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Monday, September 21, 2009

EDITORIAL 19.09.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


month september 19,  edition 000302 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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


























































  3. 35 million Australians? Start preparing now



















Adding to the rising concerns about China and its recent aggressive posturing along the Line of Actual Control, the Research and Analysis Wing has affirmed that Beijing has long-term plans of encircling and isolating India by making heavy investments in neighbouring countries. In a presentation to the Directors-General of Police and intelligence officials, R&AW has revealed China’s determination to prevent India from emerging as a regional force. It has also said that Beijing has designs of emerging as a global superpower and replace the US by 2050, and that it is in this context that China’s military incursions in recent weeks must be viewed. If the intelligence agency is to be believed, China’s muscle-flexing vis-à-vis India is only tactical. It is not serious about an actual military confrontation that would jeopardise its economic development. All that Beijing wants to do is keep India on tenterhooks. If this is truly the case, it should not surprise anyone. China’s military prowess might be significant, but if it were to engage India in an all-out war it would definitely not emerge unscathed. Notwithstanding periodic reports by various Chinese strategists about how easily the People’s Liberation Army could break the Indian Army’s back, the Chinese leadership knows that this is quite an exaggeration. Thus, a replay of 1962 can simply be ruled out

Chinese military strategy has long been based on the art of deception. To create confusion in the ranks of the enemy has been the watchword of the PLA; to give the impression of being near when being far away, to be aggressive when on the defensive. Yet, India must not take Chinese incursions along the Line of Actual Control lightly. While avoiding hyping them, it would do well to undertake measures that strengthen our own defences. The successful landing of an IAF AN-32 aircraft at Nyoma in eastern Ladakh is exactly the kind of thing that India needs to indulge in to answer China’s military posturing. The aircraft landing signifies India’s capability of quickly mobilising troops on the eastern front. Such drills along the border with China will not only send out the right message to Beijing but also boost the morale of our troops. For, if Chinese Army soldiers are allowed to freely continue with their incursions, it is bound to significantly impact the spirit of our jawans at the border.

As far as China’s strategy of isolating India by investing heavily in countries such as Bangladesh, Burma, Nepal, Sri Lanka, etc, is concerned, we should counter that by vigorously enhancing our regional ties and presence. This is not only a sound strategy to counter China’s plans, but also meaningful in terms of our own long-term aim of fostering healthy regional partnerships. At the same time, it is important to keep in mind that Beijing wants us to divert our resources to counter the perceived Chinese threat. This, it believes, will impede India’s own development in the region. Therefore, New Delhi must not willy-nilly fall into the trap that Beijing is laying for it. It must act with caution and restraint. China is excellent at playing mind games. We must learn to play them as well if we are to respond in a way that is in our best interest. Our north-eastern neighbour deserves the right amount of attention: Neither too much nor too little.







There is something odious about ostentation and crude display of wealth that clashes violently with Indian sensitivities. True, people gawk at those who flaunt their riches and thrill at the sight of big, fat weddings or expensive political jamborees, but they would similarly enjoy a tamasha at a fair. There was a time when the rich and the famous could leave their audience awed if not spell-bound, but times have changed since then. Especially in the way people look at politicians. Thanks to the blotted copybook of individual politicians, most are looked upon with disdain if not contempt, although it would be unfair to tar all those who are in public life with the same brush. If truth be told, popular perception notwithstanding, most politicians walk the strait and the narrow — at least to the extent possible. Of course, politics is an expensive proposition in our country, as it is in any other democracy. But that does not necessarily mean that everybody has his or her snout in the trough or is on the take. There are those who are scrupulously clean, and then there are those who would have been equally corrupt in any other profession. Generalising here would be wrong.

Which brings us to the spurious debate over austerity which has been in the news ever since Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee read out the riot act to his Ministerial colleagues and party leaders, and ordered all-round cuts in expenses bearing in mind the impact of drought in India’s many villages as well as the recession, which is being felt the most in its few cities. As an idea, it’s a noble concept to see those in power abjuring an expensive lifestyle and doing away with needless expenditure. But if the Government is truly interested in curbing the urge of those in power to party at the taxpayers’ expense, it should come up with a long-term blueprint that will not be episodic in nature. It must adhere to austerity as a principle and not politicise it. To tag austerity with this year’s failed monsoon makes little sense: Are we to believe that austerity will be done away with if there’s a good monsoon next year? To spend in 2009 is bad; to splurge in 2010 is good? The issue, really, is of voluntarily adopting a lifestyle that does not jar with the reality around us. It cannot be imposed, or forced on the unwilling. Virtues can be taught only up to a point, they can never be made mandatory; or else, society would not have had those who are callously indifferent.



            THE PIONEER




While it was never expected to be perfect, the messy presidential election in Afghanistan has been such a public relations disaster that it has allowed more and more people in Washington, DC, to speak the unspeakable: Let’s get out. Thus far the calls for withdrawing American troops from the world’s most impossible country were limited to the extreme left of the Democratic Party. Now, mainstream and even conservative opinion is insisting the war cannot be won.

America appears to be losing stomach for the conflict in Afghanistan. With the exception of Britain, Europe was not enthusiastic in the first place. Today, British opinion too has undergone a massive reversal when compared with the aftermath of 9/11. The majority of both ordinary citizens and politicians would probably want British troops to lead the retreat from Kabul.

While fear of terrorist attacks and distrust of Muslim immigrants is high in Europe, it is not going to inspire confidence in overseas expeditions. There is a likelihood of a ‘Fortress Europe’ mentality emerging: Votes for Right-wing and nativist parties, robust internal security measures, harsher visa and residency provisions.

This mood may now be gaining critical appreciation in the United States as well. In another year or so, President Barack Obama will start to prepare for his re-election. A firm date for the pullout from Kabul and for ‘bringing the boys home’ cannot but be on his mind. The media will demand it.

As things stand, India needs to have a back-up plan for a post-pullout Afghanistan-Pakistan (AfPak) hotspot. In a sense, it’s down to scenario-building for South Block’s number one security nightmare.

At the outset, it would be important to estimate the circumstances in which America will leave Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai will probably remain nominally in charge but, in the absence of Western cover, he would be about as vulnerable as Mohammed Najibullah, the last Moscow-backed President of Afghanistan. Najibullah was tortured and killed by the Taliban a few years after the final Soviet regiment left.

More substantively, any American withdrawal will result in a colossal strategic advantage for Pakistan. The West will probably ask Islamabad to ensure the Taliban does not threaten — or provide sanctuary to those who threaten — Europe and America. If the price for this is a Taliban re-conquest of Kabul, so be it. Pakistan will be told to play guarantor of the Taliban’s good behaviour, for which it will demand a price (development aid, weapons). Saudi Arabia will probably underwrite the deal and promise to hold Pakistan to its word.

Yet, polite words will not be able to disguise a compelling reality: Islamist triumphalism at having crippled two superpowers in 20 years. Like in the 1990s, Islamabad’s strategic community will seek to channel the energies of the Taliban and related militia towards India. This time the target will not be just Jammu & Kashmir, but could extend to terrorist attacks on major cities in the rest of India as well.

There is one other worrying verity. When the Taliban seized Kabul in 1996, rival warlords fled to the non-Pasthun north of Afghanistan and formed a loose coalition. This rag-tag Northern Alliance was propped up by Iran, Russia and India, and symbolically led the American liberation of the Afghan capital in 2001.

In the past eight years, the Northern Alliance has all but disappeared. Old commanders have died, grown old or been fattened by corruption. Many warlords were disarmed in the initially valid but ultimately useless quest to weld an Afghan nation with a federal Army. As such, India will begin with few effective auxiliaries and proxies.

What then would be India’s options? Whatever it may do militarily and in terms of internal policing and securing its borders, there has to be a larger political response too. Broadly speaking, India will need to once more engage and exploit the internal fault-lines — sectarian, ethnic and national — of the Islamic world, especially in its near neighbourhood

It has not done this for a decade, but that precedent will no more apply. Many of the rules and much of the conventional wisdom of the post-9/11 period will not matter any longer.

Since that Black Tuesday in September 2001, India has more or less refused to get involved with the ‘hard stuff’ in Afghanistan. It has spent its resources on building social and physical infrastructure. In Pakistan, India has little or no influence on internal power equations. It has become an unusual regional power — one without persuasive or coercive capacities in troubled locations at its periphery.

This recession has been the result of deliberate design, of allowing America to take the lead in combating common adversaries in the AfPak continuum. That ‘outsourcing policy’ served New Delhi well, and allowed it space to nurture its economy while the West and its troops bore the brunt of the War on Terror. However, if its very underpinnings change, the policy itself will have to be dumped.

For India, there are two emergent areas of focus. First, it needs to move towards a more interventionist approach to Pakistan.

For the moment, the strategic goals of the Pakistan Army and the Taliban are the same — re-taking Kabul and uniting under the banner of Islam. However, in the past few years a Pashtun territory has been created that encompasses geographies on both sides of the Durand Line. The equation between Pashtun nationalism and Islamist jihad is a tricky one. Pakistan will stress the latter. India needs to push the former.

Adroitly undertaken, this could bring Pasthun tribes and armies — not all of whom may be under direct control of any of the three main Afghan Taliban chiefs — into confrontation with Islamabad. If the Baloch insurgency is also suitably revved up, then the Punjabi mainstay of the Pakistani military could face serious ethnic revolt. This is India’s only chance.

Second, at a basic level, another nuclear weapons power in Asia is not good news. Yet, the fact is India will probably learn to live with an Iranian bomb. Teheran’s leaders will perceive an alliance between Saudi money, Taliban foot-soldiers and the Pakistani Bomb as an unacceptable Sunni provocation. They will inevitably move towards a usable nuclear weapon.

India will have less and less reason to oppose Iran. It may even come to see the Iranian Bomb as useful for a regional balance of terror. Familiar voices in the US State Department and in Whitehall will no doubt protest. Never mind; if Anglo-American troops walk away from Afghanistan, they will have to cede ground to a different sort of Indian foreign policy.







We are told that we are souls. What is this soul? The Bhagavad Gita provides the answer. Souls are parts of god (Gita, 15.7). What does this mean? Are we god-like? Are we different from what we appear to be? Is our relationship with god similar to a father-son relationship? If so, why does god, who is all-powerful, let us suffer so much? What advantage is there in knowing that one is a soul and not a material body?

Let us try to understand this complicated matter which baffles most people. When Krishna speaks of ‘mama eva amshah’ (Gita, 15.7) he means a spiritual spark. God is the absolute whole encompassing everything, whereas individuals can only be parts. Being parts does not mean that god is obliged to act in our favour like a father has to for his son. There is a big difference between being a part of god and a spiritual spark. A part represents connection which may not be there. Whereas a spark indicates independent existence, unless decided otherwise by us.

What then is our relationship with god? We all exist eternally (Gita, 2.12). However, god is not attached to us, and therefore, remains impartial (Gita, 9.29). We are not god’s extensions either, though god can be our father if we so choose. We can choose to link anytime with him. There is relationship if we want not otherwise. God also does not get emotional about us. For him, maintaining primacy of rules is most important. He rarely goes beyond the laws of nature as set by him. We are so used to violating the laws of nature that we expect god to do likewise. God is not heartless, he is just practical. He allows the material nature to act. We can get co-operation from his material nature if we follow its rules, like in matters of health. After all, the nature is based on sound scientific principles, which if violated attract punishment.

What should then a soul do? One should become attached to god and detach oneself from materialism. One should depend on god only and not on any opulence like wealth. One should practise linking with god and not remain on a theoretical level. One has to be patient because realising god is a slow and long process, but a sure thing. And one should not be foolishly emotional in our dealings as we are naturally inclined to be.

Summarising, a soul is a spiritual spark. It is partially independent and small. A soul desires, decides, enjoys and suffers. Everything else is done by the same material nature which is in god’s control. Sooner we realise our identity and act accordingly, better off we will be.








Twenty months since Aarushi Talwar’s tragic death, new facts are tumbling out which prove more confusing. A Saturday Special focus

It’s about twenty months since Aarushi Talwar died under

mysterious circumstances. Born into affluence, growing up among educated, cultured and loving people at home and school, her world was self-contained. It would not have been long before she made her family proud. But destiny’s cruelty not only dealt her a violent, premature death but also gave her Anne Frank-like immortality as a symbol of smashed innocence in a cynical world.

Aarushi Talwar is a household name wherever you go to in India today. On the morning of May 16, this chirpy, somewhat precocious 14-year-old daughter of a dentist couple in Noida’s Jal Vayu Vihar was found lying on her bed with her throat slit. Over the subsequent months, people in places high and low have been linked to the heinous crime as conspiracy theories have flown a dime a dozen. Ambitious policemen, corrupt officials and diseased media know-alls have had their moments of fame on prime time TV, under the sad portrait of a girl who did nobody any wrong.

One thing that emerged unequivocal through the clutter is this: the hand of some big force has worked hard to lock up the identity of Aarushi’s killer (or killers) and throw the key into a sea of contradictions. In lay terms, the full powers of the Indian State have been marshaled for a giant, but utterly clumsy, cover up.

Within a week, a tragedy degenerated into a farce and I found it hard to separate my twin aspects of a hard-boiled reporter and a sensitive father. There was hush-hush about ‘a couple’ behind the ghoulish crime, wink-wink over jealousy in a ménage a trios, somber undertones of an ‘honour killing’. Each day, the smile of the lovely girl seemed to get sadder. It was as if we, i.e. police, press and public, were caught up in competition to kill her even after death.

The powers behind her death put ‘operation cover up’ to work from hour one itself. Noisy reporters and camerapersons were allowed a free run of the house, thereby messing up the delicate ecosystem of finger prints that lingers briefly over any crime site. The crucial first 24 hours were lost chasing a red herring — Hemraj. While policemen executed the plan in full view of national TV, the medics did everything right — which in this case is ‘wrong’— behind doors to ensure that vital evidence was distorted beyond recognition. Then, Hemraj’s body was found practically under everybody’s nose and by the time it was sent to the mortuary, Aarushi had been cremated and her parents were on their way to cast her ashes into a holy river.

And now, we learn that the autopsy was a bogus exercise. Right after it, Noida police had announced that there was ‘no rape’. But in June that year, doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, who were working for the CBI post-May 31, announced to the Press that there was mention in the government hospital’s report filed by Dr Sunil Dohre about some ‘white discharge’ from Aarushi’s private parts. So, taking as given the initial police announcement of ‘no rape’ was based on Dr Dohre’s report, isn’t it curious that the doctor should say one thing to the police and another for the benefit of his peers? Either way, it’s quite confounding that the CBI didn’t question Dr Dohre at this stage. Or maybe it did — and we didn’t know.

Then, in November, the CBI raided the Noida district hospital. Reason? The agency IANS quoted a CBI official as saying: “We raided the Noida district hospital and found certain documents relating to Aarushi’s post-mortem missing.” As it happened, they were looking for a ‘medico-legal register’ which couldn’t be traced at all. But the CBI didn’t care to file a police report about it.

The plot doesn’t get thicker; some people with an agenda hammer it thin and wide to confuse the beholder.

Now, in September 2009, the ‘white discharge’ angle has become a really stormy one. We hear that Aarushi’s ‘white discharge’ was intentionally mixed up with the secretions of another female cadaver, just to throw the DNA hunt up a blind lane. Still others said Aarushi’s swab was swapped with that of another dead girl. But one question that begs is — does ‘white discharge’ necessarily mean semen? Any gynaecologist will inform to the contrary. So may be Dr Dohre was quite right and the Press has got it all wrong.

But from the way Noida police and later CBI allowed evidence to fritter away, allowed the persons believed responsible for tampering with crucial — if not clinching — evidence, one is persuaded that somebody ‘big’ may be behind it all. What ‘big’ man would be interested in the death of a 14-year-old girl? Maybe the answer to that question lies in Aarushi's own life story. But is it possible for a schoolgirl, a very social animal at that, to conceal a secret so explosive till death stole it from her? From here, the law of elucubrations lead us to conclude: who but her parents could know?

There must be one person somewhere on the planet who knows what the Talwars had to hide. My estimate is that this person could be Dr Ritcha Saxena, the pathologist who helped out in Aarushi’s autopsy and a lady with a link to Aarushi’s mother. Last weekend, The Pioneer got exclusive access to hospital papers which the prosecution may find useful in pushing the theory that Dr Saxena insisted on being there despite being on leave since January 2008 because being an admitted friend of the Talwar, she had an interest in turning the investigation on its head.

If Dr Saxena is a forensic pathologist, then why didn’t we hear of her before? Like with all missing links, there is a mystery about this woman. If she is not a forensic pathologist but some other kind of pathologist, what was she doing there that afternoon because insofar as this case was concerned, Dr Dohre was in charge. The mystery deepens when two additional posers are fielded. Why didn’t the authorities of the hospital report her suspicious presence to the police?

Secondly, which swab did CBI send to AIIMS and which did they send to the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, Hyderabad?

Now, after 10 months, documents related to the case and case diaries of Ritcha Saxena’s attendance record have been handed over to State Health Administration. But from the way things are shaping, this case is already a defence attorney’s dream. Saxena is sitting pretty at home and even launching a counter-attack on her department bosses for framing her.

Twenty months on, we are no closer to the truth than we were on that hot summer’s morning in 2008. It’s as if we are gyrating with self-conscious abandon. And Aarushi's smile is seeming more scornful.

-- The writer is Chief Reporter, The Pioneer






The Aarushi murder mystery moved to another level this month, but nothing has changed for the Uttar Pradesh police whose sworn duty now is to promote ‘Behenji’s’ image

In 1981, Indira Gandhi forced Vishwanath Pratap Singh to step down as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister when a leading news magazine of the day revealed how the police of the State were routinely executing undertrial pickpockets and housebreakers and passing these off as ‘dacoits’ killed in ‘encounters’.

Today, there is nobody to question the present Chief Minister, Mayawati, as her police commit serial goof-ups on the most high-profile unsolved murder in recent memory, the Aarushi Talwar case. Since May 15, 2008, when the body of the

14-year-old dentist’s daughter was found with her throat slit in her room in her parents’ house in Noida, the Uttar Pradesh police has covered itself with infamy for not only revealing its unprofessional style of functioning, but also its scant regard for the basic laws of policing.

The CBI, which took over the case on May 31, 2008, is yet to make substantive progress beyond discarding the state police’s original line of investigation which focused on Aarushi’s parents as the planners of her death. Subsequently, one dark secret after another has tumbled out of the UP police’s closet.

How is it possible that the police of India’s largest state could get away with such slipshod execution of the basic formalities that follow the discovery of a corpse? It’s anybody’s guess if such a force can hope to solve even petty criminal cases. In full view of the nation, they allowed all and sundry to have a run of the Talwar house when it was vital to seal it off in order to preserve vital clues like fingerprints, footprints, discarded material, stains, etc. Then they announced that the ‘missing’ servant, Hemraj, must be the culprit since he was ‘missing’ (without even looking for him in the servant’s room upstairs). A full day later, they discovered that Hemraj hadn’t gone ‘missing’ at all; he was quite there and quite dead in his own room.

One recalls how in the weeks that followed the Aarushi case, the entire nation had been shocked by the UP police’s allusion to her involvement with first some boy called Anmol, and then the servant, which led them to the deduction that the parents committed an ‘honour killing’

Meanwhile, the media, which too had suffered decline in standards since 1981, went on the overdrive cooking one fine theory after another, of course with half the responsibility shown by the UP police.

It is not that the incompetence of the state police is unknown to the state government. Lack of faith in the state police has led to an increase in cases being transferred to the Crime Branch of the CID. But since this department is also controlled by the state police, demand is growing for more and more cases to be transferred to the CBI. According to a senior police official, a large number of cases from Uttar Pradesh have been handed over for investigations by the CBI. There is a perception that while the state police could be subjected to pressure and bias, the CBI is relatively impartial and therefore it is felt that the proceedings would be fair.
Frequent transfers and postings of officers is said to be one of the reasons for the inefficiency in the services. But the police also enjoy total freedom from accountability and get by with corruption. These two factors have combined to rendering the UP police a redundant, insensitive force. Punitive action such as sending an errant cops to the lines or even placing him under suspension rarely brings about any corrective measures as most of them have found means to counter the punishment.

For all these reasons, the non-stop upward movement of the state’s crime graph is hardly surprising. On several occasions, the police even fail to register the cases out of the fear of being penalised by seniors. Today, the only thing that matters to government officials is conserving the ‘image’ of ‘Behenji’ — it’s like Chief Minister Mayawati cannot do any wrong and the only wrongdoers are those who question her infallibility.

So, while on the one hand, Mayawati announces that henceforth all cases would be registered by the police thinking it would bolster her self-image as protector of the weaker sections, the state police knows that suppressing statistics on crime against the weaker sections is better than acknowledging that such crimes occur in the new paradise of social equity that is Uttar Pradesh. So what do they do? They simply continue to refuse to register cases.

Now, however, matters have precipitated for ‘Behenji’. She was resting assured that the much-hyped Aarushi Talwar case had slipped from public memory. Even the CBI, which took over the case on May 31 last year, seemed to have hit a dead end. But suddenly there have been incredible twists to the case. The Central Forensic Laboratory made a startling disclosure early September that the slides made with vaginal swab samples had either been switched with that of some other female cadaver or was mixed with others or both; one thing was certain — it wasn’t Aarushi’s.

Although the CBI has been getting the lion’s share of flak from the Delhi media, it is clear that the state police is to blame. It is clear that the UP police does not have a system of keeping checks on the standard practices that follow the murder. The autopsy seems to have been conducted most callously. The doctor carried out the post-mortem mixed up the samples. Then there are allegations that the pathologist, who is also ‘close’ to the Talwars, made another goof-up. All these things happened well before the case was transferred to the CBI.

To be fair to the CBI, the central agency cannot be blamed for anything more than giving the UP police some mysterious protection from accountability. It was the UP administration which was in charge in the early days of the murder mystery. Its inefficiency allowed the real culprits to remove all evidence of their involvement. Then, perhaps in a deliberate ploy to be relieved from the case, the UP police intentionally issued those defamatory remarks. This is the oldest trick employed by state police units to wriggle out of cases they have no intention of solving. So instead of being accused of ineptitude themselves, they allow it to be taken over by the CBI. Then, because the CBI lacks its own resources and must depend on the state police for logistical support, the state police merrily sabotages the investigation.

The plethora of theories circulating on the Aarushi case are back. This time, the focus is on the role of the police. One just cannot help but shake his head non-stop over the series of bungles that followed the discovery of the body. The question is why the fuss now? The fact about tampering of the samples collected from Aarushi’s body was first raised by the medics of All India Institute of Medical Sciences in June 2008. Again, in November last year, the CBI carried out a raid on a NOIDA hospital to get to the bottom of the vagina swab mystery. Now it is reported that in its report to the Supreme Court, the CBI had mentioned that it was aware of every little disaster caused by the UP administration. The question is: why didn’t the CBI blow the whistle back then?

-- The writer is Political Editor, The Pioneer, Lucknow






In recent times, the CBI’s failure in securing convictions for high-profile criminals has resurrected fears that the premier investigative agency has degenerated into a pawn of the rich and powerful. It’s time CBI got a makeover

The CBI’s role in the Aarushi murder probe hotch-potch is now openly discussed in the media. As soon as the facts about the ‘switching’ of samples came out, the usual finger-pointing began. Over the past decade, the CBI’s credibility has been so compromised by its failure to meet the aspirations of the people in dealing with high-profile cases that few people refer to it any longer as the ‘premier’ investigative agency.

In fact, it may not be long before people start calling it the ‘clean-chit’ agency. In the Nithari case of 2006, the CBI was perceived as extremely zealous about protecting the rich house owner, Mohinder Singh Pandher. Matters came to a head when Jatin Sarkar, the father of one of the 19 girls killed, was found murdered. His widow told the media that Sarkar had a ‘confessional statement’ from Pandher admitting to his guilt in the mass murder. What the man on the street couldn’t understand was how it was possible for Pandher’s help Surinder Koli to commit the crimes without Pandher being at least an accessory.

Now with Pandher walking away a free man, the same public that demanded CBI take up the case by staging protest demonstrations in Noida during the New Year’s week of 2006-07, is left disillusioned. Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, in Kolkata, the CBI rode the crest of popular sentiment when it was asked to take up the Rizwanur Rahman death mystery. But when it failed to establish ‘murder’, it was accused of a sellout because the interested parties were very wealthy.

In Assam, the 1996 murder of the executive editor of Asomiya Pratidin, Parag Das, shocked the people. Once again the CBI was roped in. In July this year, when the local court in Guwahati acquitted the prime accused, there was a wave of opinion against the CBI. The entire Assamese press rose in unison because there was wide feeling that the CBI diluted the case against the accused.

The Priyadarshini Mattoo case is still fresh in public memory. Here too the CBI was expected to perform. But, after three years of ham-handed investigation and complaints galore of money changing hands, additional sessions judge Thareja acquitted the accused for want of sufficient evidence against him. But, before that, he had strong words to say about the manner in which the CBI presented the case.

A common thread that runs all these instances is corruption. The CBI's bread and butter comes from probing central government officers’ assets disproportionate to their known sources of income. Only occasionally is an officer asked to take up investigation. This is the ‘jam’ because most often, only cases involving rich and famous people qualify for CBI intervention. Another vital fact is that state governments usually lose political brownie points when they are forced by public


pressure to give up a case to the CBI. But after they do so, they usually put into play Plan B: calculated, cynical sabotage. And usually they succeed because the CBI is powerless without its own personnel, vehicles and, above all, source network. At every step, they need local police support. In the CBI investigation into the Chhota Angaria mass murder of 2000, the CBI was tripped at every stage by the pro-CPI(M) West Bengal police.
These problems would continue to recur as long as the CBI is exempted from accountability. In the 1990s, stung by criticism that the CBI was degenerating, the Supreme Court ordered the government to reform it by placing it under the Central Vigilance Commission. But nothing substantial was done. If the CBI had been taken out of political control, then no government would have been able to use it for its narrow gains. Therefore, an independent CBI is not feasible.

The role played by the CBI in getting Ottavio Quattrocchi, an Italian and a friend of the Sonia Gandhi family, off the hook in the Bofors payoff scandal, shows how deep runs the rot. Lalu Prasad Yadav, involved in the fodder scandal when he was Bihar Chief Minister, got off scot-free once he came to support the Congress at the Centre. The latest is the agency’s flip-flop in the case of former UP Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav. When he opposed the Congress, the CBI came into the picture to probe how he came to possess disproportionate assets. When, after the CPI(M) withdrew support to the UPA government the Samajwadi Party quickly moved in to fill that space, the CBI informed the Supreme Court that it wanted to withdraw its earlier letter for Mulayam’s prosecution.

The CPI(M) has alleged that the CBI probe against the party Kerala secretary is politically motivated. However, as Kerala Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan has given the go-ahead to the CBI to complete its probe against the CPI(M) Kerala secretary, the state is caught in a quandary.

Now, the moot point is how to insulate the CBI from political pressure. So far, the CBI has been an instrument of exploitation in the hands of the party which has been in power at the Centre. The solution, it seems, lies in the Supreme Court’s intervention.

The original proposal to bring the CBI under the purview of the Central Vigilance Commission is a sound one. However, successive governments at the Centre made false promises to appoint Ombudsman, which could have given the required independence to the CBI. Unfortunately, such an institution is not even in the picture, and so the credibility of the CBI is in question.

The author is Deputy News Editor, The Pioneer








Blame it on our Enlightenment hangover, this soft spot for encyclopaedists, logicians and empiricists who seek rational explanations for everything. But Reason worshippers aren't the smartest dudes around. According to researchers from University of California, Santa Barbara, and University of British Columbia, it's when certitudes collapse and you accost the surreal that you stock up on intelligence. Cerebral powers get boosted when our grasp over reality faces a "meaning threat", forcing the brain to seek order and sense in the apparently senseless. Wow. That means, IQ-wise, Newton in his cause-and-effect world isn't a match for Alice in Wonderland.

So wake up from sanity's stupor and accept that man can morph into a giant bug just like that. That's what befell Gregor Samsa, a character in Kafka's short story 'Metamorphosis' which, according to the scholars, will make you very clever if you read it. Alternately, they prescribe a descent into madness with David Lynch's mind-bending films Lost Highway, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive in which identities disintegrate and time warps in nightmares at noon. When two plus two isn't four, your brain builds biceps figuring out why. It's like living next door to Alice.

Or like celebrating the absurd, as we desis do daily. Take Bollywood film buffs who've survived many a mental assault. For instance, a filmi hero losing his eyesight in one car accident only to recover it in another. Or separated family members reuniting thanks to mummy-daddy's hum-along tunes. Or poor boy carrying off rich girl from under the nose of an army of baddies. Figuring all this out has augmented movie-goers' grey cells, forcing film-makers to innovate. The result: deciphering movie plots now demands genius. One example: a supermodel's watch it goes "Mangalam, Mangalam!" becomes a post-operative stowaway inside a stuntman's body, producing "kambakht ishq".

Consider Indian voters. For them, identity crises are par for the brain-boosting course. Many find their ballots already cast by identity thieves. Others are given face transplants, like a person handed a voter ID card with a mugshot of Big B. Trying to prove they are who they are, such disenfranchised citizens have the Kafkaesque experience of confronting a deaf divinity called Babudom. If poll outcomes testify to growing voter intelligence, we know why. As for netas drawing brainpower from bizarre events, an actress-turned-politician recently visited an inundated district. On a rickety bullock cart in flood-hit nowhere, she lived out a nightmare: swirling water, countless ditches and the clear and present danger of falling into both. Though seen bawling, she later gave an astonishingly lucid explanation for her boo-hoo act: her tears were over the plight of flood victims.

Yes, "meaning threats" do wonders for the wits. Learn to treat life as a cosmic joke something we Indians have known for centuries and you emerge the smarter for it.






Economic reforms that helped produce sustained rapid growth during the last two decades have cut the proportion of the rural population living below the poverty line from 46 per cent in 1983 to 28 per cent in 2004-05. Nevertheless, 4.4 crore households (assuming five members per household) in rural India still live in abject poverty and must be provided relief while the growth process works its way to pull them out of poverty as well. This is the spirit in which the government launched the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) in February 2006. The scheme guarantees 100 days of employment to one adult in each rural household at the statutory minimum wage.

According to an important result in economics, pioneered by economists Jagdish Bhagwati and late V K Ramaswami, the least costly way to achieve an objective is to employ a policy that directly targets it. Indirect policies may achieve the objective but impose costs elsewhere in the economy. Accordingly, the least costly policy to give immediate relief to the poor is direct cash transfer to them, not NREGS. Today, advancements in information technology make such transfers by the central government directly to poor rural households a feasible proposition.

If the direct transfers approach were adopted, expenditures worth Rs 39,100 crore, allocated to NREGS in 2009-10, could transfer Rs 10,000 each to the bank accounts of 3.91 crore rural households. The transfer would give the households income worth 100 days of employment at Rs 100 per day - the cap currently under consideration on NREGS wages. The number of beneficiary households under cash transfer would come within hair's breadth of the total number of poor rural households in India. In comparison, only 2.6 crore households sought any employment under NREGS in 2008-09. Of these, a paltry 53 lakh earned full 100 days worth of wages.

Why only a small fraction of expenditures under NREGS reaches the targeted beneficiaries is not hard to understand. The cash must flow through an elaborate bureaucracy before it reaches the beneficiaries. The delivery system consists of several layers of administration: central employment guarantee council at the Centre, state employment guarantee council in the state, district panchayat in the district, intermediate panchayat in the block and finally gram panchayat in the village. Public works must be designed and approved by the appropriate authority, financial resources delivered to the body responsible for the project and materials secured before employment can be provided. Each transaction at each stage offers opportunity for bribes.

The projects in turn require material resources and skilled workers. NREGS itself stipulates a wage-material ratio of 60:40 where wages include salaries to skilled workers. This means effectively only approximately 50 per cent of the expenditures are left for the targeted beneficiaries. In practice, the wage expenditure has ended up being even less than 50 per cent of the total expenditure. In Jharkhand, ratios as low as 12 to 24 per cent have been observed. In Bihar, works were abandoned midstream because expenditures on materials exceeded the stipulated limit.

Advocates of NREGS would no doubt argue that it creates public assets. But there are at least three problems with the argument. First, absent the need to transfer purchasing power to the poor, would we have still wanted to use scarce government resources to build these assets? Second, even if yes, is this the most efficient way to create public assets? Finally, a recent assessment of NREGS by the National Council of Applied Economic Research notes that, while very little information on the quality of assets is available, what is available is not encouraging. Ponds have been dug in areas with scanty rainfall, large sums of money have been spent on digging ponds without conceptualisation of factors such as catchment area and sources of recharging, roads have been built that have no chance of surviving the rains and expenditures have been incurred on non-existent projects.

Under the cash transfer scheme, the beneficiary household is left free to sell all its labour for wage employment. Under NREGS, the benefits of labour of the participating member accrue to someone else. Indeed, in so far as it permits the participants to be assigned to the private farms of others, the scheme has a regressive element in it: those with some land get the landless to work free of charge for them. This regressive element recently came to the fore when the government quietly attempted to expand the list of those eligible for free NREGS labour to include farmers with as much as five acres of land. The attempt rightly led influential activists Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey to cry foul, forcing the government to hold back the change.

Cash transfers have the advantage that they do not distort the labour market. NREGS has effectively led to a withdrawal of a section of the labour force to work on projects of uncertain value. This has naturally led to an inefficient increase in the wages that hurts agricultural activity of those who rely on hired workers, including small and marginal farmers who survive on small margins of profits.

The writer is a professor at Columbia University.







Holy cow, what a row! Minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor referring to the economy class in airlines as the "cattle class" has sparked off national debate. Indignant politicians have jumped to the defence of the 'ordinary Indian' who more often than not travel economy. It is, our esteemed representatives say, an insult to the aam janta, who do not enjoy the privileges of the elite.

The reactions to Tharoor's tweet on the social networking site Twitter has ranged from the amusing to the absurd. By and large, it seems our netas are more outraged than the common man on whose behalf they are ostensibly angered. The BJP wants him sacked; his own party castigated him via a statement pronounced by its voluble and proper spokesperson, Jayanti Natarajan.

Cattle class, by the way, is a turn of phrase that is in currency in the English-speaking world. It's not a pejorative as it is being made out to be. Seems like our politicians are ill-equipped to understand this manner of speaking. There are enough examples in Hindi, or other regional languages of this country for that matter, where animals feature prominently in idioms. When these are used in human interaction, we don't seem to get as offended. Then why make such a song and dance over the cattle class comment? Just because it refers to the cow, which is revered by sections of our society? Looks like the latest austerity drive includes being frugal with wit and humour as well.

Indian politicians are an infamously humourless lot. They take themselves far too seriously and can't seem to loosen up. If they took a trip to the House of Commons in England, they would be horrified at the personal barbs and jibes traded with gusto, which liven up things and provide much comic relief. Unfortunately this is one legacy the Brits did not hand down to our political class when they packed their bags all those decades ago. Humour and the ability to take oneself lightly are vital to maintaining perspective and keeping the social contract going. Go on, laugh out loud.

Counterview: He should avoid controversy







Shashi Tharoor has landed himself in a soup over his tweets. The Congress has taken strong exception to his poking fun at travelling ''cattle class''. Rival political parties have also roundly criticised him. While we may dismiss the Congress high command as a dour lot, Tharoor should have known better than to take potshots at his own party's highly-publicised austerity policy.

Even before his ill-timed tweet, Tharoor had undermined Congress's public rhetoric on austerity. At a time when the Congress was asking ministers and MPs to forego part of their salaries in solidarity with farmers affected by drought, Tharoor was staying in a five-star hotel suite while his official bungalow was being readied. Though Tharoor protested that he was paying from his own pocket, he was immediately asked by the Congress high command to move out. One would have expected Tharoor to steer clear of any further controversy.

But lo and behold, a day after Sonia Gandhi travelled by economy class, Tharoor responded to a query on Twitter by saying that he was travelling cattle class in 'solidarity with holy cows'. There was no way that the Congress leadership would have let this comment pass. Quite expectedly Tharoor was publicly pulled up by a Congress spokesperson. Some of his own party members, including the Rajasthan chief minister, have called for his resignation.

It's no point criticising the Congress leadership as humourless. They are aware that in India it is important to maintain a public image of being one with the common man. So even if a Congress politician has crores stashed away, he still dresses in khadi and eschews pomp in public. The austerity drive on the part of Congress is very much in line with this thinking. It has nothing to do with high principles; it is simply a calculated strategy that the party feels will go down well with its voters.

Tharoor, a greenhorn in politics, is oblivious to such political wiles. He is the only minister who is on Twitter, which is a platform that demands spontaneity. He hasn't realised that tweets and wisecracks about party leaders don't have a place in India's political culture.

Times View: Come on, loosen up!







Anyone travelling in India by air must have got a sinking feeling last week when Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam demanded that Jet Airways be nationalised. He raised the spectre of the ugly days when Indian Airlines had a monopoly of the skies before 1991. This would have effectively turned Jet Airlines from one of the world's best airlines to one of the worst. Naresh Goyal, Jet's founder, on the other hand, was scared of his pilots forming a union because of his memory of the 1974 Air India pilots' strike which started the decline and fall of Air India.

The trouble in Jet Airways began when some of its pilots wanted to form a union. The management said "no", and sacked two of the leaders. In response, the other pilots went on 'mass sick leave', which left tens of thousands of passengers stranded, wondering who to blame for their undeserved suffering. This comes at a time when the aviation industry is going through very tough times.

The Mumbai high court ruled the strike illegal. After the dispute was settled last weekend, Justice D Y Chandrachud refused to drop the charges against the pilots. Reflecting the angry public mood, he wanted to prosecute the pilots for contempt of court. "Employees of public utility services...cannot hold the public to ransom," said the judge. The pilots' lawyer argued, "Pilots are an emotional lot and have a sensitive task." The judge countered, "Even doctors and judges have sensitive jobs."

The right to form a union is part of every democracy but should pilots, who earn Rs 3-4 lakh a month, be equated with downtrodden labour? Should persons who perform essential services in public transport, military, police and hospitals, be allowed to disrupt services? The judge obviously does not think so.

