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media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month september 10, edition 000294, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
- SIBAL SCORES A HIT
- A WARM VISIT
- CHINA PLAYING A BIGGER GAME-SHOBORI GANGULI
- BEWARE OF THE RED DRAGON-SUNIL THAPLIYAL
- TRADE IN TIMES OF DROUGHT-ANURADHA DUTT
- MARKETING RELIGION-KHIMI THAPA
- WARNING POST FOR A WARMING PLANET- CHARLES J HANLEY
- DEGRADATION OF LAND ENDANGERS BUNDELKHAND-SACHIN JAIN
TIMES OF INDIA
- TURN BENGAL AROUND
- SARKAR ON THE WEB
- FEW CHEERS FOR ADVANI-
- IT WILL IMPROVE THE MOVIE EXPERIENCE
- TOO DRASTIC A MEASURE-
- WANTED DEAD, NOT ALIVE -BACHI KARKARIA
- MONIKER METAMORPHOSIS-
- FLYING INTO TURBULENCE
- NOW THEY SAAS SO
- FAREWELL TO HISTORY-SITARAM YECHURY
- THE MISSING NOTE-KHUSHROO N SUNTOOK
- DUMP THE PILOT
- AWARDING ENCOUNTERS
- EYES OF THE BEHOLDER
- LANKA’S BARBED WIRE-LAKHDAR BRAHIMI
- PARTY POOPER-VINAY SITAPATI
- NO SERENDIPITY IN SERENDIP-KUNAL PRADHAN
- MOURNING YSR -SUMAN K JHA
- FIVE STAR FURY-RAJU SANTHANAM
- JET SETTERS FORMING UNIONS?
- AUSTERITY NON-PLAN
- FIDAYEEN OF WHITE-COLLAR LABOUR FORCE-MANISH SABHARWAL
- UNNATURAL LEVY ON NATURAL GAS-KAUSHIK RANJAN BANDYOPADHYAY
- GIVE THE DEVIL HIS DUE-ALOKANANDA CHAKRABORTY
- DAMNING INDICTMENT
- LATIN AMERICAN STRATEGY ON DRUGS
- ISHRAT IS WHY ENCOUNTERS NEED JUDICIAL PROBING -SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN
- AFGHAN BOMBING TURNS GAME CHANGER IN GERMAN ELECTIONS -VAIJU NARAVANE
- ISSUES OF JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE -T.R. ANDHYARUJINA
- OBAMA’S SEVEN KEY CHALLENGES
THE ASIAN AGE
- JET PILOTS MUST RETURN TO WORK
- WILL AFGHAN WAR BE OBAMA’S VIETNAM?-S. NIHAL SINGH
- MISSION EDUCATION
- PAY MORE FOR POWER
- THIS IS CHANDIGARH!
- PAK ENHANCING N-CAPABILITY-BY GEN V.P. MALIK (RETD)
- IN SECRET SERVICE-BY JUPINDERJIT SINGH
- NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT CHANGES IN HARPOON -BY PREMVIR DAS
- AIDS MORE FRIGHTENING THAN HIV-BY JOHN-MANUEL ANDRIOTE
- DO MOBILE PHONES CAUSE CANCER?-BY THOMAS H. MAUGH II
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
- FOREIGNERS’ TRIBUNALS
- MUSIC MAESTRO
- JUDICIOUS FEELING OF PUBLIC PULSE-RANEN KUMAR GOSWAMI
- CULTURAL VANDALISM: A SELF-DESTRUCTIVE FLIPPANCY-TOPON SHARMA
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- AFTER A TUMMY UPSET DISRUPTS FLIGHTS
- CHANGE LAND ACQUISITION PROCEDURES
- TAKEOVER RULES SHOULD FACILITATE M&AS
- JASWANT'S EPISODE SHOWS WHO WAS THE DECISIVE POLITICAL LEADER-SHIV VISVANATHAN
- JET PILOTS MUST RETURN TO WORK
- GOP REDUCING US TO A ONE-PARTY DEMOCRACY -BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
- WILL AFGHAN WAR BE OBAMA’S VIETNAM? - BY S. NIHAL SINGH
- BY DC DEBATE: YSR SHOWED THAT STRONG REGIONAL LEADERS ARE GOOD FOR THE CONGRESS
- DEMYSTIFYING TAX - BY NITISH SENGUPTA
- SOPS AT IFTAR
- AUSTERITY IMAGE
- DUMB & DUMBER
- SUFFER IN SILENCE
- WHERE TO STAY
- WHIP HAND
- ISHRAT JAHAN’S DEATH -MUKUL KESAVAN
- DOUSE THE FLAMES-ABHIJIT BHATTACHARYYA
- SWEPT WITH CONFUSION -DAYITA DATTA
- LEARNING IN BLUNDERLAND
- WHAT YOU’RE READING TELLS WHERE YOU’RE FROM-BY LEONARDO PADURA FUENTES, IPS
- DIGNITY OF LABOUR-BY A N SURYANARAYANAN
THE NEWYORK TIMES
- PRESIDENT OBAMA STEPS FORWARD
- THE BUSINESS OF VOTING MACHINES
- A LIVING MEMORIAL
- FOR DEMOCRATIC MAYORAL CANDIDATE
- SO MUCH FOR CIVILITY -BY GAIL COLLINS
- BIG FOOD VS. BIG INSURANCE -BY MICHAEL POLLAN
- WAYS WITH WORDS
- DEATH AT SCHOOL
- A CURIOUS CASE
- THE GILGIT-BALTISTAN BUNGLE-ASIF EZDI
- WHAT THEY FORGOT-FASI ZAKA
- THE TRUMPET SUMMONS US AGAIN-ROEDAD KHAN
- ORANGI VERSUS DHARAVI-FARZANA VERSEY
- A CASE OF SUICIDE-KAMILA HYAT
- MORE TRANSPARENCY NEEDED IN RPPS PROJECT
- EASIEST WAY TO END SUGAR CRISIS. DON’T EAT!
- US BLOWS HOT AND COLD ON PAK NUKES
- TERRORISM, THE CHANGED DIMENSION-AIR MARSHAL AYAZ A KHAN (R)
- ZARDARI’S LONGEST YEAR-MAHMOOD HUSSAIN
- TO BE OR NOT TO BE FAT!-KHALID SALEEM
- AFGHANISTAN: LOSING HEARTS, MINDS & WAR-ABID MUSTAFA
- PRETTY WOMAN..!-ROBERT CLEMENTS
- COMPETITIVE BANGLADESH
- FLU TURNS MORTAL
- A BIGGER SLUMBAI..!
- NOW IS THE TIME FOR OUR WOMEN AS WELL
- TECHNOLOGY MATTERS
- AND ANOTHER THING ...
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- SCHOOLS CASH IS GOING WHERE IT IS NEEDED LEAST
- DISRESPECT REDUCES ULURU TO A ROCK CLIMB AND TOILET
- IN PRAISE OF… NEW GUINEA
- GERMAN ELECTIONS: SLEEPWALKING TO THE BALLOT BOX
- THE ECONOMY: POLITICIANS AND THE SEMI-SLUMP
THE JAPAN TIMES
- SOME PROGRESS FROM THE G20
- WORDS OF WISDOM FROM HATOYAMA-BY TOM PLATE
- POLITICS AND PEOPLE COLLIDING-BY DAVID HOWELL
THE JAKARTA POST
- SHIFTING BATTLEFIELD
THE KOREA HERALD
- WATER AS A WEAPON?
- LABOR AS OBSTACLE
- TRUTH ABOUT INDIA TIES
- TIME TO RELAUNCH GROWTH
- HEARSAY NO EVIDENCE FOR NEWS REPORTING
- CLEAN-TECH PUSH TO LIFT SINO-US TIES TO NEW HIGH
SIBAL SCORES A HIT
BUT HE SHOULDN’T RUSH REFORMS
A silent revolution has been initiated by Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal to reform and restructure our antiquated education system, which is in a shambles at the moment. Rather than waste his time and his Ministry’s resources on bogus exercises like ‘detoxifying’ school syllabus and hobbling centres of excellence with politically-motivated quotas — both of which had become a passion for his Soviet-era predecessor, Mr Arjun Singh — Mr Sibal has set for himself an agenda that is not tainted by dogma. There is nothing startlingly new about what he intends to do; in the past, various committees, panels and commissions have made similar recommendations. It’s just that he has decided to implement them in a time-bound manner. Broadly, his initiatives are focussed on two key areas of reform: First, the school system as well as the syllabus that is followed up to Class XII; and, second, the regulatory rules and bodies for professional education. As a first step, he has had his way with discontinuing Class X board examinations conducted by the CBSE and switching over to a more scientific and meaningful grade-based system of assessing a student’s knowledge, abilities and talents. Regrettably, few State Governments, which conduct their own Class X board examinations, have responded to Mr Sibal’s move enthusiastically — they view reforms as an abridgement of their rights; more importantly, they fear loss of jobs for babus posing as educators and their minions who are criminally indifferent towards students and their aspirations. Hopefully, by 2011, wisdom shall dawn on recalcitrant State Governments and they will see the light. As for professional education institutions, there is much to be said in support of Mr Sibal’s suggestion that a common regulatory body should oversee their functioning. At the moment, a plethora of councils and commissions are charged with this responsibility and have miserably failed in their task. It is equally shameful that most of these regulatory bodies, including AICTE, UGC and MCI, stand accused of corruption and a host of other malpractices. Frankly, they should be immediately disbanded and their dishonest bureaucracy put out to pasture — barring their patrons, nobody will shed tears for them.
This, however, is easier said than done. At the moment, the regulatory bodies are controlled by various Ministries — for instance, the Ministry of Health controls MCI — and some Ministers have already registered their protest because they apprehend loss of power; their babus are worried over loss of ‘benefits’. There are others who have a vested interest in the status quo being maintained and they are not without political support. And, last, but not least, the applause for Mr Sibal is bound to cause a certain degree of envy among his Cabinet (and Congress) colleagues. This does not mean he should abandon his agenda for reforms, nor does it amount to an insurmountable obstacle. Perhaps he would do well to recalibrate his pace and not push for too much too soon. While it is true that decades of lethargy and neglect can be tackled only by a person with missionary zeal, we cannot entirely ignore the reality of India where rapid change, whether in society, politics or economy, fetches instinctive resistance. Consensus may be impossible on account of partisan politics, which unfortunately pervades the education system at all levels, but surely consultation is possible. Mr Sibal could try looking at implementing reforms as winning a Test series instead of a T20 match.
A WARM VISIT
INDIA MUST ENHANCE TIES WITH NEIGHBOURS
Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Dipu Moni’s four-day visit to India should give our policy-makers a lot to think about. It is not the visit itself but what it represents. For, in the quest to become a significant player at international fora there is a real danger that New Delhi might not give relations with its immediate neighbours the due they deserve. It is in this context that Ms Moni’s visit is significant and helps to reinforce the need to maintain and enhance mutual ties with our friends in countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. Also, with respect to regional foreign policy, there has been a strong tendency on the part of the Government to excessively focus on Pakistan. So much so that on occasions our Prime Minister and his Cabinet have given Islamabad more attention than is warranted. This obsession with our neighbour to the north-west is hardly healthy. Nobody is remotely suggesting that Pakistan be ignored. After all, our relations with that country are very important given the historical, political, socio-cultural and security issues involved. But a single-minded focus on Islamabad to the exclusion of other neighbours is unadvisable.
Ms Moni’s visit comes at an opportune time for both India and Bangladesh. Relations between the two countries have been on the upward trend since the Awami League came to power in Dhaka late last year. There is a wide range of issues on which India and Bangladesh share common concerns. These include bilateral trade, water sharing, illegal migration, cross-border human trafficking, smuggling, transit access and terrorism. It is positive that Ms Moni and Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna had thorough discussions on all these areas of concern when they met on Tuesday. Both sides agreed to resolve all outstanding issues on the basis of mutual understanding. It is also encouraging that the Sheikh Hasina Government has categorically recognised terrorism as a threat to the entire region and has vowed to crack down on terrorist cells operating from its soil. This is of particular interest to India as not only leaders of separatist groups such as the ULFA have taken refuge in Bangladesh but Pakistan-based jihadi organisations too have been using the country as a base to carry out their anti-India operations. It is hoped that Ms Moni’s visit will usher in a new phase of co-orperation between the two countries on this front. Lastly, Ms Moni, being the first woman to become the Foreign Minister of a South Asian country, has truly honoured us with her visit as an individual. Her contribution to Bangladeshi politics has been inspiring and pioneering to say the least. In this spirit, let us pray that in the coming days relations between India and Bangladesh touch new heights.
CHINA PLAYING A BIGGER GAME
For reasons well-documented by history India’s relations with Pakistan have always drawn public and media attention on both sides of the border. Arguably, four wars and hundreds of confidence building measures later, Pakistan truly is one of India’s prime foreign policy and national security concerns and given its track record, so it ought to be. Between then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s confidence building bus journey to Lahore in 1999 and his successor Mr Manmohan Singh’s abject surrender to Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in Sharm el-Sheikh on the Balochistan issue this July, lies a decade of deceptions, obfuscations, intrusions, terror attacks and denials by Pakistan. As the pendulum of opinion swings between the need to “engage” Pakistan and teaching that country a few lessons in good neighbourly conduct, the undeniable truth is India, not for once, can afford to let its guard down with Pakistan.
Despite Pakistan’s brazenness and the Manmohan Singh’s Government’s miserable failure to make that country accountable for repeated terror attacks on India, what inspires hope is the fact that each time the India-Pakistan face-off has turned into a conventional military conflict, India has emerged victorious, militarily and diplomatically. If at all, Pakistan has a humiliating history to look back at in this regard. There is, however, another neighbour with whom India has a deeply humiliating military past to remember, dating back to 1962. This neighbour, which has since aided and abetted Pakistan’s hostile designs on India including its nuclear weapons programme, cleverly staying away from a direct military confrontation again, is now making consistently disturbing noises on India’s northern and eastern borders. This needs to be discussed and debated as intensely, if not more, as India-Pakistan relations.
With Pakistan rapidly imploding and Barack Obama’s America directly involved in the region, it is apparent that China is gradually losing the leverage it has had since 1962 of using Pakistan to needle India. With the Chinese as uncertain as the rest of the world about who calls the shots in Pakistan — the Army, the Prime Minister or the President —Beijing no longer has a failsafe political interface with Islamabad. Too many players have now entered the Pakistani arena for any one country or entity to control or influence Islamabad. Accompanying this irretrievable unmaking and fragmentation of the Pakistani polity, therefore, is a disturbing trend in recent months: More than casual, in fact defiant, Chinese intrusions into Indian territory, on repeated occasions in Arunachal Pradesh and now in Ladakh.
While paranoia is best avoided at this juncture, the gradual unmaking of Pakistan and China’s recent border missives to India seem more than merely coincidental. Be it a navigational error or an undefined Line of Actual Control, India can ill-afford to dismiss Chinese intrusions as “routine” to be dealt with under a “standard mechanism” set up in a 2005 protocol wherein a flag meeting is to be called within 48 hours of any intrusion which then has to be investigated by the “guilty” party and a report sent back to the other country. It is perhaps India’s inexplicable lack of urgency that has emboldened China into outright denial of any territorial intrusion. In response to Indian Army chief Gen Deepak Kapoor’s casual observation, therefore, that, “there have been several violations and one incursion by a Chinese helicopter in the past few months,” have come two official denials from Beijing in the space of a month.
Even if one were to dismiss the recent intrusions as routine or ignore them as innocuous games by a bunch of young Chinese soldiers thumbing their nose at India for adventurous relief from their boredom at the border posts, the fact is recent years have witnessed an intensification of China’s military modernisation as well as massive infrastructure development in the Tibet Autonomous Region. In fact, Gen Kapoor admitted last year that these developments “could impact our security in the long term.” Indeed, on a visit to TAR in 2007 one was astounded by the sheer scale of infrastructure development in the region, swank airports, a commanding rail network and impressive highways rolling up the mountains that can effortlessly ferry Chinese troops in a matter of hours to the Himalayan heights that stare down menacingly on our soldiers. However, simply carping about China’s infrastructure build-up or border incursions will not ease India’s problems on its northern frontier.
Admittedly, the Indian armed forces have duly acknowledged the ongoing Chinese moves along the border by intensifying border patrol along the country’s sensitive North-East. However, one must not be too hasty to infer from this development that there are chances of an India-China military face-off in the foreseeable future. The geopolitical make-up of the region and indeed of the world is significantly different from 1962. And so is the position India and China independently occupy on the global stage today.
For one, an aspiring world power like China can afford the temerity of a military aggression against India, a legitimate aspirant to a similar position, at a huge diplomatic cost globally. Two, India and China are emerging as the world’s fastest growing economic powerhouses, a historic opportunity neither country would want to fritter away by risking a military face-off. Three, both India’s and China’s equations with the United States will serve as a deterrent to any military misadventure. If India today enjoys strategic clout with the US, China has an economic card to play with the Americans. While neither would want to risk disturbing this balance by turning the region into a theatre of conventional war, the US, on its part too, cannot play one against the other. Added to this is the fact that for the first time since the disintegration of the USSR, China and India are credible options for redistributing the strategic weight long concentrated in the world’s sole superpower.
Why then is China resorting to its pre-1962 tactics of irritating India on the long-standing border dispute? The answer lies in the last reason cited for the unlikelihood of a military combat anytime soon. China has its eyes trained on a 2020 scenario when it hopes to assume a significant share of the strategic weight the US is likely to shed by then. And, India is a direct competitor, if not rival. Therefore, while not engaging in a full-blown military face-off that would erode its credibility as a global player, China is only seeking to remind India of the screws it can so easily tighten on the borders even after Pakistan has been rendered unemployable. This pressure-in-perpetuity Chinese game is what India urgently needs to apply its mind to.
BEWARE OF THE RED DRAGON
There is no doubt that India is back on China’s radar. The recent Chinese incursion into Ladakh preceded by a Chinese strategist advocating the break-up of India into several small states should be enough reason for our Government to review its strategic relations with Beijing in order to avert a repetition of 1962.
When both India and China were discussing border issues in the 13th round of the Sino-Indian border talks last month, an article appeared on a Chinese news portal which was captioned “If China takes a little action, the so-called Great Indian Federation can be broken up”.
On reading the article one could easily gauge that it would have definitely been approved by the Chinese Government before being published. Keeping this in mind one can easily analyse the strategic game that China is playing vis-à-vis India, which quite often comes to the fore at international fora where Beijing is not shy of declaring its commitment to ‘peace’ and ‘stability’ in South Asia. It is this that confirms the real motive behind weakening India, either internally or by continuously supporting its enemies.
The article vividly describes the mindset of the Chinese think-tank. China has traditionally spoken in two voices. When it comes to diplomatic talks with India, the Chinese show a great amount of ‘understanding’. But they never pass up an opportunity to pour scorn on India.
It is in China’s interest to destablise India by supporting the separatist forces in the North-East and in Jammu & Kashmir. A separatist group like the ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom) in Assam, can easily be helped by the Chinese to push for an independent state. Hence, the article needs to be taken seriously and India must take necessary steps to strengthen its security along the Indo-China border. While India spends about $ 30 billion annually on defence, China spends at least thrice as much. This huge gap must diminish.
China has been building up its naval presence by constructing ports from Sittwe in Burma to Hambantotta in Sri Lanka and Gwadar in Pakistan. It plan’s to strategically encircle India from the all fronts.
Chief of Indian Naval Staff Admiral Sureesh Mehta recently set off a storm when he said that India cannot match China militarily. His voice must not be ignored and adequate steps taken to meet any challenge that China has planned for us.
TRADE IN TIMES OF DROUGHT
REPORTS ABOUT DEBT-RIDDEN FARMERS IN DROUGHT-HIT BUNDELKHAND SELLING THEIR WIVES FOR A PALTRY AMOUNT ONLY SHOW THE PREVAILING BIAS AGAINST WOMEN IN OUR AGGRESSIVELY PATRIARCHAL SOCIETY. IT IS A PROBLEM THAT REQUIRES REMEDY TRANSCENDING PETTY POLITICS AND OUTRAGED REACTIONS
The Congress’s exaggerated show of concern over the sale of female kin by impoverished farmers in Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh seems to suggest as if this is the first time that such an abominable act has happened and that the BSP Government in the State alone is to blame for the lapse on account of its failure to tackle the consequences of drought effectively. While it may be true that the BSP regime has not done enough to ameliorate the plight of drought-hit people in Bundelkhand and other afflicted areas, as it gives vent to its obsession with immortalising its icons, the practice of selling female kin and children in times of crisis is as old as prostitution and slavery. And the indigent and helpless are most vulnerable.
Legend has it that even Raja Harishchandra, after being divested of his kingdom, which he gifted to his preceptor in fulfilment of a pledge, was forced to sell his queen, Taramati, and son, Rohit, into slavery when he was further required to pay his preceptor the fee for some ritual performance. But his kingdom and family were miraculously restored after a seven-and-a-half year long ordeal.
But so far as India’s wretchedly poor sections are concerned, miracles are rare. They are doomed to a life of servitude and bondage, at the mercy of the weather gods and human masters, both zamindars and Government functionaries. In the present instance, media reports of debt-ridden farmers selling their wives to money-lenders for paltry amounts, ranging from Rs 4,000-Rs 12,000, has triggered outraged reactions from Congress politicos. National Commission for Women chairperson Girija Vyas has sought a speedy report from the Uttar Pradesh Government on the incidents. She has also referred to a breakdown of law and order in the State. The situation seems tailormade for BSP’s political adversaries, which have been accusing the Government of administrative failure.
However, reports of women and children being sold routinely surface in times of natural disaster and war. States ravaged by floods or cyclones, or stricken by drought, are known to be centres of human trafficking. Such stories periodically emerge from Orissa, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Among India’s neighbours, Nepal and Bangladesh are notorious for human flesh trade. After the 2004 tsunami, which devastated coastal areas of affected countries, including India, thousands of displaced children were feared to have been taken away by traffickers. One can only guess at their fate. Trade in hapless humans feeds prostitution, forced labour, organs trade and conflicts, in which boys are used as cannon fodder.
Even in normal times, flesh trade thrives, either for the purpose of prostitution or for use as domestic help in homes. As NCW chief, it is all the more important that Ms Vyas should take note of this fact. The latest manifestation of this problem is the practice of men from land-owning communities in Haryana and Punjab paying a bride price to middlemen so as to marry poor girls from Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Madhya Pradesh and even southern States. This is because of a shortfall in the number of females in their communities, as a result of female infanticide and foeticide. Prevailing bias against girl child in aggressively patriarchal milieus has led to a swelling population of single men, unable to find wives among their own people but willing to buy them from other regions. There are reports of brothers in remote areas of Gujarat, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh sharing one woman. There is no finesse in such arrangements, with the females being treated like chattel.
In 1981, when the Congress reigned unhindered by the Opposition, an English daily broke a story of a tribal woman called Kamla being bought by one of its reporters in a poverty-stricken area. The journalist was sent by his editor — a politician today — to go to Madhya Pradesh and uncover the truth. Mr Arjun Singh was the Chief Minister. The reporter purchased the girl and brought her to Delhi.
On the day when the report was published, the editor, reporter and chief reporter filed a writ in the Supreme Court, asking that the Governments of three States, Delhi, and the Union Government be ordered to probe women trafficking. They should also report to the court the remedial measures they intended to take. A Hindi film, titled Kamla, was made, and the episode became the favourite subject of heated intellectual discussions at seminars and in coffee houses. Thereafter, what happened to the woman is not known.
Though Article 23 of the Constitution bans human trafficking and there are penal laws to check it, India has a terrible track record in this respect. The United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime claims that after East Asia, South Asia is the second largest region for human trafficking. In 2006, the UN Population Fund report on ‘State of World Population’ singled out India as a key destination and transit point for trafficking in females.
It is a problem that requires remedies, transcending petty politics.
TV SHOW PROMOTES CONVERSION THROUGH DISINFORMATION
Last week, after a day’s hectic work, flipping through channels late at night I managed to catch the last few minutes of the much-debated reality game show Sacch Ka Saamna on Star Plus . But after the show finished, the next programme, Ek Nayee Zindagi — a paid-time religious programme which I wish our Parliamentarians do watch — caught my attention. The 30-minute host-driven magazine format show is sponsored by the Christian Broadcasting network. It essentially consists of interviews and re-enactments of real-life experiences of individuals who have embraced Christianity wilfully and have found that their new religion has changed their lives for the better.
Although a bit of proselytisation can be expected in a paid-time religious programme whose very purpose is to change people’s attitude towards the religion it is promoting, blatant belittling of other religious faiths is neither expected nor required.
The following is the excerpt of one of the interviewees from CBN’s official website (http://www.cbnindia.org):
Anitha Sharma: Married at 16, widowed at 40, lost her 25-year-old son at the age of 42. She underwent 34 years of backbreaking sadness...
Perhaps her situation forced Anita to look for answers in her faith. She became extremely ritualistic, performed pujas day and night. In fact, she read the Ramayan so much that she learnt it by heart. Soon she was called for religious gatherings to recite the Vedas, she fasted frequently. Alas, there was no release; there was no sense of security. She had two children, a boy and a girl. They grew up in the same atmosphere. They saw their mother performing all the rituals but at the end of the day the same sadness gripped their hearts…
Her life continued in the same manner till she was 40. ...Someone killed her husband by adding poison in his
She didn’t want to worship the god who couldn’t help her even when she gave her complete self to him.
This was a turning point in the life of Anita, she had several questions in her mind. It was during this time that her daughter in one of the prayer meetings accepted Christ…
Now, for some reason, Anita was trying to sell her property, but she could not find any buyer who would agree to give her the right price. Once, she had heard her daughter talk about prayer, so she asked her daughter to pray for the property to be sold at a good rate. Surprisingly, within a week her property got sold. Anita was shocked and was lit with a hope that there might be a god who did answer prayers.
In order to know more about this prayer-answering god, she started going to church. One day she heard about Christ raising a widow’s son from the dead, this made so much sense to her that she gave her life to Christ. 40 years of undealt issues, mental frustration and grief that she had bottled up came out. … She felt that if she had come to Christ earlier, her son would not have died.
Accepting Christ changed Anita, her financial problems were resolved.
Similar stories are re-enacted in the show which received the Galilean Award for the Best Christian Television programme in India in 2006, and wherein they also show that doing havans and pujas is futile and won’t fetch them anything.
However, this is not to say that one should not propagate his religion. But one must remember that propagation of one’s religion is not the same as belittling other faiths. The meaning of propagation is to promote and spread one’s faith without fraud, coercion and allurement, which this show completely disregards. It does not depict a ‘genuine’ change of heart of the interviewee towards Christianity but shows how Christ can ameliorate one’s life, including one’s financial position.
It is true that in the past few decades religious television shows have increased in number. Nonetheless, we need to identify the fact that these new-age evangelical shows are exploiting the differences between various religious communities rather than diminishing them and, therefore, leading to commercialisation of faith.
Every individual has the right to freedom of religious faith and conscience. Therefore, it would be improper to depict that god, be it bhagwan, allah or Christ, will ameliorate the devotees’ financial position to induce people to convert. This kind of persuasion wherein people are enticed with promise of better financial condition is dubious by nature and not only belittles other faiths but also trivialises the very concept of religion to mere conversion. Faith is a matter of personal choice which should not be influenced by material gains.
Ek Nayee Zindagi leaves three questions to be answered: First, why is it alright for this show to depict that reciting the Vedas (or for that matter any other religious scripture) can do no good while adopting the Bible can? Second, can television channels broadcasting such a programme shrug off their responsibility towards their audience by simply claiming that the show is a paid-time programme? Third, will politicians, who were frothing at the mouth over Sacch Ka Saamna, take cognisance of this show?
WARNING POST FOR A WARMING PLANET
VILLAGERS IN TUKTOYAKTUK WORRY THAT DUE TO GLOBAL WARMING THE SEA WILL SOON REDUCE THEIR ISLAND TO A SMALL SHOAL, EXPOSING THE UNPROTECTED SIDE OF TUK’S POPULATED PENINSULA TO OCEAN WAVES, WRITES CHARLES J HANLEY
Much of the ‘land’ is ice, great wedges of it stuck in the frozen soil of the permafrost in Tuktoyaktuk village of northwest Canada. Rising temperatures mean thawing tundra, and that means sinking terrain, making Tuk even more vulnerable to the battering of the sea.
Steve Solomon, a Government coastal geologist who has long studied Tuktoyaktuk’s predicament, said the combination of land subsidence and seas rising from global warming add up to Tuk’s “sinking” by three millimeters (an eighth of an inch) a year.
That translates into bigger numbers for shore erosion in key spots, like Tuktoyaktuk Island, whose 10-meter (30-foot) cliffs protect the harbour mouth.
“Tuktoyaktuk Island is completely unprotected, exposed,” Solomon said from his Nova Scotia office. “It’s eroding at two meters (yards) a year.”
Warming ocean waters are undercutting the cliffs’ permafrost base. Solomon believes that at current erosion rates — and they may worsen as warming does — the island will be reduced to a small shoal in 30 or 40 years, exposing the unprotected side of Tuk’s populated peninsula to ocean waves.
The heart of town already must deal with permafrost melt, as houses on shallow supports shift and tilt on a slowly liquefying base.
“Every house has a problem eventually,” said Merven Gruben. The mayor’s brother Gus believes “someday we’ll all have to move to Reindeer Point,” a cluster of houses on higher ground three miles inland, begun in the 1990s. But Merven scoffs, “It’s too far out. Siberia, they call it.”
Reindeer Point resident Nellie Pokiak, 55, concedes people are relucant. “Tuk’s population’s growing,” she said. “But it’s hard to see them moving from their traditional fishing areas,” old homes with small boats backing on the harbour. “That’s where Tuk began.”
Tuk has a problem, too, with what the mayor calls “our submersible roads,” flooded by seawater more and more often when storms sweep in from the west. Villagers worry that the sea will soon flood a large old dump, filled with the US military’s trash when it operated a radar station here, and spread its contaminants on and off shore.
The gravel is washing away at The Point, meanwhile. At least 20 buildings are directly threatened by the shore erosion. And Tuk’s vital truck link to the south, a 180-kilometer (110-mile) “ice road” marked out each winter over the frozen sea and up the frozen Mackenzie River, will have shorter safe-driving seasons.
Tuk’s troubles are repeated in settlements across the Arctic. Some examples:
On Alaska’s Bering and Chukchi sea coasts, villages may have to be relocated. The US Army and Marines are already helping the 350 people of one hamlet, Newtok, move to higher ground.
Across the Bering Strait in east Siberia, thawing permafrost has damaged airport runways, cutting off communities from emergency medical evacuations, a representative of the indigenous Yukagir people told an Anchorage conference this May.
In Pangnirtung, on Canada’s Baffin Island, an unusual rush of meltwater this spring eroded the permafrost holding up two bridges, bringing them down.
The sturdy, trim great-grandfather Eddie Gruben remembered better, colder times, as he sat on his daughter’s sofa, beneath an enlarged photo of himself a half-century ago, leading a dogsled team on a polar bear hunt.
“Even in the ocean today the ice isn’t getting thick like it used to be,” the old hunter said. “Thirty, 40 years ago, in June it was still solid ice. Now the first week in June there’s no ice. It used to be a long winter.”
His grandson the mayor hopes Tuk will sit tight for many more winters.
That’s why he and the hamlet council agreed to the wind-power plan, a Government project to test the technology in this harsh environment. Two to four turbines are expected to be operating by 2011, replacing perhaps 20 per cent of Tuk’s current diesel-generated power, as this little place does its part to reduce emissions blamed for global warming.
The pylons will pierce the Arctic skyline along with the automated radar tower the Americans left behind in 1994, after decades in which Tuktoyaktuk served as a link in the manned DEW — Distant Early Warning — line.
Now, rather than alert America to nuclear attack, Tuk may serve as an early warning post for a warming planet.
The 47-year-old mayor believes there’s still time for “the people in the south” to take global action to stem the worst of warming. “I’m hopeful,” Merven Gruben said. “I don’t think it’s too late.”
Except, perhaps, for Tuk.
The community is gradually “moving south,” he said, placing its newest structures farther from the worst erosion. “Eventually we have to move,” said the bear hunter’s grandson. “It’s a losing battle.”
DEGRADATION OF LAND ENDANGERS BUNDELKHAND
FACED WITH RELENTLESS MARCH OF RAVINES, MANY VILLAGES ARE ON THE VERGE OF GETTING WIPED OUT, WRITES SACHIN JAIN
The recent focus on Bundelkhand is not without reason. In fact it is surprising that a long-neglected region which suffers from a harsh terrain and topography and is burdened by a crumbling feudal social system did not merit attention and action earlier.
Straddling both Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, the region has borne countless harsh summers which has robbed its rich soil cover, leaving it arid and dotted with rocks. Of its total area of 30 lakh hectares, only 24 lakh hectares is arable. Within this only four lakh hectare is irrigated, and herein lies the core problem. Availability and approach to water, on which Bundelkhand’s fragile agricultural produce depends, are at the centre of the problem.
Due to geological compositions, the terrain does not allow adequate retention of water. Which is why traditional societies in Bundelkhand evolved ways to mitigate its ill effects by constructing ponds and cultivating crops that require less water. Traditional wisdom factored in the undulating topography wherein ponds and water structures constructed at higher levels were connected through canals to those at lower levels, thus ensuring that once ponds at higher level fill up, water would naturally flow down to fill the lower level ones. This intricate network was really the lifeline of the region.
Sadly, the administration does not seem to be in tune with this near-flawless system. All it really had to do was to just continue with this organic system of water-management devised and managed by the local communities. In fact it could have ensured that the community itself develops the capacity to manage the system at low cost, without the authorities having to provide routine support. Instead our policy-implementing bodies thought otherwise and what we have today is a beleaguered region in dire need of water.
Starting on the wrong foot, as it were, seven medium level dams were constructed in the region ruining nearly 30,000 hectares of fertile land. The expenditure incurred on the construction was phenomenal, but the results were not. The dams are only able to utilise 38 per cent of the irrigation potential, a sorry ratio for a region that only had to develop its own intrinsic capacities of water conservation and management.
The present scenario seems the anti-thesis of what would have been natural and in tune with Bundelkhand’s topography and the needs of its people. It’s a recipe for disaster with rampant use of tubewells, ground water being indiscriminately pumped up and the land getting denuded.
One has to remember that Madhya Pradesh has a history of drought which comes once every five years. The situation in Bundlekhand region is much more acute. It has faced drought eight times in last nine years in this decade. Then why is it so hard for Governments to remember and factor into the action taken on the ground?
One has to only look at Chambal to see a land ravaged and a cess-pool of violence and degradation. Is Bundelkhand also going or being allowed to go the Chambal way? With its lack of forest, rocky terrain, its woefully inadequate water management system, is it also gradually turning into ravines? The degradation seems evident and rapid. In Chhatarpur district around the Ken-Dhasan river, about 1.5 lakh acre land is turning into ravine. And this is endemic. In Panna 50,000 acre, Tikamgarh 12,000 acre, Datia 70,000 acre and in Damoh 62,000 acre land is under threat to be turned into a ravine zone.
Is there more to this than meets the eye? Are measures being taken or not taken surreptitiously to ensure that Bundelkhand remains in the throes of a crisis? Once a land becomes fallow and is out of agricultural ambit, the Government can take steps to officially declare it to be infertile and divert it for non-agriculture and non-forest purposes. The process of diverting thousands of hectares of land in Chambal, especially in Morena district is already underway. Would this be the agenda in Bundelkhand too?
Faced with relentless march of the ravines, today 471 villages in Bundelkhand are on the verge of getting wiped out. Rather than making efforts of increasing the forest cover, which is only eight per cent of total land area, the Government is hell-bent on promoting industries which would damage the existing remaining forest area and destroy the minimum water resources available.
It is clear that drought is not caused simply because the rains fail one year. Rather it is a gross neglect of its environmental patterns and the absence of an enlightened response to the needs of this harsh terrain which nurtures a fragile ecosystem. By allowing degradation of land, policy-makers are fuelling not only agricultural distress, but also jeopardising people who will be impacted by the crises.
TIMES OF INDIA
TURN BENGAL AROUND
It can't get much worse for West Bengal. After the much-publicised scrapping of the Nano project last year, the state has now lost out on investment by Infosys and Wipro. The IT giants have had to shelve their plans to invest in Bengal after it was revealed that the land for the project was acquired illegally. This means that the state will lose out on investment worth nearly Rs 10,000 crore and a few thousand potential jobs.
There is a common thread to the scrapping of these high-profile projects in Bengal: the inability to acquire land. But there are important differences too. In the case of the Nano project, the West Bengal government itself was unable to acquire the roughly 1,000 acres needed due to a few landowners holding out. Subsequently, Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee used it as a platform to whip up a hugely successful political campaign against the Left Front. In contrast, Infosys and Wipro were promised plots in a township which was a joint venture between a private promoter and the West Bengal government. As it turns out now, land for the project was acquired through dubious means and one of the real estate promoters is in jail.
The situation doesn't look very good for Bengal. Post-Nano, any land acquisition for industry has become a potential minefield. After having been singed in Singur the Left Front government is wary of taking on projects that might involve buying land from farmers and is likely to be political fodder for the opposition. Such a deadlock is a lose-lose situation not only for West Bengal but also for the entire country. After her party joined the UPA government, Mamata stymied the tabling of the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill in the last session of Parliament. Her primary objection was to the clause that says that the state can step in only if 70 per cent of the land for any project has already been purchased. Mamata wants the government to get out of the business of acquiring land altogether. She also does not want industry on farmland.
Both these objections are not tenable. Without the government stepping in, a few holdouts could halt a project; and in a predominantly agrarian economy some agricultural land is likely to be acquired to set up industry. Though there are glitches in the land acquisition Bill, it is a definite improvement on the British-era legislation currently in operation. Unless revamped rules for land acquisition are implemented, West Bengal-type situations are likely to occur in the rest of the country. In fact, several projects elsewhere are stuck on similar issues. More transparency in land acquisition and just compensation for the dispossessed need to be urgently put in place.
TIMES OF INDIA
SARKAR ON THE WEB
As a global leader in information technology, India has been at the forefront of innovative information packaging and delivery systems. It is not unusual for most professional organisations to have state-of-the-art websites that provide latest information and useful links as well as simplify processes like filing and processing of applications. Yet official India has been lagging behind in this respect, despite the easy availability of technical support. For starters, an online site that offers complete listing of all the government websites with addresses and links is impressive. The trouble begins when one tries to actually access the dozens of sites listed there. As a recent TOI report pointed out, while many government websites that claim to have new features either go on the blink or carry a generic message that says "sorry, we're under construction", there are others that pay more attention to form than content, as is evident from their garish designs and cluttered presentation.
To be fair, several websites hosted by central government ministries, for example that of the environment and forests ministry or of regional passport offices, are comprehensive and up to date with all the relevant information. Contact details and FAQs are easily accessible and current, with several new and user-friendly interfaces. But these are more the exception than the rule, which is cause for concern.
As the world's largest democracy and in a country where young people constitute one half of the population, it is vital for an elected government to make access to information as wide and simple as possible. Although per capita digital penetration is low, the proliferation of community information technology centres and internet cafes as well as Web access facilities provided in educational and other public institutions are opening up opportunities for greater access across age groups.
The future of information is in digital access. Entire libraries are being planned online. Besides saving paper, putting information on websites facilitates easy cross-referencing and accelerates processing time. Instituting awards for best websites might motivate government departments to improve and update their websites. Not only would it help ensure greater visibility, it might mean improved efficiency and administration in addition to making way for greater transparency.
TIMES OF INDIA
FEW CHEERS FOR ADVANI
The sight of BJP leaders going into a huddle with Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief, to seek his help to diffuse the crisis that threatened to cripple the party shattered yet again a myth that both sides have built up for well over five decades. Much like its earlier avatar, the Jana Sangh, the BJP claimed that its relationship with the RSS was in the nature of an ideological bonding and not, as its detractors would have it, of a political bondage. On its part, the RSS resolutely denied any intent or ambition to interfere in the affairs of the BJP on the grounds that its concerns were purely social and cultural and that in its eyes politics was an anathema.
But here we see the BJP, acting on a cue from Bhagwat, preparing L K Advani's exit from the national stage. It will be some time before he takes the final bow for he is sure to stay on until the end of his Lok Sabha mandate in 2014. Meanwhile, he is expected to give up his substantive role in Parliament and in the BJP even as he oversees the transition to a younger leadership. This final act, scripted by the RSS, will ensure that the octogenarian leader takes his political sanyas with his 'sacrifices' in the service of the nation duly acknowledged, his dignity intact, his stature rendered iconic.
How far this effort at image building succeeds is a moot point. Advani has been present on the national stage since 1957 when he moved his base to Delhi from Rajasthan. He was a bit player in the beginning but gradually took on more and more prominent roles until he assumed the second lead as home minister and deputy prime minister in the NDA government. With Atal Bihari Vajpayee compelled for reasons of health to withdraw from the scene, Advani was well within his rights to aspire for the main role.
That this opportunity did not come his way does not detract from his extraordinary journey in India's public life. A refugee from Karachi, he arrived penniless in an alien land, braved adversity at every step and through dint of tireless work, a disciplined lifestyle, an integrity with hardly a trace of blemish and a steadfast faith in the RSS ideology came within striking distance of the top job in the country. This is the stuff of a fairy tale.
And yet, for those outside the sangh parivar who have observed him in his many roles as a public figure, Advani remains enigmatic, disturbing and at times even a shade sinister. He brought shame to India when his vigorous pursuit of the Hindutva agenda from the time he launched his rath yatra provoked communal carnage on a humongous scale.
Since independence three leaders have played havoc with the country's democratic dispensation. Indira Gandhi earned India's wrath when she imposed the Emergency in June 1975. India punished her before returning her to power. No one since then has dared to entertain thoughts of authoritarian rule. V P Singh provoked India's fury with his brazenly opportunistic move to extend reservations to the OBCs in August 1990. He was jettisoned to the scrap heap of history even as every political party made the cause he championed its own. But Advani's words and actions undermined the very foundations of the republic. The nation paid him in kind by thwarting his prime ministerial ambitions.
In any future discussion of Advani's legacy, attention must focus on the ideology that has driven him throughout his adult life. Its emphasis on 'cultural nationalism' in fact meant equating culture and nationalism with an extremely heterogeneous Hindu society. Apart from the minorities, a vast number of devout Hindus have rejected the mobilisation of people on religious lines for political gain. They are prepared to acknowledge what Nehru called the 'silken thread' that binds them. But they recoil at the thought that they could be bound together by the chains of dogma and prejudice.
Advani's inability or unwillingness to accept this core reality of India indicates a severely flawed moral vision. It has often led him astray. Consider his self-serving accounts of the felling of the Babri masjid, massacre of Muslims in Gujarat, attacks on Christians and the cultural policing by the parivar goons. The most recent example was his endorsement of Jinnah's secular credentials. Such has been his zeal to debunk the secularism of the Congress, and of Nehru in particular, that he simply overlooked one important detail: on January 24, 1948, in a speech to the Sindh Bar Association in Karachi, the Quaid-e-Azam retracted his much lauded commitment to democratic citizenship made in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947. He declared that Islamic law alone would be the foundation of the Pakistani constitution "to make Pakistan a truly great Islamic State".
Advani's legacy, rooted in the Sangh's toxic majoritarian ideology, and shaped by the pop piffle of Dale Carnegie and Paolo Coelho, can only lead to the further emasculation of the BJP.
TIMES OF INDIA
IT WILL IMPROVE THE MOVIE EXPERIENCE
There may be sound reasons for the move to add cellphones to the banned item list in movie theatres cameras, camcorders and the like are already disallowed. Given the increasingly sophisticated camera capabilities integrated into high-end phones, they pose an increasing risk as far as piracy goes. And a side-benefit would be the elimination of that bugbear, cellphone calls and conversations during the movie. If movie theatre owners feel their trade is threatened, they have the right to ask moviegoers to temporarily deposit their cellphones outside.
The financial damage caused to the movie industry by piracy is staggering. In just one year 2008 the Indian film industry lost close to a billion dollars and over half-a-million jobs because of it. And a large number of the pirated films that make their way online or to street vendors are camera prints. Given the ban on taking cameras into theatres and the difficulty of concealing such devices, cellphones become a more viable option. There are technological constraints at the moment, but given the exponential rate at which the recording capabilities of phones have improved, it is unlikely to be too long before they are able to function at the same level as a dedicated camera.
If the move is able to do what repeated injunctions and requests screened before movies have not been able to and eliminate cellphone conversations mid-movie, so much the better. Other countries have already taken steps in this regard that are far more draconian. In New York, it is illegal to use phones in any indoor place of performance including movie theatres. And France has gone a step further, giving theatres permission to install cellphone jamming equipment on their premises.
Seen in this light, the measure proposed by multiplex owners here seems reasonable. A number of theatres already provide lockers for items that are not allowed on the premises; it would not take much to expand the facility to all multiplexes. There is no reason why movie-goers should not be able to enjoy the experience without holding on to their cellphones like security blankets
TIMES OF INDIA
TOO DRASTIC A MEASURE
There are great advertisements playing in multiplexes these days where an annoying man gets zapped by aliens for talking on his mobile during a film. In the absence of our friends from outer space to strongly discourage people from making a nuisance of themselves at the cinema, multiplex owners are considering banning the device from theatres altogether. Of course, their excuse to implement such a drastic measure isn't even that some people with extremely poor phone manners destroy the movie watching experience for the rest of the audience. They think they can combat piracy by banning the cellphone.
That's a ridiculous proposition. To record a passably watchable camera print, a mobile would have to be top-end even an iPhone wouldn't cut it and the wannabe pirate would have to be keen enough to hold up the phone for an entire three hours, a pretty taxing experience on anybody's triceps and biceps. Camera prints come from, well, cameras, and they're not even what the movie industry should be worried about as far as piracy is concerned. The real problem is that prints get stolen, leaked and copied while being transported between countries. And in markets where DVDs of films are released earlier than others, those are copied and quickly put online. Mobiles have a miniscule impact on piracy; the quality of anything recorded on it would simply not translate well on to a decent-sized screen.
But should this ban be supported simply to ensure that people don't rile others by conducting long conversations in the middle of, say, an action sequence? Hardly. When will our propensity to ban everything that irritates us end? Babies and kids make a lot of noise in between movies also, so should we just ban people from getting their kids to the cinema as well? True, at times, some of us are terrible at showing even a modicum of civilised behaviour, but that doesn't mean others should be prohibited from using a very useful piece of technology! Ushers can intervene when someone gets too noisy on the phone and ask him to step out, as can people seated next to the offender. The stink eye is often more effective in ensuring cooperation than a frankly unenforceable outright ban.
