can be reached by climbing a flight of steep stone steps. Cosily tucked into one of the slopes descending from Highgrounds, this place is an oasis of peace despite the incessant noise of traffic around it.

Yet, this oasis remains inaccessible to the old gentleman. The park gates are closed between 11 am and 4 pm in deference to orders from the municipal corporation. Upon questioning the resident gardener, one is told that “Janru sarige illa”, which roughly translates to “people behave improperly”. This euphemistic allusion to canoodling couples is amply evident from what one witnesses on the low, highly accommodating stone wall that surrounds the park.

And so he stands patiently, sometimes holding on to the gate, sometimes the stone pillars beside them. His face is always towards the park and never the noisy road. It almost seems as if he has mentally transported himself to one of the numerous benches inside. An hour passes; another half-hour. Then it is time for schoolchildren to come home. As they skip along down the road, swinging their lunch bags and chattering animatedly, the figure at the gate grows restive. Now, a few walkers have also appeared and scuff impatiently at the pavement with their expensive sneakers.

At 4 pm, as the gardener unlocks the gates to the verdant paradise, the elderly man rushes in, hurries to a quiet corner and sinks down on a bench. Soon droves of track-suited fitness enthusiasts, iPods plugged into their ears, lost in the rat-race of the corporate world will arrive to clock in their kilometres.

How long the old man stays in the park or when he goes home, I don’t know. What I do know is that Bangalore is no longer the ‘Pensioner’s Paradise’








It didn’t take long for tobacco companies to try to evade tough new restrictions on their ability to market to young people. Less than three months after a landmark federal law granted the Food and Drug Administration power to regulate tobacco products, several of the industry’s biggest companies filed suit in tobacco-friendly Kentucky. They contend that the law’s marketing provisions infringe their commercial free-speech rights.


For the sake of the public’s health, we hope this suit is the last gasp of an industry that has a long, sorry history of pretending to market only to adults while surreptitiously targeting young people.


The industry is not trying to upend the entire law or the government’s right to regulate cigarette contents. Rather, it seeks to block restrictions that would greatly limit how and where it can advertise.


The law, for example, bans the use of color or graphic images in advertisements placed in magazines that reach a significant number of people under the age of 18 even though the primary audience might be adults. Ads in those magazines would have to consist of black text on a white background. The lawsuit contends that People magazine, Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine, all read predominantly by adults, would be limited to black-and-white tobacco ads.


Under another provision, cigarette packages would have to carry much larger warnings than the current labels and would have to use color graphics to depict the health consequences of smoking.


The law also prohibits advertising that products carry a lower risk than traditional cigarettes without F.D.A. approval, a provision aimed at ensuring that such claims are scientifically valid not only for individual smokers but also for the population as a whole, including nonsmokers who might be enticed to smoke if they thought a cigarette was low-risk.


The industry contends that these and other restrictions limit its ability to convey “truthful information” about a lawful product to adult consumers, not just to young people. Antismoking advocates retort that the companies can convey their information in black and white without using colorful images that have a strong emotional resonance with young people.


To uphold the law, the courts would have to decide that all of these provisions are “narrowly tailored” to the goal of reducing youth smoking, one of the tests of constitutionality. In 2001 the Supreme Court overturned rules in Massachusetts prohibiting outdoor advertising of tobacco products within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds because, while aimed at protecting children, the restrictions interfered unduly with messages aimed at adults.


The new law revises provisions on outdoor advertising to meet the objections raised in that case. They would not prohibit ads in retail store windows near schools and playgrounds, for example, so that adult passers-by would know tobacco products were on sale inside.


And just in case more changes are thought necessary, the law instructs the F.D.A. to modify its rules before issuing them to comply with the Massachusetts decision and other governing First Amendment cases.


On public health grounds, the tobacco industry does not deserve much latitude to promote its deadly products with colorful images, as opposed to black-and-white text. In a 2006 opinion based on company documents, Federal District Judge Gladys Kessler found that tobacco companies had marketed to young people “while consistently, publicly, and falsely, denying they do so.”


Now, the courts must decide how much this rogue industry may be restrained. The health of millions of impressionable young people rides on the outcome.








Abdul Qadeer Khan has a special place in the pantheon of international outlaws. In 2004, he confessed that over a 15-year period he provided some of the world’s most nefarious and dangerous governments — Iran, North Korea and Libya — with the designs and technology to produce the fuel for nuclear weapons.


The Pakistani metallurgist deserved to be imprisoned for life. But he caught a scandalous break. As the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, he is a national hero. And despite the tearful, televised confession in which Mr. Khan insisted that he alone was guilty, it is widely believed that Pakistan’s powerful military, including Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who was then president and is a former army chief of staff, was complicit in this exceedingly vile trade.


So Mr. Khan was pardoned and put under house arrest. But Pakistan was unable to hold to even that mild punishment.


Last February, a court ordered his release and allowed him to move around the country, although he still was required to inform officials of his travel plans and obtain permission to have visits from intelligence agents and other guests. Then, last month, a court directed the government to lift remaining restrictions.


The United States has pressured the fragile government of President Asif Ali Zardari to maintain restraints and should continue to do so; last Wednesday, a two-member panel of the Lahore High Court reimposed the travel limits. But the rein on Mr. Khan is steadily eroding.


If Pakistan and Mr. Khan had cooperated fully with American and other international investigators over the years, then granting him his freedom might have been a worthwhile trade-off. But as far as is known, the Central Intelligence Agency and international nuclear inspectors were never allowed to interrogate him directly. And he never revealed the full extent of his network, which may well have involved providing the electronic design for a bomb itself.


It was bad enough that Mr. Khan enabled Pakistan to amass a nuclear arsenal now estimated by The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists at about 70 to 90 weapons. A Pakistani official said that with his bank accounts frozen and international contacts suspended, “there is no imminent threat of proliferation from A. Q. Khan.” But officials and experts in Washington and elsewhere are concerned that he could still revive a network that was not fully dismantled.


In a recent court petition, Mr. Khan protested the restrictions, saying they made him feel like a “prisoner.” That is exactly what he should be for his heinous role as maestro of the world’s largest nuclear black market.









One of the world’s great legal centers, New York City is home to an exceptionally large number of talented and impressively credentialed lawyers. Unfortunately, that distinction is not reflected in the decidedly uneven caliber of the candidates running for Civil Court, which handles civil cases involving amounts up to $25,000. It also regularly supplies acting members of the State Supreme Court, the state’s top trial court.


Actually, to call this an election glosses over the dismal political reality: most Civil Court seats are filled by the reigning political clubhouses in each borough, which still largely control who gets to run on the Democratic line — the key to victory in November.


Of the 11 Civil Court seats up for grabs in November, only one is being contested in the Democratic primary on Sept. 15. Several years ago, a judicial corruption scandal in Brooklyn raised hopes, momentarily, that Albany might finally agree to scrap the phony judicial elections in favor of a merit selection system with improved quality control and fewer ties between the courthouse and local party pols. But momentum for reform ended in 2008, when the United States Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to the judicial convention system by which party insiders choose State Supreme Court justices.


The fight for systemic reform must continue. At the same time, bar leaders need to become more engaged in addressing the immediate quality problem, by recruiting more accomplished lawyers, not necessarily engaged in local politics, to run. That task is made harder by the State Legislature’s failure to approve a judicial raise in a decade, and the need to come up with the money to campaign. But it should be possible to attract a decent-sized cadre of men and women who have excelled in their current legal job and would welcome the opportunity to perform meaningful public service as a judge.


As for the single race, in Manhattan Third Municipal Court District (14th Street to 65th Street from Seventh Avenue to the Hudson River), we endorse Anna Lewis, a capable and hard-working former law clerk and former Democratic district leader. Her opponent is Lynn Kotler, a solo practitioner and likable former president of a lo- cal political club with notably thin credentials for the judiciary.








Strictly speaking, the seasons are an astronomical proposition, a matter of equinox and solstice, the sun’s position against the backdrop of the constellations. And yet, of course, the seasons as we experience them are really cultural propositions, as much a matter of inheritance and hemisphere as celestial positioning.


In America, winter starts at Halloween, spring at Easter, summer at Memorial Day, and fall — well, fall starts today, on Labor Day. Somehow this feels just about right — five months of winter, a scant dose of spring, and nearly equal amounts of summer and autumn.


But seasons are also much more personal than that. Even when Labor Day comes late, as it does this year, it always seems to get here too soon. Yes, there are “technically” two weeks of summer left. But where’s the fun in “technical” summer?


Perhaps it’s better just to think of Labor Day as the midway point in the official hurricane season, which runs from the first of June till the end of November. Half the hurricane season gone already!


No matter how old or young you are, the calendar sometimes seems like nothing more than a way of marking time’s hastiness. The year begins, you hit the snooze alarm a few times, and the next thing you know, it’s Labor Day, which comes trailing clouds of regret no matter how much you look forward to the beautiful weather of autumn.


All you can do is step back, like Walt Whitman, and admire the procession — America relaxing from all of its labors, the “seasons pursuing each other,” the whole of our history a single parade









IT seems like yesterday that we moved to New York City from Youngstown, Ohio. One of us came here to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology, and the other wanted to jump into the art world. We waited tables to make ends meet. With $5,000 in hand, we eventually opened a small office in New York City’s Garment Center and began making Nanette Lepore clothing — designed by one of us, marketed by the other, sold by both.


After many years of hard work, we managed to build a successful business. None of this could have happened if not for the garment center — an area where zoning law protects apparel manufacturing space.


The blocks from 34th to 40th Streets between Broadway and Ninth Avenue have been home to America’s fashion industry for more than 100 years. But all that could change. The district is in danger of disappearing, with its factories and workers forced out by landlords seeking higher-paying tenants — a sad prospect on Labor Day (or any other day).


Mayor Bloomberg is considering a solution that sounds fine on the surface, but we believe would mean the end of the district. Garment manufacturers would be given protected space in a large building or two, and the rest of the area would be up for grabs.


It’s fair to ask why we still need a garment district. But even in the Internet era, proximity offers many advantages. Designers are able to work alongside manufacturers. We can stop by factories to inspect garments, change the fit or correct the sewing. Manufacturing locally, as opposed to overseas, allows us to quickly increase or decrease production, depending on what customers want, and is the only affordable option for young designers with limited resources working on a small scale.


More important, in close quarters a mutual respect develops across the chain of production. The people who make the clothes are as passionate as the designers. Both vision and execution benefit from this relationship, and that’s why we do 85 percent of our manufacturing within five blocks of our 35th Street office.


The city once recognized these benefits, and that’s why it passed a zoning law limiting the conversion of the area’s factory space to offices in 1987, in an effort to keep garment makers from being priced out (something that had been going on since the district’s mid-century heyday.)


But the city stopped enforcing the law in 1993, and although the Bloomberg administration devoted some new funds to enforcement in 2005, it simultaneously weakened the zoning restrictions. It’s easy to see that many landlords still get away with breaking the rules, and we’ve heard of only one landlord ever getting prosecuted. So floor by floor over the years, manufacturing space has been quietly diverted to other uses, and manufacturing jobs have moved overseas.


The city’s proposed exchange offers garment manufacturers 280,000 square feet in exchange for freeing the rest of the district from the zoning restrictions, but this is far less space than is needed. Currently apparel manufacturing occupies 16 percent of the area, or more than a million square feet.


In February, Mayor Bloomberg called the fashion industry “a vital part of our city’s economy, providing 175,000 jobs and generating billions of dollars annually” and said that ensuring the industry’s success “is more important than ever as we work to retain and create jobs during these difficult times.”


But the city has done far too little, and giving up on zoning isn’t a solution. We need a zoning law that ensures that the space now devoted to garment manufacturing is preserved for that purpose, and we need the city to enforce it. The city should create a board with representatives from the fashion industry to review applications for leases within the zoned area. If an applicant qualifies and is granted a lease, the board should follow up to make sure the business is in fact a garment manufacturer. Misrepresentation should be prosecuted as a criminal violation.


If the zoning is lifted, the floodgates will open. Small shops, showrooms and jobs will disappear, along with a national landmark. A statue of an immigrant with a sewing machine stands at the center of this district, honoring the people who came to work here from around the world, and the sidewalks are carved with the names of our designers. American fashion has a rich history. We want to make sure it has a future — and that depends on preserving New York City’s Garment Center.


Nanette Lepore is a designer. Robert Savage is the president of the Nanette Lepore company.








“NOT for nothing, Mike, but it’s a little early for ‘Strangers in the Night.’”


“It’s never too early for Frank.”


“Yeah, it is.”


“Just don’t think of this as a precedent,” Mike says, and soon after his gray ponytail dips beneath the bar, Sinatra’s ’60s hit skids to a halt.


Darlene O’Hara smiles appreciatively, palms her vitamins and swallows them with grapefruit juice and vodka. It’s Tuesday, 8:03 a.m., on a perfect June morning, three minutes after Milano’s has opened for business. On the overhead TV, NY1 broadcasts day-old images of Lucas Browning, the so-called GQ Killer, being processed for the parole violation that will send him back to jail barely three weeks after doing 23 years for strangling a Romanian model in Riverside Park. The screen cuts to a shot of his gaunt, longtime girlfriend, Allison Osai, standing outside the courthouse with a dozen microphones in her face.


Why O’Hara, a respected 34-year-old N.Y.P.D. detective, has chosen for the second time in three months to start her day in this semi-legendary downtown dive is a mystery. If pressed, she’d cite boredom or maybe something about the impressive effect of one drink on an empty stomach, not that people can be trusted on the subject of themselves. While O’Hara enjoys another long sip, the radio on her belt crackles to life as the dispatcher reports a 911 call about an assault in progress at 148 Forsythe. O’Hara puts down her glass and focuses as best she can on the legitimate hope that the call is false. After all, most 911’s are. Then she hears the dispatcher report three more calls to the same address, and the sirens racing by on Houston Street.


“Mike, you got any coffee back there?”


Twenty minutes later, O’Hara follows a clattering stretcher into the small medical suite off the lobby of a recently renovated but otherwise empty building. A patrolman waves the emergency technicians through the door labeled Marc Stein, M.D., and O’Hara heads for the other, which frames the thick back of her partner, Serge Krekorian.


O’Hara has never been inside a therapist’s office. From the two elegant chairs facing off at the center of the room to the white noise purring from an appliance in the corner, every detail contributes to the oasis of calm, and the framed photograph of the interior of Belfast’s Ulster Museum is a portrait of quiet. The only off note is the woman sprawled beneath the desk, her once beige blouse stained crimson and her legs bent in a position not even Gwyneth Paltrow’s former yogi could sustain.


“What do we know, K?”


“Beyond the fact that you’re loaded?” asks Krekorian. Although O’Hara doesn’t respond, he shares what he’s learned.


“At 7:30, Patricia Costello, 48, unlocks her office, and prepares for her day. A couple of minutes after 8, someone — we got no doorman, no video, no tenants — enters her office and attacks her with a knife. People on Forsythe hear screams and call 911, and Dr. Stein runs in from next door in time to get badly cut himself. Before the ambulance arrives, he describes the perp, who ran off, as tall and thin, wearing a blue and white Nordic ski mask.


“Stein’s a tough old guy,” says Krekorian, “but he’s 83. Who knows if we’ll get anything else.


O’Hara turns from Krekorian to the less judgmental eyes of the victim. O’Hara heard the name but is still surprised to see a face so much like her own. Are there really Irish shrinks? With her lovely auburn hair and delicate, empathetic features, she looks like O’Hara might in a dozen years, if she takes care of herself, and although Costello’s skin is so translucent it barely serves as a barrier, the dozens of slices on her hands and arms prove she put up a ferocious struggle.