The Jet Airways affair is an opportunity to revisit our archaic labour laws, which hurt the interest of 90 per cent of India's employees while protecting an aristocracy like the pilots. Of course, labour laws are needed, but they should protect workers, not jobs. All governments try to prevent job losses but they never succeed. Companies have to survive in dynamic market conditions. In a downturn, orders are reduced from customers and the only choice before a company is to reduce its workforce or go bankrupt. Sensible countries, like those in Scandinavia, give employers the freedom to hire and lay off workers based on market dynamics. They protect workers who lose jobs through a well-designed safety net of unemployment insurance and retraining.

India's labour laws do the opposite they protect jobs, not workers. They assume that a job is for a lifetime, and do not allow employers flexibility to lay off workers in a downturn. Thus, Indian companies avoid hiring permanent employees, and 90 per cent of India's workers have ended up in the informal sector without any benefits or safety net. This is one of the reasons that the manufacturing sector has not become an engine of mass employment in India as it has in the Far East.

The answer is not to equate income security with job security. Let us begin by raising job retrenchment costs from the present 15 days' salary for every year worked to 45 or even 60 days. Second, amend provident fund rules so that employees can access their retirement accounts when they lose jobs. Third, raise the contribution to provident fund in order to provide a softer landing to job losers. Fourth, cover unemployed workers under a universal health insurance, such as the excellent Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana. Finally, companies should pay for worker retraining and inflict pain on all employees before laying off some for example, cut executive salaries by 50 per cent, and worker salaries by 25 per cent. Unions will object of course, but the reform of unions has to be part of the solution.

 The Jet Airways strike has presented us with a mirror to look at our labour laws, showing how we deceive ourselves, thinking that we are protecting labour when we are only protecting an aristocracy like the pilots.









The world is stepping out of the deepest recession since World War II within a year of being plunged into it, thanks to the largest coordinated bailout in history. The composite leading indicators tracked by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are showing stronger signs of recovery in the seven richest countries (G7) and in the four advanced emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC). The governments of 20 countries that produce 90 per cent of the world’s GDP have committed nearly $2 trillion to crisis-related discretionary spending, which, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) study reckons, could add 1.2-4.7 percentage points to the bloc’s output in 2009 and 0.1-1 percentage point in 2010. But this process is not painless — the public debt in the G20 will climb from 62 per cent of its GDP in 2007 to 82 per cent in 2010.


The cost of servicing this debt will be the single most important input in decisions to roll back fiscal stimuli. Premature withdrawal of government spending risks nipping the recovery in the bud. On the other hand, if governments continue to pump more money than is needed, rising interest rates will undermine whatever revival has been achieved. Since countries are at different points on the turnaround graph, fiscal rollbacks will occur at different times. When they do, they will have to be large: to regain its 2007 position, the world needs to bring down its fiscal deficit from 7 per cent to under 1 per cent, a process, the IMF paper says, that could drag on beyond 2016.


The worst may be behind us, but it is a hard climb out of the fiscal hole the world has dug itself into. And it is harder for an India that went into the slump with an inordinately high debt-GDP ratio of 80 per cent and an ambitious social spending programme. Recession-induced discretionary spending is only 14 per cent of India’s overall fiscal expansion in 2009. Scaling down this component counter-cyclically does not address the issue of burgeoning subsidies and income transfers. Being among the first major economies to shrug off the recession, India must also be among the first with a plan to reconstruct its exchequer over the next five years. The central bank, with an eye on an explosive inflation situation, has been flagging an exit strategy for a while now. It is time North Block caught the signal from Mint Road.








Ajmal Kasab’s counsel is punching holes in the watertight case against him because our intelligence agencies do not have a translator who can render two words from Arabic. The agencies took the phrase ‘Ammar Askari’ as firm proof of the Lashkar hand, but it turns out to be the name of some unknown, irrelevant guy.


Ironically, I received this news in the midst of 20 translators from a dozen Indian languages, while conducting a workshop on literary translation organised by the British Council and Sahitya Akademi. The latter has been promoting the Indian literatures for more than half a century and now that Britain has gone multicultural and its natives are having a hard time winning the Booker, the Council is also interested in other literatures.


The world at large seems to be ready to go beyond Indian writing in English and discover India’s many literatures. This is ironic too, since it spent the better part of the last two millennia doing just that  — before Macaulay rejected Indian letters in 1835 in his infamously illiterate Minute on Indian Education. The world’s oldest printed book, a copy of the Diamond Sutra dated 868 CE, found on the Silk Route, is a 5th century Chinese translation of the Mahayana text. Devilishly useful scientific ideas, like treating zero as a number, travelled overseas through translation into Arabic and Persian, as did clever devices like the frame-tale of the Kathasaritsagara, which infected the One Thousand and One Nights and, further west, the works of Boccaccio and Chaucer. And the fable, innovated in the Panchatantra, probably inspired Aesop and Apuleius in Europe and now lives on in the sagas of Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse.


But contemporary Anglo-American publishing has undervalued translation out of India while celebrating Indian writing in English. Partly, it’s our fault — the quality of work has been patchy. Equally, it owes to a Western veneration for verbatim accuracy, believed to be guaranteed by direct translation between languages. However, exact correspondence is an impossibility and goes against the post-modern belief that texts differ according to your reading, and that there is no single authentic original or translation.


How does this issue affect Indian translation? If you were a publisher wanting to represent all of French literature to an English readership, you could start work with just one translator. To represent mainstream South American literature, you would need two, one each in Spanish and Portuguese. To represent Indian literature, you would need 24 for the literary languages alone, excluding lesser tongues and the oral tradition. So to directly translate mainstream Indian literature into 15 major European languages, you would need 360 translators, more than any Indian publisher can hope to engage.


International publishers and agents are eternally waiting for this improbable exercise in authenticity to take off. Meanwhile, South American literature in just two languages has grown a bigger footprint than South Asian literature in about 30 languages. One way out of this impasse is to set aside received wisdom and translate through bridge languages like English or Hindi. Taking our literatures out to a world readership has become a priority for Indian publishing, and it can be achieved by shifting our attention from what is lost in translation to what can be gained from it.


Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine(The views expressed by the author are personal)








Was 1991 the year that changed India’s attitude to money? Economic reforms made wealth creation not just legitimate, but an aspiration to both respect and emulate. Middle-class Indians jumped through hoops (and sadly, still do) every time an Ambani, Mittal, or Tata made it to the international power lists. Perhaps we were just relieved to not be stereotyped in picture postcard images of poverty. Or perhaps we were in too much of a hurry to secede from the grim truth of how most of our country lived; we were, in other words, trying to create a parallel and cocooned universe.


The raging debate over ‘austerity’ and moderation in public life has made me re-examine conventional assumptions about class and wealth.  Personally, like many others who grew up in the pre-liberalisation years, I find displays of money distasteful and embarrassing. I’ve often wondered whether this is an archaic and irrational squeamishness but like other people I know, I think flashy and flamboyant spending can border on the crass. It could, of course, be a generational  attitude.


Before India opened up to malls and McDonalds, our school and college years were shaped by a certain intellectual snootiness. Sometimes we carried this self-consciousness to absurd limits. As a school student, I remember fibbing about what car we had at home. My father had brought back a second-hand Mercedes on a transfer of residence from the US after a long posting there. But I continued to say the car at home was a Fiat, just because it sounded more ‘regular’. St. Stephen’s may now be taking the hit for Shashi Tharoor’s brand of over-clever humour but, ironically, my old college was perhaps most responsible for inducing an instinctive reverse snobbery about big money. And even today, as India’s corporates have catapulted the country into the global imagination, N.R. Narayana Murthy and his wife Sudha evoke a qualitatively different measure of respect in me for their firm and genuine simplicity.


So, to the extent that Sonia Gandhi’s austerity drive has brought back a measure of self-consciousness about how people in public life spend their money, I think it’s something to be grateful for. India’s rising middle-class — and I plead guilty as well — have all but forgotten how the bulk of this country lives. And if our elected representatives are forced by party diktats to never forget that, then that’s probably a good thing. But, all us middle-class folk who are so fond of mindless political bashing may do well to re-examine our own attitudes towards money as well. If, for example, we are going to judge our netas for ostentatious weddings, shouldn’t we be judging ourselves as well? Otherwise it’s just plain hypocritical to expect a Spartan, Gandhian austerity from our politicians, while having a completely different value system for ourselves.


And yet, the problem with the Congress’s austerity drive is that it’s got trapped in the worst sort of literalism. Frankly, nobody wants to see S.M.  Krishna trudging 15 hours across the globe in a commercial airliner at this age and stage in his life. And it’s a bit bizarre to have Sharad Pawar fly in to Delhi on the much-touted economy seat, only to be driven away in a car that costs more than most Indians would earn in 50 years. I don’t think the Indian citizen cares whether our politicians fly economy or club class. What bugs us more is that an MP or a Minister gets special treatment at airports and is able to swan his way in, past long lines, with a posse of sycophant handlers. In other words it’s the patronage of the political system that is far more undemocratic than disparities of wealth. We may like to romanticise the cultural values of the years before the economy opened up, but we have forgotten how ultra-powerful the government was back then. They may have bought all-economy fares, but every babu and mantri got upgraded anyway. That was patronage at work again.


And it’s this that the present austerity plan must focus on, if it is to have any real meaning. The Indian voter doesn’t care how you fly, where you eat, and whether you wear khadi. But we do care about obese governments that are bigger than they need to be. We get angry at taxpayers’ money being used to redecorate your offices in wood and marble. We want to know why government delegations are as flabby as they are. And while we don’t grudge you spending your own money, sometimes we wonder how you made that money, and we feel we should have the right to ask. And most of all, we resent you for breaking the line. At airports, with telephone connections, train tickets, power cuts —  all the stuff that represents our daily battles.


So, if austerity has to be anything more than the subject of yet another television debate, let it focus on accountability and transparency. Perhaps the most path-breaking contribution of this government was the Right To Information Act. Now, people actually feel empowered to demand answers to the questions they have. It’s that sort of policy shift that contributes way more to a sense of egalitarianism than whether MPs fly economy or not.


Otherwise, as sociologist Shiv Vishwanathan said, conspicuous consumption will just be replaced by conspicuous austerity. And faux attempts at plebian moments will make for great photographs. But little else.


Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV(The views expressed by the author are personal)









Only connect!” Little did E.M. Forster know the power technology would give to those two words, and Shashi Tharoor is a testament to that power. The minister’s tweet of a mere 64 characters — “absolutely, in cattle class out of solidarity with our holy cows” — has generated a controversy that has propelled him and Twitter into the spotlight.


Twitter, born in one of the most liberal cities of the world, San Francisco, is the creation of Evan Will-iams, Biz Stones and Jack Dorsey. Initially waved away as a gimmick for young iPhoners, it’s become a sensation with a following of 32 million users. With posts limited to 140 characters, it gives the user instant access to a world of information and networking. The idea is simple: it takes the best of text messaging, micro-blogging and social networking packaged in a neat, simple parcel. The latest addition, where each update is indexed and is accessible through real-time search, means that Twitter now serves as a discovery engine to the present, that is, to what’s happening right now anywhere around the globe. Unlike other sites where access to information is akin to a VIP party, restricted to those who have the right friends, Twitter oversteps that culture: it is a Twitterer’s content rather than the person one chooses to access.


For those sceptical of the Twitter Revolution, simply look at Iran. The site served as the main channel of news following the media crackdown. Tweets flowed out of the country and presented to the world a picture of protest that Iranian authorities attempted to veil. In a world of increased connectivity Twitter has provided users with an outlet where anyone can have a voice, any time. And having got that, there is nowhere to hide a tweet.







It is always dangerous to read too much into by-election results. But the magnitude of Lalu Prasad’s comeback calls into scrutiny the state of play in Bihar’s politics. This month’s by-elections had been called a semi-final because as many as 18 assembly seats were up for election and because they come just about a year before the state re-elects its legislative assembly. In alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP, Lalu’s RJD has taken nine of those seats, with the Congress getting two and the ruling JD(U)-BJP alliance keeping just five. Previously, a majority of these seats were with the JD(U)-BJP. But the possible significance of the by-elections derives equally from the fact that in this year’s Lok Sabha elections, the RJD-LJP could get just four of the 40 parliamentary seats, with the ruling alliance getting 32.


Lalu’s assertion of his relevance in Bihar’s politics poses questions for all other political parties in the state. Will Nitish Kumar, so far seen to be unshakeable, see this reversal as an impediment to the possibility of striking it alone in Bihar’s multi-party politics? Will the Congress, having got two seats this month and having rattled every other party by being seen to be making an overture to Nitish during the general elections, reassess Lalu’s worth and reverse its go-it-alone strategy? Will Paswan, believed to be wooed by the Congress for a merger with his LJP, now be tempted to in fact strengthen his pact with the RJD?


These questions spotlight the dangers of clubbing Bihar’s political dynamic with that of Uttar Pradesh, where all the big players see little long-term gain in emerging from their solitary corners. In UP, where the Congress especially has scented revival with the recent Lok Sabha results, the four main parties perceive costs in making seat adjustments with possible allies. Bihar has a more complicated electoral arithmetic. But Bihar is also different because, especially after Nitish Kumar’s convincing victory in the November 2005 assembly elections, an idea of the state’s possibilities has been deepened. Those charting their challenges after the dramatic by-election results would do right to do so within the framework of the development discourse that’s conquered Bihar.








The Pittsburgh summit of G-20 (September 24-25) had been announced shortly after the London summit in April. Though it has no institutional or legal foundations, G-20 has transcended initial meetings of finance ministers and central bank governors to become a major forum for major economies in the world to discuss global economy and financial markets. There are several items on the agenda.


First, aided by fiscal stimuli in various countries, not always coordinated, there are signs of economic recovery. However, such stimuli have fiscal costs and inflationary potential. A review of these measures, with gradual withdrawal, is inevitable. Second, recovery has occurred without consensus on the content of domestic financial regulation, such as leverage ratios, de-linking commercial banking from investment banking and norms on credit-rating agencies. For instance, there are differences in perspective between EU countries and the US on remuneration practices in banks. Third, prospects for the Doha Work Programme may be brighter now, but there are no signs yet of the impasse having been broken. Both protectionism (which has increased, including within G-20) and revival of multilateral negotiations (a ministerial is due in October) will be priority items. Fourth, there will be talk of reforming international financial institutions and global financial architecture. In practice, this means the IMF (though the Financial Stability Forum and World Bank also figure), and there are questions of decision-making processes within the IMF, subscriptions and rebalancing of quotas. Fifth, with Copenhagen slated in December, climate change cannot be off the agenda and there is no consensus yet on who commits how much on reductions and who bears the costs. This brings in ODA (official development assistance) to developing countries, relevant beyond climate change, since both private and official capital flows to developing countries suffer in times of downturn. It will be unrealistic to expect significant consensus in Pittsburgh and, at best, the communiqué will set out broad principles.


But two questions remain. First, once recovery becomes more broad-based, will G-20 meetings remain relevant, especially if not hosted by the US or Britain? Second, should the G-20 have institutional backing (with a secretariat) and transparent norms for membership? Of three broad areas listed in London, with growth and employment recovering, macroeconomic coordination is now more about exit than continuation. However, the other two (reform of the financial sector, reform of international financial institutions) will remain as major issues and there is a danger that when shoots turn greener, major economies will lose interest in the G-20 process.









The sixties have been the most dangerous decade for independent India. It saw two full-scale wars (China 1962, Pakistan 1965), several large skirmishes (including Kutch, with Pakistan, 1965, Nathula, with China, 1967), the peaking of the Naga and Mizo insurgencies to such levels that air power had to be used against both, rise of Tamil separatism, and all this in a period that saw successive droughts, that saw the deaths of Nehru and Shastri and the decline of the Congress. But for most Indians of my generation, who started going to school in that decade, the memory that stays is 1962. More than a memory, it is a scar. 1965 was a much bigger war, but it was an even contest. If it left a feeling of “incompleteness”, 1971 settled it.


The droughts led to the green revolution, the Congress party rose from the ruins again and grew to be more powerful than under Nehru. The two insurgencies retreated to the jungles, with populated regions of both the Naga and Mizo Hills firmly controlled by the army. But there was no real redemption for 1962. That is why that scar refuses to fade away. And that is the reason we over-react so irrationally, stupidly and ignorantly to even a rumour of another Chinese provocation.


We forget how much water has flown through the Indus, Teesta, Kameng and Lohit since 1962. And I mean not just militarily. The change in the larger political, strategic and diplomatic environment is much more significant. In the years leading up to 1962, India and China were “bhai-bhai” in a fake, hypocritical and contrived bonding of an entirely muddled and contradictory ideology.


Today we are both acknowledged as powerful and important nations and have a relationship of much greater substance and no phoney emotion and sloganeering. We do a phenomenal amount of business together, have maintained total peace on our unsettled borders and, while progress has been slow, have got some issues out of the way. Territorially, India’s gain is the Chinese acceptance of Sikkim’s accession. And for China, it is a very favourably substantive nuancing of India’s position on the status of Tibet. True, our border talks have progressed less rapidly than we would all wish, but these things require patience.


How come then even rumours of the so-called Chinese “incursions” caused us so much consternation? Most of these, even if these happened exactly as two-and-a-half war-mongering TV channels reported, were minor and superficial and did not justify either the panic or sabre-rattling that followed. Hundreds such are reported by each side every year. If the number is larger this year, and if the Chinese are indulging in more aggressive patrolling, we need to analyse and figure out the reasons, and then look for a counter. We cannot simply start getting the old 1962 nightmares. Militarily, 2009 is a far cry for both India and China. And politically, both, particularly China, have huge risks in an armed skirmish of any size, leave aside a war.


That is why, over the past three weeks, some of our discourse has been disturbing. It is as if we are again rushing to defend Namka Chu, Tawang, Tse La, Dirang Dzong and Bomdi La, Rezang La, Daulat Beg Oldi and Chushul. I do not believe any nation in the entire world has such stark and sharp memories and reference points of a war nearly 50 years old. We Indians do, firstly because this was the only war we have lost. But secondly, also because in our collective memory and popular culture, quite remarkably, this is the only war we remind ourselves of. Lata Mangeshkar brought tears to Nehru’s forlorn, defeated eyes when she sang “Ai mere watan ke logo”, a heart-wrenching tribute to outnumbered, outgunned troops in 1962, abandoned by their generals who loved politics and dumped by a disastrous defence minister who thought he could win wars by filibuster. But it is still the song we hear even at our Kargil or Bangladesh war celebrations. Maybe it is because Lata Didi never thought of singing something really stirring for those victorious occasions. Or maybe, we just find the pain of defeat more enduring than the joy of victory. That is why at so many official functions, military events, on national days we still hear strains of “jab ghayal hua Himalaya, khatre mein padi azadi” (when the Himalayas were assaulted, when our freedom was in peril) in Lata’s immortal voice. Popular culture only echoes our disinclination to celebrate a military victory (also evident in our failure to build even one reasonable war memorial for our soldiers). So neither 1971, nor Kargil resulted in a great war movie that we would watch again and again. So which one do we watch year after year? Chetan Anand’s Haqeeqat, a wonderfully realistic tribute to a small and valiant band of men who fought to the last man in Ladakh, broadly based on the true story of a Kumaon regiment company led by Major Shaitan Singh (a posthumous Param Vir Chakra). Incidentally, most of the 109 men of that company killed at Rezang La were Ahirs from southern Haryana and a mostly decrepit and rotting memorial still exists for them in a rotting municipal park in the town of Rewari, some 70 km from Delhi, off NH8 on way to Jaipur.


It is because we are so shy of celebrating our military success and so obsessed with defeat that we jump for the trenches the moment somebody says the Chinese are coming. We are not helped by a small band of excitable journalists who love military jargon but do not want to be confused with facts. The panic-mongering over the Chinese “incursions” is a direct result of that and it is doing India enormous damage. We sound insecure, hysterical, even irrational. This is most unbecoming of a nuclear weapons power with the fourth largest armed forces in the world, and the second highest economic growth rate.


If it is any comfort, please do read up a bit (Google Nathula, 1967). This is where India and China had their last major battle. It was no minor skirmish, but a local battle lasting six full days — maybe 1967 was a year for six-day wars (the other, more one-sided, being in the Middle East)! There were massive artillery duels. Both sides suffered heavy casualties. We had nearly a hundred dead, and by all international accounts the Chinese many more. Just five years after 1962, the Indian army had reminded the world — and China — that it had left that nightmare far, far behind. But we had completely obliterated 1967 from our memories, until it rushed back in my head last week as an “in memoriam” entry appeared in our newspaper’s Salute the Soldier section from 2 Grenadiers for its 32 martyrs of this battle. We must underline the fact that even in 1967 our armed forces were equal to the challenge.


It is time, therefore, that we bury defeatism. If we continue to fight the 1962 war, we can only lose again. This is 2009 and we are a resurgent, new India, managing and building a complex relationship with a near-superpower China. Both of us have stakes higher than a post here or a hill there. And none looks so crazy as to ruin a good story with rogue military adventurism. So it is time, for the sundry panic-mongers in some sections of the media and strategic community, to cool it. Or as would be said in the military jargon which they so love, to stand down.








The recent by-elections to the different state legislative assemblies have been a mixed bag of fortune for different political parties. A more realistic interpretation of the results


becomes possible when they are interpreted state-wise. It would be important to record that by-elections are often not a reflection of the performance of either the Central or state governments. These results are often guided by specific local circumstances in which that by-election was held and the factors that caused the by elections. The by-elections held to the 49 seats in 11 state legislatures in recent weeks bear testimony to this fact.


By-elections are caused by a clutch of factors. The seat may have fallen vacant as a result of the death of the sitting legislator. Alternatively the resignation of the MLA either on his/ her election to another representative body or on their shifting party loyalties and thus vacating the seat could necessitate a by-election. Often legislators are known to resign their seat to permit a senior party leader to get elected to the legislature.


Finally, a seat could fall vacant as a result of the disqualification of a sitting member. In the recent round of by-elections most of the seats fell vacant as a result of the sitting MLAs resigning their seats on their election to the Lok Sabha.


It has been noticed that when a by-election is held on the death of a legislator, the party to which the MLA belonged often nominates his/ her close relation to contest the by-poll. In most cases, the sympathy factor works in favour of the relation so nominated. The recent by-election in Andhra Pradesh is a case in point. Thus, the result is clearly limited to the specific circumstances in that particular constituency and is not a referendum on either the state or Central government.


When legislators vacate their seat on being elected to another representative body, the by-poll results could assume different dimensions. It often becomes a “prestige” battle for those vacating the seat. The results are often linked to the popularity of the leaders who vacated the seat and their capacity to convince voters to support the persons nominated by the party in their place. Often, the by-elections result is a barometer of the popularity of candidates/ parties in the fray in that specific constituency. The sympathy factor could work in favour of a candidate who has consistently lost a seat. It happened this time in Chittapur in Karnataka. Many years earlier, this happened in the New Delhi Lok Sabha seat when the victorious candidate L.K. Advani resigned the seat after having defeated Rajesh Khanna who was a candidate from the Congress. The voters elected Khanna in the by-poll setting aside the claims of the BJP candidate who replaced Advani.


More interesting is the case of the by-polls where the seat falls vacant as a result of the legislator resigning the seat on changing party affiliations. In Karnataka, in two seats, the by-poll was caused by Congress MLAs resigning their seats and contesting on the BJP ticket. Both of them were trounced at the hustings — a clear indication of the displeasure of the electorate with the party hopping gymnastics of political leaders. In Bihar, four of the by-polls were caused by the sitting MLAs resigning their seats on changing party affiliations. In three of these seats, the party to which the former MLA had moved to was not in a position to win the seat.


The by-poll results in every state show a different trend. In Gujarat, the ruling BJP was able to win five of the seven seats in which by-elections were held largely on account of the sitting MLAs being elected to the Lok Sabha. The BSP put up a good show in UP winning all but one of the seats in which by-elections were held. In Tamil Nadu, with the AIADMK-led alliance boycotting the polls, it was a near sweep for the DMK-led alliance. In Karnataka, the ruling BJP did concede ground to its political rivals, especially in seats where those who joined their party from the Congress contested on the BJP ticket. In West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress won both the seats. The fact must be recorded that both seats were earlier held by its electoral ally, the Congress, and the victory does not indicate a foray into Left bastions. In Bihar, 15 of the 18 seats went to the polls as the sitting MLA had been elected to Parliament. Thirteen of these seats were held by those from the NDA (10 from JDU and three from the BJP). The ruling alliance was able to retain only four of these seats. It is thus a clear loss of face for the ruling alliance in the state.


Beyond a shadow of doubt, by-election results mirror local specificities and cannot be seen as a referendum on either the state or the Central government.


< Lokniti the of Coordinator National and Bangalore University, Jain chancellor vice pro is scientist, political a writer,>







On the possibility of any breakthrough in the forthcoming ministerial deliberations with India at the UN, Dawn paraphrased Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on September 14: “Differences between Pakistan and India could be resolved only through dialogue... He didn’t expect a breakthrough in talks on the sidelines of the UN general assembly later this month, but there were chances of ‘incremental progress’... Indian intellectuals and think-tanks were raising their voice for resumption of dialogue... Indian PM Manmohan Singh also believed dialogue was the only way forward. Other options were dangerous and suicidal.” To questions on a proposed train between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh Daily Times reported him as saying: “A conducive environment was required.”


Spoken too Mush


In the month of Ramzan, considered a period of revelation, President Zardari provided one such revelation at an iftar he hosted for journalists, as reported by Dawn on September 15: “President Zardari confirmed that the ‘safe exit’ of Pervez Musharraf was the result of a ‘deal’ arranged by international powers with interests in South Asia. He didn’t name the players but said they were ‘guarantors’. He said they had decided ‘Musharraf would play golf in his post-presidential life...’ It is believed that because of interventions by Saudi Arabia and the US, both the PPP-led government and Nawaz Sharif have softened their stance and there is a notable reduction in the rhetoric against Musharraf.” The News added: “The president said he would ask the PM to establish a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ to promote the process of national healing and unity... This Commission should be headed by Asma Jehangir, he said.”


Dawn reacted sharply to this disclosure in its editorial on September 16: “So, where does Zardari’s admission and Sharif’s recent meeting with the Saudi king leave PML-N’s demand to try Musharraf for treason? As a matter of principle PML-N is not required to adhere to a deal struck with outside powers without its consent on an internal issue. But what PML-N must do is respect the collective voice of parliament... If PML-N wants to see Musharraf tried, it should take up at the earliest the government’s offer and table a parliamentary resolution calling for Musharraf’s trial.”


Daily Times’ subject of praise, in its editorial, was surprising: “The one stakeholder in Pakistan that has acted less rashly than the politicians is the Army. It has seen more clearly the risks that would have affected Pakistan’s security if the populist demand for Musharraf’s head had been met.”



In this season of iftars, PM Yousaf Gilani also hosted one, only to distance himself from his boss Zardari’s statements on Musharraf. The News reported on September 17: “ ‘I have no love lost for Musharraf,’ Gilani asserted. ‘As for all this talk about some deal having been concluded with him, you would be right in calling it a deal the day his actions are indemnified by Parliament or if he were to be convicted and then pardoned by President Zardari.’ ” Zardari’s spokesman took two days to come to his rescue. Daily Times reported on September 17: “Farhatullah Babar contradicted reports that President Zardari had confirmed ‘international guarantors’ negotiated a safe exit for Musharraf... Some journalists said Babar had not sat at the same table as Zardari...”


Pak-China buy-buy


On Sino-Pak friendship, Daily Times reported on September 16: “ Pakistan and China have identified over 50 initiatives for joint collaboration and signed around three dozen MoUs in the past year, President Asif Zardari said.” An editorial sympathetic to Zardari appeared the next day in the same paper: “Zardari’s diplomacy is careful while being focused on Pakistan’s self-interest. He mentions the founder of PPP, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, as the architect of Pakistan ‘s China policy; but the difference this time is there is no cold war polarity to contend with. His diplomacy with the US and the UK is equally focused on the national interest... Unfortunately, few in Pakistan are concerned with the dynamic behind Zardari’s intensification of contacts with China. Such is the strength of the destabilising factors in Pakistan that his visits to China are either ignored or described as the pursuit of a dubious “personal” programme. In the past, visits to China by Pakistani leaders were hardly ever criticised. But now even that restraint is gone.”




The News carried this snippet on September 17 : “Former ISI director Khalid Khwaja alleged Nawaz Sharif had persistently asked him to use his influence to stop the 2008 presidential election.”








At all times, persons who fight for a cause are impatient to see the cause prevail. That impatience in a sense testifies to their commitment — that is the one thing they want, that their cause be realised; that it be realised here and now. But every change takes time — the deeper the change we want to affect, the longer it will take. For a long while, it seems as if all the effort that is being put in is having no effect at all. But, as Vinoba says, “The work that appears unsuccessful, after all only appears unsuccessful. The first few strikes for breaking a stone do seem to be useless and ineffective. But they do have their effect.”


Working with Ramnath Goenka taught us that just as setbacks would fall upon us from absolutely unanticipated quarters, help would arrive from quarters just as unexpected. Ramnathji has constructed a building which even to us seems to be in violation of a slew of regulations. Mrs Gandhi has moved to take possession of it in retaliation for what we are doing in the paper. I get a call. The person says that he used to be an officer in the land and development office, though several years ago. He asks us to locate a circular that was issued fifteen years earlier and has since been forgotten. “That will help you,” he says over the phone. But can’t you help us get it? No, I don’t have access to it, he says. But go to X in Chandni Chowk. He has been collecting circulars for years. That is all he does. He may have it. Gurumurthy and Kohli Sahib, who used to manage the press, rush to the person. Lo and behold! In that man’s piles and piles of papers, the circular turns up...


“I have won,” Ramnathji shouts — though the circular deals only with a trifling detail, he insists he has won. “But how? How?” we want to know. “I now have an inch to put my toe,” Ramnathji answers.


That was a vital thing we learnt from him: When you seem to have lost everything, look for a toehold; when you think you have won a great victory, look deep inside it for the tiniest virus you are sure to find in it, that, if left alive, will fell you in time...


“Every good movement,” Gandhiji writes in Young India, “passes through five stages: indifference, ridicule, abuse, repression, and respect. We had indifference for a few months. Then the viceroy graciously laughed at it. Abuse, including misrepresentation, has been the order of the day. The provincial governors and the anti-non-cooperation press have heaped as much abuse upon the movement as they have been able to. Now comes repression, at present yet in its fairly mild form. Every movement that survives repression, mild or severe, invariably commands respect which is another name for success. This repression, if we are true, may be treated as a sure sign of the approaching victory. But, if we are true, we shall neither be cowed down nor angrily retaliate and be violent. Violence is suicide. Let us recognise that power dies hard, and that it is but natural for the government to make a final effort for life even though it be through repression. Complete self-restraint at the present critical moment is the speediest way to success.”


We have to substitute just a word or two, and Gandhiji’s forecast applies to the issues we take up: for instance, the sequence applies not just to issues that we take vis a vis governments; it applies equally to issues we take up in regard to any and all figures of authority — the controllers of a church or a cult, the controllers of political parties... Similarly, it isn’t just violence that is suicide. Exaggeration is. Untruth is — Gandhiji would, of course, see both exaggeration and violence as aspects of untruth.


Hence, patience. And perseverance. If our cause is just, we will be vindicated by time — either the correctives we have prescribed will be adopted or the consequences of not adopting those correctives will befall the organisation and its controllers. If we have been wrong all along, and our forecasts and warnings do not come true, the sequence will teach us humility.




A lesson in that last paragraph. For all too often, we get discouraged because we define “success” too narrowly. We champion a cause; we make a demand. If that cause does not prevail, if that demand is not conceded, we think the campaign or movement has failed. The traducers certainly proclaim as much. But recall the example of Champaran that was cited in the previous part of this series. The matter would have ended at once had the British constituted the committee they eventually had to. By not conceding the request, the British proved the point.


More than anything else, a movement, a campaign, succeeds by inducing the rulers and controllers to bare their fangs, so to say. By proclaiming the Emergency, by throwing the whole of the opposition in jail, Mrs Indira Gandhi proved the point conclusively — to an extent that no amount of reasoning by even a saintly person like JP could have done. Similarly, consider absolutely any organisation today in which authority flows from top downwards — an elected religious body, say the SGPC; a non-elected religious mutt; a trade union; a family business; a political party. A member makes a simple request: we should find out how the money that is collected is spent; we should find out why so few are joining our organisation these days; we should find out why our market share is falling... It is a simple request. The result of the inquiry can be vital to the continued survival of the organisation. But to the controllers and mathadheeshes, it looms as a challenge, and affront. To them, the request for an inquiry is not about strengthening the organisation in the future. It is a witch-hunt, a ploy to fix responsibility for the way the organisation has been run under their aegis. “How can the organisation run if such insolence is allowed to stand?’ they reason. So, they come down on the person who asked for the study — “Indiscipline”, “disloyalty”, “He is just being clever. His aim is something else”. When they move to squash the proposal by invoking such pejoratives, they prove that they know that what they have been doing will not withstand inquiry and discourse. When they move to crush or banish the one who made the request, they prove that they want not discipline but servility. 


When they succeed in squashing the ones who were asking for something just, the controllers and rulers come to believe that their modus operandi has been clever, even brilliant; that this is the way to deal with these trouble-makers: the ailment therefore remains uncorrected, it swells. On the other side, as the controllers, having “successfully crushed the trouble-makers,” deploy the same heavy-hand against more and more persons, they invite the consequences that the few original “dissenters” could never have brought about. Had the issue not been joined, had the crisis not erupted, people at large would not have come to know the real character of the rulers and controllers. The sequence unveils what reasoning could not have. The very “success” they celebrate prepares the way for eventual failure: the controllers seek to divide the “dissenters” by proffering a post or two to some of them; they “succeed” as some of them jump at the posts; but all that has happened is that the controllers have further debased norms, they have further corroded the character of the organisation, they have made accepting lollipops even more customary; the opportunists jump to their side today, but they will jump with equal alacrity to their rival tomorrow when he offers them the next allurement.


The real insulator


Often a writer is lucky enough to see his work have consequences, sometimes even under the most forbidding circumstances. As Solzhenitsyn said, and showed by his life and pen, a shout in the mountains has been known to start an avalanche. Often he works reposing faith in what Ram Swarup called “the seed value of ideas” — one never knows, he would counsel, which idea may take root in whose mind and be thus carried forward. Sometimes the writer testifies to the state of affairs not by what he is able to do to his society or state, but by what is done by them to him:


... Unko sholon ke rajaz apna pata to denge...Door kitni hai abhi subhe, bata to denge...


But every goal, howsoever noble, makes us dependent on others, and, therefore, as the Gita teaches, vulnerable. It also unsteadies the hand, and thereby makes us less effective.


Gandhiji’s copious writings and speeches, even more than Gandhiji’s life, translates this general teaching into a series of operational rules. Two of them will illustrate the point.


A young man writes to Gandhiji. You are my idol. I want to serve the country. I am prepared to sacrifice everything. Please guide me... Gandhiji responds in his typical way. Who am I to guide? There is God to guide both of us... But as one who has traversed this path, and as one who is older than you, allow me to offer you one thing I have learnt from experience. I have seen many young men and women sacrifice their assets; I have seen them sacrifice their families; I have known them to sacrifice even their lives in service of our country and in the end be consumed by bitterness for want of response. Hence, before you set out on this road, remember that to “serve” is to “make sacred”; remember, that what one has to sacrifice is one’s ego...


To insulate ourselves from being “in the end consumed by bitterness for want of response”: We can see how very vital this is by noticing how bitter many exceptionally dedicated persons become after years of exemplary toil.


The second operational device springs up the moment we reflect on Gandhiji’s oft quoted responses to the heckling, “You say you are a man of religion, then why are you in politics?” In part, he says, because there is “no department of life which can be divorced from religion”; in part “because politics touchs the vital being of India almost at every point”; in part because “politics encircles us today like the coil of a snake from which one cannot get out, no matter how much one tries. I wish therefore to wrestle with the snake.” The first response concerns what politics needs. The second, what the country needs. It is the third that concerns us at the moment. Having to associate with all sorts of persons; having to see himself being punished, traduced, sent to jail, thwarted by persons who were infinitely tinier than him; having to confront the fact that very, very few were responding to his calls — for instance, his call to surrender official titles and honours; having several of the movements he launched peter out or go astray; having to see that instead of his lifelong ambition to bring about Hindu-Muslim unity, the communities were killing each other off; having in the end to see the country being partitioned; having in the end to see that no one was prepared to tread the path which he so fervently counseled for India, namely to bring into being, and live an alternate to Western civilisation — what could provide a richer laboratory for discerning himself than the snake, for observing the working of his mind, for observing whether he had finally mastered his ego?


It is this fact — that in the ultimate analysis he had made all his activity a means for inner growth — that insulated him from the disappointing net results of his labours. As the quest was inner growth, “failure” was as useful, in many ways even more useful, than what others would see as “success”.


Once we attain that sort of detachment; once we execute that reversal of view; once the specific issue we take up is a device for something beyond the reach of others, then all we have to do is to just keep at it. To just keep doing what his biographer, Martin Gilbert, tells us Churchill asked his military commanders to do: “Continue to pester, nag and bite.”


It may well be the case that we are not able to carry the issue through on our own. But the rulers and controllers will make a mistake! The movement against the Emergency had more or less fizzled out. But then Sanjay began his sterilisation drive... Mrs Gandhi called the elections... Three of us had written mere letters. We knew that within two-three days, the matter would be over. But then they banned Jaswant Singh’s book, and expelled him...




The writer is a BJP MP in the Rajya Sabha













We say save the tiger, they say what about the Tibetan antelope? We say your toys are bad, they say our seafood and sesame oil look suspicious. We ask why are you encroaching the border. They complain we are using the Asian Development Bank to fund projects in ‘disputed areas’. They went into Africa with the biggest state-run investment in the last decade, but our private sector is biting hard at their heels. That’s classic India-China détente. It’s all very touchy. An obscure Chinese blogpost a few months ago, recommending that China help Indian militants realise their separatist ambitions, had caused a furore here. “There cannot be two suns in the sky,” it read. Actually, why not? Together, India and China’s emerging powers haven’t just added the catchy Chindia to today’s economic lexicon, they have marched in tandem to lead market rallies, revival in confidence indices, resurgence of consumer demand and so on. Together, for instance, our markets represent the future for Coke. Now, we are also both short of refrigeration, so the company’s challenge is that many Indians and Chinese are drinking their Coke warm. Apparently, over there, it’s even boiled sometimes, and served with lemon or ginger. The world’s largest steelmaker ArcelorMittal just told its investors and shareholders that future growth will come from China and India. They are the world’s fastest growing economies.