TIMES OF INDIA
WANTED DEAD, NOT ALIVE
Sadist, who, me? No, i don't get my kicks from trussing up a guy and giving him a 100 stripes. But when i read that poachers killed 23 of the 66 tigers we lost in 2009, i'm game for the big hunt. I don't just aim to maim, i want to shoot to kill. And drool till i have exterminated the species right down to the last cowering specimen.
If i could track down these poachers, and shoot, poison or otherwise make them bite the jungle dust, it would give me a surge more potent than quaffing a goblet full of crushed tiger you know what.
Next, i would skin them, and strut around in their mangy coats, twirling my neckpiece of their trigger-happy paws. Finally, i would pulverise their softer parts and turn them into pills and potions to power my prowess. Let us do unto poachers what they have done unto tigers.
Bittu Sahgal, Bikram Grewal, Belinda Wright, all my tiger-saver friends have been too civilised. From now on, it has to be the law of the jungle, as red in tooth and claw as the poachers have been. My other friend Jairam Ramesh has gone to enlist China's cooperation. Fat chance from a country that's poached our territory, and left the egg on our face.
Couldn't poachers have found less inglorious ways of making history? Theirs isn't even the misplaced machismo of shikar. How can they so unconscionably destroy when there are just about 1,300 tigers left here? How can they bring themselves to do this to the very lord of the jungle, not some snivelling half-inch long Salt Creek tiger beetle as desperately fighting extinction.
It has been the great regret of my life never to have seen a tiger in the wild. In all my attempts, it has always been a phantom, a mystic force, never revealed but always a tantalising possibility. Like a seeker, i have wandered from sanctuary to sanctuary, and only ended up cheated in the wilderness. The object of my yearning has remained a spurious rustle, a blur of fool's gold, a tale told by someone else.
There are only two types of seekers. Those who get the darshan, and those who don't. The first will see the tigress and cubs on their first trip into Ranthambore's bush.
The second will make foray after foray, and never earn their stripes.
The accompanying ranger will tell us of our amazing luck in having spotted the elusive bear etched on the shadowy distance, a flock of rare birds painting a dawnscape on jheel or sky. But the guide's excited chatter might as well be that of the langurs crashing on the dhok branches. He is only a dust-smeared angel flapping his wings in the void in vain. For, what use if the whole of creation danced before us if we were denied the spectacle of the tawny divinity?
In the likes of Ranthambhore, the tiger is an opportunity. In the Sundarbans, he is a threat. As surreal as it is real. The ubiquitous little temples to Bon Bibi, protector against the tiger-demon Dokkhin Rai, and the tiger-widow clusters on the edge of every hamlet are constant reminders of his diabolic presence. In tide country, to earn a living is to court death.
Man and beast pitted in a territorial battle is quite different from the poacher's cowardly decimation. Two years ago, on Bali island i experienced the exemplary projects of the Wildlife Protection Society of India and of Help Tourism to safeguard the villagers, their fearsome neighbour and their shared environment. Nobody, anywhere, has asked the poacher to arrive with his dastardly `final solution'.
TIMES OF INDIA
JUST ANOTHER NAME
With a simple stroke of a pen last month, a singular legend slipped into the oblivion of history books. Better known today as 'what was formerly Sears Tower', the strangely familiar Willis Tower instead looms in the Chicago skyline. All that took a London-based insurance brokerage to stake a claim to instant publicity was to move 500 employees into 1,50,000 square feet of real estate and negotiate a christening as part of the transaction. I struggle to keep up with changing names of not just landmarks but countries, cities and even our streets with all the financial and political flux in our times. Unlike Cambodia that became Kampuchea and Burma that transformed into Myanmar with Yangon as its newly-named capital, Beiping vacillated with Beijing for several centuries, eventually settling down to the latter. In the 1990s, Bombay morphed into Mumbai though the Bombay Stock Exchange struggles to hold its ground. With Obamanomics in the equation, would 'Bengaluru-ing' jobs to India continue? I have witnessed several notable name changes in my travel years. Many are the handiwork of populist politicians trying to garner political mileage by kindling nationalist sentiments. Some are inevitabilities of changing times, when colonialism or repressive regimes stand to lose.
However, such changes metamorphose only over time when sticklers to all things old are simply embarrassed holding on to their roots. It took longer than over a single night for Victoria Street, Southern Rhodesia to change into Karl Marx Street, Harare, despite the then Prime Minister Mugabe's pushy undertones. USSR and some Eastern European nations fractured into smithereens, each with their individual identities, from Kazakhstan to Slovakia. Some, like the city of Bangkok, whose Pali name with 163 characters threatens to spill beyond a legal-sized sheet of paper, never do, preferring simplicity over cultural mores. On the other hand, a few like the quaint 58-lettered Welsh village, simply abbreviated to Llanfair PG, changed from a few syllables to a narrative so tourists like me could spend several pounds getting pictures taken under its 15-feet train station sign. Some names mean really nothing much today. I am not just referring to Toad Suck, Arkansas and Idiotville, Oregon. I am talking about places like that stinky land of "wild onion" by the shores of Lake Michigan where the Miami people once trod. Like Chicago, the very city where the Sears oops Willis Tower looms today.
FLYING INTO TURBULENCE
The wildcat strike by pilots of Jet Airways is the latest twist in a sorry tale that is Indian aviation today. The brinkmanship at India’s largest airline, however, need not have reached a point where half the fleet had to be grounded, inconveniencing 13,000 passengers. Jet Airways’ pilots are entitled to collective bargaining and a well-oiled union can, in fact, avoid such confrontations. But by going on leave en masse, the airline’s pilots are clearly in error for using the traveller as a bargaining chip.
Arbiters to the dispute will have done well to read them the riot act. On the other hand, Naresh Goyal, the owner of Jet Airways, could also use this opportunity to introspect on the string of public relations disasters his airline has been involved in over the past year. From sacking 1,900 employees and reinstating them a day later to threatening to stop operations if fuel taxes are not lowered, Jet Airways has shown itself, and to an extent the industry, up in poor light.
At the heart of the recurrent contretemps lies a business plan gone wrong. Indian airlines over the last five years were on a reckless shopping spree for aircraft that are flying empty in a downturn — the other airlines had seats to spare on Tuesday even after accommodating the spillover from Jet Airways. Along with the planes came the crew, some of them expatriates from Central Asia. One in five Jet aircraft is flown by a foreign pilot, whose salary can be up to a third less than that of an Indian. These hires would be easier to take off the rolls when the going gets tough, but Indian pilots see in them a temptation airline bosses may find difficult to resist. The jingoism inherent in this suspicion offers easy pickings for the likes of the Shiv Sena.
The episodic headlines from the Indian aviation industry point to the inevitability of consolidation. Jet Airways is the only survivor from a generation of airlines spawned when India re-opened its skies in the 1990s. Most of the airlines flying today did not exist five years ago; those that will five years hence are likely to be budget carriers. In an industry hurting most from the global meltdown, Jet Airways does not have the cushion of the UB Group’s balance sheet that its closest rival Kingfisher Airlines does. Things thus tend to reach a flashpoint faster in Mr Goyal’s airline. But his predicaments are not sui generis.
NOW THEY SAAS SO
The tables seem to be turning with the hands of the clock. Or so some would have us believe. As a bunch of beleaguered mothers-in-law — those feisty creatures who are supposed to strike the fear of God into nervous, newly-wed lassies — join hands to launch India’s (and the world’s) first All India Mothers-in-law Protection Forum (AIMPF) in Bangalore, one can’t help but wonder if Lalita Pawar would have survived the 21st century.
Well, the idea behind this coming together of misunderstood Mummyjis is the belief that they have been given a rotten deal by society, popular culture and, worse, by a legal system that turns a blind eye to their plight, ever-ready to believe the real villain of the domestic peace: the ‘downtrodden’ daughter-in-law. Their contention is that saas-bahu serials have done more than their bit to promote the myth of the monstrous mother-in-law as a scheming, eyebrow-wiggling harridan who refuses to release the son from her petticoat strings into the sea of marital bliss. Fed up with always being in the firing line for the fireworks in the son’s marriage, these mums are being given a leg up by another distressed band of brothers: the Save India Family Foundation, a non-governmental agency for harassed husbands.
In fact, here’s some interesting information the ladies are citing that seems to belie the beastly tales of bahu-bashing: the latest report of the National Family Health Survey shows that 13.7 per cent women suffer violence at the hands of their moms, compared to 1.7 per cent tormented by their moms-in-law. Now, this might be less believable than other startling revelations like how men actually love to gossip more than women; or that women are hardwired to dislike their partner’s mother; but you better believe that the saucy saas is back, and she’s baying for the blood of the wily woman who seems to have stolen her villainous thunder.
FAREWELL TO HISTORY
The victor, inevitably, scripts history. Historians’ labour unearths the virtues and valour of the vanquished describing the plight of ‘people’ caught in the crossfire. The victor, however, does not stop at authoring ‘official’ history of any one event alone but seeks to re-write all history to consolidate its current hegemony. Following the collapse of the USSR and in the present conjecture of the global capitalist recession, the West seeks to reinterpret World War II’s history by equating fascism with communism.
In 2004, to deflect rising global protests against the US military occupation of Iraq, on the 50th anniversary of the landing of the Allied troops at Normandy, all North Atlantic Treaty Organisation leaders assembled to project themselves as the champions of the victory over fascism liberating Western Europe. They deliberately concealed the fact that for every allied soldier who laid down his life, fighting fascism, there were 40 Soviet soldiers who laid down their lives. Over 20 million Soviet soldiers and people lost their lives. In 1,418 days of war, the Soviet Union lost nine lives every minute, 857 every hour and 14,000 lives a day.
On the 70th anniversary of fascist Germany’s attack on Poland (September 1, 1939, 4.40 am), which started the World War II, a similar attempt is being made to once again distort history. This is necessary for the advanced capitalist powers to seek to prevent the growth of socialist ideas and Left politics, as currently seen in various countries of Latin America, in the wake of the worst capitalist economic recession since the Great Depression. Today, the US has an unprecedented seven million people unemployed. The European Union is faring no better. Under these circumstances, it is imperative for them to decry the glorious role of the Soviet Union and, by implication any socialist alternative, in the defeat of fascism.
The Economist says “the Kremlin should admit that Stalin was Hitler’s accomplice before 1941”. The reference here is to the 1939 non-aggression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union. They conveniently conceal the fact that rejecting the Soviet Union’s proposals for a united front against fascism, both Britain and France had entered into similar pacts with Germany earlier. If Prague today is a ‘museum city’, it is because Hitler moved in there as in much of Eastern Europe that was ceded, by spineless Western powers, in the Munich pact of 1938. Hitler’s defeat alone liberated these areas. This is now being ‘reinterpreted’ as Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe post WW-II!
The London-based Economist must surely know that the Guardian, published from the same capital city, on January 1, 1970, when the secret foreign office archives were made public after the statutory period of 30 years said, “the cabinet papers for 1939, published this morning show that World War-II would not have started that year, had the Chamberlain government accepted or understood Russian advice that an alliance between Britain, France and the Soviet Union would prevent war because Hitler would not risk a conflict against the powers on two fronts.”
Why the Western allies did not agree to the Soviet proposal is chillingly articulated by the then US Senator Harry Truman who later became both the Vice-President and the President. The day after Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, he said: “If we see that Germany is winning we should help the Russians and if Russia is winning we should help the Germans and that way let them kill as many as possible.” (The New York Times, June 24, 1941). It was precisely for this reason that the landing of the second front was delayed by more than two years, despite giving assurances to Stalin that this would be opened in 1942. This was based on the hope that Hitler would destroy socialism and reintegrate one-sixth of world territory back under the capitalist order.
“The greatest military march in world history,” as Hitler declared, advanced 600 kilometres into the Soviet Union within a fortnight. Winston Churchill wrote in his memoirs: “Almost all responsible military opinion held that the Russian army will be soon defeated and largely destroyed.” Soon the world was amazed when Moscow admitted its losses after nine weeks of war as including 7,500 guns, 4,500 planes and 5,000 tanks. A British war journalist observed: “An army that could still fight must have had the biggest or the second biggest supply.” The 182-day battle at Stalingrad, the most heroic and decisive in the defeat of fascism changed the tide. The subsequent Soviet counter-offensive saw the fascist military might collapsing. Retreating German soldiers, in Istra near Moscow, wrote on the walls “Farewell Moscow we are off to Berlin,” the Soviet soldiers wrote below, “We will get to Berlin too.” This they did. The red flag unfurled atop the German Reichstag on April 30, 1945. Not the US or Britain or France but it was the Soviet Union that lowered the fascist flag.
Such distortion of history to restate the “eternality of capitalism” comes in the wake of the global recession that is throwing up the possibilities of anti-capitalist socialist alternatives. Truth is sacrificed at capitalism’s altar to prevent the Left’s advance.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
THE MISSING NOTE
KHUSHROO N SUNTOOK
There is an impression that western classical music is elitist and should not be promoted along with our own rich national heritage. This approach is inward-looking. To argue that we shouldn’t perform the works of Shakespeare because they are western is a bigoted and narrow-minded approach.
The future of western classical music is now in Asia. This proves art, in all its forms, is embraced by cultures even if they are new to western classical music. Therefore, our cultural bodies and government organisations should shed this insular approach.
There are over 3,500 orchestras across five continents. A few hundred are in Asia — mainly in Japan, China and Korea. It’s a matter of shame that India never encouraged a symphony orchestra of an international calibre. It ignored the need to create one with the argument that our great cultural heritage was sufficient. The changing international scene is so startling that even the greatest orchestras in the world — the Vienna or Berlin Philharmonic orchestras — have several Chinese, Japanese, American and other international players. Excellence is the only criteria. National players must be encouraged to match the standards of excellence required to participate in an international ensemble.
The Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI) was created because there was not even one single Indian ensemble which matched international standards. Indians take their music seriously; so much so that many go to Salzburg, Vienna, London or New York to enjoy western classical music concerts. Sadly, prior to the SOI, we didn’t have such choices in India.
If the Maharashtra government wants to make Mumbai an international city, it should emulate China or Singapore, a city that was once noted only for its efficiency and sterile culture. But today with the creation of Esplanade, it has become a rich cultural hub. Similarly, the Simon Bolivar Orchestra in Venezuela — fed by Il sistema, a hugely successful and State-funded music education system — has become one of the best youth orchestras in the world. However, in Maharashtra, instead of encouraging artistes to perform, western concerts are heavily taxed. Income tax on the gross amount, generally upward of 40 per cent — along with difficulties associated with obtaining visas — is levied on the fee paid to artistes.
The enthusiasm for attending quality concerts, creating fine schools for the performing arts and introducing culture — both Indian and international — in school curricula should be encouraged. This will help in shaping a well-rounded personality in our children and allow Indians, settled in different countries, to assimilate easily with the local population. It’s important that a group of prominent artistes from India and abroad meet senior political leaders to brief them about how India can benefit from initiatives that involve opening up our hearts and minds to different cultures of the world.
Our audience demographic is changing with every season of the SOI. This is due to imaginative programming, various educational initiatives and an effort to reach out to our community — all put forward by the National Centre for the Performing Arts. But, it is also because our audiences are drawn towards excellence in the performing arts.
Khushroo N Suntook is Chairman, National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai and Founder, Symphony Orchestra of India
DUMP THE PILOT
Oh, to be a pilot. You work half the month. You have scarce skills in an expanding industry. And you are convinced you’re a “workman” under the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act of India, 1947, entitled to all the benefits that Nehru-era law allows to the blue-collar unskilled labourer. Chief among the benefits you claim: the right to organise, to cartelise, to unionise, and to bring your employer to its knees, to freeze commercial and business traffic, to inconvenience thousands of the lesser mortals generally called “passengers”. This is your inalienable right.
This is your historic right. You have, after all, exercised it often. Genuine “workmen” for airlines don’t strike and ground flights. But you, O privileged mortal, can. Whenever you like. You struck work when Air-India was owned by the Tatas. And when it was nationalised. Indian Airlines pilots struck work in August 1959. And then again in January 1960, because you didn’t like the airlines’ choice of who they were sending to the US for training. You, and navigators, struck work in 1966. And again in 1974; everyone suffered as OPEC hiked oil prices but you didn’t want to work a bit more than half-a-month. You, and engineers, walked off work over the Airbus-320 in 1988. It wouldn’t be operated, the strikers said then, unless people were sent to France for “training”. (The fatal attraction of foreign trips, again. Puzzling. Don’t aircrew travel enough?) And you didn’t stop with liberalisation, did you? Because that passed you by. So you struck work in 1991, appalled that some of your colleagues had been transferred to Calcutta — or at least, you all called in sick, the same too-clever-by-half ploy you’re trying again. In 1993 many of you struck work for 45 days; the remainder were overworked, and a plane carrying 163 crashed. (Miraculously, everyone “jumped to safety.”) In 2003, you were more terrified of SARS than any other business travellers worlwide. So you struck work. In 2005 eleven of you held the entire North-east to ransom, by grounding Alliance Air.
Each time, you fortunate “workmen” win what you want. So you believe that it is yours by right. Talk not to us of the faults of your employer: Jet is hardly a model business, but that is between their shareholders and their management. And talk not of the community of employer and employee; where was that when times were good, and you changed jobs once a month? But talk to us of what the national interest is, and we can tell you. It is to give no quarter. For you are not unique, your threat-enforced guild-monopoly apart. Open the borders, and there are pilots of a dozen nationalities who can do your job better. And they won’t think that striking is their historic right.
On June 15th 2004, the Gujarat police announced that four operatives of the dreaded Lashkar-e-Toiba had been killed in an encounter in Ahmedabad. Photos of their bodies, lined up in front of the blue Indica car in which they were allegedly travelling, did the rounds. But, such being — sadly — the reputation the Gujarat police force has earned for itself, allegations of a fake encounter were bound to arise.
In that narrative, Ishrat Jahan, a student of a well-known Mumbai college, was picked up in her home town and killed, along with three of her friends, in police custody — all for the awards that terrorist kills bring law enforcement officials. Ishrat’s mother filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court seeking a CBI probe into the killings, a petition that is still being heard. In court, the Centre filed an affidavit stating that the four dead were indeed LeT suspects — though the Centre was silent on the manner of their killing. Now comes the latest twist: a Gujarat magistrate tasked with investigating custodial deaths has held that encounter was faked. Ishrat was killed in cold blood. The Gujarat government has been swift to oppose the magisterial report.
This is a mistake, for there are two distinct questions here: First, were Ishrat and the three others terrorists? And second, was the encounter staged? These are very different questions. The Centre’s claim that they were LeT suspects, even if true, doesn’t justify murder-for-honours by the state police. That is not the rule of law; it is the mockery of it. The BJP has been quick to add that Modi cannot be held responsible for everything that happens in the state. But the Gujarat government’s decision to instinctively back its men sends the reverse signal: that innocent or guilty, the Gujarat government is in this together. As the high court decides on its next move, Narendra Modi must know that India’s eyes, not to mention those of the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team, are on him.
EYES OF THE BEHOLDER
Ten years ago, high points in cities across India were dotted with the distinctive silhouette of vultures. They aren’t any more. That these years have seen a three-fold decrease in India’s vulture population should be a massive worry. News of recent sightings of the Indian white-rumped vulture, however, is an indication that steps towards conservation could aid in the birds’ re-emergence. But ornithologists warn that the sighting should be followed by quick and decisive action for the flocks to get bigger. History has provided precedents of declining bird populations and catastrophic results: the North American pigeon, which migrated in flocks so vast they darkened the sky, went extinct in a mere 40 years.
More often than not, the unfortunate response to the declining vulture population is based on the vultures’ aesthetics. It may not look too appetising, and thus the cause isn’t the sexiest, an unfortunate hurdle that conservationists have to face. For instance, many countries look upon the eagle as their national symbol; when the prospect of a proud, soaring eagle seemed threatened ruthless conservation campaigns were sponsored. But the vulture suffers the stigma of being a scavenger, something unlikely to lend itself to good marketing.
The presence of vultures is one of the primary indicators of a healthy ecosystem. Further, vultures have traditionally, and correctly, been regarded as “nature’s cleaners” through the prevention of diseases from infected carcasses. Specialists warn that epidemiological diseases inevitably follow a substantial decline in the population. Given that the veterinary medicine diclofenac has been identified as one of the primary causes behind the deaths of vultures valid questions arise as to why it is still in circulation. It has been banned by the Centre; but without a campaign for the vultures, convincing others to get more involved, the outcome may be catastrophic.
LANKA’S BARBED WIRE
It is now three months since Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared the country “liberated” from Tamil Tiger (LTTE) rebels after a 26-year war. He said then that he wanted to settle most of the displaced Tamil civilians within 180 days — but today, with more than half that time elapsed, nearly 300,000 are still being held in “internment camps”, to which the media and humanitarian organisations have virtually no access. One person who was able to visit some of them in May was UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. He said:
“I have travelled round the world and visited similar places, but these are by far the most appalling scenes I have seen...”
In mid-August these camps were flooded by downpours which, according to The New York Times, “sent rivers of muck cascading between tightly packed rows of flimsy shelters, overflowed latrines and sent hundreds of families scurrying for higher ground”. “We all knew that the monsoon rain would come,” says Nimalka Fernando, a Sri Lankan human rights activist and lawyer. “Many alerted the authorities. The government should have evacuated the displaced people earlier.”
Further, there is no public list of those being held in the camps, and many families do not know whether their loved ones are alive or dead.
The brutal and violent methods used by the LTTE during the conflict are beyond dispute. But while it was going on the government claimed to draw a distinction between LTTE fighters and the law-abiding Tamil population, whose genuine political grievances it would address later. So far, nothing like that has happened. Although it has screened out those it believes were LTTE cadres and sent them to separate camps, the government repeatedly extends its own deadline for releasing civilians in the main camps.
People who question this inside Sri Lanka, like Ms Fernando, are accused of being traitors in the pay of “the LTTE diaspora”, while outsiders are accused of using humanitarian concerns as an excuse for neo-imperialist intervention. Sri Lankan journalists who criticised the government have been arrested, beaten and in some cases murdered in broad daylight, while many more have fled the country.
In the last weeks of fighting an estimated 20,000 civilians lost their lives. Government forces are accused of shelling Tamil civilians and killing people who tried to surrender; the LTTE are charged with using civilians as human-shields, forcibly recruiting them as fighters and shooting those who tried to flee. There are rumours of mass graves but no independent observer has been allowed into the war zones to investigate.
As one of the five “Colombo Powers” which organised the historic Bandung Conference in 1955, Sri Lanka was, for many decades, a model member of the international community. Surely, the people of Sri Lanka do not want to compromise that enviable status, and with it their good standing in the groups, like NAM, that represent the developing world.
Friends of Sri Lanka worldwide, especially in the developing world, do not understand why President Rajapaksa chose Burma/Myanmar as the first country to visit after winning the war. They were concerned to read, on his own website, that one reason for this choice was that “the [Burmese] generals are increasingly finding it difficult to contain insurgent groups in the country’s northern frontier and are willing to learn some fresh lessons from President Mahindra Rajapaksa on how to defeat the enemy.”
That is not what the international community in general, and the developing world in particular, wishes to learn from Sri Lanka. Rather, friends of Sri Lanka were — and still are — expecting the country to be faithful to its democratic tradition and act on President Rajapaksa’s promises that the rights of minorities would be respected, that the displaced would be helped to return home, that prisoners would be treated humanely.
We do not believe that most in Sri Lanka agree with what some are saying in Colombo that developing-country governments can best deal with internal opposition by crushing it ruthlessly and treating any advice to respect universal principles of human rights and humanitarian law (which Sri Lanka agreed to uphold when it signed and ratified many treaties and conventions) as hypocritical.
This puts a heavy responsibility on all who are close to Sri Lanka’s ruling elite and on Asia’s key powers — India, Japan and China — which have been staunch supporters of the Rajapaksa Government and have channelled large sums of money in its direction (much of it, recently, for humanitarian purposes). It is time for the people of these countries to insist on a full account of how their money is being spent, and for their governments to say clearly that further economic and political support will depend on the following conditions being fulfilled:
First, the UN, Red Cross and voluntary agencies must be given full and unhindered access to care for and protect the civilians in the camps, and then help them return to wherever in their own country they choose to live.
Second, a list of all those still alive and in custody should be published, so that families can stop searching for loved ones who are dead.
Third, any who continue to be detained as alleged LTTE combatants must be treated in accordance with the provisions of international law, and urgently given access to legal representation.
Fourth, accountability processes must be established to ensure that international aid is not diverted.
Fifth, the Sri Lankan government should invite regional and international specialists in conflict reconciliation to help rebuild lives and communities.
Sixth, Sri Lanka should request or accept a full UN investigation into war crimes committed by all parties during the war.
The government has won the war, and the world shares the feeling of relief visible among Sri Lanka’s people. It remains for them to win the peace, and the rest of the world must help. That is the purpose of the demands listed above. World leaders as well as public opinion must insist on them, not only for the benefit of Tamils in general and the detainees in particular, but also for the hopes of democracy and human rights throughout Sri Lanka, and beyond. Peace won by the brutal humiliation of a people is rarely secure.
The writer is a former foreign minister of Algeria and UN special envoy.
This article was co-written by Edward Mortimer, senior vice-president of the Salzburg Global Seminar.
Furious that campus elections had been postponed, students of Madhav College, Ujjain went on a rampage in 2006. In the melee, H.S. Sabharwal, who taught political science, was kicked off his scooter, then beaten to death, allegedly by student leaders linked to the BJP — all to the unblinking gaze of television cameras. The Supreme Court cited Professor Sabharwal’s murder when it accepted the Lyngdoh Committee recommendations on regulating student elections.
The Committee, headed by a former chief election commissioner, has courted controversy over two minor details: reducing the maximum age of candidates, and limiting expenditure to just five rupees thousand per candidate.
But the bigger worry is the report’s aim to reduce the role that big political parties play in student elections. The report blamed party-backed student groups for the “tendency... to unnecessarily politicise the election process.” As a result, virtually all party-backed student groups — the NSUI (Congress), the SFI (CPM) and the ABVP (BJP) — were in effect debarred from standing in the recently-concluded Delhi University Student Union elections. This was also why, when the votes were counted, an ‘Independent’ had won.
Lyngdoh’s assumption that for student politics to be clean, it must be divorced from party politics outside, is shared by many in the middle class: the belief that representation is best done by “small” tightly-knit groups, that large political parties, venal and authoritarian, somehow sully it. It is part of the American romance with “town-hall” politics, the same romance that glorifies consensual decision-making in panchayati India.
But “small” in our political context means the clutch of regional and caste-based parties that have prospered since the 1970s. It can be nobody’s case that the Samajwadi party, the BSP or the DMK are any less venal than national parties like the Congress or the BJP. Some even smaller parties, such as Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP or Ajit Singh’s RLD are one-man shows shorn of even the pretence of cadre-based decisions. That leaves the ‘Independents’, the smallest of parties, their naiveté matched only by their irrelevance. In the last elections, south Mumbai candidate Meera Sanyal, a clean-corporate type empowered after 26/11, lost her deposit. She probably got more column inches than votes.
The Lyngdoh Committee recommendations may even be self-defeating. While it is difficult to defend India’s opaque party system, the student wings of these parties are often the only democratic feeders into a nepotistic, filial party structure. Take, as a very small sample-set, the young (under 40) leaders in the current Lok Sabha. Of 81 young MPs, a full 50 have relatives in politics. Of the remaining, almost thirty per cent made their bones in student politics. In other words, if you are ambitious but without a family base, student politics is a major way to enter party structures and become a leader. The Lyngdoh committee assumes that party politics will corrupt student politics, but it ignores the reverse: student politics often purifies parties outside. By assuming the mendacity of outside parties and cutting off their only source of young blood, the committee’s prophecy will self-fulfil. Had these measures been implemented a generation earlier, we would have been denied many leaders who currently romp across the national stage — leaders such as Arun Jaitley, Anand Sharma, and the entire CPM top brass — who came up without godfathers. Who knows how many budding careers will be cut short by these recommendations?
One view of Indian politics is that it’s beyond redemption. In this reading, everybody is corrupt and change is impossible; better that colleges produce their own “pure” politics. There is, then, the hopeful view, that politics within campus rejuvenates politics without.
The Sabharwal murder case is, well, a case in point. Despite video evidence, replayed in endless loops across India, the six accused were acquitted; a reluctant court blamed the police, and ignored the video for procedural reasons. These are flaws — in the police and judicial system — that can’t be solved by just cleansing campuses, but by cleansing the world outside, a world made up of parties and students who join them.
Creases on age and cash restrictions in student elections will likely iron itself out in the coming years. But the Lyngdoh Committee’s central belief, that the big boys must be kept out, won’t. Welcome to the new Indian campus — sanitised and banner-free, but so utterly irrelevant.
NO SERENDIPITY IN SERENDIP
In Michelle Tramezzino’s fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, first published in Venice in the 16th century, the heroes “always made discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.” Considering Sri Lanka’s penchant for producing accidental cricketing heroes, it isn’t surprising that Serendip is the old, Persian name for the teardrop island where the love for the sport remains undiluted despite decades of internal strife.
Sri Lanka is a land of dark waters and brown palm trees, of emeralds and opals, of bus stands and commercial high-rises that have been bombed and rebuilt, of tiny boutique hotels and gigantic resorts that are now empty almost all year round. But in the middle its ravaged beauty, numerous cricket stadiums remain unharmed and forever in use (Colombo alone has 22 full-fledged grounds, as compared to nine in Mumbai, three in Kolkata, 13 in Delhi and 12 in Chennai).
On every visit to Sri Lanka, I’ve learnt more about how they manage to keep cricket a fair distance away from the violence of their national politics. In 2001, for example, riding late at night in an auto rickshaw from the city’s famous Cricket Club Cafe to their hotel at Galle Face Green, a group of Indian journalists was stopped at an army barricade. The soldiers asked for their passports, and an explanation of their nocturnal activities was demanded in the gruffest of voices. But no sooner had the words “cricket”, “India” and “media” been mentioned in the same sentence than the mood changed entirely.
There was a long discussion about Sanath vs Sachin and Murali vs Kumble, about India’s chances at the Premadasa the following afternoon, about Mendis and Vengsarkar, and about the lbw decision that stopped Mohammad Azharuddin on 199 in Kanpur in ‘86. The journalists was eventually escorted home in a military jeep, and asked to stop by the following night so they could chat some more.
Though there has always been such clarity about the importance of cricket to Sri Lanka, why the game is now played so defensively in a country that is both scenic and emotive continues to be a mystery. Somehow, especially over the last few years, viewing a cricket match there has been like watching evaporation. There are fielders close to the bat, oohs and aahs after every delivery, the scoreboard indicates that the game is closely fought — but is the cricket entertaining? It might be, if you get excited about water vapour rising.
At a time when one-day cricket is gasping for breath, fighting what seems to be a losing battle against a tempest of change, there could be few worse advertisements for the format than a meaningless September tri-series on wickets that are either slow or two-paced, and where the toss more or less decides the outcome. In 56 one-dayers played at the Premadasa Stadium in the last 10 years, teams have elected to bat 48 times — that’s an alarming 86 per cent — and gone on to win on 34 occasions.
Of the many predictable patterns that are rapidly spelling one-day cricket’s doom, the ‘win toss-win match’ blueprint is the most troublesome, for it tilts the balance so overwhelmingly that even the now well-known mechanics of ODI cricket — lose early wickets, crumble; lose early wickets, consolidate, crumble; lose early wickets, consolidate, slog; start well, keep going; start well, collapse; and finally, start well, lose your way, slog — become somewhat irrelevant.
So, as India attempts to become the world’s top-ranked team by winning the triangular series, a few things may not be entirely in their control considering how difficult it is to bat under lights in dewy Colombo.
It is here that the experience of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, back together in the one-day fold after two almost-perfect years, will be crucial, especially in the absence of Virender Sehwag. Call it planning, providence or (since we’re talking about Sri Lanka) just plain serendipity, but their presence boosts India’s chances immensely because the path to success in this tournament may well be charted on aging shoulders.
VIEW FROM THE RIGHT
SUMAN K JHA
A news item titled “Andhra CM dies in helicopter crash” in the latest issue of Organiser observes: “Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Yeduguri Sandinti Rajasekhara Reddy, who was popularly known as YSR, died in a helicopter crash over Nallamala forest in Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh on September 2. Nearly 24 hours after the helicopter, carrying him and his four associates, went missing, the Indian Air Force rescue teams traced the wreckage of the helicopter at the top of Rudrakonda hill. The charred bodies of the chief minister and others were recovered by army commandos from the hostile terrain. Born on July 8, 1949, in a Protestant Christian family at Pulivendula in Kadapa disitrict, YSR was elected to the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th Lok Sabha from the Kadapa constituency for four consecutive terms and to the Andhra Pradesh Assembly for the fifth term from the Pulivendula constituency”.
It adds: “Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has condoled his death. In a condolence message released from Haridwar, RSS Akhil Bharatiya Prachar Pramukh Dr. Manmohan Vaidya said: ‘It was at the Akhil Bharatiya office-bearers’ meeting going on in Haridwar on September 3 that we received the news of the tragic death of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy in a helicopter crash. All office-bearers including Sarsanghachalak Shri Mohan Bhagwat and Sarkaryavah Shri Bhaiyaji Joshi were shocked to hear the sad news. We all share this unbearable pain with his family members, people of Andhra Pradesh and workers of the Congress Party’. All the BJP-ruled state governments declared a two-day state mourning as a mark of respect to the departed soul. At the BJP headquarters in New Delhi too, the party flag was flown at half-mast”.
In a page-long essay titled “Will India toe US, EU line at WTO?” P. Muralidhar Rao writes: “Agriculture being the means of subsistence for more than 60 crores of people in India, any further liberalisation of agri-imports would render [the] vast majority of [the] population vulnerable. A study of 102 countries conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has found that even limited opening up of import surges for many agriculture commodities have threatened the farm sector. Because the US and EU have been raising farm subsidies in the name of non-trade distorting green box subsidies, which overweigh four times the trade distorting subsidies. Lowering of duties with ultimately zero tariffs on certain products, would lead agriculture to complete disarray”.
He adds: “The unilateral play of fork and brute strength in the multilateral trade talks ever since the creation of WTO in 1995 was reversed by Murasoli Maran, the then commerce minister, in the Doha ministerial conference held in 2001. At Doha, India had singularly resisted the pressure of the Euro-US combine and successfully obstructed the Singapore issues and also brought to focus the issue of unfair agri-subsidies by developed countries and issues related to public health. This ultimately led to the third world solidarity where almost 110 developing countries have now come together to resist the Euro-US pressure. Arun Jaitley, minister of commerce in the NDA government, who led the Indian delegation at Cancun in 2003, had further strengthened the cause of the third world by effectively putting in place groups like G20, G16, etc. But the gains made at Doha and Cancun are being reversed now by the recent undue haste being shown by the present UPA regime represented by Commerce Minister Anand Sharma. The strategy, which was evolved on the basis of national interest and also a progressive approach to work for a genuinely equitable multilateral trade regime, is now at stake. It seems, the present UPA government, instead of further consolidating on the gains made in Doha by the previous NDA regime, has actually started toeing the line scripted by US and EU again”.
FIVE STAR FURY
Personal Secretary to Krishna: Sir, a most important event today is the Italian buffet provided by the hotel. The entry is Rs. 5000 but we have made private arrangements sir. Other than that there is high tea in the business lounge of the hotel...
Krishna: Wasn’t I waiting for someone?
PS: Yes sir, it was the British High Commissioner. We have asked him to take a spa while he waits for you. The next guest is the American Ambassador. We can’t make him wait. So we have fixed a manicure in case your first appointments gets delayed.
Krishna: Thank God for five star hotels! Where is Shashi? When I last saw him he was in the gym. Poor chap, works very hard.
PS: I know sir; I think he will soon become India’s first six-pack minister of state for external affairs. Sir, there is a proposal for more austerity in view of the drought.
Krishna: More austerity? Here I am suffering in a five star hotel! I have already cut down my foreign visits to only 180 days this year!
PS: The MEA has proposed that as part of the austerity move, joint secretaries and above should be allowed the use of spa free of cost, only if they have their own private arrangements.
Krishna: Absolutely right. I also think the Government of India should encourage everyone to have private arrangements while entertaining. If that is not possible, they should seek written permission from me.
[Just then the phone rings.]
Voice at the other end: I’m JS housekeeping sir. This is to do with linens that have been purchased by the Indian Ambassador in Paris. We think this is a prestigious party for the French President... I think you should have a look at the linen...
Krishna to PS: Since when did the hotels have a JS in house keeping?
PS: No sir, this the MEA’s JS looking after protocol. We have created JS housekeeping to look after needs of the hotel housekeeping as well as housekeeping of our missions abroad.
Krishna: Multi-tasking? Wow! I must publicise this in the one hundred days. By the way, send Shashi.
PS: Sir, after gym he has just finished twittering and he is actually coming to your room.
Krishna: How do you know all that?
PS: After 26/11 we have increased the number of CCTVs. I suggest we have them installed once we move to a private residence...
Krishna: Do we have to? I have already completed hundred days here. I can put up with the inconvenience.
[Shashi Tharoor walks in]
Shashi: Sir there is a note from the finance minister that we should shift to Kerala Bhawan.
Krishna: I’m all for shifting but then the government is paying for a government house. I don’t want the government to pay at all. In fact I am proposing that I would like to stay only if I can have private arrangements. I want to save the government unnecessary expenditure.
Shashi: I never thought of it that way. The only reason I thought I would stay in a five star was because we save
fuel. The ministerial car does not have to travel to the five star hotels for parties. I’m already there.
Krishna: I think we need to really pull up our socks. No more excessive spending.
Shashi: Absolutely. Once I shift to a government bungalow, I know I have to make sacrifices. Since I can’t afford a gym because my private arrangement is not as strong as yours, I guess I will have to settle for a treadmill. If I buy weights that would be silly. They are too costly and in this drought year, as I explained in my twitter the other day, if I don’t go for a six-pack this year, the heavens won’t fall!
The writer is a senior journalist
JET SETTERS FORMING UNIONS?
When workplace conditions are appalling, when workers go months without pay, when minimum wages and other guarantees are routinely violated, it’s in circumstances such as these that the right to form an association and even strike becomes meaningful as a democratic response. To such rights, the Industrial Disputes Act (IDA) offers its protection. But as every school student is expected to memorise, rights are accompanied by duties. In the Jet case, consider three caveats. One, that a strike should not have been undertaken while the process of reconciliation was underway. Under the aegis of the regional labour commission, such a process was certainly underway on Monday when Jet pilots reported sick en masse. Otherwise called a wildcat strike, such action is internationally considered illegal. Two, there is talk of bringing to bear the Essential Services Maintenance Act against the striking pilots, which is certainly justified. The Act explicitly covers transport services and makes provisions for penalising illegal strikes with fines and imprisonment. Last but not least, why should highly-skilled workers who make salaries running into lakhs a month be using collective bargaining for employment redressal in today’s globalised economy? Under IDA, pilots are seen as workmen because they work with machines. But this needs to be revisited. Pilots are highly-trained, highly-paid, white-collar professionals. The government must make the necessary rule changes.
The Great Recession has drawn two major strands of thinking on trade unions. First, that increased unemployment and worker anxieties would refill depleting membership coffers. The second, more visionary response has been to recognise that the modern market does not just demand that workers prepare for new sorts of jobs—which demand global competitiveness and offer rewards on the same terms—but also demands that their representatives march with the times, offer some forward-looking ideas instead of making militant surges more reminiscent of the times thankfully in the past. Recent wildcat strikes against immigrant workers in Britain, for example, were condemned by its union leaders who put their weight behind the European Court of Justice’s 2007 ruling that placed free movement of labour over national collective bargaining deals. All this is not to defend a situation like that which prevails in China, where the federation of trade unions not only has monopolistic powers but is also controlled by the Communist Party in practice. Workers’ rights need defending, but pilots can claim little sympathy on this front. When airlines were expanding at breakneck speed, pilots were switching employers equally fast. Today’s imperative is cutting costs, and if pilots are let go in conformity with due process, how can they hold the whole country hostage? Today, the world is neck-deep in Detroit-like cases, where union manoeuvres destroyed industry outright. Of the many odds that Indian aviation is battling today, the pilots’ strike merits the most ruthlessly swatting away.
There are multiple reasons why the finance ministry’s memorandum on austerity is very difficult to take seriously. First, the ostensible reason is drought. Given the colossal waste in public expenditure, it ought to be made more efficient and reduced, irrespective of whether or not there is drought. Recommendations of the Expenditure Reforms Commission have been rotting for nine years and there have been other reports, too. The sarkar purchases cars in January to counter the slowdown and bans buying cars in September to counter drought—this is nothing short of bizarre. Second, if public finances are in an appalling shape, that’s not because of drought, but because of fiscal profligacy and much of this pre-dates the financial crisis. Third, ministries have been asked to slash non-Plan expenditure by 10%. The Plan versus non-Plan division is artificial, as is the revenue versus capital distinction. Reforms are pending since 1991, if not before. The continuation of this is largely responsible for the end-March expenditure ballooning. Fourth, visible curbs like those on travelling economy apply to the bureaucracy, not broader government. For instance, it doesn’t apply to MPs or PSUs and there has been ostentatious display of ministers living in expensive hotels, even if this is privately funded. If conferences in five-star hotels, domestic and foreign travel, exhibitions, study tours and publications at public cost are dysfunctional, that should be a permanent, rather than knee-jerk, reaction.
Fifth, and most typically of sarkari practice, all these strictures can be violated by seeking special permissions and waivers. Sixth, the directive on cutting 10% of non-Plan and 5% of Plan budgets of ministries and departments for central government schemes is inefficient in its conception. The way to ensure economy is to make this a permanent rule. Instead of the finance ministry dictating terms, all ministries/departments can be asked to slash expenditure by 10% next year, the choice of that 10% being left to the ministry/department concerned. Tony Blair’s government in Britain experimented successfully with this idea. The short point is that no government since 1991 has seriously sought to slash expenditure and deficit improvements have consequently only been determined by revenues. While some payments like interest and pensions (for existing employees) cannot be reneged upon, and defence is regarded as a holy cow (though there is scope for greater efficiency there, too), pensions for new entrants, subsidies and wages & salaries can be reduced. On the last point, it is easy to be fixated on 3.5 million central government employees (including railways), forgetting there are 6 million in PSUs, 10 million in states and local bodies and another 15 million in quasi-government. Cutting sarkari expenditure is, therefore, a far more serious business than sending out a memorandum.
FIDAYEEN OF WHITE-COLLAR LABOUR FORCE
An interesting discussion of whether lies are sometimes justified is in Gurcharan Das’s new and highly readable book called The Difficulty of Being Good. He studied the Mahabharata for six years to find answers to day-to-day questions of right and wrong that are either left unanswered or have no easy answers. He examines tricky subjects like envy, duty, courage, despair, status anxiety, revenge and remorse. But the most interesting chapter is on the lies that allowed the unjustly treated Pandavas to kill four successive commanders of the Kaurav army and gave them victory. Are lies okay when they end a war? Are they okay when they repair injustice?
I would like to make the case that the en masse sick leave of 361 pilots of Jet Airways does not pass the test of justice, courage or professionalism. First, this country has an established legal framework to deal with labour disputes that has not been followed by the pilots. Second, if the pilots had the courage and backbone to defy the law, they should have gone on strike. Finally, if the pilots have pride in their profession, then they should have cared about the 20,000 passengers whose happiness and plans they destroyed.
I am a proud Jet frequent flier. The cocktail of Mr Goyal’s entrepreneurship, the skills of Jets talented pilots, and the helpfulness and attitude of their ground and air crew has created one of the few global and world beating Indian service operations. Their domestic operations forced Indian Airlines to work harder and their international operations saved many travellers from the horrible in-flight service of United and British Airways. Is all this worth destroying? Did the pilots have no other choice?
The Jet pilots have no doubt been inspired by the resolution of the earlier goofily-done cabin crew rationalisation that was reversed under political pressure. I am sure that the National Aviation Guild has its reasons but I think it is unfair for it to believe that: a) this was the appropriate and only method for it to get justice, and b) it should not share in the pain of a company that arises because of market conditions. Let’s look at both these issues in some detail.
There has been discontent simmering between the company and pilots on the issue of reinstatement of two pilots removed earlier. A strike threatened earlier was ruled as illegal by the regional labour commissioner because it did not follow due process under the Industrial Disputes Act. Discussions were on and there is nothing to suggest that a formal notice of the strike on a pre-determined day would not have been effective in closing the gap between the positions on both sides. Jet obviously does not have as deep bench as it should have in labour relations but I think the pilots pulled the trigger too soon. They did not give the public enough notice and this has cost them the legitimacy of their claims. As any public relations rookie will now tell the pilots, they have lost the battle for hearts and minds.
The second and more important question is an understanding of the birth defect in the airline industry that prompted Warren Buffet to quip: “If any airline investor was around when the Wright brothers took their first flight he should have shot them down”. The economics of the airlines business are horrible—high fixed costs means it costs almost the same to fly a plane full of passengers as an empty plane. Jet lost Rs 225 crore in the last quarter and its pilots must realise that their salaries are paid by customers, not shareholders. And customer behaviour almost resembles a strike—the global airline industry is set to lose $6 billion in the first six months of 2009. Jet has made some mistakes, but it is a victim of a global downdraft that neither the management, shareholders, pilots or cabin crew could have avoided. After anger, everybody must find a way to cope that does not destroy Jet and distributes pain equally among shareholders and employees.
The hyperinflation in pilot salaries over the last few years has caused many Indian pilots, like many specialists in other Indian professions, to confuse how much of their raise was due to luck and how much was skill. They just happened to win the pilot ovarian lottery and come of professional age in the biggest boom in India’s civil aviation. If they had become pilots in the 1970s in India, they would have been hostages of Air India, and if they had become pilots in 2008 in the West, they would be looking for work in India. But this strike signals that they treat high wages and job security as an entitlement.
Post mortems have a certainity that prescriptions don’t, but things have never been the same for Jet after they bought Sahara. The punishing combination of integrating a goofily-run Sahara and the global downturn means that one of India’s most spectacular children of liberalisation is in the ICU. Disputes will happen but what the pilots did was immoral, illegal and lacked courage. It’s also unclear they realise that they have unwittingly become the labour market equivalent of Fidayeen who may take the airlines down with them.
The author is chairman, Teamlease Services
UNNATURAL LEVY ON NATURAL GAS
KAUSHIK RANJAN BANDYOPADHYAY
On Monday, the Petroleum & Natural Gas Regulatory Board (PNGRB) announced a ‘turnover’ tax. The tax is on revenues earned from retailing CNG to automobiles and piped natural gas (PNG) to cities. Is this unexceptionable? It is not. It is a bad tax.