“A junkie?” asks O’Hara without much conviction.


“Doubt it. Costello was a psychologist, which meant she couldn’t write prescriptions. If the killer was after drugs, he’d have gone into the office marked M.D. Unless, of course,” says Krekorian pointedly, “he was too messed up to know better.”


The condition of the room bears Krekorian out. The place hasn’t been torn apart. The only items on the floor are two open Netflix envelopes that must have been knocked off the desk. Both disks have slid far enough out of their sleeves to reveal the titles. One is the I.R.A. movie “Hunger,” the other “The Shawshank Redemption.” O’Hara wonders, Why would anyone rent “Shawshank?” It’s on TV more than “Jeopardy!”


There’s a commotion behind them and O’Hara and Krekorian step up to the door as the E.M.T.’s wriggle the stretcher bearing Stein through the tight corridor. Before they can roll him past, Stein, who has bandages on his hands and face, manages to free one arm and stop the stretcher. Stein addresses both detectives but his eyes reach out to O’Hara. “Patricia was an E.R. nurse before I talked her into going back to school,” he says. “I was her intern adviser at Cornell and I offered her this space. I’m the reason she was here this morning. I need to know you’re going to find who did this.”


With Stein gone, the two detectives return to Costello’s office, where O’Hara expects her partner to launch into her again. Instead he nods toward the window and says, “I think we got something behind curtain number one.”


Krekorian pulls on latex gloves and draws back the heavy drape. Behind it is an ancient leather suitcase, as eccentric and dilapidated as your most insane relative. With the curtain no longer holding it back, it lurches forward and topples into the room fast enough for Krekorian to have to jump out of the way. Ignoring protocol, which requires they wait for crime scene specialists, Krekorian unhooks the ancient latch himself with a rubber fingertip and pries the case open. Inside, inexplicably, are three plastic toy soldiers, a pack of Sharpie pens and a rusted enamel bedpan.


“I guess you should have picked curtain number two,” says O’Hara.


One pen is missing from the pack, and she scans the desk for a note.


“Check it out,” says Krekorian and when O’Hara turns around, points toward the lower right of the museum photograph, at a tiny 17th-century painting of a Madonna and Child. Stepping closer, O’Hara sees that the infant in the mother’s arms has been given a thick black moustache. “Jesus Christ,” says O’Hara.


“I assume, “ says Krekorian.


There was no appointment book on Costello’s desk, but after securing a warrant for her home laptop, Paul Alvarez, in the computer lab at 1 Police Plaza, easily finds the file containing the names, addresses and appointment times of every patient Costello billed in the last two years. On the three previous Tuesday mornings, she’d scheduled meetings with a patient named Steve Montgomery.


Twelve hours after Costello’s murder, O’Hara and Krekorian walk up to a well-kept but dated white house in Babylon, on Long Island. No lights are on inside or out, and through the living room window they can make out an old lady alone on the couch peering out at the dusk. “This could be our guy,” whispers O’Hara. “He still lives at home with Moms.”


There’s no bell and when they finally get the woman to the door, she won’t open it. “Stevie isn’t home,” she barks. “And I don’t know when he will be.”


On the ride back to the city, Alvarez calls O’Hara again with fresh information pulled from the victim’s hard drive. “In the last several months, Costello was a frequent visitor to a Web site for Catholic singles, seeking ‘friendship only.’ A lot of her exchanges were with a guy who called himself ‘Modest Jack,’ whose I.P. address is in Cumberland, Me. There’s no indication they ever met.”


Depressing, thinks O’Hara, but not much of a lead, particularly since they’d already grilled Costello’s husband for hours and ruled him out as a murderous cuckold.


“I’ll keep that in mind, “ says O’Hara. “but while I got you, could you a take a look at her Netflix queue?”


“For real?”


“Humor me.”


When they get back to the precinct, Stevie, who got the heads-up from his mother, is waiting for them. Unfortunately, he’s neither tall nor thin and looks more like Bob Hoskins than Anthony Perkins. And instead of a browbeaten son who finally snapped, he’s a partner in a downtown advertising agency. He claims he saw Costello three times, which matches the record, and that they talked about the impact of a possible divorce on his 7-year-old daughter. He didn’t want the bill going to his home or office, so he had Costello mail it to Long Island.


After Steve Montgomery leaves, O’Hara sees that Alvarez has e-mailed the movie list, prints two copies and hands one to Krekorian.


“She had good taste,” says Krekorian.


“If you like convict movies.” says O’Hara. “‘Papillon,’ ‘Cool Hand Luke,’ ‘The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner,’ plus the two at her office. It’s like she’s got some kind of fetish for men behind bars.”


“So do you — bartenders.”


For the 10th time that day, O’Hara calls Costello’s husband. “Sorry to disturb you again, but I need to ask you something. Those prison movies you ordered from Netflix. Did you pick them, or Patricia?”


“Patty,” he says, his voice catching. “I guess that’s what happens when your father and brother were in the I.R.A. and the heroes in your life spend half your childhood in jail.”


“Your wife was from Belfast?”


“Just east of there — Donaghadee.”


“She ever do any work with inmates? Pro bono — something that might not show up on her billables?”


“Quite a bit. Remember Lucas Browning? She’d been in talking with him for several months before he got out. Not that it did him any good.”


“Really? Was he ever in her office?”


“Couple times. She swore he wasn’t dangerous. She didn’t even believe he killed that model.”


“So what?” says Krekorian when O’Hara gets off the phone. “Browning’s been in Rikers since yesterday morning. Even his arms aren’t that long.”


O’Hara tracks down Gerry Baginski, the officer who arrested Browning on Monday, at home in Long Beach. Baginski tells O’Hara he responded to a complaint of a disturbance in a coffee shop at 103rd and Third Avenue.


“His girlfriend claimed he hit her,” says Baginski. “Didn’t look like it to me, but you know the drill — once I hear that, I have to arrest him. As Browning bends over to be cuffed, two vials of meth fall out of his shirt pocket.”


“What did he say?” asks O’Hara.


“What they all say. That it wasn’t his. And had no idea how it got there. Had a funny look on his face as he said it.”


As anyone who reads the papers knows, the one thing Lucas Browning has going for him is his girlfriend, Allison Osai. In jail, Browning fought with inmates and guards and repeatedly got caught with smuggled heroin, turning what could have been nine years into 23, but Osai never missed a visit. She famously spent more than two decades sewing an elaborate quilt of the sun rising on Mount Fuji and timed it to be completed the day Browning got out. When O’Hara pushes on the door of Osai’s apartment in Spanish Harlem on Wednesday morning, it opens just enough for her to see a corner of the quilt on the far wall before it hits the end of the chain.


O’Hara identifies herself as N.Y.P.D., and a tall emaciated Asian woman who had probably once been beautiful lets her in. The tiny apartment is in shambles and Osai looks as if she hasn’t closed her eyes in three weeks. “They took my boyfriend,” she says, as if that explained everything.


“What are you going to do now?” asks O’Hara.


“I waited 23 years. I can wait two more.”


Osai sits at a ruined card table in front of an overflowing plastic ashtray. When O’Hara sits across from her, she relights a crumpled Newport, picks up a pen and scribbles furiously on the back of an unopened Con Ed bill.


“The meth the cop found on Lucas,” says O’Hara. “Was it yours?”


Osai sneaks a coy glance at O’Hara. “I don’t do drugs.”


“Then where did his come from?”


“You’re going to have to ask Lucas that, ” says Osai, suppressing a grin.


“The reason I’m asking you, Allison, is that I just read the results of Lucas’s drug test from Rikers. It’s dirty for heroin, clean as a whistle for meth.”


“Same difference,” says Osai. “Either way he violated. Either way he goes back.”


“But why are you the one sending him? You put in 23 years to give up in a month? What happened?”


“Just between friends?” asks Osai.


“Yeah,” says O’Hara. “Just between us girls.”


“Men are so weak.”


“No argument there. That’s why you planted the drugs?”


“I had to. Lucas wasn’t strong enough to make it on the outside.”


“Sure it wasn’t you who couldn’t deal? What with all those frisky females waiting to pounce?”


Osai flicks ash off the tip of her cigarette and goes back to her dark hieroglyphics.


“Like that shrink, Patricia Costello, who was trying to help Lucas get back on his feet.”


“On his feet? Puh-lease. That’s the last place she wanted him.”




“Not maybe, “says Osai, pausing for a second to appraise her work.


“One question, Allison, what was the deal with the bedpan in the suitcase?” Osai puts down her pen and looks up from the blackened envelope.


“Oh, that? That was to make the killer look crazy.”



Six months later, on a bitter December morning, O’Hara hustles toward the cluster of self-conscious regulars waiting for Milano’s to begin dispensing early morning cheer. O’Hara, who is dressed more carefully than usual and is as nervous as a girl on a first date, feels the tug but keeps heading east and south until she enters the lobby of 148 Forsythe, where the crime scene tape was long ago packed away. Glancing at her Casio, O’Hara hurries into the medical suite off the lobby and down the tight corridor that leads to the office of Marc Stein, M.D. When she stands at the open door, Stein, whose stooped body looks like a gnarled stick and whose cheek is creased with a long pink scar, looks up without smiling.


“You’re late,” he says and gestures toward the empty chair across from his. Then he gets up and closes the door.


Peter de Jonge is the author of “Shadows Still Remain.”










Confusion persists over the future of the local body system. More was created as reports said the president had extended their tenure till December, but this was later denied by a spokesman. The parliamentary commission on reform has decided to hand over the issue to the provinces, and this makes it more likely that in all units except possibly Sindh the system will be scrapped. The issue has triggered intense activity. Those involved in designing and implementing the system have been lobbying political parties to seek support for it. Seminars have been held and international agencies too are said to be involved in the effort to save a system intended to empower people at the grassroots by giving them the right to vote in officials. There is a lot to be said for persisting with the system. It is true there are flaws within it; some have been plugged through amendments, others remain. But there is no reason why they can’t be dealt with without scrapping the whole system. That some political parties find the system not to their liking because they had little to do with its formation as they had been kept out of the political arena when it was conceived and put into practice does not seem a strong enough justification on their part for intending to do away with the system altogether, without taking into consideration whatever good it might have done despite all its faults.

The LB issue is tied up in many minds with the actions of a dictator and his attempts to maximize his own power. But then again, not every step taken under a dictatorship is of the kind that can or should be gotten rid of in a whimsical fashion. The point, made by many, that under the local government system people at the grassroots level did get empowered, in however faulty a way, in matters directly touching their lives, and that a complete scrapping of this system signifying the return of the old bureaucratic arrangement, notorious for rampant arrogance and inaccessibility to people, will be anything but pro-people and democratic is not something that should be easily lost on those who are now at the helm of affairs. But the provinces do feel that their role in the management of districts has been reduced. The question then is if a balancing act can be performed with political acumen, without taking away the benefits that people have derived from the system in place now. We need to develop a far wider consensus on this. It seems likely that most people will favour saving the system. Decisions then must not be taken arbitrarily or with the single stroke of a pen, but only after a wide consultation involving as many people as possible.








Most people other than those involved in the conservation business will have missed that September 5 was International Vulture Awareness Day. It would be fair to say that we as humans have a slightly ambivalent attitude to the vulture, mainly because it is a carrion-feeder rather than a noble hunter. Of the nine types of vulture native to South Asia, eight are found in Pakistan and of that eight two are critically endangered species and likely to go extinct unless urgent action is taken to conserve and preserve them. Vultures are nature’s sweepers, cleaning up dead carcasses and preventing disease-causing organisms from spreading beyond them. They have never been known for their polite table-manners and their exceptionally corrosive stomach acids may be deployed as a projectile defensive method if they are threatened. Despite their lack of aesthetic appeal we need our vultures, we should nurture and care for them - but wait, do we need them all?

Some vulture species are transitory visitors to Pakistan, and ornithologists note that they appear, apparently from nowhere, around the time of sugar harvesting and crushing. These aggressive and powerful birds (Saccharin vulgaris) congregate at the places where sugar is refined and in a behaviour unusual for vultures they appear to conspire together to actually prevent the freshly refined sugar from leaving the gates of the mills. In an even more unusual behaviour, they send little notes out from their huddle demanding a ransom for the sugar they sit on; to be paid by several million small thin helpless birds called ‘The Population’. These notes are often picked up by another species of vulture known as the Parliament Bird, a heavy, slow, torpid and semi-flightless creature that hangs around decaying bags of money and gobbles up their contents. The Parliament Bird will take the note and by an osmotic process yet to be understood by science turn it into a hundred dollar bill. Neither of these species is endangered and both would benefit from being hunted to an early extinction, with their carcasses to be picked over by their brethren.








While Pakistan’s sinking fortunes in hockey, squash and even cricket have in recent years been a source of national dismay, good news has come from another sporting arena. On the golf greens in Malaysia, the little-known Pakistani duo of Muhammad Shabbir and Muhammad Munir shot a superb 3-under-par 68 in the final of the Asian qualifier. Though they finished second to the highly favoured Singaporean duo, the performance was enough to place them among the top three and take them to the World Cup in China in November. This is the first time a Pakistani pair will be competing in that event.

Golf of course is a sport that is not followed by the majority in Pakistan. Its rather elitist image means few have any opportunity to participate in it. But the latest success could alter this. In other countries impoverished caddies have gone on to become champions. This can happen in Pakistan too. We have an abundance of sporting talent and an immense hunger to win. In Lyari the young boys who battle it out in makeshift boxing rings dream of escaping poverty and despair through their skill with their gloves. There is immense potential to develop sport in our country and the two golfers have demonstrated that it can come too in non-traditional areas. In an uneven society sport could offer youngsters a chance to make their way out of slums. The fact too is that in a country like ours, sport offers a means to express pride. To forget, at least temporarily, our failures as a nation and to stand together as a people. So far it is largely individual effort that has led to success, but we need to promote sport as matter of policy to light the flames of hope.








It is interesting that the Rs6 billion paid to the NWFP annually as its share of profits on Tarbela (that it demands more than Rs12 billion for it is another matter), irrespective of who made the investment on it (which incidentally was financed from the central pool of resources), translates to a rate of return in excess of 100 per cent, and 300 per cent on the cost of generation of electricity from Tarbela.

It is instructive that whereas we find such a rate of return acceptable in the case of the NWFP we were unwilling to pay IPPs a rate of return of 18 per cent. The formula does not apportion any profit to other components of power infrastructure. Investment in Tarbela is less than one-tenth of the total investment in generation, transmission and distribution, but the formula allocates no profits to any of the other components. Moreover, during summers Tarbela generates 3,000mWs which is approximately the current demand of the NWFP and FATA (FATA does not pay for its electricity and has to be subsidised by consumers in other parts of the country through higher tariffs); but in the winter months it generates only 500mW and then the NWFP becomes a net buyer/consumer of electricity. So, if the NWFP so desires it should generate and consume its own electricity in summers and should be free to charge its own residents any rate that it deems appropriate and buy from others in winters and pay the going rate for generation. This would be a fair and just arrangement.

That the NWFP has legitimate needs that have to be satisfied is a matter that should be addressed by deriving other formulae and criteria through mutual consultation to meet its requirements. Attending to these needs through resource flows based on indefensible formulae not only confuses the real issue but also raises the cost and distorts the pricing structure of an input as critical as electricity for the rest of the country.

In the opinion of this writer, provincial autonomy needs to be ensured and all other arrangements that serve as an impediment to the achievement of this objective need to be removed. And if the legal minds in the country are of the view that this can only be done through a change in the Constitution, so be it. The best example that I can think of is the case of oil, gas and coal. These natural resources should be controlled by the province in which they are found, and not by Islamabad.