Ah, but there’s a catch: through the Great recession, China’s stimulus package has seen its banking pump in an additional Rs 70 lakh crore of credit, while the total credit currently outstanding in India’s entire economy is roughly Rs 27 lakh crore. There are two ways of engaging with this difference in economic strength. One is to take the defensive track to keeping licking raw the wounds of the 1962 war. Obviously that event casts a long shadow over our relations and its aftereffects can’t simply be wished away. But, two, there is the fact that China is now India’s biggest trading partner and that the rise in our economic engagement has been quite extraordinary. While one political skirmish or another went on along the sidelines, manufacturers, exporters and others of the breed drove trade to a five-fold increase in the five years following 2003-04. Both our exports to and imports from China have grown much faster than with, say, the US and Japan. One 2004 report had said that India’s economic development is 13 years behind China. There is no point shirking such analysis. In facing it head on, we can drive harder bargains together, whether at Pittsburgh or at Copenhagen.






Andrew Flintoff, England cricketer and star, may have just started a new trend in cricket—the freelance player. For other professions—management consultants, lawyers, even journalists—it’s quite common to freelance, working for, and getting paid by, multiple organisations at the same time without having an exclusive full time contract with any single one. Why should sport be any different? If you have a special professional skill which has a lot of demand—and star sports players certainly do—it makes perfect labour market sense to extract the maximum compensation in return for it. In many cases, for highly skilled professionals, working freelance is more lucrative than being bound to a single organisation. But working freelance also has uncertainties that a formal contractual job with one organisation does not—for one there may be times when you don’t get any work despite your skills. Take cricket: there was a time when cricketers were simply paid match fee depending on the number of matches they played. If they were injured and unable to play, they simply lost out on their wages. The annual contract system was evolved to remove some of the uncertainty surrounding absence due to injury—players on contract get a minimum payment for the year irrespective of how many matches they play.


Now obviously, if you have signed up to a contract with a particular team, say your national side, then you are obliged to play for them when they want you to. If you have no exclusive contract, but sign contracts for each series with different teams, like Flintoff wants, he will make more money, but he also stands to earn nothing if he is injured and unable to play. But in a free labour market, the choice should belong to the individual. Interestingly, at least in cricket, players have always played for multiple teams: country side, state/county side, overseas state/county side, employer’s side etc. It’s just that there is a hierarchy where country always comes first, state/county second and employer/local club side third. What Flintoff is doing is breaking the hierarchy and opting to play at what is perhaps the lowest level at the maximum price. Of course, it’s important to remember that he would perhaps not have got such lucrative club deals had he not made a name playing for England. So it’s not that easy for everyone to simply go freelance. On the other hand, T20 leagues in particular have opened up sources of income for crickets which did not exist before—so if you think you aren’t good enough playing for India, what’s wrong with becoming the cricketing equivalent of a mercenary?








Just as some people appear to undergo near death experience, India seems to undergo near capital convertibility experiences, the latest one being the possibility of dual listing for the shares of Bharti Airtel.


As has been pointed out by this newspaper, listing of shares of Indian companies abroad is not possible in the present financial regulatory structure. Bharti’s shares, if they are listed in South Africa will have to be quoted in the home currency, that is rand.


This is a different situation from that of global depository receipts, which Indian companies use to raise money from markets abroad. The receipts are quoted in stock markets, in dollars and pounds. But those are instruments issued by the banks in those countries against shares issued in Indian rupees by Indian companies.


That intermediary would not be in existence in the case of the proposal put up by Bharti and MTN jointly. The implications of the proposal being rejected by the Indian government will have to be sorted out by the two companies for their eventual merger plans, but the larger issue is one of convertibility.


To their credit, finance ministry officials have said they are, in principle, in favour of letting the dual listing happen. This is in consonance with the position taken by the government to move towards full capital convertibility.


What the government apparently does not favour, is being pushed into a decision because of one such deal. In principle, this is a valid stand.


But there are basically two ways in which governments are often called upon to make a major policy shift. The first of these is a crisis. It was the response to the balance of payments crisis of 1991 that set us off to dismantle the licence-control raj and usher in liberalisation of which we are reaping the rewards. Sure, the government at that time had little room to pull back from taking those decisions.


The other opportunity is when sectors clamour for a change of rules. In 2009, the department of industrial policy changed the FDI guidelines substantially through Press Notes 2, 3 and 4, in response to needs expressed by industry. In tax policy, such changes are of course de rigueur.


The difference now is that all these changes impacted the flow of foreign investment into the country. As India grew as an interesting investment destination for companies abroad the pressure to liberalise the FDI and often the foreign institutional investor rules too grew.


But here is a game changer. As the Bharti deal and before that the Corus deal show, the demand to change rules would now be for outward investments. Changing those rules would mean the government would have to relax the way the rupee flows out of India. Relaxing those rules are essentially the concerns for capital account convertibility also. What is capital account convertibility? It is the ability to conduct transactions of local financial assets (like shares) into foreign financial assets, freely and at prices determined by the markets.


So this means, way before the anticipated time schedule set out in the Tarapore committee on full capital account convertibility (the first stage is expected by 2012), the concerns would be brought to bear upon the government and RBI. Not just Bharti, it is quite certain, other companies would also dog the decision making process on this account.


There are two factors that make this a strong possibility. Current account convertibility rules obviously do not allow a resident Indian to hold shares in foreign currency—distinct from the cash that an individual can hold in foreign currency. For listed companies going abroad for a merger or acquisition, this will be a concern its shareholders will raise for sure. The other concerns the increasing role equity has come to play globally against debt as the means to raise funds abroad, post the global meltdown. Indian companies are being nudged to use this route more often than earlier.


Since equity transfer across national borders is at the heart of the capital account convertibility question, we are obviously getting quite close. Debt can in the ultimate analysis be mediated by the central bank, through creation of suitable vehicles, equity transactions cannot be.


So even if the government does escape the choice this time around, the next poser, one suspects is just around the corner. It may therefore be worthwhile to use the current space to quickly establish the changes that are required to bring the Indian rupee to become convertible on capital account. There are two useful books, that go by the names of Raghuram Rajan committee and the Percy Mistry committee, which have given a nice set of prescriptions for what to do to face up to the new demands from corporate India.








It was meant to be a relaxed weekend in Mumbai to get away from Delhi’s overbearing politics. But politics climbed aboard with me on Indigo Airlines’ Flight#341 last Saturday — to be more precise, a politician in economy class. Civil aviation minister Praful Patel had a window seat in the first row (1A) while I had a middle seat two rows behind.


Patel was clearly headed to Maharashtra to thrash out the NCP-Congress seat formula for the Vidhan Sabha elections, but with travel itineraries dominating headlines, the aviation minister travelling in a low-cost airline (rather than the chronically sick Air India) seemed newsworthy. While I plotted an introduction in thin air, Patel received a call on his mobile phone from a ministerial colleague.


The minister, at the other end , it seemed, wanted some clarity on Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee’s diktat of domestic travel by economy class. Patel’s colleague wanted to know if he could buy economy class and get ‘upgraded’ to executive class. “Upgrades are possible. If a seat is vacant, we can always get the airline to upgrade, as that is not at the cost of revenue. I will be here to help our colleagues,” I heard Patel tell the caller.


I made a few notes to check later—can ‘aam aadmi’ passengers be upgraded without paying the fare difference; how many business class seats on a typical aircraft and so on?


This piqued the curiosity of my neighbour in the aisle seat, a former CEO who now helps foreign investors set up shop in India.


The man found the hullabaloo over austerity rather misplaced. “Let them travel club class, give them higher salaries and professional support staff—as long as their actions are in national interest and not driven by underhand dealings,” he asserted, buttressing his point with the bad experience of an European client last year.


Moral of the story: wallowing in austerity with ‘cattle class’ is nice. But instead of 10% savings in travel costs, we would prefer if ministers gave a 100% to their job without a single percent in inessential debates.







I was in New Delhi last week, speaking at a conference organised by ICRIER and the think tanks, Brussels-based Bruegel and French-based CEPII. The conference was on ‘International Cooperation in Times of Global Crisis: Views from G-20 countries’. Montek Singh Ahluwalia kicked us off having just arrived from G-20 sherpa meetings in Washington. 


Montek kept his cards close to his chest choosing not to talk about Pittsburgh. He spoke instead about the evolution of G20 and the mechanics of leaders meetings. He was also rightly sceptical about the current band wagon in France, Germany, the US and the UK of focusing on controlling bankers’ pay. Having once been a banker I have tried to avoid this debate as it is engulfed in understandable moral outrage rather than rational debate and having been a banker, I might get confused of being conflicted. That said, here are some thoughts on the hot subject of international policymakers. 


My objection to government involvement in pay is not the typical banker’s objection that it can not be done. These things are invariably more feasible than bankers would like you to think. (Isn’t it interesting how bankers in industrialised economies have to be rescued by their governments from an Armageddon of their own making, but they still dismiss out of hand the competence of these same governments.) Banks’ best client is government. Government banking business, be it, debt issuance, privatisation, payments, restructuring advice etc is lucrative. If government insisted on only doing business with banks that have signed up to a code on remuneration and its spirit—so no sub-contracting work to related parties—it may impact bankers pay. But just because it is feasible doesn’t mean you should do it.


There are three reasons why I think there are better things to do to make the financial system safer than messing around with pay. First, if government starts ascribing value to bankers, why stop there? Will they not have to ascribe value to others with government contracts? Remember we are talking about private sector pay here not how they pay their own employees. Government control of pay in the private sector would be a form of government control of the economy. I thought we had tried that path and found it more limiting and more impoverishing than first imagined. 


Second, setting bankers pay is a lot harder than you might imagine. I used to be on the global management committee of one of JP Morgan’s main divisions, and later the same at State Street, helping to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars and I can safely say almost never ever got it right. In hindsight you always felt you paid your good people too little, which is why they waved good bye one day and you never saw them again, and you paid the people who turned out to be not so good, too well, so they stuck around interminably. We tried all kinds of innovation to incentivise good behaviour: ten year, restricted, stock options; special bonuses to encourage sharing of clients and information; no promotions for people with poor ethical standards however good they were at making money for the bank. But it was hard to get it right. Would government do better? I doubt it.


Third, government’s want to get involved because of the justifiable moral outrage at bankers pay levels. But pay levels are not the source of the systemic risk problem; it is the incentive to make more money is, which is a rather fundamental aspect of the capitalist system. Jerome Kerviel, who allegedly, single handedly, lost Soc Gen, the French investment bank, $7bn, was, allegedly, trying to boost his modest $50,000 bonus to say $100,000 and, perhaps more important, he was trying to make his colleagues respect him more.

My own approach would be to incentivise good remuneration practices and limit the overall size of the bonus pool. The size of the bonus pool should be influenced by contra-cyclical capital charges where less money is available to bonuses as a boom progresses and more money set aside for the rescue from the inevitable crash. Secondly, if the regulator believes a bank has remuneration practices that support excessive risk taking, it can ask a bank to set aside further capital as a systemic risk charge. Third, long-term stock options should not be cancelled when someone leaves a bank. Given that traders are regularly poached by other banks and once they leave the poacher compensates them for any cancelled stock options, these long-term options have no effect on long-term behaviour. But if they could not be cancelled, you knew that your interests were always aligned to the long term, irrespective of whether you stuck around and so your hiring and business development  would change. Then I would focus on the stuff that really matters, such as offsetting the tendencies of markets to underestimate risks in a boom and overestimate them in a crash. That is the fundamental cause of crashes.


The author is chairman of Intelligence Capital Limited, emeritus professor of Gresham College and member of the UN Commission of Experts on International Financial Reform








In diplomacy as with property, location is everything. President Barack Obama’s decision to scrap the proposed early warning radar and mid-course interceptors in Poland and the Czech Republic and seek, instead, a sea-based missile defence architecture in southern Europe represents a bold opening gambit in Washington’s attempt to ‘reset’ its relations with Moscow. Although the stated purpose for locating the missile defence system in central Europe was to protect Nato countries from long-range Iranian missile attacks, Russia saw the move as one aimed against it. After all, if American allies could be protected from Russian missile strikes, this would allow the U.S. to launch a pre-emptive attack on Russia without the fear of retaliation. The Bush administration dismissed these fears as groundless but was cool to a Kremlin proposal for using an early warning radar system in Azerbaijan that would have been far more effective in allowing for the early interception of Iranian missiles, further confirming Moscow’s fears. Thanks to the stand-off and the wider dissonance it set off in Georgia and elsewhere, relations between Russia and the U.S. deteriorated rather sharply.


Mr. Obama came to office acutely aware of the political cost the missile defence controversy was exacting. And this is where it is important to pay attention to the full set of motives behind his decision to relocate the missile defence paraphernalia. U.S. administration officials say their latest intelligence shows Iran’s long-range missiles do not as yet pose a threat to Europe though its short- and medium-range missiles like the Shahab-3 do. Since these missiles are capable of reaching targets in southern Europe, the U.S. will focus on locating the sea-based Aegis system there. Leaving aside the question of whether Iran really poses a military threat to Europe, it is obvious that Mr. Obama’s decision is aimed at securing Russian support for the tightening of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear issue. President Dmitry Medvedev should reject the suggestion that the two issues should be linked in this way and that Moscow has some reason to feel grateful that Washington has seen the folly of bringing missile defence into the heart of Europe. The surest way of ensuring that the forthcoming dialogue with Iran will fail is to create the impression that a hostile armada is being assembled over the horizon. Improving relations with Russia should be an important end in itself for the U.S., especially given the ambitious arms control and disarmament agenda the White House wishes to pursue.






Conventional wisdom has it that elections held in close proximity will yield similar results. Yet only four months after the 15th Lok Sabha election, the trend seems to have been broken, judging from the outcomes of the recent series of Assembly by-elections. In Uttar Pradesh, the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party finished in the third spot — behind the Congress — in the general election. In Gujarat, the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party fell way behind its claim that it would take all the 26 Lok Sabha seats. Both parties turned in superlative performances in the Assembly by-elections, forcing analysts to recognise the resilience of Chief Ministers Mayawati and Narendra Modi. In Bihar and Delhi too, the by-election results have taken a path diametrically opposed to what was witnessed in the Lok Sabha contest. The Janata Dal(United)-BJP alliance captured 32 of 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar while the Congress’s score in Delhi was a perfect seven. The victories added to the already considerable reputations of Chief Ministers Nitish Kumar and Sheila Dixit. By contrast, the JD(U)-BJP alliance could win only five of the 18 Assembly seats that figured in the by-elections. In Delhi, the Congress lost both Assembly seats for which by-elections were held. Undoubtedly, the results have dented the support bases of the two State satraps.


Mr. Kumar not only vanquished Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal in the general election; he was also the undisputed driver of the JD(U)-BJP alliance. Both equations have gone for a toss following the by-elections. While the JD(U) could retain merely three of the 10 seats it held, the BJP retained two of the three seats it held. More worryingly for Mr. Kumar, the elections have revived arch enemy Lalu Prasad, who was blithely seen as a spent force following his crushing defeat in the Lok Sabha election. The RJD won six seats while alliance partner Lok Janshakti Party bagged three. Of course, Mr. Prasad typically overstated his case when he claimed that the results portended Mr. Kumar’s exit in the 2010 Assembly election. By-elections are often decided on local factors that do not necessarily have a bearing on a larger election. The BSP won an overwhelming majority of by-elections ahead of the Lok Sabha polls in Uttar Pradesh, yet crucially failed to consolidate its gains. That said, a warning must be sounded for the Congress, which has emerged the worst from the by-elections. It did not live up to the promise it showed in U.P; it squandered the advantage it had in Gujarat; and it has suffered a setback in Delhi, which it had begun to regard as an impregnable fortress. The party would do well to treat this as a wake-up call.









Reports of prolonged delays in NREGA wage payments have been pouring in from all over the country in recent months. The reports are truly alarming, with delays of several months becoming the norm in entire districts and even States. Worse, there are worksites where labourers have lost hope of being paid at all (we found some in Khunti district, Jharkhand). This is not very different from slave labour.


Under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, workers must be paid within 15 days. Failing that, they are entitled to compensation under the Payment of Wages Act — up to Rs. 3,000 per aggrieved worker. However, except in one isolated instance in Jharkhand, compensation has never been paid.


Even small delays often cause enormous hardship to workers who live on the margins of subsistence. How are they supposed to feed their families as they wait day after day for their wages, clueless on how long it will take and powerless to do anything about it? A recent investigation of hunger deaths in Baran district, Rajasthan, found that delays in NREGA wage payments were partly responsible for the tragedy. Timely payment is, literally, a matter of life and death — all the more so in a drought year.


It is often argued, especially by government officials, that the main reason for the delays is the inability of banks and post offices to handle mass payments of NREGA wages. There is a grain of truth in this, but as a diagnosis of the problem, it is quite misleading. First, the current “jam” in the banking system is the Central government’s own doing. It reflects the hasty and top-down switch to bank payments imposed about a year ago. As far back as October 2007, members of the Central Employment Guarantee Council warned against this and advocated a gradual transition starting with villages that are relatively close to the nearest bank.


Secondly, the delays in banks and post offices are by no means immutable. In fact, the main obstacle (opening millions of accounts in a short time) is already behind us. In a few States like Rajasthan, the volume of NREGA payments is certainly a continuing challenge. But in most States, these would be quite manageable with suitable arrangements on the part of banks and post offices. In Khunti, we found that payments were easy to expedite with a little help from trained volunteers who accompanied workers to the banks. In Andhra Pradesh, there is a clear protocol for payments through post offices, with strict timelines and constant monitoring. According to this monitoring system, I am told, 70 per cent of the wages are paid within 15 days.


Thirdly, the delays are not confined to the banking system. Very often, it takes more than 15 days for “payment orders” to be issued to the banks by the implementing agencies (for example, the gram panchayat). Thus there are lapses outside the banking system too. For the local administration, blaming the banks is a convenient way of passing the buck.


On closer examination, various hurdles appear to contribute to the delays. These include delays in work measurement (themselves linked to the tyrannical behaviour of the engineering staff), bottlenecks in the flow of funds (sometimes bringing NREGA to a halt in entire blocks), irresponsible record-keeping (such as non-maintenance of muster rolls and job cards), and, yes, hurdles related to bank payments. But I venture to suggest that behind these specific hurdles is a deeper “backlash” against NREGA in many areas. With bank payments making it much harder to embezzle NREGA funds, the whole programme is now seen as a headache by many government functionaries: the workload remains but the “inducements” do not. Aside from the possibility of foot-dragging, slowing down wage payments is a convenient way of sabotaging NREGA, because it makes workers themselves turn against the programme. That was certainly the situation we found a few months ago in Khunti, where workers had started deserting NREGA worksites. This backlash, I surmise, is the real reason why massive delays have emerged around the same time as the transition to bank payments. Seen in this light, the delays are not just operational hurdles — they reflect a deliberate attack on NREGA.


The Central and State governments, for their part, seem to be in denial mode. In Delhi, the Ministry of Rural Development has a vague awareness of the delays, but little to show by way of factual evidence or remedial action. When the Ministry’s attention was drawn to the morass of wage payments in Khunti district, the Deputy Commissioner was asked to take action and certify that no wages were pending. She sent the certificate (in writing) within a few days. It turned out to be based on nothing more than empty assurances from the Block Development Officers, who have no credible data on wage dues. A recent social audit in Khunti showed that rampant delays persist to this day. Ostriches are alive and well in Jharkhand.


Instead of addressing this emergency, the Ministry is lost in a maze of confused proposals about “NREGA-2.” The real meaning of this term became clear on August 20, 2009, when the Ministry was expected to unfurl the NREGA-2 blueprint on the occasion of Rajiv Gandhi birth anniversary. This blueprint boiled down to an architectural sketch (hastily prepared by the School of Planning and Architecture) for “Rajiv Gandhi Seva Kendras,” to be built in all gram panchayats as one of the “core activities” under NREGA. This is a strange idea, especially in a drought year — pucca buildings are not even on the list of permissible works. Perhaps someone thought that putting the Gandhi tag on NREGA across the country would please the political bosses and help the ruling party reclaim the programme. The recent rearrangement of the Central Employment Guarantee Council, with some very able members being shown the door to make room for Congress MPs and friends, was in the same genre. A better way of winning credit for NREGA would be to make it work, starting with timely wage payments.


Insofar as the Centre has any answer to the problem, it seems to be based on the “business correspondent” model, whereby bank agents will go around villages to make cash payments recorded through hand-held electronic gadgets. This solution, however, is based on a wrong diagnosis — that the main problem is the distance that separates many villages from the nearest bank. Distance is certainly an issue in some areas but it has little to do with the delays. In any case, the need of the hour in a drought situation are not futuristic experiments but is immediate acceleration of payments.


Ending the delays is not a simple matter. The first point to note is that, as things stand, there is no in-built alert in the event of delays, let alone any in-built pressure to act. Programme Officers at the block level typically have no data on delays in wage payments. The workers, for their part, have no way of airing their grievances. This is one aspect of the general lack of grievance redress provisions in NREGA; or rather, of the sidelining of these provisions on the part of Central and State governments — in this case by ignoring the compensation clause. Activating this clause (along with Section 25 of NREGA, which provides for penalties on anyone who does not do his or her duty under the law) would be of great help in accelerating wage payments.


Aside from this, other effective measures can be taken. Piece rate work could be replaced with daily wage work in drought-affected areas, to dispense with the cumbersome process of work measurement. In any case, wages could be paid on the basis of attendance wherever work measurement is not completed within, say, seven days. Buffer funds can be provided to gram panchayats and post offices, to avoid bottlenecks in the flow of funds. Clear timelines are required at every step of the payment process, along with close coordination of the NREGA machinery with banks and post offices. Job card entries need to be made at the worksite, so that workers have proof that wages are due. Partial advances, in cash at the worksite, could also be considered. And, of course, wage payments need to be meticulously tracked.

These are just a few examples of possible steps to reduce delays in wage payments. The first step, however, is to recognise the problem and give it overwhelming priority. The absence of that is the big stumbling block today.


(The author is Visiting Professor at Allahabad University and member of the Central Employment Guarantee Council.)










* Developing country firms are also becoming significant mergers and acquisitions players in agricultural production

* Transnational corporations have contributed to domestic food security by boosting agricultural production

* Intellectual property rules hamper the diffusion of existing innovations


UNCTAD’s just-released “World Investment Report 2009: Transnational Corporations, Agricultural Production and Development” reveals some fascinating shifts in the global agricultural sector. Most striking: twelve of the world’s 25 leading agricultural production (plantation) firms are from developing countries. Sime Darby of Malaysia is largest, with $10.9 billion in total assets and $4.7 billion in foreign assets in 2007. As striking, it is much larger than Nos. 2 and 3 — the Dole Food Company and Fresh Del Monte Produce of the United States, with $4.6 billion and $2.1 billion in total assets, and $2.6 billion and $1.8 billion in foreign assets, respectively. India’s Karuturi Global, a rose producer, with $54 million in total and $37 million in foreign assets, ranks No. 23. Five of the other Top 25 agricultural production firms are Malaysia, and five are from Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea and South Africa.


Developing country firms are also becoming significant M&A players in agricultural production. In 2008, they acquired $1.6 billion worth of plantation assets, representing 40 per cent of the total global M&A value in this vertical. Developing countries are now also leading targets for global agricultural production M&As.


This year’s report offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of agriculture, food and beverage, and food retail multinationals, while examining their impact on agriculture internationally. But, most valuable of all, the report presents readers with a global context within which to situate India’s own ongoing national debate on agricultural reform and retail liberalisation, as also to assess the development of its agri-business sector.


FDI in agricultural production (as distinct from upstream or downstream agriculture-related industries) accounted for just 1-2 per cent of total world FDI flows and FDI stock in 2007, due to restrictive FDI policies in this sector. However, recent liberalisation has prompted annual FDI inflows to triple from $1 billion in 1990 to $3 billion in 2007. FDI inflows in the more liberal food and beverages sector have burgeoned from $7.2 billion in 1990 to $40.5 billion in 2007.


Despite their dominance in global agricultural production, developing country firms play a much smaller role at the top of the four other agriculture-related verticals considered by the report. The world’s 25 top agricultural suppliers and privately-owned agri-food businesses are all from developed economies. Only two Singapore firms, Wilmar International and Fraser & Neave, rank among the global top 25 food and beverage firms and, that too, only near the bottom. Only three developing economy firms, two from Hong Kong and one from Kuwait, feature among the top 25 food retail chains.


Further, the leading firms in these verticals are gigantic. Walmart, the world’s largest food retail TNC, has $163.5 billion in total assets and $63 billion in foreign assets. It is followed by Nestle, the world’s largest food & beverages TNC, with $102 billion in total assets and $65 billion in foreign assets. BASF and Bayer of Germany, the largest agricultural suppliers, each have some $70 billion in total assets. Cargill and Mars of the United States lead the privately-owned agri-food vertical, with $44 million and $27 million in global agri-good sales.



Despite negligible global levels of FDI in agriculture, multinational companies do play a key role in agricultural development, the report finds, particularly in countries which actively seek foreign investment in agriculture. China is now the world’s leading agricultural FDI destination, with annual flows of $700 million and $6 billion in inward FDI stock, far ahead of the United States whose inward agricultural FDI stock is just $2.5 billion. In Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia, agriculture draws 10-15 per cent of total national FDI inflows. Multinationals account for 100 per cent of Mozambique’s and Zambia’s cotton production, 75 per cent of Brazil’s poultry production, and 90 per cent of Vietnam’s fresh milk production.


Contract farming is the dominant mode of engagement, since most countries prohibit land acquisition by foreigners. According to the report, agricultural production firms, food and beverage companies, and supermarket chains ‘contract farm’ crops, livestock, and bio-fuels in 110 developing and transition economies. Cereals, sugarcane, fruit, oilseeds, and poultry/ meat are the primary focus of investment in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and dairying in Central and Eastern Europe.


The report sifts through the international experience with TNC participation in agriculture to determine what value and risks it brings to host country farmers. The strongest observed impacts are much increased incomes, access to credit and investment, and links to global markets and supply chains. Available data also suggests that TNCs have contributed to domestic food security by boosting agricultural production, while increasingly selling the largest share of their produce locally. Potential dangers are farmers’ over-reliance on a couple of monopoly buyers and commercially-viable crops, minimising their bargaining power and economic resilience. Irresponsible commercial farming can also seriously damage the environment.


The record on employment-generation and technology transfer is varied. While farms that plant labour-intensive crops, like tea and flowers, create thousands of jobs, those that are heavily mechanised do not. Similarly, while TNCs now lead the development and commercialisation of novel seed, crop protection, and other technologies, only one per cent of their R&D budgets goes towards staple crops that are important to developing countries, and intellectual property rules hamper the diffusion of existing innovations. However, they have contributed to farm modernisation and farmer capacity-building.


The report suggests that developing countries might benefit from encouraging more private investment into their agricultural sectors to enhance productivity, reduce hunger, and boost farmer income and welfare. However, TNC involvement should be approached strategically, so as to minimise downsides. Protective measures might include an integrated strategic policy and regulatory framework for TNC activities in agricultural production, model contracts that farmers might use when negotiating with TNCs, local output-sharing requirement, and the development of international standards of transparency and fair play applicable in cases of land acquisition.



Although the report concentrates on the potential impact of inward foreign participation in agriculture, its rich detail provokes another, more significant question for Indian policy-makers. That is, why is India not an outward FDI player in agriculture, in keeping with BRIC and emerging market counterparts?


China, with $1.2 billion in outward agricultural FDI stock in 2007, is now the world’s third largest international agricultural investor after the United States and Canada, and South Korea, Brazil, Chile, and Colombia also figure amongst the global top 20. Ironically, India — one of the largest global agricultural producers with a strong latent international advantage — is absent from this list. Largely responsible is a national agricultural policy that has focused solely on trade as the instrument for agricultural growth, overlooking the potential developmental impact that might issue from encouraging globalised Indian players in agriculture. The economic contribution made by globalised Indian IT, telecom, and pharmaceuticals firms is unequivocal.


Fortunately, India has made a start in the right direction. Mahindra & Mahindra is now a global Top 5 tractor producer, and Indian R&D firms’ contributions to seed and crop research are internationally acknowledged. But India still has a long way to go, beginning with the first and most vital step of all — a mindshift in policy. — Courtesy: U.N. Information Centre, New Delhi


(Premila Nazareth Satyanand writes on foreign direct investment issues for the Economist Intelligence Unit, UNCTAD and the World Bank.)









It has now been nearly three months since my naani (maternal grandmother) reunited with her brother and sister. They were separated in October 1947. Witnessing the two sisters meet for the first time after that, yards forward of the family home in Mendhar (District Poonch in Indian-administered Kashmir), was nothing short of an epiphany for me.


I spent the last 22 of my 37 years trying to make this happen, and for the most part, it seemed an unattainable dream. Since April 2005, staying put in Pakistan-administered Kashmir — I came down from the United Kingdom — was my only means to ensure my dream was attained.


In these four years, two months and 11 days of my adamant insistence that this reunion must take place, it was just good fortune that old age and chronic health issues did not take any of the three siblings beyond return and India and Pakistan did not embark on a nuclear holocaust despite Mumbai.


Week after week, I watched divided families benefit from the cross-LOC bus service, except mine. The phenomenon of Chinese goods moving easier across the LOC than divided families, even the societal disgrace of not pursuing a living — nothing — absolutely nothing, tempted me to forego my project.


It was an angst-ridden period, but it gave me ample opportunity to examine human relationships and analyse the way politics and politicians herd us like sheep into a protective ‘national’ net that restricts and exploits us rather than allow us to utilise our strengths. I still find it difficult to believe that the impossible has occurred.


It is a bizarre coincidence that I am writing from an inner suburb of Rawalpindi, namely Arjun Nagar. Adjoining this is Mohalla Mohan Pura. As the names suggest, these localities have strong Hindu origins where, prior to the bloody partition of 1947, most of the residents here would have been of the Hindu faith, their heritage perhaps dating back thousands of years. Yet, just like my naani’s family in what is now Pakistani-administered Kashmir (Nikyal), they were all hounded out and those that survived, would now be living in various parts of India.


These mohallas of Rawalpindi or Nikyal for that matter have long ceased to be what they were. You would need to strain your eyes to notice any remnant of an old mandir and this is why I would contend that the whole sub-continent has become agonisingly indigent without coexistence. Our time with naani’s family gave me a refreshing tenor of how the region might have been.


Meeting her siblings almost instantaneously wiped out my naani’s misery and marginalisation of the past sixty-two years. Mourning face to face over their deceased parents and younger brother could almost be described as a luxury they had been deprived of for decades. The happiness and joy of reunion overwhelmed that sorrow like a balm. Naani seemed young again — after all, the three siblings could only visualise each other in the shape and form of when they were last together in their late childhood-early teens. Her voice got inflection, she no longer appeared to be the chronic heart patient that she was. In the time we spent with her family, even her diet and consequently her body frame changed as she finally began to enjoy food. From my childhood, I had always wondered why she ate so little — the reason now became so abundantly obvious.


Accompanying my naani and me on this trip was of course my naana (maternal grandfather), without whose involvement this 22-year-old dream of mine would have remained forlornly unattainable. For him this trip was into ‘traditional enemy territory.’ Thus the Jinnah cap was an essential item of attire. It came as quite a shock to him that Hindus and Muslims coexisted peacefully on the other side and that Muslims had no restrictions on worship. In a matter of days, it dawned on him that when you look beyond religious-cum-national identity, we were all homo-sapiens after all. He was pleasantly surprised that “they eat, laugh and swear like us.” Indeed, the Pahaari (the region of Kashmir that lies to the South and West of the Kashmir vale, traverses the LOC and is made up of Hindus and Muslims) cultural affinity was what he could readily relate to. By the end of our stay he was even waxing lyrical about Mahatma Gandhi’s attempts to keep the nation intact.


Which brings me to a dream that has been taking shape in my head these past few years. Is there scope for a Pahaari inspiration for reunion of the subcontinent? They didn’t cause the division of the sub-continent but suffered much because of it (my naani’s family being a case in point), and could possibly play a key role in reunion.


Alas, reality is much harsher than it should be. South of us in Kashmir, getting Punjabis on either side of the divide to forgive and forget is a mammoth task. Furthermore, India and Pakistan still have difficulty sitting across a table. Negative elements on either side are intent on sustaining separation. In our Pahaari region, if the constraining demands of Indian and Pakistani identity are loosened and crucially, if the legitimate security concerns of our Hindu minority are appropriately addressed, our people would be willing to listen, learn and revise. Evaluating history in a balanced manner and exploring opportunity in a globalised world requires that we embrace, not constrict our diversity.


Even this is asking for a lot. It is not just the tedious cross-LOC application process. Many Hindus on the Indian-administered side are apprehensive about visiting their ancestral homes and relatives, if any, on the Pakistani-administered side, not least because of security concerns. They are also aware that for many people on our side of the divide, being Pakistani necessitates being anti-Hindu (synonymous with anti-India). Unfortunately, no amount of entente between India and Pakistan in the past few years has changed that pernicious perception. For activists such as myself, there is a non-existent institutional framework for developing cross-LOC initiatives, zero space for civil society and on top of that, an endemically corrupt administration whose sustenance lies in maintaining the status quo. That should provide the reader with a reasonable idea of how far we are from the road to progress and reconciliation.


The final morning of our visit across the LOC was extremely painful. Naani’s sister fainted and collapsed as she watched her sister depart. Her nieces wailed and nephews wept incessantly.


Sensa (our home tehsil in district Kotli of Pakistan-administered Kashmir) was only about 70 kilometres away, yet we all knew for reasons more than obvious that this reunion may never happen again.


Nevertheless, Vedic chants and exclamations of Masha-allah and Subhan-allah did, do and will coexist in this region.


(Tanveer Ahmed is a freelance journalist and activist. Email:









The results of Assembly byelections are usually not a reliable guide to the prevailing political climate, but specific circumstances might indicate exceptions. That indeed appears to be the case in the context of the bypolls for 49 seats in 12 states — big and small — held in recent weeks. The last lot of results came in on Thursday. These are the first state elections to be held after the Lok Sabha elections in May, which threw up the Congress as the flavour of the season. Not only had the BJP, the Congress’ principal adversary on the national scale, been trounced, but those among Congress’ UPA allies that had acted fresh with it had also been shown their place by the electorate. Roughly speaking, that trend appears to have been reversed in the Assembly byelections.


The BJP and Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD appear to be the principal gainers. The BJP won in Gujarat, Bihar, Uttarakhand and Delhi. The RJD won in Bihar and Delhi. In Delhi, particularly, the Congress fared poorly, losing two seats — Dwarka and Okhla — where it had pulled off terrific wins in the Lok Sabha poll. The BJP not only took Dwarka, it pushed the Congress to the third place in that seat. Before these bypolls, the Congress had suffered defeat in Delhi’s municipal elections. Thus the Assembly byelections appeared to endorse the mood in the BJP’s favour in the nation’s capital. In Gujarat too the BJP did exceedingly well, taking a few seats from the Congress, leaving chief minister Narendra Modi, who appeared to be down in the dumps, quite chuffed. The electorate favoured the BJP in Uttarakhand as well, where the party had lost all four Parliament seats. In Bihar the saffronites fared reasonably. In this state, the RJD-LJP (led by Lalu Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan) combine did exceedingly well, though the Congress was not humiliated. The opposite was the case with the ruling JD(U) led by chief minister Nitish Kumar, who has made a name for himself politically. Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress was once again able to cock a snook at the ruling CPI(M)-led Left combine, which appears to be on a losing spree. In Tamil Nadu, Congress ally DMK did very well, but it has to be remembered that its main rival, the AIADMK, and the MDMK had boycotted the byelection.


Strictly local and state-specific factors usually inform the popular mood in Assembly byelections, but in the present case the Congress does appear to have been at the receiving end on account of a certain national dynamics at work. Nationally, it could pick up only 10 of the 17 seats that it had held out of the 49 for which byelections were conducted. Worse, the party’s current difficulties notwithstanding, it was the BJP that made gains, if we look at the nationwide picture. The unconscionable rise in prices of commodities of everyday use, including kitchen items, can possibly be cited as the key factor that has gone against the Congress. In Delhi, the sharp hike in power tariffs doubtless added to the anti-Congress spirit, besides loss of confidence on account of Metro accidents and the disgust at slippage in schedules for constructions related to the Commonwealth Games. These are national issues, by and large. For all the austerity talk, the government that the Congress leads at the Centre appears to have done little to alleviate the plight of the common man. It needs to be said that the BJP was well poised to take advantage of the situation in states where it had done poorly in May, and this shows the depth of the party’s organisational resources.








Where would you find an irony more delicious than this? Ramzan, a month for the strict disciplining of desire, of rigorous fasting from before dawn to dusk when nothing is permitted: no food, not a drop of water or a puff, no sex. Ramzan, also a month of night-long food-fest, everyone is invited. For the select, lavish iftar parties for piety to intermingle with power.


Not such a bad thing perhaps, this curious fast-cum-feast spectacle. After all, the Islamophobe and the Sanghi too love good food. So, unless you are a strict vegetarian or a PETA activist (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), say salaam to the Muslim in the culinary department for he sure knows how to stir his pot. And come Ramzan he is generous, business-minded enough to bring it all out on the streets to share it with one and all, religion no bar. At these times, whatever he may otherwise think of Islam and Muslims, look out for the plebeian karsevak and the limousine saffronite salivating on his way to the "khau galli" of a Muslim mohalla. During this holy month, now you can even order haleem from Hyderabad: online, home delivery the very next day assured.