PNGRB was established by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MoPNG) in July 2007 (in accordance with PNGRB Act, 2006). The objective was to protect consumer and producer interests. Producers here mean entities engaged in specified activities relating to petroleum, petroleum products and natural gas in the downstream sector. The Board was also tasked to ensure uninterrupted and adequate supply of these products nationwide through promotion of competitive markets. That means, it was asked to regulate producers in the downstream sector, especially in the matter of seeking undue rent from monopolisation. This is a usual problem in local gas distribution networks and long distance pipeline carriers in the natural gas sector.
This remit, is important to know as we assess PNGRB’s ‘turnover’ tax. Retail gas distributors RIL and GAIL have strongly protested. But that’s not the point. There are both procedural and economic critiques against this decision.
Let’s look at the proposal in detail. As per the Gazette notification, the PNGRB has asked entities to pay Rs 2 crore for turnover of up to Rs 20,000 crore under the head ‘Other Charges’. For turnover of up to Rs 50,000 crore it has levied Rs 2 crore plus 0.008% of revenues in excess of Rs 20,000 crore. For turnover up to Rs 1,00,000 crore it will charge Rs 4.4 crore plus 0.005% of revenues more than Rs 50,000 crore. Besides this, 0.2% of capital expenditure during construction period will be payable. Besides the new tax, PNGRB has also notified fee payable by companies for registration, authorisation and filing complaints.
‘Other charges’ by their very nature are thus essentially a combination of specific and ad-valorem charges and have been levied in conformity with Section 4 of the PNGRB (Levy of Fee and Other Charges) Regulations, 2007. The section states that the entity which is undertaking either operation or construction of any of the activities of registration and/or authorisation under the provisions of the PNGRB Act, 2006 would be required to pay ‘other charges’ to the board annually within 15 days from the date of finalising its annual statement of accounts.
So, the entitlement to levy other charges by PNGRB is in concordance with the regulation. But the question is whether such charges can be imposed in the form of a ‘turnover tax’ by a regulator like PNGRB. The turnover tax is usually imposed by the government, and not by a regulator, in order to leave the supplier a profit deemed to be fair, with the rest going in the form of tax. However, if the cost of production exceeds the market price, a negative turnover tax (ie, a subsidy) is usually levied. The tax is usually cumulative in nature and encompasses both production and distribution chains. Thus it has a very high cascading effect and involves multiple taxations of inputs.
There’s another procedural question. ‘Other charges’ are designated for the downstream retailing sector. But do these include just a portion of turnover of retailing CNG and PNG or is the entire turnover the focus. This is especially relevant for an integrated company like RIL, which is involved in both production and distribution of natural gas. If the entire turnover is the focus, the levy has phenomenally negative implications for RIL.
The third procedural question is this: PNGRB is merely a regulator, so to whom will the revenue go and how will it be utilised? The economic critique is the following. ‘Other charges’ in the form of ‘turnover taxes’, because of its implicitly cascading nature, will hurt investments in the city gas distribution pipeline sector; investment spending is included in the base for the charges. The purchase of machines and equipments (together with other inputs) will fall under the levy’s purview. To date, only 19 cities are covered under the city gas distribution network through pipelines. This is a small number. The new levy will come as a big disincentive against further investment. It may also act as a disincentive against the nationwide distribution expansion plan for natural gas. Natural gas is seen as a viable and cleaner alternative to petrol and diesel. Usage of natural gas in India is at its nascent stage. Therefore, PNGRB must analyse the implications of the new tax. Also, it must be noted that PNGRB introduced the tax in a rather non-transparent manner.
Given all this it is hard to think that the tax is compatible with the Board’s remit of ensuring competitiveness and protecting producer and consumer interest. Natural gas is a sunrise sector. It doesn’t need a bad tax.
The author is a senior fellow at the Asian Institute of Transport Development
GIVE THE DEVIL HIS DUE
After more than two decades, electronics and home appliances maker Onida has decided to jettison its mascot—first-green-then-blue-later-yellow-horned Devil. The company will also drop its iconic tagline, ‘Neighbour’s envy, owner’s pride’. To give the Devil its due, he has served his purpose. The challenge before the company today is quite different from the 1980s when it decided to stoke envy in people’s hearts. Back then, Onida was a late entrant in the growing CTV market, and although it had a technologically competitive offering, the segment was getting cluttered with players also selling on the back of technology. To stand out, Onida decided to flog the brand’s biggest asset—its unconventional ‘vertical’ frame against the traditional ‘horizontal’ format. In that context, the slug, ‘Neighbour’s envy. Owner’s pride’, made a virtue of envy and pride. And the Devil became the seducer.
In 2004, the company decided to renew the Devil’s franchise, but gave the character a softer look and feel. Out went envy; he now talked about “nothing but the truth”. But there was a problem. Bereft of ‘envy’, the Devil didn’t amount to much. Also, the category discourse has evolved, especially in the light of the aggressive, feature—and technology-driven hardsell of rival brands led by chaebols LG and Samsung.
In that sense the Devil had become something of a blind spot; which is probably why it is talking about a new campaign sans the Devil and the envy. One may argue that Onida is treading a difficult path, and that mascots bring brands to life. But Onida is definitely not the first to take that risk. Take Ronald McDonald. His first TV appearance in the early sixties as the gleeful clown was portrayed by none other than Willard Scott. Since then, Ronald has gone through several incarnations. Today, Ronald McDonald is seen prancing around as a snowboarding, soccer-playing clown in a form-fitting jumpsuit. Then there is the case of the chubby and balding English butler, the face of Ask Jeeves Inc for nearly a decade, which was ousted in a corporate takeover, when InterActiveCorp bought Ask Jeeves in 2005.
Mascots are mortal.
The report of the Ahmedabad Metropolitan Magistrate is a scathing indictment of the Gujarat government, no stranger to ugly controversies about summary executions dressed to look like police encounters. The 243-page report of S.P. Tamang on the killing of 19-year-old Mumbai student Ishrat Jehan and three others in 2004 contains a disturbing body of detail about how their lives were snuffed out. Relying mainly on evidence from a forensic laboratory and post-mortem reports, Mr. Tamang exposes the gaping holes in the State police version of events — namely, that the four, said to be involved in a plot to assassinate Chief Minister Narendra Modi, were killed on a highway near Ahmedabad following an exchange of gunfire. According to him, the forensic evidence establishes the victims were shot at very close range and had not fired a single shot; moreover, their post-mortem reports suggest they were killed the night before the police said the encounter took place. The Gujarat government’s response to the report has been far from satisfactory. Rather than take serious note of its contents, it has chosen to flatly deny that the encounter was fake and raise technical issues about whether Mr. Tamang had overstepped his jurisdiction. An honest and reassuring response would have been to register an FIR against the police officials involved. It is a chilling coincidence that the report implicates the so-called ‘encounter specialist’ of the Gujarat police, D.G. Vanzara — now in jail for the killing of the alleged gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife in 2005 in a fake encounter.
The issue of killing people in cold blood should not be clouded or sidetracked by debates about whether Ishrat Jehan was a Lashkar-e-Taiba operative or not. Her family and many others have strongly affirmed her innocence — something that the Tamang report reflects. On the other hand, it is not only the Narendra Modi government but also the Centre — the latter in an affidavit in the Gujarat High Court — that has described her as belonging to the terrorist group. What is germane here is that extra-judicial killing is a brutal subversion of the rule of law, reflecting a total contempt for the basic principles on which the criminal justice system is founded. Alarmingly, the Tamang report suggests that such fake encounters in Gujarat are staged not merely to get rid of inconvenient people, but also to win appreciation and rewards from those who control political power. Rather than adopt a posture of hurt innocence, the Modi government should act on the findings of the probe and proceed against those who have been accused of murder.
LATIN AMERICAN STRATEGY ON DRUGS
Latin American states are dramatically changing their strategy on illegal drugs — by ceasing to make war on drug users. Earlier this year, former presidents of Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia published a report calling for more humane policies on drugs, and now Argentina’s Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, has ruled that it is unconstitutional to punish people for consuming marijuana. Mexico has already stopped prosecuting users for possessing small amounts o f a range of drugs from marijuana to heroin, and is introducing treatment instead of punishment. The former Brazilian president Fernando Cardoso says the war on drugs has failed. The military-style crackdown on drugs in the Americas was started four decades ago by United States President Richard Nixon; as the U.S.-driven crackdowns have toughened, smugglers and gangs have grown progressively more inventive. Dutch customs officers have found cylinders of drugs welded to ships’ hulls below the waterline, and recently the Mexican navy found a tonne of cocaine in the frozen carcasses of sharks aboard a container ship. Drugs have also been transported in sealed beer cans, furniture, and religious statuary. Indian traffickers have even stuffed drugs into cricket pads for export.
There is no doubting the damage that illegal drugs and the trade in them do throughout the world. In Mexico alone, some very senior police officers and other officials work for different gangs and cartels; even a U.S. soldier has been charged with contract killing in the Mexican drugs trade. The border between Mexico and Texas in the U.S. is said to be a river of drugs in one direction and a river of iron, meaning weapons, in the other. The U.S. administration proposes to use herbicides to destroy dense cane along the Rio Grande — the border with Mexico — for better visibility. Critics have drawn parallels with the U.S. use of the defoliant Agent Orange in Vietnam. The new Latin American strategy does not as yet amount to decriminalisation; it is a humanitarian move which differentiates between personal use and trafficking; it may therefore help keep drug users out of the clutches of traffickers and dealers; and it could release resources for targeting traffickers. It also goes farther than some previous attempts at harm-reduction policies. In the United Kingdom in 1997, the Labour government initiated harm-reduction measures by way of treatment-type court orders, but dropped the policy following one adverse tabloid headline. The recent Latin American moves are much more robust, have received widespread approval among governments in the region, and will be watched with interest the world over.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
ISHRAT IS WHY ENCOUNTERS NEED JUDICIAL PROBING
IT’S TIME WE STOPPED ROTTEN ELEMENTS IN THE POLICE AND SECURITY FORCES FROM LITERALLY GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER.
When the police kill an individual in the course of an “encounter” or operation, the law is quite clear about what must happen next. “The police do not have a right to take away the life of a person”, former Chief Justice A.S. Anand wrote in a 2003 letter to all Chief Ministers in his capacity as head of the National Human Rights Commission. “If, by his act, a policeman kills a person, he commits an offence of culpable homicide … unless it is established that such killing was not an offence under the law.” After citing the two extenuating circumstances available to the police — the right of private self-defence and the use of “reasonable force” if found necessary to arrest the person accused of an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life — Justice Anand noted: “Thus, it is evident that death caused in an encounter, if not justified, would amount to an offence of culpable homicide.”
In reminding state governments about the law, the NHRC was not indulging in some abstract civics lesson. The context was, and remains, the long-standing concern that the police and other security forces tend to abuse their power to shoot and kill, staging “fake encounters” in which individuals accused of being terrorists or criminals are eliminated. Often, the identity of these individuals is never convincingly established, as happened, for example, in the infamous encounter staged by the Delhi Police at the Ansal Plaza shopping mall in 2002.
While the police used to enjoy a certain degree of social sanction for these extra-judicial executions, the frequency and brazenness of recent encounters and the targeting of individuals completely unconnected to terrorism such as Sohrabuddin, Kausar Bi and the five innocent Kashmiris picked up from around Anantnag and killed at Panchalthan in 2000 have led to the growing public and judicial demand for accountability.
At the heart of the matter is the question: who should decide whether the death caused in an encounter is justified or not. No civilised society can entrust this decision to the same force which caused the death in the first place. Indeed, the NHRC’s guidelines on this are very clear. “A Magisterial Inquiry must invariably be held in all cases of death which occur in the course of police action. The next of kin of the deceased must invariably be associated in such inquiry.”
In February 2009, the Andhra Pradesh High Court went one step further in ruling that every encounter resulting in death must lead to the filing of a First Information Report against the concerned police officials that is then acted upon or disposed of depending on the results of an independent investigation. The High Court order has since been stayed by the Supreme Court pending a final hearing in October.
Though an improvement over the pre-existing state of affairs, the NHRC guidelines suffer from two defects. First, most states do not follow them and the commission is powerless to do anything about it. And second, the guidelines do not make it clear that the magisterial inquiry should be conducted by a judicial rather than an executive magistrate like an SDM. Perhaps the NHRC thought it unnecessary to clarify the matter since the principles of natural justice imply the inquiry should be conducted by an authority truly independent of the police, which a member of the executive branch of the state clearly is not. But this is India, where those in authority tend to use every possible means to subvert the rule of law. That is why it is rare for a police encounter to be probed by a judicial magistrate, least of all one who, like Ahmedabad Metropolitan Magistrate S.P. Tamang, is seized with a sense of urgency.
Mr.Tamang’s inquiry into the June 2004 encounter killing of Ishrat Jehan, Javed Sheikh and two as yet unidentified men, ‘Amjad Ali Rana’ and ‘Zeeshan Jauhar’, by the Gujarat police was completed within three weeks of the matter being referred to him. The results of his exertions provide a chilling reminder of the modus operandi of a certain kind of police officer. Unfortunately, they also tell us why it is that state governments are so averse to subjecting the operations of their police forces to independent judicial review.
The Tamang report blows gaping holes in the police version of how the four individuals ended up dead. Though the State government is not obliged to act upon the findings of a magisterial review, and has now obtained a stay from the High Court, it is obvious that a case of murder is indicated. But the Tamag report also questions the claim made by both the Gujarat and the Central governments that Ishrat Jehan and the three other men were Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists. The question is irrelevant from a legal standpoint because their killing was clearly in cold blood; but the ‘terrorist’ tag is important for the authorities in order to try and save face in the wider court of public opinion.
The only bit of “evidence” linking Ishrat to the LeT is a claim put out by an LeT publication in 2004 describing her as a member of the terrorist group. The affidavit filed by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs duly cites this as proof of her involvement. But it could also be that the LeT’s claim was an opportunistic, dishonest attempt to harvest some glory from the unfortunate death of a young Muslim woman — not unlike Baitullah Mehsud claiming responsibility for the Binghamton shooting in upstate New York this April. The MHA affidavit also cites Ishrat’s association — presumably romantic — with Javed Sheikh, a man with a criminal past. But the fact remains that he was not wanted by the police at the time of his death for any specific terrorist offence.
Every fake encounter hides a story but some are more sensational and sordid than others. The murder of Sohrabuddin and his wife by the Gujarat police is one such example but even their tale appears tame compared to what might be at stake in the Ishrat Jehan case.
According to an investigation conducted by my colleague, Praveen Swami, in 2004 and published in Frontline, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) used an Ahmedabad lawyer sympathetic to the LeT to run the Modi assassination plot (which Ishrat and Javed were alleged to be part of by the Gujarat police) as a sting operation. “The lawyer was instructed to tell Javed Sheikh, a Pune resident who was amongst those killed on June 16 , that the infrastructure was in place to execute an attack on Modi.” How an IB-run sting operation ended up in what the Gujarat police claimed was an encounter but which Mr. Tamang has now established was nothing more than a kidnap-cum-murder is not at all clear. At the very least, it suggests a degree of unhealthy complicity between the Gujarat and Maharashtra police forces, as well as the IB, that only a criminal investigation directly supervised by the Supreme Court will be able to unravel.
While it remains to be seen whether the forces which conspired to murder four young people on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in June 2004 are powerful enough to hush up the case, the lesson to be learned is that every encounter death must be compulsorily reviewed by a judicial magistrate in a time-bound probe. A police force which follows the law should have nothing to fear from such a process. If the magisterial inquiry establishes the veracity of the police version, that is the end of the story. But if it turns out that the killing of an individual by the police (or, by extension, other security forces personnel) was unjustified, the full force of law must be brought to bear on those involved. Apologists for extra-judicial murder claim that such action would demoralise law enforcement. In fact, nothing could be more demoralising to the majority of upright police officers than the sight of some of their colleagues getting away with murder.
AFGHAN BOMBING TURNS GAME CHANGER IN GERMAN ELECTIONS
THOUGH GERMANY HAS FIRMLY DEFENDED THE DECISION OF ITS COMMANDER, THE DEADLY OPERATION COMES AT A PARTICULARLY DELICATE MOMENT FOR CHANCELLOR MERKEL.
NATO’s killer air-raid on Afghanistan’s Char Dara district in Kunduz province last week, undertaken at the behest of a German commander, has placed Afghanistan firmly on the German electoral agenda.
The NATO strike, in which a U.S. F-15 fighter jet summoned by German troops bombed fuel trucks hijacked by the Taliban, claimed over 70 lives and has dramatically added to the already heated debate raging across Europe about NATO’s engagement in Afghanistan.
Though Germany has firmly defended the decision of its commander, with Chancellor Angela Merkel, in an address to her country’s Parliament, warning against hasty judgements, it is clear that the deadliest operation involving German forces since World War II comes at a particularly delicate moment for Ms Merkel. Elections are scheduled for September 27 and public opposition to the German presence in Afghanistan is growing by the minute. Polls show about two-thirds of Germans would like the 4,200 German troops in Afghanistan to return home.
The fact that the opposition Socialist SPD party does not hold the high moral ground on this issue, since the dispatch of German troops was decided upon by the former Socialist Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, offers cold comfort to Ms Merkel. On Tuesday, the Chancellor reiterated her commitment “to protecting democracy and reconstruction in Afghanistan” and said Germany, bound by international alliances, would not unilaterally pull out its troops. But she did stress that Germany, France and Britain in a joint letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have issued a call for a conference by the end of the year to map out the future of the international mission in Afghanistan and provide an outlook for troop withdrawal.
Ms Merkel has come under intense criticism for failing to persuade the German public about “the rightness of the German presence in Afghanistan”, said Dominique Moisi of the French Institute for International Relations. Aware of the damage this incident could do to her re-election chances, she has called for a “quick, comprehensive and transparent” enquiry into the raid.
The German press has been uniformly critical in its assessment of the situation with the leading newsmagazine Der Spiegel saying: “It’s high time the German government mapped out a clear plan for withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan. Shocked by last Friday’s deadly air strike, voters in Germany want a new strategy that will lead to a pullout.”
The centre-left daily Suddeutsche Zeitung was even more scathing, accusing the German government of surreptitiously becoming a warring party under U.S. command. “The 500-pound bombs the Americans dropped at Germany’s request have bombed Afghanistan into the German election campaign. Germany muddled its way into a war and thought it could muddle its way back out — without clarity or truth, without a tangible view of the mission and its purpose, without a fundamental debate in Parliament and in the public,” the paper said.
Particularly strong words were in store for the German Defence Minister, Franz Josef Jung, who hours after the strike stoutly denied there were any civilian casualties and when proved wrong said he would not comment. “Franz Josef Jung’s tactic of placating, covering up and concealing is increasing public opposition to the mission. How are people supposed to support the mission if they are constantly told that our boys are mainly just riding around on patrol, building hospitals and inaugurating schools?” wrote the Financial Times Deutschland.
So far the German government has domestically tried to sell the line that its troops are engaged not in war but in reconstruction and humanitarian work. The press has decided to call that bluff. Commentators want the government to stop pretending that Germany’s 4,200 troops in Afghanistan are focused on civil reconstruction, and to admit that they are in a war zone. Above all, they want the German government to come up with a clear, concrete plan that will eventually allow German forces to withdraw.
Berlin’s NATO allies view its public pronouncements on its role in Afghanistan with a mixture of distaste and scorn. While it is true that with 4,200 men on the ground Germany has the third largest contingent in Afghanistan, Berlin has so far been excellent at dishing out opprobrium and strongly worded advice while shying away from engaging in hostilities. At home both Ms Merkel and her Socialist Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier have been at pains to tell their pacifist fellow citizens that German troops in Afghanistan were there in a purely humanitarian and reconstruction capacity. They have long understood the need to unveil the tough reality but have been putting off telling the truth until after the election. Fate has dealt them both a heavy blow and the Afghan question has literally exploded in their faces.
Ironically, it is not the Taliban that has made Afghanistan an electoral issue in Germany but an order given by their own top commander and whether they like it or not, the debate is underway. Whatever the outcome of the elections, Germany will have to take two major decisions: Whether to send in more troops and civilians to help in reconstruction work and whether or not to join the chorus attempting to pressure Afghan President Hamid Karzai over his exact game plan in the months ahead — if he remains in office, that is.
ISSUES OF JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE
THERE ARE TWO SIDES TO THE ISSUE OF THE RIGHT UNDER THE RTI TO INFORMATION FROM THE SUPREME COURT.
There has been an odd twist of events in the matter of public disclosure of assets of judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts. On August 26, 2009, the Chief Justice of India (CJI), in consultation with his colleagues of the court, announced that the declaration of assets made by individual judges of the Supreme Court in accordance with the court’s resolution of May 5, 1997 would now be made public on the website of the court. This put an end to an acute contr oversy on disclosure of assets of judges in which the Supreme Court put itself on the wrong side of public opinion by appearing to be indifferent to transparency and unaccountability by refusing to accede to the demand to make public the declaration of assets of judges.
Scarcely seven days later, the High Court of Delhi, in a judgment by Justice Ravindra Bhat, while holding that the CJI was a “public authority” under the Right to Information Act, 2005, held that the CJI was still not obliged to disclose the assets of the judges in public, unless a case of clear public interest was made out to disclose the assets of an individual judge.
This crucial finding of the High Court has gone unnoticed in the lengthy 73-page judgment, and has been overshadowed by the important holding of the High Court that the CJI was a public authority under the RTI Act contrary to the CJI’s contention that he was not, and further that the declaration of assets was not given to him by the judges in a fiduciary capacity. In the high traditions of an independent and fearless judiciary, Mr. Justice Bhat did not hesitate to set the law right even though in the process he had to differ with the CJI. It reminds one of Thomas Fuller’s statement centuries ago: “Be you never so high, the law is above you.”
It is important to note that the case considered by the High Court did not pertain to any demand by the applicant for the public disclosure of the assets of the judges of the Supreme Court. The applicant had made a very simple demand of asking the CJI as a public authority to disclose whether the judges of the Supreme Court had in fact implemented their own resolution of May 7, 1997 to declare their assets to the CJI. This was, inexplicably, denied to the applicant. The entire public controversy could have been avoided by the Supreme Court by providing this innocuous piece of information. Apparently the CJI believed that this demand would trigger a demand for public disclosure of the assets of judges and for other confidential information with the CJI. The High Court, therefore, rightly concluded that this very limited information sought by the applicant was information that he was entitled to get from the Chief Justice of India as a pubic authority under the Act, and ordered its disclosure.
This by itself would have disposed of the case before the High Court, but the court went on to consider the more controversial aspect of whether there was a right to obtain public disclosure of the actual assets declared by the Supreme Court judges to the Chief Justice of India in compliance with 1997 resolution of the court. It is here that the High Court held that under the provisions of Section 8(i)(j) of Right to Information Act, 2005, there was no obligation to give information which the judges had given of their assets as that was “personal information” which if disclosed would cause an unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual judge. The applicant was not entitled to such information unless he satisfied the Central Public Information Officer of the court (CPIO) that a larger public interest justified the disclosure of assets given by the individual judge.
Mr. Justice Bhat observed: “Rhetoric and polemic apart there is no reason to undermine the protection provided by the law merely because some of the public believe that judges ought to permit unimpeded disclosure of personal assets to the public. The obligation to give access or deny access to the information is today controlled by the provision of Right to Information Act as it presently exists. Nowhere does it oblige disclosure of assets of spouses, dependents and children of judges.”
It thus turns out from Mr. Justice Bhat’s judgment that on this part relating to a general duty to make public the declaration of assets of judges, the CJI was not wrong in law in resisting their general disclosure. However, on August 26, under great public pressure and high publicity given to the action of two judges of two High Courts to voluntarily disclose their declaration of assets, the CJI and his colleagues decided to end the unseemly controversy by disclosing the declaration of assets of judges of the Supreme Court to the public on the court’s website. Had the High Court given its decision earlier, the CJI may have derived some support for his stand.
Nevertheless, in such a situation the law must take a back seat to public perception, and the CJI did well to correct an image of judges of superior courts resisting transparency and accountability. Mr. Justice Bhat notes the CJI’s voluntary decision in his judgment, but says that his own findings would place everything in their legal and contextual perspective.
The High Court’s finding that the CJI is a public authority who is bound to give information relating to the work, documents and records of the Supreme Court will have far-reaching implications for the Supreme Court and the High Courts. Does it follow that there is a right to obtain notings made by the CJI and the collegium of judges in the selection and rejection of judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts which they are obliged to make in accordance with the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Second Judges Appointment case? If such notings are made public, will the collegium of judges candidly express their views on the merits of individual judges in their notings? Is there a right to obtain the notes of judges, drafts of judgments and minutes of discussion before a judgment is pronounced? Is there a right to the communications between the CJI and Chief Justices of High Courts or with the Prime Minister or the President? These are troublesome problems and there are no exceptions to these demands for information under the RTI Act. It seems that the framers of the Act did not advert to the consequences of such public disclosure.
The CJI rightly spoke of his apprehensions if he is to be a public authority under the RTI Act. In the public clamour for transparency and accountability of judges, there is a real danger of undermining the independence and efficient functioning of the higher judiciary.
(T.R. Andhyarujina is a Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court and a former Solicitor-General of India .)
OBAMA’S SEVEN KEY CHALLENGES
STARTING WITH HEALTH CARE, THE U.S. PRESIDENT FACES A SLEW OF ISSUES, BOTH AT HOME AND ABROAD, THAT COULD MAKE OR BREAK HIS FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE.
EWEN MACASKILL AND SUZANNE GOLDENBERG
U.S. President Barack Obama has set a deadline of next month to have a Bill on the Oval Office desk to extend health insurance to the 46 million Americans who have no cover. It is possible, though unlikely, that he will get no Bill at all, but more likely, and almost as controversial, is that he will end up with a Bill that has been so watered down it will disappoint reformers.
Having lost ground to the Republicans over the summer, and seen support for health care slip in the polls, he will on Thursday night in a rare address to Congress try to wrest back the initiative
He needs to describe a reform package that will win over liberal and fiscally conservative Democrats as well as moderate Republicans. The Senate finance committee, which has been drawing up a health Bill, has a deadline to produce draft legislation by September 15 supported by Democrats and Republicans. But the early drafts do not include a public option — a federally funded scheme to provide competition for the insurance companies, which is also favoured by Mr. Obama.
Mr. Obama promised during the election campaign to engage with countries such as Iran that were treated by George Bush as outcasts. He has offered direct talks with the Iranian leadership, and sent two letters, but Tehran has so far spurned his advances. The President has set a deadline of the end of this month for a response.
The signals from Iran so far have been mixed. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President, said at the weekend he would go into talks about any issue, except the one that Mr. Obama wants: Iran’s alleged pursuit of a nuclear weapon. Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, says the country is open to fresh talks but so far has not made a formal offer to either Washington or the EU.
Republicans and rightwing commentators are already lining up to ridicule what they see as the failure of his overtures to Iran, North Korea and Syria.
If Tehran does not agree to fresh negotiations, the likeliest outcome is that Mr. Obama, along with Britain, France and Germany, will lead a push to impose fresh economic sanctions that would hit Iran’s oil and gas industry.
But there is no guarantee that Russia and China, who hold two of the five veto-wielding U.N. security council seats, would support sanctions.
At that point, Israel may opt for a unilateral strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, a move that Mr. Obama opposes.
Mr. Obama wants to announce at the U.N. General Assembly in the week beginning September 21 a resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
In an otherwise difficult month, this would be good publicity for him, allowing him to herald a diplomatic breakthrough together with the Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas.
But announcing a resumption of talks would be the easy part. The difficult part would follow, with negotiations over the future of Jerusalem, homes for Palestinian refugees and setting the border, awkward at the best of times, but made harder by Mr. Netanyahu’s rightwing coalition and the weakness of the Palestinian leadership. An early taste of the problems ahead was provided last weekend when Israel approved almost 500 new homes in the occupied West Bank, in spite of Mr. Obama’s call for a freeze.
Mr. Obama put energy reform at the heart of his White House agenda, holding up the potential of green jobs to lift American workers out of recession and transform the economy.
He got off to a good start when the House of Representatives narrowly passed a climate change Bill in June that, for the first time, sought to reduce America’s carbon emissions. But the effort is stalling. Coal, oil and manufacturing interests have organised against the Bill, eroding support among Democrats, especially in the rustbelt states of the mid-west and coal producing areas.
The Democratic leadership in the Senate this week postponed plans to roll out its version of a climate Bill until later in the month.
Some environmentalists and Democratic leaders now fear that the Senate will not manage to pass climate change legislation this year, and that could seriously undermine prospects of reaching agreement for global action on climate change at an international meeting in Copenhagen in December.
China, India and other big polluters have warned they will not sign up to a climate change treaty until America demonstrates its own commitment to cutting the carbon emissions that cause global warming.
Mr. Obama fought the election on a promise to end the war in Iraq and switch the focus to Afghanistan. He is sending 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan to bring the U.S. total to 68,000, and has sacked the U.S. commander-in-charge, General David McKiernan, replacing him with a counter-insurgency specialist, General Stanley McChrystal.
But U.S. casualties have been rising, Washington has little faith in the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, especially after elections tainted with suspected widespread fraud.
Mr. Obama has to make a decision this week or soon after about whether to agree to a request from General McChrystal for more troops. The debate in the U.S. has intensified between those who say the U.S. has to see the war out to the finish, and others who say that it is becoming an increasing muddle. Compounding the problem is Pakistan, with U.S. diplomats reporting that the Pakistani army continues to see India rather than Islamist terrorism as the main threat and still supports the Taliban as a counter to Indian influence in Afghanistan.
The biggest problem facing Mr. Obama, and the one that could determine whether he secures a second term, is the economy.
In spite of figures suggesting the U.S. economy is emerging out of recession, unemployment statistics released on Friday showed another rise, with almost 10 per cent out of work. The details are worse, with the unemployment rate for African-Americans higher, at 15 per cent.
These are the official figures, which do not include the millions who do not declare themselves as unemployed.
One of the criticisms of Mr. Obama is that the $787-billion stimulus package he introduced, while staggering in its scale, was not brave enough and that another package will be needed. Christina Romer, one of Mr. Obama’s economic advisers, said the stimulus package was working but, significantly, declined to comment on whether there needed to be a second package.
Some of the initiatives in the stimulus package, such as the “cash for clunkers” scheme, in which car owners received a cash incentive for trading in old cars for more fuel-efficient ones, did create a demand, helping to keep car manufacturers and sellers in jobs. But other initiatives have not yet fed into the system.
Another looming decision is the future of the remaining 229 detainees at the Guantanamo detention centre.
It is one thing to announce the centre is to close but another to find an alternative. Democrats who supported Mr. Obama’s closure announcement in January are less keen now when faced with the prospect of those detainees being transferred to their states for imprisonment or trial.
Congress withheld funds for the closure until this month to give Mr. Obama time to come up with a detailed plan.
Mr. Obama promised Guantanamo would close by January and, for that to happen, he has to make decisions soon in order for work on a new facility to be completed in time.
The Justice Department is expected to have completed a review of the cases of each of the inmates by early next month, making a decision on who should be released, who should stand trial and who should be held in custody indefinitely without trial. If they are to be released, Mr. Obama has to find other countries willing to take them.
For those who will continue to be held, the administration is looking at a prison in Michigan that was due to close — the state is divided over the prospect but some argue that saving jobs makes the transfer more attractive — or one in Kansas, where there is more local opposition. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009
THE ASIAN AGE
JET PILOTS MUST RETURN TO WORK
Pilots of Jet Airways are on the warpath, causing great hardship to thousands of passengers through their sudden action which is hardly distinguishable from a flash strike, whatever the quibbles. A strike not notified in advance in accordance with procedures laid down under the Industrial Disputers Act simply does not enjoy legal validity. This makes the strikers liable to action. Whether the pilots, who have resorted to illegality under the pretext of engaging in genuine trade union action, are rebels without a cause or not can only be determined after a proper investigation. But the facts available so far suggest that the offending pilots resorted to the too-clever-by-half expedient of taking mass "sick leave" even as arbitration proceedings were on between the management and the union in question in the matter of the sacking of two pilots linked to the union. Keeping away from work when discussions are on beggars logic, and it is violative of the appropriate legal code, to say nothing of gross misuse of the provision for medical leave allowed to ailing employees.
But this is not the only reason why the erring pilots must report back for duty without further loss of time. The factor that should be uppermost in mind is that airline operations are a necessary aspect of modern life, and are crucial to the health of the national economy. They are a key element of infrastructure development, no less significant than, say, power or ports or railways. Flying is no longer a luxury category activity. Just as the government does not hesitate to fish out an instrument such as the Essential Services Maintenance Act in dealing with threatened disruptions in hospital services, power supply or the railways, it cannot flinch from taking necessary steps to compel the airline pilots to get back to work. It would be best if the Jet Airways management and the appropriate union returned to the table to sort out any grievances or misunderstanding. Only recently, some airline proprietors had threatened to stop operations for a day unless the government met their demand for a reduction in fuel prices. They were upbraided by the government and by the country, and had to call off their plans. The reason was that airlines provide an essential service to the nation and this sector is a crucial element of our infratructure. The pilots cannot afford to lose sight of this.
A strike is ordinarily deemed to be a tool of the last resort by unions. But in the present instance, strike in all but name was brought on the agenda even while talks were in progress. This is an example of adventurism by the union in question, and is to be regretted. Apparently this is a new union which is affiliated to the Shiv Sena, not the most sober of political parties. "Action-oriented" parties are sometimes known to direct the unions associated with them to go in the direction of high-voltage militancy in the hope of attracting more members quickly. But this is entirely wrong-headed and can only hurt the interests of those who unionise for the sake of protection from management excesses.
THE ASIAN AGE
WILL AFGHAN WAR BE OBAMA’S VIETNAM?
S. NIHAL SINGH
Is the war in Afghanistan acquiring shades of the Vietnam syndrome in the American psyche? Allusions to Vietnam are becoming more frequent in US media as President Barack Obama wrestles with the biggest foreign policy challenge of his presidency. The challenge, in short, is: What to do in Afghanistan?
During his election campaign, President Obama always differentiated between the Iraq war and US intervention in Afghanistan, now eight years old, as a war of necessity. He owned the Afghanistan war as his own. And as more US and coalition forces are killed and support for the war ebbs at home - for the first time more oppose, than support, it - the White House faces a string of dilemmas.
President Obama initially agreed to an increase of 21,000 in the troop strength making it 68,000. And with his new commander General Stanley McChrystal making a new recommendation to shift strategy foreshadowing the induction of even more troops, the moment of decision has arrived. The administration of President Hamid Karzai, meanwhile, remains in a limbo, with more than 2,000 cases of complaints of fraud in the presidential election accompanying his slow march to reaching the 50 per cent figure to avoid a second vote.
Even as President Obama's popularity ratings have been dipping and he remains mired in the health reform storm, he must take crucial decisions on the future course of the Afghan war. More and more influential voices are taking to the airwaves and appear in print asking the US to cut and run and wage the war from the outside through drones and other technology-enhanced weapons. The main supporters of the war are in Republican ranks - some 70 per cent - as Democrats are divided on the virtues of fighting a seemingly endless war.
Since misfortunes seldom come alone, last Friday's US air strike in Kunduz province reportedly killing scores of civilians has added a grim note to the new US commander's penchant for protecting the civilian population, rather than simply seeking a military victory. A continuing demand for more troops is a grim reminder for Americans on how they were sucked into the Vietnam war. Military theories aside, continuing troop augmentation seems like filling a bottomless hole.
Again reminiscent of the Vietnam war and US disillusionment with President Diem triggering a succession of puny coup-prone regimes in Saigon as it then was, the American love affair with President Karzai has soured. Washington is upset over the President's survival technique in aligning with warlords and alleged drug barons, but there are no easy answers to his succession. His closest rival, Abdullah Abdullah, the former foreign minister, is popular but perhaps less appealing to the Pashtun-dominated South, and would, in any case, run up against the familiar problems of administering a divided and heterogeneous country.
The first problem President Obama faces is whether he should insist on a second round of the presidential vote, given the credibility and scale of allegations of fraud. Perhaps his point man for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, will tip the balance one way or the other. Again, if the legitimacy of the next Afghanistan is in doubt, it will make America's task more difficult, not least in convincing American and British and other voters that it is worth losing their sons' and daughters' lives to achieve the chimera of victory.
But by far the biggest decision for President Barack Obama is whether to agree to send more troops to fulfil the expected request of his new commander in Afghanistan, McChrystal, who has the reputation of being the thinking general. The President already has his hands full with the health reform agenda and the economic downturn and has other pressing foreign policy issues such as the stalemate over Iran's nuclear programme and Israel's continuing defiance of his express declared wish for a freeze on building more settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
The need for more American troops in Afghanistan is enhanced by the arguments being put forward by American conservatives. In essence, they are saying, "If we pull out, we'll hand over Afghanistan back to the Islamic militants who allowed it to become a haven for Al Qaeda". The counter-argument, of course, is that the British and the Soviets discovered before Americans came on the scene that it is almost impossible to tame the Afghans.
If President Obama does decide to send more troops, he would face the embarrassment of having to rely on Republicans to have his proposal approved on Capitol Hill. In fact, the pro-war conservatives are making the point that the President is not doing enough to rally public support for the war, his last pitch being the August 17 address to a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention calling it a "war of necessity". His spokesmen say, "Afghanistan is on the top of his list".
The essence of General McChrystal's strategy is that the American accent should be on protecting the population more than killing the Taliban and Al Qaeda militants. More American and other troops are, therefore, needed to hold population centres. Other US strategists and veterans of the Afghan war counter by asserting that the larger the American footprint, the greater will be the problem of winning the proverbial hearts and mind of Afghans. According to Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, it is time for a "flexible response" in order to pull out US troops. The pre-eminent conservative columnist, George Will, puts it more bluntly by suggesting that it is time to get out and fight the war through drones and other means.
President Obama has perhaps a few weeks to decide on his fateful next step in Afghanistan. But as the issue of sending more troops to Afghanistan churns in the American media and among political and policy-making institutions, the President's task is becoming more difficult as he seeks to balance the various pulls and pressures. The danger is that the Afghanistan war is already acquiring the undertones of a failure and his administration must decide sooner, rather than later, on what achievable US objectives are.
INDIA CANNOT PROGRESS WHILE IGNORANT
INDIA has been seriously lagging behind in education. The Prime Minister has launched an ambitious Sakshar Bharat Mission to catch up and meet the long felt need. By 2012, it aims to educate as many as seven crore learners out of which six crore will be women. Indeed, with literacy rates for women far lower than for men, the need to focus on the fair sex cannot be underscored. The PM has rightly asserted : “Female literacy is a force multiplier for all actions for social development.”
Since Independence, India has made tremendous progress yet it has faltered in key areas like health and education. Though literacy levels improved considerably from 18 per cent in the 1950s to 52 per cent in 1991 and 65 per cent in 2001, compared to many countries India has been moving at a disturbingly slow speed. The National Literacy Mission, launched in 1988, has not been able to fully realise its objectives. Even today one-third of India’s population and half of its women cannot read or write. Education is crucial for the development of a society and plays a major role in women’s empowerment. The nation that is the largest democracy in the world and aspires to be a knowledge superpower cannot become developed if large sections of its population, particularly women, remain illiterate and ignorant.
The Manmohan Singh government has been laying considerable thrust on education. The Sakshar Bharat Mission’s endeavour to actively work with state governments and panchayats and women’s self-help groups in achieving its targets is significant. Ideally, India must achieve 100 per cent literacy but setting a realistic goal of 80 per cent literacy rate by 2017, too, is commendable provided it is achieved. In its new avatar, the mission should not remain a mere promise. Achieving the target prescribed by the Prime Minister is the key to the nation’s progress. India cannot make headway on the basis of ignorance.
PAY MORE FOR POWER
PUNJAB NEEDS TO PUSH REFORMS
Consumers in Punjab hate to pay for power, the supply of which is so irregular, inefficient and unreliable. This summer not only the rains got delayed, the electricity board also decided to skip buying more power, perhaps, to put up a better financial show. Irate consumers thrashed junior power board officials at many places. The board functioning is so pathetic that every year the regulator pulls up the management for inflating losses and fudging the figures. Before abandoning the power reforms mid-way, the government had at least set up the regulatory authority, which, considering all aspects and claims, decides how much increase in the tariff is justified. That is the only solace for the consumer.
However, the power consumer’s anger at the 12.4 per cent increase, that too from a back date, is understandable. Industry is crying foul as power is diverted to ensure smooth paddy sowing every year, causing loss of production and inflating costs. The ruling Akali Dal’s ally, the BJP, which took up the industrial and urban consumers’ cause last year, irritated by the free supply to farmers, has avoided a showdown this time. It should be understood that no service can sustain itself unless it recovers the costs. “Nobody likes paying more, but the rates have to go up to meet the costs”, aptly remarked the regulatory commission’s chairman, Mr Jai Singh Gill. Most consumers may not mind paying a little more if regular supply is ensured.
The root cause of all trouble is that Punjab does not generate enough power. The government has bankrupted itself through populism and extravagance. Its free power bill has risen to Rs 3,143 crore a year. Free power and political interference have crippled the board, financially and administratively. There is no alternative to implementing the power reforms, which aim at splitting the board, making each entity self-sufficient, viable and accountable and stopping political meddling. The vested interests, no wonder, are resisting the reforms.
THIS IS CHANDIGARH!
THE DAY THE MOB RULED THE CITY
IT was a veritable mob rule in Chandigarh on Tuesday when thousands of activists of the BKU and several other Punjab-based organisations, and employees of the PSEB descended on the city and turned it into a no-holds-barred battleground. They beat up the badly outnumbered police officials and commandos, destroyed government and private property, teased women and caused mayhem. Photographs of policemen crying for mercy told the story. Many of the protesters were heavily drunk and made a nuisance of themselves wherever they went. If this can happen in the capital of two states, Punjab and Haryana, and the UT, one can well imagine what havoc marauding mobs can cause in mofussil towns.
Chandigarh is hardly the size of a sub-tehsil and is top heavy with an Administrator with a Governor’s rank leading its administration replete with senior bureaucrats. Yet, this is the kind of law and order the city has to live with. The blame lies squarely at the door of the administration. Allowing so many organisations to converge on the Capital on a single day was wrong in itself even if all of them were protesting against the privatisation of the PSEB. If they came defying the laws, it was the administration’s duty to keep them away from the centre of the city. Yet, they freely came to Sector 16-17 and caused mayhem. They continued their depredations in many other sectors like 15, 23 and 24.
All reports point that it was a pre-planned attack by the protesters. Under such circumstances, it is the organisers who must be given due punishment for this unpardonable act. Just because there are far too many protesters does not mean that they should all be allowed to go scot-free. Given the photographic record of the violent incidents, it should not be too difficult to identify the actual criminals also and to punish them severely. If they get away with what they did, they can be depended on to repeat their activities. As it is, they have all been coming to Chandigarh way too often to disrupt normal activity and hold the capital to ransom at the slightest provocation.
PAK ENHANCING N-CAPABILITY
IT’S BOUND TO CAUSE ARMS’ RACE IN S. ASIA
BY GEN V.P. MALIK (RETD)
TWO recent reports published in the US media should be a cause for concern for those looking for stability in the security relations in the subcontinent. The first report carried in The New York Times by two well-established journalists accuses Pakistan of illegally modifying US-made Harpoon anti-ship missiles to expand its capability to strike targets on land. This should be viewed as complementing the sizable land-based missile arsenal that Pakistan has already developed with the help from China and North Korea. Pakistan is also accused of modifying US-made P-3C naval aircraft for land attack missions. According to the report, the US has taken up this issue at the highest level in Pakistan because it violates the US Arms Control Export Act and its “end-use” law.
Development of a short-range land-attack missile from a naval aircraft or a ship, whether developed through reverse engineering of the Harpoon anti-ship missile or separately, will enhance the threat to India’s coastline.
The second report originated through a paper published in the credible Bulletin for Atomic Scientists. The paper states that Pakistan is enhancing its (nuclear) capabilities across the board. Its nuclear warhead arsenal has increased in quantity — from 60 weapons last year to 70-90 now — as well as in quality. Pakistan is miniaturising nuclear warheads by using plutonium. Two new plutonium production reactors and a second chemical separation facility are under construction. These new facilities will provide the Pakistani military with several options: fabricating weapons that use plutonium cores; mixing plutonium with HEU to make composite cores, and/or use tritium to boost warheads’ yield. And new nuclear-capable ballistic missiles are being readied for deployment; two more missiles are under development.
It is necessary to mention here that the development and deployment of Pakistan’s nuclear and missile capabilities are controlled by its military. The civilian political leadership has little clues about it. In the 1980s, the then Pakistan Army Chief, Gen Aslam Beg, had declined permission to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to visit Pakistan’s nuclear facility!
India and Pakistan follow different nuclear doctrines. The Indian doctrine emphasises self-defence and, therefore, possession of a credible minimum deterrence to deter the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against India. The weapons are to be used in retaliation mode only after we have absorbed the first strike from an adversary. Such a deterrence capability requires (a) sufficient, survivable nuclear forces which are well trained and operationally well prepared, (b) a robust command and control organisation, to be headed by a civilian authority which should have the will to employ nuclear forces in retaliation mode, and (c) effective intelligence and surveillance capability. This retributive “second strike” capability is based on a counter-value strategy, which is supposed to serve the nuclear deterrence purpose against Pakistan as well as China.
Pakistan has not declared its nuclear doctrine. But its military has repeatedly stated that its nuclear weapons are aimed solely at India. Pakistan does not follow “no first use” policy, so that it can readdress India’s conventional forces superiority. Its reaction in a crisis situation will be “very quick”. In 2002, the Director of Pakistan’s Strategic Plan Division had stated that “at the moment”, nuclear artillery (tactical nuclear warheads with small yield) was not part of their nuclear programme.
How is India affected by these latest reports from the US?
Firstly, the increased quantity and quality of Pakistan’s nuclear warheads and delivery systems create an immediate imbalance in nuclear weapons capabilities and, therefore, the level of deterrence. It is bound to cause a nuclear arms race in the subcontinent.
Secondly, Pakistan’s stronger nuclear capability increases the likelihood of Kargil-type incursions, a low-intensity conflict and a proxy war with India. It was precisely such confidence along with the thought that India will not dare a conventional war response which made Gen Pervez Musharraf and his army colleagues venture into the Kargil sector incursion in 1999.