To move on to other related areas, it is important to recognize that presently the provinces are not, but should be, consulted before the budgetary proposals on income tax and sales tax are concretised, since tax exemptions and alterations in income tax rates have an impact on the eventual share of the provinces. Changes in these parameters affect them more than the Centre, since the proceeds from these taxes are included in the divisible pool. Therefore, a fundamental change in the mindset and institutional arrangement is required in the interest of national harmony.

Such an arrangement would also be in consonance with the principle that it is the provinces that have the first right to all revenue collections (the federal government being an entity created by the provinces by ceding some of their powers) and it is they who should agree to give the federation a share to run its affairs, not the other way around. At present, the federal government is the dispenser of favours. The mere fact that some taxes have to be centralised, which is an administrative arrangement, should not be construed as the relinquishing of power by the provinces.

The Centre’s financial strength comes not only from taxation powers superior to those enjoyed by the provinces, but also its ability to raise capital to finance development expenditures. As things stand, there is a serious imbalance between central and local finances because of the authority exercised by the federal government over the mobilisation and distribution of borrowings. Powers of borrowing and controls over banking and capital markets rest squarely with the Centre, and provincial and local governments are not permitted to participate directly in the market for capital funds. As a result, the provincial governments are very much dependent on the federal government.

This is patently an unfair arrangement. The Centre can be extravagant in its spending and borrow from the market, but places restraints on the provinces while asking them to fend for themselves. The ideal solution would involve an impartial body, such as the National Finance Commission or a truly independent State Bank, putting a figure on total domestic credit and then determining how this should be distributed between the federal and provincial governments on the basis of real need. In Australia, for instance, there is a Loan Commission which comprises representatives of the state governments as well as the commonwealth. After detailed discussions, during which the states also put in their claims, the Commission determines the country’s total foreign loans and their allocation between the states.

In this regard, this writer is of the view that following the rescheduling of Pakistan’s external debt and the reduction of this burden for the federal government there is a need to share this relief with the provincial government by rescheduling their debt, so that some fiscal space can also become available to them for enhancing and improving the delivery of public services.

On hopes that the newly constituted NFC will take into consideration all the factors discussed above before formulating the award because, unless it does so, it will lead to a sharp, and possibly fatal, deterioration in the financial health of the provinces and the new local governments.

Some other changes are also desirable. In keeping with the spirit of greater democratisation, there is a need for a minor modification in the Constitution. Under Article 160, the composition of the Finance Commission is partly the prerogative of the president. However, common sense suggests that both sides in dispute should have the right to choose an arbiter. If only one party to the arbitration can decide, then surely this reduces the whole process to the level of a farce.

At the same time, the National Assembly is not empowered to furnish guidelines on the sharing of the divisible pool of taxes. Under the Constitution, it does not even legislate on the principles or criteria that govern the sharing of this pool. Ideally, Parliament should not only determine the basis of sharing, but also lend approval to the membership of the Finance Commission. These steps would go a long way towards making the entire process more equitable and more in keeping with the principles of democracy.

However, lest we forget, a balance needs to be struck between the financial arrangements and the evolving political framework. The political environment has to be conducive for designing, developing and implementing a viable system of financial arrangements. The problems confronting the finances of the provinces are political in nature and cannot be solved by simply improving the management of finances or even by developing new sources for resource mobilisation.

(To be concluded)

The writer is a former finance minister of Punjab. Email: kardar@







The motive of former ISI and military officers in resurrecting past skeletons on the media still remains a mystery and subject of intense speculation. Although the revelations and counter incriminations were nauseating, still they can serve a useful purpose if we as a nation are prepared to draw some lessons which, of course, we have never done in the past.

In order to attract public attention, these retired officers while narrating the past episodes went ballistic and the media relished it. This interestingly brought into sharp focus the gross meddling of army in politics, exposed bankruptcy of the political elite and, in the process, paradoxically showed these very officers in an extremely bad light. The question is, how do we proceed from here to correct the nation’s course?

The talk of ‘minus-one’ formula, poor governance, pervasive corruption, the parliamentarians’ lack of interest in legislation and the military dominating foreign and defence policies are clear evidence that Pakistan’s political culture and civil- military relations remain frozen. Despite agreement on the charter of democracy and brave talk of our leaders of taking revenge, the situation has not changed much. The overall spread of radicalism, threat from Taliban militant entities, especially those in FATA, and its linkages with terrorism coupled with an economy in deep distress are serious threats that cannot be under-estimated. Moreover, the whole world is today concerned about the stability and security of Pakistan.

These internal and external compulsions demand that President Zardari should make a serious effort at improving his credibility. Our current president, by an accident of history, is the most powerful politician and represents the country’s largest political party, combining both presidential and executive powers. The decisions he makes and the way he conducts himself would very much influence Pakistan’s present and future. He has only one choice — to change and rise to the challenge. If he fails he takes the system and the party with him.

In an awakened Pakistan, there is no scope for military take-over but it is equally true that there is no space for politics without accountability and good governance. What good is a democratic government that falls prey to cartels and denies its people essentials such as atta and sugar?

Performance legitimacy is as crucial as electoral legitimacy. It is performance that restores confidence in the people, strengthens institutions and sustains democracy. By marginalising Aitizaz Ahsan, Raza Rabbani, Sherry Rehman and some bright members of the young PPP leadership, President Zardari has denied himself and the government valuable talent. Rather than encourage cynical deal-making, what we expect from our leaders is to encourage a more inclusive approach in handling party affairs and national issues. Our politicians need to do some serious introspection about this common phenomena of buying property abroad and even leading parties from abroad. Now General Musharraf has also joined the ranks. These actions do not go unnoticed by the masses. In fact, there is a growing demand that there has to be an end to the rampant culture of impunity.

As pointed out by several columnists, President Zardari would have done himself and the nation a great favour if he had reinstated the judges on his own and not waited for the tidal wave of opposition to build up and the army to intervene. Similarly, he is now dragging his feet on the 17th Amendment, not understanding that accumulation of power is not as important as exercising authority, and that comes from leadership, good governance and integrity.

If President Zardari feels that all he needs is legitimacy and support of the US he is mistaken. He will soon realise that there is no permanence in inter-state relationship and once Americans come to the conclusion that PPP government’s poor quality of governance is having an adverse effect on the fight against Taliban and Al Qaeda, they will pull back their support.

Indeed General Kayani has been very supportive of the democratic process and has clearly distanced himself from politics. He understands the folly of military getting involved in politics. Besides, the political dynamic of Pakistan is very different from what it was 10 years ago. All major political parties are solidly opposed to military involvement. The fight against militancy requires the undivided attention of the military on professional matters. Moreover, the fight against militant demands public support and that can only be mobilised by a democratic government, as the absence of it was so obvious during the Musharraf era. Nonetheless, the military has to travel a long way to adapt itself to true democratic governance. The transition can be expedited, provided that the parliament becomes more effective and good governance inspires confidence in civilian leadership.

It is also important that military and intelligence services carry out serious internal reforms from the point of view of improving their professional competence to be able to relate to new threats and also to fully integrate into the democratic process. Experience has shown that military forces, which are subservient to the civil government, are far better placed to resist foreign aggression as compared to those from authoritarian states. Strengthening state institutions and improving conventional and counter-insurgency capabilities should go hand in hand and be treated as mutually supportive. Democracy is, therefore, an institutional and national imperative for moving forward.

The writer is a retired lieutenant general. Email:








Every year, September 6 is celebrated as the Air Force day. On this day in 1965, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) faced its first ever stern test of capability and resilience against a committed offensive of the Indian air Force, and came out successful in thwarting enemy attempts to dominate the war. The script for the remaining days of the war was written on this day and thereafter enacted with exactly similar results – the PAF coming out on top defending well against the Indian Air Force (IAF).

That was the essence of the 1965 war – it was fought as a defensive war by both the air forces of both countries. They did not possess enough capability for a meaningful offensive. Hence, the engagements, howsoever offensively executed — as they should have been — contributed to the effort.

There has been good work in recent years on both sides of the border in analysing and deducing results for each engagement and for each claim of a kill. Myths have been demystified and substance given to fables. This work has mostly been voluntary and must be acknowledged for the assiduous interest of the gentlemen involved on both sides. The detail has helped reconstruct events that normally become fuzzy in a rapidly changing combat scenario making exact enactment difficult. The mere fact that each engagement takes place under a life-and-death eventuality makes it humanly impossible to put into sequence hundreds of minor most movements of the engaged elements. Sometimes, as many as 20 to 25 aircraft in a congested airspace vie to kill the other only to be challenged soon after with another totally new situation.

In terms of strategy though, it was still a defensive war on both sides. Their weapon systems, the best being the Hunter for the IAF and the Sabre for the PAF, were typically, the evolutionary and modernised mutation of the Second World War (WW II) fighters which still centred on close-in dog fights and used the machine gun to down an adversary. The WW II had ended 20 years back and had been followed by the Korean War. The control of air, of which the air superiority is a shade of definition, has remained a key of air warfare for decades, but its applicability has needed to be refined if nothing else for the amount of effort required to garner a semblance of superiority.

Offence was a specialised task and needed specialised equipment; both sides boasted of some post WW II bombers, but for their immense vulnerability to opposing fighters would mostly be employed at night. That, in turn, induced serious errors in accuracy.

Offensive missions in the 1965 war essentially revolved around an airfield attack – an offensive action directly feeding to the objective of air superiority. With its two main missions then, air superiority and tactical support to the army, the PAF and IAF were relegated to being tactical air forces. Their only sense of independent employment was restricted to the flair and independence in their application against each other in the air. Original thought, other than pertaining to air combat, offensive action or its mutation as initiative in employment leading the adversary in the decision loop were still far into the future. In 1971 war, other than the fact that the equipment changed, the essence still remained the same; the two air forces vied for effectiveness as tactical air forces only.

In the rest of the world, the doctrinal debates still revolved around the aspect of control of the air. More specifically, after the Vietnam War, a debate ensued whether or not depending only on a missile was sufficient or was a machine-gun needed as well. The other contributing connotation to the debate were the less-than-satisfactory air combat skills among the American pilots since they were now required to engage from a distance with a missile obviating close combat. This debate saw the introduction of the F-16 in 1976 as the most revolutionary design with unmatched agility, where the platform had the capacity to perform beyond what was understood to be the human threshold. Technology multiplied in quick time to use the capacity enabled by these fourth-generation aircraft.

Thematic campaign designs were replaced with parallel application possibilities; it became possible to engage in numerous missions on a parallel track, and innovation and employment of assets became the order of the day. The way the war had been fought till then changed remarkably. There had to be a new way of fighting air wars and employing the air force. Employment of assets evolved into an employment of force. Those who missed the point were relegated to the bins of irrelevance and hopelessly lagged behind in this new game of combat. Operational intellect became the lynchpin of commanding, controlling and employing forces. Those who didn’t possess the intellectual capacity to comprehend the change stood embarrassingly exposed. They were practically archaic in thought.

The change took its time coming into the PAF. There were certain mutations that would enhance the manner of targeting, but with little diversity and innovation, and still very much within the confines of a tactical support role. Defence and war colleges were heavily skewed in favour of land warfare strategy as the dominant strategy, and most air force participants studiously kept following the tradition. John Warden, 20th century strategist in air warfare, had already designed new thoughts on employment and had practically fought the First Gulf War (1991) under such a doctrine. In the PAF, though, it was in 1998 that the then Air Chief ACM Pervaiz Mehdi began talking about breaking the bind of tactical support role and proffered thought and the ability to use air power in diverse application concurrently to contribute to the national war effort.

This had more to do with using air power as an offensive tool. Offence as the most natural attribute and the enabling option of modern air power needed to find place and expression in doctrines crying for change. The first practical manifestation of the need for this change emerged during the time of ACM Mushaf Ali Mir, who invigorated the offensive spirit in campaign planning which saw minds working overtime in the PAF to introduce employment diversity.

The point that the PAF really began to change to a 21st century air force was, however, during the tenure of ACM Kaleem Saadat. Not only was there doctrinal evolution, the air force was designed and equipped to the needs of the new century as indeed the dictates of future conflict and modern warfare. Practical application of force employment was tested and tried as per revised doctrinal dictates in major exercises. Thankfully, development programmes have continued unabated since then.

The 1965 war may have been a simple affair compared to modern wars, but its combatants were endowed with three great attributes: outstanding skill, a commitment to excellence, and a remarkable sense of self-confidence and self-assurance. Perhaps, it shall have to be in these areas that we will need to restore the great steadied but assuring sense of confidence amongst our personnel. This shall only be possible if they continue to retain faith in the PAF as a system. Professionalism, merit and integrity are the key parameters of enabling and restoring such faith, while nepotism, cronyism and favouritism eat at the core of the great ethos that has been the preserve of this great air force.

Competent leadership shall always remain the key to having a great air force. Personal examples in all essential attributes will need to be put in place including integrity and honesty in decision making. Incompetence breeds insecurity; and insecurity desperately seeks reassurance. That is where the devastating ills of cronyism and nepotism begin to find root.

The writer is a retired air vice marshal. Email:







The message was poignant: “in your ‘Quantum Note’ of August 28, 2009, you have clearly pointed out the malady from which I have suffered for years, although you could have done so without the sarcastic tone. But you have not provided any solutions: what is the antidote to secularism from which millions of Muslims are suffering?”

Without pretensions and without a claim to exclusivity, I must say the antidote is sacred. Secular and sacred stand in opposition in so many realms of existence: the secular worldview makes the life of this world the focus and centre of all human activity; the sacred makes it a transitory stage to the real, ever-lasting abode; the secular worldview entices us to make short-term, ephemeral goals; the secular invites us to build lasting edifices which remain in this world after one departs and continue to influence generations of subsequent seekers of truth.

What distinguishes the sacred from the secular at the most fundamental level is one’s intention of living a life immersed in the sanctified realm of God’s time, rather than human time. This immersion can take place in a moment or it can take years, but the clearest and the surest path to it is the well-trodden path of the Noble Messenger who lived in the broad light of history for 63 years and left behind a well-documented record which has remained the most cherished and most practiced model of life for 1,400 years now.

What we know of that blessed life is unlike the life story of any other human being: we know what he said when he put a morsel of food in his mouth, how he put on his sandals, what he said when a new piece of cloth adored his blessed body and what he did when he was confronted with trials and tribulations of this world. All of this, and much more, form the core of all human activity, for all human beings essentially do a small set of certain same basic things: they all eat, drink, walk, talk, sleep, wake up, work, rest, have families and friends.

At this basic level, a life shaped by secular worldview is utterly devoid of sanctity and spiritual benefits that come with that sanctity. These benefits can be rationally understood, but their greatest dimension is supra-rational — they directly affect the heart, the seat of knowledge and gnosis, the sanctified inner cavity from which emerge all human volitions, and consequently actions. The heart (qalb) is that organ about which the Noble Messenger said that if it is sick the whole body is sick. Secularism has dried out this core and vital organ and left secularised Muslims with a mechanical life that revolves in a limited orbit of sensual pursuits, that is, gratification of the sense perceived hungers and wants.

The single most important antidote to secularism is, therefore, a fundamental reorientation of the heart toward the true centre of all existence: Allah, the most High. And the best way to do so is through a conscious internalisation of the message of the Holy Quran and an equally conscious willingness to reshape one’s daily life according to the model which the Holy Quran calls the best model—the life of the Messenger of Allah, upon him be blessings and peace. Easier said than done, for this is exactly where the biggest hurdles lie: secularisation of the Muslim mind has inserted a certain degree of pride in the heart which refuses to submit. Often hidden from the full view of the rational schema, there is a certain degree of arrogance in the heart that claims to hold knowledge and the best way to be and thereby incites secularised Muslims to remain their own self, rather than follow a prescribed path.