Ramzan does have its fringe benefits: a month of sumptuous fare for all interested, for the Muslim an image-makeover, even if temporary. This is great but here comes a killjoy question: Is this what Ramzan is all about: an alternating daily cycle of fast and feast 30 days out of every 355 on the lunar calendar? No way, any maulvi saheb can explain, the reasons behind Ramzan are loftier and two-fold. One, spiritual elevation of the believer through tight control over carnal desire. The Muslim is also enjoined to be extra-diligent during this month, refrain from even "minor sins" such as lying, back-biting, rumour-mongering et cetera. Two, fasting for a full-month is obligatory so that all Muslims, including the filthy rich, know and re-learn the meaning of hunger and starvation. The religious obligation to fast is meant to remind the Muslim of his social responsibility towards the hungry and the starving.


For the rich, there are five essentials in Islam — kalima (belief in the Oneness of God), namaaz (five daily prayers), roza (fasting), Haj (pilgrimage to Mecca), zakaat (annual religious tax, to be distributed among the poor and the needy). For the poor, however, there are only three musts — Haj and zakaat are only for the haves. Egalitarian Islam, it can legitimately be argued, preaches positive discrimination in favour of the poor. In 88 different places in the Quran, the virtuous are defined as those who establish regular prayers and give in charity. Prayer alone is not sufficient to save your soul.


Trust the irreverent Mirza Ghalib to find fault, complain that this relaxation of rules for the poor is insufficient: "Jin paas roza khol ke khane ko kuch na ho/ Roza agar na khaaein to bechare kya karein" ("Those who have nothing to eat when it’s time to break the fast/What else can the have-nots do but to break their fast whenever they find something to eat").


Conceded, Muslims are at their generous best during Ramzan. If you have nothing to eat at home, enter the nearest mosque or madrasa at sunset and you can be sure of finding food that the haves of the community religiously contribute. But what about the remaining 11 months of the year?


"He who sleeps on a full stomach while his neighbour remains hungry is not a Muslim", taught Prophet Mohammed. If I remember my Islam right, no matter what their religion all those who live in the 40 houses in all directions next to yours are neighbours. Imagine what might happen to the total global headcount of the ummah if every self-professed follower of Islam were to put himself/herself through this Prophet-prescribed litmus test.


As usual, immediately after Eid, Urdu newspapers in Mumbai (perhaps elsewhere too) will make prominent announcements urging Muslim parents to post photos of "nanhe rozgaars" (babies who fast) for publication. Next, day after day the reader will be treated to hundred of photos of four and five-year-olds who kept their pahla roza this year. Though fasting is an obligation only after you cross puberty, the photos will be proof to the community of believers that Islam’s message has found its way even to the hearts of the very young. What message?


As for the lavish iftar parties hosted by the rich and powerful for the benefit of the rich and the power, what can one say? At the beginning of Ramzan this year, one Urdu daily published from Mumbai announced its new editorial policy: it will no longer publish any news report or photograph of such tamashas in the name of faith.


A good thing in itself but why not think of a more radical, more Islamic thing to do? Heard of something called the "Right to Food" campaign? Those engaged in this ongoing nationwide movement call themselves social activists who invoke the principle of universal human rights — the right of every human being to a dignified existence, caste, creed, sex, nationality, race no bar — in justification of their demand. Isn’t that what Prophet Mohammed preached over 1,400 years ago, albeit in the name of Islam in keeping with the divine "Love Thy Neighbour" commandment?


If Ramzan’s basic purpose is to teach Muslims the meaning of hunger, what better time than now for Indian Muslims to join this campaign en masse? So what if many of those spearheading the campaign call themselves atheists, infidels and Allah knows what else? How is the aim of this movement any different from that which, centuries ago, was made central to Islam’s agenda?


Imagine the fate of Hindutva’s hate-Muslim agenda if a few years from now the media was to routinely report that Indian Muslims who are grossly under-represented in other walks of life are over-represented in the country’s "Right to Food" campaign because they believe it is their religious duty to do so.


Imagine the immense image-makeover possibilities if in the coming years Ramzan got associated in the popular imagination with the food-for all demand.


Javed Anand is co-editor of Communalism Combat and general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy








Melbourne has had a special place in my heart since I had first gone there on a month-long trip, five years ago — but I have to say that in the last few days, my feelings are changing rapidly. The latest racist attacks on fellow Punjabis have made me furious. Especially when I remember how delighted I had been when I had first heard "thet" Punjabi spoken by the Yarra river side — a young Sikh girl confidently speaking into her mobile phone, in the sturdy accent of deep Punjab. It added another dimension to what is essentially a rather colourless town.


That year we had an apartment on the river side and would spend long hours walking around. The city is easy to navigate but it doesn’t have the vibrancy of New York or the multi-culti feel of London. It doesn’t even have the edgy lifestyle of Lahore — or the overcrowded historical splendour of Delhi. It is just another sprawling, pretty metropolis, with some good universities, and excellent seafood restaurants trying to adjust to the influx of immigrants and foreign students who are changing their public landscape from a uniform white to black, brown and yellow. The slow pace of change is apparent in the eating habits: unlike in the United Kingdom, where you find curry houses and fusion cuisine nudging at the pubs, the Indian restaurants in Melbourne are hesitantly scattered around and the quality is dismal. Their downmarket status speaks volumes of a community still trying to establish a foothold.


The Indians here are represented primarily at the one end by the quiet academics and monetarily-challenged students, and at the other end are the ubiquitous Punjabi taxi drivers. There is little local understanding of us: over a billion-strong with a rich and diverse culture. Most of the impressions are formed through the war-like game of cricket which has descended into a race row over and over again. Or through the other well-publicised affair of the so-called terrorist plot. In short, stereotypes flourish. In the interim, little has been done to rectify the image of the average Indian, either through our very own ministry of external affairs (MEA) or through the Australian government and diplomatic channels. The very first race attacks should have sent alarm bells ringing — and not been allowed to take this repetitive hue.


Of course, the Australians have their indigenous people — but like our own tribal people back home, they are a well-kept secret. The only time you hear about them are in heartbreak stories in the media, and the public prayers at the start of most government functions: an inclusive tradition in which incantations of the aborigines are evoked. Even the reception we attended at the governor’s home in Victoria began with the same prayers. It is a quaint custom, but like any other minority community trying to cope with an aggressive majority, it reeks of years of struggle which end up with tokenism at best.


Yet, to be fair, Australians are definitely trying to change their self-imposed isolation and parochial mindsets. Most of the conferences we attended, even five years ago, therefore concentrated mostly on how to cope with a globalised world arriving on Australia’s doorstep. After all, for years the Australians had carefully calibrated their policies to allow in migrants in small doses — and only those which are absolutely required. Australia has tried very hard to control their air, water and human beings, because everything within the country had to be preserved at the optimum level. Its tiny population had to be protected from, and not polluted by, the influences of the outside world. Therefore, suspicion of the outsider is not unusual — especially if there is an "island mentality". More so if within that world there has been deep-rooted racism and degrees of tolerance.



Let us not forget that Australia has been cruel to its original inhabitants — who are neither white nor do they bear Caucasian features. The aborigines were driven out of their settlements and, like the Red Indians in the United States, treated as untouchables. Racism flourished in Australia till as recently as the past few decades — when people were allowed in only under the "White Australia policy", ie, coloured people would have been automatically barred. It was almost as though Australia desperately believed in white supremacy. It is not a mindset that can be forgotten easily, in just a few generations.


To rectify some of the present damage, an aggressive policy of diplomatic intervention by both the Indian and Australian governments has to be followed, as well as rigorous policing on the streets. There should be a strong campaign against the racist attacks, supported in the media by the Indian government both here and in Australia — and there should be no letting up till the culprits of this attack and other hate crimes are caught and tried in an open court, transparently.


However, it would be lethal, as some have suggested, for the very vulnerable Indian community in Australia to try to fight their way out of this. This is not the time for retaliation. Militancy is not the answer. Instead, the community needs the MEA to stand up and fight for their rights. So, perhaps, instead of twittering over five-star comfort and holy cows, we should expect some firm and strong action on the part of our government.


This is, however, a long-running battle. The image of Indians needs to change through a cultural onslaught of information as well. Our ancient culture and history, as well as our more modern aresenal such as Bollywood, should be used to soften hearts and minds. The horrific racist attacks are not just gang wars or a knee-jerk reaction against my fellow Punjabis, but also the manifestation of a profound ignorance about us. Occasionally, we should plan some weapons of mass education since just because the perpetrator is white does not give him any extra points for literacy or intelligence.


But, at the same time, we must watch our own backyard as well. The recent disturbing case of Kaya Eldridge, an intern with an NGO in Gujarat who was humiliated in court, despite the fact that she was allegedly the victim of molestation, shows us how far we ourselves still have to go. If a white girl is fair game for everyone, why are we surprised that a brown man is an easy target?


The writer can be contacted at








"I cried because I had no shoes

Then I saw a girl with high-heeled Jimmy Choos

The sort of clogs I’d get if I was able

er… I think something’s gone very wrong with this fable…"

From Proverbs of Perdition by Bachchoo


Former u.s. President Jimmy Carter, reacting to the anti-Obama demonstration in Washington this weekend at which a million people gathered to protest against his reform of the American healthcare system, said America was still "racist". He went on to explain. Even after the civil war and civil rights, there were people who did not believe that a black American could or should govern the country.


Reacting to Mr Carter’s comments the White House put out a statement not refuting Mr Carter but stating Us President Barack Obama’s conviction that the people protesting against his healthcare proposals were not reacting to the colour of his skin or to his mixed race origins, but were genuinely opposed to the policies on grounds of their own ideology or self-interest. He was being magnanimous.


Besides, it would be a very bad political move for a President to call any section of the population opposed to him "racist". Sure, Bobby Kennedy or John F. Kennedy could with impunity refer to governor George Wallace of Alabama, who personally stood barring the doors of "his" university to prevent black students from enrolling, a racist. They were castigating Mr Wallace’s stance and throwing the weight of the American state behind the condemnation. They could with impunity label the segregation of buses or facilities "racist" because it was the practice of bigots who were defying the Constitution and breaking the law. Mr Obama faced the million protesters who called him a liar, a socialist, a Hitler, the Joker (the evil man from the Batman series played memorably by Jack Nicholson in the only film I’ve seen in the series) and other unsavoury things. They were exercising their democratic rights through the protest. He couldn’t very well impute motives of racism to them.


Very many commentators in America, both Democrat and Republican followed the lead of the White House in contradicting Mr Carter. One commentator, a black Democrat and TV columnist, said Mr Carter was senile. A white woman Republican, a press secretary to the White House during former Us President George Bush’s first term, attributed his remarks to being those of a generation from the South which was now out of touch with today’s realities. They were each anxious to prove that America had in the main transcended the view of race that Mr Carter believed was still dominant in the hearts and minds of a significant number of white Americans.


Mr Carter may be right, but now that there is a black President in the White House would only be in the interests of the racists to admit that he is. A black President, having been elected to the most powerful office in the world by the American people can hardly resort to calling his opponents racist.


Let’s now travel a few thousand miles west and south of the US across the Pacific Ocean to that great ex-colony of Britain, Australia. There, in the city of Melbourne Victoria, three Indians were attacked in a suburban car park by a group of thugs early this week. The victims say that 70 people had gathered in the car park cheering on the group of six or seven who, without provocation, attacked them shouting about going back to their own country. The police have estimated the cheering, jeering assembly as a mere 12 or 13 people. It makes no difference. The three Indian gentlemen were going about their business, in this case playing pool in a pub and then attempting to drive home. No one, least of all the police, or subsequently the politicians of the city, state and country have claimed that the Indians acted in any provocative way or engaged in any sort of dispute with their assailants.


The Indians were hospitalised as a result of the attack. It isn’t the first time that there has been a random racist attack on Indians in Melbourne. It is now becoming a regular and intolerable occurrence.


The Prime Minister of Victoria at first resisted the description of the incidents as "racist". He called them the actions of "bigots".


In a sense this signalled the reluctance of the Australian state to acknowledge that it has a problem, that scattered acts of racism can grow into organised movements of viciousness like the Ku-Klux Klan and the British National Party of the United Kingdom.


When I first heard about and then read of these attacks this week, I was reminded of the protracted battle that was fought by Asian immigrants in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s in several parts of Britain to establish their right to live free from attack. In the East End of London the phenomenon known as "Paki-bashing" was confronted head-on by the organisation of the immigrants of that area, with which I was associated at the time. There isn’t space to recount the strategies and tactics which went into this self-defensive movement but there is enough evidence to prove that it wasn’t the actions of the police or the legislation of Westminster that forced the racists off the street and put an end to "Paki-bashing".


Last Wednesday, after the Australian attack, I was invited onto an Indian TV programme via a link from London to comment on this British immigrant experience. I did my few minutes before the camera and went off to meet friends at the local pub. I had no idea that the rather general comments I made would be relayed to Australia and that the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd would himself respond to them.


I was awoken in London the early hours of the next morning by Indian reporters asking me for my response to Mr Rudd’s reaction. I asked the very polite callers who weren’t consulting the world-clock facility on their mobiles (I switched my mobile off after two calls) to call later and give me some details of what Mr Rudd had said.


I got them and gave the interviews. I know very little about Australia and have some respect for Mr Rudd whose election I witnessed as I happened to be in Australia at the time.


What I think I do know is a little about living through an era of the adjustment of Britain to its new immigrant population in the latter 20th century. It’s a good story and I must say it’s better than Australia now.









The results of byelections to fill up seats in the Delhi and Bihar assemblies have confounded pollsters. Conventional wisdom had dictated that Congress would retain the two Assembly seats in Delhi and that the byelections to the 18 seats in Bihar would be a cakewalk for the ruling NDA. The electorate, however, had other plans.


The Congress lost both the seats in Delhi while the NDA, which held 13 of the 18 seats, suffered a severe loss of face as its tally nosedived to just five. Over-confidence of the respective ruling parties, a certain degree of complacency in their rank and file and a brazen disregard of the sentiments of party workers and supporters in the selection of candidates were factors that evidently worked against them.


The results have thrown a political lifeline to Lalu Yadav and Ram Bilas Paswan with the Rashtriya Janata Dal making its debut in Delhi by wresting the Okhla seat from the Congress and Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party winning three of the seats in Bihar, one more than the BJP.


Although the Congress too can draw some consolation from the two seats it has wrested from the NDA in Bihar, it would be hard put to explain the reverses in Delhi despite the people-friendly track record of the UPA government and Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. It is not clear if the results have a long-term message or were influenced by local and transient factors. But the writing on the wall is that political parties and pundits can never take the electorate for granted.


The results are also a major setback for Nitish Kumar and may prompt a review of the JD(U)-BJP alliance in Bihar. The JD(U) leader has apparently been made to pay the price for fielding turncoats as candidates while ignoring the claims of old loyalists. Significantly, while turncoats fielded by the JD(U) lost, those who ironically defected from the JD(U) after being denied party ticket and were fielded by the RJD, emerged victorious.


These are the first electoral reverses suffered by Nitish Kumar during the last four years and with the next Assembly election due next year, he would be well-advised to shake off his complacency.








The National Rural Health Mission initiated in 2005 to make healthcare accessible to India’s rural populace has had an indifferent and lacklustre start, hampered as it has been by an acute paucity of doctors willing to work in rural areas. For some time the government has been doing some hard thinking on how best to motivate doctors to go on rural postings.


With that background, the Centre’s new incentive plan has the makings of a winner. MBBS doctors serving in rural areas will not only be compensated with more money, but also given extra weightage in post-graduate entrance examinations. Indeed, this out- of-the-box yet simple and pragmatic solution can play a major role in taking medicare to villages.


Though the healthcare delivery system even in urban areas is not in the pink of health, the situation is more dismal in rural India. There is a glaring gap between rural and urban healthcare, evident in high infant mortality rate in rural areas. Besides inadequate infrastructure like availability of beds in hospitals, there is shortage of trained medical practioners at primary and community health centres. 


Since a large majority of doctors prefer to work in urban areas, the rural population falls an easy prey to quacks. In a nation where the doctor-patient ratio falls way short of the WHO- recommended norm, where the Centre itself has admitted to a shortfall of eight lakh doctors, encouraging the medical community to work in rural areas cannot but be a challenge.


Rural health appears to be high on the government agenda and a lion’s share of the health budget has been set aside for the NRHM. To revitalise rural healthcare, requisite infrastructure as well as trained medical personnel are the crucial links. 


While the government proposal to set up the National Council for Human Resources in Health is worthy of consideration, it could also deliberate upon the recommendation of the Task Force on Medical Education for NRHM and create a new cadre of rural health practioners.







The Supreme Court has done well to clear the decks for an inquiry into the Constitutional propriety of the Uttar Pradesh Government expending Rs 2,600 crore of public money on building memorials and statues. Responding to an affidavit filed by the UP government, an apex court bench comprising Justice B.N. Agarwal and Justice Aftab Alam made it clear that cabinet approvals and resolutions adopted by the legislature must conform to Constitutional provisions and be subject to judicial scrutiny.


The judiciary, the bench pointedly observed while citing a hypothetical case, would not remain silent if the legislature sets aside 80 per cent of the budget for constructing statues and memorials. The affidavit filed by the UP Chief Secretary, which tendered an apology but denied any violation of the commitment the state government had given earlier of stopping construction at the controversial memorials in Lucknow, rightly failed to satisfy the court, which is now expected to deal with the more substantive issue of law on the use or rather misuse of public money.


UP Chief Minister Mayawati is notorious for defying the law courts. On several occasions in the recent past, she challenged High Court orders asking her to stop demolition of a stadium, a residential colony and a jail — all meant to pave the way for the construction of grand memorials of her mentor Kanshi Ram and, more curiously, statues of herself.


And on each occasion, regrettably, she was allowed to go ahead with the demolitions. It had come as no surprise, therefore, when the UP government offered an undertaking to stop ‘all work’ but made no move to comply in the latest case.


The speed and the manner with which Mayawati has sought to execute the projects and justify them are unfortunate. Even more unfortunate is her threat, notwithstanding the equally irresponsible statement by Mulayam Singh Yadav that he would use a bulldozer to bring down the statues, that law and order would spin out of control if the statues are demolished. While she took advantage of the statement made by Mulayam, there was no mistaking which direction it was aimed at. It now remains to be seen whether the judiciary succeeds in reining her in. Enough is enough. Mayawati must be brought to heal and taught to respect the law of the land.
















The present tumult in the Hindu Kush and the insurgency’s modest strategy of “winning by not losing” suggests that barring a massive deployment of several hundred thousand American boots, the Atlantic powers face the prospect of several bloody years digging themselves “out of a hole” in the AfPak region.


Now consider this scenario — in the not too distant future the US and NATO forces enter into a dialogue with the Pashtun peoples straddling the borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan. In and of itself, this is not an unwelcome development. In fact, for the past eight years, the “tyranny of the minority” as Selig Harrison calls it, has been the guiding principle to organise the political and military power structures in Afghanistan.


In a break from a historical pattern, the northern ethnicities – Tajiks, who constitute a quarter of the Afghan polity, have emerged as a disproportionately powerful ethnic group along with other allied ethnicities such as Hazaras and Uzbeks — have come to dominate Afghanistan. The southern Pashtuns, who comprise 42 per cent of the population, have been sidelined. This was perhaps the inevitable result of the anti-Taliban operations that provided the rationale for the US intervention in late 2001.


However, what should have been confined to a systematic rollback of radicalised Taliban Pashtuns with an attendant plan to destroy the umbilical link to its benefactors in the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment and a parallel quest to empower secular Pashtun tribes, became an unthinking and politically zero-sum strategy of siding with specific ethnic groups in northern Afghanistan.


The outcome — an outright alienation of the entire Pashtun community that consists of diverse tribes with varying degrees of sympathy to a radical Sunni ideology emanating from Pakistan. This untenable situation is now staring the US and NATO forces in the face.


Yet, rather than address the very source of the present Afghan imbroglio, namely, the grievances of the marginalised ethnic groups from the power structures of the US-sponsored regime in Kabul, Washington is seriously evaluating a replay of the 1990s when the CIA and ISI collaborated to sustain the Taliban as a leading institution to mobilise Pashtun support. Indeed, back then, the process of legitimising the Taliban was only interrupted by the events of 9/11, 2001.


In retrospect, the blunt reality is that Washington and Islamabad have via various acts of omission and commission ensured that the Taliban remains the principal and legitimate voice of the Pashtun peoples. Pashtun nationalists, who might disavow an Islamist ideology and who would have an aversion to seeking political guidance from Islamabad or Rawalpindi, and thus offer a genuine counterbalance to the radicalised ideology that the Taliban Pashtuns seek to employ to unify various Pashtun tribes, have not been shored up by Washington.


Of course, it would be an exercise in self-deception to expect Pakistan to voluntarily dismantle its leverage among certain Pashtun tribes that not only provides Islamabad a modicum of influence in the future politics of Afghanistan but also staves off the prospect of Pashtun nationalism gaining sway and unifying the 40 million Pashtuns divided by an illegitimate colonial-era border.



It is worth recalling that the division of the Pashtuns in 1893 was intended to ensure that the Afghan buffer would remain susceptible to external leverage from British India’s frontiers (that had absorbed a number of Pashtun tribes). Pakistan inherited this geo-strategic leverage and subsequently abused it to undermine its Pashtun minority.


After the defection of East Pakistan in the 1970s, Islamabad accelerated its policy of encouraging radical Islamisation to preserve national unity, control ethnic contradictions, and legitimise the rule of the Punjabi-military elite. This process reached its apogee during the US-Pakistani anti-Soviet operations through the 1980s, and its final manifestation was the capture of power by the Taliban in the 1990s.


Rather than drawing sensible lessons from the past, Washington appears committed to buttressing the legitimacy of the feudal-military superstructure that rules Pakistan. That the US has been willing to empathise with the Pakistani Punjabi’s irredentist aspirations and its manifestation in the form of the Taliban (and similar machinations to undermine secular Pashtun tribes) indicates that Washington values the leverage that their patrons in the Pakistani military establishment possess.


It is also indicative of an American consensus that the stability and territorial integrity of Pakistan overrides any consideration of stabilising Afghanistan via a legitimate inter-ethnic political process, especially if the latter course lifts the veil on the ethnic contradictions in Pakistan.


The US’ evolving AfPak strategy has made this abundantly clear that the security and preservation of the Pakistani state will not be subordinated to the quest for Afghan stability. In sum, Washington has paved the way for a legitimate role for Pakistan in Afghan politics and acknowledged its potential as a vital intermediary in future negotiations with Taliban factions.


Thus, it is only logical to presume that in a future scenario of US negotiations with Pashtuns, Washington will rely upon Pakistani-Taliban linkages to identify and modulate selective tribal groups that will pave the way for a reorganisation of the political play in Afghanistan.


India appears to have been left out in the cold, a consequence at least partially arising from the strategic confusion and lack of foresight among our security managers. The way forward suggests either a modification to India’s Afghan strategy (and presumably its Pakistan strategy) with the corollary of reaching out to Pashtun nationalist groups both independently and in coordination with other anxious regional powers or, if such a hedging strategy is politically unpalatable, then, prepare to bandwagon with the present geopolitical trend in the Hindu Kush and keep our peace.


The writer is Research Fellow, Centre for Policy Alternatives, New Delhi








An old friend, now a senior IAS officer, was known to travel often in public buses or in sleeper coaches of trains.


Some of his colleagues would shrug and describe him as ‘stingy’ and ‘tight-fisted’. The uncharitable would say the guy was fond of gimmicks and fooling people. The vicious ones would darkly allude to his humble background and suggest that though he had moved upward, he still felt at home among smelly ‘cattle’ in buses and trains.


But BK is an honest man, a good officer and could speak knowledgeably on several subjects. I respected him and looked forward to his company.


One day I was sitting in his office when the Chief Engineer of the PHED walked in. BK was the secretary.


“Sir, I will pick you up tomorrow morning on way to the airport,” the engineer offered. Both, it appeared, were to attend an official meeting the next day in the summer capital, 400 kms away.


“I will reach even before you start,” laughed BK. He would be taking the overnight bus and reach early morning, he confirmed.


“Why do you do this,” I asked after the incredulous engineer left the chamber. You can’t save the government much money, you know, I remember telling him, exasperated that he would do something that appeared so unnecessary.


His reply is something I have never forgotten though.


“I do not do this for others,” he said, “I do it for myself”.


Seeing my raised eyebrows, he smiled and went on to explain, “I travel by cattle class to remind me how 98 per cent of my countrymen travel.”


Watching me making a face, BK then said something that hit me like a sledge-hammer. “I need to also punish myself for the privileges I otherwise enjoy,” he declared. And till this day, he effortlessly flits from planes to buses, from his chauffeur driven car to smelly and crowded train compartments.


In contrast, a politician friend, a gold medalist from the university, once confessed that he routinely wears soiled and torn kurtas whenever he visited his constituency. Otherwise fond of good things in life, he loves his drinks and dress and is fussy about both. But he would dress up only when he is in Mumbai or abroad and drink after exercising extreme caution.


Lalu Yadav, soon after he became the Chief Minister, declared he would continue to live in the modest staff quarter of his elder brother, who worked as a peon at the veterinary college. After squeezing the last drop of publicity, he moved into the official and palatial residence meant for the Chief Minister.


One also recalls Bhagwatia Devi, who lived in a one-room tenement and whose only worldly possession was a tin-trunk before she won a Lok Sabha seat from Gaya. Lalu Yadav used her as a poster girl, declaring that in a democracy the poorest could reach Parliament.


Newspapers carried photographs of Jayaprada taking Bhagwatia Devi around for shopping and barely three months later, the new MP was overheard berating the driver of her car for his failure to restore the airconditioner.


Clearly, some practise austerity out of conviction while others follow it because it is expedient. The irrepressible Sarojini Naidu is said to have told Mahatma Gandhi, “if only you knew how much it costs to keep you in poverty,” in a reference to Bapu accepting hospitality of big business houses even as he travelled, bare bodied, through the country in a third class compartment. The beads of rudraksha round her neck would often get replaced by a necklace whenever Mrs Indira Gandhi travelled abroad. So, what’s the big deal ?n









There is justifiable relief over the fact that the growth rate of the Indian economy has not plummeted as sharply as that of most other countries in this phase of global economic slowdown. With the worst on the global crisis now deemed to be over, India is setting its eyes on a grand revival, expecting the growth rate to bounce back to 9 per cent from the current estimate of around 6 per cent.


Yet, the cold reality as borne out by some experts is that to sustain a growth rate of even 7 per cent for the economy, India needs to increase its electricity generation capacity six times over the next 20 years from the present 143 gigawatts to at least 800 gigawatts. That is no mean task.


But that’s not all. India’s massive coal reserves (6 per cent of the world’s total) are high in sulphur and ash content which is hazardous to the environment. That reinforces the need to use clean technologies such as nuclear, bio fuels, wind and solar on a much bigger scale to ensure energy security for India without causing catastrophic damage to the ecological balance.


China overcame the power shortage by building huge coal-fired power plants taking advantage of its massive reserves of coal. What it failed to factor in was that excessive coal usage would damage the environment grievously with acid rain and smog, and greatly add to global warming. India will have to tread warily, taking lessons from the experience of the Chinese.


In terms of India’s present energy consumption, the International Energy Outlook 2008 reports that coal accounts for 53 per cent of primary energy consumption, oil for 31 per cent, natural gas for 8 per cent, renewable sources including hydropower, solar and wind power for 6.8 per cent and nuclear energy for 1.2 per cent. This mix needs to change substantially over the coming years.


India has no hydroelectric sites left to exploit on a massive scale. Whatever sites are left would require 10 years to bear fruit. Natural gas power is a distant dream, especially since the deal with the Iranians for a gas pipeline passing through Pakistan has fallen through.


The Indian government’s expectation is that growth in renewable energy will occur at a much faster pace than traditional power generation, with renewables making up 20 per cent of the 70 gigawatts of total additional energy planned from 2008-2012.


Among the green alternatives to coal, nuclear is the only technology with proven capacity with worldwide generation of 370 gigawatts of energy.


Carbon dioxide emissions from nuclear power are the lowest. After the go-ahead given by the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the subsequent Indo-US civil nuclear deal, nuclear power is certain to get a big boost in coming years. Over the last three years, technology development has reduced the risks attached to nuclear energy with safety norms having improved.


The country plans to increase its nuclear power capacity to 20 gigawatts by 2030 from the current 5 gigawatts.


But there are hurdles along the way. India’s natural uranium reserves are a modest 70,000 metric tonnes which is grossly insufficient to run the current and proposed nuclear power plants. India is scouting around for imported uranium but the biggest source – Australia – remains unresponsive due to the long-standing Labour Party position of not exporting uranium to a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.


While renewable sources of energy and nuclear power can be enhanced substantially in the foreseeable future, India’s reliance on coal, oil and natural gas can hardly be wished away. With the Oil and Natural Gas Commission having reached a virtual dead end in oil and gas exploration, it is a relief that Reliance has entered the arena in a big way. A first-of-its-kind hydrocarbons production from any deep water field in the country, Reliance’s Krishna-Godavari basin in the Bay of Bengal will account for 40 per cent of the country’s current indigenous hydrocarbon production in about 18 months. The company estimates that the production from this will save India an annual foreign exchange outflow of $US20 billion.


With growing prosperity, India’s per capita consumption of power which is a low 400 Kwh per year (against the international average of 2,400 Kwh per year) is bound to increase sharply. A huge power deficit stares India in the face which could well slow down India’s growth. While a more concerted effort is needed to harness various forms of energy, it would be unwise to ignore the huge losses suffered in transmission through pilferage. Mercifully, of late, renewable sources are getting greater attention. But there is still a long way to go from the 4.9 per cent that renewable energy contributes to total energy generated. The official target is to increase this share to 10 per cent by 2012 and further in subsequent years. With nuclear power chipping in on an increasing scale,dependence on fossil fuels could be reduced. But the pace of change needs to be stepped up far more


Among renewable sources, geothermal energy which is derived from natural heat stored in the deep interior of the earth promises to be a key source. Except for a few half-hearted attempts, the government has done practically nothing to exploit this vast reserve. By present reckoning, India has a geothermal power potential of 10,600MW, but the country is yet to see a single commissioned project that harnesses this technology.


Another promising form of renewable energy in which India has a distinct advantage due to bright sunshine nearly 300 days in a year is solar energy. Globally, it is the fastest growing source of energy with an annual average growth of 35 per cent. In this too India’s record in tapping the resource has been lacklustre. Compared to China which is projected to have 86,100MWP (mega watt-peak)of solar photovoltaics and 1500MWP of solar thermal power by 2025, India is expected to be in a position to harness only a quarter of that in the same period.


Even in harnessing wind power, India, though a relatively early entrant, is only now beginning to break out of inertia. Despite the fact that wind power accounts for 6 per cent of India’s total installed power capacity, it generates only 1.6 per cent of the country’s power. As of July 2008 the installed capacity of wind power in India was 8,696MW. It is estimated that 6,000MW of additional wind power capacity will be installed in India by 2012.


Overall, India can deem itself fortunate that it has substantial potential for renewable, non-conventional energy forms which are non-polluting. It faces, however, an uphill task to tap these sources adequately and to reduce dependence on current, environmentally-unfriendly sources like coal and oil. The quest has really just begun and much needs to be done in coming years.








Rationales for maintaining the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan are varied and complex, but they all center on one key tenet: that Afghanistan must not be allowed to again become a haven for terrorist groups, especially al-Qaida.


Debate about Afghanistan has raised reasons to question that tenet, one of which is that the top al-Qaida leadership is not even in Afghanistan, having decamped to Pakistan years ago. Another is that terrorists intent on establishing a haven can choose among several unstable countries besides Afghanistan, and U.S. forces cannot secure them all.


The debate has largely overlooked a more basic question: How important to terrorist groups is any physical haven? More to the point: How much does a haven affect the danger of terrorist attacks against U.S. interests, especially the U.S. homeland?


The answer to the second question is: not nearly as much as unstated assumptions underlying the current debate seem to suppose. When a group has a haven, it will use it for such purposes as basic training of recruits. But the operations most important to future terrorist attacks do not need such a home, and few recruits are required for even very deadly terrorism.


Consider: The preparations most important to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks took place not in training camps in Afghanistan but, rather, in apartments in Germany, hotel rooms in Spain and flight schools in the United States.


In the past couple of decades, international terrorist groups have thrived by exploiting globalization and information technology, which has lessened their dependence on physical havens. By utilizing networks such as the Internet, terrorists’ organizations have become more network-like, not beholden to any one headquarters.


A significant jihadist terrorist threat to the United States persists, but that does not mean it will consist of attacks instigated and commanded from a South Asian haven, or that it will require a haven at all. Al-Qaida’s role in that threat is now less one of commander than of ideological lodestar, and for that role a haven is almost meaningless.


These trends have been familiar to counterterrorist cognoscenti for years but have gone mostly unmentioned in discussion of Afghanistan. This is probably because the intervention there in late 2001 was unquestionably a response to Sept. 11 — the “good war,” in contrast with the misguided expedition to Iraq, where the only connection to the 2001 attacks was in the Bush administration’s contorted selling of that invasion.


The U.S. entry into the Afghan civil war succeeded in ousting the Taliban from power and rousting its al-Qaida allies, and the intervention would have occurred regardless of whether the occupant of the White House was named Bush or Gore.


The issue today does not concern what was worth disrupting eight years ago. And it is not whether a haven in Afghanistan would be of any use to a terrorist group — it would.


Instead, the issue is whether preventing such a haven would reduce the terrorist threat to the United States enough from what it otherwise would be to offset the required expenditure of blood and treasure and the barriers to success in Afghanistan, including an ineffective regime and sagging support from the population.


Thwarting the creation of a physical haven also would have to offset any boost to anti-U.S. terrorism stemming from perceptions that the United States had become an occupier rather than a defender of Afghanistan.


Among the many parallels being offered between Afghanistan and the Vietnam War, one of the most disturbing concerns inadequate examination of core assumptions. The Johnson administration was just as meticulous as the Obama administration is being in examining counterinsurgent strategies and the forces required to execute them.


But most American discourse about Vietnam in the early and mid-1960s took for granted the key — and flawed — assumptions underlying the whole effort: that a loss of Vietnam would mean that other Asian countries would fall like dominoes to communism, and that a retreat from the commitment to Vietnam would gravely harm U.S. credibility.


The Obama administration and other participants in the debate about expanding the counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan can still avoid comparable error. But this would require not merely invoking Sept. 11 and taking for granted that a haven in Afghanistan would mean the difference between repeating and not repeating that horror.


By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post






In a startling revelation the Union Law Minister, Verappa Moily told the national seminar on “Fighting crimes related to corruption” that there were 9310 CBI investigated corruption cases pending for trial in various courts of which more than 2000 cases were pending for more than ten years. Shortage of CBI courts to try these cases was cited as the reason for the delay in disposal of the corruption cases and the government had announced setting up of additional 71 CBI courts to deal with such cases. Delay in according sanction for prosecution was another reason for delay in disposal of cases against corrupt officials. Out of 153 cases for sanction, 21 cases were pending for sanction for more than three years, 26 cases between two and three years and 25 cases between one and two years. These statistics confirm the impression that the government was soft pedaling the investigation and prosecution of corruption cases though publicly expressing its resolve to fight corruption tooth and nail. Verappa Moily who earlier headed the second Administrative Reforms Commission made valuable recommendations to the government to fight corruption even by amending Articles 309, 310 and 311 of the Constitution of India giving protection to civil servants.

The Chief Justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan, who addressed the seminar, was frank enough to admit that procedural delays in granting sanction which sometimes take 6 to 7 years and sometimes not accorded due to extraneous consideration caused prosecution ineffective. He suggested speedy manner of according sanction. Further he recommended amendment of Prevention of Corruption Act for confiscation of assets of persons convicted of offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act. His suggestion to separate the prosecution function from investigation function also merits serious consideration. The Union Law Minister, Verappa Moily stressed that the fight against corruption was not only a moral imperative but an economic necessity for a nation aspiring to emerge as a global player. The issue of fighting corruption and building good governance were of paramount importance for achieving rapid economic development. Therefore the Union government should urgently implement the suggestions emerging out of the two day national seminar in Delhi to achieve quick results.







Kim Clijsters has made one of the most stunning comebacks in sporting history by winning a Grand Slam just five weeks after returning from a layoff that kept her out of tennis for two years. The image of the Belgian star scooping up the US Open trophy in one arm and her little daughter in the other embodied the very fact that even for a player on a comeback trail, anything is possible. Of course, Clijsters must have still had it in her though she was away from the sport for so long. After playing two tune-up events last month, the former world No.1 received a wildcard for the US Open, and the rest is history in real sense of the term. She has become the first wildcard – male or female – to win a US Open title in the history of the championship. She has also become the first mother to win a Major since Evonne Goolagong of Australia, who clinched it in 1980. It was not as if the road to the final was a smooth one for Clijsters, for she had to overcome two formidable rivals in Venus and Serena Williams. Although she met an easy opponent in the final in 19-year-old Caroline Wozniacki of Demark, the victories over the Williams sisters lend credence to her fairytale achievement, justifying the shining sobriquets ‘Supermom’ and ‘Comeback Queen’ bestowed on her.

Roger Federer, in contrast, had a disappointing final and let go a great opportunity to rewrite history books at Flushing Meadows. Although the Swiss legend has already eclipsed Sampras’ record of most Grand Slams, everyone expected him to extend his tally in New York, especially after Juan Martin del Potro had made it easy for him by beating Rafael Nadal in the semifinal. But Federer fell short by just two points. Had he won, he would have become the first man since Bill Tilden to win six straight American championships and first man since Rod Laver to win three successive Slams in a season. The loss, however, does not cast a shadow over what he has achieved this summer, during which he won the French Open for the first time and also lifted the Wimbledon crown to take the top position in the list of Grand Slam winners. On the Indian front, this year’s US Open proved to be a successful outing with Leander Paes clinching his tenth Grand Slam and coming close to winning the mixed doubles title too. The remarkable thing about Paes’ success is that he had to fight severe pain to remain in the title hunt, the same injury which will now keep him out of the crucial Davis Cup tie against South Africa. This will no doubt be a huge blow, but hopefully the new crop of players will be able to clinch it for India.