Thirdly, the violation of the US Arms Control Export Act and its “end-use” law by Pakistan will affect Indo-US relations. The US statements that its financial aid and sale of defence weapons and equipment to Pakistan is only to enhance its counter-terrorism capability, or that it is selling only defensive weapons, cannot be taken seriously. It would be a repeat of what India has suffered before the 1965 war, and again in the 1980s when the US deliberately ignored the development of Pakistan’s nuclear capability and transfer of ballistic missiles from China and North Korea to pursue its anti-Soviet objective in Afghanistan. India may even have to reconsider some of its defence purchases from the US. The US tries to make much distinction between defensive and offensive weapon systems for assistance to Pakistan, but in a conflict situation such a distinction has no validity.
Before the Kargil war, when Prime Minister Vajpayee visited Lahore in February 1999, India and Pakistan had signed a memorandum of understanding “to adopt measures for promoting a stable environment of peace and security between the two countries”. Its first paragraph had stated that “the two sides shall engage in bilateral consultations on security concepts and nuclear doctrines with a view to developing measures for confidence building in the nuclear and conventional fields aimed at avoidance of conflict.” The Pakistan Army did not believe in such a relationship and waged the Kargil war.
Pakistan’s proxy war against India continues, whether it is Mumbai or targets in Jammu and Kashmir, violating the agreed ceasefire. That leaves no chance for a genuine dialogue between India and Pakistan for “a stable environment of peace and security”. Under such conditions, it would be a foolhardy to ignore the latest revelations about Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities.
The writer, a former Chief of Army Staff, is currently President, ORF Institute of Security Studies, New Delhi.
IN SECRET SERVICE
BY JUPINDERJIT SINGH
A train journey provides the best opportunity to read a book at leisure. For the last year or so, I have got many such chances, thanks to my different postings.
I usually read a book about the new place of posting to get acquainted with its history and culture. But crime and spy novels have remained my all-time favourites.
Not any more.
I would now think twice before reading a spy novel while travelling in a train. One almost took me behind bars a few days ago.
It was Mitch Silver’s “In Secret Service”, a gripping historical mystery on well known writer Ian Fleming’s world of spies. Fleming, the creator of James Bond, and Mitch Silver would never have imagined their celebrated works could put an “innocent reader” in such trouble.
I remained engrossed in reading while travelling in an AC coach of the Swaraj Express from Ludhiana to Jammu. When I alighted at Jammu station with a bag on my right shoulder, a cop started walking close to me. As I reached the outer gate after walking for nearly 500 metres, he stopped me.
“Open your bag.” He ordered. “Why.” I asked, “What happened?”
“JK Police. We can search any suspect.” Two other cops surrounded me.
“Suspect? Me? Hey, there seems to be some mistake,” I tried to reason.
“Shut up,” said a rifle-wielding cop in a highly excited tone as if he had caught Charles Sobhraj on the run. Anand Sharma, our photographer at Jammu, had come to pick me up in his car. He came running: “Hey, stop that nonsense, you know who we are?” He said taking out his mobile phone and dialling the number of the SSP, “I will get you suspended right now.” He threatened.
“You talk to whoever you want,” the cops said pushing me slightly away from the bag.
“Was it this”, he picked up the book “In Secret Service” among other books and asked the cop who was the first to follow me. I then remembered I had seen him in my coach also. They then spoke in Dogri or some other language. The excited cop seemed to be disgusted at the other one. I could make out they thought I was some spy who was reading some classified documents.
But would anyone do it openly in a train?
They then found a multi-vitamin bottle that required the lid to be pressed down to open.
The cops refused to press it, thinking it might be an improvised grenade. I pressed and opened it. “You want me to gulp one tablet also?” I asked much to their discomfort.
They hurriedly fled, still puzzled about their own actions. “Hey, you haven’t frisked me. I could be hiding something in my brief or socks. At least see my I-card, buddies.” I said evoking laughter from a crowd that had gathered there.
I vowed never to read a spy novel in a train again. Who knows which “brilliant” cop would give me a thrashing before finding the truth! This time, it only ended in an embarrassment and a hearty laugh.
NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT CHANGES IN HARPOON
BY PREMVIR DAS
THE recent reports that Pakistan has modified its ship/submarine/aircraft-fitted Harpoon anti-ship missiles (supplied by the USA) to enable attacks on targets on land have caused some consternation. It is necessary to look dispassionately at the issues involved in the alleged modifications assuming that some have been made.
There are three aspects meriting consideration: one, the purpose of the modifications, two their feasibility and finally, breach of contract with the supplier country. As far as the first is concerned, every credible military will seek to get the best out of what it has; if it does not, it fails in one of its prime responsibilities.
In 1968 the Soviets sold us some missile boats. In their doctrine, these were to be deployed close to the coast to deter enemy attacks.
Soviet Admiral Gorshkov, who enthusiastically supported this acquisition, said that the Indian Navy could now easily prevent raids of the type carried out by a lone Pakistani warship off the Saurashtra coast during the 1965 war.
But within a year of acquiring these potent boats, the Indian Navy was practising something entirely different. And, when war broke out in 1971, these boats were not deployed in defence of our own coast but to attack that of the enemy.
They had a limited range but to overcome this handicap they were towed by the bigger warships and then let loose on an unsuspecting adversary with results which are now folklore. Even the supplier Navy was taken by surprise by the audacity of this move. But this was not enough.
The Indian Navy wanted missile capability in its ocean-going ships, so missile launchers and associated radars and control systems were physically lifted out of two missile boats and of the eight launch tubes thus available, six were installed and interfaced on two frigates and two in the coast battery in then Bombay. All this was done on our own.
Later, recognising operational weakness in not having anti-ship missiles in its long range aircraft, serious efforts were made to integrate the British Sea Eagle missile with the Soviet IL 38 surveillance aircraft.
The Navy has had a very competent set-up in place for decades to arrange interface of weapons and sensors acquired from different sources. This entire activity, of constantly working on upgraded operational exploitation of whatever weaponry one has, is part and parcel of the military function and, if the Pakistan Navy has been about this work, it has acted like any other of its counterparts.
The next proposition is that the modifications carried out will permit attacks from sea on land targets. This has no rationale because all anti-ship missiles can be fired against land targets.
The data to launch these missiles against ships includes the range and direction of the target and its movement so that future positions can be calculated by the fire control computers. The data can either come from one’s own radars or from those of a supporting aircraft. Nearing the target, the missile’s nose radar becomes operative. It locks on to the strongest echo received and then homes on to it.
This is true of the Harpoon missile as it is of any of our own missiles of that category. The missile can also be exploited on less information which will affect its accuracy. For example, it can be launched just in a given direction.
When its radar is activated, it will home on to any echo received. If none is, it will continue in the direction fired and either explode at the end of its fuel, wherever, or go to any targets on land which provide echoes as metallic structures do.
This is how, in 1971, missiles fired from one of our missile boats hit the oil tanks in Karachi and created the huge conflagration that they did.
There is no real certainty about the result but anything could happen. This is possible with Harpoon missiles as with any others, so there is nothing new.
As for range enhancement, this is not so easy. Any increase will need augmented fuel. Since the booster is essentially needed, this is possible only if the war head size is reduced; with an already small 200 kg warhead (against 400 kg in Russian missiles), no one would want this punch reduced.
So, the options are few. One can, of course, increase the overall dimensions of the missile and, therefore, weight, but that will need new launchers; it will be a different system altogether. All this for a missile whose range is around 50 miles at the most seems somewhat odd. There would be more value for money in doing something with the 300 km M11 missiles which Pakistan already has to adapt for use from the sea.
The Indian Navy is now fitting its ships with missiles of this about range but has never tried to tinker with the shorter range anti-ship Russian missiles of the Harpoon category. What then is the issue might well be asked. Repeatedly, despite India’s protestations, the Americans have supplied potent weapon systems to Pakistan, most recently, to provide capabilities in the “War against Terror”.
Yet all weaponry supplied earlier, and now being provided as military aid under this umbrella, has been and is being used by Pakistan to confront us. When India signs an End User Verification Agreement or any other contract, it can be taken for granted that its provisions will be strictly enforced but when Pakistan signs on the line, it is just a piece of paper.
For their own reasons, and for many years, the Americans have regularly turned a blind eye to such things. It is, therefore, timely that truth has come in the public domain.
One can only hope that it will be pursued vigorously by the Americans and will persuade them to look at the entire issue of military aid to Pakistan with greater clarity.
It is for this reason, more than for others, that we should welcome the pressure that is being mounted on Pakistan and do whatever we can to have its intensity enhanced.
Cynics might argue that this is just ‘déjà vu’. Even allowing for the logic of this position, there is a difference. India is now a credible buyer in the US arms market which has its own momentum. The challenge to our diplomacy is to recognise this power and, then, to integrate it with issues which impact on our national interests.
The writer is a former Commander-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command
BY JOHN-MANUEL ANDRIOTE
THE Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies someone with HIV as having AIDS if the T-cell count – the white blood cells that HIV attacks – drops even once below 200; if the T-cells make up only 14 percent of all white blood cells; or if the person has one of about 26 "AIDS-defining" infections that prey on a weakened immune system.
If you think it doesn't matter whether you are described as HIV-positive or having AIDS, think again. I should know. Shortly after I was hit with the news that I had tested HIV-positive in 2005, I was hit again with a test result showing I had a T-cell count of only 198.
"That's an AIDS diagnosis!" I exclaimed to my doctor. Learning I was HIV-positive was shocking enough. Confronting the fact that I would always bear the highly charged, confusing and stigmatized label of "AIDS" was overwhelming.
Nearly four years later, antiretroviral therapy and good health care have strengthened my immune system. My viral load is undetectable. If I didn't know that I have HIV, I wouldn't know because I have never been sick.
Yet I'm dismayed to think I am still considered a "person with AIDS."
In the early 1980s, gay men with AIDS insisted they be called "people with AIDS" rather than "AIDS victims." The word "victim" implied helplessness. It didn't convey their determination to fight their illness and reject the shame the public expected them to feel for having the deadly sexually transmitted disease.
Today, when it is possible to live well and long with HIV, the very term AIDS seems to have outlived its usefulness – and causes unnecessary confusion.
In 1988, the Presidential Commission on the HIV Epidemic stated that, "The term `AIDS' is obsolete. ... Continual focus on AIDS rather than the entire spectrum of HIV disease has left our nation unable to deal adequately with the epidemic."
Yet some agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, persist in using the term.
Keith Henry, a medical professor at the University of Minnesota and a physician specializing in HIV care, said the term AIDS "still has great value epidemiologically" in tracking how well (or not) HIV-positive people are being brought into care. He says it's also useful in helping a doctor know whether a HIV patient has had serious immune damage, even if the patient has recovered.
In the early years of the HIV epidemic, people typically didn't learn they had the virus until they were seriously ill. Henry explains that most AIDS diagnoses in the U.S. today are based on a low T-cell count.
"We're in a different age," said Frank Oldham Jr., president of the National Association of People with AIDS. "Telling people they have an AIDS diagnosis and will `always have AIDS' is going to devastate the person emotionally. So you need to have language that encourages people to stay in treatment and shows they can get better."
Regan Hofmann, the HIV-positive editor in chief of POZ, a magazine about living with HIV, agrees.
"AIDS is a more frightening word than HIV," she said. "HIV is associated with a more modern era with people being able to be healthy on treatment."
Yet even in this different, modern era, no one until recently addressed the psychological effect of carrying the AIDS diagnosis, according to Marshall Forstein, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and chairman of the American Psychiatric Association's Steering Committee on HIV Psychiatry.
San Francisco HIV specialist Christopher Hall calls the use of the term AIDS in this way a "vestige" of the epidemic's early days. Hall prefers to "deal plainly with the facts of what someone's T-cell count means in terms of the status of their disease." Although he says doctors recognize the meaningful difference between a T-cell count above or below 200, "I work hard to disabuse patients from the view that if they have well-managed HIV and they are adherent to their meds, they have AIDS."
From a legal point of view, people with HIV – regardless of the stage of infection – are considered disabled and protected against discrimination under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
"The courts don't understand the medicine and get things wrong," said Bebe J. Anderson, HIV Project director for Lambda Legal. She adds that discrimination against people with HIV isn't based on the status of their infection. "The effects of HIV on people can be different," she explained, "but the social effects are the same because it's based on HIV."
I choose not to call myself a "person with AIDS" because I don't believe the term accurately describes my health status. I don't feel the need for the additional political empowerment it conveyed to my early-1980s predecessors. And I surely don't want to invite additional stigma.
Instead, I choose to say, "I am living well with HIV," as Goulda A. Downer, principal investigator of the National Minority AIDS Education and Training Center at Howard University College of Medicine, recommends.
Isn't it time, more than 20 years after the presidential commission called the term AIDS obsolete, to retire it and use language that is both medically accurate and less stigmatizing? It is challenging enough merely to live with well-managed HIV. Why make it even harder by insisting that those of us with the virus forever bear our own scarlet letter?
By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post
DO MOBILE PHONES CAUSE CANCER?
BY THOMAS H. MAUGH II
In the most recent instance of the triumph of wishful thinking over basic physics, a "collaboration of international EMF activists" last week released a report repeating the tired argument that "cell phones cause brain tumors."
Their evidence: Studies discrediting the link between cell-phone radiation and tumors were funded by telecommunications companies, which deliberately excluded data that might have shown a link.
Many people probably first heard about the "risk" of cell phones when David Raynard, whose wife died of brain cancer, appeared on "Larry King Live" in 1993 to support his lawsuit claiming that the tumor had been caused by her cell phone. His evidence: "She held it against her head and talked on it all the time."
More recently, King hosted three neurosurgeons who said they would never place a cell phone against their head because of the risk. They may be good neurosurgeons, but apparently they flunked physics.
Cancer occurs when cellular DNA is disrupted, producing mutant strands of DNA. That is true for carcinogens, viruses and radiation.
All radiation is composed of photons, and the energy they contain depends on the wavelength of the radiation. Yellow light has a frequency of 5 x 1014 Hz and is not powerful enough to break DNA bonds. Otherwise, we would have to sit around in darkened rooms all the time.
The frequency of a typical cell phone is about 1 x 109 Hz, while that used in a household microwave oven is 2.45 x 1012 Hz. In other words, the radiation from a microwave oven packs only a thousandth of the energy of yellow light, while that from a cell phone packs a millionth of the energy. (See, for example, the September/October issue of Skeptical Inquirer.) The energy of EMF radiation from power lines – also a bugaboo of the EMF activists – has a million-fold less energy than a cell phone.
That is nowhere near enough energy to break bonds in DNA. For a microwave oven, it would be like trying to cut barbed wire with plastic scissors. For a cell phone, it would be more like paper scissors. And for EMF from power lines, in the words of New Yorkers, fuhgeddaboutit. And if that isn't enough, Danish researchers reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2001 on a study of half a million cell-phone users in that country, linking computerized records of cell-phone use to cancer databases.
The result: no detectable risk. An editorial in the same journal by physicist Robert L. Park of the University of Maryland summarized the evidence against a potential link. Many other studies have found the same results – which is to be expected if the laws of physics do, in fact, hold in this universe. And as for those YouTube videos purporting to show cell phones popping corn: They're fake. Cardo Systems, a manufacturer of Bluetooth headpieces for cell phones, has admitted that it created the videos to scare consumers and encourage them to buy its products. The effect was created by dropping popped corn on the table, then editing out the unpopped kernels.
By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
The Assam Government has created new tribunals under the provisions of the Foreigners’ Act to increase the total number of tribunals to 36, but that alone will not expedite the process of detection and deportation of foreigners if the loopholes in the process are not plugged. If the Government is really serious in detection and deportation of foreigners, only increasing the number of tribunals will not serve any purpose. The Government is yet to provide necessary facilities to the tribunals to ensure that they can function properly and unfortunately, till date, some of the tribunals do not even have judges and the functioning of the tribunals is severely affected by shortage of staff and because of the failure of the Government to provide other facilities like adequate funds and vehicles. Moreover, the entire system of detection and deportation of foreigners is a faulty one and most of the suspected foreigners manage to go into hiding after they are served notices by the tribunals and only a handful of them come forward to contest the cases against them. Moreover, even those who come to appear before the tribunals manage to vanish by shifting to another place when they feel that the verdict will go against them and of the persons declared as foreigners by the tribunals, only a small percentage can be physically deported. To do away with this faulty system, the Government must try to evolve a mechanism to keep watch on the persons served with notices by the tribunals till the cases are disposed off. The personnel of the border police force can be engaged for keeping watch on the persons served with notices and if required, steps should be taken to strengthen the force in the interest of security of the nation.
Moreover, only detection of foreigners will not serve any purpose if they cannot be deported and in the present scenario, only about 10 per cent of the persons declared as foreigners by the tribunals can be deported. The Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) usually refuse to accept the persons sought to be deported as their citizens, which is a major hurdle in the way of deportation of Bangladeshi nationals apprehended in India. The Government of India must take up the issue strongly with the Government of the neighbouring country to streamline the process of deportation of Bangladeshi nationals. The Assam Government has decided to establish two detention camps in Dhubri and Karimganj districts to detain the Bangladeshi nationals sought to be deported, which is no doubt a positive development and the process of establishment of the camps should be expedited. But if the Government of Bangladesh continues to refuse to accept the persons sought to be deported as their own citizens, the camps will become useless and will only make a dent in the coffers of the Government and India will end up spending substantial amounts in maintaining the camps without achieving the desired results.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
In a fitting tribute to the living legend, the people of Assam celebrated Dr Bhupen Hazarika’s 84th birthday on Tuesday. For over six decades, the music maestro has enriched the region’s cultural arena like few had done before, delighting generation after generation with his magical voice and unparalleled compositions. In fact, his monumental contribution to Assamese music is second to none. Dr Hazarika has become very much a part of our cultural ethos and a symbol of Assamese identity. His timeless compositions have enriched every sphere of our existence – folklore as well as contemporary life, history as well as heritage. The magical voice is matched by an equally magnetic personality that has endeared the artiste to the masses. His presence is so vibrant in our collective consciousness that even today people would throng venues just to get a glimpse of the cultural icon or hear a few words.
The reason why Dr Hazarika’s songs never fail to touch the deepest cords of our hearts is that he echoes the feelings and sentiments, hopes and aspirations, and pleasures and pains of the masses and stands by them through his songs – all woven so exquisitely with the perfect wordings and blended with haunting tunes. His songs are poignant with love, optimism and humanism, which soothe our stressed souls. Then, the mind-boggling variety in his compositions sets his creations apart from any of his contemporaries. Many laurels and accolades have come Dr Hazarika’s way during his illustrious career but as the maestro so often reiterates, it is the spontaneous and overwhelming love and affection from the masses that has sustained his creativity all these decades. No other person in the State commands the love and respect from all sections of the people as Dr Hazarika does. He has been the best-known ambassador of the Assamese to the world outside. His phenomenal contribution to music definitely makes him a strong contender for Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian honour. While it is safe to conclude that there will never be another Bhupen Hazarika, the present generation of artistes should strive to emulate his artistic excellence. On his 84th birthday, let us hope that the evergreen entertainer continues to enjoy good health and contribute to the world of music.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
JUDICIOUS FEELING OF PUBLIC PULSE
RANEN KUMAR GOSWAMI
It was October 20, 2005. A metropolitan daily carried an interview of Chief Justice of India (CJI)-designate Yogesh Kumar Sabharwal. Couple of months earlier, the Union Government had proposed a legislation to provide a mechanism to inquire into charges against Supreme Court and High Court judges. It was to be named National Judicial Council. Justice Sabharwal, who was to take oath on November 1, 2005, said in the interview: "I don't think the National Judicial Council is necessary. The present system of checks and balances is working very well. It should be permitted to work for some time." His main stress was on a self-cleansing system for the judiciary. The interview, presented in the form of a report, was published under the headline, " Judges don't need outside policing." Justice Sabharwal's must have been the majority view in the higher judiciary; otherwise the issue of declaration of assets by judges would not have lingered for such a long time.
Maybe, it would have lingered for many more years had there not been pressures from the uncompromising voices of democracy. One of them was the increasing incidence of corruption in judiciary coming to light. Not to speak of others, even Justice Sabharwal's involvement in a scam was alleged in a story in the May 18, 2007 issue of Mid-Day, some months after his retirement. The Delhi High Court in a suo motu action, punished the journalists responsible for the report in a verdict announced on September 21, 2007. But the court could not gag the protests against the verdict in various fora and the media. On September 24, 2007 The Hindu editorially remarked that it was a "shocking abuse of judicial power." Yet some months before the verdict, on May 25, 2007, the Transparency International in its Global Corruption Report 2007, came out with the revelation that the estimated amount paid in bribes to the lower judiciary in India during 2006 was around Rs 2,630 crore. Reports like this created pressures for the judiciary to assert its integrity,
On the other hand, an influential section of the legal fraternity began to mould public opinion for a mechanism meant for dealing with errant judges. In the last week of February 2007, the United Lawyers' Association organised a seminar in New Delhi, where former judges and senior lawyers expressed the nearly unanimous view that the proposed disciplinary mechanism meant for the judges ought to be re-examined. Presiding over the seminar, former Attorney-General of India Soli Sorabji referred to considerable disquiet over the absolute powers the apex court had come to enjoy in the matter of appointments and advocated transparency in all democratic institutions. Former Chief Justice of India JS Verma thought that exclusion of the CJI from the Judicial Council was indefensible. Justice Rajinder Sachar, former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, strongly advocated opening up of the appointment and disciplinary mechanisms. He noted that society had a stake in such functions and these could "not be the preserve of a small free masonry of the judiciary."
The demand that the politicians declare their assets, which has met with reasonable success in the electoral arena, is more than one and a half decade old. The judiciary, being one of the three pillars of democracy, cannot possibly remain impervious to changes sweeping the other segments. This perhaps explains the two resolutions the Supreme Court adopted at the Full Court meeting on May 7, 1997. In the first, it resolved that an in-house procedure should be devised by the CJI to take suitable remedial action against judges who, by their acts of omission or commission, do not follow the universally accepted values of judicial life. In the second, the Full Court resolved that every judge should make a declaration of all his or her assets. The declaration so made should be to the CJI and it shall be confidential, said the resolution.
The judges would declare their assets but the declaration will not be made public. Such a stand cannot remain acceptable to the citizens for long. It was destined to invite dissent. On November 11, 2007 Right to Information Act (RTI) activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal filed an application in Supreme Court Registry seeking information on disclosure of assets by judges, which the Registry denied on November 30, 2007. The first appeal Agarwal filed on December 8, 2007 was dismissed by the Registry on January 12, 2008. On March 5, 2008 Agarwal approached the Central Information Commission (CIC). On January 6, 2009 the CIC asked the Registry to disclose the information. On January 17, 2009 the Supreme Court moved the Delhi-High Court against the CIC order. On January 19, 2009 the High Court stayed the CIC order. The Supreme Court took the stand that declaration of assets by its judges to the CJI was "personal" information which could not be revealed under the RTI Act. The stay order triggered more and more debate and discussions on the issue in the media. Hardly a month passed. On February 15, 2009, a section of the media carried an appeal through which eminent citizens from various walks of life requested CJI KG Balakrishnan and judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts to voluntarily disclose their assets to advance the cause of transparency and probity in public life. They said: "The rationale given by the Supreme Court for the need for disclosure of assets of candidates contesting elections would equally apply to all public servants occupying crucial positions of authority." The signatories to the appeal included former Chief of the Naval staff RH Tahliani, eminent social worker Aruna Roy, environmentalist Vandana Shiva, renowned psephologist Yogendra Yadav, JNU's Professor Emeritus Amit Bhaduri and Supreme Court advocate Kamini Jaiswal.
Five days later, on February 20, 2009, 58 members of the Rajya Sabha from across the political spectrum, submitted a motion to Chairman Hamid Ansari for the removal of Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court on grounds of misconduct. Such developments make sure the judiciary does not go up in public esteem. Of course, it must be said that it was CJI Balakrishnan, who in a letter to the Prime Minister in 2008, had recommended Justice Sen's removal from office. Yet one day earlier, on February 19, 2009, Thursday, the Lok Sabha gave its approval for a three-fold salary hike to judges but not before members expressed concern over the incidence of corruption in the judiciary, rising pendency of cases and long vacations that the courts continued to take. On August 3, 2009, Monday a determined left and right wing Opposition joined hands in the Rajya Sabha to force the government to defer the introduction of "the Judges Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Bill, 2009" which seeks declaration of assets of judges without making them public. The Opposition took strong objection to clause 6 of the Bill, which states that Hifh Court and Supreme Court judges would declare their assets but the same would not be made public. So the pressure was building up.
Then happened another thing. Justice Shylendra Kumar of Karnataka High Court wrote a fearless article in the August 22, 2009 issue of The Indian Express in which he supported disclosure and said the CJI did not have the authority to speak for all other judges. After this, whatever resistance was there against disclosure melted away. On August 26, 2009 the Supreme Court Judges decided at a Full Court meeting to make public the statement of their assets on the court's official website. The decision has been hailed by the legal fraternity and the media. Yet some sections have advocated a uniform law, because if some member of the higher judiciary hold out there's no remedy to make them disclose their assets. The Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reform, led by noted advocate Prashant Bhushan, in its reaction said the main problem was the lack of an independent credible institution which could entertain complaints against judges, investigate them take action against the errant judges.
The August 26 decision reflected a timely feeling of the public mood. It was followed by a landmark verdict by the Delhi High Court on September 2 which said the information on assets of Supreme Court judges will come under the Right to Information Act. A heartening development indeed.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
CULTURAL VANDALISM: A SELF-DESTRUCTIVE FLIPPANCY
For the juvenile to try as many hairstyles, at times outrageous ones, until one settles with one style is part of growing up. It does not do any harm. Indeed it helps them to understand the choices available and the choices suitable. Arrived at the suitable choice it leaves no permanent damage to one’s scalp! Not so, when it involves many of the other matters we have to deal with in our lives.
Giving up old accustomed ways and manners may not matter the young, but for the elders it is a warning sign marked ‘wrong’ right up their noses. Blaming others for adopting ‘wrong’ ways is an excuse, often regretted later. Bollywood films, American movies, Western habits, television serials and many other things are blamed for the decline in maintaining our old traditional ways. But are they to be blamed? Or are we the people who have little confidence in our ways and prone to change? Or are other people much stronger in their beliefs of the value of their ways – their culture? Or is it not the weak ones who change their ways easily? Or are they the changes for better rather than worse?
Changes are the ingredients of a progressive society. We all know that nothing remains the same and it is only right that it does not. Without changes societies decay. However, the changes need to evolve from within and not from outside. A certain amount of outside influence may be understandable, but it must carry with it many of the fabrics of one’s own culture though could be in different form or shape. Borrowed culture is like a borrowed outfit that does not fit properly. Measured change is the key to a successful society. So defending reckless changes is an excuse, which is unforgivable!
To lose the right to learn and speak one’s mother tongue in one’s own country was the first cultural strangulation and vandalism the Assamese had from its neighbours. Only by fluke of luck we regained the right to re-establish that part of our cultural heritage with the help of the American missionaries in 1882. This new dawn in the history of our country should have awakened us and warned us against any future acts of cultural vandalism carried out from outside or self.
What makes us what we are, is by what we do and how we do. While it is easy to copy what others do, doing the things we do is equally interesting, meaningful and part of our history. For almost everything that we have done so far in our lives has some reasons traceable with a bit of search. If we do not show respect to our own things, no one else will. Many of the things we do are valued not because it is ours, but it also makes sense within our environment and landscape. It is part of our ecology.
To see a nation giving up its valued cultural heritage is like watching someone committing suicide. Ours is a country rich in cultural heritage. Different ways of people from so many hills and plains have enriched our lives. Celebrations of myriad of festivals, ceremonies, rituals and pageantry make us happy, healthy and strong. We have many joyful occasions throughout the year. Defining all with their manifold values could be a separate exercise. A few may help to consider the issue.
Our culture of Husori in the Bohaag Bihu is one of the most uplifting acts any civilised community can inherit. Where would you find people, more commonly young men and women in any locality getting together, working hard, practising the best beats of drums, twang of gogona, horn of pepa, rhyming the lyrics of bihu songs, coming fashionably dressed to your forecourt in the beginning of the year, singing whole heartedly and praying to keep you well for the next twelve months? The cultural depth of it is reverencing.
Our weddings are some of the most colourful, immensely sacred, highly committed affairs not between the bride and the groom alone, but between the two families and further. With whatever ceremonies we could be blessed in the presence of friends and relations, it is an occasion of great happiness, fun and solemnity. Maintaining tradition in all aspects on such occasions gives a pious feeling that is essential to emphasise the value of the relationship engraved. We are lucky. Sharing active involvement by relations, close friends and neighbours in many of the wedding activities such as preparing the shrine (morol), decorating the marquee, feeding the guests in person and joining the groom’s entourage is an expression of joy, solidarity and social commitment of people around. Not to take active part in any of these activities with any excuse, as we see nowadays is a sad reflection of us.
Singing of traditional wedding songs by the womenfolk adds to the warmth they have for the newly wed. Exchanging free flowing witty cross-party teasing match-lines of songs from the groom and bride’s entourage seals the bond of friendship of a fairly massive group of people previously totally unknown. The wedding venue vibrates with laughter and gaiety. It is a wonderful display of harmony in social get-together to celebrate the future hopes of two members of their community. The well being harvested by any human community from such social exchanges is hard to assess but we certainly are poorer without it. Why give up?
Successful communities value their cultures and hold onto them. They introduce very slow and gradual process of changes and constantly evaluate the changes over a long period of time. When we look at the Western World today, we can trace the gradual changes that have been taking place culturally, many over a period of thousands of years. Their weddings, various festivals, ceremonies, socialising, drinking habits, clubbing, entertainments and all other events fit into their ambience. You will not see them importing broken bits of our ways like we copy theirs.
Bit by bit we are chipping away our cultural heritage. Unless we are prepared to re-fix them while it is salvageable, a little later would be a too late a time frame when only lame regrets will fill the vacancy.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
AFTER A TUMMY UPSET DISRUPTS FLIGHTS
The undeclared wildcat strike by 361 Jet Airways pilots reporting sick en masse not only saw 380 flights being cancelled on September 8 but also spawned some black humour.
Says a passenger who was determined to see the bright side of being left high and dry at the airport, "We are lucky that the pilot did not suddenly fall sick in the middle of a flight and bale out over a hospital on a parachute, leaving us to literally land on a wing and a prayer!"
Quipped another passenger, "The uncouth behaviour of the pilots could indicate that they had all gone down with swine flu!" A third passenger added that the dictionary definition of a pilot as "one who actually operates the controls of an aircraft, spacecraft, hovercraft" should be forthwith changed to "one who falls sick at the drop of a hat and is generally not dedicated to his job".
A fourth passenger wondered whether the late Rajeshwar Prasad Singh Vidhudi would ever have changed his name to Rajesh Pilot if he had been around in this day and age. Pilot, of course, served not with Jet Airways but with the Indian Air Force as a squadron leader before he entered politics and was elected to the Lok Sabha from Bharatpur almost 30 years ago.
It was, quite ironically, left to Air India to fill up the vacuum created by the disruption in Jet Airways’ flight schedules. Air India pilots, who, one can safely aver, also believe in striking while the iron is hot, were for a change trying to live up to the AI spokesman’s claim of being a responsible, national carrier.
Television news-channels were quite happy to show visuals of the Indian cricket team departing for Colombo on a special AI flight from Chennai instead of the cancelled Jet Airways’ flight. Jet Airways’ loss is AI’s gain in more ways than one. Whether Team India returns from Colombo on an AI flight after the ODI tri-series in Sri Lanka remains to be seen!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
CHANGE LAND ACQUISITION PROCEDURES
Land acquisition procedures need to undergo drastic change — the point has been underlined yet again by developments at West Bengal's Vedic Village, as if the developments at Nandigram and Singur were not enough. Offering farmers cash compensation for the land from which they are forcibly uprooted is just not enough.
Farmers who lose land and others who derive their living from the land being taken away, even if they do not own it, must become stakeholders in the development that takes place on the land lost to traditional use. Many who are required to give up their land often have no other means of sustenance than the income from the land they hold.
And therefore, their resistance to surrendering land, however small a patch it may be, is understandable. Yet, it does not make any sense to keep people engaged in marginal farming while pre-empting industry and services.
People have to move out of marginal farming for their standard of living to go up. At the same time, it is not quite possible to shift unskilled farm labour directly to modern manufacturing or services — these activities call for sophisticated skill sets.
Also, with greater reliance on capital and machinery, fewer people are required to keep factories running. Hence, re-skilling those whose traditional occupations are disrupted by modern development, and organising them into new production units that would deliver the numerous peripheral services required by modern infrastructure and activity, must receive due emphasis.
If the farmer were to gain on a sustained basis from the development that would take place on land sold by him and his neighbours, there would be more willingness on his part to surrender land. That can happen only if the farmer were to get a regular income, say in the form of lease income, as part of the compensation.
Such an arrangement can be worked out only if farmers are organised into cooperatives or companies, to continue to part-own the land, perhaps along with the project developer. India is industrialising under conditions of democracy and competitive politics; and this calls for altogether new policies for engaging the owners/users of the land that is being put to non-traditional use.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
TAKEOVER RULES SHOULD FACILITATE M&AS
Sebi's decision to review the takeover code is timely, as there is a need to encourage mergers and acquisitions to free up locked assets in under-performing companies and attract more foreign investments. Takeovers improve utilisation of the economy’s productive assets, even if they are bad news for incumbent managements.
The takeover code must be seen to be fair to promoters, investors and those interested in acquiring a substantial stake in the company. The provisions that seek to ensure this are the 15% acquisition limit after which an open offer becomes mandatory and disclosure at particular thresholds.
The open offer allows non-promoter stakeholders to exit at a fair price it they have issues with the acquirer. Promoters were, on the other hand, allowed in October last year to increase the stake in their companies through creeping acquisition to 75% from 55% earlier.
This allowed them to consolidate their position in the company and almost make it takeover-proof. That leaves the acquirer, who is required to make a disclosure when his holding crosses 5%, 10% and 14%, in a weaker position. Besides disclosing his intent, the acquirer also has to make an open offer for another 20% stake when his holding crosses the 15% mark.
The mandatory open offer imposes an immediate obligation on the acquirer and, therefore, the low limit at which it kicks in discourages both private equity and hostile takeover attempts.
A large chunk of foreign investment moves through M&As, as investment in established businesses is usually less risky. So, if India is to attract more FDI from direct investors or private equity funds, then M&A rules have to be more accommodating. Besides, the pressure of hostile bids would tend to ensure better management as a poorly managed company would be seen as a good acquisition target. Sebi could, therefore, hike the open offer limit from the current 15%.
However, in the event of a change of control, open offer should become mandatory even if the new trigger limit is not breached. India could also explore some US-type 'poison pill' regulation, with appropriate checks, to allow corporates to defend against a disruptive hostile bid. The idea should be to grant M&A activity greater room within the rules of fair play.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
JASWANT'S EPISODE SHOWS WHO WAS THE DECISIVE POLITICAL LEADER
I love Indian politics not merely for its lessons on democracy but for the fact that the same story can be read Rashomon like at different levels. I want to read the Jaswant Singh episode within such a perspective.
Some time ago, L K Advani described Jinnah as a decent man, a true leader, a nationalist. The silencing was swift and Advani's return to political correctness complete. His reaction was explained away as Sindhi nostalgia. The impact of his Guru or the emotionalism of a Bollywood movie lover were added as extenuating circumstances. One of the few people who came in support of Advani was Jaswant Singh.
Meanwhile Jaswant was writing a book on the partition musing like many Indians on its genesis. The narratives of the partition provided a plethora of ifs and buts which connect narratives in different ways. But history soon goes into deep freeze, rigid like an old testament tablet.
History also provides the rationale for political parties and the iconography of politicians creating models for future behaviour. These icons create the traces of right thought in a later generation. More importantly when ideology is weak, it is these icons that provide the focus for politics.
As a party the Congress got into the icon trade rather early. In fact, for a long time it controlled the trade, possessing a huge pantheon of leaders from Nehru, Gandhi, Patel, Ghaffar Khan, Rajaji, Rajendra Prasad. They created a virtual surplus of symbolic capital that the Congress thrived on.
These personae worked overtime for the Congress as an official civics, a moral code paraded from police stations to barber shops. The only two intrusive characters in the picture were Subhash Bose and Bhagat Singh. They represented two kinds of machismo which could be evoked to accuse the Congress of a touch of androgyny.
Early opposition to the Congress did use these figures to create micro climate of decisiveness and urgency. But while Bose and Bhagat Singh worked at the level of popular culture, they were tokens that were not convertible into hard political currency.
The Congress was also reworking its act realising that too many leaders gave one a feeling of confusion. An official party needed clarity of an official icon. It soon settled for Nehru. Nehru was apt as our first PM, patriarch of a dynasty that has ruled India with almost absent minded confidence. In fact, Nehru is back in mint condition especially after many intellectuals expressed an affinity and nostalgia for his era. Nehru expresses the modernity narratives which propelled India to its current euphoria.
For a party driven by history, the BJP always felt shortchanged by it. Its leaders from Deen Dayal Upadhayaya and Golwalkar to Veer Savarkar appeared provincial or dated. Semiotically, the BJP realised it had it poach on the Congress pantheon, wean away part of its past into its own closet of memories.
Gandhi was appealing but not modernist enough. Nehru could be hijacked as a simile and the aura fitted Vajpayee. The rest of the collection – the Rajajis, the Prasads, the Ghaffar Khans, the Hussains, the Azads — felt like forgotten commemorative stamps, lacking any emotional trigger.
Only one man had the symbolic chutzpah, the smell of history, the correctness of iconicity — Sardar Patel. Taste the name. The prefix Bismarck of India, makes one stand at attention. The text books say he prevented the disintegration of India in the aftermath of the partition. He was decisive without being sentimental. Ascetic without being sensuous, clear, clear-cut and precise.
The Sardar. The original. An original who resonates; therefore an icon. An icon close to that other icon Gandhi. Close to him and therefore sharing his sanctity without being sanctimonious. Patel fits the technocratic, managerial mentality of today. Open to justice without a socialist hangover.
Patel was picture perfect as a foil to Nehru, a complement to Gandhi and a contrast to Jinnah. Both Jinnah and Patel were outstanding lawyers, but Jinnah was a wog but Patel had indigenised himself. He was local, rooted, grounded and competent. Best of all, there was a sense that Congress had ignored him and the virtues he stood for.
Patel was hijackable. The political mindset of the Congress was so absent-minded it did not notice the appropriation. The first to try on the Sardar’s costume was L K Advani. He wanted to be Sardar because he often behaved like one.
He also enacted his role around the Ramjanambhoomi episode but it did not stick. His rhetoric echoed a different world, his body language evoked a softer idiom. The Spartanness of a Sardar was alien. His strike rate as a politician was also mixed. Being deputy to Gandhi added to Patel’s mystique. Being deputy to Vajpayee created a perpetual secondariness to L K Advani.
Losing elections and goofing up on Jinnah already conveyed a sense that history had bypassed him no matter how much he invoked it as muse and political ready-reckoner. The Patel legacy was up for grabs.
Two great events added to the possibility. One was systematic and predictable, the other contingent. The first was the fact that the BJP with "hints" from the RSS was spring cleaning itself after its election defeat with Rajnath Singh as party warden. The process was both traumatic and ham-handed. A coterie of leaders in the BJP looked both restless and unemployed. Among them was Jaswant Singh.
He had been working on a book on partition, tempted by the possibilities of revisionism. Viewed through the lenses of the present, Jinnah looked neither hard or hard headed. It was tempting to consider Patel as a more plausible candidate for the guilty man of partition. Singh waited till the elections were over to release his book.
It exploded into a soap opera but as a soap opera it was read differently in Gujarat and Delhi. Nationally, the BJP dismissed him, leaving him to play his afterthoughts on TV. For the BJP it was an act of political correctness. But someone more astute saw a different symbolic opportunity. For wiliness, it is difficult to upstage Modi. He realised that the issue was not Jinnah the relic but Patel.
Modi banned the book saying it hurt the sentiments of Gujarat by maligning a great leader. It was a decisive hijacking of Patel, which also showed who was the decisive BJP leader. While Advani chews memories and nostalgia, Modi has already won round one of the next election. He has appropriated the Sardar.
A brilliant of symbolic poker has been played out. While Congress waxes ecstatic at the BJP embarrassment a wily politician has upstaged it again. Politics provides fables to those who know how to read it.
(The author is a social scientist)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
EACH INDIVIDUAL IS UNIQUE
Why exactly do we compare ourselves with others? We compare ourselves because we have never understood ourselves and are not aware of who we are and what we have. It is also because society has conditioned us from our birth to evaluate ourselves based upon others.
Buddha says, 'Nothing exists except in relationship.' Suppose you were the only person on a new planet, how could you compare yourself with anyone? Could you call yourself tall or short, ugly or beautiful, rich or poor, intelligent or dumb? No! When there is no one to compare yourself with, you just are!
Understand, there is no scale to compare you with anybody. Each individual is unique. Can you compare a lion and a horse? Do we ever compare ourselves with flowers or birds or mountains? Then why do we have to compare ourselves with other human beings? Just see nature: the rose plant and the mango tree grow in the same garden and prosper because they use all their energy for their own growth instead of using it to compare themselves with the other.
Comparison leads to jealousy. Comparison is the seed and jealousy is the fruit! We always compare ourselves with others in various fields — looks, wealth, knowledge, name and fame and friends, etc. When we compare ourselves with others we feel that somebody else has something more than what we have and, we get caught in jealousy.
We suffer and constantly fight with others openly or inside ourselves. We are just waiting for someone to hurt us. Don't throw the responsibility of your suffering on the other person. Be very clear, nobody can hurt you without your silent permission.
You are made to believe only by comparison you can grow. No. Through comparison you will grow only to the extent of the person with whom you are comparing yourself, not to your own unique level. The whole spiritual knowledge or experience is nothing but realising you are unique, there is nothing to compare. Comparison is societal. Realising your uniqueness is natural.
Comparison happens because you feel that you are somehow lacking. But you have no idea of your true, unique potential! If you did, you wouldn't spend one second looking outside yourself for answers about how to live a creative, fulfilling life. All the confidence, intelligence, and vibrant energy that you need already exist inside you. You have the potential to live like god on planet earth.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
NO MORE GURGAONS, FOR CLIMATE'S SAKE, T K ARUN
No, I do not have any personal animosity towards Gurgaon or its dwellers. It's simply that Gurgaon is a city with fancy superstructure and zero infrastructure: no public transport, not enough road surface or parking space, deficient grid power, poor drainage and sad tales of heavy rains marooning people on the 25th floor, as water floods into basements swamping power generators and immobilising lifts and water pumps besides cutting off back-up power for apartments.
The focus here is not the poor souls trapped in the condominiums of New Delhi's premier satellite town, but how policy should pre-empt the mushrooming of yet more Gurgaons, if India is to add its bit to arresting climate change.
Urbanisation is an energy-intensive and, therefore, climate-changing activity. Fast-growing India is urbanising faster than ever before and will urbanise even faster, as the growth rate picks up. Unless conscious policy intervenes, the urbanisation that happens will be horrendously energy-intensive.
The scale of the challenge is daunting. India's population will reach 136 crore in 15 years, at a growth rate of 1.3% a year. If half that many people live in towns, the rise in urban population from the existing level of around 36.5 crore would be 32 crore.
Even if one were to assume a much more sedate pace of urbanisation, the number of additional town-dwellers in India would be upward of 20 crore — 200 million — over the next 15 years.
In what manner around 600 million town-dwellers in India would live, commute and work would determine to a great deal how much India would contribute to climate change — or to climate change mitigation. The giant challenge is also a giant opportunity, not only for India, but also for the world at large.
It is possible for India to use new concepts of urban planning, new developments in design and construction and new technologies in lighting and climate control to greatly bring down the energy consumption per town-dweller, as compared to the energy consumed by town-dwellers around the world. India cannot sacrifice economic growth to mitigate climate change wrought, essentially, by the developed nations over the last couple of centuries.
However, India cannot stand back and declare climate change to be someone else's problem either. India can and must bring down the energy-intensity of its growth. A key ingredient of that is organising our cities on an energy-efficient basis.
The biggest claim on energy in a town derives from transport. The sensible way to avoid this is to create vertical towns so that people have to commute only short distances, if at all they have to commute. Imagine someone just walking across from her residential block to the office block next door, to reach her place of work.
For this to happen, we must have mixed land-use instead of the straitjacketed separation of residential and commercial spaces that the authorities in India have been trained to worship as town planning wisdom. The point is to lay down and enforce intelligent norms for parking and other conduct so that commerce and residential life do not compromise each other.
Of course, however tall we make our town buildings and however liberally mixed our land-use, people would still need to commute. It should be possible to encourage people to use public transport, when they do commute. For this, public transport must become efficient and convenient. And private transport must bear sufficient taxes to make its use unattractive for general use.
Buildings must be made to comply with green codes for energy efficiency. Natural ventilation in climes where this works and sound insulation combined with artificial ventilation in areas where this works — policy must mandate these. Building codes already mandate levels of natural lighting. All artificial lighting must switch to LEDs, which are more than twice as energy efficient as compact fluorescent lamps.
Energy efficiency cannot be achieved, however, purely through technology and organisation. Humans produce goods and services, changing nature in the process. But they do so, not as Robinson Crusoes, but in association with other humans.
Production, which is integral to human existence, involves interaction with both nature and other humans. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve harmony with nature while disharmony rules in society. India's refusal to give up growth to avert climate change is just a mild example of disharmony among humans coming in the way of securing harmony with nature.
Therefore, green, sustainable living and producing environs also call for harmonious relations among different sections of society. Equity and fairness across and within nations is integral to the project, in short.
All this devolves into domestic policy and external negotiating strategy on climate change. Technology and part of the finance needed for India to design and build new, energy-efficient harmonious towns can come from the developed world.