Another hurdle is the low and negative perception of the contemporary bearded and turbaned men who have become the ubiquitous symbols of Islam through a maverick trick of the media. What this demonic and pervasive image-casting has done is simple: it has made it difficult even for sincere Muslims to boldly assert their beliefs and practices in full view of public life. Instead, they prefer to remain closet Muslims. The consequence of this hiding is a certain degree of timidity toward religion as such. In our times, it has become a matter of courage even to wear an amama or a hijab in public and to grow a beard. This outward sign of supremacy of the secularism is, however, merely fluff, for as soon as one realises the vacuous nature of the external world, all hurdles disappear. In other words, as soon as one realises that one is afraid of what others would say or do, as opposed to what the Creator Himself would, one gains courage to stand against the tide or at least disregard it.

The antidote to secularism is not a rationalised construction of Islam, but a spiritual understanding of the matters of the spirit and an intellectual understanding of the matters of the intellect. The latter, however, requires a certain amount of training. One cannot simply read hadith and start using them to construct arguments. Likewise, one cannot simply start reading contemporary or classical exegetical literature in an effort to understand the Holy Quran. Just as one is trained through the contemporary education system to read secular texts, one needs to have a certain amount of minimum training to read source material, even translations of the Holy Quran. This does not mean long preparatory years but simply a basic understanding of how to read these texts. Thus, the oft-repeated statement that I have read the Holy Quran in translation and have not understood much of what it said is symptomatic of this lack of training.

The writer is a freelance columnist. Email:









As a Pakistani, one can only wonder why we almost always snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. We have so far never won a military conflict. When we do achieve something, we deny ourselves the pleasure of basking in it. Take, for example, Pakistan’s only Nobel Prize. We don’t talk much about this because it was won by an Ahmedi.

We continue to deny ourselves our heroes and instead make idols out of others. We also oversimplify. If the present government is bad, then Pakistan is bad. As a child living abroad, when one went to the house of most Indian families, a picture of Mahatma Gandhi would be hanging on one wall. No such picture of Mr Jinnah, Iqbal or any national hero is in the houses of any Pakistani. What is missing, one feels, is national pride.

Over the years, we have evolved into a strange animal. Pakistanis have become more narrow-minded, intolerant and frustrated. Once considered a rising star in Asia and a central force in the Muslim world, we are at bottom rung in both arenas.

Compare the quality of life enjoyed by the people in the region. Barring Afghanistan, which continues to be in conflict, all others have done well. Neighbours India and China are economic superpowers. We used to make fun of the standard of living of the Indians. Now they should make fun of us. The Gulf countries have worked sensibly to make the most of the oil revenues, turning their sleepy states into bustling and happening places.

In almost all Muslim countries, one can see a marked improvement.

Thanks to good education and sensible governance, these countries - from Southeast Asia to North Africa, are doing well economically and making strides in terms of socio-economic indicators.

Ignorance is our own biggest enemy. We see conspiracies in everything.

But when the biggest conspiracy was playing itself out in the Eastern part of our country, we remained oblivious. Similarly, when General Zia-ul Haq was playing havoc with our country and its future, those who seemed to thrive on conspiracies remained silent. We need to reclaim our country. Let us identify the core issues: these are democracy (or the lack of it), governance, education, social indicators, population, terrorism and extremism.

It is strange that whenever a military dictatorship comes to power, some hail it. But when a democratic government is sworn in, many express doubts. After President Zardari took oath, the country would be bankrupt “within months”, said some. A scare was created. People withdrew money from accounts and valuables from bank lockers.

Prime Minister Gilani’s government, with all its faults, must be allowed to complete its term. We must not let vested interests try and sabotage an elected government as they have done in the past. Make no mistake - the wheels have been set in motion. Possibly because other political players have not played ball, the parliament is intact.

As a nation we must believe in democracy. We should discourage ignorant people from saying that Pakistan is a nation that only listens to the “danda”. We have experimented with all forms of government – sticks, stones and prayer mats — except possibly with democracy. Hardly any elected government was able to complete its term in power. And we should question those who talk about Islamic revolutions, military takeovers and governments of national unity.

Governance also remains our problem. It is not enough for Mr Gilani to reshuffle the bureaucracy – it must be re-engineered. Merit should be the only criteria. The process to train officers must be forward-looking. Corruption can only go if we have good policies in place and good people to implement them. Errant bureaucrats must be punished while those who are able to deliver should be rewarded.

Governance also means keeping the national interest at the forefront.

We cannot afford to bend to the whims and interests of various quarters. The government has absolved itself of various functions and now these are provided by different groups - at a cost. There are transport, water, land, drug and other mafias. There are sugar, cement, steel and many other cartels.

Education and social indicators are neglected. It is not just a matter of increasing funds but complete reform. People in Pakistan have a right to affordable and quality education, health care, housing and transport. The Zardari government should involve various stakeholders and friendly countries to rebuild these sectors. We need expertise and experience from wherever it is available in this.

We also need to review what we are offering at present. What are the messages that are coming out of our textbooks and influencing our young minds? Does our healthcare system really cure people or ends up making them more ill?

For some reason, possibly because of our supposedly bigger problems, we have ignored the biggest time bomb of all - population. We are producing millions every year. Most of these will end up illiterate and angry. Dr Mobashir Malik, a UN expert on population issues, says that while the goverment is aware of the problem, “we are yet to see “implementable action”. And yet this single issue will make or break our country in the years to come.

Terrorism and extremism are also two areas on which we need to do much more. Whether we like it or not, Pakistan is seen as the epicentre of terrorism by the rest of the world. Every Pakistani is a potential terrorist when abroad, unless proven otherwise. Much of this is our fault.

Our strategic errors and short sightedness had led to this mess. Much of our issues with terrorism also have to do with our national objectives, which remain undefined. Who are we supporting and why? By his own admission, Mian Nawaz Sharif has stated time and again that while he was prime minister, he was not consulted on many nationally strategic issues like the Kargil War and the Karachi operation. Civilian leaderships are not trusted.

Possibly in all this, our biggest danger remains extremism. The intolerance of many quarters amongst us had led us to make a fool of ourselves. We ridicule great minds and patronise midgets. One indicator of our mindset is TV. Most popular are our televangelists and talk show hosts who espouse killing fellow Pakistanis in the name of religion. How we get people out of this mindset remains a challenge for all.

In the final analysis, merely bringing General Musharraf to trial is not enough. We need to have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that is headed by a judge like Justice Fakhruddin G Ebrahim. It should start from the “October Revolution” of 1958 and work its way to the Musharraf years.

This Commission should determine who played what role in which fiasco and who benefitted. Let us name names. Let the information come out.

It is important to learn the truth. We can then decide who to punish and who to pardon. At least we will know what we have been through and who was responsible.

At the same time, we need to make peace with ourselves. Let us enter into some loose arrangement with Bangladesh. As two sovereign independent nations, we can still be part of the same dream - a modern Muslim state built on the ideals of Mr Jinnah and the leaders of the Freedom Movement. In that sense, let us go back to the good old days.









“Yes, but are they really friends…proper friends that you trust and can rely on?” Slightly taken aback, I said “Yes, they are” – and then started thinking about who my friends really were. The conversation was with a long-time friend in UK, and we were talking about my relationships with Pakistanis. We meet thousands of people in our lives; get to know relatively few of them and even fewer become friends. So who, out of the thousands I have met here, are my friends? In true time-honoured fashion, I sat down and made a list which I now share with you as an illustration of the diversity we can have in our lives. Names are reduced to initials in case some of these friends are no longer friends after seeing themselves in print!

There are two close As. One of them will be checking this document for mistakes and typos. He is erudite, passionate about Urdu poetry and can be relied on for quality conversation whenever our paths cross.

The second A is a nun, a religious woman with whom I share nothing in terms of spiritual belief but would trust with my life. She knows things about me that I have yet to discover about myself. The single L oscillates between Bahawalpur, Lahore and the US. A recent addition to the list, she is witty, well read, steeped in the arts and lays on unmissable winter bonfire parties. O and the first of the Ms are, respectively, a businessman and a doctor. They both give a large part of their time and energy to helping those less fortunate than themselves.

The second M is an educationist from the far north. He is perhaps my oldest friend in Pakistan, slow and thoughtful, never flustered and a good man to have at your back when the going gets tough. R is one of the pivots of my social life. A film and music lover, we share cigars and a silver screen most Monday nights. S and T and their children are, sadly for me but good for them, now over a year into a new life in America. We stay in touch over the internet. He is a doctor she a writer. The second S is a woman, tough and independent, we meet three or four times a year, share our hopes and fears and the occasional meal. Z is the only member of my Pakistani family with whom I have formed a close friendship – others are just relatives, but Z is a friend. He is a hospital administrator and we liked one-another from the outset.

There are many others but these are the core of the group to whom I would look in times of need or distress beyond my immediate family. Most of them — core and wider circle — do not know one-another and have no connection beyond knowing myself.

All of them are Pakistanis born and bred, speaking English as a third or fourth language. Most are Muslims, with a sprinkling of Christians, atheists and those who are not really sure. They range between relatively rich and close to poor.

The point my friends are making for me is that we can reach out across cultures, bridge the faith gap, have friendships between men and woman that are platonic and skate over the gulf between generations. The text of this piece will be sent to the friend in the UK whose question sparked me into life this week, with a gentle reminder that he check his cross-cultural credentials before asking damn-fool questions like “Yes, but are they really friends?” – because yes, they most certainly are.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email:








MQM Chief Altaf Hussain has demanded the convening of an All Parties Conference (APC) by the President and the Prime Minister to bring angry leaders of the Province on track for solution of issues that are agitating the minds of the people there. He described the situation as very serious in view of the incidents of law lessness almost on daily basis, which call for urgent steps to bring stability.

Similar calls were made earlier by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and other segments of the society who genuinely feel concerned and think that leadership of the country should sit together and find out a solution by addressing the sensitivities of the Baloch leaders and people to pacify the situation. But Government’s apathy on this account is not understandable as to what causes the delay in holding of such a conference. For the last couple of months, young Bugtis and other Baloch leaders have come out with demands of all sorts and there is no doubt that there is a sense of deprivation, which has been blown out of proportion by vested interests. Another dimension of the volatile situation is the involvement of foreign hand and that is playing havoc with the lives of the people and damages to public and private property. The bomb blast in Quetta on Saturday evening indicates that those behind such crimes are not Muslims as they have no regard for religious sensitivities and indulged in the heinous act of terrorism when people were preparing for Iftar. Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani on numerous occasions had stated that Balochistan package was ready on the basis of recommendations made by various committees and it was only a matter of timing and occasion to announce. In this connection he had referred to the holding of a grand Jirga, Provincial Assembly session or the Cabinet meeting to announce the package. We believe that Balochistan’s Nationalist leaders should also be taken into confidence first and then the package could be announced in an All Parties Conference which should also be attended by prominent tribal elders, elected representatives in addition to leaders of political parties. Such a gathering would have positive impact on the overall situation and package would have greater acceptability among the political leaders and people. We would therefore impress upon the President and the Prime Minister to give a serious consideration to the call of the MQM Chief, complete the preparatory work with the active involvement of Balochistan Chief Minister, who himself being a tribal Sardar can use his influence and persuade the estranged tribal leaders to join the grand event so as to restore peace and continue with the development projects for the prosperity of the Baloch people.








AS the nation commemorated the epoch making events of 6th September , a memorable day in the history of the country when our valiant armed forces backed by the people foiled aggression against the motherland, the political and armed forces leadership in their messages have resolved to confront the internal and external challenges with the spirit and enthusiasm displayed on this day in 1965.The media and members of the civil society expressed similar resolves in functions held across the country and called for unity in our ranks and files to defeat the nefarious designs of the enemies of the country.

At this critical juncture when internally the country is confronting the monsters of terrorism and extremism and at the external front the enemy is bent upon realizing its ugly designs, it is essential to display the same spirit when the armed forces and the people defended the borders collectively and thwarted the treacherous designs of India. Holding of this annual event is necessary to keep the younger generation informed of the historic occasion. We need to stay reminded that Pakistan is not out of troubles and facing a multitude of complex challenges, which threaten our national cohesion and integrity. It has porous border and the enemy is arming its three services to the teeth by acquiring lethal weapons in addition to modernizing and expanding nuclear arsenal. The question arises for what purposes? The simple answer is that India has no threat from its small neighbours and through this massive induction programme it wants to impose its hegemony in the region and make the small neighbours to submit before its military might. Pakistanis as a proud nation can not and will not accept the hegemony of any one, big or small and are ready to sacrifice for the defence of the country. Therefore it is of paramount importance that while we continue to strengthen and modernize our armed forces, the spirit of 6th September should be kept alive.








MINISTER for Petroleum and Natural Resources Syed Naveed Qamar has emphasised the need that foreign companies with the involvement of local stakeholders can play significant role in exploiting the potential of natural resources reserves for the benefit of the country.

While talking to Ambassador of Germany Dr Michael Koch, the minister said the government was pursuing vigorously multi-pronged approach to promote efficacious utilization of precious natural resources. While endorsing the statement of the Minister, we think it is important to move aggressively to restore the confidence of foreign investors and attract the much-needed investment. Pakistan is a growing economy and there are lot of opportunities for foreign investors. We need to exploit gas and oil reserves in the four provinces with modern technology to get out of the energy crisis. In other fields also investors can be attracted as Pakistan is one of the biggest market of South Asia with a population of 170 million, the labour is cheap and thus the cost of production would be competitive. For this a coherent effort and campaign be launched particularly through the Embassies by entrusting them to interact with potential investors and to dispel the overblown perception of security threats. It must be emphasised that the terrorism phenomenon is restricted to limited areas and people of Pakistan abhor terrorism. The Government should also create an enabling environment and required guarantees extended for the security of investments. We would also suggest that local investors should be encouraged and time has come that banks be asked to have a rethinking and extend loans to the prospective investors.







The Jinnahpur raucous induced considerable tremors in body politics of Pakistan in July 1992 and pulled the Army into gushing lava of acrimony and accusations. My innocuous remarks given in reply to a question of a journalist on Jinnahpur on 17 July 1992 in Karachi was twisted and drummed up callously. The Press guns remained trained on me and my name dragged into the slime. Absence of clarification ostensibly was being regarded, quite contrary to the truth, that whatever the tabloids had printed was correct. The controversy was kept alive by Altaf Hussain and other MQM leaders throughout these 17 years. While the Army was absolved by the MQM, I was made the target of MQM. Story was twisted that I had fabricated Jinnahpur map and especially invited journalists from Punjab to Karachi and handed them the map along with some documents during my Press briefing on 17 July 1992.

Jinnahpur controversy has once again raised its ugly head with full steam from 23 August 2009 onwards. Brig ® Imtiaz Ahmed, ex Director IB and ex ISI man, has provided desired grist to the hungry electronic media to reignite the issue. He said Jinnahpur was a mere drama. Retired Lt Gen Naseer Akhtar, (Corps Commander 5 Corps 1991-1993) lent strength to his assertion saying he had come to know of it two days after my press briefing and it had saddened him. Retired Lt Gen Asad Durrani, ex DGMI and DGISI reiterated that he had no information on Jinnahpur map but added that the map was certainly not the basis of starting the operation in Karachi. Maj retired Nadeem Dar claimed on Geo Talk Show of Hamid Mir that he was serving in Rangers in 1992 and had raided MQM Headquarters Nine Zero and recovered over 1000 copies of Jinnahpur map and dubbed Lt Gen Naseer as corrupt and Brig Naseer as infamous. Maj Gen retired Safdar Ali Khan disclosed on Geo TV that it is a fact that thousands of Jinnahpur maps had been recovered from MQM offices in 1992 operation. I was invited by Dr Shahid Masood to participate in his program Mere Mutabiq on 31 August 2009. My interview has also not been presented in accurate manner in ‘The News’ dated 2 September 2009.