One of the tragic ironies afflicting India today is that the very instruments individuals such as Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, employed to oust the British and wrest freedom for India are being misused by vested interests to stall societal progress. Of these the most noticeable had been the call for hartal or general strike to paralyse the functioning of the administration as well as social and economic activity. Such hartals were permissible and effective weapons during the non-violent, non-cooperation movement during the freedom struggle.

Gandhiji would have been pained by the misuse this form of non-violent strategy has been subjected to in post-independent India. The call for hartal could be justified as a forceful weapon when launched against alien rulers bent on exploiting the nation who did not brook any opposition from the natives. Moreover Gandhiji and other nationalist leaders had not hesitated to call off the hartal if it led to violence or in any way infringed upon the ideals of ahimsa or passive resistance. The Father of the Nation had even gone on fast to atone for the sins of the nation when such infringements had occurred.

In contrast, the so called leaders of post-independent India have not hesitated to use the concept, which has by now mutated into the term ‘bandh’, at the drop of a hat, thereby debasing and devaluing it. By repeated and thoughtless calls for national, regional or local bandhs the power of the concept to elicit fruitful response from the authorities has been lost. On the other hand, such bandhs have become a threat to development because they cause thousands of man-hours to be squandered. Simultaneously, they seriously inconvenience the day to day schedules of citizens, erect communication hurdles during emergency and prove to be a source of misery and loss of income to daily wage-earners.

In the North-East, with its own problems of surface or air communication between the various States, bandh calls in strategically situated areas have the potential to disrupt travel schedules of people from far flung regions. For instance, an all-Assam bandh is sure to negatively impact on the other Seven Sisters, since most communication to outside the North East is routed through Guwahati. Also, since Guwahati is the commercial gateway to the North-East, disruption in the supply network of essential commodities will result for the entire region and cause wide spread economic harm. Thus ill conceived bandhs also serve to induce friction into the fraternal relationship that exists among the members of the Seven Sisters.

Disruptions of this type do attain a degree of legitimacy if the issue is important enough and the majority of the populace is willing to sacrifice for the ‘cause’. A case study can be made of the Assam Movement against foreign infiltration when bandhs, some of astonishingly long duration, were effectively used by the leadership to highlight the problem. The issue itself had been of the utmost significance for the future destiny of this region as a whole, something even the detractors of the Movement have acknowledged by now. Just as during the Freedom Movement, when the cause itself is worthwhile and the majority is willing to suffer for it, bandhs do occasionally become justified despite the disruption to normal life they unleash.

Manipur is a sad example of this in recent times. Caught between two inimical forces, the insurgents and the paramilitary, the people of this cultured State have had to wage a titanic struggle to highlight their grievances. For quite sometime now normalcy as we know it has not existed in life in Manipur, since the people there have utilised every instrument available to them to protest against the injustices perpetrated against them. Yet, if one concedes that sanction of the populace is the sole yardstick to measure the ethical legitimacy of such forms of protest, than the course embarked on by the agitationists in Manipur is justified.

But can we say the same for bandhs called on frivolous grounds or to serve political and vested interests? Assam, in particular, has been a victim of this pernicious tendency. Here even groups having little popular support can hold the entire State to ransom by merely calling for a bandh. At one time Bengal had been so afflicted with bandh culture that the Courts had to intervene in order to keep the administrative machinery on gear. In recent times the same is happening in Assam, where organisations of all shades and colours need little provocation to announce bandh calls.

As so aptly illustrated by the parable of the cowherd and the tiger, something repeated once too often loses its power to affect response. That is the scenario in today’s Assam. It is fear rather than adherence to a cause that keeps people indoors during a bandh. Those who call them try and take advantage of this psychology of fear to get mileage without having to go to great trouble or risk. All one needs is to hold a meeting, announce a potential date for the disruption, and have it flashed across the malleable media. The psychology of the people will do the rest, enabling the proponents to crow about “the great success” of their agitational stance.

Of bandhs of different magnitudes, the most pernicious are the unannounced, almost off the cuffs local ones that the traveller has no foreknowledge of. Often minor issues such as a traffic accident is enough to set them off, but the amount of disruption they can cause far outweigh the ‘cause’ itself. Such a propensity is worrying for those with a social conscience, since the gap in development of this State with the rest of India is widening day by day. By aiding in further widening the gap, the bandh culture has become an insidious phenomenon boding ill for our future.

Far from being moral instruments, bandhs have become illegitimate weapons of cowards who are afflicted with a negative mind set. It is futile to ask the people to ignore the calls, since public confidence in the Government to safeguard life and property is none too high. For example, traders would keep their businesses going on a bandh day at their own peril, for there is no guarantee that hoodlums might not use the occasion to indulge in looting, with prospects of official compensation being almost negligible.

It is high time that the community as a whole indulge in introspection as to the growth of this bandh culture and try and devise a mechanism to counter it. While administrative and judicial support is needed to end the phenomenon, most important is popular will. Institutions which enjoy widespread public support, as well as members of the intelligentsia and legal profession, must undertake the exercise to rid our society of the bane of bandh.








Cambodia is a tragic name in the contemporary history of South-East Asia. A country with 13.4 million populations (2008 data) and 69,900 square mile geographical area, Cambodia has been struggling to overcome the genocide of 1970s committed both by the United States through carpet bombing in its fight against communist (North) Vietnam and the Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot, together of which eliminated almost 3.5 million of around 7.3 million total population of the country. Such genocide has left the country with extremely imbalanced age groups of population. In today’s Cambodia, population below the age of 30 years constitute 70 per cent of the total population. As the educated and the professionals were almost completely eliminated by the Pol Pot regime and the survivors are horrified and hesitant to let the new generation know whatever happened to them under that regime, the country today runs with a ruptured history- the history of Khmer Rouge being kept either dark or half told.

I visited this country from August 8 to 16, 2009 as a part of 17 member study group drawn from ten countries under the auspices of Rotary World Peace Fellowship hosted by the Rotary Centre for International Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand. The visit has exposed us both to a post-conflict (invasion and civil war) and ongoing conflict (domestic violence, corruption, political trust deficit) situation. Cambodia, that had passed through series of high intensity conflict and violence perpetuated by both external (US and Vietnam) and internal (Khmer Rogue) forces in 1970s and political instability in 1980s has now apparently settled down with a stable political system having an elected government in power since late 1990s.

However, the legacy of violence injected by both external aggression and the Khmer Rouge regime is very strong till date manifesting itself in severe forms of domestic violence like women being beaten up within the household and raped by close relatives and neighbourhood people. With the educated and elites being eliminated by the Khmer Rouge, the country has been struggling with varied challenges towards re-building the nation. The vacuum appears to have been filled up by the NGOs- both international and national numbering more than 3000. The government in power led by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodia Peoples’ Party is extremely corrupt, non-transparent and ineffective in terms of service delivery to the people. The plight of the institutions responsible for good governance can be well imagined by the corruption index in which judiciary ranks the top followed by police. The natural resources, particularly water resources are gradually going into the hands of private companies, mostly foreign companies with the government allowing these companies to go in for construction of river dams- both medium and large ones even without any Environmental Impact Analysis (EIA) in case of most of those dams. Although a few NGOs are raising concerns in this regard, however, the people in general are still to break their silence due to the precarious past and absence of peoples’ political networks.

Amidst all these challenges, the country with its rich history both in terms of architecture and culture has, however, been emerging as new heavens for the tourists, particularly in the old capital city Siem Reap. With the currency of the country- the riel having no exchange value at all compared to US Dollar (1 USD=4,200 riel) or the Euro, the foreigners from the west can have best of enjoyment with relatively very low expenses. Accordingly, Siem Reap is coming up with a lot of five star hotels, most of them, however, being owned by foreigners. Angkur Wat- the famous temple in the city, built in 12th century by the Hindu King Suryavarmana II symbolises the rich and sophisticated architectural and engineering know how of the Khmer people attained even before the advent of the industrial revolution in the west. Around 70 other major temples in the city is testimony of a nation marked by assimilation and accommodation. Both the temples and their walls have undergone changes with one kingdom defeating the other- whether Hindus, Muslims or Buddhists, who imposed their own architectural know how without eliminating the existing ones. So, both Angkur Wat as well as other temples in the city has the synthetic beauty of many civilizations- Hindu, Islam and Buddhist.

Humble and submissive, the common Cambodians, particularly the young generation- whether the Tuktuk (auto) drivers or sales persons in markets, are persuasive in their approach towards motivating the clients. The vendors in Angkor Tom Wat have been learning English through their interaction with tourists and without formal education. The physically handicapped people, who have lost their important organs either due to the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime or the landmines afterwards, have also been struggling for their bread and butter with their sweet voice and both natural and acquired command over traditional music and musical instruments. The traditional cultural show hosted everyday in the big restaurants in Siem Reap reveals the vibrancy of the cultural resources of its people. We were taken to such a cultural show hosted by a huge open restaurant and I was almost at loss to see the resemblance of the Cambodian cultural resources and performing arts with that of North East India.

Amidst these rays of hope, one can reasonably be worried about the future of the country which is now grappling with ownership of its own resources. The government is selling out the natural resources like water to foreign companies in the pretext of producing electricity. The government is also sitting idle leaving the responsibility of governance into the hands of the NGOs. While the Extraordinary Chamber in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC) constituted for the trial of the core accused of the Khmer Rouge Regime are in session, common people are asking the rationale behind spending the huge amount (it is around 100 million dollars) for the trial of those core five at the cost of peoples’ money, whose verdict in peoples’ court were delivered decades back. The new road of-building the nation appears to have been driven by the ‘western paradigm’- NGOs, industrialisation, legal system and river dams etc. which is devoid of local vibrancy and dynamics. Opening up of the killing fields and the Prisons built by the Khmer Rouge regime for the tourists today brings home revenues. However, it is matter of debate whether those testimonies of atrocities, brutality and inhuman killing will help the country at this stage towards doing away with the Dark Age and moving towards an enlightened path of democracy and peace.

(The writer is Reader in Peace and Conflict Studies, Department of Political Science at Gauhati University)









Ever wondered why people often complain that their bosses are not good, yet, the bosses continue to retain their position and even grow? Ever encountered situations where a technically brilliant colleague of yours was denied a promotion and some mediocre executive scored over again? Ever contemplated as to why experience often becomes the first deciding factor before assigning new responsibilities? Well, if you have ever said to yourself that the system is not fair and it cannot be ever set right, read on.


Let us quickly introduce a specific term, professional worth. All of us have certain professional worth, but it is not to be equated with the salary that we draw, though many of us might be tempted to measure the professional worth this way, that will be incorrect. Choosing to be a bit insensitive here, worth can be equated to the timelessness of Taj Mahal, and remuneration is equivalent to the fee collected from gate passes annually.

My proposition is that people with higher professional worth should do better in their careers, than those with lesser worth. Now this would be a pretty simple theory to accept if there was an efficient way of measuring professional worth. So instead of rushing to go through the hundred-odd self help books in your neighbourhood bookstores, why don’t you decide your professional worth yourself? It could be a straight forward assessment, if you could channelise your thoughts this way: Professional Worth = function of Knowledge in (Subject, Ecosystem, Cultures)

The easiest to understand of the three, ‘knowledge of subject’ refers to knowing your trade well, the tools, the practices, and the natural aptitude, both inborn and acquired skills. So, for a software developer, it would be his analytical skills, problem solving capabilities, knowledge of algorithms, familiarity with programming languages and ability to learn to work on the new advanced platforms.

For a cricketer, it would be his technique, his understanding of the conditions, his ability to adapt to different pitches, his temperament, to name a few. Everybody recognises these skills instantly and in many circumstances, they play a key role in establishing your professional worth and the rewards that come along with it. A subject matter expert after all is what enables the organisation to keep its products or services ticking consistently.

Understanding of the ecosystem is as important as it could ever get. Effects of globalisation do not keep us insulated, the ripple effects impact us considerably and we need to identify the impact hits carefully. Very often talented individuals don’t seem to make the cut and it is blamed on destiny. Do we know what is happening in the world that will influence our work tomorrow? Do we know what skills will remain relevant in the foreseeable future?

Do we understand our customers’ pain points that may not be easily identified? Do we have time to think of disrupters that will change the entire game, if not the rules of the game? This clairvoyance helps us to pre-empt and prepare ourselves for the surprises that we could encounter. You would not want to be the one who has laid miles and miles of telephone cables, while the cellular mobile companies multiply their reach just setting up with signal towers.

History is rife with cases where trend-spotters have cashed-in on opportunities that were missed by well-established and often complacent firms and individuals. In India itself, our generation saw the switch from regular cameras to digital cameras, from PCOs to mobile recharge counters, from stationery stores to computer accessory shops. Just look around, it is not about size and strength alone; it is about flexibility and nimbleness as well. And who better to acquire these traits than the ones who proactively look out for developments and changes around them.

And finally, the one factor which takes longest to appreciate, though it is the strongest of influencers, especially when difference between individual skills is so little, is knowledge of culture. People work with people. Organisations thrive if people are compatible with each other and fail when there is disconnect. The world is full of examples of leaders who compensated for their lack of understanding of the first two elements by surrounding themselves with very smart people.

Coming back to the example of cricket, it is popular knowledge as to why Mr Greg Chappell remained under the spotlight for all the wrong reasons for most of his tenure as coach of the Indian cricket team. A cricketing legend himself, and a respected icon, Greg Chappell should have come out trumps instead. In spite of all the knowledge of the subject and that of the ecosystem, something seemed to have been amiss in his approach and style for Indian cricket.

He couldn’t seem to convince our ‘stroke-makers’ to take singles. Players cringed when asked to get to the ball in the outfield faster, and selectors banked on past glory for team selections instead of form and performance. Perhaps, the Indian way of approaching cricket was different from the way Australians approached and hence the clash of cultures was evident.

The requirement on all of us as a professional is not an easy one, especially when the common notion is that being professional implies having no personality variations. It is about being sensitive and staying intuitive without typecasting a person or a group, and that is an art that can only be developed with much effort and time.

Now let’s look at where we began from. Your superior scores because he has effectively utilised his knowledge about the ecosystem, thanks to people he interacts with. Your technically gifted colleague is perhaps going to lose out because his uni-dimensional knowledge of technology, lacking completely on the cultural sensitivity is working against him. People continue to put a premium on experience, simply because the knowledge of culture is an invaluable asset to have, and there is enough reason to believe that this cultural understanding grows with time.

The basics of being successful have not changed; the ingredients of ensuring success have evolved. As the world gets flatter, organisational hierarchies get flatter, it is important for you as an individual to start displaying the right skill sets to competence, foresight and compassion. Your professional world could be a lot fairer to you, just that you need to identify your worth. It can help you scale new peaks, conquer new vistas and establish yourself as a leader to reckon with.

(The author is MD, SAP Labs India)







It is advantage BJP, after the recent by-poll results for 49 assembly seats in different seats. The Congress has retained just 10 out of the 17 seats held by it, while the BJP’s tally has moved up to 12 from seven. Even the electoral setback b the ruling NDA in Bihar is good news for the BJP, as JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar will become more circumspect about putative plans to move away from the BJP.

By-elections can also posit some revealing facets of the complexity of the wider Indian electoral process. Prime among them would perhaps be the apparent voting in accordance with national and local issues in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections respectively.

And that would go hand in hand with the fact that easy assumptions, in the media for example, about what a particular government’s actual strength is, are being proved wrong time and again. The ruling Congress in Delhi, for example, led by Sheila Dikshit, credited for the landslide win in the Lok Sabha polls, lost both the Dwarka and Okhla seats.

The moot point is whether that can be surmised to be a change in the perception that the Dixit government ‘delivers on governance’. That disjunct between reports of a regime’s probable electoral showing and what voters deliver was sharper in Bihar.

The ruling JD(U), with Nitish Kumar being hitherto heralded as a CM who was putting Bihar back on track, lost seven seats (4, down from 11). The RJD-LJP combine won eight of the 18 seats being contested. Again, it is open to debate if there is an unravelling of current caste coalitions, but with assembly polls due in less than a year, change could be afoot.

The BJP managed to wrest six seats from the Congress in Gujarat, denting, for now, at least, talk of a gradual waning of Narendra Modi’s hold on the electorate of the state. The small bright spot for the Congress would be the two seats it gained in Bihar. But as the by-elections show, the complexity of the Indian electorate, despite being acknowledged, often still surprises.









SEBI’s guidelines forbid a company coming out with a public issue from making any financial projections about the company. The regulator now has stipulated that all research reports on public issues should be based only on information made available in the offer document.

This is to create a level playing field between brokerages associated with intermediaries selling the issue that may have access to internal financial projections, and other independent brokerages and retail investors. SEBI would have done better by mandating that their financial projections be made available to everyone in the offer document itself.

Most retail investors rely on the institutional response to the public offer before deciding to invest in the book-built issue, as it is seen as a likely indicator of gains on listing. A few enterprising ones could be looking at analyst reports as well, but it is unlikely that any one of them would be going through the entire prospectus that can run into hundreds of pages.

If SEBI wants to help investors arrive at better investment decisions in respects of IPOs, it would have to rethink the way information is made available to them. A detailed prospectus would help independent professional assessment of the issue. Business is all about financial projections and the expected returns to stakeholders. Withholding this most crucial information from potential investors does not make much sense.

Obviously, SEBI fears that projections made by the interested parties, issuer or the intermediaries taking the issue through, could be overly optimistic. However, it is unlikely that independent analysts would believe whatever the issuer dishes out.

On the contrary, a third party scrutiny of the financial projections could actually help in assessing the issuer’s credibility. Projections by the company would provide a basis for analysing not only the company’s future prospects but also its management’s credibility.

Retail investors, on the other hand, could be provided with a more concise prospectus that is bereft of jargon and legalese. A couple of sheets providing details of the issue, pricing and key risks should suffice. It could also include the rating assigned to the issue by rating agencies. Information overkill, after all, can be as counterproductive as insufficient information.








The appearance of Freida Pinto, of Slumdog Millionaire fame, on a popular magazine’s list of best dressed women of 2009 is probably an apt comment on the spirit of today’s India. If the west’s limelight usually falls on the seamier side of India, at least now Indians manage to turn it to their advantage.

Hence a pretty, unknown Indian model turned actress rubs well coutured shoulders with the best of west, from Kate Winslet to Michelle Obama, Beyonce to Cameron Diaz, on the strength of one hit movie and several months of well-catalogued, chic appearances at the right places.

Best of all, there is no trace of irony in the conferring of the encomium, nor condescension. Not that Pinto is the first Indian woman to shine on the metaphoric red carpet; in days of yore Indian royals like Maharani Gayatri Devi and ‘Princess Karam’ of Kapurthala routinely made it to the beauty and best dressed lists on both sides of the Atlantic.

The latter even routinely outshone the Duchess of Windsor when it came to sheer style and was muse to several top European designers of the time. Their examples, however, merely highlighted India’s limitations: only pedigrees seemed to guarantee an entree into the rarefied circle of international glamour. Now any Indian with chutzpah can make it to the top.

The opportunity that Pinto’s nomination offers should not be ignored, inasmuch as any recognition burnishes India’s reputation of being a rising powerhouse of all kinds of talent, from badminton, billiards and boxing to brains, beauty and style. The spate of international beauty titles India garnered in the past had plenty of critics, who saw dark conspiracies by international cosmetics companies behind the recognition and belittled India’s achievements in that sphere.

The odd sporting title we bagged also attracted similar carps. Now no one speaks of conspiracies, tokenism or flashes in the pan when Indians come to the fore in any field. More than ever before, the world is receptive to India and Indians are making the most of it. Maybe Slumdog Millionaire has more metaphors for India than we give it credit for.










Sixty years ago, the secret of healthy longevity came to Jerry Morris in the guise of a British double-decker bus. The war had just ended and nobody could figure out why alarming number of people were dying of heart attack. That’s when the 99-year-old epidemiologist noticed the striking difference in the mortality rates among bus drivers and conductors.

Substantially more drivers were dying than conductors, he told a Financial Times interviewer: “The drivers were prototypically sedentary and the conductors were unavoidably active.” The conductors had to go up and down as many as 500 to 750 steps on a bus per day and were half as likely to die of a sudden heart attack as their colleagues behind the wheel.

A similar “use-it-or-lose-it” message came from studies of postal workers: those who delivered mail by bike or on foot suffered fewer heart attacks than sorters and telephone clerks. Exercise was a universal for health.

Since then, Dr Morris’s epiphany has been verified many times round the world. The latest study from Israeli researchers, for example, confirms that exercise benefits even the oldest of the old. More heartening, even the oldest goldies, who’d never exercised, got eye-popping benefits but only as long as they worked out.

This accords exactly with what Swami Svatvarama says in his medieval yoga manual Hathayoga-Pradipika: “Everybody, from the youngest to very oldest, even most diseased and feeble, benefits from yoga. But you have got to use it or you will lose it.”

That is why Sri BKS Iyengar, arguably the world’s most celebrated yoga guru, continues to practice vigorously even at ninety-two. “Because of age I have increased the timings in the advanced poses of my practice,” he told your columnist last week in Pune.

“I can thus clearly appreciate Sage Patanjali’s definition of asana as that which brings stability (sthiram) and ease (sukham). Now, I see in each asana the perfect freshness and firmness of body, the alert steadiness of intellect and the sweet benevolence of the self.”

Iyengar, however, clarifies that what he practices is more difficult than what he did in his youth or when he struggled to learn: “Today it is a big fight between the body and the mind. Believe me after a certain age, doing asana and pranayama is very hard. That’s all the more reason to persist. If I surrender to the will of the body, I am no longer a yoga practitioner.”








                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The results of Assembly byelections are usually not a reliable guide to the prevailing political climate, but specific circumstances might indicate exceptions. That indeed appears to be the case in the context of the bypolls for 49 seats in 12 states — big and small — held in recent weeks. The last lot of results came in on Thursday. These are the first state elections to be held after the Lok Sabha elections in May, which threw up the Congress as the flavour of the season. Not only had the BJP, the Congress’ principal adversary on the national scale, been trounced, but those among Congress’ UPA allies that had acted fresh with it had also been shown their place by the electorate. Roughly speaking, that trend appears to have been reversed in the Assembly byelections.

The BJP and Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD appear to be the principal gainers. The BJP won in Gujarat, Bihar, Uttarakhand and Delhi. The RJD won in Bihar and Delhi. In Delhi, particularly, the Congress fared poorly, losing two seats — Dwarka and Okhla — where it had pulled off terrific wins in the Lok Sabha poll. The BJP not only took Dwarka, it pushed the Congress to the third place in that seat. Before these bypolls, the Congress had suffered defeat in Delhi’s municipal elections. Thus the Assembly byelections appeared to endorse the mood in the BJP’s favour in the nation’s capital. In Gujarat too the BJP did exceedingly well, taking a few seats from the Congress, leaving chief minister Narendra Modi, who appeared to be down in the dumps, quite chuffed. The electorate favoured the BJP in Uttarakhand as well, where the party had lost all four Parliament seats. In Bihar the saffronites fared reasonably. In this state, the RJD-LJP (led by Lalu Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan) combine did exceedingly well, though the Congress was not humiliated. The opposite was the case with the ruling JD(U) led by chief minister Nitish Kumar, who has made a name for himself politically. Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress was once again able to cock a snook at the ruling CPI(M)-led Left combine, which appears to be on a losing spree. In Tamil Nadu, Congress ally DMK did very well, but it has to be remembered that its main rival, the AIADMK, and the MDMK had boycotted the byelection. Strictly local and state-specific factors usually inform the popular mood in Assembly byelections, but in the present case the Congress does appear to have been at the receiving end on account of a certain national dynamics at work. Nationally, it could pick up only 10 of the 17 seats that it had held out of the 49 for which byelections were conducted. Worse, the party’s current difficulties notwithstanding, it was the BJP that made gains, if we look at the nationwide picture. The unconscionable rise in prices of commodities of everyday use, including kitchen items, can possibly be cited as the key factor that has gone against the Congress. In Delhi, the sharp hike in power tariffs doubtless added to the anti-Congress spirit, besides loss of confidence on account of Metro accidents and the disgust at slippage in schedules for constructions related to the Commonwealth Games. These are national issues, by and large. For all the austerity talk, the government that the Congress leads at the Centre appears to have done little to alleviate the plight of the common man. It needs to be said that the BJP was well poised to take advantage of the situation in states where it had done poorly in May, and this shows the depth of the party’s organisational resources.








 “I cried because I had no shoes

Then I saw a girl with high-heeled Jimmy Choos

The sort of clogs I’d get if I was able

er… I think something’s gone very wrong with this fable…”

From Proverbs of Perdition by Bachchoo


Former u.s. President Jimmy Carter, reacting to the anti-Obama demonstration in Washington this weekend at which a million people gathered to protest against his reform of the American healthcare system, said America was still “racist”. He went on to explain. Even after the civil war and civil rights, there were people who did not believe that a black American could or should govern the country.


Reacting to Mr Carter’s comments the White House put out a statement not refuting Mr Carter but stating Us President Barack Obama’s conviction that the people protesting against his healthcare proposals were not reacting to the colour of his skin or to his mixed race origins, but were genuinely opposed to the policies on grounds of their own ideology or self-interest. He was being magnanimous.


Besides, it would be a very bad political move for a President to call any section of the population opposed to him “racist”. Sure, Bobby Kennedy or John F. Kennedy could with impunity refer to governor George Wallace of Alabama, who personally stood barring the doors of “his” university to prevent black students from enrolling, a racist. They were castigating Mr Wallace’s stance and throwing the weight of the American state behind the condemnation. They could with impunity label the segregation of buses or facilities “racist” because it was the practice of bigots who were defying the Constitution and breaking the law. Mr Obama faced the million protesters who called him a liar, a socialist, a Hitler, the Joker (the evil man from the Batman series played memorably by Jack Nicholson in the only film I’ve seen in the series) and other unsavoury things. They were exercising their democratic rights through the protest. He couldn’t very well impute motives of racism to them.


Very many commentators in America, both Democrat and Republican followed the lead of the White House in contradicting Mr Carter. One commentator, a black Democrat and TV columnist, said Mr Carter was senile. A white woman Republican, a press secretary to the White House during former Us President George Bush’s first term, attributed his remarks to being those of a generation from the South which was now out of touch with today’s realities. They were each anxious to prove that America had in the main transcended the view of race that Mr Carter believed was still dominant in the hearts and minds of a significant number of white Americans.


Mr Carter may be right, but now that there is a black President in the White House would only be in the interests of the racists to admit that he is. A black President, having been elected to the most powerful office in the world by the American people can hardly resort to calling his opponents racist.


Let’s now travel a few thousand miles west and south of the US across the Pacific Ocean to that great ex-colony of Britain, Australia. There, in the city of Melbourne Victoria, three Indians were attacked in a suburban car park by a group of thugs early this week. The victims say that 70 people had gathered in the car park cheering on the group of six or seven who, without provocation, attacked them shouting about going back to their own country. The police have estimated the cheering, jeering assembly as a mere 12 or 13 people. It makes no difference. The three Indian gentlemen were going about their business, in this case playing pool in a pub and then attempting to drive home. No one, least of all the police, or subsequently the politicians of the city, state and country have claimed that the Indians acted in any provocative way or engaged in any sort of dispute with their assailants.


The Indians were hospitalised as a result of the attack. It isn’t the first time that there has been a random racist attack on Indians in Melbourne. It is now becoming a regular and intolerable occurrence.


The Prime Minister of Victoria at first resisted the description of the incidents as “racist”. He called them the actions of “bigots”.


In a sense this signalled the reluctance of the Australian state to acknowledge that it has a problem, that scattered acts of racism can grow into organised movements of viciousness like the Ku-Klux Klan and the British National Party of the United Kingdom.


When I first heard about and then read of these attacks this week, I was reminded of the protracted battle that was fought by Asian immigrants in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s in several parts of Britain to establish their right to live free from attack. In the East End of London the phenomenon known as “Paki-bashing” was confronted head-on by the organisation of the immigrants of that area, with which I was associated at the time. There isn’t space to recount the strategies and tactics which went into this self-defensive movement but there is enough evidence to prove that it wasn’t the actions of the police or the legislation of Westminster that forced the racists off the street and put an end to “Paki-bashing”.


Last Wednesday, after the Australian attack, I was invited onto an Indian TV programme via a link from London to comment on this British immigrant experience. I did my few minutes before the camera and went off to meet friends at the local pub. I had no idea that the rather general comments I made would be relayed to Australia and that the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd would himself respond to them.


I was awoken in London the early hours of the next morning by Indian reporters asking me for my response to Mr Rudd’s reaction. I asked the very polite callers who weren’t consulting the world-clock facility on their mobiles (I switched my mobile off after two calls) to call later and give me some details of what Mr Rudd had said.


I got them and gave the interviews. I know very little about Australia and have some respect for Mr Rudd whose election I witnessed as I happened to be in Australia at the time.


What I think I do know is a little about living through an era of the adjustment of Britain to its new immigrant population in the latter 20th century. It’s a good story and I must say it’s better than Australia now.








So Senator Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has released his “mark” on proposed legislation — which would normally be the basis for the bill that eventually emerges from his committee. And serious supporters of healthcare reform will soon face their long-dreaded moment of truth.


You see, it has been clear for months that whatever healthcare bill finally emerges will fall far short of reformers’ hopes. Yet even a bad bill could be much better than nothing. The question is where to draw the line. How bad does a bill have to be to make it too bad to vote for?


Now, the moment of truth isn’t here quite yet: There’s enough wrong with the Baucus proposal as it stands to make it unworkable and unacceptable. But that said, Senator Baucus’s mark is better than many of us expected. If it serves as a basis for negotiation, and the result of those negotiations is a plan that’s stronger, not weaker, reformers are going to have to make some hard choices about the degree of disappointment they’re willing to live with.


Of course, those who insist that we must have a single-payer system — Medicare for all — won’t accept any plan that tries, instead, to cajole and coerce private health insurers into covering everyone. But while many reformers, myself included, would prefer a single-payer system if we were starting from scratch, international experience shows that it’s not the only way to go. Several European countries, including Switzerland and the Netherlands, have managed to achieve universal coverage with a mainly private insurance system.


And right here in America, we have the example of the Massachusetts health reform, many of whose features are echoed in the Baucus plan. The Massachusetts system, introduced three years ago, has many problems. But as a new report from the Urban Institute puts it, it “has accomplished much of what it set out to do: Nearly all adults in the state have health insurance”. If we could accomplish the same thing for the nation as a whole, even with a less than ideal plan, it would be a vast improvement over what we have now.


So something along the general lines of the Baucus plan might be acceptable. But details matter. And the bad news is that the plan, as it stands, is inadequate or badly conceived in three major ways.


First, it bungles the so-called “employer mandate”. Most reform plans include a provision requiring that large employers either provide their workers with health coverage or pay into a fund that would help workers who don’t get insurance through their job buy coverage on their own. Mr Baucus, however, gets too clever, trying to tie each employer’s fees to the subsidies its own employees end up getting.


That’s a terrible idea. As the Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, it would make companies reluctant to hire workers from lower-income families — and it would also create a bureaucratic nightmare. This provision has to go and be replaced with a simple pay-or-play rule.

Second, the plan is too stingy when it comes to financial aid. Lower-middle-class families, in particular, would end up paying much more in premiums than they do under the Massachusetts plan, suggesting that for many people insurance would not, in fact, be affordable. Fixing this means spending more than Mr Baucus proposes.



Third, the plan doesn’t create real competition in the insurance market. The right way to create competition is to offer a public option, a government-run insurance plan individuals can buy into as an alternative to private insurance.


The Baucus plan instead proposes a fake alternative, nonprofit insurance cooperatives — and it places so many restrictions on these cooperatives that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, they “seem unlikely to establish a significant market presence in many areas of the country”.


The insurance industry, of course, loves the Baucus plan. Need we say more?


So this plan has to change. What matters now is the direction in which it changes.


It would be disastrous if healthcare goes the way of the economic stimulus plan, earlier this year. As you may recall, that plan — which was clearly too weak even as originally proposed — was made even weaker to win the support of three Republican senators. If the same thing happens to health reform, progressives should and will walk away.


But maybe things will go the other way, and Mr Baucus (and the White House) will, for once, actually listen to progressive concerns, making the bill stronger.


Even if the Baucus plan gets better, rather than worse, what emerges won’t be legislation reformers can love. Will it nonetheless be legislation that passes the threshold of acceptability, legislation they can vote for? We’ll see.








Where would you find an irony more delicious than this? Ramzan, a month for the strict disciplining of desire, of rigorous fasting from before dawn to dusk when nothing is permitted: no food, not a drop of water or a puff, no sex. Ramzan, also a month of night-long food-fest, everyone is invited. For the select, lavish iftar parties for piety to intermingle with power.


Not such a bad thing perhaps, this curious fast-cum-feast spectacle. After all, the Islamophobe and the Sanghi too love good food. So, unless you are a strict vegetarian or a PETA activist (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), say salaam to the Muslim in the culinary department for he sure knows how to stir his pot. And come Ramzan he is generous, business-minded enough to bring it all out on the streets to share it with one and all, religion no bar. At these times, whatever he may otherwise think of Islam and Muslims, look out for the plebeian karsevak and the limousine saffronite salivating on his way to the “khau galli” of a Muslim mohalla. During this holy month, now you can even order haleem from Hyderabad: online, home delivery the very next day assured.


Ramzan does have its fringe benefits: a month of sumptuous fare for all interested, for the Muslim an image-makeover, even if temporary. This is great but here comes a killjoy question: Is this what Ramzan is all about: an alternating daily cycle of fast and feast 30 days out of every 355 on the lunar calendar? No way, any maulvi saheb can explain, the reasons behind Ramzan are loftier and two-fold. One, spiritual elevation of the believer through tight control over carnal desire. The Muslim is also enjoined to be extra-diligent during this month, refrain from even “minor sins” such as lying, back-biting, rumour-mongering et cetera. Two, fasting for a full-month is obligatory so that all Muslims, including the filthy rich, know and re-learn the meaning of hunger and starvation. The religious obligation to fast is meant to remind the Muslim of his social responsibility towards the hungry and the starving.


For the rich, there are five essentials in Islam — kalima (belief in the Oneness of God), namaaz (five daily prayers), roza (fasting), Haj (pilgrimage to Mecca), zakaat (annual religious tax, to be distributed among the poor and the needy). For the poor, however, there are only three musts — Haj and zakaat are only for the haves. Egalitarian Islam, it can legitimately be argued, preaches positive discrimination in favour of the poor. In 88 different places in the Quran, the virtuous are defined as those who establish regular prayers and give in charity. Prayer alone is not sufficient to save your soul.


Trust the irreverent Mirza Ghalib to find fault, complain that this relaxation of rules for the poor is insufficient: “Jin paas roza khol ke khane ko kuch na ho/ Roza agar na khaaein to bechare kya karein” (“Those who have nothing to eat when it’s time to break the fast/What else can the have-nots do but to break their fast whenever they find something to eat”).


Conceded, Muslims are at their generous best during Ramzan. If you have nothing to eat at home, enter the nearest mosque or madrasa at sunset and you can be sure of finding food that the haves of the community religiously contribute. But what about the remaining 11 months of the year?


“He who sleeps on a full stomach while his neighbour remains hungry is not a Muslim”, taught Prophet Mohammed. If I remember my Islam right, no matter what their religion all those who live in the 40 houses in all directions next to yours are neighbours. Imagine what might happen to the total global headcount of the ummah if every self-professed follower of Islam were to put himself/herself through this Prophet-prescribed litmus test.


As usual, immediately after Eid, Urdu newspapers in Mumbai (perhaps elsewhere too) will make prominent announcements urging Muslim parents to post photos of “nanhe rozgaars” (babies who fast) for publication. Next, day after day the reader will be treated to hundred of photos of four and five-year-olds who kept their pahla roza this year. Though fasting is an obligation only after you cross puberty, the photos will be proof to the community of believers that Islam’s message has found its way even to the hearts of the very young. What message?


As for the lavish iftar parties hosted by the rich and powerful for the benefit of the rich and the power, what can one say? At the beginning of Ramzan this year, one Urdu daily published from Mumbai announced its new editorial policy: it will no longer publish any news report or photograph of such tamashas in the name of faith. A good thing in itself but why not think of a more radical, more Islamic thing to do? Heard of something called the “Right to Food” campaign? Those engaged in this ongoing nationwide movement call themselves social activists who invoke the principle of universal human rights — the right of every human being to a dignified existence, caste, creed, sex, nationality, race no bar — in justification of their demand. Isn’t that what Prophet Mohammed preached over 1,400 years ago, albeit in the name of Islam in keeping with the divine “Love Thy Neighbour” commandment?


If Ramzan’s basic purpose is to teach Muslims the meaning of hunger, what better time than now for Indian Muslims to join this campaign en masse? So what if many of those spearheading the campaign call themselves atheists, infidels and Allah knows what else? How is the aim of this movement any different from that which, centuries ago, was made central to Islam’s agenda?


Imagine the fate of Hindutva’s hate-Muslim agenda if a few years from now the media was to routinely report that Indian Muslims who are grossly under-represented in other walks of life are over-represented in the country’s “Right to Food” campaign because they believe it is their religious duty to do so.


Imagine the immense image-makeover possibilities if in the coming years Ramzan got associated in the popular imagination with the food-for all demand.


Javed Anand is co-editor of Communalism Combat and general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy








Melbourne has had a special place in my heart since I had first gone there on a month-long trip, five years ago — but I have to say that in the last few days, my feelings are changing rapidly. The latest racist attacks on fellow Punjabis have made me furious. Especially when I remember how delighted I had been when I had first heard “thet” Punjabi spoken by the Yarra river side — a young Sikh girl confidently speaking into her mobile phone, in the sturdy accent of deep Punjab. It added another dimension to what is essentially a rather colourless town.


That year we had an apartment on the river side and would spend long hours walking around. The city is easy to navigate but it doesn’t have the vibrancy of New York or the multi-culti feel of London. It doesn’t even have the edgy lifestyle of Lahore — or the overcrowded historical splendour of Delhi. It is just another sprawling, pretty metropolis, with some good universities, and excellent seafood restaurants trying to adjust to the influx of immigrants and foreign students who are changing their public landscape from a uniform white to black, brown and yellow.