JET PILOTS MUST RETURN TO WORK
Pilots of Jet Airways are on the warpath, causing great hardship to thousands of passengers through their sudden action which is hardly distinguishable from a flash strike, whatever the quibbles. A strike not notified in advance in accordance with procedures laid down under the Industrial Disputers Act simply does not enjoy legal validity. This makes the strikers liable to action. Whether the pilots, who have resorted to illegality under the pretext of engaging in genuine trade union action, are rebels without a cause or not can only be determined after a proper investigation. But the facts available so far suggest that the offending pilots resorted to the too-clever-by-half expedient of taking mass “sick leave” even as arbitration proceedings were on between the management and the union in question in the matter of the sacking of two pilots linked to the union. Keeping away from work when discussions are on beggars logic, and it is violative of the appropriate legal code, to say nothing of gross misuse of the provision for medical leave allowed to ailing employees. But this is not the only reason why the erring pilots must report back for duty without further loss of time. The factor that should be uppermost in mind is that airline operations are a necessary aspect of modern life, and are crucial to the health of the national economy. They are a key element of infrastructure development, no less significant than, say, power or ports or railways. Flying is no longer a luxury category activity. Just as the government does not hesitate to fish out an instrument such as the Essential Services Maintenance Act in dealing with threatened disruptions in hospital services, power supply or the railways, it cannot flinch from taking necessary steps to compel the airline pilots to get back to work. It would be best if the Jet Airways management and the appropriate union returned to the table to sort out any grievances or misunderstanding. Only recently, some airline proprietors had threatened to stop operations for a day unless the government met their demand for a reduction in fuel prices. They were upbraided by the government and by the country, and had to call off their plans. The reason was that airlines provide an essential service to the nation and this sector is a crucial element of our infrastructure. The pilots cannot afford to lose sight of this. A strike is ordinarily deemed to be a tool of the last resort by unions. But in the present instance, strike in all but name was brought on the agenda even while talks were in progress. This is an example of adventurism by the union in question, and is to be regretted. Apparently this is a new union which is affiliated to the Shiv Sena, not the most sober of political parties. “Action-oriented” parties are sometimes known to direct the unions associated with them to go in the direction of high-voltage militancy in the hope of attracting more members quickly. But this is entirely wrong-headed and can only hurt the interests of those who unionise for the sake of protection from management excesses.
GOP REDUCING US TO A ONE-PARTY DEMOCRACY
BY BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Watching both the healthcare and climate/energy debates in Congress, it is hard not to draw the following conclusion: There is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, and that is one-party democracy, which is what we have in America today.
One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century. It is not an accident that China is committed to overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power. China’s leaders understand that in a world of exploding populations and rising emerging-market middle classes, demand for clean power and energy efficiency is going to soar. Beijing wants to make sure that it owns that industry and is ordering the policies to do that, including boosting gasoline prices, from the top down.
Our one-party democracy is worse. The fact is, on both the energy/climate legislation and healthcare legislation, only the Democrats are really playing. With a few notable exceptions, the Republican Party is standing, arms folded and saying “no.” Many of them just want President Obama to fail. Such a waste. Mr Obama is not a socialist; he’s a centrist. But if he’s forced to depend entirely on his own party to pass legislation, he will be whipsawed by its different factions.
Look at the climate/energy bill that came out of the House. Its sponsors had to work twice as hard to produce this breakthrough cap-and-trade legislation. Why? Because with basically no GOP (Grand Old Party) representatives willing to vote for any price on carbon that would stimulate investments in clean energy and energy efficiency, the sponsors had to rely entirely on Democrats — and that meant paying off coal-state and agriculture Democrats with pork. Thank goodness, it is still a bill worth passing. But it could have been much better — and can be in the Senate. Just give me eight to 10 Republicans ready to impose some price on carbon, and they can be leveraged against Democrats who want to water down the bill.
“China is going to eat our lunch and take our jobs on clean energy — an industry that we largely invented — and they are going to do it with a managed economy we don’t have and don’t want”, said Mr Joe Romm, who writes the blog, climateprogress.org.
The only way for us to match them is by legislating a rising carbon price along with efficiency and renewable standards that will stimulate massive private investment in clean-tech. Hard to do with a one-party democracy.
The same is true on healthcare. “The central mechanism through which Mr Obama seeks to extend coverage and restrain costs is via new “exchanges”, insurance clearinghouses, modelled on the plan Mitt Romney enacted when he was governor of Massachusetts,” noted Matt Miller, a former Clinton budget official and author of The Tyranny of Dead Ideas. “The idea is to let individuals access group coverage from private insurers, with subsidies for low earners”.
And it is possible the President will seek to fund those subsidies, at least in part, with the idea Mr John McCain ran on — by reducing the tax exemption for employer-provided healthcare. Can the Republicans even say yes to their own ideas, if they are absorbed by Obama? Without Mr Obama being able to leverage some Republican votes, it is going to be very hard to get a good plan to cover all Americans with healthcare.
“Just because Mr Obama is on a path to give America the Romney health plan with McCain-style financing, does not mean the Republicans will embrace it — if it seems politically more attractive to scream ‘socialist’”, said Miller.
The GOP used to be the party of business. Well, to compete and win in a globalised world, no one needs the burden of health insurance shifted from business to government more than American business. No one needs immigration reform — so the world’s best brainpower can come here without restrictions — more than American business. No one needs a push for clean-tech — the world’s next great global manufacturing industry — more than American business. Yet the GOP today resists national healthcare, immigration reform and wants to just drill, baby, drill.
“Globalisation has neutered the Republican Party, leaving it to represent not the have-nots of the recession but the have-nots of globalised America, the people who have been left behind either in reality or in their fears”, said Edward Goldberg, a global trade consultant who teaches at Baruch College. “The need to compete in a globalised world has forced the meritocracy, the multinational corporate manager, the eastern financier and the technology entrepreneur to reconsider what the Republican Party has to offer. In principle, they have left the party, leaving behind not a pragmatic coalition but a group of ideological naysayers”.
WILL AFGHAN WAR BE OBAMA’S VIETNAM?
BY BY S. NIHAL SINGH
Is the war in Afghanistan acquiring shades of the Vietnam syndrome in the American psyche? Allusions to Vietnam are becoming more frequent in US media as President Barack Obama wrestles with the biggest foreign policy challenge of his presidency. The challenge, in short, is: What to do in Afghanistan?
During his election campaign, President Obama always differentiated between the Iraq war and US intervention in Afghanistan, now eight years old, as a war of necessity. He owned the Afghanistan war as his own. And as more US and coalition forces are killed and support for the war ebbs at home — for the first time more oppose, than support, it — the White House faces a string of dilemmas.
President Obama initially agreed to an increase of 21,000 in the troop strength making it 68,000. And with his new commander General Stanley McChrystal making a new recommendation to shift strategy foreshadowing the induction of even more troops, the moment of decision has arrived. The administration of President Hamid Karzai, meanwhile, remains in a limbo, with more than 2,000 cases of complaints of fraud in the presidential election accompanying his slow march to reaching the 50 per cent figure to avoid a second vote.
Even as President Obama’s popularity ratings have been dipping and he remains mired in the health reform storm, he must take crucial decisions on the future course of the Afghan war. More and more influential voices are taking to the airwaves and appear in print asking the US to cut and run and wage the war from the outside through drones and other technology-enhanced weapons. The main supporters of the war are in Republican ranks — some 70 per cent — as Democrats are divided on the virtues of fighting a seemingly endless war.
Since misfortunes seldom come alone, last Friday’s US air strike in Kunduz province reportedly killing scores of civilians has added a grim note to the new US commander’s penchant for protecting the civilian population, rather than simply seeking a military victory. A continuing demand for more troops is a grim reminder for Americans on how they were sucked into the Vietnam war. Military theories aside, continuing troop augmentation seems like filling a bottomless hole.
Again reminiscent of the Vietnam war and US disillusionment with President Diem triggering a succession of puny coup-prone regimes in Saigon as it then was, the American love affair with President Karzai has soured. Washington is upset over the President’s survival technique in aligning with warlords and alleged drug barons, but there are no easy answers to his succession. His closest rival, Abdullah Abdullah, the former foreign minister, is popular but perhaps less appealing to the Pashtun-dominated South, and would, in any case, run up against the familiar problems of administering a divided and heterogeneous country.
The first problem President Obama faces is whether he should insist on a second round of the presidential vote, given the credibility and scale of allegations of fraud. Perhaps his point man for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr Richard Holbrooke, will tip the balance one way or the other. Again, if the legitimacy of the next Afghanistan is in doubt, it will make America’s task more difficult, not least in convincing American and British and other voters that it is worth losing their sons’ and daughters’ lives to achieve the chimera of victory.
But by far the biggest decision for President Barack Obama is whether to agree to send more troops to fulfil the expected request of his new commander in Afghanistan, Mr McChrystal, who has the reputation of being the thinking general. The President already has his hands full with the health reform agenda and the economic downturn and has other pressing foreign policy issues such as the stalemate over Iran’s nuclear programme and Israel’s continuing defiance of his express declared wish for a freeze on building more settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
The need for more American troops in Afghanistan is enhanced by the arguments being put forward by American conservatives. In essence, they are saying, “If we pull out, we’ll hand over Afghanistan back to the Islamic militants who allowed it to become a haven for Al Qaeda”. The counter-argument, of course, is that the British and the Soviets discovered before Americans came on the scene that it is almost impossible to tame the Afghans.
If President Obama does decide to send more troops, he would face the embarrassment of having to rely on Republicans to have his proposal approved on Capitol Hill. In fact, the pro-war conservatives are making the point that the President is not doing enough to rally public support for the war, his last pitch being the August 17 address to a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention calling it a “war of necessity”. His spokesmen say, “Afghanistan is on the top of his list”.
The essence of General McChrystal’s strategy is that the American accent should be on protecting the population more than killing the Taliban and Al Qaeda militants. More American and other troops are, therefore, needed to hold population centres. Other US strategists and veterans of the Afghan war counter by asserting that the larger the American footprint, the greater will be the problem of winning the proverbial hearts and mind of Afghans. According to Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, it is time for a “flexible response” in order to pull out US troops. The pre-eminent conservative columnist, Mr George Will, puts it more bluntly by suggesting that it is time to get out and fight the war through drones and other means.
President Obama has perhaps a few weeks to decide on his fateful next step in Afghanistan. But as the issue of sending more troops to Afghanistan churns in the American media and among political and policy-making institutions, the President’s task is becoming more difficult as he seeks to balance the various pulls and pressures. The danger is that the Afghanistan war is already acquiring the undertones of a failure and his administration must decide sooner, rather than later, on what achievable US objectives are.
DILLI KE AAGE JAHAN...
BY DC DEBATE: YSR SHOWED THAT STRONG REGIONAL LEADERS ARE GOOD FOR THE CONGRESS
IT FOSTERS TALENT AT VARIOUS LEVELS
BY AMULYA GANGULI
Ironically, the first Congressman who was showing signs of becoming a powerful regional leader after a long time died an untimely death. Before Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, the former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh seemed to have the makings of a provincial satrap before he blew it by losing an election. Although Sharad Pawar’s reputation as a Maratha strongman made him an ideal candidate for a major regional figure, his national ambitions made him try his luck with a new party, which, he initially claimed, would become the real Congress.
A curious trend has marked the careers of front-ranking Congressmen with their roots in their home states. Unlike at the time of Jawaharlal Nehru, when leaders like B.C. Roy, Srikrishna Sinha, Kamalapati Tripathi, Biju Patnaik, Pratap Singh Kairon and Mohanlal Sukhadia were happy to remain ensconced in their states, subsequent years saw a devaluation of the chief minister’s post for Congressmen, who preferred berths at the Centre.
Indira Gandhi encouraged this tendency in order to deny prospective challengers the chance to acquire a strong local base. So, the chief ministers began to lose their clout as the party, too, became a shadow of its former self. The lowest point was reached when Rajiv Gandhi snubbed the Andhra Pradesh chief minister, T. Anjiah, in public view, undermining his party’s position in Andhra Pradesh for a while.
Significantly, it was in the same state that YSR was emerging as the key figure. Like the powerful chief ministers of the Nehruvian period, his ascent was based on electoral success. But, in a way, his achievement was even greater because the present-day Congress is a much weaker entity than what the party was half-a-century ago. By still leading it to victory, YSR was in the process of establishing himself as a man to reckon with despite Hyderabad’s distance from New Delhi.
The unanswered question, however, is whether his rise would have continued or whether he would have been cut down to size and become yet another minor figure like Ashok Gehlot, Ashok Chavan and Tarun Gogoi. In all likelihood, he would have been left alone. As the leeway given by Sonia Gandhi to Manmohan Singh has shown, the Congress leader is temperamentally more subdued than her imperious mother-in-law. Similarly, Rahul Gandhi is less pushy than his father.
The time may be coming, therefore, when influential Congressmen in the states will not have to keep looking over their shoulders at Delhi. Any such development will be a welcome one not only for the Congress, but also for other parties as well as the system itself, since it will foster the growth of talent at various levels and strengthen the country’s federal character.
Amulya Ganguli, senior journalist
REGIONAL LEADERS OFTEN CAUSE STRESS
BY ANAND KUMAR
The tragic death of Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy is an irreparable loss for the Congress because regional leaders with a mass base have been generally missing in the party for a long time. Many believe that the present-day Congress could be moving toward promoting state leaders who focus on organisation building and mass-oriented party work. Such optimists must be cautious. The Congress has very limited space in its scheme of things for “regional leaders” as they tend to create stress for the Central leadership after a while.
The Congress Party has gone through various phases since Independence in terms of its ideological orientation, programmatic thrust, organisational system, and leadership pattern.
The days of Jawaharlal Nehru from 1947 to 1964 were marked by the presence of a charismatic leader at the top who was in-charge of the government with an ideological identity, mass appeal and support from regional mass leaders. The Central leadership had a symbiotic relationship with the state leaders.
But Indira Gandhi made many departures from this pattern. She was confronted with the anti-Congress wave in the general election of 1967. This was followed by the Congress split of 1969. Indira Gandhi suffered a second round of challenges after her humiliating defeat in 1977 which followed on the anti-Emergency popular protest led by Jayaprakash Narayan. She did not care as much for basic democratic imperatives as for political stability and control over the power apparatus. She created a new version of the Congress Party where there was no room at the top for anyone else, and no need of the middle rank leaders at the state level.
Today, we can see a new kind of political orientation in the Congress Party. One, there is a return of the principle of “the final word from the High Command” in the context of choosing the new chief minister in Andhra Pradesh, a system which was developed in the Indira Gandhi years. Two, it seems that the Congress is trying to keep a definite distance from its allies since the breakdown of its relationship with the Left Front. This distancing is with a purpose — to occupy new spaces and win new social groups for the party. Three, the Congress is going through an inner silent transformation around the theme of “promoting the youth” in the party system. This is essentially focused on projecting Rahul Gandhi as the leader of GenNext by bypassing the regional leaders. Can we put all of this together and suggest that we are witnessing a new organisational model in the Congress that would promote strong leaders in the states?
Anand Kumar, political sociologist, JNU, New Delhi
BY BY NITISH SENGUPTA
Never in the past has the Indian government taken two such momentous steps on the same day: On August 13, Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee announced the draft of a new Direct Tax Code (DTC) that would replace the four-decade-old Income Tax Act, 1961. The DTC aims to “improve the efficiency and equity of our tax system... by eliminating distortions in the tax structure, introducing moderate levels of taxation and expanding the (tax) base”.
On the same day, commerce minister Anand Sharma signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), thanks to which trade between India and the 10 countries constituting the Asean will become duty free from 2010. Both are, indeed, momentous steps which will hasten India’s journey to becoming one of the front-ranking countries in the world.
The DTC dramatically lowers the incidence of tax on both individual and corporate incomes but, at the same time, axes nearly all the exemptions hitherto available to taxpayers. Traditionally, India’s tax system had rested on two planks — unusually high rates of taxation and the availability of an array of exemptions by invoking which taxpayers could reduce the effective rate to much lower levels.
Tax rates started coming down from the time of Rajiv Gandhi’s prime ministership. The exemptions should have been done away with along with the lowering of the tax rates. But that did not happen on account of inertia and sustained pressure from Leftists and populists who viewed such steps as anti-socialist and unpopular. Happily, Mr Mukherjee has at long last stepped out of this duality and exercised option for lower tax combined with abolition of all exemptions. This will not only simplify the tax structure but also induce better compliance and, eventually, facilitate substantially higher tax yield.
The DTC brings back wealth tax on all assets and a tax on long-term capital gains, although at lower levels. These must be viewed against the massive reduction of rates proposed in general. Also, the proposal to tax all savings schemes only at the time of withdrawal is salutary.
There will be no tax on an individual with income up to Rs 160,000 a year, 10 per cent tax for income up to Rs 10 lakhs, 20 per cent for income above Rs 10 lakhs and up to Rs 20 lakhs, and 30 per cent for income above Rs 25 lakhs. These rates are significantly lower than the present rates.
Under the new law, an individual’s gross income would include all perquisites such as rent-free accommodation, medical reimbursements and leave travel encashments. In respect of these perks, civil servants and private sector employees will be on a par. Other refinements — such as replacing the complicated concepts of “assessment years” by the financial year — will make life simpler for the assessee and help bring to an end the old unholy alliance between a section of income tax officers and chartered accountants that has bedeviled India’s tax administration and encouraged bribery and corruption.
The proposed uniform corporate tax rates of 25 per cent for both domestic and foreign companies, almost the same as levied in China, is a welcome relief to India Inc. This should be taken in conjunction with the abolition of fringe benefit tax and the securities transaction tax, which should stimulate the stock market. The market and the financial services community has responded favourably to the proposed code.
The code’s proposal that it could override “no double taxation” treaties would no doubt cause concern to offshore funds. Discretionary powers have been given to tax authorities to override treaties.
On the flip side, this could create problems for offshore fund managers and the extension of Indian taxation to offshore transactions may be viewed critically by countries such as Mauritius. But, on the whole, Mr Mukherjee must be congratulated along with his predecessor P. Chidambaram, who had played a significant role in shaping this code.
One sincerely hopes that the DTC comes into force from April 1, 2010, along with the introduction of the new goods and services tax, which will clear the cobwebs in the indirect tax system. All things taken together, this new code is much more than an “amending Act”. It is a new Act, a new system, that will foster entrepreneurship, saving, investment and a well-regulated free market system. One wishes that the late Nani Palkhiwala had been alive to give it a full-throated welcome.
No less a landmark is the FTA signed by India with the Asean countries, marking fructification of the “Look East” policy enunciated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh some time ago. This will open up the prosperous Asean market to products from India, both agricultural and manufactured ones. Exports to India from the Asean countries have steadily grown in recent years. The history of the Asean is almost as dramatic as the history of the European Union. From small beginnings this agreement — originally among Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Brunei — has transformed its members into prosperous countries. This illustrates the validity of the principle that countries which are outward looking always grow, and countries that are inward looking generally languish. The Asean now includes several other countries like neighbouring Burma. India was given an observer status in Asean several years ago. Now, with the new FTA, India almost becomes a member of this group. However, some safeguards must be adopted to prevent dumping in India of products manufactured by multinational companies (MNCs) in the Asean countries. But while developing close free trade relations with the Asean countries, India should not slacken her efforts towards activating the South Asian Free Trade Area (Safta), which has become a legal possibility now but still remains a mirage in view of India’s overwhelming size in relation to the other countries and the political tensions between India and Pakistan. In any case, there is an unmistakeable drift towards turning Saarc into a Safta. Once that happens, along with Asean, India will be part of a thriving network of free trading countries, which will surely benefit both India and the other Asean countries.
We should grasp these exciting opportunities and strive to convert constraints, which undoubtedly are many, into opportunities.
Nitish Sengupta, anacademic and an author, is aformer Member of Parliamentand a former secretary to the Government of India
SOPS AT IFTAR
MAMATA AND THE DEOBAND SCHOOL
There is a profound coincidence between Monday’s fatwa of the Darul Uloom of Deoband, the flagship Islamic seminary, against iftar parties with a decidedly political connotation and the previous day’s announcement by Mamata Banerjee that candidates will be allowed to take their papers in Urdu for the Railway Recruitment Board examinations. The widening of the linguistic base for an all-India test by including all regional languages would have raised no cavil if the Railway minister hadn’t used an iftar party in Kolkata’s Park Circus area to make so critical a policy announcement. Very pertinently has the Deobandi school pronounced that “if the purpose of such gatherings is political, then religion doesn’t come into the picture”. Miss Banerjee’s rather cavalier attitude to procedure as much as the venue was mirrored also in the related announcement that the Railway Recruitment Board’s rules of engagement would be overhauled. Suitably attired as she was, she has managed to achieve her immediate objective. The socio-religious grandstanding, accompanied by rapturous plaudits from the target audience, was seemingly of greater moment than the need to abide by rules of ministerial procedure. Such a congregation lends no scope for a policy statement by the national government... regardless of whether the gathering is of an iftar party, a Bijoya-Diwali sammilani, a Christmas party or the Maghotsav of the Brahmos. It would be no disrepect of sentiment to suggest that the vote of any religious group is subsidiary to the secular construct. Indeed, Sunday’s iftar party turned out to be a heady mix of linguistic concessions and railway expansion. The introduction of a train from Kolkata to Ajmer Sharif was another announcement in the nature of a sop for which neither was the iftar party the occasion nor Park Circus the venue.
Meanwhile, the story lies buried as to why she stayed away from the inaugural of several trains from Kolkata on Sunday, leaving it to the equally chameleonic minister and local MP, Sudip Bandopadhyay, to do the honours. In the event, a politically inspired iftar party was important enough to give a short shrift to an extensively publicised ministerial engagement. Amidst the speculation over the past 72 hours, Miss Banerjee needs to clear the air, granted that her daily planner and modus operandi are studiously contrived.
POLITICAL HYPOCRISY PREVAILS
WERE it not for Indian politics’ traditional obsession with creating a “socialist” impression ~ ranging from garibi hatao to aam aadmi and our comrades’ consistent swearing by the “peasants and workers” ~ the fact of two union ministers living in luxury hotels till their official accommodation was duly renovated would have been a non-issue. After all they were paying their own way, even if their ministry ~ a regular user of such establishments ~ might have got them preferential rates that nephews and nieces of the hotel’s owners might not have managed. But with his ministry having only recently launched another of those austerity drives that yield so little, Pranab Mukherjee deemed it “politically correct” to advise SM Krishna and Shashi Tharoor (coincidentally both burra sahibs of South Block) to move to less ostentatious lodgings ~ obviously with “Madam’s” acquiescence. But only after a sensation-generating newspaper report: surely he had not been previously unaware of where they had taken up temporary residence. This is hypocrisy at its worst, had their “addresses” not been made public the UPA and government leadership had no difficulties. The political philosophy, cutting across party lines, is skewed: use every opportunity to make a fortune, make pretence to poverty. To cite another example of hypocrisy, and from the finance ministry at that: soon after the presentation of the budget a “media bash” is on the cards, the finance secretary issues invitations for the cocktails, the minister for the dinner. Ministers, you see, do not openly encourage tippling, but you also see so many of them so clearly having had one too many! This brand of hangover truly haunts. It is at the root of the populist schemes that produce electoral gains but bleed the exchequer, breed corruption, but keep poverty entrenched.
There is another angle to the non-issue, perhaps a more serious one. Why is it that every time a new occupant is due to move into a bungalow reserved for the big boys it requires massive renovation? Are maintenance standards so poor? Has the previous occupant “lived” so dirtily? And why must there be a hunt for suitable ministerial houses after each Council of Ministers is appointed? Surely a system should be in place earmarking particular bungalows for persons holding particular portfolios. If Lutyens’ enclave can boast of an army, navy, air force, Speaker, Vice-President’s house why not the same for the ministers for finance, defence, home, external affairs etc? And maybe a common gym for the likes of Tharoor: oops, that might impinge on his privacy!
DUMB & DUMBER
MORE TROUBLE IN STORE IN NAGALAND
THE collective NSCN(IM) leadership does not think it necessary to support the Naga Common Forum formed early this month at the Naga Consultative Meet in Kohima. The concept was accepted at its July meeting that was also attended by overseas Nagas and its objective, understandably, is to “facilitate the pursuance of the proposals and recommendations made at its meetings and for negotiation with one Naga voice with India”. The NSCN(IM) expressed “strong scepticism on the proposal and its objective”, asserting that the “credibility of the organisation like the Naga Hoho (apex body of all Naga organisations) is still at stake”. Even the Khaplang faction is reportedly unwilling to be part of it. The NSCN(IM)’s aim apparently is to cock a snook at the Hoho with which it is not on good terms. It also dealt a severe blow to the Naga National Reconciliation Council, formed after the Hoho’s December 2001 unity initiative. All its members resigned after the NSCN(IM) objected to some appointments. Of late, a group calling itself the Forum for Naga Reconciliation, headed by a church leader and having the support of all tribes and also “quakers” from the UK, claimed to have obtained the signatures of all warring groups to work for unity. Following this, there had been a sharp fall in cases of fratricidal killings which had touched its highest last year. NSCN(IM) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah is on record as having said that “reconciliation cannot be forced, it has to come naturally”. Another important functionary thinks a solution is possible even without unity. Given this mindset, it is difficult to see the reconciliation process making any significant headway. The NSCN(IM) is bound, once again, to question the Centre’s sincerity in finding a solution. New Delhi is reportedly planning to send a new package in November to all Naga groups offering them, among other things, financial largesse and greater devolution of powers under the Constitution, the underlining message being they should forget about the Greater Nagaland concept. Having steadfastly stuck to this and after more than 12 years of parleys, the NCSN(IM) may have to acquire more guts to swallow the new line.
SUFFER IN SILENCE
ONE of the objectives of the National Mental Health Programme, launched in 1982, was to ensure that minimum mental health care was available and accessible to all, particularly the most vulnerable and underprivileged sections of society. But it is all too evident that this objective is still for from being realised.
Women in India are obviously a vulnerable and underprivileged lot lagging way behind men in the context of human development indicators. The 2001 census data revealed the appalling sex ratio of 933 females per 1000 males. The percentage of literate women in India is 54.28 per cent, against 75.96 per cent for men. The proportion of earned income of women as a percentage of that of men works out to a paltry 38 per cent (WHO, South-east Asia Regional Health Forum, 2009).
Indian women are more malnourished than their male counterparts consuming approximately 1000 calories less per day than men. According to the report of the National Family Health Survey (2005-06) more than 50 per cent of our women of childbearing age are anaemic. Compared to men, more women die before the age of 35. The country’s maternal mortality rates, particularly in the rural areas, are among the highest in the world.
IN addition to the state of physical health, the status of women’s mental health is far worse than that of men. Depression and anxiety disorders are more common among women throughout the world. Women in both the developed and developing countries are almost twice as likely as men to experience depression (WHO, 2000). Yet our National Mental Health Programme lacks a specific plan for the improvement of the mental health of women.
A publication, called Thara and Patel (2006) of WHO’s South-east Asia Regional Health Forum suggests that the neuropsychiatric condition is the second major factor behind what is referred to as the “disease burden” of women. Between the ages of 15 and 44 years, unipolar depression is the major cause of the disease burden. Other serious mental problems such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (manic - depressive psychosis) and obsessive/ ompulsive disorder also figure prominently among the causes of the disease burden among women in that age-range.
The fact of the matter is that these years are supposed to be the most productive years of life. Mental health problems, particularly at this stage of life, have an adverse impact on the individual concerned as well as society. The mental health issues of women in the developing countries including India need to be urgently addressed because the projections for 2020 are still more alarming.
Women become victims of certain types of serious mental disorders more easily than men because they have to withstand a high level of stress. Lack of empowerment of the majority of women, particularly in the developing countries like India, expose them to greater stress. Poverty, malnutrition and overwork take a toll on their physical and mental health. Women typically have to juggle the multiple roles of breadwinner, homemaker, wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, mother etc. Members of the family and society at large expect perfection in the execution of each of these roles, specially parenting. The conflicting demands of the various roles which women attempt to play to perfection leave them physically exhausted and anxious.
The stress also stems from women’s interpersonal relationships with other members of the family. In the underprivileged sections of our society, girls are subjected to pronounced gender discrimination right from the beginning in matters of nutrition, healthcare, education etc. The treatment does not improve even after they grow up. Most women in India are still denied freedom in the choice of their careers and marriage partners. As single women, they are under the control of the male members of their own family. After they are married, this authority is largely usurped by their husbands and in-laws. Lack of affection and support of the matrimonial home, demands for dowry, conflicts with the spouse and mother-in-law are powerful stress factors for married women in India.
Although the problem of domestic violence against women cuts across the socio-economic divisions, it is more prevalent among the poorer sections of society. Gender inequality and lack of empowerment render women defenceless against violence (WHO, 2000).
These factors make women more susceptible to mental illnesses. Depression after childbirth (post partum depression) is uniquely feminine. In our country, it is estimated that between 11 and 23 per cent of women fall prey to this disorder. It is more likely to occur among women of lower socio-economic status. Strained relations with the spouse and other family members, lack of support at home as well as domestic violence are important risk factors of post partum depression. However, perhaps the most important risk factor is the gender of the newborn. In many Indian households, women who give birth to girls have to countenance a tremendous degree of hostility from their husbands and in-laws. Under such circumstances, some of these women even tend to blame themselves for giving birth to girls. This increases the risk of developing post partum disorder.
Since women are the anchors of the majority of families, the entire family suffers if they become mentally ill. The children suffer the most. They are deprived of proper child rearing, their health and education are neglected, they have to take on the mantle of home management and the care of siblings from a tender age. Proximity to the mentally ailing mother can affect the mental health of the children. If a man suffers from a psychological disorder, he is generally taken care of by his wife. But if the wife becomes mentally ill then, more often than not, she is sent back to her parental home. For instance, in a study conducted by the Schizophrenia Research Foundation in Chennai, it was found that the majority of the mentally ill women had been abandoned by their husbands. Their aging parents were saddled with the responsibility of taking care of them. In several cases, the husbands had remarried and were not even looking after the children. It is, therefore, essential that women get easier access to mental health care not only for their own sake but also for the sake of their families.
Many women with mental problems have no choice but to suffer silently. Those with little or no education cannot articulate their problems effectively to the members of their families. They tend to express their psychological problems through bodily complaints of fatigue, aches and pains, lack of appetite, inadequate sleep and so on. Moreover, since women are less empowered, their complaints are considered less seriously by the family members. Besides, housewives specially those with very young children do not seem to find time to visit doctors to get their problems diagnosed and treated. Rural women with mental problems find it difficult both financially and physically to travel to faraway hospitals for treatment. For poor women working in the unorganised sector taking a day off to visit the doctor would mean the loss of a day’s wage.
The government must try to get out of the habit of emphasising only the reproductive health of women and ignoring other aspects of health. A separate plan for the mental healthcare of women needs to be prepared and implemented as part of the government’s mental health programme. The formal inclusion of mental health under the ambit of the National Rural Health Mission will also benefit village women. Community-based initiatives need to be strengthened through government-NGO partnership. Corporate sponsorship can work wonders in this respect. The academic institutions and humanitarian organisations can also forge ties and make mental healthcare accessible to a large number of women.
WHERE TO STAY
In India, it is always more convenient to target individuals than to address issues. Thus popular applause has been won by asking two ministers not to stay in five-star hotels during a period when the government has announced austerity measures. In the applause what gets drowned is the bigger issue. That issue is the scarcity of residences for ministers and government servants in Lutyens’ Delhi. This is not an absolute scarcity. The problem lies in the unwillingness of the occupants to give up their bungalows even after their tenure in office is finished. This unwillingness often stretches to months, in some cases to years. This means that new and genuine claimants are left without an official residence. There is no mechanism in place to ensure that ministers, bureaucrats and members of parliament vacate their quarters as soon as their terms are over. More importantly, very few public servants have the sense of responsibility to move out of houses that are technically not given to them but to the position they occupy.
This shortage of housing has another angle. The spacious bungalows in the tree-lined avenues of Lutyens’ Delhi are often used to bestow patronage by whoever is in government. This is a peculiarly Indian affliction, since in this country, politics is inextricably linked to patronage. A politician or an important bureaucrat feels bereft of power unless he is seen as a source of patronage. And in the hierarchy of gifts, a residence in Lutyens’ Delhi perhaps comes second only to a foreign posting. There is thus a covert race to remain in occupation or to regain occupation of houses in that area. S.M. Krishna and Shashi Tharoor — the two ministers who have been asked to move out of five-star hotels — would not have been staying in hotels if both of them had been able to move in to houses that have been allotted to them. (They could have stayed, of course, less ostentatiously than in five-star hotels, but that is not the issue here.) Within the establishment in the capital, there is a studied indifference towards the number of people who refuse to vacate their official houses in time. The words, ‘in time’, should be clearly defined and then enforced. The practice of using houses for patronage should also be discouraged. The government and the political parties should come to an agreement on this. This is the only way to avoid a spectacle of ministers living in five-star hotels.
Judging decency in clothing can become an indecent business. Reportedly, the judge in the Khartoum court who had to pass sentence on the indecency of Lubna Hussein’s trousers had to make sure that the pair was body-hugging enough to convict her under Article 152 of Sudan’s penal code. Ms Hussein, a journalist, had refused to plead guilty and was freed from jail because the journalists’ union paid the fine on her behalf. Her fight against the law, which prescribes a penalty of 40 lashes and a fine for anyone who commits an indecent act that violates public morality or wears “indecent” clothing, has taken on symbolic proportions. The law is deliberately vague, she says, in order to punish women. The absurdity of its assumptions are particularly obvious in Sudan. In the north, Islamic law holds sway and women there are supposed to dress “decently”, although numerous women wear trousers. Most of the protesters who turned up in support of Ms Hussein before the courthouse wore them. If that was a mark of defiance there, in the south of the country it would pass unnoticed, for that area is predominantly Christian. Most of the women who had been arrested with Ms Hussein for wearing trousers had pleaded guilty and were whipped. The unspeakable humiliation the State imposes on women indicates a shameless form of gender-oppression that appears incredible in this day and age. Ms Hussein’s campaign against such a malicious law is thus more than timely, and support for her fight is pouring in from all over the world.
When women fight for a right, it is always seen as a gender issue. Yet women’s right not to be punished for wearing trousers can only improve Sudan’s image, and that of the religion in whose name the State is whipping women. Invoking religion to keep women “in their place” is the oldest, cheapest and most widespread trick in the world. For example, Iran is still not comfortable with its first woman minister after 30 years; hardliners talk of “religious” doubts about women’s managerial skills. But Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi has got her position as health minister through a hard line herself, by suggesting that healthcare should be segregated: women should be treated by women only. It is interesting that she has started saying something quite different as minister. From clothing to politics, it is amazing how fiercely, and cannily, women need to fight even today.
ISHRAT JAHAN’S DEATH
POPULAR APATHY LETS THE STATE PRACTISE EXTRA-JUDICIAL KILLINGS
One of the objections raised by the Gujarat government to the report of the metropolitan magistrate, S.P. Tamang, on the killing of Ishrat Jahan Raza and three others in June 2004, is that Section 176 of the criminal procedure code, under which the inquiry was held, was specifically meant for custodial deaths, whereas Ishrat and the others were killed on the road. In matters of life and death, a good rule of thumb for judging whether a government is arguing in good faith is to see if it makes substantive arguments or technical ones. A government that argues that an inquiry into extra-judicial execution is out of line because the killings happened in the open air and not indoors doesn’t pass that test.
The other arguments made by the Gujarat government against the Tamang inquiry report were of the same genre. The spokesman for the Gujarat government, Jaynarayan Vyas, claimed that the inquiry report should not have been released because the matter was being examined by a higher court, that a copy of the report had not been supplied to the state government and that the magistrate’s inquiry was suspect because it had been completed too quickly, in a mere 25 days. This last was said without irony: five years after the killings, the Gujarat government was complaining about the unnatural speed of judicial proceedings.
It’s another matter that these objections were bogus: Section 176 allows all unnatural deaths to be investigated at the discretion of the magistrate, the magistrate’s inquiry can proceed in parallel with the high court’s deliberations and the report was released to the press not by a ‘leaking’ magistrate but by a defence lawyer, Mukul Sinha, who formally applied for a certified copy and made it public.
These four deaths can be read as a chapter in more than one narrative. They can, for example, be read as an instance of the summary way in which the Gujarat government deals with Muslims. From the state-sanctioned pogroms of 2001, to the killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife Kausar Bi, to the ‘encounter’ killing of Ishrat and the three men found dead with her, the Gujarat government has allowed Muslims to be murdered with impunity, justifying its position by invoking the spectre of terror. So to see this as one more story in the saga of the mistreatment of minorities in Gujarat is understandable but it isn’t the main reason we should be angry or concerned.
What should worry us about these 2004 killings on the outskirts of Ahmedabad is that they are one more example of the impunity with which the State in India gets away with extra-judicial execution and the degree to which public indifference licenses this impunity. The most substantial part of the magistrate’s report is the section where he shows that the ballistic evidence does not bear out the police story of an ‘encounter’ and argues that the four were first killed in cold blood and then had weapons planted on them to simulate a shoot-out.
The implication of this is hideous: policemen first murdered four people without due process and then perjured themselves on an epic scale by fabricating a ‘set’. Tamang demonstrated that the Gujarat police behaved like a murderous repertory company, not as guardians of law and order, and yet the Gujarat government made no attempt to rebut his charges.
Instead, it devoted itself to proving that the four people killed were terrorists connected to Pakistan and the Lashkar-e-Toiba. It produced an affidavit filed by the Central government a month ago certifying that Ishrat and the others were terrorists seeking to assassinate Gujarati politicians. This supplied non-partisan endorsement of the Gujarat police’s claim that the four people killed were terrorists. And there the Gujarat government rested its case. Apart from a pro forma assertion that the ‘encounter’ was genuine and not staged, it made no attempt to prove that the magistrate’s reading of the evidence was wrong because it was confident that extra-judicial murder in a ‘good cause’ had public sanction.
In a news programme, Vyas made this strategy explicit: he asked why civil rights activists were so concerned about the civil rights of terrorists and so indifferent to the civil rights of ordinary citizens who were victims of terror. Colin Gonsalves, a lawyer, pointed out that this was the reddest of red herrings because no civil rights group had remotely made the case that the perpetrators of terror ought to go unpunished, but Vyas, ironically Gujarat’s minister for health, wasn’t debating Gonsalves, he was trying to tap into a public appetite for summary justice, an appetite that would absolve vigilante policemen of any blame; that would, in fact, make them heroes.
Unless we learn to monitor and protest the impunity with which the State and the police resort to extra-judicial murder and custodial killing, outrage at specific instances of these becomes ineffective, even counter-productive. So if you rage and grieve when a middle-class Muslim girl who could have been your daughter is killed but ignore the recent and mysterious death of a murderous hoodlum called R. Rajan in police custody in Chennai, you aren’t protesting the violation of due process or taking a stand against extra-judicial murder: you are merely riding a private hobby horse: the welfare of minorities or the wickedness of the Gujarat government.
The Congress spokesperson and member of parliament, Manish Tiwari, made the point that the Central government’s affidavit asserting that Ishrat and her companions were terrorists made no difference to the material facts of the case against the Gujarat police, namely their complicity in cold-blooded executions carried out without warrant or due process. The Congress, he said, wanted a probe into all custodial deaths and encounters that had been reported during the tenure of Narendra Modi’s government.
The problem with this otherwise unexceptionable position is that Tiwari speaks for a party that has helped make State-sponsored murder and extra-judicial killing a form of State policy in states like Chhattisgarh. It was in 2005 that Mahender Karma, Congress member of the legislative assembly and leader of the Opposition in Chhattisgarh, pioneered the idea of training civilians as special police officers, paying them a monthly wage, and then arming them to liquidate anyone tarred with the brush of another form of terror, Naxalism. We have seen State-sponsored vigilante killing by these ‘special police officers’ formally adopted as policy by state governments in Manipur, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh to deal with Naxalite/Maoist insurgency. Why should Manish Tiwari expect the Gujarat police and the Bharatiya Janata Party government there to submit themselves to the rule of law when his own party, the Congress, sees due process as a luxury that India can’t afford?
The moral of Ishrat’s tragic story has little to do with her antecedents and everything to do with the impunity with which governments in India kill their own citizens in the name of summary ‘justice’. Given the incompetence, politicization and corruption of the police in India, there isn’t even the consolation that the people policemen lynch are villains. The recent history of India shows us that extra-judicial murder isn’t just immoral and illegal, it doesn’t even succeed on its own terms in protecting us from terror.
Three days ago, the British police successfully obtained convictions against three men of Pakistani origin in an English court for plotting to blow up three airliners over the Atlantic in 2006. They saved hundreds, possibly thousands, of lives by gathering water-tight, actionable evidence through surveillance. The surveillance was scrupulously legal: whenever required by law, the British police got warrants from the relevant courts. By putting terrorists away legally, the British State kept Britons secure while heading off any suspicion that it was biased against Muslims.
There’s something for all of us to learn from this example. First, India’s police forces should return to police work, to catching killers and terrorists legally, instead of joining them in murder. Second, civil rights groups and concerned citizens should make the effort to hold the police accountable for every custodial death that comes to their notice, not just the ones we are ideologically invested in. If the principle we’re defending is the rule of law, the death of R. Rajan, very likely a murderer and a thief, in police custody, is as evil and tragic as Ishrat’s killing. In the matter of extra-judicial killing, Indians should shorten Donne’s great line with a full stop and use it as a motto: Send not to know for whom the bell tolls.
DOUSE THE FLAMES
FIFTH COLUMN -ABHIJIT BHATTACHARYYA
Even in the best of times, a debate on Kashmir is fraught with the risk of a serious difference in opinion. Contrary views are bound to emerge, and it is unlikely that the debate is going to be a cordial affair. It would therefore be better to concentrate on hard facts while dealing with the contentious ‘Kashmir issue’.
The first set of questions that needs to be addressed is this; why has there been a sudden spurt in violence on the streets of Srinagar and in the villages? That too after an election in which the voter turn-out had been as high as 60 per cent. Is there then a calculated method in this sudden surge of violence? Calculated or not, history shows that India and Pakistan will have to continue living with the Kashmir problem. ‘Independence’ or ‘self-rule’ are all good ideas, but can they really be worked out on the ground? Some Kashmiris seem to be suffering from a delusion of grandeur, and are being encouraged by those who stand to gain by the long-drawn bloodshed in India. Indian Kashmiri separatists should analyse Asif Ali Zardari’s statement that “The militants...were deliberately created and nurtured as a policy to achieve some short-term tactical objectives.”
One is unlikely to be shocked by Zardari’s statement, and will certainly agree with it up to a point. This is not a “short-term tactical objective”. On the contrary, it is a cold, calculated strategy, which was conceived after the arrival of the military rulers in Pakistan. The people of that country cooperated with the military’s design to maim India and amputate Kashmir through violence.That Pakistan is sponsoring militancy in India has never been in doubt. The whole of India knows it. The Indian armed forces have been fighting it; the diplomats are also demanding the cessation of hostilities. But Kashmiris in the valley are being instigated to continue with the anti-India agitation. Pakistan’s desire to capture this Indian province continues to be the biggest stumbling block in normalizing relations between the two nations.
Any self-respecting, sovereign nation will find this situation unacceptable. If Tibet or Xinjiang were to show even a fraction of the dissidence that is in evidence in Kashmir, Beijing would have come down hard on the dissidents. Today, Pakistan is in trouble because of the violence in Swat, Malakand, Upper Dir, South Waziristan and Baluchistan. So will Pakistan spare the terrorists there, or show mercy to the azaadi-seeking Baluchis?
The sloganeering, stone-pelting Kashmiri self-determinists should remember that no sovereign state, including India, will be able to accept or tolerate this situation in these times. When some Bengalis, inspired by the Naxalite ideology, challenged the sovereignty of India by waging war against the State in the 1970s, they were punished for threatening the nation’s unity.Similarly, when some Sikhs followed a violent route to secession, they too were ruthlessly mowed down by the State. In fact, the Kashmiri separatists need to be reminded that breaking up the Indian nation is not an option, and that a dialogue cannot take place with a gun pointed at India’s head. The violent agitators must learn their lessons from China taking strong action in Tibet and in Xinjiang, Pakistan suppressing its own subjects in Baluchistan, Russia mobilizing its armed forces against Chechnya and the United States of America extending its sovereignty into Iraq and Afghanistan.
Today, Kashmir is in flames. Tomorrow it could be Kohima, then Punjab (again), thereafter Bengal. The list can go on, thereby making a mockery of the Indian nation and its garrison. The agitation for an azaad Kashmir must come to an end.
SWEPT WITH CONFUSION
FOR A MORE NUANCED UNDERSTANDING OF THE PAST, STUDENTS MUST BE RID OF THEIR PRECONCEPTIONS, WRITES DAYITA DATTA
History properly taught should help men to become critical and humane, just as wrongly taught, it can turn them into bigots and fanatics. — Christopher Hill
It is only when some largely pointless controversy is stoked in the Op-Ed pages and television chat shows that attention is focused on history, its place in the curriculum and the values and skills it seeks to inculcate/indoctrinate. The new national curriculum and the textbooks brought out after a long and fruitful collaboration between practising historians and practising teachers are steps in the right direction. But state education boards and the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations have not caught up, so most of what constitutes school history is “an inherited consensus based largely on hidden assumptions, rarely identified, let alone publicly debated”. (J. Slater, “The case for history in school”, The Historian, No. 2)
To make it worse, history in the junior and middle school is often dumped on mediocre teachers of limited subject knowledge and minimal curiosity, who are content to cover the textbook, not teach the subject or the critical skills it develops. (It is not uncommon for such teachers to answer, when asked what they are teaching, “Now I’m on Chapter 10.”) Research has shown that there is a close relationship between teachers’ subject knowledge and the quality and range of learning experience in the classroom. About 70-80 per cent of students end their class X examinations with relief that they never have to take up history again.
By the time I get to teach students in class XI and XII, they have been thoroughly turned off the subject. At the Plus Two stage, history is an optional subject, so I suppose I should be grateful that a few students have retained some genuine interest in it. But for a significant number of students it is the subject of last resort. To make matters worse, any mention of the national movement — especially Gandhi — elicits only bored sighs. Ask them why and the answers begin to emerge: they have had an overdose of the freedom movement, and of the presentation of prominent figures like Gandhi or Nehru as saintly personages instead of flawed human beings operating in contingent circumstances.
However, most have swallowed the demonization of Jinnah and of Muslims, which might have something to do with their being from north India, and having absorbed the family lore about riots, trains full of corpses, ‘lustful’ Muslims looking for Hindu girls — all fuelled by Bollywood films catering to the lowest common denominator. Students find it difficult to believe that a non-practising Muslim could channel his energies towards founding a Muslim State. Nor can they understand that the Pakistan that emerged was in some ways a disappointment for those who had sought it.
Given this state of history teaching, in most schools and, in some cases, colleges, the ignorant and rabid reaction to L.K. Advani’s and Jaswant Singh’s jejune attempts at more nuanced appraisals comes as no surprise. I have found that the teaching of world history offers a parallel perspective: students understand Jinnah better once they realize that Theodore Herzl and David Ben Gurion were both non-practising Jews. They then begin to understand the fundamental contradictions of the States envisaged by Jinnah and the founders of Israel and the similar nature of both States as they have developed over the years — sectarian and militaristic. As for the eastern aspect of Partition, it does not enter their minds, the Punjab bloodbath having received the greater share of attention. As I am often the only Bengali in the class, it is left to me to add this dimension. As a teacher, I often bemoan the lack of accessible films (like the brilliant serialization of Bhisham Sahni’s Tamas, or the recent Khamosh Pani) about the eastern experience.