Notwithstanding the fact that all saner elements have already begun to see through a motivated game plan with certain ulterior motives, I have considered it proper to put the record straight since filibustering and media trial has affected my prestige as a citizen of Pakistan. A team of Pindi journalists arranged by DG ISPR were given a sponsored tour of interior Sindh and Karachi in mid July 1992 to provide them first hand knowledge about progress of Operation Cleanup. They were given comprehensive briefings in Pannu Aqil by GOC 16 Division and at Hyderabad by GOC 18 Division. Journalists were brought to Karachi on evening of 16 July. A busy schedule was chalked out for them by HQ 5 Corps for 17th which included briefing by GOC 5 Corps Reserve Maj Gen Salim Malik, briefing followed by lunch with Chief Minister and dinner in Corps Mess.

· I had been attached with HQ 5 Corps as Army Spokesman for one month in June-July 1992. Lt Gen Naseer Akhtar instructed me to brief the journalists. I tried to convince him that after comprehensive briefings of three GOCs, there would be nothing left for me to brief. He then asked me to take on questions after the briefing by Maj Gen Salim Malik on behalf of 5 Corps.

· Maj Gen Salim’s gave detailed briefing in his HQ on 17 July 1992, in which he highlighted the pathetic law and order situation of Karachi that had prevailed prior to 19 June and that Karachi had been made into a state within a state. He apprised them of the progress made with regard to recovery of arms and discovery of torture cells and curtailment of practice of car snatching, robberies and extortion and concluding that writ of government had been restored to a large extent. He then invited questions from the journalists and answered them.

· It was during the brief question/answer session I held after his briefing that a slimy question on Jinnahpur was asked by one of the journalist. He said, “There are some reports that MQM had plans to establish ‘Urdu Desh’ or ‘Jinnahpur’. Is there any truth in these reports published by a section of press? I replied, “We had also read such reports in the newspapers. Some posters showing sketch of Jinnahpur or Urdu Desh along with some other material were recovered by intelligence agencies from a unit office of the MQM in Kotri”. He further asked if I could elaborate as to whom all could be behind it. I said that I know as much as they knew but some elements might have been toying with the idea.

·What I said was magnified and distorted and flashed as headlines in next day’s newspapers. Each newspaper gave out twisted presentation to what I had said. Headings of each newspaper of 18 July 1992 differed from each other. Sidelining briefing of Gen Malik, question/answer session conducted by me was given prominence. They picked up and covered the story in their own way and suiting their pre-dispositions. Words never uttered by me were attributed to me with a devious slant and laminated with motivated sensationalism.


A rejoinder/clarification was prepared and got formally approved from GHQ and ISPR and handed over to PRO Maj Chishti for publication in all newspapers on AN 18 July. The same was not cleared from the Corps Commander since he had left for Pindi. The clarification did not get published in 19 July 1992 newspapers since Lt Gen Naseer Akhtar forbade Maj Chishti to do so. The rejoinder was killed at 1 a.m. at night of 18/19 July. The PRO without intimating to me rescinded it. Had this clarification been printed, the whole matter would have come to rest and this would not have turned into a chronic controversy. The rejoinder got accidentally published in Observer Lahore of 19 July 1992. Since I was to return to Pindi on completion of my duty on the afternoon of 19 July, as such I could not even hold a Press briefing to straighten the record.


My main source of information about Jinnahpur map was GOC 18 Division Maj Gen Lehrasab Khan. He had informed me on 24 June 1992 in his office that a raiding team had recovered maps of Jinnahpur or Urdu Desh from MQM unit office in Kotri. Interview of MQM Haqiqi leader Aamir Khan published in Taqbeer Weekly of 2 July 1992 and in Akhbar Jahan 13-19 July 1992; and uttering of Benazir Bhutto in a seminar on Sindh on Jinnahpur in early July 1992 were also in the back of my mind.


The ‘Nation’ of 21 July 1992 reported Commander 5 Corps having presented a map of Jinnahpur and his revelation of MQM’s secession plan to create a separate Urdudesh/Jinnahpur during the 20 July 1992 Corps Commander Conference at Pindi. The Jang newspaper carried a news item along with a map of Jinnahpur on 11 October 1992. It said, Jinnahpur plan hatched by MQM had been presented to the government by the Army. When the heat came directly on the Army, the ISPR issued an abrupt denial rather than the already published clarification (Observer Lahore, 19 July 1992). The ISPR note said, “The Army denies having said anything related to Jinnahpur”. This shoddy denial gave heart to the MQM leaders and they started to make me responsible for everything connected with Operation Cleanup. My written requests to Army Chiefs to ask ISPR to straighten the record were not heeded to.

The writer is Rawalpindi based defence, political analyst and author of several books.







Every sane person is aware the terrific situation in the nook and corner of Jammu Kashmir due to the unabated persecution of its natives by 7.5 lakh Indian Armed forces of different hues. The persecution includes custodial disappearances, fake encounters, custodial killings, rapes, molestations, frisking, arrests, detentions, intolerable torture and vilification regardless of age and gender.

In hundreds of cases disappeared persons were proved killed in custody and buried in and around concentration camps or thrown into river waters. Before some years army vacated a camp in Bandipora. After the evacuation people of the area unearthed human skeletons from that vacated Area. This sensational news was carried by all the local dailies. Same is true about other concentration camps in the nook and corner of Jammu Kashmir. Just last year hundreds of graves were identified in Bigusar forests of Lolab valley in district Kupwara,Chehal Bimyar and Kitchema of Uri area in district Baramullah and district Bandipora .Atta Mohammad Khan of Bimyar aged 65 narrates the story of that area where hundreds were buried by him. As per his revelation he has buried 235 dead bodies.

He says that army and police used to bring these dead bodies for burial. Most of dead bodies brought here were maimed, mutilated, amputated and disfigured beyond recognition. Atta Mohammad further says that he had buried many dead in mass graves as per the direction of forces that were bringing them. The uniformed men were identifying them as foreign militants killed on borders or in encounters. He revealed that this graveyard is the extension of kitchama graveyard which is over filled with the dead bodies mostly in mass graves and no body knows who these dead are, where they have been killed, where from they have been brought here. . But 20 exhumed so far were identified as locals by their relatives through other signs like cloths, rings, boats, hair style. They buried them in their ancestral grave yards. Rest hundreds could not be identified due to decomposition. Identification of such mass graves authenticated the belief that the dead ones are those who have disappeared in custody.

The families of the disappeared persons are desperately knocking every door and wandering like psychiatric patients from pillar to post to know about the fate of their loved ones. They have visited every jail of the state and India but failed to trace them out. With no option left they are protesting every month with the play cards bearing the photos of disappeared, crying weeping and wailing and begging the authorities at the helm to trace them out or make aware about their fate. Instead of healing their bruised sentiments local administration takes them to task ruthlessly. So far they are not getting justice but are cane charged, and beaten by police personnel. State governments at the behest of Indian establishment have always distorted facts in respect of human rights violations by Indian forces. In the first instance Mr. Omer Abdullah claimed the unfortunate incident of Shopian the case of drowning but the public outcry forced him toreveal truth. In the case of disappeared the numbers revealed by two state governments falsify them and expose their sincerity .previous coalition government led by peoples democratic party and congress while replying a query in the state assembly on 21st june2003 briefed the members that 3931 have disappeared from 1990 up to31st may 2003.The present government led national conference president Mr. Omer Abdullah apprised the members of state legislature on the floor of the house after the gap of six and half years on 23rd august2009 that the number of disappeared from 1990 up to July 2009 is 3429. That means the number after the gap of six and half years instead of showing increase has decreased by 502.While as numbers should have increased much given the much increase in custodial disappearances since 2003.

The families of disappeared persons are paying the heavy price of the misfortune which has befallen on them. Mentally disturbed economically dried up, they have spent their every thing including valuables and homes while chasing for the whereabouts of their kiths and kins. Maximum among them are living the life in destitution. They urgently need monitorial relief for sustenance which they don’t get as per need. People in Jammu Kashmir suffering economic stress due to the conflict are not in a position to help them because every Kashmiri has got affected by one way or the other. All of them particularly the affected and families of disappeared persons need international relief for survival and help for seeking justice.

ICRC and UNDP may have worked well inLatin America and other subjugated territories. But they are of no help to the tormented people of Jammu Kashmir. UNDP is not visible in Jammu Kashmir and ICRC is working on conditional basis in Jammu Kashmir. This august international organization has signed a conditional memorandum of understanding with India and by virtue of that MOU it has a limited role in Jammu Kashmir restricted to visiting jails after permission case wise. It has not and cannot do anything in regard to Jammu Kashmir. World has to rise above considerations to exert pressure on India for an end to the systematic human rights violations in Jammu Kashmir at the hands of Indian Armed Forces.

World apex body and human rights protection Organizations has role to play .All including the countries concerned should come forward to prioritize initiating action regarding justice and monitorial relief to the affected families. Only then the struggle for justice will mean something substantial to the tormented people of Jammu Kashmir. Now that we are aware such a huge number has disappeared in custody But till date the information about their physical presence anywhere was neither noticed nor received The concerned authorities have already said rather announced that they are not in jails. The irony of the fate is they don’t even declare them dead.

The circumstantial evidences including the discovery of hidden graves at three places hint them dead but have to be established. For that purpose tedious work is needed. This will demand search campaign for discovering hidden graves and grave yards in the nook and corner of the territory. One cannot expect any type of help or cooperation in this regard from state. The people, Hurriyat’s, N.G.O’s, two local factions of A.P.D.P, Afad with the active support, help and monitoring of United Nations Human Rights Council can take up and coordinate the efforts in this regard.

The council has the major role in respect of arrangement of proper funding and settlement of matters with the state regarding the invoking of all the provisions of the convention on enforced and involuntary disappearances. State being signatory of the said convention has the obligation to act on the guidelines of the council. compliance of the state is must for achieving desired results It has to authorize courts to order visits to all the concentration camps and those areas where forces are stationed and the questioning of forces officials and personnel .Let the visit and questioning be entrusted to ICRC as state may not allow access to other teams. India being signatory to Geneva Red Cross conventions is bound to comply with ICRC given the international obligation.







While addressing airmen at the Pakistan Air Force Flying School on April 13, 1948, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah pointed out that a country without a strong Air Force was at the mercy of any aggressor. He stressed that Pakistan must build up an efficient air force, second to none, as quickly as possible. History bears testimony to the fact that the PAF translated the Quaid’s advice into practice in both letter and spirit, despite severe financial constraints. The air war in 1965 and post-1947 disaster-relief and anti-terror operations proved that the PAF was second to none.

The PAF’s job during the 1965 War was to keep the larger Indian Air Force out of Pakistan ’s air space. It delivered the goods to the satisfaction of the Pakistani people. Before outbreak of the war, the Indian Air Force enjoyed overwhelming numerical superiority of 3.8:1 over the Pakistan Air Force. PAF had 100 F-86s of which 92 were in serviceable condition. In addition, the PAF had five C-130s, four SA-16 Amphibians, 12 T-6G Harvards and three Husky Helicopters. Twenty aircraft were modified to carry the GAR-8 or the AIM-9B sidewinder missiles, while a few others were modified for Elint missions. The IAF on the other hand, had more then 500 combat aircraft. Its fleet included MiG-21s, Hunters, Gnats, Mysteres, Ouragans, Vampires, Canberras, and Photo Recce Canberras. The PAF was at a disadvantage in respect of the air bases also. PAF’s air bases included Peshawar , Sargodha and Mauripur. The IAF’s airbases or airfields included Srinagar , Pathankot, Adampur, Halwara and Jamnagar , besides Dacca and Kalakunda in the Eastern Sector. The PAF had its RADAR sites at Sakesar and Badin. The IAF had its sites at Amritsar , Friseur and Prouder.

Besides disadvantages in terms of aircraft, air bases and radar sites, the PAF had following weaknesses: (a) it had only one air base to directly support the theatre of operations. (b) No forward operating base. (c) No low-level radar coverage. (d) Over-reliance on Mobile Observer Units. (e) Limited night - intercept capability as the F-104 AI had serious limitations below 5,000 feet.

Despite disadvantages, the PAF performed excellently in the 23-day war in September 1965. During the war, the PAF was able to establish its operational superiority over its adversary within 48 hours. PAF’s F-104s flew 246 sorties, including 42 at night and claimed four IAF aircraft destroyed for the loss of two F-104As. Sq. Ldr. M. M. Alam set a world record by shooting down five Indian planes in just one battle. By the time the war ended, he had downed nine Indian planes and damaged another two. PAF pilots proved their professional competence by bombing Pathankot and Kalaikunda Air Bases, two of the most important and heavily - guarded IAF bases. They pulverised the Indian armoured columns at Atari. When the war ended, PAF had shot down about 65 Indian planes while losing only 19 planes After the war, several IAF officers appreciated the PAF’s daring performance. The Indian Air Marshal Raghavendran (in his article The day the PAF got away) very rightly applauded leadership of Air Marshal Asghar Khan and Nur Khan who converted the PAF into a formidable force.

Air Chief Marshal P. C. Lal, in his lecture ‘A critical look at the 1965 operations’, lauded the PAF performance in 1965 War. The PAF’s other exploits include getting the better of IAF in its lightning action on the Grand Trunk Road. It prevented the Indian Army from crossing the Bambawali-Ravi-Bedian Canal . Thus, India ’s 15 Infantry Division could not throw a bridgehead across the BRB. PAF successfully defended Sargodha , attacked Kalaikunda, and destroyed numerous Canberras lined up on the tarmac.

Actually the PAF did so well in 1965 air war as it had started its preparation in April, 1965, with the Runn of Kutch conflict. The PAF foresaw that, in aftermath of their defeat from the Chinese in 1962, the IAF was ready to do anything to regain their lost honour. The Indians had laid claim to the Runn of Kutch area, located in the South East of Sindh. They wanted to occupy it by army aggression. The PAF swiftly made preparations to react immediately, when it assessed that the IAF was likely to swing into action. This conflict was ended in the last week of July without any significant air action. Nevertheless, the PAF got mobilised, and remained so until the start of the September War.

In the post - 1965 period, the PAF prevented India from attacking Pakistan in the guise of Indian exercise “Brasstacks”. It proved its capability during the Afghan War and played a legendary role in ameliorating suffering of the earthquake victims. During calamities like floods and train accidents, the PAF has always been at the citizens’ doorsteps. Who can forget its role in restoring peace to disturbed tribal areas? It attacked militants’ hideouts, training centres and ammunition depots with pinpoint accuracy.

Since May last , F-16 multi-role fighter jets have flown more than 300 combat missions against militants in the Swat valley and more than 100 missions in South Waziristan . The Quaid’s soul would be happy to see that the PAF remembered his words and translated his dream into a living reality. Surely, luck favours the prepared mind. It is a combination of motivation, discipline and training that has converted the PAF into an efficient force. The force’s performance has been rightly appreciated not only by the nation and friends but also by the enemies.