The slow pace of change is apparent in the eating habits: unlike in the United Kingdom, where you find curry houses and fusion cuisine nudging at the pubs, the Indian restaurants in Melbourne are hesitantly scattered around and the quality is dismal. Their downmarket status speaks volumes of a community still trying to establish a foothold.


The Indians here are represented primarily at the one end by the quiet academics and monetarily-challenged students, and at the other end are the ubiquitous Punjabi taxi drivers. There is little local understanding of us: over a billion-strong with a rich and diverse culture. Most of the impressions are formed through the war-like game of cricket which has descended into a race row over and over again. Or through the other well-publicised affair of the so-called terrorist plot. In short, stereotypes flourish. In the interim, little has been done to rectify the image of the average Indian, either through our very own ministry of external affairs (MEA) or through the Australian government and diplomatic channels. The very first race attacks should have sent alarm bells ringing — and not been allowed to take this repetitive hue.


Of course, the Australians have their indigenous people — but like our own tribal people back home, they are a well-kept secret. The only time you hear about them are in heartbreak stories in the media, and the public prayers at the start of most government functions: an inclusive tradition in which incantations of the aborigines are evoked. Even the reception we attended at the governor’s home in Victoria began with the same prayers. It is a quaint custom, but like any other minority community trying to cope with an aggressive majority, it reeks of years of struggle which end up with tokenism at best.


Yet, to be fair, Australians are definitely trying to change their self-imposed isolation and parochial mindsets. Most of the conferences we attended, even five years ago, therefore concentrated mostly on how to cope with a globalised world arriving on Australia’s doorstep. After all, for years the Australians had carefully calibrated their policies to allow in migrants in small doses — and only those which are absolutely required. Australia has tried very hard to control their air, water and human beings, because everything within the country had to be preserved at the optimum level. Its tiny population had to be protected from, and not polluted by, the influences of the outside world. Therefore, suspicion of the outsider is not unusual — especially if there is an “island mentality”. More so if within that world there has been deep-rooted racism and degrees of tolerance.

Let us not forget that Australia has been cruel to its original inhabitants — who are neither white nor do they bear Caucasian features. The aborigines were driven out of their settlements and, like the Red Indians in the United States, treated as untouchables. Racism flourished in Australia till as recently as the past few decades — when people were allowed in only under the “White Australia policy”, ie, coloured people would have been automatically barred. It was almost as though Australia desperately believed in white supremacy. It is not a mindset that can be forgotten easily, in just a few generations.


To rectify some of the present damage, an aggressive policy of diplomatic intervention by both the Indian and Australian governments has to be followed, as well as rigorous policing on the streets. There should be a strong campaign against the racist attacks, supported in the media by the Indian government both here and in Australia — and there should be no letting up till the culprits of this attack and other hate crimes are caught and tried in an open court, transparently.


However, it would be lethal, as some have suggested, for the very vulnerable Indian community in Australia to try to fight their way out of this. This is not the time for retaliation. Militancy is not the answer.


Instead, the community needs the MEA to stand up and fight for their rights. So, perhaps, instead of twittering over five-star comfort and holy cows, we should expect some firm and strong action on the part of our government.
This is, however, a long-running battle. The image of Indians needs to change through a cultural onslaught of information as well. Our ancient culture and history, as well as our more modern aresenal such as Bollywood, should be used to soften hearts and minds. The horrific racist attacks are not just gang wars or a knee-jerk reaction against my fellow Punjabis, but also the manifestation of a profound ignorance about us. Occasionally, we should plan some weapons of mass education since just because the perpetrator is white does not give him any extra points for literacy or intelligence.


But, at the same time, we must watch our own backyard as well. The recent disturbing case of Kaya Eldridge, an intern with an NGO in Gujarat who was humiliated in court, despite the fact that she was allegedly the victim of molestation, shows us how far we ourselves still have to go. If a white girl is fair game for everyone, why are we surprised that a brown man is an easy target?


The writer can be contacted at [1]








You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I go running several times a week. My favourite route, because it’s so flat, is from the Lincoln Memorial to the US Capitol and back. I was there last Saturday and found myself plodding through tens of thousands of anti-government “tea party” protesters.


They were carrying “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, “End the Fed” placards and signs condemning big government, Barack Obama, socialist healthcare and various elite institutions. Then, as I got to where the Smithsonian museums start, I came across another rally, the Black Family Reunion Celebration. Several thousand people had gathered to celebrate African-American culture. I noticed that the mostly white tea party protesters were mingling in with the mostly black family reunion celebrants. The tea party people were buying lunch from the family reunion food stands.


Because sociology is more important than fitness, I stopped to watch the interaction. These two groups were from opposite ends of the political and cultural spectrum. Yet I couldn’t discern any tension between them. It was just different groups of people milling about like at any park or sports arena.


And yet we live in a nation in which some people see every conflict through the prism of race. So over the past few days, many people, from Jimmy Carter on down, have argued that the hostility to President Obama is driven by racism. Some have argued that tea party slogans like “I Want My Country Back” are code words for white supremacy. Others say incivility on Capitol Hill is magnified by Obama’s dark skin.


My impression is that race is largely beside the point. There are other, equally important strains in American history that are far more germane to the current conflicts.


For example, for generations schoolchildren studied the long debate between Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians. Hamiltonians stood for urbanism, industrialism and federal power. Jeffersonians were suspicious of urban elites and financial concentration and believed in small-town virtues and limited government. Jefferson advocated “a wise and frugal government” that will keep people from hurting each other, but will otherwise leave them free and “shall not take from the mouth of labour the bread it has earned”.


Jefferson’s philosophy inspired Andrew Jackson, who led a movement of plain people against the cosmopolitan elites.


This populist tendency continued through the centuries. Sometimes it took right-wing forms, sometimes left-wing ones. Sometimes it was agrarian. Sometimes it was more union-oriented. Often it was extreme, conspiratorial and rude. The populist tendency has always used the same sort of rhetoric: for the ordinary people and against the fat cats and the educated class; for the small towns and against the financial centres.


And it has always had the same morality, which the historian Michael Kazin has called producerism. The idea is that free labour is the essence of Americanism. Hard-working ordinary people, who create wealth in material ways, are the moral backbone of the country. In this free, capitalist nation, people should be held responsible for their own output. Money should not be redistributed to those who do not work, and it should not be sucked off by condescending, manipulative elites.


Barack Obama leads a government of the highly educated. His movement includes urban politicians, academics, Hollywood donors and information-age professionals. In his first few months, he has fused federal power with Wall Street, the auto industry, the healthcare industries and the energy sector.


Given all of this, it was guaranteed that he would spark a populist backlash, regardless of his skin colour. And it was guaranteed that this backlash would be ill-mannered, conspiratorial and over the top. What we’re seeing is the latest iteration of that populist tendency and the militant progressive reaction to it. We now have a populist news media that exaggerates the importance of the Van Jones and Acorn stories to prove the elites are decadent and un-American, and we have a progressive news media that exaggerates stories like the Joe Wilson shout and the opposition to the Obama schools speech to show that small-town folks are dumb wackos.


“One could argue that this country is on the verge of a crisis of legitimacy”, the economic blogger Arnold Kling writes. “The progressive elite is starting to dismiss rural white America as illegitimate, and vice versa”.


It’s not race. It’s another type of conflict, equally deep and old.










Vedic Village, in the vortex of a major political battle involving numerous political formations, has raked up critical questions around the modalities of land acquisition for the entire Rajarhat zone. This includes the development of the major New Town urban agglomeration. Relevant though these issues are in the political turmoil encompassing them, the vital environmental significance of this zone has simply been ignored. The environmental significance of this tract is not a new issue and the dangers inherent in the kind of development at the Rajarhat-New Town belt have been talked about in the media, if cursorily. though. Truth to tell, the environment aspect of the reclamation retrospective is far more critical than the political and economic aspects.
Kolkata’s northward growth along the Hooghly river levee, decisively changed towards the east and south-east since the 1930s courtesy the reclamation to develop such residential zones as Ballygunge, New Alipur, Lake Town in ‘downtown’ proximity. The initial proponents of the reclamation included MR Bangur and the redoubtable Nalini Ranjan Sarkar. The post-independence communal riots also compelled the uprooted millions from erstwhile East Pakistan to take shelter in the eastern and south-eastern fringes after crossing the border. Instead of resettling these hapless families away from the wetland zone, the present government has, over the decades, allowed them to spread out in the eastern fringes as ‘refugee colonies’.

Drawn up under the patronage of Bidhan Chandra Roy just after independence, a terrain-compatible and highly rational ‘Basic Development Plan’ of the Calcutta Metropolitan Planning Organization (CMPO) was drawn up by a group of urban planners with the guidance of the Ford Foundation. This plan categorically prohibited any further expansion of the city towards the east and south-east. Not merely so; it suggested a pro-active northward growth along the Hooghly bank and the development of Kalyani into a major growth centre ~ with adequate and fast linkages to downtown Calcutta.

Most unfortunately, snared by a Yugoslav development agency, Electrosond, it was the same legendary healer-doctor who abandoned his maanosh konnaa Kalyani to reclaim the Salt Lake marshes to launch the accelerated decimation of the invaluable eastern wetlands. After the Left Front was swept to power, a massive reclamation programme by government agencies took the expansion beyond Baishnabghata-Patuli. It is singularly unfortunate that in its new ‘avatar’ the planning organization (CMPO) was transformed into a planning and development agency (CMDA, since renamed KMDA) by the Left Front in harness for decades. The government disregarded all warnings about the disastrous long-term consequences of its planning as it systematically robbed the city of its vital lifelines for the easing of floods and clearance of sewers. Essentially what the city was left with was multiple blocks in its vital arterial circulatory system. The wetlands and the outfall area, into which the surplus water and wastes were respectively dispatched, were rendered ineffective by the progressive wetland reclamation.

That process was stalled in the eighties in the wake of the orchestrated resistance by sensible elements ~ inside and outside government and a limited judicial intervention based on a PIL to save the Bantala ‘Sewage-Fed Fisheries’ recognized by the Ramsar Convention. For the first time, the importance of the East Calcutta Wetlands received media attention. And yet, urbanisation continued and became rampant all around the zone under “curfew”.

After being rebuffed at Singur and Nandigram, the West Bengal government has identified a new urban-cum industrial pasture to promote the class interests of the corporate and affluent sectors. A new agglomeration has surreptitiously been spawned in the Rajarhat area with a ‘no holds barred’ construction spree. Land was acquired before public opinion was pro-actively sensitised about giving up land. The Vedic Village land mafia has upset the applecart. The point is that the Rajarhat-New Town zone involves the entire Hooghly basin, being in the path of the colossal volume of monsoon overland flow from the north into this downward reach of the basin.

The endangered area is situated near the northern headlands of the deltaic region; in close proximity of the recharge zone (Dum Dum-Barasat and beyond) for the deeper Kolkata aquifers; directly infringing on the path of the monsoon and flood discharge from the northern upslope regions of the Hooghly-Ganga basin. The terrain analysis (including the study of aerial photo and satellite imagery mosaics) reveals that numerous rivulets of the shared Indo-Bangladesh deltaic drainage system originate in this zone. Major impediments (roads, buildings and other infrastructure), which are inevitable adjuncts of intensive urbanization, shall act as a wall across the route of overland flow. Allowing the Singur-Rajarhat belt to develop into a major urban-industrialisation agglomeration will only strengthen the wall. The excessive run-off during the monsoonshall be diverted downslope towards Bangladesh and metropolitan Kolkata. This will aggravate waterlogging and floods. The last few years have validated this premise; and may fireball into an international issue involving Bangladesh in a world where even the Farakka barrage had created international problems.

There is also the rather worrisome reality of global warming with a specific warning for the Kolkata metropolitan area and the entire Sundarbans delta (including the Bangladesh portion) having been rung loud and clear. The Sundarbans have been highlighted as a zone under imminent threat. With the overland flow thus halted and diverted, it will be a double whammy for this region. A catastrophic change in the Hooghly’s course cannot be ruled out in this major basin of loose alluvial formations. The implications for the Sunderbans’ multifunctional ecosystem, that forms the vital sea-face for the entire sub-continental watershed, are serious.
The bottomline is that what is being written off to satisfy the greed of private realtor groups and more affluent classes under State patronage comes with an irrecoverable environmental cost, with gravely hazardous consequences. The ray of hope is that the tale of the Vedic Village may inhibit further strengthening of that wall across the overland flow pathway. At least it would give planners time to ponder over what seemed to be the inexorable flow of development. It would be clear to even the meanest of intelligence that with the impending global food crisis and the virtual stagnation in India’s agricultural output, it would be utterly thoughtless to sacrifice a zone rated among the most fertile on earth for urban and industrial development with potentially catastrophic consequences.






Thursday’s announcement that Wipro and Infosys would be allotted 45 acres each in New Town is at first sight a major concession by the West Bengal government in the aftermath of the land scam and the shutdown of the IT sector. It is more than four times than what was proposed a week ago; by itself the allotment is doubtless a forward movement from the other suggestion that both entities be housed in a “vertical construction” on a ten-acre tract ~ not a particularly practical proposition. Should the fresh proposal materialise, it will signal the entry of Infosys and reinforce the presence of Wipro. To an extent, the sullied image of the government in its handling of the IT sector may be retrieved, though its standing in the wider context of the collective fiddle is virtually beyond redemption. Well may the Chief Minister exult that “all’s well again”; but only partly, only very partly. Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee may have been able to mollify his critics within the party over the IT crash, and significantly hours ahead of the state committee meeting. But the major issues remain unresolved.

Beyond the land allotment, the thorny issue of price remains to be sorted out. The land is with Hidco, which had demanded Rs 2.16 crore an acre in 2005 ~ a rate that the companies had refused to accept. Subsequently others have paid well over Rs 3 crore for an acre. All economic activity leads to jobs, and to argue that IT jobs deserve to be subsidised is absurd, indeed a reduced price may well be open to legal challenge. But it is the price factor that has held up the entry of Infosys. Considering that there has been a sharp escalation in the four years since, the project hinges hugely on the success of the tripartite negotiations between the state government, Hidco and IT companies. As much is clear from the Chief Minister’s assurance that “we won’t decide the price unilaterally but negotiate with both the companies”. In sackcloth and ashes as it is, the government will not call the shots in the transaction. All three entities must strive for the success of the negotiations, indeed towards the fulfillment of the expectation that the two companies will generate 16,000 jobs in “two to three years”. As the chairman of Hidco, a crucial responsibility devolves on Gautam Deb, the housing minister. The government must act fairly, and transparently. It is time Mr Bhattacharjee realised that his customary white attire now wears the stains of bad governance and that his actions will be under the glare of public scrutiny.






THERE must be no pressing any panic buttons, yet the air force cannot take lightly the premature discharge of a weapon from a Mirage 2000 on a nighttime-attack training sortie to the Chandan section of the Pokharan firing-ranges ~ one of the few where the “heavy stuff” can still be test-fired. If the bomb “got loose” and fell off the aircraft (to use layman’s language) it raises one set of worrying questions: are the technical support personnel capable of servicing sophisticated frontline aircraft? Questions that are no less disturbing would arise if the pilot actually released the bomb when quite some distance short of the target: was he disoriented or yet to master the art of flying in the dark?

The IAF has ordered an inquiry: while its findings will obviously not be made public, the public would be happy to be assured that necessary remedial action will follow. Over the years an impression has gathered ground that most in-house military probes merely camouflage shortcomings that the top brass deem embarrassing to admit. For even if there is not a trace of the deliberate or mala fide to the incident, it must be remembered that the vast majority of “accidents” are the result of negligence by someone somewhere down the line. It was fortunate that the bomb caused only minor damage, according to reports it came rather close to causing a breach in the Indira Gandhi canal. While the military does have a general “case” that local folk trespass into its ranges (in search of brass from unexploded ordnance), the air force must also ensure that the risk to farmers and villages is kept to the bare minimum when it undertakes firing training. No cause must be given for public protests, demands to shift or shut down the range. This time around the damage was limited to 80 trees, and apprehensions over damage to the canal’s embankment: but what about next time? Hopefully the IAF’s professionalism will avert any recurrence.






INTER-STATE border disputes in the North-east are a standing indictment of the Centre’s failure to solve these issues at the time of Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya’s creation. Yet Delhi wants the states to sort out their differences before seeking its intervention. The border, particularly the one shared by Assam and Nagaland, has always been restive, with both sides occasionally accusing each other of encroachment. In fact there had been clashes between police personnel of both states and violence erupted in 1965, 1985, 1975 and 1979, accounting for several deaths. An attempt to settle the issue by appointing the VK Sundaram Boundary Committee came to naught because not only did Nagaland refuse to cooperate with its survey team, it also refused to accept its recommendation.

Since border disputes are under the Supreme Court’s adjudication and a commission set up by it is yet to submit its report, the states concerned must ensure that no unpleasant incidents take place in the meantime. Even more important now is to strengthen border security. Dispur takes a serious view of the existence of the NSCN(IM) camp at Hebron along the Assam-Nagaland border in the light of the outfit’s demand for greater Nagaland and wants it shifted. If there had been fewer cases of breach of the peace over the past few years, the credit goes to neutral forces. It is becoming increasingly clear that unless the states involved agree to a spirit of give and take, they will perpetually be at loggerheads.








Los Angeles, 19 SEPTEMBER: When Michelin brought its prestigious restaurant guides to the US, purists wondered how the famous French obsession with starched linen and the right sort of fricassee would sit with the culinary culture of a nation that invented fast-food and the all-you-can-eat buffet. The answer, it seems, is not very comfortably.

Just three years after they crossed the Atlantic, the publishers of haute cuisine's little red book have been forced to compromise a historic core principle: the anonymity of their painfully secretive reviewers.
Sacrificing a century of tradition on the altar of commercialism, Michelin has decided that the critics behind its two US editions, in San Francisco and New York, must embrace the tweeting era, by posting comments on Twitter and discussing the dark arts of their trade on an Internet site.

They began tweeting this week, kick-starting an initiative that may eventually shed light on the Byzantine process by which the world's top restaurants win those prized stars. “Fighting off a cold, and Pho Minh in Cupertino hit the spot, steaming pho was loaded with jalapenos and herbs ... definitely Vietnamese penicillin,” reads a comment of the firm's men in California. A reviewer in New York, with the Twitter identity MichelinInspectorNY, announced that he was lunching at a restaurant called Jaiya. “Renovations still under way but lookin' good,” he noted. “Yummy spring roll, seafood red curry, creamy iced coffee ... all for under $20.”

The informal tone represents a severe cultural shift for Michelin, which is traditionally so secretive that employees, who visit at least 200 restaurants each year, must invent cover stories to prevent even loved ones discovering their identity.

The new strategy reflects the struggle Michelin has had to gain a toe-hold in the US marketplace, which is still dominated by Zagat ~ which uses reader comments to rate restaurants ~ and the Internet site TripAdvisor. 


The Independent









Handloom and khadi are now chic. There was a time when, under the inspiration of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, they were the weapons of the weak against imperialist exploitation and industrialism. Gandhi invoked khadi as a way of life to project his vision of individual self-sufficiency and also to hit at British business interests. It was his unique riposte to the British destruction of Indian handicrafts, especially of the cotton spinning and weaving industry. The charkha or spinning wheel became the symbol of Indian nationalism. This was consistent with Gandhi’s overall ideology, which was against the process of modernization and wanted to hark back to the self-sufficient village republics of ancient India. But when communists raise the banner for khadi, it comes as a complete surprise. The ideology of communism is closely linked to the Enlightenment vision of progress. In this march of progress, capitalism or industrialization marked a significant advance on the pre-capitalist forces of production.


Karl Marx and communists after him have hailed the triumphs of technology as instruments that unshackled the relations of production. Thus, while Marx noted the destruction of the pre-capitalist cotton industry of India under the impact of British rule, he did believe that British rule was “the unconscious tool of history’’, which brought India out of many years of stagnation. It is difficult to see Marx and his followers as advocates of khadi.

In India, everything acquires the character of a hybrid. Communists have come to be influenced by traditional notions of tyaga or sacrifice and by Gandhian ideas of austerity and simplicity. Thus, the Left Front government in West Bengal is organizing a fashion show in Calcutta to show-case khadi and the handloom industry. It is being said that this show, in which well-known fashion designers are expected to participate, will provide a fillip to khadi, which is now dying. The whole project is fraught with contradictions. Why should those who swear by communism promote khadi and speak on behalf of the handloom industry? Is it because the Left has failed to mobilize large-scale industries in West Bengal? If this is the reason, then the enthusiasm for khadi is no more than an afterthought, and worth nothing in terms of sincerity. Khadi has merely descended to being another item in the populist menu card.


The other contradiction lies in the fact that khadi today is a rich man’s commodity. It is expensive, and therefore a niche product. It is not something that champions of the poor should promote. It is thus clear that in more ways than one the communists in West Bengal have started running down the wrong alley. Nothing will be achieved by the proposed fashion show. It will go down as yet another failed gimmick of the Left in West Bengal. The Left can ill afford another failure.










One of the many stories about Sir Thomas Beecham, the famous English conductor, has him practising with his orchestra when an incredibly tall man slips into the room and sits down in a corner as unobtrusively as he can. “You know the king of Sweden,” Beecham remarks casually without pausing in his conducting but indicating the newcomer. “Norway, actually,” the self-effacing King Haakon VII murmurs from his corner.


Such an episode is inconceivable in India where anyone with the slightest pretension to prominence will bustle late into a crowded hall, march self-importantly up to the front row or high table, and if all the places are already taken, imperiously demand that another chair be brought up even if it blocks the aisle and everyone else’s view. That’s the mark of the arriviste. The sophistication of the old Scots proverb “Wherever Macdonald [head of the eponymous clan] sits, there is the head of the table,” conveying the essence of aristocratic distinction, is beyond the comprehension of our VIPs.


That’s why the current debate over austerity rings so false. The Congress is not to blame. It just happens that being first on the scene, it set the tone for the rest. But the tone it set was determined by much deeper cultural characteristics. Politics is a legitimate career and entitled to its just rewards. But no party of the Right or Left dare concede this because of the power of the myth of selfless service and sacrifice. Krishna Hutheesingh’s account of Allahabad’s original Anand Bhavan being gifted to the nation, and its Dresden and Sevres treasures put away when Motilal Nehru entered politics is the abiding image. It is zealously perpetuated by today’s political operators who, being in politics, can afford Dresden and Sevres but wouldn’t know what to do with either.


When the apolitical Manmohan Singh deplores conspicuous consumption, he is speaking as an economist against unproductive expenditure and as a man of refinement against vulgarity. But when Sonia Gandhi says that “in a country like ours, the kind of ostentatious display of wealth we see is unacceptable”, she is a political tactician reminding party satraps that the aam admi will not vote for them “in a country like ours” (the key words) if they behave like a class apart.


The image is all. Nursing a juice at a cocktail party, the late Biju Patnaik once told me he avoided anything stronger when wearing what Jawaharlal Nehru called “the livery of freedom”. The famous cartoon of a dinner-jacketed Deshapriya (thereby hangs another tale) J.M. Sengupta sipping Scotch while his bearer held out his “meeting ka kapra” (dhoti and kurta) made the point much earlier. Given this obsession, S.M. Krishna and Shashi Tharoor were at fault not for lavishness but for being seen to be lavish. Had simplicity been the true objective, they would not have got away with the own money plea. They would then have been judged guilty of luxurious tastes, accumulating wealth and extravagant spending.


My mother would din into me that nothing was more dishonest than the “honesty is the best policy” adage. Her point was that honesty should be instinctive and without expectation. If it is policy, then it’s calculation. So, too, with austerity. Lee Kuan Yew illustrated that when he told a Bombay audience that Singapore had not abolished the car pennants, revolving lights, sirens and special number plates so beloved of Indians for any moral reason. It had done so because ruling party politicians who flaunt these symbols are easily recognized and identified with governmental failures. They, therefore, tend to lose elections.


Indians are one of the most status-conscious people on earth. Hence the brazen self-assertiveness, described at the beginning, with which prominent citizens trample on the less privileged to muscle their way into the front row. Hence also the story of the carpet in a bureaucrat’s new office being snipped on all sides to match his grade. The recent Congress directive not to use titles implicitly recognized this hierarchical yearning. India’s liquidation of the princely order did not include a general abolition of titles, as in France where ‘baron’ and ‘count’ have been incorporated into names by deed poll. It is not illegal here to address a maharaja as such or as Huzoor or Durbar (other traditional forms), although the imported Highness may need official sanction. Egalitarian affectation at the top will not stop us from creating our own titled elite of lok matas, gurujis, shaheeds, deshaprans, deshabandhus and deshapriyas.


Mahatma naturally crowns the titled heap. Undaunted by Sarojini Naidu’s famous quip, Sonia Gandhi reiterated during the 2007 Satyagraha centenary celebrations the importance of what she called “the Gandhian way”. Now, Lalu Prasad hopes to hoist her with her own petard by demanding (again disregarding the Naidu barb) more visible adherence to the “Gandhian way of austerity.” Economy class flights are not enough; ministers must travel by train. Rahul Gandhi’s pre-emptive gesture of not just train but chair-car provoked Lalu to suggest third-class compartments and unreserved bogies. With elections approaching, we might witness even this parody of austerity.


First-class travel was associated in 1937 with British governors and senior civil servants. It was astute strategy then to urge Congressmen to shun Raj practices and highlight the “marked contrast” between an alien elite and the people’s leaders. Such symbolic gestures invite scorn today. Indians have no need for an example of simple living. Most cannot afford anything else.


The need is for substantive action to cut costs, cleanse politics, invigorate a sagging administration and restore public confidence in governance. We need economy more than austerity. None of those aims will be achieved by rescheduling ministerial travel on circuitous commercial flights or by commandeering railway trains. The former can mean more expense; the latter will subject ordinary passengers to the further harassment of elaborate security arrangements for X-rated VIPs on the move.


Already, the directive to patronize only Air India has pushed up fares: private passengers are not only saddled with the higher cost of their own tickets but must also foot the bill for officials and politicians who travel free. It’s reminiscent of Indira Gandhi’s horse-drawn buggy preceded and followed by cars in first gear, ostensibly to save on petrol. Austerity is reduced to a self-defeating fetish.


It’s a moot point whether the obsession with simplicity began with the “fakir…striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace” or whether he was responding to pre-existing national characteristics. A friend recently sent me an article titled “Why Indians don’t give back to society” whose author, Aakar Patel, cites opportunism, indiscipline, self-aggrandizement, indifference to morality and a “transactional” attitude to god (“I give you this, you give me that”). These attributes explain, according to the author, why “we worship Vishnu, manager of the cosmos, and Siva, its eventual destroyer” but not Brahma the creator. “He has nothing to offer us. What he could do for us, create the universe, he already has. There is no gain in petitioning him now.”


Politicians who would ram what they think is Gandhian austerity down our throats would do well to read Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on the subject. “Austerity,” he wrote, “implies external renunciation, endurance, and sometimes even hypocrisy.” He much preferred “saintliness” which he called “an inner quality of the soul”. But inner saintliness cannot be imposed by fiat. Nor can it be displayed for public exhibition. Austerity, on the other hand, is threatening to snowball into a countrywide frenzy recalling The Witches of Salem. Even the private sector has fallen prey to a craze that Gandhi thought external and hypocritical and which further distracts attention from the country’s real needs.










In what could be a record of some sort, my maid, Sushila, has been working for me loyally for the past 25 years. She is religious-minded, but is unfortunately very superstitious too. She believes implicitly in the power and tricks of what she calls ‘the shaitan’. I have tried hard to dispossess her (pun intended) of her crippling notions, but have met with little success.

The other day, she described a recent visitation. First came the sound of clanging chains. Then the spirit appeared, all in white. Ignoring everyone around, it climbed the five-storeyed building right to the top. That was where it lived. It was the spirit of a young woman who had hanged herself. Rather dismissively, I told her that her imagination had been over-active. She retorted that not only had three others around her seen it, but that her 18-year-old daughter was so terrified that she wet herself.

When I went to bed that night, her words somehow rose to mind and on that thought I fell asleep. A little after mid-night I was woken up by scraping noises. A creature of some sort was creeping, rustling and scrabbling around. Was it a cat or a rat? But the room provided absolutely no access! The door was shut and the windows secured with mosquito netting. Willy-nilly the words of Sushila came to mind. Nonsense, I chided myself, and getting out of bed switched on the lights. Somewhat fuzzy-headed, I searched for the intruder. Nothing to be seen — however the moment I stretched myself out on the bed, the noises began again. All sleep was lost by now and I was determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. I got out and began searching again. This time I spotted the mischief-maker — it was a flying cockroach. After a few tries, I brought it down with a swatter and consigned the remains into a bin.

The next morning, I told Sushila about the strange noises. With a triumphant glint in her eye, she exclaimed, “What did I tell you? The shaitan caught you!” I led her to the bin and, pointing to the inert creature, said, “There is your shaitan. It was only a cockroach.” “You are wrong. It is the shaitan. It just took the form of a cockroach,” she persisted.

“Well then,” I told her, “If it was the shaitan, it is dead, dead and gone.” “Pshaw,” came the reply, “you people are educated, but you know nothing! The shaitan is not dead. It has many lives and will live again. Mark my words!” With that she picked up the bin and walked away.

I stood looking at her retreating figure pensively. The battle had been lost. However the war had not been won either. Time enough, I told myself, for tomorrow was another day!









I switched on my TV set to hear what different channels had to say about him. Perhaps they could include tributes from the Prime Minister, chief minister of Punjab, Sikh leaders and literary personalities. I went from one channel to another. Not one had anything to say about him. I switched off the TV in disgust, Perhaps the morning papers would make up for the omission. Of the six I get, only two paid him tribute. That is the way of the world — no sooner dead than forgotten.

Patwant was a man of substance and had many achievements to his credit. Though almost 10 years younger than me, we shared many things in common. Our fathers were builders of New Delhi. Both of us were brought up and educated in Delhi. He tried his hand on building, gave it up and turned to writing in design and architecture. Then he turned to Sikh themes — eminent personalities like Bhegat Puran Singh, biography of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and much else. A sort of sibling rivalry grew between us. The similarity of our names and themes we wrote on added fuel to the rivalry. But neither of us ever criticised the other. He was a devout Sikh; I a ‘dheela dhaala’ non-believer.

Whenever I rang him up, he did not answer with a ‘hello’ as most people do, but with a full blast of the Khalsa greeting “Sri Wahguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Sri Wahguru ji ki Fateh.” It made me feel a second-class Sikh.

He was very fastidious about his dress and style of living. Always smartly turned out with moustaches twirled up.

In earlier times he could be seen walking briskly like a soldier in Lodi Park. He wore gloves in winter and had a pedigreed dog alongside. People said he has the Hollywood version of a Sardar.

He lived in double storeyed bungalow on Amrita Shergil Marg abutting Lodhi Gardens. His sister Raseel Basu lived on the ground floor, he on the upper floor re-designed by himself. A cosy study lined with books all round where he served his guests pre-dinner drinks. A large sitting-cum-dining room with a huge fire-place in the centre — covered by an umbrella-like chimney. Guests sat around it and were served with the most gourmet continental style food by gloved waiters. I have never been at a dinner as classy as Patwant’s.

There was a lot more to him than erudition and good living. He built a hospital for poor peasants near the sulphur hot springs at Sohna in Haryana. He spoke out boldly on issues concerning the Sikhs. He never forgave Gyani Zail Singh for not preventing ‘Operation Blue Star’ and the negative role he and Prime Minister Narasimha Rao played in the massacre of Sikhs in 1984. Nothing daunted him, because he never asked for favours or honours from anyone.

I lost track of Patwant and saw nothing of him for the last 20 years. I heard that late in life he married a Parsi lady-friend, Meher Dilshaw who was devoted to him. Earlier this year, I heard from my friend Jaya Thadani who lives part of the year in London that Patwant and Meher had lunch with her and he looked very ill. Then on Saturday, Aug 9, he called it a day. He was 84.

Sexy hockey

Once again I missed out one amusing item in ‘The Telegraph’ of Kolkata which appeared a couple of years ago, and has been spotted by an Englishman Beeve Gourd and reproduced in a recent issue of ‘Private Eye’ in its column ‘Funny Old World’. It reads: “The idea of using condoms in the manufacture of hockey sticks came to me five years ago,” Sanjay Kohli of R K Sports told a press conference, “after a large number of sticks began to get damaged. The hook is the most important part of the stick, because it is used to strike the ball, but it’s also the most vulnerable part, because it’s made from seven pieces of mulberry wood that are bound and glued together. We used to paste a plastic net onto the hook to prevent it splitting, but once the net perished, the stick could not be repaired. It was causing me nightmares.

One day I bought a box of condoms, and slipped one over the hook. The results were tremendous. After I’d heated it, the condom gripped the wood much better than the nets ever did, and was much longer lasting. It sounds absurd and embarrassing to be using condoms in the manufacture of sports goods, but it’s been a wise decision, because a lot of expensive mulberry wood was going to waste. The only problem I had was with the local condom supplier, because we were buying so many that he thought we must have opened a brothel in the neighbourhood. He refused to keep selling us box after box until I invited him to the factory to show him how it’s done. He’s promised to keep the technique a secret until I have obtained a patent.”









After President Obama decided to impose a 35 percent tariff on Chinese-made tires, China reacted angrily and predictably: threatening to impose its own tariffs on American auto products and chicken meat. Nationalist bloggers urged China’s leaders to strike back even harder and to stop buying United States government debt.


Both governments need to make sure the situation doesn’t spin out of control. A trade war would have no real winners and millions of losers in both countries.


China’s export-dependent economy would suffer more. It exports almost four-and-a-half times as much to the United States as it imports. If it abruptly stopped buying Treasury debt, it would slash the value of its own, mostly dollar-denominated foreign reserves. But the United States would also lose. American consumers and companies would have to pay more for Chinese goods. And if China were to cut back its purchases of United States government bonds, the Treasury Department would have to raise interest rates, driving up the deficit even further.


An all-out trade war between the world’s two largest economies would wreak havoc on the global economy just as it is struggling to come back.


Neither side can claim the high ground. Mr. Obama acted unwisely, invoking a never-before used section of American trade law that allows him to penalize even fair Chinese competition if it results in sharply increased imports and job losses in the United States. China can legally retaliate in car parts and chicken meat, but only if it can prove actual dumping — selling below cost, a much stricter standard.


China has not been competing unfairly on tires — just more effectively, mainly because of its far lower labor costs. As a result, its tire exports to the United States tripled from 2004 to 2008. Four United States tire factories have shut down since 2006, with more to follow.


Armed with these findings, the Obama administration tried to persuade Beijing to restrain its tire exports. After that failed, it acted on its own, announcing the stiff new tariffs. That kind of protectionist remedy may be legal, but it is bad economics and bad foreign policy.


Let’s be clear. China has its own very worrisome trade record. It imposes export taxes and other restrictions on domestic supplies of raw materials essential to steel and aluminum manufacturing, giving its own companies an unfair advantage. It refuses to enforce intellectual property agreements. And it maintains its currency at suspiciously low values against the dollar, artificially cheapening the cost of its exports to the United States.


All of these issues should be the focus of serious bilateral discussions. Now that Mr. Obama has invoked the tariff on tires, he has to keep them in place at least through spring. He should start looking now for ways to walk back from the brink. He will meet China’s president, Hu Jintao, next week at the Group of 20 economic summit meetings in Pittsburgh. The two leaders need to work together to revive the world economy and constrain the nuclear ambitions of both North Korea and Iran.


Mr. Obama’s tariff decision followed strong protests from American tire workers and their union, the United Steelworkers. But the additional duties are unlikely to give them lasting relief. In a globalized economy, raising tariffs cannot long protect uncompetitive businesses. If the price of Chinese-made tires goes up, American companies and businesses will buy tires from other low-cost producers. American tire factories will continue to be phased out, and jobs will continue to disappear.


Like all American workers, these workers can best be helped by regenerating growth at home and abroad. Protectionist remedies, even legal ones like this, impede that growth without providing long-term replacements for vulnerable, trade-threatened jobs.








Iranian diplomats are scheduled to sit down next month with diplomats from the United States and the other major powers. There is a lot to talk about, starting with Iran’s illicit nuclear program. Tehran is clearly eager to use the meeting to assert its rising influence and claim the respect it insists it has been too long denied.


The latter argument will be a tough sell, but if Iran’s leaders are truly serious about trying to change international and American opinion, they will have to start behaving like a responsible government. One immediate step they can take is to release the five American citizens they have unjustly and cruelly imprisoned.


Since July 31, Iran has been holding three American hikers who were seized along the Iran-Iraq border. Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Sarah Shourd were hiking in the Kurdish region of Iraq and their relatives concede that they may have accidentally crossed into Iran. But there can be no justification for their imprisonment.


Iran must release Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American scholar. Authorities have not confirmed his arrest, but a relative says that he was taken by police from his home in Tehran in early July. And it must free Robert Levinson, a former F.B.I. agent missing since 2007. It is also holding Maziar Bahari, the Newsweek correspondent and Canadian documentary filmmaker. Justice demands that he be released.


Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, where he, too, will inevitably demand more respect for his country. Amid the wreckage of rigged presidential elections, the brutal crackdown on critics and Mr. Ahmadinejad’s repeated Holocaust denials, Iran needs to free these prisoners and allow the world some hope.







Commuters who endure New York’s gloomy Pennsylvania Station could be forgiven for shrugging off the latest press conference about a splendid replacement finally in the works. For two decades, we have had these promises, often accompanied by exquisite architectural drawings and elaborate talking points. What may be different now is that there are no models and no razzle-dazzle, only an actual concrete step toward finally moving the station into the elegant old Farley Post Office.


Senator Charles Schumer, Gov. David Paterson and Joe Boardman, Amtrak’s president and chief executive, announced this week that there is a “general agreement” that Amtrak will move its operation into the old Farley building. If that deal really happens, this is a major step forward.


Almost 20 years ago, Amtrak agreed to be part of turning the Farley building into New York City’s prime railroad hub. If the station could be as grand as Washington’s Union Station, for example, it would add luster to the railroad experience. But after a decade, Amtrak pulled out of whatever deal was still on the table.