Conversely, Partition is the one area of Indian history students are keen to read around — precisely because of the family stories and experiences of grandparents, some of whom may be living with them. The other area is the Holocaust. Over the years, I have wondered why this is so. From students’ reactions to such books and accounts, I do not think it is about wallowing in horror — I think it has more to do with the ‘human’ quality of such experiences. Our little history library has a number of stories and novels about Partition as well as the Holocaust, and they are read avidly.
Students come to lessons with strongly rooted ideas and preconceptions about the past, which even well-meaning teachers find difficult to eradicate. (Some years ago, I was disconcerted to realize that despite having done examinations in modern history in Class X, some students thought Gandhi was responsible for Partition.) It is important that teachers of history understand and take account of students’ preconceptions and ways of thinking, if we are to move them to a more sophisticated and powerful way of understanding the past and the present. Hill’s emphasis on a critical and humane citizenship remains as valid today as when he made it.
The author is vice-principal, Welham Girls’ School, Dehra Dun
LEARNING IN BLUNDERLAND
History is a tentative creature. Although its claims over the past is absolute, it is founded on something as fragile and pliable as the human memory. This inherent doubleness often turns history into a matter of clever retelling. The mind may choose to play up one version of events against another by browsing through the debris of remembrance: selecting, deleting, emending its myriad bits and pieces. The obvious beneficiaries of this mode of history-writing are nation-states keen on perpetuating self-serving national histories that would suitably vindicate their nationalist agendas.
There is a trace of juvenile arrogance about this enterprise. It is as if a truant child is trying to pass off a shoddily put-together jigsaw puzzle as an epitome of perfection. You are simply expected to ignore the missing pieces and nod your approval even as the imperfections are staring you in the face. While indulging a child is one thing, it is quite another to shut your eyes to such importunate and unfair designs imposed on you by the State. You have to be especially discerning about the kind of historical baggage the State is trying to burden you with.
History, after all, is not just about knowing where you come from, but more sinisterly, it is about being told which way you ought to go. So, every time the government of a nation rewrites school textbooks to suit its own ideology and vision of the past, a great many voices are raised against such wanton distortions of truth. However, the more worrisome aspect, and logical consequence, of tweaking facts remains less apparent. If children in Indian schools are told about the glowing legacy of Hinduism and the trail of destruction left behind by the ‘foreigners’ (who are almost always Muslim), then what kind of a skewed sense of national identity and destiny is being fed to them? In the process, not only are communal differences perpetuated, but the minds of the children are also vitiated with parochial, chauvinistic and xenophobic ideas. Children are schooled into accepting the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s grand dream of transforming India into a Hindu State as historical inevitability.
Using history as a political tool to advance personal interests has an ancient provenance. Virgil’s Aeneid, an imaginative re-telling of Roman history, ends by hailing the golden age that would culminate in the reign of Augustus — who, known as Octavian before he became emperor, was also the poet’s close friend. Closer home and nearer time, history textbooks, written under the aegis of the National Council of Education Research and Training, were revised, first between 1977-80 (under the supervision of the Janata Party), and later between 1998-2004 (under the Bharatiya Janata Party) to suggest that India’s incredibly composite culture can be traced back to an exclusively Hindu beginning. The foreigners (the Aryans were conveniently excluded from this category) were construed as destroyers who had either integrated with the mainstream of Hindu life (like Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists) or have remained belligerently aloof (mostly Muslims, and less so, the Christians). There was blanket denial of crucial motives explaining the devastation wreaked by the Mughals. Mahmud Ghazni’s invasion of the temple of Somnath (which inspired L.K. Advani’s infamous rath yatra three centuries later) was made out to be a vengeful jihad, with little mention of Mahmud’s ulterior motives of looting and plunder.
Under the United Progressive Alliance government, passages once removed or tampered with have been restored. What once looked like stray, unmotivated atrocities have been put in a social and economic context. If these contexts do not justify what happened, they at least begin to explain something. However, teaching history with the help of textbooks prescribed by the State is no mean challenge.
Almost every political party in power is tempted to co-opt the teachers as well as the learners into its distinctive ideological fold. Such a desire for intellectual control may be tacitly abetted by a ‘national council’ supervising the teaching of as complex a subject as history.
Since the teaching of history is not divorced from the lived realities and exigencies of the present, it is essential to convey a balanced picture without provoking young people to locate themselves on either extremes of the political divide. Yet, it is also crucial to distinguish between the good and the evil unequivocally. How else would it be possible to inculcate even the vestiges of a humanist ethos among children whose daily lives are marked by the scars of history? Think of children in Gujarat, or in the Middle East, Rwanda or Darfur, of Jewish children living in Germany and Asian children attending British schools. History is a curious mix of black, white and grey areas — and each of these should be allowed to exist autonomously.
In a vast country like India, it is also vitally important to engage with the immediate realities of children living in the farthest corners of the nation. Can the same sense of nationhood be instilled in children going to school in Delhi or Mumbai as in their peers studying in the Northeast? In the 1990s, more than 90 per cent of students in Ladakh failed their Class X board examinations because they could not follow the medium of instruction (English and Urdu) and because their textbooks talked of rainforests, mangroves, rabbits, peacocks, oceans and customs remote from the lives they led in this cold desert in Jammu and Kashmir. In the next few years, the ambitiously named Operation New Hope introduced yaks, apricots, cranes and cheese into the books. The newly updated books are now supposed to include geopolitical issues unique to Ladakh, such as the region’s place in the Silk Route, its links with Lhasa, and so on.
One wonders if revisions like these would also open the can of worms that is Kashmir before these children. How would the NCERT help these children make sense of, if not come to terms with, their lives, shadowed by terror and violence every day? What picture of the Indian nation, with its grand claims to ‘unity in diversity’, would be painted for them in the classrooms?
History — to borrow from the only interesting bit in Arun Shourie’s response to the Jaswant Singh fiasco — could indeed be a Blunderland. And it is presided over by not one but many Cheshire Cats — each trying to lead you down a path of its own liking.
WHAT YOU’RE READING TELLS WHERE YOU’RE FROM
A CULTURE IS A LANGUAGE THAT EXPRESSES A VISION OF THE WORLD AND LIFE, A SENSIBILITY.
BY LEONARDO PADURA FUENTES, IPS
It was a news item that naturally filled me with admiration: one of the world’s busiest and most overworked men, US president Barack Obama, was taking a week-long vacation on the island of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts. But his rest would be that of an active and intelligent man: it included 2,000 pages of reading.
Obama was bringing along five books: three novels (by George Pelecanos, Richard Price and Kent Haruf), a study on renewable energy by Thomas Friedman, and a biography by David McCullough of his distant ancestor John Adams.
The authors on Obama’s list — from a police world chronicler to a polemical essayist- shared a common feature that a few days later would raise a troubling issue: they are all American, and as is usually the case, they all write in English, the dominant language of expression in their multi-cultural and multi-ethnic country.
WRITING IN ENGLISH
What might have sharpened the significance of this common thread in Obama’s reading was a fact that I came across few days later: a certain US university was offering a four-month residence to Latin American authors who were living in their country of origin but fulfiled one inexcusable criterion: they would have to write in English. Note: the requirement was not the ability to write in English but rather that they wrote (meaning, had written) their works in English.
The first thing I did after registering these two news items was to make a list of the last books I had read: ‘2666’, the monumental novel of Chilean Roberto Bolano (the English translation of which recently won a number of American literary prizes); and, in translation, ‘Travels with Herodotus’, a sort of memoir by the master of 20th century journalism, the Pole Ryszard Kapuscinski, the novelised memoirs of Amos Oz, ‘A Man of Obscurity’ by novelist Paul Auster (the original was in English of course). And I am now making my way through Vasily Grossman’s 1,100-page ‘Life and Fate’, which won the author both ostracism from the Soviet Union and universal literary immortality. In short, my list of writers included a Chilean-Mexican, a Pole, a Jew writing in Hebrew, an American, and a Russian Jew.
Taking into account his origin, it is not so strange that Obama would be reading only authors from his own linguistic and cultural milieu. Analysts of the publishing industry have pointed out that of the fiction read in the Anglo-Saxon world, a mere 2-3 per cent is in translation. In other words, of 100 works published in the English-speaking world, only two or three are translations from Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Japanese, Greek, or other languages of the countries that comprise ‘the rest of the world’. Obama’s reading material clearly reflects the dominant tendency of his culture, which is given to satisfying its literary appetites with products from its own orchard, so to speak, with little attempt to try the varieties grown by its neighbours, which exist, write, and of course speak in other languages.
In this context the conditions of the university residence grow more problematic. How many Hispanic-American, French, or German authors write in English? And how many important authors from a wide range of cultural and linguistic origins adopted English as their medium of expression? Joseph Conrad, a Pole, and Vladimir Nabokov, a Russian, are exceptions that prove the rule, as might be Jorge Semprun, a man of two cultures who writes in Spanish and French, or Junot Diaz, a Dominican living in New York since childhood who writes in English. But the norm in all literatures is monolingualism because a writer is the expression of a culture and culture is a language — except for specific cases of bilingualism in certain parts of the world — that expresses a vision of the world and life, a sensibility, and an expressive capacity that one begins to acquire with the first words one learns.
We inhabitants of ‘the rest of the world’ (the Soviet empire and German fascism each had its own ‘rest of the world’) have the privilege of enjoying a more global and unprejudiced approach to cultural consumption. The literary references for my generation included many American and English writers as well as Hispanics and French, and the result of this is a cosmopolitanism and a vision of life in which there is no ‘rest of the world’ imposed by nationalists, fundamentalists, and other exclusionists who exploit any difference or division to ignore those who are not like them.
DIGNITY OF LABOUR
GANDHIJI BELIEVED A LOT IN DIGNITY OF LABOUR, BOTH IN WORD AND DEED.
BY A N SURYANARAYANAN
Dignity of labour means that one respects all jobs/positions equally and does not consider one superior to another. Gandhiji believed a lot in it, both in word (“Mine is the life of joy in the midst of incessant work”) and deed. Once when Gokhale visited South Africa, Gandhiji was ironing his favourite scarf. Gokhale had doubted his capability, but after seeing the end result, gave him a certificate as an expert dhobi! Gandhiji had made a pair of sandals for General Smuts, when in a South African jail! Once he had cut his own hair too!
In 1963, as Adjutant, I had a recruit-clerk in my office: Bhat, an old classmate! His rich but profligate hotelier-father lost everything and Bhat couldn’t continue his studies. Later he cleared SSLC and had worked for a while in civil. His typing skill was incredible; so when I suggested why not a better-paying job in civil, he said: “I feel happy and dignified in what I am doing”. That was my first lesson in dignity of labour.
During my morning walks, as I enter CMR Road, I notice a well dressed, corpulent woman with a mobile hanging from her hip, parking her Scooty; slipping on her ‘Swachha Bengaluru’ green jacket; picking up a long-handed besom and trolley; and getting on to sweeping the road. I find ‘dignity’ in her attitude to her work.
Seventy-year-old Krishnappa polishes all my footwear once a week. Taking pride in his work, he would challenge me to ‘inspect’ for any faults! If I do find any occasionally, he will polish with renewed vigour and present it again for inspection! Once, when I asked him as to why he should work, with three earning members at home, he said he wished to earn his meal in a dignified manner!
How can I miss out Kantharaj, my barber, who is college-educated, well dressed and speaks almost flawless English. When I asked him if he considered doing a better job, his riposte made me bow my head in salutation: “Sir, what is wrong with what I do?”
The dignity I had for 35 years in uniform and have for the past 14 years outside because of it, I cannot find elsewhere!
THE NEWYORK TIMES
PRESIDENT OBAMA STEPS FORWARD
For a man who made health care reform his top domestic priority, President Obama stood on the sidelines throughout a long difficult spring and politically overheated summer. He left it primarily to Congress to flesh out the details of reform and waited in vain for a bipartisan compromise to emerge — a virtual impossibility from the start given the determination of top Republicans to kill his effort and cripple his administration.
On Wednesday night, reeling from the angry if ill-informed outbursts at town hall meetings and concerned about his slipping poll numbers, the president finally found his voice. His speech to a joint session of Congress was rhetorically powerful in its insistence that reform must finally happen — for the sake of Americans’ health and the economic health of the country. We hope it was only the start of a sustained campaign to get this essential legislation passed.
Mr. Obama did well to reveal his requirements for meaningful reform. He stood by the importance of requiring everyone to carry insurance and requiring businesses to provide it or pay to help cover their workers’ costs. That is critical to ensuring a big enough pool of healthy and unhealthy people to spread risks fairly.
Mr. Obama said the plan he is proposing would cost about $900 billion over 10 years, mostly to expand Medicaid coverage of the poor and provide subsidies for low- and middle-income Americans to buy policies on new health insurance exchanges.
Mr. Obama fell short when he failed to say how generous the subsidies should be and who should be eligible to receive them. His $900 billion may not be enough to cover nearly all of the uninsured. Congress should increase it.
Equally important, Mr. Obama pledged that his plan would not add to the nation’s enormous deficit now or in the future. He said any legislation must include a provision that requires additional spending cuts if reforms don’t provide the expected savings.
Mr. Obama was absolutely right when he said that the relentless rise in the cost of Medicare and Medicaid will cripple the nation’s economy. But Americans need to hear a lot more from him and from Congress about how they will address that problem. Anyone opposed to reform has to answer that same question.
Mr. Obama made a strong case for creating a new public plan to compete with private plans on the exchanges.
He is right that all Americans will benefit if the insurance companies have more competition, but he stopped short of declaring a public plan a necessity. It may not be, but it is too soon to abandon the idea. He should trade it away only in return for significant political support — and should demand a trigger to resurrect it should private plans fail to provide affordable policies.
The president was right to stress that reform is essential not just for the uninsured but for all Americans — far too many of us are just a layoff or a job switch or a divorce or an illness away from losing coverage. He said his plan would make it unlawful for insurance companies to deny coverage or refuse to renew it based on health status, and would limit how much people can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses such as co-payments.
We believe that Mr. Obama has been far too passive — for the sake of an unrequited bipartisanship — as his opponents have twisted and distorted the health care debate. It was encouraging to hear him reject those distortions — specifically the absurd charge that he was opening the door to “death panels” — as lies.
And he finally laid down a warning: “I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it’s better politics to kill this plan than improve it.” He should stick to that commitment.
Having let his opponents frame the debate for far too long, Mr. Obama will need to do more than orate. He needs to twist arms among timid Democrats in Congress to get a strong bill passed, most likely with little support from Republicans.
THE NEWYORK TIMES
THE BUSINESS OF VOTING MACHINES
Diebold announced last week that it has sold its United States voting machine division to its main rival, Election Systems & Software.
Given Diebold’s troubling record, it is hard to lament its departure from American elections, but this sale could make a bad situation worse. Regulators should take a hard look at the anticompetitive implications. And Congress, the states and cities need to push a lot harder for fundamental reforms in the voting machine business and the way Americans vote.
Diebold has long been the company that critics of electronic voting love to hate. The company has been accused of illegally installing uncertified software and of making machines that, at least sometimes, drop votes. The company raised serious doubts about its objectivity when Diebold’s then-chief executive wrote a fund-raising letter expressing his dedication to delivering Ohio for President George W. Bush in 2004. Ohio, of course, was one of the states using Diebold voting machines.
The combination of the Election Systems & Software and Diebold American voting machine divisions raises classic antitrust concerns. Election Systems & Software, which has also been criticized for making unreliable machines, would be the nation’s largest voting machine maker by far. And states and cities, which have long complained about the low quality and high cost of the machines, would have less choice or bargaining power.
Government at all levels must do more to promote competition. It is important that machines are certified for use only after they pass rigorous testing. But the current state certification processes are so expensive and drawn-out that they are a significant barrier to entry.
More fundamentally, Congress, the states and cities should look for ways to have governments own and manage their voting machines, as the reform group FairVote has advocated. It makes no sense to allow private companies to count votes using secret, proprietary software. The federal government and the states should also require that all electronic voting machines produce a paper record of every vote and mandate random hand counts to ensure the reliability of the results.
Even if this business deal deserves to be blocked, it will take a lot more than that to fix the broken voting machine industry.
THE NEWYORK TIMES
A LIVING MEMORIAL
Out of the ashes of the horrific 9/11 attacks, a positive custom is taking hold.
Since 2002, victims’ family members and friends have joined with community nonprofits, faith-based groups and others to mobilize Americans to mark the anniversary of the attacks with useful volunteer service. Under a provision of the larger national service measure signed in April by President Obama, Friday will be the first 9/11 anniversary to be commemorated as a National Day of Service and Remembrance.
The simple goal, explains David Paine, a co-founder of MyGoodDeed, an important mover behind this initiative, is to pay tribute in a forward-looking way to those lost and injured in the terrorist attacks and to the ongoing sacrifices of members of the armed forces. By joining with those already planning to take all or part of the day to aid their chosen cause or charity, Americans can show their patriotism and help recapture the spirit of community that saw so many people volunteer to help the families who lost loved ones in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 horror.
We find it baffling that some commentators on the right are criticizing this call to service as somehow inappropriate and soft on terrorism. They have it backward. What is truly inappropriate is to suggest that there is something wrong with devoting a day to helping out at a food pantry, working with schoolchildren or other volunteer activity destined to make our nation stronger. Showing the nation’s strength, resilience and unity is the best way to stand up to terrorists of all kinds.
THE NEWYORK TIMES
FOR DEMOCRATIC MAYORAL CANDIDATE
Democratic voters in New York City have a complicated choice to make in Tuesday’s mayoral primary. They need to select the best qualified candidate and the one who will give Mayor Michael Bloomberg a real contest in his well-financed quest for a third term. We believe their best choice, by both standards, is Comptroller William Thompson.
In his almost eight years as comptroller, Mr. Thompson has run the large, complex office with a steady and conscientious hand. His auditors have helped make the state and city agencies work better. They helped uncover hidden funds at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, for example, money that helped keep fares lower for longer. And the comptroller’s office was an early critic of no-bid contracts for school spending that should be brought under control.
A decent and thoughtful man, Mr. Thompson has spoken out on issues affecting all New Yorkers — such as exorbitant car insurance rates, the cost of counterfeiting, flaws in Mayor Bloomberg’s control of the public school system and discrimination in companies where city money is invested.
More recently, Mr. Thompson has been forced to deal with the fallout from a pension scandal in Albany. The use of placement agents by the administration of the former state comptroller, Alan Hevesi, led to four arrests on charges of allegedly steering lucrative state pension contracts to investment firms. Mr. Thompson has pushed for reforms in this area, including new campaign contribution rules from the Securities and Exchange Commission. But there are still questions about how state and city pension contracts were granted, about fees for these investments and campaign contributions by some in the investment business to Mr. Thompson and others.
Mr. Thompson’s toughest competitor is City Councilman Tony Avella of Queens, who says he hates politics but passionately promotes his ideals of a slower, more humane city. Mr. Avella’s colleague, Councilman Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, said it best recently when he described Mr. Avella as being a good man who is unable “to distinguish when idealism stops and the practical begins.”
Mayor Bloomberg has no immediate competition. He will be the candidate on the Republican and Independence Party lines, having convinced the party leaders to name him as their candidate several months ago. For the Democratic primary, we endorse Mr. Thompson.
THE NEWYORK TIMES
SO MUCH FOR CIVILITY
BY GAIL COLLINS
Let me go out on a limb and say that it is not a good plan to heckle the president of the United States when he’s making a speech about replacing acrimony with civility.
Most of the Republicans listening to Barack Obama’s health care address Wednesday night followed the normal rule about sitting in stony silence while the president’s party leaps up and down in rapturous applause. But there were a few exceptions, notably Joe Wilson, a member of Congress from South Carolina who loudly called the president a liar.
This was when Obama said illegal immigrants would not be covered by health care reform. It seemed like a pretty tame remark for so much disrespect, given all the recent uproar over the president’s alleged ability to brainwash elementary school students.
You might have expected Wilson to hold his tongue and wait to see if Obama would yell “Marxism is a good thing!” and send the commerce committee racing off to give workers control over the means of production.
I always wonder what the members of Congress are actually thinking while they listen to a presidential address. Maybe Senator Max Baucus, the chairman of the Finance Committee, was thinking about the health care reform bill he has yet to pass, although it is equally possible that he was just daydreaming about his recipe for huckleberry pie or that time he walked all the way across Montana, just because it was there and he was running for re-election.
Baucus has become central to health care reform, through the classic dithering technique. Finance has been so slow off the dime that in his speech, Obama gave it kudos for having announced “it will move forward next week.” The problem, according to Baucus, is that he wants a bipartisan bill that meets the cost-control demands of his favorite Republican colleagues.
Sure, Obama talked the fiscally responsible talk last night. But he cannot hold a candle to Baucus and Chuck Grassley, the committee’s lead Republican. These guys are really, really, really concerned about balancing the budget. And that seems only fair since they were basically the ones who unbalanced it in the first place when they worked in splendid bipartisan concert in 2001 to pass George W. Bush’s first $1.6 trillion in tax cuts.
We do not know exactly what Grassley was thinking while the president was talking. Perhaps he was mentally composing a twitter about the speech. The senator has been tweetless since last weekend, when he recorded the memorable: “Saw Ia U beat my school 17/16. UNI played best I proud of my team Pres Mason came up 22pts short of her prediction 4 victory. She good Prez.”
All summer we have heard reports that a special bipartisan group of six senators, including Baucus and Grassley, were working on a health care reform deal. Having a conversation. Talking on the phone. Posting on each other’s Facebook wall. Still, no bill and the definition of “bipartisan” shrank from 70 votes in the Senate to “Olympia Snowe seems to like it.”
We do not know exactly what Senator Snowe of Maine was thinking during the president’s speech. Probably about the president’s speech. She is really, really diligent.
It’s always possible that the Republicans will realize that their virulent opposition is not doing the country any good, and at least be obstructionist in a more cheerful way. Although Wednesday night, when the TV cameras caught the House minority leader, John Boehner, he looked as though he had just swallowed a cough drop.
Boehner got the day off to a fine start by telling reporters he expected the president would “try to put lipstick on this pig and call it something else.” It was a stunning development, suggesting that a new page in American politics was turning, one in which members of both parties could once again come together and toss around that lipstick-pig metaphor without being accused of a sexist attack on Sarah Palin.
The speech sounded fine to me, although I have to admit I’m still disappointed that Obama’s people have not done enough to start interesting rumors on their side of the debate. “Security and stability” is not quite as exciting as stories about old people being executed or registered Republicans being stripped of their Medicare.
So, I was hoping that the reform side would do some groundwork before the big address and start floating stories about how universal health care would save the car industry or combat hair loss.
I envisioned Robert Gibbs getting up at the next press conference and saying: “Look, I know it’s all over the Web that under health care reform every family will get a new wide-screen plasma TV. It’s just not so. That provision was merely proposed by the House Commerce Committee.
“However, I can confirm that the public option has been renamed the Captain Sully Sullenberger Julia Child Oprah option.”
Nicholas D. Kristof is off today.
THE NEWYORK TIMES
BIG FOOD VS. BIG INSURANCE
BY MICHAEL POLLAN
TO listen to President Obama’s speech on Wednesday night, or to just about anyone else in the health care debate, you would think that the biggest problem with health care in America is the system itself — perverse incentives, inefficiencies, unnecessary tests and procedures, lack of competition, and greed.
No one disputes that the $2.3 trillion we devote to the health care industry is often spent unwisely, but the fact that the United States spends twice as much per person as most European countries on health care can be substantially explained, as a study released last month says, by our being fatter. Even the most efficient health care system that the administration could hope to devise would still confront a rising tide of chronic disease linked to diet.
That’s why our success in bringing health care costs under control ultimately depends on whether Washington can summon the political will to take on and reform a second, even more powerful industry: the food industry.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three-quarters of health care spending now goes to treat “preventable chronic diseases.” Not all of these diseases are linked to diet — there’s smoking, for instance — but many, if not most, of them are.
We’re spending $147 billion to treat obesity, $116 billion to treat diabetes, and hundreds of billions more to treat cardiovascular disease and the many types of cancer that have been linked to the so-called Western diet. One recent study estimated that 30 percent of the increase in health care spending over the past 20 years could be attributed to the soaring rate of obesity, a condition that now accounts for nearly a tenth of all spending on health care.
The American way of eating has become the elephant in the room in the debate over health care. The president has made a few notable allusions to it, and, by planting her vegetable garden on the South Lawn, Michelle Obama has tried to focus our attention on it. Just last month, Mr. Obama talked about putting a farmers’ market in front of the White House, and building new distribution networks to connect local farmers to public schools so that student lunches might offer more fresh produce and fewer Tater Tots. He’s even floated the idea of taxing soda.
But so far, food system reform has not figured in the national conversation about health care reform. And so the government is poised to go on encouraging America’s fast-food diet with its farm policies even as it takes on added responsibilities for covering the medical costs of that diet. To put it more bluntly, the government is putting itself in the uncomfortable position of subsidizing both the costs of treating Type 2 diabetes and the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup.
Why the disconnect? Probably because reforming the food system is politically even more difficult than reforming the health care system. At least in the health care battle, the administration can count some powerful corporate interests on its side — like the large segment of the Fortune 500 that has concluded the current system is unsustainable.
That is hardly the case when it comes to challenging agribusiness. Cheap food is going to be popular as long as the social and environmental costs of that food are charged to the future. There’s lots of money to be made selling fast food and then treating the diseases that fast food causes. One of the leading products of the American food industry has become patients for the American health care industry.
The market for prescription drugs and medical devices to manage Type 2 diabetes, which the Centers for Disease Control estimates will afflict one in three Americans born after 2000, is one of the brighter spots in the American economy. As things stand, the health care industry finds it more profitable to treat chronic diseases than to prevent them. There’s more money in amputating the limbs of diabetics than in counseling them on diet and exercise.
As for the insurers, you would think preventing chronic diseases would be good business, but, at least under the current rules, it’s much better business simply to keep patients at risk for chronic disease out of your pool of customers, whether through lifetime caps on coverage or rules against pre-existing conditions or by figuring out ways to toss patients overboard when they become ill.
But these rules may well be about to change — and, when it comes to reforming the American diet and food system, that step alone could be a game changer. Even under the weaker versions of health care reform now on offer, health insurers would be required to take everyone at the same rates, provide a standard level of coverage and keep people on their rolls regardless of their health. Terms like “pre-existing conditions” and “underwriting” would vanish from the health insurance rulebook — and, when they do, the relationship between the health insurance industry and the food industry will undergo a sea change.
The moment these new rules take effect, health insurance companies will promptly discover they have a powerful interest in reducing rates of obesity and chronic diseases linked to diet. A patient with Type 2 diabetes incurs additional health care costs of more than $6,600 a year; over a lifetime, that can come to more than $400,000. Insurers will quickly figure out that every case of Type 2 diabetes they can prevent adds $400,000 to their bottom line. Suddenly, every can of soda or Happy Meal or chicken nugget on a school lunch menu will look like a threat to future profits.
When health insurers can no longer evade much of the cost of treating the collateral damage of the American diet, the movement to reform the food system — everything from farm policy to food marketing and school lunches — will acquire a powerful and wealthy ally, something it hasn’t really ever had before.
AGRIBUSINESS dominates the agriculture committees of Congress, and has swatted away most efforts at reform. But what happens when the health insurance industry realizes that our system of farm subsidies makes junk food cheap, and fresh produce dear, and thus contributes to obesity and Type 2 diabetes? It will promptly get involved in the fight over the farm bill — which is to say, the industry will begin buying seats on those agriculture committees and demanding that the next bill be written with the interests of the public health more firmly in mind.
In the same way much of the health insurance industry threw its weight behind the campaign against smoking, we can expect it to support, and perhaps even help pay for, public education efforts like New York City’s bold new ad campaign against drinking soda. At the moment, a federal campaign to discourage the consumption of sweetened soft drinks is a political nonstarter, but few things could do more to slow the rise of Type 2 diabetes among adolescents than to reduce their soda consumption, which represents 15 percent of their caloric intake.
That’s why it’s easy to imagine the industry throwing its weight behind a soda tax. School lunch reform would become its cause, too, and in time the industry would come to see that the development of regional food systems, which make fresh produce more available and reduce dependence on heavily processed food from far away, could help prevent chronic disease and reduce their costs.
Recently a team of designers from M.I.T. and Columbia was asked by the foundation of the insurer UnitedHealthcare to develop an innovative systems approach to tackling childhood obesity in America. Their conclusion surprised the designers as much as their sponsor: they determined that promoting the concept of a “foodshed” — a diversified, regional food economy — could be the key to improving the American diet.
All of which suggests that passing a health care reform bill, no matter how ambitious, is only the first step in solving our health care crisis. To keep from bankrupting ourselves, we will then have to get to work on improving our health — which means going to work on the American way of eating.
But even if we get a health care bill that does little more than require insurers to cover everyone on the same basis, it could put us on that course.
For it will force the industry, and the government, to take a good hard look at the elephant in the room and galvanize a movement to slim it down.
Michael Pollan, a contributing writer for The Times Magazine and a professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.”
WAYS WITH WORDS
The prime minister has said that literacy in the country will be raised to 85 per cent by 2015. The current rate of literacy stands at 54 per cent according to official figures. Estimates made by other organizations suggest it is quite considerably lower, especially if functional literacy, or the ability to read with relative fluency, is made the criterion for determining who falls in the category of the literate. The mere ability to sign one's own name is of course largely meaningless – except as a means to raise the count. The PM's emphasis, at a seminar marking International Literacy Day, on the government's commitment to education is praiseworthy. However it does not quite say how the target he has laid out is to be met. Pakistan spends just over two per cent of its GDP on education. For 2008-09 this figure fell slightly. Judging by this dismal amount, it is hard to conclude that education is a priority. The PM has said the allocation for education would be raised to four per cent. The fact this has not happened yet makes the task of raising literacy even harder.
There are also other issues to consider. Among these are the vast discrepancies in the literacy rate, which fall to 20 per cent in some districts. For Balochistan as a whole the rate stands at around 36 per cent. For women, literacy is lower almost everywhere in the country and stands at around three per cent in the tribal areas – among the lowest figures anywhere in the world. It is these dismal deprivations that need too to be addressed. So too does the dropout rate, with 48 per cent of pupils leaving school within the first five years. This quite obviously has a lot to do with the quality of education we offer our children. Surveys speak of corporeal punishment at schools despite bans, of teacher absenteeism, of buildings without water, fans and toilets and of curriculums which have little relation to the lives of children. If we are to look beyond a figure and address the true issues of education as a whole, we must too ask ourselves why we have condemned children to such lives. The linkages between literacy, lower child mortality and better family health have been established in many places. There can be no doubt at all that education must be made a priority. Resources to pour into public schools must be found and words turned to deeds. At present the target of 85 per cent literacy within six years seems to be an impossible one. The challenge for the government is to demonstrate it can indeed deliver on this pledge.
DEATH AT SCHOOL
Four schoolboys were killed and several others injured when gunmen opened fire on them near their school. All are said to have been aged under 16 years. The attack, carried out according to eyewitnesses by Taliban militants, is believed to be sectarian in nature. The boys targeted were all Shia. The incident triggered an angry response from anti-Taliban tribesmen, who killed at least three militants as fierce clashes broke out. This retaliatory action will of course do little to console the families of the dead. Nor will it necessarily prevent other killings like it from taking place. The indications of an expansion in sectarian violence across the tribal areas are alarming. The Kurram Agency has already been ravaged by it. Indeed tensions continue and the main road into the principal town of Parachinar remains blocked. Calls from local people to intervene have too often gone unheeded. The tragic shooting in Orakzai is a direct outcome of the failure to tackle problems when they occur, allowing them to grow terrifyingly in proportion.
This applies too to the matter of the Taliban. In many places these militants remain able to operate at will. There is as yet no real estimate as to their numbers and strength. But the effort to eradicate them must be stepped up. Merely driving them out of Swat is insufficient. Indeed some accounts suggest the militants have merely moved into other areas. A strategy which can rid people of the terror they inflict must be worked out. There must be no more deaths along the lines of those seen in Orakzai. Local people have made clear their outrage over the act of violence. They must now be involved in an effort to make their areas safe again so the lives of ordinary people can continue without the fear of violence and the senseless spilling of blood.
A CURIOUS CASE
The kidnapping of a Greek national working in the Kalash valley and the killing of one of those deputed to guard him, is not necessarily the work of extremists as might be assumed at the outset. Mr Athanasius had worked in the valley for 15 years. He eventually persuaded the Greek government to fund the Kalash Cultural Centre that opened in 2006. The KCC is an imposing three-story building that houses a school and workshops as well as a large collection of artefacts. It has done much in recent years to publicise Kalash culture and preserve its ancient way of living, and in doing so promote the tourism that is a part of Kalash economy. A team of Greek doctors and nurses visits during the summer months every year to staff the small hospital and dispensary that are a part of the KCC. Mr Athanasius is said to be a widely respected man and the residents of the Kalash valley are reported to be protesting at his abduction.
Early reports suggested that Mr Athanasius had been taken in the direction of Nooristan, within Afghanistan, but later reports suggest that this is not so. A local source has said that mystery surrounds quite why Mr Athanasius was taken and that it does not appear to be the work of any Taliban or extremist group. Whoever took him, this incident once again raises the issue of the safety of foreign nationals living and working in this country. There are hundreds of foreign doctors, nurses, and other professionals scattered thinly across every province. Their numbers have reduced considerably in recent years as the security environment deteriorated but they remain a significant presence. The state has a duty of care unto them, and we do not know the precise arrangements made to protect Mr Athanasius. We trust that he will be returned safe and well in the near future, and that his rather curious case will serve as a timely reminder to both the state and to those foreigners that live and work here, that security is not an area to neglect.
THE GILGIT-BALTISTAN BUNGLE
The Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order, 2009, approved by the cabinet on Aug 29 seeks to grant self-rule to the people of the area on the pattern of the autonomy enjoyed by Azad Jammu and Kashmir. As the government itself admits, the promulgation of this Order, which has now been signed by Zardari, implies a rejection of the demand that Gilgit-Baltistan be made a province of Pakistan and that its people be given the same constitutional rights, including representation in the National Assembly and the Senate. The reason given by the government is that acceptance of these demands would go against Pakistan's obligations under UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir, which give Islamabad administrative powers over the territory but debar any change in its status.
Given this self-imposed constraint, the government had only limited room for action. It could only make those changes in the constitutional structure of Gilgit-Baltistan which would devolve more powers to the people of the territory, but not affect its international status. The last two constitutional measures adopted by the government for the Northern Areas – in 2000 and 2007 – had also sought to give more powers to the elected Assembly within this constraint. The scope for further devolution was thus quite small. It is therefore no wonder that the changes introduced by the latest constitutional package are by no means of a radical nature.
The most significant change is that a Council has been set up on the same pattern as exists in Azad Kashmir. It will have the power to legislate on more or less the same subjects as the Azad Kashmir Council. The federal government will have a built-in majority in the Gilgit-Baltistan Council, as in the Azad Kashmir Council. The practical consequence is that legislation on these matters will continue to be controlled by Islamabad. But this would not affect local autonomy because these subjects, in any case, correspond to the Federal List in the Constitution and the purpose is to ensure harmony with the laws of Pakistan.
Some of the changes made in the new law are cosmetic, such as renaming the chairman as governor, the chief executive as chief minister and advisers as ministers. On the one hand, the new designations seek to highlight similarities with a province; and on the other hand, they underscore difference from Azad Kashmir.
The renaming of Northern Areas as Gilgit-Baltistan has been welcomed widely as it gives the territory a name that its people can identify with, and meets a long-standing demand. The two parts of the name are separated by a hyphen, rather than the word "and," apparently for no other reason than brevity.
Since the purpose is to equate Gilgit-Baltistan with Azad Kashmir, the government needs also to do two more things. One, it should rename the new legal framework for Gilgit-Baltistan as the Interim Constitution, just as the fundamental law of Azad Kashmir is called. Two, the new constitutional package should be passed by the elected Assembly of Gilgit-Baltistan, just as the Azad Kashmir Interim Constitution was passed by the elected Assembly of Azad Kashmir, instead of being promulgated through executive fiat.
Despite all the changes, some real and others cosmetic, the new Gilgit-Baltistan Order is not going to satisfy the demand of the local people for an end to their political disenfranchisement. Their main demands – provincial status, representation in Parliament, and constitutionally guaranteed rights – have not been met. They acceded to Pakistan 62 years ago and cannot be expected to wait indefinitely to start enjoying the rights of full citizens. To deny to them any longer their due place in Pakistan amounts to punishing them for India's perfidy on Kashmir. The government therefore has to find a way that will give them their full rights within the federation of Pakistan and yet is in accord with the country's international commitments under the UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir.
This can be done by giving Gilgit-Baltistan provincial status on a purely provisional basis, pending the implementation of UN resolutions. If Pakistan does so now, after sixty years first of stalling and then of refusal by India to allow a plebiscite, there will be no breach of our international commitments, nor will such a step affect the sanctity of those resolutions, or absolve India of its obligation under international law to cooperate in their implementation. However, to preclude any misgivings, Pakistan will have to coordinate this step with the people and government of Azad Kashmir and with the APHC as the representative body of Kashmiris on the other side of the Line of Control.
The concerns of Kashmiris in Azad Kashmir and Occupied Kashmir are two-fold. First, their position has been that Gilgit-Baltistan is part of Jammu and Kashmir and cannot accede to Pakistan separately from the rest of the state. Second, Kashmiri leaders, both from Azad Kashmir and from the occupied part, have expressed the fear that the accession of Gilgit-Baltistan would be taken as Pakistan's acquiescence in the permanent partition of Kashmir and would harm the freedom struggle in Occupied Kashmir. Such misgivings have been voiced by Yasin Malik and by some political circles in Azad Kashmir.
These apprehensions are not unfounded, but the good news is that they can be overcome if both Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir provisionally join Pakistan, either jointly as one entity or separately but simultaneously as two entities. Gilgit-Baltistan acceded to Pakistan in 1947. Azad Kashmir could do so now on behalf of the entire state, including the occupied part, through a resolution of the Azad Kashmir Assembly. This should be followed by an amendment to the Pakistani Constitution, declaring that: (a) the final status of Jammu and Kashmir is to be decided through a plebiscite in accordance with UN resolutions; (b) until the final status of the state has been so determined, Pakistan admits it to the Federation on a provisional basis in accordance with the wish expressed by the elected representatives of the liberated territory; and (c) Pakistan remains committed to the implementation of the UN resolutions.
For two generations, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan have been languishing in a constitutional limbo. Their international status has also remained frozen in a nebulous state. This has stunted their democratic and constitutional evolution and prevented the people from participating fully, as they wish, in the political life of Pakistan, giving rise to some disaffection.
This problem is especially acute in Gilgit-Baltistan. The government has sought to address it through constitutional tinkering. Its latest announcement bestowing "internal and political autonomy" will be the fourth such attempt, after those of 1994, 2000 and 2007. The mixed reaction of the local people and the largely negative response in Azad Kashmir and of some APHC leaders show that half-measures will not be enough.
Typically, the new law was not presented before its adoption for public or parliamentary debate. Instead, the government only held some closed-door briefings for the parliamentary committee concerned and a few selected leaders from the Northern Areas. Representatives of Azad Kashmir and the APHC were not consulted. The government clearly still treats the matter as a bureaucratic issue to be tackled bureaucratically.
The demand for provincial status for Gilgit-Baltistan will not go away. The question that the government faces is not whether to give this status but how to do it in a manner that also leaves the UN resolutions on Kashmir untouched and keeps intact Pakistan's commitment to their implementation. The government has to find a way to do all this in a way that also takes Azad Kashmir and the APHC on board. Not an easy undertaking but doable.
It should take the following steps: First, withhold promulgation of the Self-Governance Order; second, start a public debate in Pakistan and consultation with representative Kashmiris on both sides of the LoC on a provisional accession of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan; third, leave it to the elected Assembly of Gilgit-Baltistan to pass a law on an Interim Constitution for the territory; fourth, ask the Azad Kashmir Assembly to pass a resolution declaring provisional accession of the state to Pakistan pending the implementation of UN resolutions; fifth, amend the Constitution to provisionally admit Jammu and Kashmir to the Federation; sixth, and last, ignore any protests, warnings and threats from India.
The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
WHAT THEY FORGOT
Terry O'Reilly's CBC radio programme 'The age of persuasion' is about the effect of advertising on our lives. One nugget from it, which has subsequently become one of my favourite jokes, goes something like this: "A man walks into a small town bar. It is tightly packed and he suddenly hears someone shout out the number 16, and everyone laughs. Soon after, someone shouts out the number 36 and everyone in the bar lets out belly-aching laughs. Confused, the visitor asks the barman why people were shouting out numbers and it was effecting so much laughter. The barman tells him that it's a small town and everyone has heard all the jokes before, so they just numbered them to save time. Encouraged, the visitor takes a chance and shouts out the number four. There is dead silence. Confused the man asks the barman why no one laughed at his number, to which the barman suggests that it may have something to do with the way he told it."
I don't know why, but this reminds me of what is taking hold of the public imagination these days. With revelations of the ISI's role in conjuring up the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), old news that everyone took for granted has somehow become even more of an established truth over a decade-and-a-half later.
It has punctured our romanticisation of democracy, which quite frankly the PPP was already doing a good job of doing under the president. But the oddest reaction has been from Nawaz Sharif. His transformation into a born-again democrat has somehow affected his memory, resulting in an active mythologising of his own ideology.
While Musharraf's crimes remain real, he has been better than Zia-ul Haq ever was. This is the prickly centre of Nawaz's problem, and the revelations by former ISI personnel have further compounded this. President Zardari's barely concealed sympathy to Musharraf's legal troubles is also rooted in the wheeling dealing prior to the unveiling of the NRO and his return to Pakistan. Brigadier Imtiaz's revelations have also hurt already compromised religious parties who were undid by their cooperation with both the previous dictatorships. Even Ejaz-ul Haq is in the act now, trying deceptively to suggest that his father was a benign dictator. While he strongly suggests that the Indians, Israel and USA were involved in planning the death of his father, he lets loose a few volleys that suggest the PPP too may have been moderately complicit. Altaf Hussain now thinks the PML-N is responsible for the Karachi operation?
There has been a total de-legitimisation of all players in the political spectrum after they had garnered some respite because of the transition to democracy. And this will help achieve a number of undesirables. First, it can create the grounds for the renunciation of democracy. Second, it undermines the case against Musharraf. And lastly, it helps protect an embattled president by having everyone else soiled.
But the politicians have played right into the gambit, showing short-sightedness that is crowing away their part in the national narrative. Given the state of the economy and security, dead issues have taken pre-eminence. Part of the problem is that the exuberance and rising popularity of many figures has led them to take strong positions, but the skeletons in their closets prevent unambiguous moral high ground, creating debate which is no longer central to the country.
It will be a tragedy that this becomes the fodder to derail the system again, given the suspicious nature of the timings of the revelations. We need to accept that our politicians are imperfect, and the electorate has to make the best out of the worst available. Their inability to see through that, in effect really driving debate about their past to project wholesomeness is counter-productive, rather than issues current.
Quite frankly, there is just one unsoiled politician, and that is Imran Khan, if we take out the hypocritical pot shots at his personal life prior to his entry into politics. Therein lies the problem too, because his personal integrity is complicated by his tendency to abide by extremists.
So, the politicians need to get a grip, otherwise they will play into the hands of anti-democrats. Embrace their faults, what they did wrong rather than denying mercilessly. Once the system and economy has stabilised, they can afford to work these matters out. Everyone's actions eventually catch up with them in what is like an unwanted marriage between the past and present -- just ask Meera. And like the joke in the introduction of this article, the problem is in the way they describe the past.
The writer is a Rhodes scholar and former academic. Email: email@example.com
THE TRUMPET SUMMONS US AGAIN
"Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely". Frederick Von Gentz, Metternich's adviser, once described the position of the Tsar as follows: "None of the obstacles that restrain and thwart the other sovereigns – divided authority, constitutional forms, public opinion, etc – exists for the Emperor of Russia. What he dreams of at night, he can carry out in the morning". General Musharraf exercised, more or less, similar powers in Pakistan. Absolute power, unrestrained by law, must make people mad. How else can we explain Musharraf's imposition of martial law for the second time and the disastrous action he took against Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and other judges of the Supreme Court?
We lost our independence and sovereignty on General Musharraf's watch when he capitulated, said yes to all the seven demands presented to him, as an ultimatum, by Colin Powell, the US secretary of state. No self-respecting, sovereign, independent country, no matter how small or weak, could have accepted such humiliating demands with such alacrity. General Musharraf executed a U-turn, disowned the Taliban and promised 'unstinted' cooperation to President Bush in his war against Afghanistan. Pakistan joined the 'coalition of the coerced'. There were no cheering crowds in the streets of Pakistan to applaud Musharraf's decision to facilitate American bombing of Afghanistan from US bases on Pakistan soil. Musharraf had to choose between saying no to the American dictate and shame. He chose the latter and opted for collaboration. Thus began Pakistan's slide into disaster.
History will doubtless charge General Musharraf with a number of sins of omission and commission and its judgment will be harsh. On the central accusation – that he toppled an elected government, arrested the prime minister, suspended the constitution, assaulted the Supreme Court and detained the judges – all grave offenses punishable with death -- he will be held guilty. Removing an elected prime minister from office is a decision that belongs to the people of Pakistan, not an ambitious army general.
Should the dictator with blood on his hands get off while ordinary people guilty of petty crimes are sent to prison? Is General (r) Musharraf still above the law? Is he still above the constitution? Does he still enjoy immunity from prosecution? Who gave him the authority to assault the Supreme Court, the sanctum sanctorum, and arrest and incarcerate the judges of the superior judiciary? Who gave him the license to decimate, defile, disfigure and subvert the constitution of Pakistan? Who gave him the authority to derail the political process, and arrest an elected prime minister? Is he so powerful that the arm of law can't reach his neck even though the coercive power has dropped from his hands?
Those who resist Musharraf's trial, those who resist the rule of law, those who resist the judicial revolution, are counterrevolutionaries. We must throw them out of the temple. Citizens! You have quislings, fifth columnists, foreign agents and traitors in your bosom. Without them General (r) Musharraf would have got his just deserts long ago. Pakistan could never be a state of law if it failed to try and punish Musharraf. "The Tree of Liberty", Jefferson famously said, "must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of tyrants". For us that time has come.
Isn't it a great tragedy that at a time like this, parliament, one of the chief instruments of our democracy, is cowed, timid, a virtual paralytic, over-paid, under-employed? I have never seen a parliament so impotent, so clearly left without a shot in the locker. It has left the people under no illusion that it will ever pass a resolution directing the government to initiate the case for the trial and punishment of General (r) Musharraf under Article 6 of the constitution. The PPP majority, often complicit in some of the general's worst crimes, is so committed to protecting him that little action can be expected from it. That leaves us with the Supreme Court and the people of Pakistan. Both are way ahead of parliament and the presidency.