According to the Washington Times, CENTCOM Chief General David Petraeus would open the intelligence organization called the Centre for Afghanistan Pakistan Excellence. The organization would be headed by Derek Harvey, a retired colonel in the Defence Intelligence Agency, and would focus on training military officers and covert agents and analysts. In other words, the intelligence leak from the CIA officials few months back happens to be correct and US is actually planning to set-up a training centre at the Central Command to train Pakistani and Afghan military officials and secret agents to focus on their countries. In another development, Pakistani Army is to get US $18 billion (approximately Rs 1.48 trillion) from US to cover operational expenses, travel and transportation expenses, assets, defence stocks and civil works expenses separately in respect of the Army, the Air Force and the Navy.

The Air Force will get over Rs.80 billion and the navy Rs.38.1 billion while Army’s share of Rs.82 billion would be spent on the salaries and other expenses. Rs.25 billion has been earmarked for operational expenses which includes over Rs.4 billion for travel and transportation and a little over Rs.20 billion for general expenses. The army, whose physical assets stand at over Rs.26 billion, will also be able to spend Rs.14 billion on civil works during 2009-10.

The latest developments indicate that US appears to be serious in implementing its long terms strategy in the South Asian region. However, it is too early to spell out whether the agency is going to achieve its set goals or as usual fail and would be covered up by making false claims of success. Anyway, it is being claimed that keeping in view previous intelligence failure, the organization would be set-up on the experience and lessons learnt during the many years of counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The information gained in from intelligence analysis from communication channels and interceptions of targets would also be taken into account to train the officials and agents at the training centre.

A new experiment is being carried out in which instead of relying on orthodox intelligence cycle, focus on integration all sources of information to update both combat fighters and the decision makers. In other words there would be less reliance on intelligence sources and more emphasis would be on input coming from provincial reconstruction teams, civil-affairs officers, commanders and operators on the ground who are interacting with the local population and understand their psyche.

The Centre for Afghanistan Pakistan Excellence would train future analysts, officers and covert operators in the local dialect such as Pashto, Dari, Persian, Balochi and other languages. The centre would also run culture and religious courses. In other world the American presence in South Asia is going to prolong for couple of more years until the long term US objectives are met. The centre would prove to be training centre to develop a hub of intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination. Thus the centre would also be coordinating and sharing information between various agencies including Defence Intelligence Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the (NATO) International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. It is interesting to note that CIA would be having separate setup and would work independently, covering special missions including all the areas and field covered by Centre for Afghanistan Pakistan Excellence.

US would not be overambitious if it feels that it would be successful in recruiting some of the retiring military and civilian officers to act as fighting officers, covert agents and analysts but the loyalty of these officers would always remain a question of concern. Afghan and Pakistani personnel who have no regard to their own ideology on the basis of which their country came into being can be only loyal to payments in dollars and nothing else. Such officers and men had been fooling their superiors and deceiving their motherland throughout their service and once they have retired the want to cheat someone else. Anything can be expected from them and it would be a good luck for US if they don’t mislead them in attaining the objectives of Centre for Afghanistan Pakistan Excellence. Many among these officers who got an employment opportunity feel that they would be acting as dual agents ie clandestinely helping anyone who pays them more.

As far as my personal opinion is concerned Centre for Afghanistan Pakistan Excellence would be another failure. If organizations like CIA failed to deliver anything, one cannot expect much from a baby organization whose very foundation has been laid on cheating, mistrust and greed. If US rely on these officers who are ready to sell their loyalties, in the coming years Afghanistan and Pakistan are going to prove graveyard for pork-eating American troops.







At the last cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina instructed senior bureaucrats to shun suit and tie… to cut electricity consumption caused by the use of air- conditioners….” The Independent, Bangladesh.

In Washington, the President of the United Sates of America shook his head admiringly, “This is absolute out of the box thinking,” he said, “I need to think just like her to get out of this recession!” He called out to his aide who came rushing in, “Inform all senators and congressmen,” he said, “That we will be issuing them one set of government uniforms to wear when they attend the Senate or Congress!”

Why Mr President?” “Can you imagine what the nation will save with them not having to buy their expensive suits, shirts and trousers? The cash surplus in our country’s coffers from unnecessary dry cleaning and detergents?”

Yes sir! But only one set sir?” “Yes one set!” “Why only one set Mr President?” “Cloth my dear man! What a saving! This is the way to tackle the recession!”

Brilliant Mr President!” “I know, I know! But I had to learn this from a lady!” In India the PM known for his economic savvy looked at his neighboring country with unconcealed respect, “How is it I never thought of this before?” he asked himself tapping himself impatiently on his wide forehead, “But it is not too late!” he chuckled as his secretary came running to him, “I have found a way to tackle the drought caused by the failure of the monsoons!” he shouted.

That is good PMjee,” said his secretary. “Issue a circular,” said the PM, “to all ministers, MP’s and MLA”s that tea, coffee, and soft drinks will not be served, will not be drunk and will not be found in any of their premises!”

Brilliant PMjee!” “I wish I hade been brilliant sooner, “ said the PM as he looked in the direction of Bangladesh and smiled. In Pakistan, the President smiled, grinned then laughed. “It takes a lady to teach a man,” he said smiling in the direction of what was once East Pakistan then smiling at a photo of his wife, “We can now save millions! Millions!” “How Mr President?” asked his Prime Minister skeptically. “Give me a world map! Now look, see what I have done!” “You have cut out India from the map?” “Cut out India from the maps of all the Generals, the Defense Minister, yours and mine. When we don’t see India, she doesn’t exist, and if she doesn’t exist, we save precious money on defense!” “Clever!” said his Prime Minister, “Very clever!” And he cut out India from the map hanging behind him.

In Sri Lanka, the military rejoiced as the President fresh from his victory over the rebels ordered his soldiers to wear only bikinis and swimming costumes, and in one of the African countries the President said he would go back to the dressing of his forefathers, “They were naked, I will also be so..!” he said as his people cheered and counted on their fingers the money they would save.











In a country where failures always overtake success, Saifur Rahman, the three times finance minister of Bangladesh, was hailed as an exception. The entire nation, irrespective of party affiliations, mourns his death and acclaims his contribution. Rahman did not succumb to the prostate cancer he had been suffering from for long, he was tragically killed in a car crash. The accident, once again, highlights the poor safety standards of our highway system.


Saifur Rahman was widely considered as an icon, a role model of financial reform. He worked tenaciouly with single minded devotion to bring about reform in financial sector as the longest serving finance minister of the country. Though by profession an accountant, he had mastered financial management system through hard work and brought about reforms in innovative ways.  So successful was the economic refrom that Saifur brought about that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) made him the chairman of their Board of Governors in 1993 for a two-year term. This was a rare and unprecedented honour for the country, which has not been adequately appreciated in his backyard. In that capacity he presided over the 50th anniversary of the Bretton Woods twins in Madrid, the next year (1994).

What did Saifur exactly do that made him a role model? When Saifur took charge of the national coffers in March 1991 for the second time in his illustrious life, the national revenue collection was running at a nine per cent deficit. In other words, the country had to borrow money even to pay for salaries. Saifur wasted no time; he immediately slapped the Value Added Tax, better known by its acronym, VAT. He rationalised the duty structure and brought it down to realistic levels. He also reformed the income tax structure so much that it jumped to over a-fifth of total revenue in no time. Within three years, Bangladesh, for the first time since independence in 1971, became a self-financing state, accounting for more than 90 per cent of its budget. Where commodity aid was the key word in the past, it was soon forgotten and project aid and self-financed projects were the subjects of discussions, henceforth.








Although belated, the introduction of automatic vehicle tracking system at the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) headquarters is a clear indication that our law enforcement agencies are responding to the demand for latest technology. In fact, growing technology-savvy is no fad as many devices are now becoming user-friendly and also cost-effective. Already the device is available at the individual level at an affordable cost for most car owners. They can get the package fitted to their cars and adjusted with their cell phones and/or personal computers.

Now that the DMP has gone for this technological help in tracking down motor vehicles, it will surely be a warning against car theft. Stealing of cars was once rampant; of late the number of such incidents has come down but it is still too high for the car owners and the police to feel relaxed. This device will hopefully make the task of the law enforcers easier. Apart from car theft, there are cases where criminal gangs force lone drivers of taxicabs or private cars to drive the vehicles to a lonely place before forcibly dropping them or even killing them. If there is a system for alerting the police by a distress signal, car lifting by violent means can be stopped and even the lives of drivers saved.

Admittedly, the car tracking system has many advantages but mere tracking will not do unless it is complemented by a unit of well-equipped highway patrol police who can rush to the scene of occurrence immediately. Within the city limit, though, the metropolitan police can do the job if they are alerted on time. Let the new system prove its efficiency and make car theft a thing of the past.










 '...It's now established. Pretty women make men nervous...' Times of India, Sept 5th


"Ha, ha, ha," I laughed as I read this absolutely hilarious article in the papers, "Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!" Asked the wife from the kitchen, "What's so funny dear?" I whispered suddenly, "Nnn..nnnothing!" She insisted, "You were laughing about something?" I asked, "Whh..hat abbbout?" She said, "I don't know, I heard your laughter?"


I giggled, "He, he, he!" My wife, "That's a nervous giggle! I heard you laughing, like ha, ha, ha!" I giggled again, "He, he, he, he!" She asked, "What are you giggling like a teenager Bob? You seem nervous about something?" I replied, "Me nnnervvvous, he, he, he!" Said the wife coming out of the kitchen and standing in front of me, "There's something wrong with you. Are you feeling okay?" I said, "Okkkay! Okkkay! Okkkkay!"


Said the wife, "Let me take your pulse. You're trembling, shivering, your palms are sweaty, is something the matter with you? Let's call the doctor. Doctor come quickly, my husband seems to be having an attack! What attack? I don't know what attack, but it's some sort of a nervous attack! What do you mean you thought so?


What? You're telling me to go out of the room and send our son over, okay! But it's a strange line of treatment!"

"Hi dad?" said my son coming into the room as the wife went out. "Hi!" I said. "Mummy said something is the matter with you?"

"Do I look like something is wrong?"

"No you look as fit as a fiddle!"

"But you had some sort of an attack?"

"Ha, ha, ha, ha!" I laughed. "Hey," shouted the wife from the kitchen, "You seem okay now, are you okay?"

"He, he, he!"

"There he goes again,' said the wife as she came back, "Something is wrong with him son!"

"He, he, he," giggled my son,  "You also? You getting that nervous giggle too? What's this?" said the wife as she looked down at the paper I was reading. "Oh my God! Don't tell me that's why you both are nervous?"

"He, he, he!" I giggled. "He, he, he!" giggled my son. "How sweet of both of you," said the wife hugging us both, "I've forgotten I was pretty till you both just reminded me I still am! Thank you! Let me tell the doctor its okay, or maybe he knows! Doctor I think I found the reason for my husband's nervousness..."

"He, he, he..!" giggled the doctor nervously.









FOR generations, Labor looked like the party of choice and natural home for Aboriginal Australians. Proof that these old verities are under challenge, comes with the revelation of the extraordinary dialogue between Noel Pearson and John Howard before the 2007 federal election. That Mr Pearson believed only the Coalition could save Aborigines showed his desperation over the disastrous state of indigenous life at the time. The revelations in Paul Kelly's book The March of Patriots show, too, the tragedy of the lost Howard decade when the prime minister was isolated from the ideas and support of indigenous leaders still smarting over Paul Keating's demise.


Now, almost two years after Mr Howard's defeat, the Rudd government faces its own challenge of ensuring the next decade brings real improvement. That challenge is real. The government's intervention is losing momentum as Canberra struggles to deliver its side of the bargain - real progress in areas such as housing. The government has tied the success of its policies to metrics rather than the symbolism and rights agendas pursued by earlier Labor administrations. But implementation has been fraught, and Canberra has lost the support of such northern leaders as Galarrwuy Yunupingu, who wrote in The Weekend Australian that "the intervention is dead". Mr Yunupingu, like Mr Pearson, has also been underwhelmed by a proposal to set up an Aboriginal congress along lines recommended by Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma. This body is a throwback to a rights movement of the 1970s that did nothing to counter the dreadful effects of alcohol, unemployment and "sit-down" money.


Those are the issues on which Mr Pearson staked his career. His ability to reconceptualise Aboriginal issues within a framework that integrated indigenous difference and identity and broader citizenship was one of the most important exercises in our political life in the past 20 years. It is mainstream thinking today, but in the early 1990s when the young lawyer from Cape York began talking about indigenous responsibility and the perils of welfare, he cut across every policy assumption of previous decades.


Mr Pearson's 6000-word letter to Mr Howard in September 2007, and what the prime minister did with it, are not just part of history. The revelation of how far Mr Pearson was prepared to go to achieve a Coalition victory will do little to endear him to Kevin Rudd. Yet Mr Pearson's letter is as prescient as ever, both in its repudiation of a previous rights agenda that blamed dispossession for the failure of contemporary indigenous communities and its blueprint for the future.


He urged a reconciliation of "an undifferentiated national citizenship with indigenous people's rights to land, language, culture and identity". This should be based on four ideas: individual choice and human rights ahead of group rights; the need to speak English; the need for a mainstream education; and land reform that enabled economic development but preserved communal title.


Two of these - speaking English and access to education - are so obvious they should not have to be stated. Yet in remote regions, a mixture of failed delivery and misguided identity politics has left an entire generation of Aboriginal children without the skills that could give them an equal crack at a future.


This paper applauds Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin's commitment, even in the face of opposition, to change land tenure in order to promote economic development and well being. In Alice Springs, for example, her bid to take over town camp leases has been obstructed by people more interested in symbols than decent living conditions. Others, such as Mr Yunupingu, who initially strongly supported the intervention as a way to change people's lives, are disillusioned. He argues that people in remote areas who buckled down to repressive parts of the intervention have received nothing in return while public servants and urban Aborigines who are part of the Aboriginal "industry" revert to "business as usual".


It took a Coalition government to recognise the balance between individual rights and responsibilities and to launch the 2007 intervention. Now a Labor government is being challenged by people once seen as its natural allies. The Prime Minister and Ms Macklin's embrace of metrics rather than symbols is a real step forward for Labor. But if they are to deliver, they must listen to leaders on the ground and be prepared to adjust further an intervention that must not be allowed to fail indigenous Australia.








THE revelation that Anthony Albanese, as an opposition frontbencher with a keen interest in Sydney airport, apparently ignored former Customs officer Allan Kessing's legitimate and serious concerns over security flaws at the nation's busiest airport highlights the inadequacy of the Rudd government's proposed whistleblower reforms. In particular, it demonstrates that making federal MPs authorised recipients of public interest disclosures by public servants is no substitute for extending legal protection to whistleblowers, who draw serious examples of maladministration to public attention.


Before drawing up legislation, Special Minister of State Joe Ludwig is considering the report of the House of Representatives legal and constitutional affairs committee, chaired by government backbencher Mark Dreyfus QC. The report recommends an elaborate new system for handling whistleblowers' complaints inside the public sector. Complainants would be protected from prosecution only if their complaints were directed to their own public service agency, to an outside public agency such as the Ombudsman or Public Service Commissioner, or to federal members of parliament.


Unless they were exposing an immediate and serious threat to public health or safety, public servants leaking to journalists would remain liable for criminal prosecution and up to two years' jail under the notorious section 70 of the Commonwealth Crimes Act. The section provides no defences, even if the information made public is in the public interest.


Mr Kessing, a former member of Sydney airport's border security team, received a criminal record under section 70 after being convicted of leaking reports outlining lax airport security. He has consistently asserted his innocence. The publication of the reports, in The Australian in May 2005, led to the Wheeler review, which confirmed the parlous state of security at our major airports.


One of the most worrying aspects of the issue is that while the documents at the heart of the affair remained inside the Customs bureaucracy, nothing was done to address the problems. Once the documents were published, however, the Howard government spent $200 million trying to fix the problems, although a brawl between two bikie gangs at Sydney's domestic terminal in March suggested much remains to be done.