If the new agreement with Amtrak stands, it means Mr. Schumer has helped assure the passenger railroad that it won’t lose revenue by moving its main operations into the post office. And it means the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Mr. Paterson’s people have adjusted the focus of the entire development. Instead of an elaborate mix of shopping, housing, sports arena and, oh, yes, a railroad station, the new plan is a primarily a transportation project.


For that reason, the first step will be making the train and commuter traffic work better underground. This next stage would cost about $270 million and take up to five years as the engineers make it easier for passengers and trains to move through and around the area under the post office. That first phase would, we hope, make it possible to build the showy part above ground — the elegant, sunlit hall for passengers. Then, that station can finally be named for the man who championed the whole idea: Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.








As I walked back the other night from dinner at a lodge near the Van Diemen Gulf on the north coast of Australia, I accidentally stepped on a toad in the dark. When I looked down, I realized there were toads all around me and that they were cane toads — Bufo marinus — natives of Central and South America. Tens of thousands were released in Australia in the 1930s to control a beetle that preyed on sugar cane, another introduced species.


The toads have marched slowly ever since from the Queensland cane fields into New South Wales and the Northern Territory, reaching the country around Darwin, on the north central tip of the continent, only a couple of wet seasons ago. Cane toads are poisonous, from tadpole to adult. They kill whatever eats them, including birds, reptiles and carnivorous mammals.


Cane toads are only one of the pressures on Australia’s small and increasingly endangered species — others include large grazing (non-native) herbivores, ferocious late-season wildfires and feral cats.


It’s estimated that there are between 4 million and 12 million feral cats in Australia, the progeny of former house cats. Just in the Kimberley — a region of northwestern Australia that is about the size of California — feral cats are eating as many as 300 million small mammals, especially small nocturnal marsupials, a year.


What is happening is a population crash. Scientists surveying native mammals in northern Australia, widely regarded as an oasis of biodiversity, report that they are finding it almost impossible to catch native mammals. During a recent study, it took an average of 1,000 trap-nights to trap 3 mammals.


The scale of this crisis is partly the result of Australia’s unusual and particularly vulnerable ecology. It has always been a predator-poor country — no bobcats, no weasels — so the effect of feral cats has been especially devastating. And though there are many poisonous reptiles in Australia, the advent of a new poisonous amphibian — one so apparently edible as a cane toad — has completely upset nature’s balance. Some birds, crows especially, have already learned how to flip cane toads over and eat their stomachs, avoiding the poisonous glands near the head. But nothing is really stopping the cane toads.


And in most places, nothing is stopping the cats. There is an exception: Australia’s native dogs, the dingoes. They, too, are under attack. Since dingoes sometimes kill sheep, the owners of pastoral stations have tried to exterminate them by using poison bait — a practice once called “dog stiffening.”


The Australian Wildlife Conservancy has purchased several environmentally significant properties across the continent, and on several of them they have stopped killing dingoes. Studies by the conservancy have shown, preliminarily, that when dingoes are present, cat numbers drop sharply. It’s not clear whether the dingoes are killing the cats or driving them out of the neighborhood. But the effect is a rebound in the numbers of other small mammals and reptiles.


The result resembles what scientists discovered in Yellowstone when gray wolves were reintroduced in the mid-1990s. The wolves killed intermediate predators, coyotes mostly, which in turn caused a rebound in the number of small mammals, including voles, gophers and ground squirrels.


What makes Australia’s population crash especially problematic is that most of the species that are disappearing — the marsupials eaten by cats — are seldom visible even when they’re abundant. Their absence goes unnoticed, so it’s hard to rally public sentiment. And thanks to the cane toad, even some larger species are dwindling. Not long ago, on a drive along the Arnhem Highway, heading east out of Darwin, you would have passed a number of pythons warming themselves on the asphalt. Now, they’re a very rare sight.


In a profound sense, the landscape of northern Australia is rapidly losing its biological resilience. It can’t begin to be restored until these non-native creatures are eliminated, no matter how uncaring it may sound to mount a campaign to kill feral cats. What Australia should not do is introduce another non-native predator and create other unintended and disastrous consequences.


Until feral cats and cane toads have vanished, there can be no hope of real recovery. The only good news is the familiar good news: Nature rebounds quickly whenever it gets a chance. But there’s no rebounding once entire species of marsupials and reptiles and birds have vanished for good.










“Guiding Light,” the longest-running daytime drama in history, breathed its last on Friday. This may be the beginning of the end for soap operas. And since it’s being replaced by “The Price Is Right,” there’s really no way you can spin this as a step forward.


“Guiding Light” certainly did its best to provide a happy ending. In the final episode, several couples got married in rapid succession and two young women announced that they had gotten into Berkeley. The whole cast had to race from one of the weddings to wave goodbye to them, because they both had to leave the very minute they were accepted. (The University of California has become way too spontaneous.)


A long line of former residents walked in to announce they were moving back to town forever. Then everybody went on a picnic. Many Champagne toasts. “This isn’t supposed to happen. ... I’m getting everything I wanted,” a woman told her partner. A man holding a baby got a dream job as a coach. Another man with a baby got a job in construction. Then Josh and Reva, major characters of many decades’ standing, met at a lighthouse and drove off together in a truck.


The whole thing had an air of unreality, and this was only in part because 72 years of tears and trauma ended in the greatest explosion of bliss since the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Previous cost-cutting efforts had caused the series to stop spending money on studio space, and the cast and crew have been wandering around Peapack, N.J., ever since, without much help in the way of costumes or makeup. If “Guiding Light” had lasted another year, the actors would probably have been replaced by bloggers.


Now we’re Guiding Lightless for the first time since 1936. (The program debuted on the radio as “The Guiding Light,” but in our fast-paced era, we have no time to waste on meaningless modifiers.) The original story involved a minister who left a light in the window so people could see that he was home and ready to listen to their problems. While it is conceivable that you could sell an idea for a series like that today, the minister in question would probably have to be a vampire.


There was a time when soap operas were hot. In 1976, Time did a cover story on “their huge popularity and money-making capacity,” which the magazine attributed to “housebound women, students, hippies and the unemployed.”


Now there are only seven left, some clearly listing toward the fate of “Guiding Light.” Their decline is blamed on the fact that women have all gone off to work — although there seem to be plenty of unemployed people around to close the gap. The real problem may be that for younger viewers, the desire to watch an ongoing drama involving very average people who talk endlessly about their feelings is filled by “Big Brother” and “The Bachelorette.”


That’d be a shame for those who believe that written stories almost always trump real life on screen. But it’s hard to get too sentimental about a form that seldom posed a question more profound than: “Can a girl from a little mining town in the West find happiness as the wife of a wealthy and titled Englishman?”


At the beginning, though, soaps were a revelation. For women who had spent millennia at home, working in silence, the company of the first radio dramas was heaven.

I once read a diary that a Kansas farmwife named Mary Dyck kept during the Depression. The doings of her real family were all mixed up with the things like, “Bob is making plans to get his Marriage Lisense tomorrow,” which occurred on “Betty and Bob,” a soap opera about a secretary who marries her boss. She wasn’t confused about what was real and what was fiction. But there were probably days in the Dustbowl when Betty and Bob’s wedding plans kept her sane.


Now, the remaining soaps are much-maligned for over-the-top story lines — Reva of the truck-finale had a history that included 9 or 10 husbands and being cloned. But it’s hard to create exciting stories about the personal lives of average people who stay in the same town/hospital for decades without throwing in a mad scientist or split personality here and there. It’s also difficult for the writers to keep all the relationships straight. Every once in a while they’ll forget that somebody had a hysterectomy in 1997 and make her pregnant with triplets.


My favorite factoid along that line involved “Days of Our Lives,” whose writers once sent Uncle Tommy upstairs for a nap and left him there for two years. Imagine how great it would be if we could manage stuff like that in the real world. Glenn Beck has been looking a little weary lately. A rest would do him good, and when he came back downstairs in 2011, he’d probably feel like a new man.








This week, former President Jimmy Carter waded into the murky waters of racism: “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man.” That was an overstatement of the role of race.


Michael Steele, the Republican National Committee chairman, shot back: “President Carter is flat-out wrong. This isn’t about race. It is about policy.” That was an underrepresentation of the role of race.


But that’s where we are with race in this country: exaggerations and blanket denials. Race has become a vicious game of bludgeons and crutches, where acerbic accusers run roughshod over earnest egalitarians and political gain is sought even at the expense of enlightenment.


It doesn’t have to be that way. Most Americans know that racism is an issue in this country. The question is how much (that’s where the arguments start) and if — and to what degree — that racism animates critics of the president.


An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted in January found that 71 percent of whites and 85 percent of blacks think that racism in our society is at least somewhat of a problem.


How much discrimination is there? The world may never know, but we admit that we misjudge it.


A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll conducted in January of last year found that 60 percent of whites agree that they underestimate the amount of discrimination that there is against blacks and 59 percent of blacks agree that they overestimate the amount of racism against them. How can we measure truth when everyone’s twisting it?


A better question might be how much racial prejudice are people aware of and willing to acknowledge.

An ABC News poll released in January asked, “If you honestly assessed yourself, would you say that you have at least some feelings of racial prejudice?” Thirty-eight percent of blacks answered yes, as did 34 percent of whites.


Then the question becomes whether this racial prejudice plays a part in the opposition to the president. Again, it’s impossible to know, but a 2003 study by Rice University researchers and published in the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies offers an interesting insight into its potential to be present: “One of the greatest challenges facing black leaders is aversive racism, a subtle but insidious form of prejudice that emerges when people can justify their negative feelings toward blacks based on factors other than race.” Sound familiar?


Racism is real. It is very likely an element of some people’s opposition to President Obama, but everyone who wants smaller government is not a racist. Let’s stop talking about racism as if it’s black or white. There are many shades of gray.


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Did we really need Jimmy Carter to tell us that racism is one of the driving forces behind the relentless and often scurrilous attacks on President Obama? We didn’t know that? As John McEnroe might say, “You can’t be serious.”


“There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president,” said Mr. Carter. I guess he was aiming his remarks at those who contended when Mr. Obama was elected that we had achieved some Pollyannaish postracial society. But it’s hard to imagine, after all the madness and vitriol of the past few months, that anyone still believes that.


For many white Americans, Barack Obama is nothing more than that black guy in the White House, and they want him out of there. (Mr. Carter knows a little something about kowtowing to that crowd. During his presidential campaign in 1976, he blithely let it be known that he had no problem with residents “trying to maintain the ethnic purity of their neighborhoods,” and he tossed around ugly terms like “black intrusion” and “alien groups.” He later apologized.)


More than three decades later we have Sherri Goforth, an aide to a Republican state senator in Tennessee sending out a mass e-mail of a cartoon showing dignified portraits of the first 43 presidents, and then representing the 44th — President Obama — as a spook, a cartoonish pair of white eyes against a black background.


When a gorilla escaped from a zoo in Columbia, S.C., a longtime Republican activist, Rusty DePass, described it on his Facebook page as one of Michelle Obama’s ancestors.


Among the posters at last weekend’s gathering of conservative protesters in Washington was one that said, “The zoo has an African lion and the White House has a lyin’ African.”


These are bits and pieces of an increasingly unrestrained manifestation of racism directed toward Mr. Obama that is being fed by hate-mongers on talk radio and is widely tolerated, if not encouraged, by Republican Party leaders. It’s disgusting, and it’s dangerous. But it’s the same old filthy racism that has been there all along and that has been exploited by the G.O.P. since the 1960s.


I have no patience with those who want to pretend that racism is not an out-and-out big deal in the United States, as it always has been. We may have made progress, and we may have a black president, but the scourge is still with us. And if you needed Jimmy Carter to remind you of that, then you’ve been wandering around with your eyes closed.


Glenn Beck, one of the moronic maestros of right-wing radio and TV, assures us that President Obama “has a deep-seated hatred for white people.” Some years ago, as the watchdog group Media Matters for America points out on its Web site, Beck said he’d like to beat Representative Charles Rangel “to death with a shovel.”


There is nothing new about this racist rhetoric. Back in the 1970s Rush Limbaugh told a black caller: “Take that bone out of your nose and call me back.”


But the fact that a black man is now in the White House has so unsettled much of white America that the lid is coming off the racism that had been simmering at dangerously high temperatures all along. Eric Boehlert, a senior fellow with Media Matters, said, “If someone had told me in February that there would be mainstream allegations that Obama was a racist and a fascist and a communist and a Nazi, I wouldn’t have believed it.”


Republicans have been openly feeding off of race hatred since the days of Dick Nixon. Today’s conservative activists are carrying that banner proudly. What does anybody think is going on when, as Anderson Cooper pointed out on CNN, one of the leaders of the so-called tea party movement, Mark Williams, refers to the president of the United States as an Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug, and a racist in chief.


After all these years of race-baiting and stirring the pot of hatred for political gain, it’s too much to ask the leaders of the Republican Party to step forward and denounce this spreading stain of reprehensible conduct. Republicans are trying to ride that dependable steed of bigotry back to power.


But it’s time for other Americans, of whatever persuasion, to take a stand, to say we’re better than this. They should do it because it’s right. But also because we’ve seen so many times what can happen when this garbage gets out of control.


Think about the Oklahoma City bombing, and the assassinations of King and the Kennedys. On Nov. 22, 1963, as they were preparing to fly to Dallas, a hotbed of political insanity, President Kennedy said to Mrs. Kennedy: “We’re heading into nut country today.”








ON Tuesday, seven Republicans broke party ranks and voted to reprove Representative Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, for calling President Obama a liar. One of the renegades was Bob Inglis, who upbraided his fellow South Carolinian for a breach of House rules. “That problem could have been fixed by an apology to the House,” Mr. Inglis explained.


And he was right. In fact, his comment reminds us that Congress has a long and storied culture of apology, to go along with its long and storied culture of insult — and that the two traditions are inextricably bound together.


Congressional insults — and apologies — had their heyday in the first half of the 19th century. Much as we envision the pre-Civil War era as the golden age of Congressional oratory delivered by the likes of Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun and Daniel Webster, alongside this eloquence was a generous helping of rough-and-tumble brawling.


Men pulled knives and guns on one another. There were shoving matches and canings — the most notorious being the 1856 attack by Representative Preston Brooks, Democrat of South Carolina, on Senator Charles Sumner, Republican of Massachusetts. Tables were flipped, inkwells and spittoons went flying. Occasionally there was a grand melee with dozens of congressmen pummeling one another, emerging after a few minutes of mayhem with torn clothing, assorted bumps and bruises, and toupees askew. Not surprisingly, accompanying all of this tumbling and punching was a slew of insults.


Most powerful of them all was “the lie direct.” According to the formal code of honor then in play, a man who didn’t keep his word was no man at all, so there could be only one response to such a charge: a duel (or very careful negotiations to avoid one). For that very reason, “throwing the lie” was a handy strategy in Congressional debate. The gasp-inducing drama of the moment was precisely the point. Nothing called an audience to attention as quickly as the threat of gunplay. Whether one was trying to attract attention from the press, derail a debate or humiliate an opponent, the lie direct was a grand slam in the game of politicking.


But untarnished victory required one final step: an immediate apology to the House or Senate — delivered on the floor. In part, this was the logic of the code of honor. The only way to offset a public insult was with a public apology; the audience that had witnessed the insult needed to witness the making of amends. And when a combatant voluntarily apologized as soon as a fight was reconciled, he prevented the opposition from milking his misbehavior for partisan gain.


In addition, a quick apology prevented an exchange of words from becoming something worse. In 1836, when a panicked speaker of the House began to adjourn the body after a tussle between two congressmen, several members instantly protested that this would prevent a public reconciliation. The result could have been ugly. As a House clerk put it, had “the speaker adjourned the House, as he was about to, there would have been a battle and blood would have been spilt upon the floor.


These formal apologies nearly always followed the same script. After harsh language or fisticuffs, the combatants would rise to their feet and apologize in open session. The 1856 apology of Senator Andrew Butler, a South Carolina Democrat who was also the uncle of Preston Brooks, the assailant of Charles Sumner, is typical. In the flurry of outraged debate after the Sumner caning, Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts insulted Brooks. Butler immediately jumped to his feet and called Wilson a liar. Within minutes, Butler was on his feet again. “This mode of attacking my relative is very trying,” he said in apology. “I used a word which I hope will not be put down. I have never used an epithet on this floor, and therefore I ask that it may be excused. I make the request at the unanimous instance of my friends.”


As antebellum congressmen well knew, serious insults required serious apologies. So important were these rituals that they sometimes required hours or even days of negotiations for acceptable terms. In 1837, when Representative John Bell, an Anti-Jacksonian from Tennessee, called Leonard Jarvis, a Jacksonian from Maine, a liar during a debate, the outraged Jarvis first insisted that the matter would have to be settled “in another manner,” meaning in a duel. Jarvis also made clear that he wouldn’t retract the words that had prompted Bell to insult him in the first place. After several hours of wrangling by dozens of congressmen, Bell withdrew his words unconditionally.


No one assumed that such apologies were heartfelt. As The New York Times groused in 1859, these “Congressional rowdies” seemed to “have got it somehow into their heads that they can descend to any depth of blackguardism, if they only make an apology immediately afterwards.” Even so, these apologies meant something. By publicly apologizing to his colleagues, a congressman not only paid obeisance to the dignity and order of the House or Senate, but he also upheld the civility of Congressional proceedings as a whole.


This sentiment was perhaps explained best by Senator Louis McLane, a Jacksonian from Delaware, in an 1828 debate over the vice president’s right to call men to order. Written parliamentary rules were useful, he said, but the Senate’s tradition of “liberal comity” was “more efficient than any written rule.” What would preserve the Senate was “the great moral influence of the power of the body for its own preservation.” For this reason, the Congressional culture of insult was necessarily accompanied by one of apology. Whether it exists today remains an open question.


Joanne B. Freeman, a professor of history at Yale, is writing a book on Congressional violence in the first half of the 19th century.











Robber barons are not new, the term deriving from Medieval German lords who charged crippling taxes on ships plying the Rhine, but has its modern origins in the USA during the 19th century when bankers and industrialists amassed vast fortunes by pursuing anti-competitive or plain unfair business practices. Today we use it to describe anybody using dodgy or illegal business methods to benefit themselves usually at the expense of a poorer underclass, and here in Pakistan we have a particularly odious clutch of them. Their visibility comes and goes depending on the time of year and the crop being harvested, and currently it is the Robber Barons who run the sugar industry who are fleecing the pockets of the poor. Our robustly independent courts have taken up the cause of the common man in an effort to bring the price of a staple commodity within the reach of most – with variable success. Despite the Lahore High Court fixing the price of sugar at Rs40 per kg the Robber Barons are openly defying the orders of the LHC (seemingly with the blessings of the federal and provincial governments) and selling sugar for Rs50 to Rs60 per kg. The government for its part has now shown its true colours and has gone to the apex court in an attempt to get the decision regarding the price of sugar changed – increasing the price per kilo rather than reducing it, all to the satisfaction of the Robber Barons; some of whom happen to be parliamentarians and members of the current government.

Rarely, even in the rancid annals of Pakistan's politics, has there been such a display of rampant and shameless self-interest. The government side will be well aware that any order that might be made by the court is going to have little or no effect on the price of sugar at point of retail; because the shopkeepers will have bought from the wholesalers at an inflated price and are unable to sell at a significant loss. Thus even if the government case gets to appeal today (Saturday) there is going to be no reduction in prices before Eid. The unhealthy nexus between business and politics is the incubator of this unpleasant egg, now hatched into a greedy gobbler. Other nations have rules about 'conflict of interest' for members of the legislature that prohibit such a nexus, and severe penalties for transgressing them. But not in the Land of the Pure where the whiteness of our sugar contrasts with the blackness of its production, distribution and marketing.








The ex-commissioner of Malakand, a man believed to have aided and abetted the Taliban in any way he could, remains missing. The Peshawar High Court, hearing a petition filed by his brother seeking his recovery, has been told by the NWFP government that the former official is not in its custody and it has no idea of his whereabouts. The conclusion seems to be that Syed Muhammad Javed is being held by the agencies, possibly in connection with a case involving the murder of four commandos in Swat. The matter of the former commissioner is not a small one. The evidence that has come forward so far suggests that he misused authority to help the militants and indeed did so openly, attending gatherings called by them. It is important that he be put on trial for these offences and the facts in the matter be brought out openly. A secret detention by agencies cannot serve this purpose. Indeed whisking people away in this manner acts to turn them into martyrs rather than being exposed as criminals.

There is suspicion that the state structure is, in other places too, involved with extremist forces. The Joint Action Committee of NGOs in Lahore, at a press conference held to demand an investigation into the death of a Christian teenager in his jail cell, has pointed to a nexus between police and religious zealots. There are, obviously, many dangers in such a situation. The existence of support within official ranks makes it all the harder to battle militants. There is every possibility that the former Malakand commissioner was not alone in his backing for the Taliban. Although his actions were especially audacious, there is reason to believe others at least silently saw what he was doing as right. Every individual, whether he is a government servant or someone employed in a different line of work, has a right to his or her opinion. But using the power of office to push forward these beliefs or to operate in favour of those acting against the state is a crime that should not be tolerated. In the past the failure to clamp down against those who invited militants to their offices or attended their congregations is one reason why extremist forces have flourished. In recent years, the armed forces have acted to weed out those who are believed to hold extremist views. Perhaps it is time for the bureaucracy to think along similar lines.








The parents of a young Hindu nurse, who disappeared over a month ago after leaving her Karachi home for the welfare hospital where she worked, continue their search for the daughter. So far their efforts have proved futile. They are not alone. The Sindh Assembly was told in its last session that during the last four months of the current year, 30 to 35 members of minority communities – most of them Hindu – had been kidnapped; eighteen girls had converted to Islam and one was killed. The fate of the others is presumably unknown.

The pattern is one that has accelerated sharply in recent years. Christians in Punjab have made similar complaints centred around the issue of young girls, some mere teenagers, who have been forced to convert and marry Muslim men. The details compiled by rights groups indicate that the life of such women is often grim. Some have tried to escape, others have been murdered. This is one part of the growing violence against minorities that we are seeing. The matter needs to be paid urgent attention to. No society so deeply fractured by sectarian divide can blossom. Pakistan must prove it is a state capable of offering a safe place to live for all its citizens. This, after all, is the vision that was laid out by the founder of the nation. It is our duty, as citizens, to ensure that it is turned into reality.








With apologies to every Pathan in the world, I must start this article with a joke at their expense. A Pathan came down into the plains to visit with a friend. The friend treated him to qalaqand. The Pathan loved the chunky, grey-white sweet so much that the next day he went looking for it in the market. Unfortunately, he couldn't remember the name, and so when he saw a man selling what looked like qalaqand, he pointed to it and bought some. As he started eating, he found himself in terrible agony, for what he had bought was home-made soap. Seeing his anguished look and the foam trickling out of his mouth, a man asked, "What's the matter, Khan? What are you eating?" Gasping for breath, the Pathan retorted, "What do you think? Khan is eating his money."

That describes my experience with Jaswant Singh's tome Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence. I spent a good Rs695 and, therefore, felt that I had to get my money's worth. However, after a couple of attempts to read the book serially, I decided to cut my losses. I began to read the book in patches -- 50 pages here, 10 pages there, often letting the book fall open and then reading whatever fate dictated. I feel no shame in saying that the responses I offer below are based only on a partial reading.

My first response: it is an embarrassing book to read. I felt foolish when I found myself trudging through such awful expository prose as this:

"The League had claimed that it was the true upholder of Islam's ideological authenticity; also of representing a substantive Muslim consensus, therefore, it demanded, rather presupposed, just a single Muslim medium – and asserting its identity as a different conceptual 'nation', claimed a separate land for itself which is why this agonizing question continues to grate against our sensibilities: 'Separate' from what?"

Yes, this is actually a one sentence on page five, quite like the one that follows on page 50: "By this time, Jinnah had been a Congressman of the Pherozeshah Mehta group, (the moderate group of the Congress, which among others included Dadabhai Naoroji, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and their group included Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal and Lal (sic) Lajpat Rai, and also, secretary to Dadabhai Naoroji who was presiding over the Calcutta Congress."

Things don't improve as the book progresses. Here is one gem of a sentence from page 479: "For one, such an assertion -- [Muslims are a separate nation] -- though entirely illogical, is fundamentally of an insatiable nature, it will always remain so, forever, as it never can be quenched being born of a peculiar Indian phenomenon 'minoritism', endlessly it will continue to give birth to more destructive minoritism, being politically contagious for, Pakistan is doubtless Muslim, but 'theocentrically', it is not a 'theocratic' state, indeed there is no such state other (sic) perhaps than the Vatican, but then who, other than Gandhi and a few others was to advise caution as we rushed headlong (and unheeding!) down this destructive path."

While I prefer simplicity in any expository prose I am made to read, I readily confess to being a pedant when it comes to scholarly books. I expect them to fully employ standard scholarly tools and methods. For this reason, I took particular interest in the book's footnotes and endnotes, and checked the quotations included in the main text as well as elsewhere.

The exercise was revealing. Singh's research assistants apparently felt no hesitation in borrowing verbatim from other people's writings and then presenting it to him as their own. He, subsequently, compounded the lapse by letting everything appear as the fruit of his own labours. I wrote on this matter in the Indian Express of September 1, 2009 ( and would like to share the relevant portions here:

1. On pages 481–2, there is a long (19 lines), erudite note on the Canadian scholar Wilfred Cantwell Smith. Besides being totally irrelevant, it is a verbatim copy of a note available on the web: The site belongs to the College of Arts and Sciences, University of Alabama; the note is authored by its Department of Religious Studies.

2. On page 588, the long (34 lines), equally erudite note on Benedict Anderson and his book, Imagined Communities, is a meticulous copy of what is available on the web from "The Nationalism Project:

3. Page 623 contains a note (20 lines) on the Muddiman Committee. It is copied word for word from the "Banglapedia," prepared by the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. ( The note is duplicated on page 630, unnoticed by the publishers.

4. On page 633, the author includes a note on Ramsay Macdonald; it runs to 25 lines, faithfully copied from "British Friends of India," offered on the web by the Indian National Congress:

5. On pages 634–35, the author has presented a long note on A. K. Fazlul Haq. Its 38 lines were originally written by someone for the "Story of Pakistan" project. One can find it on the web at:

I reiterate: none of the above carries any indication that the book was not authored by Jaswant Singh. I stopped after five searches, but I'm confident that more searches of the kind I did, using key words or sentences, will turn up many more such examples.

The main text itself is full of similar lapses. Any number of quotations is used, but their sources are not indicated in any manner. Six lines are quoted from Al-Beiruni's book on page 16, but no reference is given. On pages 21 and 22, the author quotes from the trial record of Emperor Bahadurshah, but fails to tell us where he found it. On page 47, Singh mentions a Syed Mohammed Zauqi and a letter he allegedly wrote to Jinnah in 1943: "In this (sic) a rather detailed, but retrospective account is given of the origins of the Simla Deputation and the formation of the Muslim League. This is placed in the Appendix, for interest (sic) though its authenticity cannot be vouchsafed." The appendix runs from page 526-530. Neither the Appendix nor the main text mentions Singh's source.

I'm willing to allow that Singh or his publisher might not find anything embarrassing in such silly passages as the following: "[M.R.A. Baig] fell out with Jinnah over the Lahore Resolution which he felt to be communal. He, then become (sic) Jinnah's secretary… (page 275)". Or "suddenly, Burma (now Myanmar) was now vulnerable, as was Rangoon, and then was it to be India?" (page 291) Most people, however, would find it embarrassing having to read a text so irresponsibly prepared. And yet the same is touted as scholarship that allegedly required five years of writing, re-writing, checking, and cross checking (p. xiii).

My second response to the book is to call it unneeded and irrelevant. It has nothing new to offer, except some rare photographs. If one is interested in Jinnah as a person, Stanley Wolpert (Jinnah of Pakistan) is presently our best guide. On the final years of Jinnah's political life in undivided India, Ayesha Jalal (The Sole Spokesman) cannot be bettered. If one is more narrowly focused and wants to know how things went wrong in 1946, Abul Kalam Azad (India Wins Freedom) tells it all quite succinctly. For readable polemics, one can turn to Ram Manohar Lohia (Guilty Men of India's Partition). As for finding a meticulously argued and documented single book on why the partition of India came about and who must take on what share of responsibility for it, one cannot find a better guide than H. M. Seervai (Partition of India: Legend and Reality). Then there are any number of review essays by that man of amazing memory and erudition, A. G. Noorani.

Singh believes in an eternal unitary India that just happens to have the same territorial boundaries as the areas of the subcontinent over which the British held sovereignty in 1947, including Andaman Islands, Leh and Ladakh, Sikkim, and Baluchistan. He also believes that the main causes of the partition were something called the "minority syndrome" of the Muslims and the obduracy of a man named Jawaharlal Nehru. These are good beliefs to hold for a self-defined "political figure," but they amount to nothing more.

The writer is professor emeritus at the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilisations, University of Chicago. Email: cmnaim







It appears the verbal sparring between the PPP and the PML-N that erupted in the wake of the Brigadier Billa revelations has ebbed, at least for now. Good. At the best of times this country has not been able to afford the two biggest political parties going for each other's jugular. Besides, why let a disgraced intelligence official incite political mayhem when everyone knows that these types are the perennial bane of the polity?

It was hardly surprising that some observers concurred with the accusation levied by the PML-N information secretary that the Presidency was behind the smear campaign. As to who is ultimately responsible is besides the point. I think we should all ignore Brigadier Billa and move on to more pressing concerns. For example, it is high time that some serious attention was paid to the farce that is flour handouts.

When the sugar shortage became apparent in the weeks leading up to Ramazan, the Punjab chief minister was seen ranting and raving against hoarders and profiteers, vowing to punish each and every culprit. He then went on to promise that no such shortages would be tolerated during the fasting month and that all energies of government would be directed towards this end. For its part, the PPP was totally silent on the issue, probably resigned to the fact that it could make no meaningful intervention.

Lo and behold! Ramazan has come, and almost gone, but the chief minister has not fulfilled his commitment to control hoarding and profiteering. Meanwhile, the PPP remains mum, probably quite thrilled that it has managed to get through Ramazan having cut down load-shedding hours and avoided some new public-relations disaster.

All of this would perhaps be business as usual, but for the outrage that are long lines of hungry people, and a fair share of opportunists, waiting for flour (atta) handouts in a number of Punjab's cities. The handouts are attributed to the direct intervention of the Punjab chief minister; perhaps the strategy is designed to strengthen his popular-leadership credentials.

I am livid every time I see men and women, and often children, massed at busy street corners in front of trucks loaded with flour. I find it preposterous that hollow populism is the order of the day with no serious effort being made to enforce regulations on the prices of basic food items.

Of course, on reflection, it all makes perfect sense. The Sharif brothers' major constituency remains small and medium-sized businesses, and particularly traders. They are never likely to antagonise this class, as well as the bigger industrial houses that enjoy a symbiotic relationship with small wholesalers and retailers. Indeed, the Sharif brothers will continue to go out of their way to facilitate the interests of this class, notwithstanding a handful of crackdowns on "hoarders" that receive massive media coverage.

On the other hand, the Sharifs have to maintain the populist image that they have so meticulously cultivated. Many of their stands have been welcome, including their stated commitment to ensuring the completion of the PPP's term in office. But, while claiming to be in favour of substantive change, they are merely engaging in populist posturing.

In politics just about everything is kosher. But the joke of the atta handouts is one step too far. How many people are actually benefiting from this scheme? How many are genuinely deserve it? (It is clear that many enterprising types stand in lines, grab as many bags as possible and then sell them at profits to retailers who are happy to purchase them at a lower rate than what wholesalers offer.) The death of almost two dozen women and children in the Karachi atta stampede is the last straw.

As for the PPP, in the name of "conciliation and compromise" the ruling party has eliminated any trace of ideology in its politics. It has no meaningful response to the acute economic crisis that is currently unfolding and continues to take more loans from the IMF and thereby indebts more and more of our future generations. It is unable to address the widening gap between Balochistan and the rest of the country, while remaining hostage to the military strategy of combating jihadi militancy when in fact the fight must be fought in the political field.

Then there are the other opposition parties, among which the Jamaat-e-Islami deserves special mention. For all of its sloganeering, it has remained remarkably quiet over the food shortages in Ramazan. Frankly, even when it was organising public actions against inflation a few months ago, it was doing little more than sloganeering.

Political parties must be made to respond to genuine issues, rather than engage in banter about the intrigues that are constantly waged by the establishment. If everyone is clear that the military and its intelligence agencies should have no role to play in politics, then it is necessary to banish them from our public discourse and proceed to marginalise them by taking up meaningful policy debates--about food, defence budgets, land reform and the like.

The electronic media – and to a lesser extent the print media – must share in the blame. The fact that our TV show hosts go on about Brigadier Billa ad nauseam is surely not a case of the tail wagging the dog. I am sure the Pakistani public would appreciate more debates on substantive policy matters on television. And there is of course a need for deeper analysis: for example the food shortages and inflation are as much about international market conditions as they are about domestic profiteers and politics. When will all this happen? When will we collectively make democracy more than just a vague word and a handful of procedures? Surely "Ramazan packages" are not the best we can muster?

The writer is assistant professor of political economy at Quaid-e-Azam University. He is affiliated with the People's Rights Movement (PRM). Email:







The Special Committee on Constitutional Reform is currently deliberating on the nature of constitutional amendments to be introduced through the 18th Amendment. Achieving balance of power should be an important outcome of this exercise. In addition, however, the potential within constitutional changes to foster improvements in the public policy domain should also be explored. Within this context, this comment draws attention to the need for updating the Principles of Policy, articulated in part two, chapter two of the 1973 Constitution.

Principles are a set of values that guide action towards desired goals; these are distinct from laws, which can compel or forbid behaviours. Defining the right principles can inspire the desired culture in articulating norms in policy instruments. The Principles of Policy in the 1973 Constitution were articulated at a time when the world was a very different place. Although these are relevant even today, other considerations have also assumed importance. Pakistan has signed up to many global normative frameworks since then -- many of which have binding covenants. Many indigenous challenges warrant the inclusion of another generation of principles. The manner, in which governance ineffectiveness has been pervasive, creates an imperative for covenants to set the right parameters in order. The opportunity to address these gaps should not be missed while framing the 18th Amendment.

Chapter two stipulates 12 covenants as the Principles of Policy in Articles 29-40. These centre on the Islamic way of living; promotion of local government institutions; participation of women in national life; protection of the families and minorities; promotion of social justice and well being; eradication of social evils; discouraging prejudices; participation of people in armed forces, strengthening bonds with the Muslim world and international peace.

Some of these do not sound like principles -- they can at best be described as strategies. Additionally, there are eight missing principles of critical significance.

Evidence is one of the most critical values in the domain of policy formulation. Similarly, transparency in conduct and accountability for actions is another critical principle. It is accepted that the government's decisions are regularly challenged before the High Courts on the basis of absence of evidence and rationality and that detailed rules exist to guide judicial review of administrative decisions. Constitutional experts also draw attention to the fact that the requirement of evidence-based decision-making can be read into several other provisions of the Constitution such as articles four, five and 25, which are directly enforceable through inter alia article 199. Experts also state that the requirement of transparency in administrative decision-making has been established through judicial precedent and may also form part of article four and are enforceable through article 199. These explanations are accepted. Notwithstanding, absence of both the principles in the listing of the principles of policy is an omission. Framing these can signal an important intent, which is needed to move beyond the culture of adhocism.

Outcome orientation is another principle, which needs to be included. Policies, particularly in the social sectors have often supported 'outputs'. Investment in infrastructure -- hospitals and schools -- is an example. The impact of such policies on actual goals or outcomes, which in the given example relates to better health and improved literacy, respectively is usually not optimally achieved.

For a federating country, solidarity should be defined as a principle of policy to signal that policy actions, while respecting autonomy of the federating units will not undermine cohesion and camaraderie.

The difference between inequality and inequity should be brought to bear. The principles of policy refer to inequities only in the context of the employer vis-à-vis employee relationship in article 38(a). The state's commitment to addressing inequities of power, money, and resources should clearly be reflected as an overarching principle as this forms the basis of social justice, which is one of the three principles, enshrined in the Objectives Resolution. Technical and allocative efficiency, which are concerned with the "production of services at minimum cost" and "producing the right collection of outputs to achieve its overall goal", respectively, should additionally also be included as principles.

Framing the right principles to guide decentralisation/devolution is important. Presently, Article 32 and 37(i) relate to promotion of local government institutions and decentralisation respectively. Article 140(A) makes it binding on every province to devolve political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to elected representatives of the local government. Although, it is not within the remit of the principles of policy to outline specifics in this area, the importance of two overarching principles needs to be emphasised. One of them is subsidiarity, an organising principle, which means, "Matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest, or least centralised competent authority". The other centers on community empowerment. In addition to the proposed eight additions, it is recommended that existing principles be reframed in the following two areas.

The first relates to social justice and well-being. Articles 37(a), 37(b), 37(e) and 38(a-e), emphasise their importance. Article 38(c) and (d) reiterate the need to provide welfare for "those in the service of the country" and "those that are unable to earn their livelihood as a result of infirmity, sickness and unemployment", respectively. Over the last decade, social welfare has been increasingly recognised as being synonymous with poverty reduction and social protection, whereas it is a much broader concept and links with the issue of enforceable social rights. Experts state that the impact of article 25 read with article nine provides for enforceable fundamental rights. Although article nine in particular has been broadly interpreted in case law in this regard, there is lack of explicit clarity.

The second area relates to women's empowerment. Currently, article 34 relates to full participation of women in national life, whereas article 37(e) stipulates women's rights with respect to employment and maternity benefits. The world has moved significantly further along in this area since 1973 with women's empowerment and matters related to access, rights and opportunities, including reproductive rights as being central to gender mainstreaming. Pakistan has made progress by signing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and enacting the Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act, 2006.

In addition to these changes, a participatory mechanism is needed to periodically review the extent to which the principles of policy are adhered to in policy formulation and implementation. The recently tabled private member bill to add article 40(A) in order to enable the creation of a Council of Principles of Policy cannot provide this, given the usual public sector representation it calls for creating and the lack of a participatory approach. The Report on the Observance of the Principles -- a constitutional requirement and part of the rules of procedure and conduct of business in the National Assembly -- is in practice, treated as a mere formality. Faithful implementation of this requirement is important -- the constitution envisages debate by Parliament, which if implemented in spirit would be a participatory process.