Today the nation is clearly at a fork in the road. We can follow the line of least resistance, turn a blind eye to all the crimes Musharraf has committed and continue to follow the road that has led us to where we are today. Or we can choose the other road. We don't need pitchforks and guns. If parliament is unable or unwilling to respond to public demands and declines to take action against Musharraf in accordance with law, people will, perforce, take the issue to parliament of man, parliament of the streets, as they have done in the past.
President Zardari's aura has crumbled. His star is already burning out, but he will stop at nothing to keep his lock on power. It seems that in the death throes of his regime, Zardari will take Pakistan with him. As his fortunes wane, Nawaz Sharif's star glows brighter and brighter. He has a rendezvous with destiny to carry the revolution triggered by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry to its logical conclusion. Nawaz Sharif knows he is on a winning streak, but he also knows that there are major battles to be fought and won. The need for continued show of popular backing is, therefore, as urgent as before. The only way to ensure victory is to wield the weapon which has brought the anti-Musharraf movement thus far: peaceful demonstrations, rallies and marches.
"If the individual and the situation meet", Willy Brandt told Oriana Fallaci, "then the machinery is set off by which history takes one direction instead of another". The situation and the individual may soon meet with unpredictable consequences. Nawaz Sharif has caught the flavour of the moment. He has a shrewd sense of timing. Zardari's government is wobbling. His administration is paralysed and is lying prostrate in the boulevards of Islamabad. Faith in his leadership is slipping away like an avalanche. He is losing political capital by the hour. His power is oozing away. As his fortunes wane, Nawaz Sharif's star glows brighter and brighter.
As luck would have it, the Supreme Court, the guardian of the constitution, has fallen out of love with dictators, elected or unelected. Today it stands erect and is jealously guarding the constitution and liberties of the citizens. "Before parting with the judgment", the Supreme Court noted in its judgment of July 31, "we would like to reiterate that to defend, protect and uphold the constitution is the sacred function of the Supreme Court". In exercise of this function, the Supreme Court may issue a writ of mandamus directing the government to initiate action under the law against Musharraf. The struggle to try and punish Musharraf has reached a moment of truth for all the pillars of state.
Otto von Bismarck once said that political genius entailed hearing the hoof beat of history, then rising to catch the galloping horseman by the coattails. Today Nawaz Sharif is acknowledged leader of a mainstream political party and has a decisive role to play in the critical days ahead. The voice of history beckons him. Will he 'seize the moment'? Will he 'seize the hour'? Will he respond to the challenge or continue to prevaricate and stay on the fence? That is the question. On that would depend the future course of events in Pakistan.
The writer is a former federal secretary. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.roedadkhan.com
ORANGI VERSUS DHARAVI
He parted the dull grey curtain with a flowery print. Inside, a group of men of all shapes, sizes and ages, shuffled as images of entwined couples moaning flickered on a bulbous old TV screen. The moment some light slithered into the room, it was startled eyes and hands akimbo, almost in a cease-fire pose. I wanted to laugh, but Muthaiah motioned them not to bother about me. I wasn't a cop. Cops too visited, watched the show and extracted money from them.
In the 90s, video parlours that showed blue films were big business. Muthaiah was the entrepreneur of Dharavi, a hero-villain. It was easy for him; he was once a henchman of Don Varadarajan. His parents had moved here from a village in South India decades ago when the place had developed from marshland to tenements that began to spread like a gathering storm. His father had left them after producing three children. By the time he could walk, talk and demand cheap plastic toys, he had to become a man to fend for the family. His first job was with a bootlegger. "I was good and cheated my boss, that's why I got to join the gang."
If a metaphor for Dharavi is needed, it would be found in his persona – poverty, spunk, drama, power, fear and a hierarchy that makes sure that poverty is not a leveller.
Soon enough, one-storey houses had an extra floor, like a pack of cards and just as precarious. The airless rooms were reached with a ladder placed inside. These illegal constructions had the blessings of slum lords who collected hafta every month.
I sat with Farhat bi in a room lit by a naked bulb even in the afternoon. Her husband worked as a junior artiste in films. He was at home. "Kaam nahin mila," he said as he brushed his teeth with a twig. Farhat was a seamstress. Her clients were from lower middle-class homes outside the Dharavi belt. As the machine creaked, she recounted her life story, brief and yet telling. "Bachchon ke liye sochna padta hai. Lekin yahaan koi danga-fasaad nahin hota."
There is no place for communal disparities. In fact, what the residents worry about are do-gooders. When I cornered Satish, who carried a cycle repair kit, his first question was: "Woh didi waali tau nahin hai?" We went into a tea shop and sat on a rickety bench. "Aye, kya bolti tu?" was the song that captured the Bambaiyya patois and bravado; it seemed like an anthem here. It played at full volume. Satish ordered kadak chai and bun maska. He asked for a thanda for me, imagining I'd prefer a bottled drink. I would, but he wanted to have an upper hand. Dharavi is about such arrogance. I chose tea. He slurped it from the saucer and queried, "Tu kya karti idhar?" I was amused by his comfort with lack of respect in addressing a person much older than him.
Child labour; I was writing about it. He was disgusted. "Kaam nahin karega tau peit kaisa bharega? Bada ho ke sab ko karneka, tau abhi se ich shtart kar liya. Taim nahin." He seemed busy. I went to the tanneries and found young boys surrounded by the smell of burning animal hide. Furniture factories showed similar scenes. Hands were calloused with age as faces retained a frayed innocence.
Their creations are displayed in fancy stores and they don't know about it. Recently, I drove past the area. It was late in the evening and bright tubelights hid the filth of illicit liquor made in greasy drums as gutter water seeped in and used batteries added the extra zing to nasha. What shone were bags and antique chairs through glass fronted shops that had names like Enigma. Today, it is as fashionable as distressed jeans, the slits deliberate.
Dharavi has now lost out to Karachi's Orangi as the largest slum in Asia.
Orangi has always had 'town' suffixed to its name. It has neat divisions and is surrounded by areas that might be quite similar, like Gulshan-e-Iqbal or Gulberg. There is a bond of demand and supply. Orangi supplies labour, space and a cosmopolitanism similar to Dharavi. It is essentially mohajir dominated, the dregs of Karachi finding place here. But Pathans too came in, partly as a result of the needs of a city that required gun protection and a poppy high.
It was the push of poverty that made the residents enhancers of their own destiny. The town status was granted only in 2001. It has resulted in several development measures and, therefore, lacks the canniness of dirty streets. Vazir Ali's family had moved to Nazimabad after partition and brought along their leather business. "Small-scale," he said. His workshop is in Orangi. "It is expensive in the main areas and I only manufacture so it does not matter." His products won't have a 'Made in Orangi' label, though.
It appears like lower middle class chawl areas in Mumbai. Perhaps because it does not have a history as long as Dharavi, which is a century old and has reinvented itself to the lowest depths till it became a celebrity. Travel operators run a 'real Bombay' tour to show how people here live and work.
Orangi might not fall for this. It is a hidden township surrounded by respectability; even the little boys scurrying with tea seem to defer to your presence. I asked a woman for directions. She gave it impassively. There is an acceptance and you don't see much status variations. Conversation is difficult, unless you want to buy something. I opted for pirated CDs. The young man would not tell me his name. He refused to acknowledge my Urdu and spoke in broken English. He recognised a tourist from afar. "Software?" He had all possible software available. And music, the covers garish, plenty from Hindi films. "Any qawwali?" I asked. He shook his head. "Not selling."
Elsewhere, close to a small shrine, they do sell qawwali and Sufi music. Strings of flowers smother other smells. Orangi needs a camouflage to justify itself as a Karachi township.
Dharavi hits you in the face as you drive to the east part of Mumbai, the greenery stinking of turd dropped in malnourished pellets. It isn't Danny Boyle's chocolate soufflé version.
The writer is a Mumbai-based columnist and author of A Journey Interrupted: Being Indian in Pakistan. Email: kaaghaz. email@example.com
A CASE OF SUICIDE
THE WRITER IS A FREELANCE COLUMNIST AND FORMER NEWSPAPER EDITOR
According to news accounts scores of young men and boys – some no older than seven or eight years old – have been taken into custody in Swat from militant training centres. It is understood these children were being trained as suicide bombers.
This is not hard to believe. The toll taken on society by bombers who carry out such missions is enormous. It has still to be fully understood or assessed. Outside the General Post Office building in Lahore, members of the families of the 19 policemen killed in January 2008 when a motorbike-riding suicide bomber blew himself up still gather occasionally. Most tell tales of lives devastated by the death of a wage-earner, a father, a husband and a son. There is also another kind of devastation caused by the sense of fear which haunts a society. Rumours rooted in the bombings of the past carry it forward. There is a belief in Lahore that elite schools remain under threat and that this was the real factor in delaying their opening till September 1. There may be no truth at all in this, but the creation of terror marks success for militants.
Hopes that militancy may have been defeated have also been rocked lately by two major bombings targeting security forces in NWFP and the gun attack on the staunchly anti-Taliban minister for religious affairs in Islamabad. Suggestions from the interior minister that the assailants were provided a tipoff as to the minister's movements from insiders in his own ministry, only add to the apprehensions.
Such 'high-profile' assassination attempts are designed too to detract attention from what has been an improved security situation, notably in NWFP. Conspiracy theorists hold that a purpose behind the latest bombings is to ensure the government's successes in this respect are obscured and as such form a part of the recent onslaught against it.
Whatever the motives, for people it means terrorism remains an everyday reality. Indeed it will remain a lifetime one for families of victims, such as the courageous driver of the minister who made a desperate bid to get away even as he was struck by bullets. His actions were a key element in the fact that his master's life was saved.
There is a possibility of the situation taking a still more dangerous twist. Pakistan seems to be emerging as perhaps the lone country where suicide bombers have been used to settle petty scores. The most dramatic incident took place in Bhakkar in October 2008, when a teenaged bomber blew himself up at the outhouse of PML-N MNA Rashid Akbar Niwani. Twenty-two were killed and over 60 including the MNA were injured.
The attack, investigations showed, was not a random act of terrorism or a case of violence motivated by sectarianism as had originally been thought. Instead it emerged that the killer had been 'bought' by a business rival of Niwani and used in an attempt to murder him. This may not have been the first case of its kind.
In Paris investigations continue into the 2002 killing of 11 French engineers in an attack on their bus. It is thought the attack may have been an act of retaliation against France for failing to pay bribes related to a lucrative submarine-building contract awarded by Pakistan. Till now extremists were believed to be behind the blast.
The pattern could be assuming still more dangerous dimensions. In Peshawar three people were killed and 15 including women and children injured during a suicide attack staged at a house during a funeral. Acrimony between two extremist groups is being blamed for the incident.
In all these events, suicide bombers – all of them young, some still in their teens – have been involved. It is assumed that like others who have carried out attacks on foreigners, security personnel or government targets they were persuaded that they were engaging in an act of 'jihad'.
The process of brainwashing that makes this possible and the coercion that underpins such acts needs to be understood. This is essential if we are in the future to prevent them. After all the bombings of the past decade are in many ways extraordinary phenomena. They defy logic. Muslim countries across the world have the lowest levels for suicide – undoubtedly because of the fact that Islam frowns on such acts. Yet here they have emerged as a means to perpetrate violence motivated by religion.
The argument that this has happened also in Palestine and in Indian-held Kashmir is a valid one. But the circumstances in both these places have been strikingly different. In both places an almost helpless people have been confronted by an adversary armed to the teeth with heavy weapons. In such circumstances suicide attacks come to be seen as the only option. In Pakistan they have taken place more and more frequently despite the fact that no such asymmetry of combat exists. While the idea may have been borrowed from the Middle East it has been expertly adapted to fit an inherently different situation.
There has been evidence that money plays a key part in this. Families who live in poverty, who see no hope of escape from it, may indeed be willing to give up a child in exchange for some improvement in the quality of life led by their other children. It is unfair too to describe such a choice as immoral. The real target of the government should be to ensure no one is forced to make such an option by providing some security in life. When this is not available, the six or seven lakh rupees offered by extremist forces offers a possibly irresistible glimmer of hope. The prompt payment of promised amounts and the accompanying promise of a place in Heaven for the family sugarcoat the pill, further disguising any lingering aftertaste.
This though is not the whole story. In some cases at least boys from relatively better-off families – and perhaps some girls too – have been lured away. Psychiatrists in Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar – among other places – describe long battles to win back youngsters dragged in by families after falling into extremist hands.
The process is by all accounts a difficult one. But it demonstrates that the suicide bombings that haunt us are in many ways complex. There is a need to pay some attention to why they have taken root here and to recognize that they can be ended not only by seizing would-be bombers but by addressing the root causes behind terrorism, including poverty and the deepening socio-economic divide that has become the hallmark of our society.
OBAMA'S ISRAEL POLICY
Outlining his foreign policy agenda, President Obama in his inaugural address promised 'a new era of American leadership', and inter alia, pledged to 'seek a lasting peace in the Israeli -Palestinian conflict' by achieving 'the goal of two states, a Jewish state in Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security'.
To prepare himself for the task, Obama invited Arab leaders – King Abdullah II, Hosni Mubarak and Mahmud Abbas to the White House, followed by Natenyahu. In these meetings Obama laid bare his plans to move forward on the peace process, cardinal element being a total freeze on all settlement activities in the occupied West Bank.
Israel is committed to stopping expansion of settlements and also to evacuating settlement outposts built since 2001 under the US roadmap of 2003. The settlements, nevertheless, have continued. Israel claims that Bush had secretly agreed to the expanding of Jewish settlements. Today about half a million Jews live in more than 100 settlements in the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem.
Obama rejected Natenyahu's position that construction should be allowed to continue in existing settlements as part of the 'natural growth'. Natenyahu heading an ultra-right government took no time in rejecting Obama's call as an 'unreasonable demand'. In direct challenge to Obama he announced that an existing West Bank settlement – Efrat -- will be extended by up to 2,500 homes.
Just as Obama entered the White House, a prominent Republican pollster Frank Luntz floated the 'Israel Project' with an advisory board including 20 congressmen. Once the settlement issue heated up, it promptly released a document claiming that the Jewish settlements were not an obstacle to peace accreting that those who backed the removal of the settlement were supporting ethnic-cleansing and anti-Semitism.
Israel has in the past deflected pressure by energising the Israel lobby in the US and by hurling accusation of anti-Semitism to force the adversary to withdraw. Natenyahu has followed the same strategy. Israel has succeeded in getting Capitol Hill's support to the position that 'the settlements are necessary for the security of Israel'. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) recently took out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times condemning Obama's pressure on Israel maintaining that 'the problem is not settlement; it is Arab rejection'.
Given the above background it appears that Obama and Natenyahu are on a collision course. Obama is becoming conscious of the sensitivity of the issue. The flurry of diplomatic activity with visits of Obama's emissaries to Tel Aviv and European capitals hold the hope that the issue may lose its confrontational character and offer itself to some kind of compromise. It will, however, be safe to predict that such a compromise would be on Israeli terms.
The settlement issue is the first real major foreign policy challenge that will test Obama's courage and character as a world statesman.
The writer is a former ambassador. Email: m.tayyab.siddiqui @gmail.com]
MORE TRANSPARENCY NEEDED IN RPPS PROJECT
AS the controversy surrounding the much-maligned Rental Power Plants (RPPs) is taking new turns with the passage of each day, commercial banks are reported to have declined to extend loans worth Rs 200 billion for the project. This is despite straight messages and pressure tactics by the Finance Ministry and the State Bank of Pakistan.
The fact that the banks are hesitant to extend loans for the project would create more doubts about its transparency. Already there are wild allegations and counter allegations with regard to contracting the RPPs especially the unprecedented rates being offered to them, which would lead to exorbitant rise in power charges. The unending debate has revived memories of the past and its linkages are being established with the IPPs scandal. The critics also point out that instead of making payments to the IPPs enabling them to run on their full capacity, the Government is resorting to acquisition of RPPs just for the sake of palm-greasing. They allege that dues of the IPPs are not being cleared just to allow the load-shedding to continue making justification for the RPPs. The manner in which the issue of RPPs is being handled has created ripples in the national political environment and there are apprehensions that it would become subject of white papers and character assassination once the incumbent Government is no more in office. It is understood that the party in power is not lending any significance to the growing criticism and even the Prime Minister is now defending the RPPs but the issue would remain there and haunt those at the helm of affairs in weeks and months to come if no steps were taken to ensure complete transparency in the process. Mere clarifications would not do and the Government should allow an independent parliamentary committee with equal representation from the Opposition to probe the allegations. This would also help redeem honour and prestige of the Minister for Water and Power, who is under intense criticism and scrutiny these days.
EASIEST WAY TO END SUGAR CRISIS. DON’T EAT!
MINISTER for Commerce Makhdoom Amin Fahim has come out with an easiest solution to the prevailing sugar crisis — advising citizens not to use the commodity warning them that it was injurious to health. He is not alone in making this suggestion as Minister for Information Qamar Zaman Kaira, who is also Acting Governor of the newly created Gilgit-Baltistan set-up, also made similar appeals to the masses in a more emphatic manner.
The proposition of the two Ministers not only amounts to an over-simplistic view of the crisis but also indicates helplessness of the Government. This is clear admission on the part of the Government that it cannot do anything to mitigate the sufferings of the consumers and they will have to discard use of sugar to help overcome the problem. This amounts to pouring salt to the injuries and making the sweetener more sour for people of Pakistan. By the same analogy, the Minister should better advise people to go for lanterns and candles to help resolve the power crisis. This is highly ridiculous and not fair to the citizens who have been made to run here and there to get sugar at subsidized rates. Makhdoom Amin Fahim has gone a step forward in claiming that it was not the responsibility of the Government to control prices of sugar. Strange and untenable assertion, which no saner element would accept. If you are not there to safeguard rights of the people then what for you are in power? He has also claimed that he is responsible for Ministry of Commerce and has nothing to do with the governmental policy on sugar. This is also an untenable claim, as the Cabinet has the collective responsibility while Trading Corporation of Pakistan, which is importing sugar, is part of his Ministry. Similar statements were given by Mian Manzoor Wattoo who is asking the court to enforce its judgement on sugar price, forgetting that it is the job of the administration to implement verdicts of the judiciary. We believe that instead of churning out such irresponsible and care free statements, the top officials of the Government should find out ways and means to end the crisis because shortage and higher price of sugar are causing great inconvenience to the people in view of Ramazan and approaching Eidul Fitr, which is also considered to be a sweet festival.
US BLOWS HOT AND COLD ON PAK NUKES
WHILE there should be no doubt that Pakistan’s nuclear programme is an eyesore for many countries in the West, India and Israel, deliberate and amusingly inaccurate intelligence leaks are made by officials of the United States to the Western media periodically questioning the security of our nuclear assets. Sometimes these reports speak of the looming dangers that terrorists are quite close to take hold of them with the sole purpose of creating uncertainty not only in Pakistan but also in the international community.
But sometimes there are diametrically opposing statements too that the assets are safe and meet the IAEA security standards. There are many reasons for launching propaganda against Pakistan’s strategic assets and some of them are aimed at seeking information about the security system, location, state of their readiness and to build international opinion that the country cannot ensure the security of its nukes. However the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates in an interview has expressed satisfaction with the security arrangements at Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal saying that as per their assessment the security arrangements are sufficient and adequate. We are thankful to Secretary Gates for giving a clean chit to Pakistan on nuclear security issue. Nuclear security is a multi-dimensional and robust mechanism that covers all aspects of security, including physical security tiers, intelligence systems, counter-intelligence set-ups, technical solutions to security and so on. Pakistani nation has become fully familiar with the US stance on our nuclear programme and it has no doubt that propaganda of falling the weapons in the hands of terrorists would go on. However we expect that the intelligence agencies of the US would keep the words of their Defence Secretary in mind in future while disclosing their assessment to the media about security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. At the same time we would urge the United States to adopt a coherent approach to deal with the sensitive issue of nuclear weapons rather than targeting a particular country while conveniently ignoring others which have piled up huge stocks and are even getting technical collaboration from it to upgrade them.
TERRORISM, THE CHANGED DIMENSION
AIR MARSHAL AYAZ A KHAN (R)
After the rout of Swat Taliban, and the death of Baiullah Mehsud, the Taliban sponsored terrorism in Pakistan has lost its sting. But the terrorists remain entrenched in Waziristan, and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is still capable of launching suicide bombings, killings and arson. The death of twenty police cadets in the suicide bombing of the Mingora Police Training Center provides evidence of terrorists motives and capability. The heartless gunning down of school children in the Khyber Agency, and torching of petrol tankers, proves that terrorism is around, and will need concerted government and public effort to weed out the killers and the arsonists. The terrorists will mount attacks from their safe heavens in Waziristan, are without a major joint civil-military plan and determined sustained offensive action they cannot be eliminated.
With the on going Army, FC and Vigilante (Lashkars) operations, the defeated Swat terrorists are unlikely to surface to challenge the writ of the state, but could launch guerrilla attacks and bombings. They are on the run, and are being hunted by the security forces, and the pro-government lashkars. This policy in Swat should continue till terrorists are eliminated. But the terrorists in North and South Wazirstan, Orakzai, Khyber and in some areas of Bajaur Agency numbering around twenty-five thousand are regrouping around the new TTP leadership led by Hakimullah Mehsud. Tentacles of Tehrik-e-Taliban have spread. The Bombay terrorism, attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team and spate of attacks in Lahore, proves that TTP tentacles have spread into south Punjab. TTP and Tamil terrorists could have joined hands in the attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team. The changed dimension of the threat, is the countrywide dispersal of Taliban, especially in the Pukhtnwa and Punjab cities. The increasing cooperation with frustrated Punjabi youth in Southern Punjab, should be a matter of concern. TTP’s possible cooperation with Tamil Tigers must be investigated into.
After the August 05 death of Baitullah Mehsud, and with the firefights between some factions, and assassinations of some key TTP commanders, it appeared that TTP will implode. But with the appointment of Hakimullah Mehsud as Amir by the Tehrik-Taliban Shoora, with the blessing of Amir-Al-Mominin Mulla Omar on August 26, the TTP power-struggle is over for the moment. Hakimullah is the saddle. With plans for greater cooperation with the Afghanistan Taliban, his actions must be carefully watched. Alive he is as dangerous as Baitullah Mehsud. The 29 year-old new TTP Amir heads gangs of wantonly brutal bands of cut throat murderers, totalling over twenty five thousand. They are well armed, and experienced in suicide bombings, guerrilla attacks, ambushes, kidnapping for ransom, extortion, and murders. What is their common bond? It is not Islam, it is crime, making illegal money from warlords and contractors by blackmail and extortion. It is monetary reward from drug mafia’s and enemy agents to create mayhem and anarchy. The way they have been bombing mosques during Friday prayers, and launching suicide bombers to massacre hundreds of fellow Pushtoons, and Pakistani citizens proves that they are paid brainwashed barbarians, who must be eliminated to save the Pakistani nation. They do not read or understand Koran and have no comprehension of Islam or Sharia. They are violent, intolerant and trigger-happy. After the success in Swat and Malakand, the military inaction in North and South Waziristan, has provided them time to regroup, re-equip and evolved a new strategy, and hit out with greater ferocity and brutality. There appears to be wisdom in Pakistani military plan to soften the insurgents by air action, plug their supply lines, create local Lashkar’s to erode Taliban unity and capability, try to dissuade teenagers from Taliban machinations at brainwashing and using young Pushtoon’s as gun-fodder for suicide bombings. Civil-military cooperation is urgently needed to sustain such plans.
Hakimullah Mehsud will follow his dead mentor’s policies of death, destruction, arson, extortion and kidnapping. He has more than twenty five thousand insurgent fighters to do his bidding. It is too early to asses his capability, acumen and desire to expand the TTP movement by bringing other militant groups into its fold? With the Pakistani government determined to wipe out militancy and terrorism, and the armed forces prepared and motivated to annihilate insurgent terrorists, Hakimullah Mehsud and his cohorts must not be given time to recuperate, reorganize and rearm. The brutal bands of criminals hiding in caves in Waziristan, and other FATA Agencies must be brought to justice as soon as possible. Some media men and “human right pundits”, and television journalists who had travelled to Hakimullah’s -controlled part of the Orakzai tribal agency in November last year, appear to have a soft corner for the new TTP leader. He is being introduced as the ‘young turk’ whose “ views on religion and politics and his ambition to take the terrorist movement beyond FATA to mainland Pakistan, is plausible. One journalist described,” his cold looks and wry smile left little doubt that he may not think twice before killing anyone.” He has chopped more heads of Pakistani security personnel than any other terrorist including Maulvi Fazalullah.” Yet he was intelligent enough to grasp the significance and power of the media and tried to make the maximum of the presence of the television teams to express his views on issues ranging from the situation in Afghanistan, to TTP’s links with Mullah Omar and his Taliban movement, to Pakistan’s political scene, particularly his views about the Awami National Party. It was not difficult to see how much he hated the ANP.” He is an enemy of Pakistani people, must be treated as an enemy of the nation by the media, and need not be glorified. Having slit throats of defenseless young soldiers and civilians, Hakimullah wants to present himself as a modern man. He knows a lot about weapons, munitions, explosives, guns and machines. So, while at one point he sought the cameramen’s indulgence while showing off by speeding around in a Humvee that his men had captured during a raid on a convoy of American vehicles in the Khyber Agency, an hour later he invited the journalists to participate in a gun-shooting competition.” Orakzai Agency like North and South Waziristan are safe heavens for the Taliban, and the more time Hakimullah Mehsud gets to reinforce, harder it will be to dislodge the Taliban from the difficult terrain of North and South Waziristan. Pakistani and foreign media is helping the Taliban terrorists in the ‘image-building exercise’ which is aimed at presenting Hakimullah Mehsud as a future leader of the Tehrik Taliban Pakistan. Hakimullah Mehsud has started spreading his wings. Baitullah Mehsud had given him charge of three tribal agencies. He has gained a foothold in Orakzai, was actively involved in supporting the local Taliban in Kurram, and was making his presence felt in Khyber. The military action against insurgents in Bara-Khyber Agency, must be followed by intelligence assessments of Taliban capabilities, ie strength and deployment in the above four agencies and intentions.
He is more ambitious than his predecessor who mostly remained confined to South Waziristan, Hakimullah explained to the Pakistani correspondents his expansionist designs. “If the Pakistan government continues with its policy of following American diktat, (some day) we can even try to capture Peshawar, Hangu and even Islamabad, we have the strength to do it”, he said. Hakimullah is loyal to Mullah Omar and openly praised the Al-Qaeda, which seemingly funds the TTP. “We are Al-Qaeda’s friends as both us the Taliban and the Arab fighters have shown our allegiance to Amir-ul-Momineen Mullah Omar of Afghanistan, but there is no Al-Qaeda in South Waziristan.” Hakimullah’s nomination as the new TTP chief would be worrisome for Pakistani authorities, but more so for the NWFP government. Hakimullah is not a traditional mullah, as he does not have a proper degree from a religious school. However, he knows how to exploit Pakhtuns’ religious as well as nationalist sentiments. “We do not give two hoots to Awami National Party’s tirade against Taliban,” Hakimullah had said in the interview. “We can have an agreement with all the political parties but not with ANP,” he said. While ridiculing the ANP in his typical style, Hakimullah was unable to hide his desire to expand the scope of his activities by claiming that once the ANP used to say that like them the Taliban too were Pakhtoons, but the way the situation was developing the ANP might soon take back its claim to be representatives of the Pakhtoons” says Hakimullah. Hakimullah Mehsud now heads the powerful Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. He is ambitions, and will try to weld the fourteen groups of the Taliban under the flag of a more united Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. The more time he gets may mean more trouble for the Pakistani authorities, and certainly for the ANP-led government in the NWFP.
ZARDARI’S LONGEST YEAR
Asif Ali Zardari is the 17th head of State and 13th president of Pakistan. Born in Karachi to Hakim Ali Zardari, head of one of the Sindhi tribes, Zardari grew in Karachi and was educated there. He assumed the office in the Aiwan-e-Sadr on Sept 9, 2008, after his predecessor Gen (R) Pervez Musharraf who ruled the country with iron hand was forced to resign by the democratic forces in the country led by the Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League-N.
It was a challenging task. The new President was the widower of two-times Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto, who also was the chairperson of one of the largest political parties of the country. The former prime minister and the party leader was killed on Dec 27, 2007, in mysterious circumstances while leading the election campaign that culminated with victory, ouster of the non-democratic forces and coming into power of PPP and allied parties.
After the death of the party leader, Asif Ali Zardari had to carry heavy burden. He was asked to take over the party leadership in the absence of their son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari who had replaced the mother as the Chairperson of the party but had to complete education as well. Asif Ali Zardari was thrust into centre stage of political developments as there was almost a consensus on him. He had carried forward the legacy of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir, the PPP through successful general elections and worked with former political enemies to force the military dictator to resign and leave the country quietly.
Having led the PPP in the election campaign successfully and proving his leadership qualities and later winning the presidential elections in September 2008, Zardari presided over an increasingly fragile country, exposed to a growing militant threat, a possible economic meltdown and political instability. But as a man who had negotiated many a dramatic turns since his marriage 20 years ago to the charismatic Benazir Bhutto, he has proved as a formidable enemy to his opponents. After the death of the party leader and victory of the party in the subsequent elections, he was forced by political colleagues to take over two top most responsibilities. Firstly to contest the presidential elections which he won. Secondly he was asked to take over the leadership of the party which had turned as the ruling party.
The decision to wear two caps was meant to keep the country, the government and the party united. It was a time when there was complete anarchy in the country, the war against terrorism was at its peak, the country at large and especially the northern part of the country was in the grip of insurgency and hundreds of people were displaced from their homes because of the military operation. At the same time a mini insurgency also goes on in Balochistan. Under the untiring leadership of President Asif Ali Zardari, the country, during the last one year has fought and surmounted the bitter war. It had been a unique war of its kind that Pakistan had fought, that was also linked with the international security thus foreign interests in the region.
In fact Pakistan under the leadership of President Zardari had been fighting out terrorism and extremism, a cause that was so dear to the international community. That was not enough; the president had to fight on many more fronts. One of them was the economic front. He had inherited a very weak economy and that too in the wake of ever rising menace of terrorism and extremism. Because of the worst law and order situation and acute shortage of electricity Industrial production in the country was almost at the stage of devastation.
A venture for political stability in the country, industrial revival and developing different sectors was initiated by the government but at the same time efforts were made to improve law and order situation. It was restored to a great extent which was almost paralyzed due to protracted war against terror and incidents of suicide bombings. Today’s world is a global village. No nation can develop unilaterally. It’s not a solo flight. So to develop, international cooperation is desired. Investments and technology had to be attracted. That needed untiring efforts. It was forthcoming from the President along with his smart experience and capacity to take quick decisions.
Towards this end, the President remained in contact with many friendly countries and platforms all around, in the United States of America, Europe and Asia. In addition to the Fiends of Democratic Pakistan, bilaterally too there had been several interactions. In this regards the President had to undertake extensive visits to friendly countries that include China. President Zardari had given a new dimension to the Pak-China relations. He had been unusually visiting that country, almost every three months, leaving aside all protocols and formalities.
Zardari has spent several years in jail as part of political victimization not only to him but also to Benazir Bhutto. The charges of corruption were never proved. In 1993, when the then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan sacked the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Zardari was escorted from the prison straight to the presidency where he was sworn in as a minister in the interim government. His last prison sentence lasted eight years until 2004, during which time he says he was tortured. He had learnt much during the previous years, gray hairs that had appeared on his face are a candid proof that Zardari must be a changed person. His style is different than traditional politicians in our region but he is destined to deliver. Political stability, economic and industrial revival, elimination of poverty, sovereign foreign policies, carrying to logical end the war against terrorism and extremism are expected to be achieved by Pakistan under the leadership of President Asif Ali Zardari during his second year of presidency. The target is achievable and that has to, because at the end of two years he will be almost half way of his term in office.
The writer is a senior journalist and Secretary General Friends of Nepal.
TO BE OR NOT TO BE FAT!
Is it merely one’s imagination running wild or does one actually see more and more fat persons on the streets of late? One may be wrong but the latter does appear to be more likely. From a wider perspective, one may not be totally off the mark in calling the rather widespread incidence of obesity one of the more virulent side effects of globalization. One thing that one notices is that obesity is not really confined to the well-fed First World countries. A certain class in the Third World is also falling prey to this pestilence. Hence the relevance of the reference to globalization of obesity!
If one were to succumb to the sin of over-simplification, one could generalize the fat as ‘haves’ and the slim as ‘have-nots’. This generalization is theoretically sound even though it can be challenged on certain counts. Those falling below the poverty line and those who are deprived lack the very sustenance that could lead to obesity. Those who have the means to over indulge would have the natural tendency to bulge out in places they are not supposed to. On the other hand, nature has this - to some- the annoying habit of bringing everything to an even keel. Those who cannot afford to over-indulge lead comparatively healthier lives. The rich and prosperous contract diseases that make it obligatory for them to shun such foods as are the envy of those not as well-endowed. And yet - human nature being what it is - how many rich are willing to part with a portion of their wealth to provide sustenance for the deprived classes?
A cursory over-the-shoulder look at history may not be out of place. The state of being fat is certainly not of recent origin. History is replete with exploits of men (and women, no doubt) of outsize girth. Nobles over the ages, through their habit of eating rather more than their systems were in need of or their lifestyles called for, tended to develop rather generous physiques. Such individuals used their obesity to good advantage by projecting larger than life images. Throwing their weight around literally, so to speak! History notwithstanding, obesity as a widespread phenomenon, is of fairly recent origin, though. Off and on one reads of alarming news from the United States, for instance, of the phenomenal rise in the number of fat people in that country. In fact, obesity appears to be assuming epidemic proportions there. One alludes to the experience of the United States merely because the press there is highlighting the sorry plight of the obese. It would hardly be fair, of course, to confine this issue to that country alone, or even to the developed world. The malaise is more widespread than that.
Persons having generous paunches were once euphemistically referred to as being “prosperous”. This appellation was, in a way, accurate because a person had to be prosperous to able to afford to eat as much. At the same time, an individual receiving this backhanded compliment got the subtle hint that he, or she, had better do something about it. The days of such subtlety are now long gone. While on the subject of fat individuals, one would be well advised not to generalize the matter. Fat persons fall into various categories depending on the origin of the state of obesity. Then, again, some are born fat; others achieve fatness, while fatness is thrust on some. Not to forget those that are fat by design! The sumo wrestlers of Japan are a case in point. They fatten themselves up in the interest of what can be called physical stability. Science teaches that the lower your center of gravity the more stable you are. It is on this principle that the sumo wrestlers base their campaign to deliberately gain weight. By the way, what happens to them after they retire?
How, then, did this obesity epidemic start? By hindsight, it may not be that difficult to append an approximate date. There are those who would date it to coincide it with the advent of the fast food revolution. The accompanying change in the dietary habits of people would appear to be the major reason behind the regrettable development of the average girth of several communities. Not only have people taken to eat what can only be described as junk food, they also eat it in quantities greater than their systems require or can support. The result is evident; more and more people are developing fat and in the wrong places.
Veering a bit from this line of reasoning, one finds that literature is full of loveable fat characters. Charles Dickens was particularly fond of fat individuals. The jolly Cheeryble brothers are an example or the corpulent Mr. Pickwick, or then again the portly – and jolly - Mr. Wardle. Add Joe, the fat boy, to the list and you have a fair idea of Dickens’ soft corner for portly personages. Tweedledum and Tweedledee would conveniently fit into the same mold. George Orwell, for one, had a succinct view on the subject: “I’m fat, but I’m thin inside,” he was fond of saying. Has it ever struck you that there is a thin man inside every fat man? Much the same as saying that there is a statue inside every block of stone!
The aforesaid does open up an entirely new line of thought. For instance, one can be physically fat and yet spiritually slim. Vice versa, one can be physically slim but fat internally. Fatness can thus be seen as a state of mind. What is more, fatness may not be considered as synonymous with indolence. Like fatness, indolence too is a state of mind. It is well nigh impossible to pinpoint that stage when a person ceases to be slim and enters into the state of fatness. Everything is relative, really. Like beauty, obesity too lies in the eye of the beholder. Not a bad thought that to end on!
AFGHANISTAN: LOSING HEARTS, MINDS & WAR
The events in Afghanistan over the passed few days clearly demonstrate that America and her allies are running out of options to extricate themselves from a hazardous quagmire that threatens to end their occupation in disgrace. The situation has rapidly deteriorated and the recent NATO air strike which killed scores of innocent civilians not only epitomizes the callous attitude of the crusaders, but sets a new benchmark for measuring West’s sacred ideal of human rights when applied to the Muslims of Afghanistan—let alone the Muslim world. The indiscriminate killing of civilians belittles the oft-quoted mantra of winning hearts and minds; instead it has diminished West’s credibility, appalled the nations of the world and more significantly emboldened the Afghan resistance.
This new dose of realism, has stirred some western politician and military leaders to intensely question the war in Afghanistan. Commenting on Gordon Brown’s recent pledge to remain committed to Afghanistan, Lord Paddy Ashdown said, “Events are still moving against us in Afghanistan…This was the right war to fight but we have made catastrophic errors over the last five years and unless we can turn this thing round very quickly I think things will not get better, they are likely to get worse.” Across the Atlantic, the call for a new Afghan strategy by General McChrystal—months after the Obama unveiled his much coveted Afpak strategy— underscores the confusion and mayhem amongst US military planners. After 8 years of ‘preventative war’ and several strategies later, the mighty US military and its partner NATO is fatigued and nowhere near to overcoming a band of rag-tag fighters. Grandiose plans to use Afghanistan as a staging base to counter Russia, China and the resurgence of Islam seem to be wishful thinking at best.
Even the new strategy offers very little solace in the way of fresh battlefield thinking. Proposals such as dividing the Afghan resistance, tempting moderate Taleban into the political process, improving civilian infrastructure, increasing the Afghan army and boosting the number of US/NATO troops have been tried before and have only met failure. One only has to look at Iraq and realize that similar strategies pursued are fast unraveling—making a mockery of claims that the violence has subsided and the resistance defeated. Last year the Rand National Research Institute conducted a study of the 90 insurgencies that had taken place since 1945 and discovered that on average it takes 14 years to defeat insurgents once they are operational. Unless, the US and her allies are willing to substantially augment existing troop numbers and prepare their populations for a protracted counterinsurgency war, the prospects for stabilizing Afghanistan look woefully bleak. In Europe the momentum is galvanizing towards ending European involvement in fighting America’s ‘preventative war’. Britain, France and Germany are pressing for an international conference to persuade the fickle Afghan government to take on more responsibility. Abdication of European responsibility will put further pressure on the already strained trans-Atlantic alliance. The only military asset the West’s has in its arsenal to reverse its fortunes in Afghanistan is the Pakistani regime. In the past, America exploited the Pakistani army, the country’s rich resources and ingenuity of its people to help the Afghan Mujahiddeen defeat the Soviets. Later, the US collaborated with Pakistan’s elite and created the Taleban to promote stability in Afghanistan and act as a conduit for the transportation of oil and gas from Central Asia. Today, America is conniving with the Pakistani leadership to confront the Afghan resistance and destroy it, even if this leads to the dissolution of Pakistan’s territorial integrity. If it was not for Pakistan, America’s preponderance in the region would have terminated long ago.
It is precisely this point that anti-war campaigners in the West and those nations that are incensed by America’s unjust war on the poorest nation on earth should concentrate on. They should all lobby Pakistan to withdraw assistance to America and NATO. Any endeavor short of this trajectory is futile and will only prolong the war. As for the Pakistani people they must realize that the present political and military leadership is stooped in cowardice and blinded by promises of illusionary riches to recognize Pakistan’s immense strength and the opportunity before them to deliver a painful blow to end America’s primacy. Instead, what is required during this Ramadan is for the people and the armed forces to take the reigns of power establish the Caliphate and expel the crusader forces from both countries. Those who doubt their ability to accomplish this feat should ponder on the poorly equipped Muslim army at Badr that overcome the mighty Quraish and ushered in a new age of Islamic rule.
The writer is a political commentator who specializes in Muslim Affairs.
‘..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!” “What’s so funny dear?” asked the wife from the kitchen. “Nnn..nnnothing!” I whispered suddenly.
You were laughing about something?” “Whh..hat abbbout?” I don’t know, I heard your laughter?” “He, he, he!” “That’s a nervous giggle! I heard you laughing, like ha, ha, ha!”
He, he, he, he!” “What are you giggling like a teenager Bob? You seem nervous about something?” “Me nnnervvvous, he, he, he!” “There’s something wrong with you,” said the wife coming out of the kitchen and standing in front of me. “Are you feeling okay?”
Okkkay!” I said, “Okkkay! Okkkkay!”“Let me take your pulse,” said the wife. “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.
Bangladesh's improved ranking in the Global Competitive Index in 2008 is certainly good news. It has moved five notches up to 106th position from its previous 111th position and considered in the context of global meltdown, this is particularly savouring. What, however, remains so galling is the poor infrastructure, on which count the country secures the 126th position among the 133 countries surveyed by the World Economic Forum (WEF). The WEF is known for its most comprehensive assessments of country competitiveness on the basis of probing insight into policies, institutions and factors driving productivity responsible for sustained economic growth and long-term prosperity. So the Global Competitiveness Report published annually by the WEF acts as a barometer of nations' competitiveness in terms of both investment and human resource development.
The Global Competitiveness Report 2009-2010 released on Tuesday by the Centre for Policy Dialogue, its partner organisation here, makes some critical observations concerning Bangladesh's capacity-building. It has recognised that the country's advancement in ranking is due mostly to the macroeconomic stability, some improvement in government and other public institutions along with the financial market. Not all is well, however, on the microeconomic front. The country failed to demonstrate better performance in education, human capital and corruption indicators. No wonder, therefore, that labour market efficiency, directly related to education, was at a very low level.
It is worth noting here that the Bangladesh Business Environment Study 2009 conducted alongside the WEF study and released on the same day draws the same conclusion on the inadequate infrastructure facilities. Power and gas shortage have remained a most vexing problem so much so that investors have shied away from Bangladesh, notwithstanding its favourable business rules and regulations, to countries like Vietnam and Cambodia. Clearly, we need to raise power generation to the extent where this no longer works as a disincentive for willing investors. Also improvement of labour productivity through human resource development is a must for national prosperity.
FLU TURNS MORTAL
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned South Asian countries not to be complacent about H1N1 virus, popularly known as swine flu. So far it has hit the region comparatively lightly but a bigger pandemic cannot be ruled out. And if that happens, it may claim many lives, as the basic health infrastructure in this region is very weak.
Although by global standards, Bangladesh has been hit sparsely with only 311 reported cases and two deaths from this virus, it has made the entire country panicky. The health administration has to take the blame for much of the chaos. Initially when word of the first swine flu victim was reported on June 18, 2009, the people were asked to go to the nearest hospital. But most hospitals refused to admit the patients. Consequently, people rushed to the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR, B) that sent them over to the nearby Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR). Evidently, the health administration's message was misleading and caused great suffering to the people.
The directives on swine flu preparedness and treatment coming from the government are far from clear with virtually no advertisements in the media about the symptoms of the disease, or clear cut guidance about where to go in case of an attack. The BBC radio's Bangla service, which has a large audience in Bangladesh, is not being utilised for throwing the message accurately. With the current low-profile communication, it is natural that panic will follow and no amount of exhortation to the contrary will help.
The only silver lining is that there are medicines available to combat swine flu. A vaccine has been developed to inoculate people against the disease. But it will be another three months before it arrives in Bangladesh.
A BIGGER SLUMBAI..!
"…A UNDP REPORT SAYS KARACHI'S ORANGI SLUM HAS SURPASSED MUMBAI'S DHARAVI TO BECOME ASIA'S LARGEST SLUM…" TIMES OF INDIA, 7TH SEPT.
In the office of the Mumbai chief minister there was an eerie silence as the news that Mumbai was no more the biggest slum was taken in, "How did this happen?" whispered the CM his face ashen, his normally neat hair now in disarray, "We have worked hard so many years to see that our Mumbai is the biggest slum and now we have been overtaken? Somebody will pay for this! Call the ward officers!" The municipal ward officers trooped in, "Sir," said their spokesperson as the rest of them shivered under the CM's relentless gaze, "We have done all in our power to see the city has the most number of slums. I have personally encouraged slum dwellers to construct, not one, but two, three and four stories over their shanties!" Said a second ward officer picking up courage, "And I have even gone to the railway stations to tell migrants coming into the city, to build their huts on any pavement that is still unoccupied or encroach on any land that looks vacant!"
"Then how did this happen?" asked the CM, his eyebrows arched in rage, a rage they had not seen even when the terrorists had laid siege to the city, "How did this happen?" And he shoved the newspaper report across the table to the municipal officers. "Sir!" said an aide running to him, "The PM is on the phone!" CM, "Yes Prime Minister? I am sorry sir, I am sorry, yes I know Pakistan has beaten us, I know how the nation gets upset when they do, I have seen it in cricket, but they must have done something surreptitiously to have overtaken us sir! I assure you Mumbai will get back her rightful place as the biggest slum in Asia!" The CM put down the phone and glared at everybody in the room, "If he had glared like this no terrorist would have ever struck Mumbai," pondered his military attaché as he stood at attention behind the CM. "Maybe we could supply the people with straw, hay and even bricks free to build their huts sir?" The CM gruffly approved, "Good idea!" Another ward officer, "Paint maps at railway stations showing where land is available?" Said the CM, "Excellent!" as the people in the room relaxed. "Sir, slums come up, but are demolished by demolition squads when they do not get their hush money!" The CM nodded, "That is true. They should not be demolished!" Said Sanjay Nirupam, the MP representing Mumbai in Parliament, "There is only one way, Regularise all post 2000 slums!" A ward officer, "Why post 2000? Regularise the hutments even as they are being built!" CM beamed, "Thank you," And showing a fist in the direction of Pakistan roared, "Now we'll show you who's the winner…!"
NOW IS THE TIME FOR OUR WOMEN AS WELL
PLANS TO MAKE THE FRONT LINE GENDER-NEUTRAL ARE OVERDUE
THE notion of men as aggressors and women as peacemakers is about as useful a contribution to the debate on women and war as a Quentin Tarantino film is to the historical record of World War II. The idea that men and women divide so neatly is not just rejected by those arguing for equal rights: it does not stack up for anyone who has observed human behaviour in families, schools and the workplace.