Mr Kessing approached Mr Albanese two months before the reports appeared in The Australian out of frustration that the Customs bureaucracy had suppressed and ignored the issue. His disclosure today to legal affairs editor Chris Merritt about approaching Mr Albanese in vain drives home a vital point that apparently escaped the Dreyfus committee. That is, politicians, like Customs officials, are prone to human frailty and do not automatically respond to every issue in the public interest, even in the face of serious disclosures by public servants. But they would be far more likely to address incidents of maladministration if legal structures encouraged them to do so. Allowing politicians, senior bureaucrats or anyone else to ignore maladministration and remain safe in the knowledge that the law imposes criminal penalties on those who reveal their inaction to the media is a recipe for cover-ups and inertia. That, however, is precisely what will be encouraged if the federal government turns the Dreyfus committee's recommendations into law. It is also a concern that the government's shield laws for journalists fall short of protecting confidential sources, as the public interest requires.


Mr Kessing's disclosures are credible and all the more compelling because he has nothing to gain and everything to lose - including a second prosecution under section 70 - by going public now. For his part, Mr Albanese owes the travelling public, and his electorate of Grayndler, which borders Sydney airport, a detailed explanation of why he failed to act on Mr Kessing's information in 2005. At that time, Mr Albanese was a senior member of the opposition team, and the material provided revealed a serious problem in a key area of national security. Mr Albanese has been a strident critic of decisions about Sydney airport. In his maiden speech in 1996, he attacked the Hawke government's approval of the third runway, which increased aircraft noise for his constituents.


Aside from the questions Mr Albanese must answer, the wider issue this revelation has raised involves the public's right to know about issues of major importance, and the media's right to inform them. Until public sector whistleblowers are free to approach the media on serious matters of incompetence or corruption, the public interest will suffer.









LAST Thursday evening a Sydney man was shot dead outside his home in front of his nine year-old son. A neighbour described hearing a gunshot and, a moment later, the son screaming for his mother. The father and son had been out to collect takeaway food and another witness remarked that there were chips spread across the porch where his body fell.


Further details soon followed. On Friday morning commuters read that the dead man was Michael McGurk, a property developer well known to police and to Sydney's underworld. Accounts emerged of a shady character with a bruising personality. McGurk was variously described as ''arrogant'', ''short-tempered'', a ''charming rogue'' and a '''villain'' with ''a nasty streak''. His past was littered with accusations of assault. He had been recently cleared of firebombing two properties and had an important court appearance coming up. The Herald could reveal that McGurk told police a week before that he knew of a contract for his murder and that he had been living in fear for his life. There were reports of an audio tape that could ''bring down the State Government''.


The facts of McGurk's past are not in dispute. However it is not unreasonable to contend that within hours his murder had been expediently recast by the media as the crime du jour, an underworld hit whose morally neutral subtext - criminals kill one of their own - is straight out of TV series such as Underbelly or The Sopranos or The Wire; or, for that matter, any number of pulp fiction potboilers or shoot-'em-up video games.


Sydney is enduring a sustained period of underworld violence. Bikie gangs have run amok this year. As the Shooters Party manoeuvres in the upper house to relax gun laws, gun crime is escalating. In April an assault rifle capable of firing 700 rounds a minute was confiscated, along with an arsenal of illegal weapons and ammunition in raids in Concord and Elanora Heights. In June, Fadi Donny Ibrahim was shot sitting in his black Lamborghini in Castle Cove with his girlfriend. To be inured to murder diminishes us; to be entertained by it damns us. We must not treat Thursday's murder, or any fatal shooting, as just another episode.


The fact that a Sydney man has been shot dead in his driveway in front of his son a week after he had warned of such an eventuality is a disgrace to NSW and a spur to more vigorous action against guns and gun crime.








GIVEN the deep chill that has settled over the Chinese-Australian relationship in recent months, prospects of a thaw seem more likely to be advanced by cautious steps than by rhetorical declarations or grand gestures. Last week's proposal by the head of the US Pacific Command, Timothy Keating, and the Australian Defence Force chief, Angus Houston, seems like a promising start. They agreed separately to invite China's Ministry of National Defence to join - initially small - three-nation military exercises. The idea has the virtues of being both modest and practical, and early informal reactions from Beijing suggest China will at least consider it.


Fostering mutual understanding and respect at the military-to-military, officer-to-officer, level emphasising the advantages of co-operative rather than adversarial relationships, could provide diplomatic dividends, enhancing regional stability. Wisely, Keating and Houston have proposed that, in the early stages, joint exercises should be restricted to dealing with such relatively uncontroversial challenges as natural disaster relief, other humanitarian crises and, perhaps later, piracy at sea and officer exchanges. As to the potential sensitivities of other regional powers, notably India and Japan, regarding such a tri-nation arrangement, Keating sensibly suggests they could be invited to send observers to the exercises, or to participate.


While joint military exercises involving the US and China would be unprecedented, Australia already has experience of working with the Chinese military having, with New Zealand, held joint naval search-and-rescue exercises in 2007. Now seems a good time to try to build on that foundation. There have been faults on both sides: tactless wording in a passage on China in the Rudd Government's Defence white paper, the perceived snub of the Chinese ambassador to London by Kevin Rudd, the messy matter of Chinalco's failed bid for Rio Tinto, the subsequent incarceration of the Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu, China's clumsy over-reaction to the visit here of the Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer. China and Australia need to put these nagging grievances behind them.


True, there will always be tensions between a hugely populous, emerging superpower wed to an authoritarian, single-party model of government and a middle-ranking, capitalist democracy like Australia. This is one reason Rudd's ambition for an Asia-Pacific Community, however admirable the concept, remains problematic. But ideological, historic and demographic differences should not prevent Beijing and Canberra from maintaining a mutually beneficial, constructive and robust relationship based on their complementary economies and shared interest in regional peace and stability. Improved military co-operation would be a useful step on that path.








The Guardian's most recent ICM poll showed the Conservatives on 41%, Labour on 25% and the Liberal Democrats on 19%. Do you notice anything unusual about those figures? No, they are not out of line with polls by other companies. But there is something unusual nevertheless. They only add up to 85%.


Thirteen years ago, with the 1997 general election still nine months away, the equivalent figure was very different. Back in August 1996, the three main parties accounted for fully 97% of the total in that month's ICM poll. Nine months before the 2001 general election the figure was also very high, at 95%. Even five years ago, at the same stage of the electoral cycle, the three parties still collected 91%.


Something is going on here – and that something is the rise of the small parties. In the space of just 13 years the parties that normally get lumped together in the "Others" column by the pollsters have gone from 3% to 14% (in case you are wondering, the latest ICM figure for these parties is 14%, not 15%, because of rounding up and down to eliminate decimal points). Overall, though, it is a big and significant change. In the European parliament elections in June "Others" even came top of the whole poll, with 42% of the total; the three main parties only managed 58% between them, a record low. The truth is that British electoral politics is no longer just a two- or even a three-party system (four in Scotland and Wales). It is increasingly a multi-party system everywhere. Get used to it.


As the general election nears, the small parties will face a familiar squeeze. When polling day comes, they will do well to match the current 14%. But there is no sign of them disappearing back into the margins, as the big three parties would like. This strength has its regrettable sides (as illustrated by yesterday's report that the odious BNP may be invited onto Question Time) but it is undeniable. The low reputation of established politics has hurt all the big parties, including the Lib Dems, who are no longer seen as outsiders. As a result, the small parties of the right, the left and the nations, and the single-issue parties, are all prospering as never before. This autumn party conference season, their conferences – Ukip and the Greens last week, Plaid Cymru this week – matter too.


This growth of support is unlikely to produce many more minor-party MPs, especially in England. But the minor parties may run the bigger ones close in several places. Strong performances by Ukip, the BNP, the Greens and the others will shape the results in hundreds of seats. All this is happening under a first-past-the-post system. Imagine what might happen under a fairer electoral system.







Fusty, pompous, redolent of an age of social restriction and colonial hubris. This is what mid-20th-century wielders of the wrecking ball thought of Victorian architecture, and it eased their consciences as they razed great portions of our cities. There were dissenting voices: the Victorian Society was founded in 1958 and, championed by John Betjeman and others, fought for the preservation of 19th-century buildings. Liverpool's Albert Dock was saved but, sadly, not Euston Arch. The war is not over; the society is campaigning to save a hospital in Brighton, Manchester's Sale Hotel and a former workhouse in Clitheroe. Why should we care? A glance at the buildings in this year's Heritage Open Days event, which starts on Thursday, shows how much of our urban fabric was defined by the Victorians. Take Bradford's mill owner's house and the nearby mill workers' cottages, the town halls of Leeds and Manchester, or the humbler Almshouses in Reading. But if Victorian architecture is the matrix into which many of our towns are set, there is a danger that the character it lends will not be sensed until it has disappeared. With the demise of the Civic Trust, which helped protect historic spaces, the task of appreciating our 19th-century buildings has become even more important. Cities should not be static, but neither should good work be undone simply because we have ceased to notice it. Pay homage to your local Victoriana this week, and then imagine what things would look like without it.







This may be the week when the government begins to talk seriously about reining in public debt. Gordon Brown raised it on Saturday in his speech to finance ministers at the G20 summit of the most important economies; Alistair Darling will address it again in his Callaghan lecture on Tuesday. This is a good thing, for three reasons. First, because having a public-debt pile worth around three-quarters of national income by 2013 (as forecast at the April budget) is manifestly an important issue. Second, because Mr Brown's line that Labour would invest despite the Tory clamour for cuts persuaded neither voters nor many of his own ministers. And third, because an open debate about getting the public balance sheets in order could dispel some of the ignorant shrillness that marks the current discussion.


The starting point for any discussion about public finances must be that they look bad. The deficit for this year was forecast in the April budget to hit £175bn – and going by recent tax revenues that now looks optimistic. And while the deficits are set to come down, public debt will rise until 2013-14. The second point to be made is that figures this high hardly spell imminent disaster. Britain has had much bigger debt mountains before, and right now across the developed world other governments are also seeing their balance sheets blow out, thanks to the financial crisis and its recessionary aftermath. Moreover, some of the borrowing was necessary – it helped shore up the banking system and mitigate the worst effects of the recession. In a recent paper for the Lib Dem-leaning thinktank Centre Forum, Giles Wilkes takes the Treasury estimate for national debt in 2012-13 and analyses its constituent parts. He estimates that 9% is incurred rescuing banks; 4% is down to increased benefit and other automatic spending; 25% is lost tax revenue; and 37% is debt that probably went towards public investment. Any politician would find it hard to quibble with those items. The bad news for Mr Brown is that there are two additional entries for which he is culpable: Mr Wilkes finds that 9% of the debt is down to over-reliance on bubble revenues from financial and housing markets, and 16% has been racked up through not fixing the structural deficit.


Such figures indicate that the story over the public finances is much more complicated than politicians typically allow. Mr Brown did not heroically amass this debt just to get the UK through the credit crunch; but nor is George Osborne right that it is all the result of Labour profligacy. Besides, borrowing can be a useful tool for managing an economy, either for investing in schools and hospitals or to take the edge off a recession.


Having straightened up some of the background to this huge public debt, what should be done about bringing it down? There are two arguments here, the first about trajectory and the second about methods. On timing, as long as interest rates remain low, repaying the debt is manageable. While the economy remains weak, government balance sheets must continue to take the strain: the choice between much higher unemployment and a slightly raised level of public debt is surely no choice at all. Ministers should be planning fiscal tightening – partly because that will help calm any jitters among the investors who lend governments all this money – but not putting anything into practice until the economy is enjoying reasonable growth. For the Tories to consider swingeing spending cuts straight after the next election would be to risk sending a recovering economy straight back into intensive care. Second, Labour should think of fiscal tightening as also being about raising taxes on those able to afford it, rather than just cutting public spending. Property remains undertaxed in the UK, and it would be a good place for any progressives to start thinking about how to get the books back in order.








The housing-price bubble that burst so explosively in the United States is compelling evidence that the economy needs adult supervision. As the U.S. tries to find a new way to provide prudent government oversight of major financial institutions, Canada will be making no such change, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has signalled.


This is a sound application of the principle known as "it ain't broke, so don't fix it." Canada has had no bank panic, no huge wave of foreclosures, no tottering financial titans. Shrinking exports, growing unemployment, and swelling government deficits have made our recession painful, to be sure, and we are bobbing in the wake of our big neighbour's problems. But our financial infrastructure has met the storm sturdily.


Not many Canadians, we imagine, really understand who provides the general policy oversight and co-ordination that serve to keep Canadian high finance stable. Fortunately Flaherty explained, at a recent Vancouver meeting of the International Fiscal Association, just how this works: There's a Financial Institutions Supervisory Committee, consisting of the minister and several senior officials: Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney; deputy finance minister Michael Horgan; Superintendent of Financial Institutions Julie Dickson; Canada Deposit Insurance Corp. chairman Bryan Davies, and Financial Consumer Agency commissioner Ursula Menke. (Once Flaherty gets a pan-Canadian financial-markets regulator going, to replace the hodge-podge of provincial agencies, the head of that new unit will join the committee.) Together, these officials monitor the whole financial infrastructure, and can deploy policy, regulatory, and other tools to modulate trends or processes in the economy when necessary.


In theory, at least, this group would have detected any Canadian sub-prime mortgage bubble, for example, and could have acted against it before it grew dangerously large. "This committee allows us to collectively identify and correct weaknesses in a timely way," Flaherty told the fiscal experts, according to a text of his address. "It helps to stop problems before they become crises in the financial system." Among agencies, the FISC assures "that a balance of non-overlapping responsibilities is maintained" and that nothing important slips between the cracks.


As minister of finance, Flaherty is the key man on the FISC. That's as it should be, in a democracy. But for this system to work properly, the minister of finance must not be a minister like the others, chasing incessantly after votes. A proper minister of finance is almost a cleric, soberly devoted to profound work best done in solemn tranquility.


Canada has been fortunate to have had a series of responsible and capable ministers of finance; as long as that continues, our oversight system will serve us well.









The number of telecommuters in Japan jumped during fiscal 2008, according to a survey by the transport ministry. Nearly 10 million people telecommuted for eight or more hours per week at the end of last March, up five percentage points from three years earlier, to comprise roughly 15 percent of all workers in Japan. With 46 percent of the workforce telecommuting fewer than eight hours per week, Japan is poised for a potential revolution in the workplace.


Telecommuting can allow many employees a better work-life balance. Workers with young children may particularly benefit. Japan's long commute times, and accompanying stress, could be reduced, concomitantly relieving pressure on overcrowded public transportation. Eliminating the commute for even one day a week could give many employees two or more extra hours of leisure. The flexibility would be relaxing while giving impetus to remaining efficiently on-task during working hours.


Nowadays, the majority of businesses have increased the number of tasks that can be done online or by e-mail. Many of these tasks can be accomplished in different ways with increased efficiency. Outsourcing of other computer work, such as data input and document processing, is, after all, a sort of telecommuting. Businesses can find savings in office space costs.


The structure of many Japanese cities will likely change as well, as work patterns, leisure areas and the flow of people evolve. All that may sound idyllic, but it should also be remembered that Japan has a long tradition of doing business face to face. A face on a computer screen is no substitute for a human presence. What's more, Japan's workplaces often rely on group efforts, which can be undermined if employees meet less often. The basis of business relations will have to change. Still, long-established in-person trust is an invaluable commodity that should not be discarded in the rush for technological change.


Computers are changing how the Japanese work and live. The only question that remains is whether the changes will pan out as positive or not. An optimum balance will have to be found for businesses to thrive socially and economically in the future.







The rapid spread of influenza in Japan calls for vigilance. In the city of Kizugawa, Kyoto Prefecture, a 69-year-old man became the 10th person in Japan to die of H1N1 flu. He had suffered from cardiac and pulmonary diseases before becoming infected.


According to the World Health Organization, 2,185 people worldwide had died of the flu as of Aug. 23. Japan's National Institute of Infectious Disease announced that some 5,000 medical institutions nationwide had reported a total of 11,636 cases of influenza for the week ending that day. The actual number of cases was estimated at about 150,000, most of them believed caused by the H1N1 virus. The average number of influenza patients treated per hospital for that week was 2.47, a steep rise from the 1.69 for the previous week. Okinawa had the highest figure with 46.31.


The health ministry also said there had been an outbreak of the H1N1 flu in 1,330 groups for the week ending Aug. 30, about 1.5 times the number for the previous week.


The ministry's flu epidemic scenario has H1N1 flu hitting some 25 million people, or about 20 percent of the population, by yearend. About 380,000 people will be hospitalized and about 40,000 of them will become seriously ill either with flu-caused encephalopathy or conditions requiring use of an artificial respirator.


It is predicted that in urban areas with higher population densities and in rural areas with a large proportion of elderly people, about 30 percent of the population will be hit by H1N1 flu. The scenario does not take into account the effects of vaccination.


Infants, elderly people and those with chronic renal, pulmonary and cardiac diseases and diabetes are likely to become seriously ill. The Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology was shocked by an Aug. 26 report from Brazil indicating that 58, or 10 percent, of the 557 fatalities from influenza were pregnant women.


The society calls for vaccination of the nation's 1.1 million pregnant women and the 550,000 women who have delivered babies within the past six months. Pregnant women as well other people with chronic diseases should go to hospitals immediately if they develop cold symptoms.








The world has undergone drastic change in the first decade of the 21st century. There appears to be no end to terrorist activities and international disputes in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, suicide attacks on the United States.


In retaliation for the terrorist acts, the U.S. led the "Coalition of the Willing" to invade Afghanistan in an effort to quell the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban organization. In March 2003, the same coalition did not bother to wait for a U.N. Security Council resolution before starting the war in Iraq on the presumption that Baghdad possessed weapons of mass destruction. Washington justified the war as a means of liberating Iraqi citizens from the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.


With the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush spent eight futile years pursuing American unilateralism.


In Japan, the coalition government of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito supported the policy of the U.S. by taking part in both wars. At least Tokyo did stop short of withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol.


In my view, the resounding victory scored by Barack Obama and his Democratic Party in the U.S. elections last November exerted no small influence on last week's Lower House election, which brought about a change of government in Japan.


Other factors contributing to the collapse of the LDP-Komeito coalition included the international financial crisis of 2008 and subsequent economic downturn triggered by the fall of Lehman Brothers in September of that year.


Many lawmakers within the governing parties began to revolt against the "structural reform" policies of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who was at the helm of the government from 2001 to 2006 and whose influence gave his LDP and its junior coalition partner Komeito a huge majority in the 2006 general election. The revolt even led Prime Minister Taro Aso to make mention of "excessive market fundamentalism."


Today, only a minority of politicians follow the ideology that equates a free, transparent and fair market with automatic economic growth, and assumes that the benefits of such growth will trickle down to those of the lowest income bracket.


The revised workers dispatch law, which went into effect on March 1, 2004, eased the rules governing dispatch of workers by employment agencies, resulting in a sharp increase in the number of nonregular workers. Firing of such workers has become a routine since the nation was hit by the global recession.


After dissolving the Lower House for a general election in 2005, Koizumi asked the nation to say yes or no to the central theme of his structural reform program: privatization of postal services. The overwhelming LDP victory demonstrated that two-thirds of the electorate supported the privatization scheme and Koizumi's brand of market fundamentalism.


I have long criticized Koizumi's structural reform as "Thatcherism coming 20 years too late." After becoming British prime minister in 1979, Margaret Thatcher wasted no time leading the privatization of national enterprises and the drive to ease or abolish regulations. What cost her her political life was the introduction of a poll tax requiring every citizen to pay a local tax equivalent to ¥100,000 per year regardless of income. It was dubbed by many as the ultimate example of Thatcherism.


Opposition to this tax far exceeded what she anticipated, and she had to abandon her candidacy to be re-elected head of the Conservative Party in November 1990. John Major replaced her on the pledge to abolish the poll tax, and it was abolished in September 1991.


The Labour Party roundly defeated the Conservatives in the general election in May 1997, bringing about the first change of government in Britain in 18 years. Newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair distanced himself from the old Labourite policy of nationalizing major enterprises and instead sought to create a "New Labour Party" pursuing a third way.


I recall Shoichi Watanabe, an English-language scholar and leading rightwing critic, expressing his opposition to changes of government at a symposium. He attributed the "British disease" to frequent changes of government, which he said were responsible for changes in fundamental policies.


I do not wish to delve into the cause of the "British disease," but the fact remains that Britain's gross domestic product ranked 10th in the world in 2007 in terms of the U.S. dollar, while the GDP of Japan — which had not experienced a "change of government" — had fallen to 19th.


With the exception of socialist states, Japan is unique in that the political party governing Japan had not changed, with many lawmakers inheriting their positions from their parents. This has weakened Japan's position in the international community, politically and economically. As a result, I cannot help feel that Watanabe's observations are unfounded.


Today, we are faced with an unprecedented global crisis that threatens the very existence of humans, what with climate change, spiraling fuel and food prices, the international financial and economic downturn, and a new type of influenza. I wonder if the Democratic Party of Japan, which is to take the reins of government, is capable of systematically implementing policies to overcome these crises. For example, if the party is serious about reducing carbon dioxide emissions to combat global warming, it will have to face off against the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren).


The only way for the DPJ to win voter support is to draw up ambitious medium- and long-term targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to aggressively introduce renewable energy sources, creating in effect a Japanese version of the "Green Deal," which must be pushed to pull the nation out of recession.


Because of this recession and its rising unemployment, Koizumi's structural reform programs are under fire. It must be recognized, however, that he implemented his policies with an unswerving faith in market fundamentalism. It must be assumed that, from the outset, he foresaw that the logical consequences of his policies would be social disparities, a sharp rise in the number of nonregular workers, and more "losers" in competition. Not caring about these consequences is the true nature of market fundamentalism.


It would have been more desirable if the most recent general election in Japan had represented a head-on confrontation between those who favored market fundamentalism and the Keynesians who regard the market as less than perfect — as in the confrontation between Republicans and the Democrats in the U.S. elections last fall.


Takamitsu Sawa is a professor of Ritsumeikan University's Graduate School of Policy Science and an appointed professor at Kyoto University's Institute of Economic Research.









The House of Representatives last Thursday asked the government to increase dividend payouts from state companies to state coffers to Rp 24 trillion (US$2.4 billion) next year to help meet expected revenue shortfalls from taxes.


Though this proposal is fiscally possible such a large dividend payout could be damaging to the future growth of state companies because they will not be able to    reinvest a sizeable portion of their earnings in capacity expansion.


We understand the difficulty the House and the government currently face in setting targets for major items of revenue and expenditure for next year due to the rapidly changing conditions in the international market and global economy.


The government itself acknowledged when it proposed the 2010 budget plan early last month that many of the assumptions used in the draft budget were quite preliminary and vulnerable to rapidly changing conditions. No wonder, making revenue and expenditure estimates  seems like shooting at a moving target.  


On the revenue side, for example, the government is already doubtful it would be able to achieve its Rp702 trillion (US$70.2 billion) tax receipt target due to lower-than-estimated corporate profits. Total expenditure, though, could overshoot their estimate due mainly to possible higher-than-estimated oil prices which would require larger subsidies.         


The government therefore proposed to the House during the budget deliberations last Thursday that the contingency fiscal reserves for 2010 be increased to anticipate any revenue shortfall and/or spending overshoot. The government initially proposed contingency reserves of only Rp5.6 trillion, down from Rp15.6 trillion budgeted for this year. But given the latest developments in the global economy, the government has had second thoughts.


However, instead of allowing the government to borrow more from the domestic or international market, the House looked at the idea of further squeezing state companies to cover part of the revenue shortfall.


Last year, the government levied Rp29.08 trillion in dividend payouts or almost 38 percent of the total profits of state companies which reached Rp77.6 trillion. Only 114 of the 141 state companies made profits while 27 others lost Rp13 trillion. Hence, the return on assets of all state companies was only 4 percent.


The government this year also budgeted Rp30 trillion in dividend payouts from state companies even though their profits will most likely be stagnant, or may even be substantially lower than last year. In fact, their profits last year could be way larger than this year’s because of the commodity boom in the first half of 2008, before the global financial crash last September. The danger is that profits could be lower again next year, compared to this year.


However, forcing state companies to pay out more than 30 percent of their profits in dividends may prejudice their future growth. Prudential business sense dictates that annual dividend payout be capped at a maximum 30 percent to allow companies to reinvest a good portion of their earnings for capacity expansion. An acute lack of investment in new technology and human resource development will severely impair the market competitiveness of state companies.


No wonder most companies listed on the stock market abide by that dividend payout principle (maximum 30 percent) even though the investing public (retail investors) usually demand higher payouts. Wise investors will not hold  or buy the shares of companies which tend to pay out the bulk of their profits in dividends.









The Korean government initially estimated second-quarter growth at 2.3 percent. Now it says a final tally will put the actual growth rate at 2.6 percent to 2.7 percent.


The upward revision is evidence that the recovery is stronger than anticipated. No wonder economic think tanks and financial institutions are in the process of revising their 2009 economic outlook for Korea upward.


Still better, growth will climb to 4 percent next year and 5 percent in 2011, if the government's forecast is correct. But the government appears to be overambitious when it says it will try to push growth up to an annual rate of 7 percent afterwards to make good on President Lee Myung-bak's campaign promise.


But growth ranging from 4 percent to 5 percent is certainly an attainable goal. When it is realized, it should be welcomed. But Koreans cannot be all that happy about these bright prospects. The reason is that the national debt is increasing rapidly as the economy is recovering fast. Simply put, it is a budget deficit that is generating growth.


Of course, this is not to belittle what Korea has achieved since the collapse of Lehman Brothers a year ago, which marked the onset of a global financial crisis. Many other countries, which have spent much more than Korea to pull themselves out of the crisis, have yet to be convinced about recovery.


Nonetheless, it is a cause for great concern to all Koreans that national debt is growing at an alarming rate. National debt as a percentage of gross domestic product is projected by the International Monetary Fund to jump from a manageable 29.6 percent in 2007 to 35.8 percent this year and 42 percent next year.


To an emerging economy such as Korea, national debt surpassing 40 percent of GDP should set off alarm bells. As a senior Korean official in charge of public finances is quoted as saying, foreign investors become nervous about their investments in an emerging economy when its national debt exceeds the 40 percent mark. They suspect such a high level of national debt will deprive an emerging economy of a debt-servicing capacity.


In an apparent attempt to calm down potentially jittery foreign investors, the Korean government vows to keep national debt below 40 percent of GDP in 2012 when it is projected to peak and then push it down to around 35 percent the next year. It also promises to balance the budget in 2013 or 2014.


To have the budget balanced in 2013 or 2014 appears a realistic goal, given that it took the Korean government five years to put an end to the budget deficits it sustained as a consequence of the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. But no harm will be done if the government tries to attain a budget balance ahead of schedule.


Lee's administration will do well to advance the schedule for a budget balance, keeping in mind that it is its predecessors' legacy of fiscal prudence that has made it possible for Korea to borrow and spend its way out of the global financial crisis this time.


To increase revenues, the government will have to phase out many of the tax credits and deductibles, keep the self-employed from dodging taxes and plug loopholes. At the same time, it will have to control expenditures by avoiding or delaying the launch of big-ticket projects. It may also choose to delay the completion of projects that are now under way.


The government needs a belt-tightening policy. If there is no pain, there will be no gain. Thrift is a virtue for the government as well as an individual. Moreover, it is time for the government to consider an exit strategy if recovery is as strong as it says it is.









Pyongyang says it is in the final stage of enriching uranium for use in nuclear weapons, heightening a security threat to neighboring countries and making it more difficult to break the impasse over the communist state's nuclear ambitions.


The disclosure of progress in the uranium-enriching process is no doubt a countermeasure by Pyongyang to the U.S.-led U.N. sanctions against North Korea. The U.N. Security Council adopted an anti-Pyongyang resolution in the wake of North Korea's second nuclear test in May.


"We are prepared for both dialogue and sanctions," the North Korean Central News Agency said on Friday, adding that it would have to take "stronger countermeasures" if no action was taken to put an end to the standoff. It called the U.N. resolution a "wanton violation" of North Korea's sovereignty.


Of great concern to all parties concerned is what response the United States will take. Washington, while insisting on a resumption of the six-party nuclear talks, has been refusing bilateral dialogue with North Korea.


North Korea's uranium-enrichment program is no news. Back in October 2002, James Kelly, then assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, lodged a formal protest against North Korea's possession of highly enriched uranium. But this does not mean that the United States and other parties to the six-party talks can afford to ignore the North Korean threat to use enriched uranium for the manufacture of nuclear weapons.


In fact, enriching uranium poses a greater challenge to the nonproliferation efforts of the United States than reprocessing plutonium. Experts say it is more difficult to detect from the outside.


The latest North Korean action gives greater credence to the claim that Pyongyang's offer of bilateral dialogue with Seoul is nothing but a tactical change. South Korea, which promises to deal sternly with the renewed nuclear threat, will do well to coordinate its actions with the United States.











In 1989, the year that I started practicing law in Los Angeles, the big news in the business world was the Japanese wave into the United States. Riding a major boom in the stock and real estate markets in Japan that started in the mid-1980s, Japanese investors poured a massive amount of money into the United States. They invested in some of America's most iconic landmarks. The famed golf course Pebble Beach in California, the Rockefeller Center in New York, and even a venerable Hollywood movie studio, Columbia Pictures (later renamed Sony Pictures), were purchased by Japanese investors.


The U.S. consumer industries also experienced Japanese penetration and subsequent domination. In the automobile industry, Toyota, Nissan and Honda became established brands and smaller Japanese brands such as Suzuki, Subaru, Isuzu, Mitsubishi and others penetrated the U.S. auto market.


In the consumer electronics industry, Japanese products achieved absolute dominance. U.S. consumers bought Quaser, Panasonic, Sharp and Pioneer electronics goods without even knowing that they were Japanese brands. It was Sony, however, which became an undisputed leader in the U.S. electronics industry. Every American teenager wanted to own a Sony Walkman, and a Sony television set was the prized household asset even though it was quite expensive.


Around this time, Korean electronics companies such as Samsung, Lucky-Goldstar and Daewoo Electronics began to sell cheap microwave ovens and color television sets in the United States.


Only the people who could not afford to purchase fancier and higher-quality Japanese goods purchased problem-prone but cheaper Korean products. In one Los Angeles television news program, a Samsung Electronics executive remarked in an interview that Samsung's goal was to sell to American consumers electronic goods of "acceptable quality at an acceptable price."


Roll forward 20 years, after spending seven years in Asia, my wife and children recently decided to return to the United States. When our family went shopping for electronics goods and home appliances at a well-known electronics chain called Best Buy, both my wife and I could not believe our ears.


When we asked for recommendation on flat-screen television, our American salesman said, "Samsung is the best in terms of quality." "Over Sony?" I asked incredulously. His response was a confident "yes."


For washers and dryers, another American salesman without hesitation recommended an LG. "I own an LG washer and dryer myself. They are very quiet," he said with a big smile.