Which is by way of saying that if women want to go to war, they should be allowed to. In fact, we go further: women who join the defence services should be assessed for frontline roles in precisely the same way as their male colleagues. Their competence alone, physical and psychological, should determine their combat suitability.
The only surprising aspect of the proposal put forward by Defence Personnel and Science Minister Greg Combet to remove gender as a criterion for selection for all frontline combat units, including the Special Air Service regiment, is that we are still arguing the toss. With women making up 13 per cent of the defence services in Australia, the old barriers have been under challenge for decades, yet discrimination on the basis of sex continues.
Australia is not unique. Most countries continue to debate the issue, with only a handful (including New Zealand Canada) allowing women in most combat roles. Even in Israel, where both sexes are drafted, it was only in the mid-1990s that combat roles were opened to women, most of whom continue to serve in combat support and light combat roles. In Australia, women already serve in combat zones but are barred from specific roles.
In the end, the push for new rules for women is a numbers game. We need to open up the jobs to attract women and stave off a recruitment crisis. There's also an equality issue - for men. In a modern age, it is difficult to quarantine women from the pointy end of defence and expect men, and their families, to carry the weight of frontline service. Why should men be expected to risk death as they make their careers in the defence forces while women get a free pass on combat?
The main argument advanced against women is that they are not able to cope physically. Generally speaking, this is correct and many women will be ruled out of combat roles because they are too weak to carry the gear or endure the treks. But the same is true for many men who are excluded for the same reasons. It is the case that women will be very vulnerable in some situations, for example risking rape if captured. Again, the same holds for men in captivity who are not immune to sexual abuse.
The reality is that at a time when women's skills are being recognised in all walks of life, it is ludicrous to exclude them from areas of defence where they could make a real contribution. We do not do it in business, and we should not do it on the front line.
There is something in the argument that male bonding is important in the services but our society is changing dramatically as women assume an equal role in the workplace and men assume equal roles in the family space. Bonding and building group trust based on shared goals, rather than gender, is increasingly common.
Some Australians will be distressed by the fear that more women at war will mean more motherless children. That argument runs counter to our society's recognition of the equal rights and responsibilities of both parents. Losing a father or mother to war is equally tragic.
Finally a note about what equal opportunity on the front line would mean if Australia ever used conscription. As unlikely as it might seem today, would we face a situation where young women, as well as young men, would be drafted? The answer must be yes. It would be difficult to imagine an argument against an equal approach to every mother's daughters as well as their sons.
SETTING TARGETS IS POINTLESS WITHOUT THE MEANS TO ACHIEVE THEM
FOR all their rhetoric about the need for a low-carbon economy to ward off climate catastrophe, some on the deep-green margins of the political debate give the clear impression they do not believe the message they preach. If they did, logic suggests they would welcome viable alternatives to fossil fuels such as nuclear power and more hydro-electricity projects on the scale of the Snowy Mountains Scheme. And most of all, they would be ramping up the need for investment in natural gas production and coal sequestration. Perhaps, as British Green Party leader Caroline Lucas let slip recently, their core aim is not saving the planet, but imposing a simpler and impoverished way of life on this and future generations, ending what Ms Lucas called "turbo-charged consumerism". As fictitious self-sufficient suburbanites Tom and Barbara found in British sitcom The Good Life, such an ambition would quickly produce economic collapse.
By launching Australia's Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute earlier this year, Kevin Rudd recognised that coal would continue to be our major source of power for decades to come. It generates 82 per cent of electricity in Australia, more than 50per cent in the US and more than 80 per cent in China, where at least one new coal-fired power station opens every week.
However much environmentalists might wish otherwise, the International Energy Agency expects that as overall energy demand increases by 40per cent over the next 20 years, the share of electricity generated from coal will rise from 41 per cent to 44 per cent. Such realities make the development of carbon storage imperative if greenhouse emissions are to be cut, not a "dream" to "deliver us from the nightmare that is coal" as the ABC's Four Corners claimed with almost evangelical fervour on Monday.
In keeping with the national broadcaster's anti-commercial mindset, the program was long on moral posturing as it condemned "big polluting companies ... feeling relaxed". But it was short on constructive proposals. From the US to China to western Queensland, attempts at sequestration were dismissed as too little, too late, too expensive and too hard to be viable for decades, if ever. The program concluded with US scientist and climate change alarmist Joseph Romm arguing that "the world needs to start (cutting emissions) immediately and ... we have a lot of other technologies that are available immediately."
But not on a scale or at a price the world can afford. The Productivity Commission has calculated that the cost of generating one megawatt hour of electricity next year from Australia's vast black-coal reserves will be $30-35. Wind power, which would blanket the continent in turbines, will cost twice as much - $55 to $80 per megawatt hour. And whatever the reasons for renewable energy company Solar Systems going into voluntary administration, solar power will cost between $200 and $400 per megawatt hour. Far from rendering carbon sequestration unviable, the lack of a major technological breakthrough to date reinforces the need for research and development.
Little will be achieved until policy-makers focus on how to cut carbon emissions rather than arguing about how much they should be cut. Rather than "picking winners" through government subsidies to wind and solar companies, a more efficient approach would see private investment encouraged through well-targeted tax incentives. And the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute has an important role to play in co-ordinating piecemeal international efforts to make clean coal technology commercially viable.
Green advocates and their collaborators in the national broadcaster are underlining their own irrelevancy by casting slurs about "dirty coal", "destructive dams" and the "unresolved dangers" of nuclear power without offering a single alternative to current coal technology that would avoid blackouts or widespread job losses. As Barack Obama argues, after putting a man on the moon 40 years ago, it should be possible to develop the technology for clean coal.
AND ANOTHER THING ...
HERE are some facts for Kevin Rudd as he attempts to rewrite economic history and paint his predecessor as presiding over a "Brutopia" driven by a neo-liberal agenda. In the Howard years, according to a 2006 benchmark study by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling, the average income of Australians rose 25per cent, with no real increase in inequality. Thanks to John Howard's tax and welfare policies, including a doubling of family assistance, the top and bottom 10 per cent of Australians received about the same income boost, about 24 per cent between 1996 and 2006. That's not exactly evidence of a free-market fundamentalist restricting "the provision of public goods" as the Prime Minister would put it.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
SCHOOLS CASH IS GOING WHERE IT IS NEEDED LEAST
GOVERNMENTS SHOULD FUND PRIVATE SCHOOLS ACCORDING TO NEED.
IN MAY last year, federal Education Minister Julia Gillard, speaking to the Association of Independent Schools of NSW, described the system Australia uses to determine school funding as one of the most complex and confusing in the developed world. The Age commented that she could also have added that it is one of the most divisive, since it is engendering what can only be described as smouldering class enmity. The latest increases in funding to private schools, reported yesterday, confirm that judgment.
The socio-economic status (SES) system, introduced by the Howard government in 2001, allocates federal funds to private schools according to a formula based on the income, occupations and education of families in each school's census district. And in the latest disbursements resulting from this complex set of calculations, schools such as Scotch College, Wesley College, and Melbourne Grammar will receive funding increases over four years that far exceed their expected increases in enrolments in the same period.
For Scotch, funding will rise by 24.7 per cent in 2008-12, despite a projected rise in enrolments of only 4.8 per cent. For Wesley, funding will rise by 26 per cent, compared with a projected rise in enrolments of 4.9 per cent. Penleigh and Essendon Grammar will get a 28.9 per cent increase, although enrolments are expected to rise by only 5.4 per cent. And The Peninsula School qualifies for a massive 36.7 per cent increase in funds, although its enrolments are expected to rise by only 5.1 per cent. The pattern is clear: enrolment increases will typically be about 5 per cent, but funding increases will be much higher. And none of these schools can be regarded as an impoverished institution to begin with.
Ms Gillard is fond of saying that a key tenet of the Rudd Government's so-called education revolution is that schools should be funded, not systems. In other words, old enmities between public and private, and between denominational and secular, schools should be consigned firmly to the past. And so they should be. But the reason for state aid to non-government schools, which began as a trickle in the final years of the Menzies government and became fully established under the Whitlam government, was to eliminate inequities in educational opportunity. The present system of funding private schools, however, is aggravating inequality. It can only accelerate the drift away from government schools, a trend that some may celebrate as the exercise of choice but which threatens to transform those schools into institutions of last resort.
That is not a prospect a society committed to equality of opportunity for all its children should contemplate. The first obligation of Australian governments, federal and state, in educational provision should be to ensure that public schools are adequately funded, so that no family choosing the public system need fear that their children will be deprived by that choice. Beyond that primary obligation, private schools, too, have a legitimate claim on public funds, but those funds should be allocated on the basis of need: the poorest schools have the greatest claim, and the system used to distribute funds should reflect that priority.
Needs-based funding was the principle adopted by the Whitlam government, which established a schools commission to determine criteria of allocation according to that principle. It was not an exercise of staggering difficulty; indeed, compared with the complexities imposed by the SES formula, it was a straightforward exercise. That Australia has moved away from needs-based funding for private schools does not indicate any greater commitment to efficiency but a tilting of the balance, not only in favour of private over public schools, but of the wealthiest schools over the rest, public and private. If Ms Gillard is serious about wanting to get beyond old battles over sectarianism and elitism, she needs to restore the balance. It is to be hoped that the review of the SES funding system the minister announced last year will encourage her in that aim.
In the meantime, advocates of the system continue to argue that talk of the richest schools growing richer is misleading, because when funds from state governments are taken into account, state schools receive more than private schools. That is true, but it hardly undermines the stark picture of accelerating inequality emerging from the latest funding increases to private schools. The playing field is anything but level.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
DISRESPECT REDUCES ULURU TO A ROCK CLIMB AND TOILET
THE traditional custodians of Uluru, the Anangu people, could not be more polite in their request to visitors not to climb the 348-metre-high monolith. As the sign at the foot of Uluru explains, the climb has spiritual significance as the route of the ancestral Mala men and it is disrespectful for visitors to trample across it. Yet the Anangu have not closed the climb. They merely ask that guests on their land, ''out of education and understanding'', respect their law and culture by not climbing.
Other reasons not to climb include safety - at least 35 people have died on the demanding climb - erosion caused by countless footsteps, and the environmental damage caused by human waste washing off Uluru and polluting surrounding waterholes. About two-thirds of the 350,000 visitors a year do not climb. The proportion of climbers has halved in the past 20 years and is still declining. Perhaps it should not surprise that some of those who still choose to climb Uluru compound their lack of respect by defecating on it. This act of defilement is no less offensive in its disregard for other people's beliefs than if it were committed in a cathedral.
Such behaviour lends weight to a proposal in a draft 10-year management plan to work towards closing the track. Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett is considering public submissions on the plan, but in July Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made clear his opposition to a ban on climbing, saying it would be ''very sad''. The Anangu acknowledge that not climbing Uluru may make visitors ''a bit sad''. But what is even sadder is that many Australians still struggle with the simple concept of complying with a polite request to respect their indigenous hosts' beliefs and customs, in just the same way as they would when others - be they Christian, Muslim or Jewish - invite them to share their sacred places.
IN PRAISE OF… NEW GUINEA
It is easy to romanticise New Guinea, the second largest island on the planet, as well as the least explored and the most diverse. It stands out; a different place in a homogenous age, home of perhaps 1,000 languages, 12,000 cultures, biological diversity and extraordinary geography. Its summits are snow-capped - when, in 1623, a Dutch sailor first reported seeing them he was mocked for suggesting glaciers could be found in the tropics. And New Guinea's rain forests remain less ravaged than most. The temptation is to dream of a lost world, an idea given impetus this week by a remarkable BBC film from inside the kilometre-deep crater of Mount Bosavi, in the southern highlands of Papua New Guinea. Seen by 4 million people on Tuesday, the film showed waterfalls pouring from caves into a perfect forest, and a giant tame rat, apparently new to science, nibbling a leaf, unafraid of humans. If the programme raises awareness of New Guinea's natural treasures, then it will have achieved something good. But the sad truth is that New Guinea faces difficulties familiar to the rest of the planet: climate change is melting the glaciers, loggers are cutting its forests and the relics of imperial power play haunt its politics. Papua New Guinea, the western half of the island, gained independence in 1975 (though the Queen remains head of state). Former Dutch territory in the east, is now run, despite protest, by Indonesia. The island may look like paradise, but it is at risk of becoming a paradise lost.
GERMAN ELECTIONS: SLEEPWALKING TO THE BALLOT BOX
Germany is sleepwalking its way toward its general election later this month as if there were no issues worth discussing. This is at a time when, in a democracy, it would be normal to thrash out the questions which the electorate ought to be pondering. One reason is that Germany may well be governed by the same coalition after the election as before, and it is hard for partners to go at one another hammer and tongs when they may soon be sitting down together at the same cabinet table.
Another is that Angela Merkel, the çhancellor, depends on her image as an imperturbable, discreet, and even opaque personality whose message is mainly that things are under control. Her party's campaign slogan is "We have the strength", but what that strength will be used to do is nowhere to be found, whether in the party's manifesto, on its posters, or in the speeches of its candidates. She offers instead something called "a new togetherness", never defined. Her Social Democrat opponent, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, is not much better. The chancellor may well have calculated correctly that Germans do not want to get involved in contentious exchanges over the perplexing issues their country faces. Election campaigns where politicians and citizens alike conspire to avoid hard questions are hardly unknown in other countries. Yet in the German case, there is nevertheless a sense that an opportunity is being missed, and, perhaps, a duty shirked.
Europe used to depend on a Germany that was instinctively European, and yet this pillar of the European Union has, first under Gerhard Schroder and then under Mrs Merkel, done bilateral deals with Moscow that have undercut efforts to present Russia with a united front on energy supplies. More recently, Mrs Merkel backed the takeover of the General Motors Opel subsidiary by a Russian backed consortium, a solution that put German jobs and German economic relations with Russia ahead of the interests of other European states. America, equally, used to depend on a Germany that was more reliably Atlanticist than any other Nato ally except Britain.
Schroder broke that pattern over Iraq. Mrs Merkel has steered a more central course but has not fully restored the old relationship. Finally, the developed countries used to depend on Germany as a team player on international economic issues, but Mrs Merkel's government has limited its participation in joint action to contain the economic crisis. This is not to say that German policy on these and many other points is necessarily wrong, but only that it deserves to be rigorously debated. A Germany that does not want to think its decisions through cannot but be a problem for itself and its partners.
THE ECONOMY: POLITICIANS AND THE SEMI-SLUMP
Is that it? The greatest economic crisis in decades all over? Gather up a bunch – nay, a sheaf – of the straws in the wind. Yesterday the FTSE charged through the 5,000-point barrier for the first time since last October. A £10bn bid is on the table for Cadbury, and Orange and T-Mobile are planning a merger – so the City dealmakers are getting back in gear. And the respected think tank, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, has calculated that the economy stopped shrinking in May. So the recession is over, the markets are having it away and politicians of all stripes can crack on with tightening up on public finances. Right?
Wrong. A year on from the collapse of US investment bank Lehman Brothers and the height of the banking crisis, it does look as if the economy has avoided a rerun of the Great Depression – but it does not follow that from here on the UK is in for either a constant or a strong recovery. There is certainly nothing that resembles such a thing anywhere in sight. Small businesses and would-be homeowners are still struggling to get credit, the unemployment total is still going up at the rate of about 100,000 a month and manufacturing surveys still indicate deep distress.
This does not mean that those discussions about exit strategies – whether it is central bankers talking about tightening monetary policy, or Labour and the Conservatives arguing about how to restore the public finances – are not worth having. When the world economy stages a lasting recovery, policy-makers in finance ministries and central bankers around the world are going to have to undo a whole range of extraordinary and unconventional measures. But that "when" is vitally important. Business as usual in the City has been rightly attacked; but business as usual in policy terms right now would be complacent and dangerous. It would endanger a tentative recovery taking place amid extraordinary circumstances.
The world has never before been plunged into an international banking crisis on this scale. The traditional models and conventional prescriptions that comprise the mental furniture of politicians and officials are of limited efficacy in this conflagration. Indeed, it was perhaps only when governments and central banks reached beyond the usual armoury for greater and more unconventional firepower – billions in emergency extra spending and a historic programme of quantitative easing, or pumping money into the financial system – that an outright slump was avoided. Conversely, it has been the persistence of conventional thinking which will make this recession more painful than it need be. In the UK, interest rates should have been slashed way before Lehman collapsed. And the Bank of England's quantitative easing programme – six months old today – would pump money around the economy far more successfully if the government breathed down the necks of those banks it owns to do their part. Instead, financial institutions are keeping the cash and using it to stoke an almighty boom in the markets. And Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling should have gone for a bigger fiscal stimulus last November.
But none of the above has happened, which is why the probable outlook for the UK economy in 2009 is the same as described by Keynes in 1930: we are in for "the long, dragging conditions of semi-slump, or at least sub-normal prosperity". What are the policy lessons of all this? One, the government must get a grip on the state-owned banks, and direct them to lend much more. Two, the Bank of England should continue pumping money into the economy – for fear of what stopping might lead to. And three, politicians must remember that a semi-slump will be almost as painful as the real thing. If the government – Labour or Tory – cut back now, they will crush a fragile recovery. The economy is unlikely to return to normal for a long time; neither should economic policy.
THE JAPAN TIMES
SOME PROGRESS FROM THE G20
The global recession may have found its floor, but efforts to ensure that the crisis does not repeat itself continue to be frustrated. That was the message from last weekend's meeting of Group of 20 finance ministers and central bankers. There is consensus on the need to stop the obscene payments to financiers and end a remuneration scheme that appears to have no relationship to performance.
But agreement on specific measures concerning this matter remains elusive, as is a plan to ensure that banks have adequate capital to protect them against losses. There is great danger that economic recovery will remove pressure for systemic reform: That cannot be allowed to happen.
The good news from the London meeting was that growth is resuming. Five trillion dollars in stimulus spending has had an impact. According to the International Monetary Fund, the global economy will expand 2.9 percent next year, up from the 2.5 percent forecast in April. At the same time, the IMF estimates the global economy will shrink 1.3 percent this year, a slight improvement over the 1.4 percent decline expected in April.
But the G20 officials rightly agreed that the shoots of recovery are immature: "We will continue to implement decisively our necessary financial support measures and expansionary monetary and fiscal policies, consistent with price stability and long-term fiscal sustainability, until recovery is secured."
It is not time to rein in spending that has worked thus far. The ministers and central bankers also agreed to help workers hard-hit by the downturn with "active labor market policies, and training and education." No new funds were promised to international financial institutions to support social protection and safety nets, boost trade and safeguard development in low-income countries, but the declaration noted the promise made by heads of state in April to provide $850 billion to help hard-hit states.
While people at the bottom of the labor ladder got some help, folks at the top rungs received most of the attention at the meeting. Mr. Alistair Darling, Britain's chancellor of the Exchequer, warned that there must be no more instances in which "people are being rewarded for reckless behavior." Given that the headlong and blind pursuit of profit with utter indifference to the consequences brought about the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, corrective action is an economic and moral necessity. Reports that bankers are again recording record profits and payouts and indulging in the same practices while most economies face mounting unemployment levels should spur officials and regulators to action.
Thus last weekend, the officials called for "global standards on pay structure," based on a system that would emphasize long-term results. Agreement on specific measures, however, proved to be beyond the participants' ken. They asked the Financial Stability Board, an international regulatory body, to come up with specific recommendations on pay that will be presented to heads of state at the next G20 summit, which is scheduled for later this month in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The chief division continues to be among the Atlantic members of the G20. European governments, particularly those of France and Germany, want to cap payments, a step that the United States and Britain are reluctant to take.
For the U.S., a more pressing concern is strengthening bank capital reserves. The G20 officials endorsed more progress on stronger regulation, but could not find common ground on specific measures. There is talk of expanding the so-called Basel II rules to require banks to maintain more capital to protect themselves against trading losses and bad loans. A more likely solution is that each country will set stronger limits of its own. That's a more efficient response — as negotiating agreement among all central banks would take time — but it could encourage banks to shop for more lenient jurisdictions under which to do business.
Other measures agreed included setting a March 2010 deadline to begin sanctions against tax havens that do not comply with transparency rules agreed at the April summit and reaffirmation of the April commitment to give developing countries a larger say at international financial institutions. Reforms are expected to be complete at the World Bank in spring 2010 and the IMF by January 2011.
By then, these officials should also be implementing the "exit strategy" that ends the massive government support that has been extended since the crisis began last year. As U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner noted, a recovery strategy would not be effective "unless we can make fully credible our commitment to reverse those actions as soon as conditions permit." That view aligns with European thinking, which has long been concerned with the threat of inflation.
But as the Japanese experience of 1997 should remind us, the focus should be on building a sustainable and stable recovery. Premature steps that address other problems will undermine progress that has been made. Exit strategies make sense, but only when the economy has been righted.
THE JAPAN TIMES
WORDS OF WISDOM FROM HATOYAMA
BY TOM PLATE
It was just this side of comical. The leader of the new ruling party of Japan barely finishes acknowledging his Democratic Party of Japan's landslide win and a public relations disaster strikes. The result: an ignominious international climb-down.
What happened was not an ideal opening act for the next prime minister of the troubled country that boasts the world's second largest economy, after that of its ally, the United States. It might even have been called a really bad start. So let's see what went on.
Before the election, a Japanese magazine published an essay by Yukio Hatoyama, the soon-to-be prime minister of Japan and leader of the Democratic Party of Japan. It thoughtfully challenged some of the operational tenets of the "American century" (the previous one). "My Political Philosophy," decried the cold inhuman edges of globalization, raised (as have some in the Chinese elite and other global voices) doubts about the future global centrality of the dollar, called for a greater sense of shared opportunity among the nations of East Asia (and the world) and wondered how long Uncle Sam could remain the Big Global Bopper.
Had Hatoyama not been who he was (the next leader of Japan), and Nathan Gardels not been who he was (a whip-smart Los Angeles-based public intellectual and media entrepreneur whose Global Viewpoint Network has 35 million readers through many of the world's top newspapers), these not unreasonable thoughts, written in Japanese, would have remained in Japan.
Instead, Gardels arranged for an English translation and had his syndicate do its global information-technology distribution thing. Before long, the essay (or excerpts of it) appeared in important papers around the world.
Well, the shame, the disgrace! A Japanese leader should actually proffer an original thought or two — indeed, ideas that might not automatically reek of U.S. political orthodoxy! By midweek, Hatoyama was on the trans-Pacific horn, more or less bowing and scraping to U.S. President Barack Obama (who probably had to suppress a chuckle), and disclaiming any intent to question the fundamentals of the U.S.-Japan alliance. "The Japan-U.S. alliance is the axis of Japan's foreign policies," the impending new prime minister declaimed.
That's comforting, but first things first: Hatoyama shouldn't have apologized for anything! The fact is that many of us Americans have similar concerns about the brutality of unregulated globalization, about gross value systems that are entirely materialistic, about poor people with no health insurance, housing or prospects.
What's more, Hatoyama's essay was anything but bomb-throwing- revolutionary. It was, in fact, a polite and mild restatement of traditional Japanese values in an age when free-market fundamentalism have been uprooting social economies like suicide bombers have been terrorizing Western cafes. "Globalism," he wrote, "has progressed without any regard for noneconomic values."
He's right, and it should come as no global shock that a thoughtful Japanese leader would want to point this out. For a long time, Japan has been perhaps the most socialist of all capitalist societies. The hard work and aggressiveness were all present in that society; but so were deep social values that (for example) were reluctant to treat workers as easily disposable economic factors (i.e., laid-off or fired labor and who cares?) or to regard titanic and insulting income gaps between the elite and the common man as natural, desirable or ethical.
What's more, if the U.S. establishment is going to seize up into a paroxysm of paranoia every time someone suggests that the 21st century will not prove as American as the 20th century, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had better legalize medicinal marijuana for the elite's nerves quickly. As the well-traveled Gardels puts it, "Only Americans with an outdated sense of U.S. supremacy, or with vested special interests, could quarrel with the obvious."
And it is a plain fact that Japan's current dilemma, wrote Hatoyama, is to be "caught between the U.S., which is fighting to retain its position as the world's dominant power, and China, which is seeking ways to become dominant."
The China question does hover over Japan. It is quite true that the recent election was not a plebiscite about China in any immediate sense. Japanese elections, like almost everyone else's, tend to be driven by economic and domestic concerns. And Japan has an aging, worrying population. The bombshell landslide was a reflection of widespread worry. But how to relate to Beijing without eroding the relationship with Washington is now one of Japan's biggest — and most difficult — challenges.
Hatoyama should thus be proud of his essay, nothing else. In fact, it was rather nice to see a Japanese prime minister thinking outside of the box for once. We Americans ought to be able to handle critical thought, especially from friends and allies.
Syndicated columnist Tom Plate is author of "Confessions of an American Media Man."
THE JAPAN TIMES
POLITICS AND PEOPLE COLLIDING
BY DAVID HOWELL
The Japanese people have just voted decisively for change. For what kind of change should they now be asking?
The two most powerful trends in today's world are the green vision and the "Easternization" process — the shift in the world's center of economic and political power from West to East. Both are potentially benign if handled correctly.
The green vision embraces the aspirations of the whole human race, uniting rich and poor, north and south, in seeking a cleaner, green planet, with plentiful fresh water, good food and health, and a more pleasant and much less polluted environment, both urban (where most people live) and rural.
As for the Easternization trend, this is the opposite of the Westernization of previous centuries, and means the empowerment of a mass of new Asian investors and consumers, reflecting the shift of global influence and power to rising Asia, along with a swelling flow of international funds going from the high saving East back to the impoverished West, instead of the other way round.
Easternization has created billions of new capitalists, especially in China and India, all operating in a new pattern of enterprise and wealth-creation that lies somewhere between the past's unfettered market capitalism and old style socialism — a pattern that few economists yet comprehend or can explain.
All this is greatly to the good. Both great trends, if not interrupted, are reinforcing each other and interacting to provide an uplifting path to a better and more stable global future and a more sustainable world. More prosperity and a better environment go hand in hand, or conversely, prolonged poverty and deprivation guarantee a dirtier and uglier environment.
But there is one great shadow over these immense and beneficial trends in human affairs. Both trends are threatened by the same source — namely misguided and ill-advised interference by governments and by busybody officialdom overreaching itself and turning opportunities into crises and consensus into conflict.
Unfortunately a whole series of such interferences is now planned and will be triumphantly rolled out at global gatherings of policymakers just ahead, starting with the forthcoming G20 summit in Pittsburgh, Penn., and then continuing with the U.N.-sponsored global climate summit in Copenhagen.
On the environment front the whole issue is already being dragged into a quagmire of disputes about global carbon emission targets and global deals that have no hope of ever being agreed and would have only a minuscule effect on global warming even if they were.
At the same time the staggering costs of achieving these carbon-capping targets, estimated by one source as reducing world GDP by 12.9 percent to the end of the century, would far outweigh any gains from limiting global warming damage. The blow to economic growth and prosperity, and therefore to a greener and more sustainable world order, would be devastating. It is no wonder the U.S. Congress is choking on such costly and impractical ideas.
Another recent estimate puts China's cost alone of meeting proposed emission reduction targets at $438 billion a year, most of which, the Chinese argue, richer nations should pay. It would cost this, and more, to install carbon capture systems in China's multiplying coal-fired power plants. These are fantasy figures that could never be met in practice without huge social damage.
As for the new global economic trends, which are releasing Asian consumer power and bankrolling the struggling West, these are being undermined by wild official ideas for controlling the pay of bankers and regulating banking worldwide to the point of paralysis. So there we have the twin idiocies of the world political class, the prevailing errors and follies of our time.
The quixotic campaign to cut carbon emissions will do nothing to avoid global warming and may well increase it. The green vision will be lost and the path to a better life for millions blocked. As for the equally quixotic attack on banking rewards, this will do nothing to stabilize the global economy — in fact it will distort it further.
Government officials drawing up the agendas for these forthcoming summits have parted company with reality. As many commentators plead daily, they need to be brought back to the real world. Some say that with more transparency in government dealings, more sensible and practical policies would emerge. But casting more light on official policy thinking can just as well drive officials to huddle into even darker corners to construct their bad plans.
Instead the genuine need is for a return to the kind of global leadership that is wise, deep, and offers an honest and balanced explanation of the realities, not unworkable plans based on shaky forecasts and a hypothetical future.
The more reflective ministers who attend the summits at Pittsburgh and Copenhagen should put aside their massive briefs for negotiating complicated and unachievable global carbon targets. They should place their faith in the ingenuity and enterprise of people the world over, and in respect for the human aspiration for betterment and a decent living standard that will always be the main driver for transforming the global environment and meeting the climate challenge.
Higher living standards, healthier lifestyles, better food, water and homes, lower energy bills, nicer surroundings, the best new technology applied to industry, transport, power production and infrastructure — these things, not carbon targets and penalties — are the true ingredients of a sustainable, kinder future. That would be change worth asking for.
David Howell, a former British Cabinet minister, is a member of the House of Lords.
THE JAKARTA POST
Without a doubt, the decision made by the leadership of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to ignore summonses sent by the National Police for questioning in a bribery case only further humiliates the struggling anticorruption body.
What right do they have to ignore a police summons that the rest of us mere mortals, the Indonesian people, do not?
The four deputies to the KPK chief and other staff members at the commission may have their reasons for not meeting, or delaying the meeting, with the police. But, no matter how powerful the commission is, its leaders and staff are Indonesian citizens and do not have impunity from the law.
The deputies have been summoned to respond to allegations that they received bribes to drop and investigation into allegedly corrupt dealings of PT Masaro and the Forestry Ministry, which allegedly caused Rp 13 billion (US$1.3 million) in state losses.
The bribery case came to light after now inactive KPK chief Antasari Azhar, who is facing prosecution for his alleged role in the murder of businessman Nasruddin Zulkarnaen, testified to police that Anggoro Wijoyo, a suspect in a graft case at the Forestry Ministry, had admitted during a meeting in Singapore that he had bribed KPK officials to stop their investigations into his involvement in the corruption at the ministry.
The meeting was said to have violated the KPK’s code of ethics because Antasari had organized it without notifying his deputies. By meeting Anggoro, Antasari also violated article 36 of Law No. 30/2002 on the Corruption Eradication Commission, which prohibits any KPK executives from meeting or making contacts with suspect(s) under investigation by the KPK.
Given this evidence, the police indeed acted professionally when they summoned the KPK officials. But the fact that the summonses were issued in the wake of a series of events widely believed to be part of an orchestrated plot to cripple or even eradicate the anticorruption commission would suggest a less than pious motive and only widen the existing rift between the police and the KPK.
The police’s denial of the rift was hard to believe when the Police chief of Detectives Comr. Gen. Susno Duadji complained in July that his cell phone had been tapped. While Susno did not point his finger at the KPK, it is widely believed that the police general was referring to the anticorruption commission, which by law, has the authority to tap phones in its investigations. At the time, the KPK was intensifying their investigation into alleged fraud at Bank Century.
With the investigation into the alleged corruption at the KPK now officially underway and inactive chairman Antasari Azhar meanwhile sits on trial for murder, the KPK’s leadership is struggling for credibility.
But, should we close down the KPK and jeopardize it’s until recently relatively successful anticorruption campaign, just because of the alleged wrongdoings by some of its officials?
Perhaps it is worth a considering the old adage promoted by our forefathers: “If you spot rats in your rice barn, do not burn down the whole barn, just run after and kill the rats!”
THE KOREA HERALD
WATER AS A WEAPON?
North Korea said on Monday that it had to discharge water urgently from a reservoir on the upstream Imjin River as the water level was rising rapidly. It added that if it released a large amount of water in the future, it would give South Korea advance notice for the prevention of damage downstream.
Those terse remarks were the answer to South Korea's demand for an explanation about a sudden flooding downstream the previous day, which swept up six South Korean campers. All of their bodies were recovered. However, nowhere in North Korea's telephone message was an expression of regret over the deaths - the bare minimum demanded of a civilized state.
In addition, an estimated 40 million tons of water discharged from the reservoir also did damage to South Korean fishermen and the military. The flood washed away nets and other equipment installed to catch crabs and freshwater fish, and Army units had to call off a military exercise and move tanks and other vehicles far away from the river.
No wonder South Korea, which had made an initial request for information earlier, made a new demand for an apology. It also called for a more detailed explanation. South Korea was unconvinced that it was urgent to release water from the reservoir, given that there had been no heavy rainfall.
When it opened the sluice doors, North Korea did not make good on its 2007 promise to give the South advance notice. Moreover, the North Korean action went against both the 2004 inter-Korean accord on the prevention of floods on the Imjin River and the 1971 Declaration of Asuncion on the Use of International Rivers.
South Korea is keeping to itself what course of action it is considering taking if the North refuses to take proper action. But a lack of progress in dispute settlement may prod the South to downgrade inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation, which have already been at low ebb.
Sunday's sudden discharge of water also exposed South Korea's vulnerability to a potential security threat from the North and to natural disasters. Remedial measures are in urgent demand.
The North Korean reservoir is reportedly capable of storing 300 million to 400 million tons of water. That could be used as a dreadful weapon if the North should decide to discharge all the water, especially when the areas adjacent to the river were already flooded during rainy season. Two dams under construction in the South, experts say, will not be capable of controlling that much water.
Another problem is South Korea's inadequate capacity for controlling flood damage. An early warning system is installed to monitor the water level of the river and issue a warning for evacuation when it reaches a dangerous level. But it did not work this time. Moreover, no county official was monitoring the closed-circuit TV that showed the water level.
Fault was also found with the military, which failed to deal adequately with a sentry's early report on the rising water level. The military did not report the finding to the crisis management team of the presidential office until after South Korean soldiers pulled the body of a North Korean boy out of the water. It also took time until it dawned on the crisis management team that the sudden flood was not a simple disaster but a serious matter concerning national security.
The South Korean government is urged to conduct a comprehensive inter-agency review of the North Korean action and the South Korean response to it. Based on its findings, it will have to draw up a contingency plan and seek a durable solution. It cannot allow its riverside residents to be held hostage by North Korean flood threats.
THE KOREA HERALD
LABOR AS OBSTACLE
Korea has fallen by six notches to 19th place in the Global Competitive Index 2009-10, according to the World Economic Forum's latest report. One of the major culprits is labor, whose competitiveness has dropped from 4lst place to 84th place.
In the rankings of 133 countries in the world, Korea nears the bottom when it comes to cooperation between labor and management (131st), employment inflexibility (92nd) and layoff costs (109th). This should not come as a surprise, given violent protests frequently organized by the militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and its members.
But change is coming to labor, with the union at Ssangyong Motor Co. opting out of the KCTU. In a recent vote, 73 percent of the union members supported a proposal to dissociate itself from the aggressive national labor umbrella group.
The KCTU has no one but itself to blame. It was behind a recent 77-day strike at Ssangyong Motor, a small automaker which is on the brink of liquidation. The union vote came ahead of a Sept. 15 deadline, by which the court-appointed management is required to submit a recovery plan. The union's decision to leave the KCTU will no doubt help Ssangyong endear itself to the court when it makes a decision on whether or not to protect the automaker from bankruptcy.
The Ssangyong union is the first among the automotive unions to leave the KCTU. But its decision will certainly have a great influence on the future behavior of the unions at Hyundai and Kia automakers, which have often been accused of blindly following instructions from the KCTU.
Cracks in the KCTU's grip on its member unions began to appear when the KT union voted for a proposal to leave the national group. Many more disaffected unions will choose to follow suit unless the KCTU redirects itself away from radicalism.
TRUTH ABOUT INDIA TIES
If you are a regular reader of reports in the Indian media, you can be excused for thinking a war is imminent between India and China. For the past few months, the Indian media have been trying to fan passions on both sides.
"Fresh Chinese intrusion in Ladakh," declares a headline in The Statesman following earlier alleged reports that a Chinese military helicopter had entered India's airspace. "Wake up! China wants to break up India," screams a commentary in The Times of India.
Such reports and commentaries lack no drama, with one saying the two armies were "locked in sporadic exchanges of fire" in Sikkim, where the two countries share a high-altitude border. Some alarmists even predicted China "will attack India by 2012" to divert the attention of its people from "unprecedented" internal dissent, growing unemployment and financial problems.
A bleak picture of Sino-Indian relations - which is farthest from reality - is what a section of the Indian media wants to present to its readers. Instead of informing, inspiring and trying to find the truth, it is trying to throttle professional ethics to raise the war rhetoric and sow seeds of enmity between the two peoples.
To be honest, a section of the Chinese media has also been found lacking in ethics. Some reports have failed to reflect the Chinese government's thinking on Sino-Indian relations. This, and the response to an Indian media survey on "Do you think China is bullying India" suggest the jingoists have succeeded to some extent.
It indeed is puzzling that all this has been happening in the backdrop of flourishing Sino-Indian relations. Bilateral trade is growing at an unprecedented rate. It is set to cross $60 billion next year, which would be a 30-fold increase from 2000. The leaders of both countries have reiterated their resolve to keep the momentum in the development of friendly ties going. Although the border issue is yet to be resolved, both countries vowed to "make joint efforts to safeguard peace and tranquillity in the border areas until a fair and reasonable solution acceptable to both is found" during the recently concluded 13th round of Sino-Indian border talks.
Yet all the efforts to consolidate healthy relations have drawn little, if any, interest from the Indian media, which seem to be obsessed with negative news and giving truth a short shrift. This is ridiculing the freedom of the press, which the Indian media have long taken pride in.
China and India, with their increasing economic strength and interdependence, are standing on a door that can
lead to a promising future for both. Any border conflict, let alone war, runs contrary to their interests and is beyond their wildest imagination. The media in both countries should make it their responsibility to prevent misunderstandings and maximize friendly exchanges between these two ancient and great civilizations.
TIME TO RELAUNCH GROWTH
The increasingly important role that China plays in leading the world economy out of the current recession will certainly add to the significance and relevance of the "Summer Davos" that opens today in Dalian, a fast-growing and beautiful coastal city in northeast China.
As China rises faster than expected to become the world's top exporter and biggest auto consumer this year, it may be hard to find a more ideal place to hold the World Economic Forum's annual meeting of the New Champions - a new generation of leaders who will direct the global recovery.
However, when debating and defining the course for relaunching economic growth at the global forum, government, business and opinion leaders should not only think about how to make best use of the strong growth moment of the world's third largest economy to combat the current crisis. It is far more important to make this country a key driver in bringing about a transformational global recovery for the long term.
One year after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the world economy is seeing more and more "green shoots" in most developed countries as well as a strong rebound in China.
This is reassuring but not a cause for complacency among policymakers or corporate leaders. Though stimulus packages by governments around the world have apparently stabilized the global economy for the moment, little progress has been made on addressing the global imbalance. It is unlikely that the world would find a solid footing for a lasting recovery unless the problem of global imbalance can be properly tackled.
It is therefore urgent that they look far beyond the short-term effects of government stimulus measures to pursue green growth, which can address global environmental challenges while creating new technologies, businesses and jobs to improve economic competitiveness in the long run.
The three-day meeting aims to provide a systematic and global overview of major economic, regional and industry developments. It is hoped that such a broad picture of the global economic reality will help build a consensus on the need to act fast and efficiently to generate a new wave of economic growth that is "transformational".
The host city has specially introduced a number of clean-energy vehicles to serve the participants. It may be just a symbolic act of going green that many Chinese cities love to take at the moment. But think about the number of Chinese cities and their growing demand for such environmental-friendly new cars.
When taking a ride in those fashionable green cars, it would be worthwhile for every participant to ponder where they may lead.
HEARSAY NO EVIDENCE FOR NEWS REPORTING
The unexpected telephone interview from China Daily aroused my interest in the alleged "one-off ivory sale" in Kenya caused by "demand from influx of Chinese workers."
I was called because I had just returned from a two-week tour to that East African country, which left me and my fellow tourists fascinated with our impressions of Kenya.
But, illegal trade in ivory? We never got wind of it while there, from Nairobi to Mombasa, Masai Mara to Amboseli, or at the Lakes Naivasha and Nakuru. We ventured to explore the famous game drive in the most popular national parks; we encountered herds of elephants and other animals; we took hundreds of pictures and we shopped wherever we went.
None of us, 17 in all, brought back anything made of ivory. Nor did the Chinese tourists in other groups I know of. We didn't even intend to buy anything made of bone, for fear it might turn out to be something made out of a tusk.
Yes, we did touch upon one thing related to tusk - that is Tusker, a Kenyan beer, which tasted not bad. Its advertisement could be seen wherever we went in the country, and I'm sure it was no sin to have a taste of it.
Not because we were not interested in shopping. We bought wood carvings, which we believe are of fake ebony, we bought masks and other kinds of curios, and Kenyan coffee beans and macadamia nuts.
But none of us bought anything made of ivory. Sometimes we spotted something lovely on display in some shops, which looked like it was made from tusks. We asked about them and we were always told they were made of "bone." Not sure of the authentic material, we always avoided the temptation, no matter how much we were attracted by them.
Before leaving Beijing, our tour guide from the BTG International Travel & Tours seriously warned all of us "not to buy anything made of ivory" even if it was on sale in the shop. "Ivory trade is banned and you may get arrested for carrying it, even if you are out of Kenya," he said.
We observed this discipline not because of his warning, but because we all stand for preservation of wildlife. In the safaris in Kenya, we were touched to see how wildlife struggled to survive the ever-hostile environment like drought, withering of grassland and dwindling water supply.
If the travel agency was conscious enough to educate transient visitors to Kenya like us to keep off the ivory trade, I'm sure the Chinese workers who would stay much longer must have received more serious an education on issues like that. Then how come that they are blamed for the act?
I traced the blame to a Reuters dispatch carried by The New York Times on Aug 31. The report had only one source, "a Kenya-based non-governmental organization" named "Wildlife Direct." But neither the organization nor the report presented any hard evidence confirming the link between increasing elephant poaching and orders for tusks placed by Chinese nationals working on projects in Africa.
How can you make a charge based on hearsay rather than evidence? If there were orders placed for tusks by Chinese workers, what about the people who took the orders? And the people involved in poaching, processing and transporting? It must be organized crime with many people and many parties involved. But why were only the "Chinese nationals" singled out?
The charge with so many loopholes is anything but trustworthy, and the media accepting and publicizing such information are irresponsible and unprofessional. It is a pity that such a piece could find its way onto an established newspaper like The New York Times.
All the Chinese workers I bumped into in Kenya were busy working along with their Kenyan partners on a highway from Nairobi to Amboseli. In the dust and scorching sun, they either drove a bulldozer or steamrolled, or did some measurement of a section of the newly paved road. Judged from their devotion to the work, I doubt if any of such people could steal the time to engage in the dirty trade.
I feel sad that people working so hard in spite of arduous conditions for African people's welfare should have been disgraced like that, as if stabbed on the back.
As a journalism teacher, however, I think I've got another living sample for my media ethics course, which will show my students what is unprofessional journalism.
The author is a guest professor of journalism with the Beijing Foreign Studies University.
CLEAN-TECH PUSH TO LIFT SINO-US TIES TO NEW HIGH
The US-China relationship is as important as it is hard work. Both of them are large and complex countries, and it's not surprising that there are often differing views about their relationship that encompasses the fortunes of one in every four people on Earth. Given the high stakes and our real differences, there's a temptation to substitute the pageantry of international affairs for real progress.
Because of the temptation it is important that we imbue vitality in bilateral ties by looking for appropriate ways to accomplish meaningful things together.
The US and China have an opportunity to collaborate on a project of enormous bilateral and global significance: to lay the foundation for a vibrant and sustainable clean technology future. While the agreement the US and China signed at the recent Strategic and Economic Dialogue raises some questions, that tentative start should not undermine the larger work of harnessing our collective strengths to foster the rapid, market-driven commercialization and adoption of the most promising clean technologies.
Such a cooperative effort is laudable and achievable - and long overdue. China and the US both are heavily dependent on foreign oil, and together account for almost half of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. But both are showing real progress on a number of fronts, including wind power, carbon capture and sequestration, and "smart grid" electricity transmission to reduce their emissions.
Though there are real issues in managing economic competition and interdependence in this promising growth industry, it's clear that we can do more together than we can alone, and that our combined efforts would accelerate our clean-technology future.
To achieve this, a few practical steps need to be taken by both the governments. As a beginning, our governments should clarify that their role is not to pick winners or protect domestic champions, but to create the framework and conditions for an open, competitive and functioning clean-tech market. For this to happen, the two governments should focus on accomplishing three concrete tasks.
First, they should seek to eliminate arbitrary regulatory barriers to US-China commercial hi-tech trade and work to advance common global technology standards. In the past, China has sharply criticized US export controls despite the fact that those controls apply to less than 1 percent of all hi-tech trade with China.
But to ensure that even those modest controls are not because of US security or foreign policy interests, Washington should reexamine and eliminate them, if necessary. Contrary to widespread perceptions, however, the good news is that no such export controls apply to the export of US commercial clean-tech to China.
Second, China should continue efforts to develop a world-class intellectual property rights (IPR) system. Many leading overseas companies want to cash in on the tremendous opportunities China's clean-tech sector offers.
But many of those firms are hesitant to share the know-how to develop the promising technologies because they are worried over IPR norms. In fact, such companies' decision to stay away from China is one of the biggest constraints to US-China hi-tech trade, and it is a far more consequential "barrier" than export controls.
Though over the past few years China has shown an increased commitment to protecting the IP of foreign firms operating within its borders (for example, there has been a marked rise in IP-related criminal prosecutions), greater IP enforcement efforts are needed, particularly if the aim is to encourage US firms to bring advanced clean-tech into China.
Maintaining a vigorous IP regime is not only important for foreign companies, but also for Chinese investors and entrepreneurs because they, too, develop cutting-edge technology products and services.
Third, the US and China should avoid trade protectionism, though they are justified in regulating inbound foreign direct investment for national security reasons.
Some other rules also make it hard for foreign manufacturers and investors to compete in China. While China's renewable energy standards make it mandatory for every large power firm to have a certain percentage of its generating capacity for renewable energy, they do not say how much electricity must they actually generate.
So power firms can buy the cheapest wind turbines even if they break down frequently because they do not have to generate but only have a certain capacity to generate power. Therein lies the problem. Power generating firms prefer to buy Chinese-owned companies' turbines because they are cheaper than their foreign-brand counterparts.
China and the US both should work for a transparent and level-playing field to enable companies of all origins to develop clean-tech products and services. Subsidizing domestic firms and denying multinationals competitive access to local markets and government procurement contracts go against the clean-tech trade cooperation that the two countries should be committed to.
By taking concrete steps now, our governments can do two important things simultaneously: lay the foundation for a clean-tech future that the world needs, and begin writing the next constructive chapter in one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world.
The author has served as US Under-Secretary of Commerce (Industry and Security) and US Chair of the US-China High Technology and Strategic Trade Working Group.
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