The writer is the founder and president of Heartfile. Email:







The soles of Sharad Pawar's feet were cracked like the soil in barren fields. He sat cross-legged and drank khas sherbet. There weren't any files spread before him. He was doing no work, only shaking his legs in that nervous, frenzied manner of people in power who have to sit with others.

This was in the executive class on a private airline. It was before the Congress Party told its ministers they had to go on an austerity drive and travel economy. Pawar's reaction was that there was no space to do any work.

Why has there been such a black-and-white reaction to this move? Was it because two ministers started staying at luxury hotels while their government bungalows were being "done up"? S M Krishna and Shashi Tharoor claim they did not use the taxpayer's money; the latter in his now patented fashion is throwing the line of "I am paying the bills from my own savings after a lifetime of international work."

His little tweets have made him into a five-star martyr. In one he said he would definitely travel in cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows. Naturally, those who think life revolves around conveying their daily stories in small doses find it, and him, cute. The arrogance of this kind of Indian politician mirrors the same feudal mentality of which upstart urbanites accuse the country bumpkins.

The primary reason is that our society follows the "Dilli chalo" credo to sanctify the power of central leadership and fake cohesiveness. Our slogans have moved from "Jai jawaan, jai kisaan" to "Gharibi hatao" to "India Shining." While India was shining, farmers were committing suicides, as they are now. Getting ministers to give 20 per cent of their salaries for drought-affected regions is simplistic. The salaries of ministers are not known to be high. They earn more through perks – for fuel, phones, travel. There is also the larger issue of corruption. Granting of licences for large projects to certain firms is part of what keeps the political machinery lubricated.

The current move is not about hypocrisy but hyperbole. And who better fits the slot of abstinence than the father of the nation? Lalu Prasad Yadav said, "Mahatma Gandhi always preferred to travel in third-class compartments...and remained frugal throughout his life."

If there is anyone who made poverty look like a million bucks, then it was Gandhi-ji. The land of nabobs became the land of the half-naked fakir. The Birlas played host to him not because he drank goat's milk, but because he said, "India must protect her primary industries even as a mother protects her children against the whole world without being hostile to it."

This is the brand of selective socialism that is being replayed today, not the fashionable Nehruvian model which was about how to do a Lenin by wearing mink. It is corporatisation of spiritualism. Anyone with a begging bowl of empty dreams can head a start-up venture of couture abstemiousness.

The concern about rural India's suffering arises only when it affects the middle class and the rich. Food, a basic need, is in short supply. An India that is now being sold "Quaker Oats" by an organisation of heart cure is willing to exaggerate its misery. Where are our irrigation plants? What happens to the families of farmers? How many people are moving to other towns and cities? Have these aspects been considered? Sonia Gandhi taker a flight with the plebs. As a symbol it might work, but only for a limited audience.

Once the flight touches ground, there will be a fleet of security vehicles. The person in the street does not care. It will, however, result in more corruption. The corporate sector that has thrived due to political munificence will be happy to help. They will not go quietly and do something in the villages where they have set up factories; they already think they have done the country a huge favour by providing employment opportunities. Labour is cheap. Instead, they will provide facilities to ministers, and since many of their kind have got into the fray it will be easy. They talk the same language and suffer from the same gilt-edged greed.

Does anyone talk about austerity for them when they are in fact sponging on shareholders' money? Was there any talk about austerity when villagers were driven out of the leftist state to facilitate factories to produce a low-cost car for the city dweller – a car that would clearly point out the difference between the rich and the ones who would never get there?

We condescendingly let Lalu, our rustic politician, join the cavalcade of management geeks to give lectures at Harvard and Wharton. The gallery applauds as they do when they watch a comic act or an acrobat. He senses that. Years of having been marginalised have taught him lessons in hypocrisy, stereotypes, and expectations. He plays their game. He too starts quoting Gandhi even as he made money from kickbacks got from cow food. How much more hick town can anyone get?

Sleepy Communism has joined ranks, clinking glasses of Old Monk and belting out the angst of foreign rebellion in the voices of Ginsberg and Che, driving kitsch up the Warhol wall. Poor India has today become a parody of its own poverty.

The writer is a Mumbai-based columnist and author of A Journey Interrupted: Being Indian in Pakistan. Email: kaaghaz.







President Zardari admitted in a chat with journalists earlier this week that General Musharraf had been granted a safe exit from Pakistan under a deal underwritten by local, regional and international guarantors. The general reaction of our political elite as well as the media has been that Zardari merely acknowledged what everyone already understood. The PML-N has however elected to move a privilege motion in the National Assembly seeking complete disclosure of the Musharraf amnesty deal. In response, Farhatullah Babar, the otherwise honourable presidential spokesman, has elected to deny the initial disclosure altogether and claimed that President Zardari's comments were distorted and misrepresented by the media.

As a lawyer, one is shocked at the lack of national outrage over the audacity of our head of state to casually acknowledge willing abdication of national sovereignty as well as his personal pledge to protect and uphold the Constitution upon the prodding of local and foreign masters. As a citizen, one is confronted with a paradox, however. President Zardari's statement is encouraging on the one hand, for it is a factual public disclosure that would enable this nation to understand the reality and context of Musharraf's exit. On the other hand, revelation of such ugly truth exposes the level of our depravity as a state, where the wide chasm between the principles of our fundamental law and their actual implementation is simply explained away as "ground reality," and the highest official of the state has no qualms in admitting that his allegiance to the Constitution is qualified by his fidelity to secret deals guaranteed by the Americans, Arabs and our own khakis.

Let us start with Farhatullah Babar's denial. Here is another manifestation of the mindset infested by the wasn't-me syndrome (best articulated by Shaggy's song) that simply believes in blanket refutation of any fact that is indefensible. Pursuant to this mindset, even if you are caught red-handed with your pants down, you simply come out vociferously denying that it was you and blame it on a conspiratorial design being hatched by evil forces to malign your noble character. We saw this in the case of Shumaila Rana – the PML-N legislator of credit-card-fraud fame – who simply denied that it was her using a stolen card, despite being caught on tape. More recently, we were subjected to the Meera scandal, where she also dismissed obvious facts without any credible explanation. Is dealing in lies a necessary affliction that comes along with the pernicious hypocrisy that we have grown comfortable with as a society?

What our politicos are failing to realise is that in the new Pakistan being shaped up by the values that fuelled the rule of movement, there is no appetite left for the brazen half-truths that elites have been traditionally dealing in. Once a piece of information is public, denying it is not the end of the matter. This nation, frustrated by the manner in which it has been molested over decades, is electing to subject its leaders to a higher standard of accountability. With the media and the judiciary willing to function as independent institutions committed to promoting public disclosure and accountability, the wasn't-me syndrome will not work anymore. It might no longer be possible to coerce the judiciary, intimidate the media and censor facts, or simply refute credible information and expect an unsuspecting public to play along.

Our elites will need to adjust to the new Pakistan where garbage-in/garbage-out (i.e., the computer science concept that quality of output is determined by the quality of input) is no longer an acceptable form of politics. This Pakistan is not as unforgiving as some believe, nor as gullible as it is made out to be. It is a country pregnant with the urge to move forward, but not in a mode of denial that refuses to acknowledge the murky past and the pernicious habits that have held it down for 62 years. And the first step in getting out of the vicious trap is to dismantle the "garbage-in" part of the cycle. If we vest our hope in the continuity of the political process as a self-remedying mechanism that would cleanse our political system, strengthen democratic norms and nurture able and inspiring leadership eventually bolstering accountability, rule of law and constitutionalism, we must ensure that the choices people make as this process runs along are based on complete disclosure of facts.

The Zardari disclosure has created public space to have a national discourse that we can no longer eschew. In a land where conspiracy theories abound, we often given more credit to our foreign masters for controlling our fate and our actions than they deserve. But legends, when continuously repeated, come close to resembling the reality. And the perceived reality of our uncontrollable subservience to foreign masters in turn influences the manner in which our elites behave towards them. These painful episodes where our national elites submit to foreign masters – be they Americans or Arabs – hurt our national pride and dignity. And our instinctive response is to demonise the foreigners being offered unconditional allegiance under a skewed agency theory: we as a people are not autonomous enough to make our own decisions and consequently not responsible for them either.

What about questioning and chastising the elites who readily relinquish our sovereignty as a nation in return for securing guarantees for their self-serving interests? We are aware that there was an agreement between General Musharraf and the Saudi government that resulted in Nawaz Sharif being offered a pardon and exiled in return for staying away from politics for a certain number of years. We also know that Benazir Bhutto struck a deal with General Musharraf, guaranteed by the Americans, Brits, Arabs and the khakis, which allowed the PPP leadership to return to Pakistan and lead to the promulgation of the NRO. Now we are told that Musharraf cannot be touched for contravening our Constitution because he has negotiated a deal, guaranteed by local (khakis?), regional (Arabs?) and international (US/UK?) actors, that offers him amnesty and the right to play golf!

BB remained reticent about her deal with General Musharraf. Likewise, we still await a candid disclosure of the terms of the agreement that led to the pardon and exile of Nawaz Sharif in 2000. These are not personal arrangements that our mainstream political leaders have a right to keep confidential. Nawaz Sharif's deal with the Saudis to save his life in circumstances when he was being held hostage by a military dictator might be qualitatively different from BB's deal with the devil to come back into power. But this remains for the people to judge for themselves once they are privy to all relevant facts. The nation has a right to know the details as a political matter for it affects our present. For example, if Mr Sharif believes that he owes his life to the Saudis and is consequently unable to push for Musharraf's trial due to his cultural morality that advises against it – given that the Saudis are now Musharraf's guarantors – he needs to come clean and deal with the political consequences in due course.

The legal position is unambiguous. President Zardari and the PPP government have no authority to allow the exercise of their constitutional powers to be influenced by an agreement with local or foreign guarantors that is against our public policy and the Constitution. But the more pressing question for the moment is whether as a nation we will collectively refuse to accept the barter of our sovereignty to foreign masters in return for personal guarantees offered by them to our ruling elites, or if we will simply let this damning disclosure mark another nosedive in our standards of public morality and rule of law.









Before I shout that Islamabad's establishment has fire-walled information critical to get FOP and SIP and whatever else going for Pakistan, here's something that should tickle us all. This gem should get you to smile. By now the little-known Congressman from South Carolina Joe Wilson is a world-famous beamer who told President Obama before a full House and packed VIP galleries "You lie!" Wilson is the first co-chair of US-India Political Affairs Committee founded in 2002 and the star of Indian Diaspora. Now isn't that interesting? I am sure Indians would hate to own this guy considering that every civilised American today is calling for the Congressman's head. But 'potty mouth' Wilson has made Barack lose his bonhomie that was the president's endearing hallmark. Obama now appears unsmiling, cold, and distant.

Now to my grouse with the establishment, i.e. the President's House, GHQ, the ISI, the Foreign Office and its spokesman. It's done a lousy job at briefing the national media on the seismic changes taking place in Washington aimed at destabilising FOP (Friends of Pakistan) and SIP (Strategic Institution Plan) by FOI (Friends of India). Meanwhile Admiral Mike Mullen proves to be a better Pakistan protagonist than our own establishment. He's our best defence on the Hill. What about our man on the hill in Islamabad? How does he plan defending Pakistan when he arrives here next week? What deal will Zardari sign before Obama and Gordon Brown? Does anyone know?

There are a million and one questions that should concern every patriotic Pakistani. FOP so far has been a flop. This has given FOI an opportunity to see Pakistan grovel for every cent. The influential Caucus on India comprising 152 members of Congress has been mighty busy lobbying against Pakistan getting the $1.5 billion annual aid awaiting approval from the senate.

Meanwhile, the thinktanks in America are actively opposing aid to Pakistan sans checks. Vociferous voices and screaming headlines are warning Obama to put tight controls so that the Pakistan army and the Zardari government don't 'steal' the aid dollars as they allege is happening. To make matters worse, Musharraf has arrived with his extra baggage in America to boast how he diverted the US funds to arm Pakistan against Indian aggression.

We need to hear from General Kayani, General Pasha and General Athar Abbas. The vow of silence needs to be broken in a bid to clear the air turning murkier as the SIP and FOB September 24 deadline arrives. Why not take the media into confidence regarding the close relationship our military enjoys with the Pentagon? Did you know that the amount doled out as military aid to Pakistan after 9/11 was never disclosed by the Pentagon? Why? Nobody has bothered to ask this question. While all kinds of defence and security forums; think tanks and lobbyists bandy about figures in dollars that our army 'misused,' the Pentagon is silent. To find the answer, keep following Admiral Mike Mullen's fulsome praise for General Kayani and his positive testimony before Congress. Statements from Mullen -- the highest officer in the US military -- go much beyond his cups of tea with our army chief.

Media in Pakistan is presently seized with domestic issues – Musharraf-bashing and politico gibberish. Bypassed are power games at play in Washington by our press. A lot is at stake for Pakistan. Let's learn from the Indian press. At moments like this, journalists bond with their establishment in the interest of India.

Tear down the wall (between the establishment and the media as President Reagan said about Berlin Wall).

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THERE are all indications that the sugar crisis is going to persist in the country for the foreseeable future adding to the miseries of the consumers. The Federal Government and the provinces of Punjab and Sindh joined their heads in Islamabad on Thursday in the backdrop of the interim decision of the Supreme Court asking the millers and the administration to ensure availability of sugar at Rs 40 a kilogram but the meeting apparently ended on a disappointing note sending depressing signals to the masses.

The decision of the meeting to side with millers and go for an appeal against interim verdict of the apex court is testimony to the fact that those at the helm of affairs are either not willing to confront the powerful sugar mafia or lack the vision to find ways and means to resolve the crisis other than confronting the court on the issue. The reports appearing in the media and statement by experts clearly point towards the role of some elements and circles in engineering the crisis. While millers and some quarters blame the Government for criminal and wilful negligence on the issue of timely import of sugar to keep the domestic prices under check, there are others who saw hoarding and profiteering tactics by millers as the real causes behind the unprecedented rise in the prices of the commodity. There is also strong impression that no meaningful action is being initiated by the Provincial and Federal Governments only because mills are owned by powerful lobbies on both sides of the political divide. Under these circumstances, consumers, who have been forced to face humiliation in obtaining basic and essential commodities like atta and sugar, would not easily digest explanations by the stakeholders and the issue would become one of the major scandals to haunt all concerned. Therefore, there is every reason for an independent and neutral probe into the circumstances that led to the present sorry state of affairs. The Supreme Court has already asked the State Bank of Pakistan, NAB and other Ministries concerned to submit reports on different aspects of the issue, which would help the court determine the causes of the crisis and the way out. Though we support the logic that it is an administrative matter yet intervention of the judiciary is justified when the administration fails to deliver or is unwilling to act in a judicious manner. There is, however, no justification to take away mills from the millers as has been demanded by a petitioner in his petition to the Supreme Court. We cannot afford to take retrogressive actions of 70s that played havoc with industrial and economic growth of the country. But there is definite need to streamline mechanisms to ensure that the consumers are not fleeced by profit-hungry mafias of different sorts.







THERE was yet another shocking incident of poverty-related suicides and that too in the midst of Lahore metropolis. A frustrated young man first killed his child and wife and then turned his gun towards himself to get rid of poverty once for all.

In no way such incidents can be condoned, as every individual especially youth are supposed to wage a struggle and fight out vagaries of life. Islam too has forbidden suicide and instead urged the human being to face realities with courage and determination. In fact, the Holy Qur’an emphasizes that the man cannot get but what he strives for. However, such incidents, which are rising with the passage of time mirror overall state of the society and call for concerted efforts by the civil society and the Government to help mitigate sufferings of the people in distress. It is all the more regrettable if such incidents take place in Ramazan and on the eve of Eidul Fitr. All this is happening because there are scant opportunities for citizens to earn an honourable livelihood and even highly qualified youth are running from pillar to post and searching for ‘Sifarish’ to get a job. No doubt, the present Government boasts of launching several schemes aimed at poverty alleviation including Benazir Income Support Programme and the latest initiative of “Waseela-e-Haq” but one wonders why their impact is not visible. And why really deserving people like the young man of Lahore are still left out despite passage of one year of BISP and several other schemes like Food Stamp and Zakat and Ushr. It is time to review all these schemes and remove their flaws so that the benefits reach to the genuine and not politically influential people.








PML (N) has made its intention known to raise during the forthcoming session of the National Assembly the issue of alleged activities of the infamous American company Blackwater in Pakistan. Leader of the Opposition Ch Nisar Ali has said that they would ask the Government to come clean on the issue and what steps it was taking to safeguard the national interests.

It would be good of the PML (N) to bring an issue, which is agitating the minds of people of Pakistan for the last several weeks, to the floor of the House. Of course, the Foreign Office and other spokesmen of the Government including Interior Minister have contradicted reports about presence of the Blackwater, which is known for playing havoc wherever it operates, in Pakistan but the reports are not subsiding. The denials of the Government are not as strong as the reports about its presence and, therefore, there is a dire need to analyse the issue in details. This is because reports about its presence have raised alarm bells among people as target killings on top of the agenda of the American agency and that is what it did in Iraq in the recent past. Despite denials of the officials, some experts insist that Black water is already in the country and has made Peshawar its headquarters. They also claim that two floors of a five star hotel of the city have already been secured to house its agents and negotiations are in progress to acquire the entire hotel. It has also been reported that the earlier blast in the said hotel was related to the activities of these agents. In fact, covert American activities in the country are on the rise and recent statement of the US ambassador that they have acquired 200 houses in Islamabad and are expanding the embassy infrastructure, significantly corroborate this impression. We, therefore, hope that the ensuing debate in the National Assembly would not be mere rhetoric of question-answers but urge the worthy parliamentarians to come fully prepared with facts and figures to make it meaningful and result-oriented.







In the words of Henry Kissinger, America is dangerous for its friends and foes alike. Keeping with this tradition, America became ‘non-aligned’ and even stopped economic and military aid to Pakistan – intertwined in military pacts with the West and bilateral agreement with the US. It is because of ditching its friends and allies that America today stands alienated and even hated in many countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. At the present Pakistan is an ally in war on terror, and there is common perception that America cannot win this war without Pakistan’s support but its attitude towards Pakistan is not at all commendable. America in fact is losing its economic and military strength, and it is in this backdrop that Iran is not willing to budge an inch from its right to enrich uranium, and Israel rejects American demand to stop construction of Jewish settlements. US army in Afghanistan is virtually not doing anything, and the interesting part is that sole super power has to give contracts for its army’s support and security.

Knowing full well that Pakistan is capable of dealing with terrorists, the US has brought in notorious Blackwater newly christened Xe LLC. America should stop outsourcing security so far as Pakistan is concerned otherwise the relations between Pakistan and the US may become strained. Reports abound that Xe LLC has recruited Pushtans from Peshawar and other areas of NWFP and is now busy recruiting Punjabi and Urdu speaking persons for the reasons unknown to the nation or even the ruling elite. When in first week of July 2009, local English daily carried a report that the American diplomats in Islamabad keep roaming free on the city roads armed with guns and revolvers in the cars with fake number plates. But it was brushed aside by the Minister for Interior Rehman Malik saying that there was no cause of alarm.

The report said that in many cases they were caught by the capital’s police but were let off for diplomatic immunity. Earlier in February 2009, a Pakistan TV channel had aired a report which began with the statement that Interior ministry issued a notification to all provinces and police and intelligence agencies to keep an eye on the suspect activities of Blackwater’s personnel ( now Xe LLC) in Pakistan. This meant that the government and the interior ministry had the knowledge about the activities of Blackwater’s mercenary army, as diplomats would not carry guns. Their presence near sensitive installations of Pakistan like FIA building, sub-headquarter at Ghazi near Tarbela Dam, Sihala near Kahuta and other such places is a cause for concern. There are many questions in the minds of people of Pakistan. First of all, who has allowed the US to hire private contractors under the guise of protecting the US embassy staff?

Secondly, what right they have to leave Islamabad and visit Peshawar and some places in FATA without seeking permission from the government? Finally, what is it that has hamstrung authorities from putting curbs on the delinquent diplomats or private contractor’s employees and letting them flout the diplomatic norms and protocols with impunity? If the US embassy staff has security concerns, they should ask the government, as it is the responsibility of government to protect the diplomats in Pakistan. And it has no right to ‘outsource’ the security to private contractor or any other country because private contractor Xe has in its staff retired army personnel from other countries in addition to US citizens.

Since June 2009 there were rumours that US has hired the services of former Blackwater Worldwide with its new name Xe Services LLC apparently for the security of its diplomats in Pakistan, but there seems to be a lot more than what meets the eye. Looking at the role of the Blackwater mercenary army in Iraq and Afghanistan, one is inclined to conclude that the US has some ulterior motives in hiring their services in Pakistan. After the US bought scores of acres land in Islamabad, there is a perception that the US will construct a base to monitor Pakistan’s nuclear assets and also keep vigil over other neighbouring countries. US ambassador Anne Patterson however refuted such accusations that more than one thousand marines would be based in Islamabad, and said that there would be only 15 marines to 20 marines to protect the Embassy and its staff. But why all of a sudden, the US is moving with such a fast pace? Meanwhile, Chinese ambassador in Pakistan has expressed concerns over extension of US embassy and other activities of diplomatic personnel and induction of mysterious characters ie Xe personnel.

In November 2008, the US State Department found that hundreds of automatic weapons meant for this organization ended up on country’s black market. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki refused to accept the mercenary army of the Xe, and its members were reportedly sent to Pakistan. After having been exposed, Black water announced on February 13, 2009, that it would operate under the new name “Xe”. A spokesman for the company stated that it feels the Blackwater name is too closely associated with the company’s work in Iraq. It has to be understood that changing the name will not change the character of the organization, when it has the same top management team and job description for its employees. Pakistan government should tell the US in unequivocal terms that it would not accept the controversial mercenary army in Pakistan.

It is unfortunate that despite vows to help Pakistan fight terrorism, the US takes certain actions that create doubts in the minds of Pakistanis. On Thursday, a local English daily carried news that the US had sent a team to Pakistan to review the reimbursement system under Coalition Support Funds. In a written reply to Senate Armed Services Committee, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Admiral Mike Mullen said the team was sent to review the Coalition Support Funds, which provided reimbursement to Pakistan for expense incurred while conducting operations in the anti-terror war. Coalition Support Funds, he said, are a key element towards meeting US objectives in the Pak-Afghan strategy. “We continue to work with the Pakistan military to improve CSF processes, and ensure appropriate accountability and transparency for CSF,” he added.

But the US is procrastinating on reimbursement of expenses Pakistan incurs in connection with war on terror vis-à-vis logistics - fuel, food, material and other items for 100000 Pakistani troops deployed on Pak-Afghan border. US ambassador Anne Paterson said the other day that the US has given $3 billion to the government during the last 12 months, which has been refuted by the finance minister Shaukat Tarin. According to him the US has not given less than $1 billion. In fact, the US has held up payment of $1.6 billion being reimbursement against payments made during the last 14 months. Obama administration should realize that the US is spending hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan, whereas it reminds Pakistan day in and day out that the US has increased its aid three-fold though Kerry-Lugar bill has yet to be passed and implemented. The US should review its policy towards Pakistan, and if it cannot afford to continue war on terror then it should plan an exit strategy from Afghanistan.







A months-long White House review of a pair of US ballistic missile defense (BMD) installations slated for Poland and the Czech Republic is nearing completion. The review is expected to present a number of options ranging from pushing forward with the installations as planned to canceling them outright. The Obama administration has yet to decide what course to follow. Rumors are running wild in Poland and the Czech Republic that the US has reconsidered its plan to place ballistic defense systems in their countries. The rumors stem from a top US BMD lobbying group that said this two weeks earlier that the US plan was all but dead. The ultimate US decision on BMD depends upon both the upcoming summit of the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany on the Iranian nuclear program and Russia’s response to those talks.

If Russia does not cooperate in sanctions, but instead continues to maintain close relations with Iran, it is suspected that the BMD plan will remain intact. Either way, the BMD issue offers a good opportunity to re-examine US and Western relations with Russia and how they have evolved. There has been a recurring theme in the discussions between Russia and the West over the past year, the return of the Cold War. US President Obama, for example, accused Russian PM Vladimir Putin of having one foot in the Cold War. The Russians have in turn accused the Americans of thinking in terms of the Cold War. Eastern Europeans have expressed fears that the Russians continue to view their relationship with Europe in terms of the Cold War. Other Europeans have expressed concern that both Americans and Russians might drag Europe into another Cold War. For many in the West, the more mature and stable Western-Russian relationship is what they call the “Post-Cold War world.” In this world, the Russians no longer regard the West as an enemy and view the other republics of the former Soviet Union as independent states free to forge whatever relations they wish with the West. Russia instead should be concentrating on economic development while integrating lessons learned from the West into its political and social thinking. All other thinking is a throwback to the Cold War. This was the thinking behind the idea of resetting US-Russian relations. Hillary Clinton’s “reset” button was meant to move US-Russian relations away from what US thought of as a return to the Cold War from its preferred period, which existed between 1991 and the deterioration of US-Russian relations after Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution. The US was in a bimodal condition, when it came to Russian relations, either it was the Cold War or it was post-Cold War.

The Russians took a more jaundiced view of the post-Cold War world. For Moscow, rather than a period of reform, the post-Cold War period was one of decay and chaos. Old institutions had collapsed but new institutions had not emerged. Instead, there was the chaos of privatization, essentially a wild free-for-all during which social order collapsed. Western institutions, including everything from banks to universities, were complicit in this collapse. Western banks were eager to take advantage of the new pools of privately expropriated money, while Western advisers were eager to advise the Russians on how to become Westerners. In the meantime, workers went unpaid, life expectancy and birth rates declined, and the basic institutions that had provided order under communism decayed or worse, became complicit in the looting. The post-Cold War world was not a happy time in Russia: It was a catastrophic period for Russian power. As mentioned, the West thinks in term of two eras, the Cold War and the Post-Cold War era. These two generations clash constantly. Interestingly, the distinction is not so much ideological as generational. The older group looks at Russian behavior with a more skeptical eye, assuming that Putin, a KGB man, has in mind the resurrection of Soviet power. The post-Cold War generation that controlled US-Russian policy during the Clinton and Bush administrations is more exciting. During both administrations, this generation believed in the idea that economic liberalization and political liberalization were inextricably bound together.

The US and other Westerners’ understanding of Russia is trapped in a nonproductive paradigm. For Russia, the choice isn’t between the Cold War or the Post-Cold War world. This dichotomy denies the possibility of, if you will, a post-post-Cold War world or to get away from excessive posts, a world in which Russia is a major regional power, with a stable if troubled economy, functional society and regional interests it must protect. Russia cannot go back to the Cold War, which consisted of three parts. First, there was the nuclear relationship. Second, there was the Soviet military threat to both Europe and the Far East; the ability to deploy large military formations throughout the Eurasian landmass. And third, there were the wars of national liberation funded and guided by the Soviets, and designed to create powers allied with the Soviets on a global scale and to sap US power in endless counterinsurgencies. Russia’s military could re-evolve to pose a Eurasian threat; as we have pointed out before, in Russia, the status of the economy does not historically correlate to Russian military power. At the same time, it would take a generation of development to threaten the domination of the European peninsula and Russia today has far fewer people and resources than the whole of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact that it rallied to that effort. Finally, while Russia could certainly fund insurgencies, the ideological power of Marxism is gone, and in any case Russia is not a Marxist state. The Russians simply do not intend to return to the Post-Cold War era Western experts recall so fondly.

The resurrection of talks on the reduction of nuclear stockpiles provides an example of the post-Cold generation’s misjudgment in its response to Russia. These START talks once were urgent matters. They are not urgent any longer. The threat of nuclear war is not part of the current equation. Some have suggested using these talks as a confidence-building measure. But from the Russian point of view, START is a peripheral issue, and Washington’s focus on it is an indication that the US is not prepared to take Russia’s current pressing interests seriously. The Russian view is that neither the Cold War nor the post-Cold War is the proper paradigm. Russia is not challenging the US for global hegemony. But neither is Russia prepared simply to allow the West to create an alliance of nations around Russia’s border. Russia is the dominant power in the Former Soviet Union. Its economic strategy is to focus on the development and export of primary commodities, from natural gas to grain.

This is not an argument for the West to accommodate the Russians; there are grave risks for the West there. Russian intentions right now do not forecast what Russian intentions might be were Moscow secure in the Former Soviet Union and had it neutralized Poland. At the same time, it is vital to understand that neither the Cold War model nor the post-Cold War model is sufficient to understand Russian intentions and responses right now. The issues now revolve around Russia’s desire for a sphere of influence, and the willingness and ability of the West to block that ambition. Somewhere between BMD in Poland and the threat posed by Iran, the West must make a strategic decision about Russia, and live with the consequences.







The personality of Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh invariably comes across as that of a gentle, soft-spoken and equable gentleman. In fact, one could even go so far as to aver that he projects a demeanor that would hardly be ruffled in the midst of an earthquake of high intensity on the Richter scale. Yet his statements at times leave one a trifle baffled. For instance, when one starts getting the feeling that the good doctor is making use of the weapon of rhetoric to score debating points and that too at a rather critical juncture in the India-Pakistan peace process. Take his latest dithering on the matter of resumption of the so-called composite dialogue process. Or, then, shall one be so bold as to refer to his bizarre statement that many more ‘Mumbai-type terrorist attacks’ were being planned in Pakistan. Sometimes it appears that the good doctor has bowed before the machinations of the establishment lobby or then perhaps he has taken a conscious decision to play to the Western lobby totally ignoring the ‘ground realities’ back home.

Quite some time back he had made a statesman like observation about ‘letting bygones be bygones’. Speaking in the Indian parliament, Dr. Manmohan Singh was reported to have offered to meet Pakistan’s new leaders ‘halfway’ inviting them to ‘put the past behind them’ and to build a new relationship based on cooperation and enduring peace. It all sounded very nice and smooth, did it not? All except that one could detect a distinct element of déjà vu in the whole affair. With all due respect, haven’t we heard all that before and aren’t we hearing it once too often. This said, one must also record that statements emanating from this side are also nothing to write home about. It is not as if the two leaderships were arguing to decide to launch the peace process de novo. As we all know, a composite dialogue of sorts has been in the works since 2004. And what is more, the aforesaid dialogue is by no means the first one off the griddle. Several efforts at jumpstarting the peace wagon have been witnessed over the past decades. It is just that, despite the affable rhetoric, what is conspicuously missing in the whole wretched process is the elusive political will, without which no peace wagon can ever move out of the proverbial ‘square one’.

And now one finds that the good doctor has come up with concepts that defy definition. Not that there is a problem per se with the unexceptionable concept in re bygones – presuming that it has since not died a natural death. Let us face it, where can one possibly stow away bygones. The best way to deal with them would undoubtedly be to let them be. Let bygones be bygones, as has been said. Be that as it may, there remains one little snag that would need to be sorted out whether one likes it or not. And that snag relates to the precise subject of interpretation. How does one go about defining ‘bygones are bygones’, for instance? Does this mean that what is past is past and cannot be wished back? How does this relate then to, say, the Jammu and Kashmir dispute? Are we being invited to consign this dispute to the dustbin of history?

A good five years have passed since the latest round of the composite peace dialogue raised its wretched head. And yet the bilateral relationship is as it was - if not more tense. Not one of the contentious issues has moved so much as an inch towards a positive denouement. We have yet to see even one measly rabbit emerging out of the much-vaunted bilateral hat. Nevertheless, one would hate to be facetious. The need to think about our collective destiny, our collective security, our collective prosperity is one imperative that would be recognized by most Pakistanis. One just hopes and prays that our interpretation of this sentiment would coincide with what our friends across the border have in mind!

By the by, the Pakistan Foreign Office as always welcomes any positive statement emanating from across the border. One can only qualify this by adding the trust that the official optimism is not misplaced. The peace process between the two countries has been going on for far too long without any signs of a positive outcome. One would hate to go over the why and wherefore of the whole rigmarole. Suffice it to remark that whichever institution is responsible for delaying a positive denouement is not doing the region in general and the peoples of the two neighbours in particular any good. There is no shortage of right-thinking people on either side. One has had personal involvement in India-Pakistan negotiations ever since one had the privilege to be a member of the Pakistan delegation to the Simla Conference of June/July 1972. One recalls the words of Mr. P. N. Haksar, advisor to Indian Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi and the leader of the Indian Ministerial level team at Simla. Mr. Haksar had then remarked, “Pakistan and India share the same economic woes in this competitive world. If only they would stop bickering and develop a modicum of cooperation in international economic forums, the two countries could go places”. One quotes this without comment. The establishments on the two sides owe it to their respective peoples - and above all to the coming generations - to work towards equitable and lasting solutions of all outstanding issues between the two countries. It is then and only then that an atmosphere of peace, security and amity could be ushered into the region. Without this, the two countries will continue to grope in the dark. Let us face it; no amount of gamesmanship or, indeed, the exercise of leaning on imported crutches is going to help either country. The world has moved ahead at a pace that is dizzying, particularly for relaxed and cultured folk of this region. There is just no alternative to regional cooperation and moving forward hand in hand.

There is a lobby in India that believes that since India is the biggest country in the region, it does not need to show flexibility, since that they feel would be a sign of weakness unworthy of a big power. This is a self-defeating philosophy that would not pay in the long run. One hopes that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would exhibit the foresight of Mr. P. N. Haksar. His undoubted pragmatism, one sincerely hopes, would lead to burying of the brittle and inflexible attitudes on both sides for all times to come. The peoples of South Asia have suffered a lot over the past several decades.







Frankly, today one cannot boldly say Pakistan is an Islamic nation other countries to emulate. Not because it aids the occupation terrorist forces with locations info to shoot their drones and shields the illegal genocides of Muslims and constructs churches for them to report back after murders and relax for while before resuming the terror attacks. More importantly, Pakistan, their core media controlled by the pro-US intelligence seem to insist on killing more Pakistanis so that they can enjoy the resources with less people around. Along with capability to defend the nation and people, Pakistanis have lost their thinking capacity as well; they can’t imagine if the Muslim nations could invade western nations on some fictitious pretexts – now they have valid reasons for that- and kill the Christian and Jews.

Reports suggest many Pakistani Muslims by using the ongoing GST terror wars take revenge on fellow Muslims to settle some old scores. Both the politicians and media hawks try hard to prove that Pakistan has more terrorists than non-terrorists and those being killed are indeed the terrorists and USA and European terror states are only helping Islamabad to get rid of Islamic terrorists. Today, Pakistan’s state terror records have equated them with those of India, USA, Israel and other anti-Islamic powers. Pakistan’s fate is the outcome of an ill-focused terror India, but Pakistan still has the option not to support the genocides of Muslims. Even during the holy Ramadan Islamabad is doing the pimp’s job of assassins. Worst, then, those who support Pakistanis killing of Muslims by traps also directly support the Hindu terrorism in Kashmir, Israeli holocausts in Palestine and Western fascism in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also will then have to sympathise with Israel or USA if they invade Iran and kill Muslims there. Pakistanis and other Muslims might get paid for their services. While Hindus, Christians and Jews are sworn killers of Muslims, Pakistanis killing them would earn the wrath of heaven, if they really believe in Islam.

When in 1947 Pakistan approached the American leaders for a reliable shield against a growing threat from a fanatic Hindu India, the leaders then had not expected that one day in 2009 Pakistani leaders who, by then would have become self-centred and wealth mongering Muslims, to kill Muslims in their vicinities on usual payment basis from Washington by just calling them terrorists. Founder Jinnah, whom even many Hindus now begin to admire against collective Indian fake wisdom, would have washed his hands off if he were to know in advance what the modern and foreign returned Islamic Pakistani leaders would do in Islamabad in 50 years or so down the line. Similarly, no one had expected in 1947 that Pakistani leaders would collect money from the USA and Europe as fees for killing Muslims inside Pakistan. No one then thought the Pakistani media highly influenced by the western anti-Islamic media hawkish reports and analyses would defend NATO terrorism in Pakistan and call for the killing of Pakistanis as born terrorists. Indians are lucky to enjoy the reversals that Pakistan has received in its American partnerships and join the NATO to kill Muslims in AfPak. One writer in India commented that Pakistani leaders get only as much as they serve the Americans. There won’t be smoke without fire, it is said.

USA and Europe exploits the weakness of Pakistan ill-treated by Hindu India, to their own advantages. Since the relations between the world only super power and a third world nation Pakistan cannot operate on any healthy one-to-one footing, obviously, Pakistan sub-serve the American bosses at the cost of Islamic Sharia’, as they are sure Americans would become Muslims very soon. USA and Europe think their prerogative to demand more and more genocides of Muslims. NATO led terrorism in Afghanistan has converted a sovereign Pakistan into a puppet state that takes dictates form Washington and they demand services on payment basis. Pakistani leadership and media have completely ruined the backbone of Islamabad by preferring to be the US underdogs and Americans therefore shamelessly demand Pakistanis to “do more”. The western and Indo-Pak media gangs have created a sustained illusion that Pakistan survives thanks only to USA and that Pakistanis are incapable of any thing worthwhile. As this collective mischief on Pakistanis is on, the US secretary Hillary has admitted the fact after 30 years it is necessary that the US should compensate Pakistan for the loss it has suffered because of the US policy. The most damning effect of the policy of becoming an adjunct state of the US and serve its international problems is surrendering Pakistan’s internal and external priorities, resulting in the non-functional civilian leadership. In the present situation every Pakistani is right to question that is the present US policy towards Pakistan is right?

USA conveniently uses Pakistan and throws it once the job is done. Mrs. Clinton has now also acknowledged that the US had not been consistent in its dealings with Pakistan and US policy towards Pakistan over the last 30 years has been incoherent. Regarding the joint terror military operation, Hillary said the US was working with Pakistan to disrupt the route for supplying weapons to the Taliban, but does not admit they are ensuring the energy routes.

She talks about the advance of extremism as being a threat to US security. She recalled that in the 1980s, the US partnered with Pakistan to help train the Mujahideen and their security service and the military were encouraged to go after the Soviets in Afghanistan and when they withdrew in 1989, ‘we said thank you very much’. There ended one phase of the US “concerns” for Pakistan. Terror India moved first slowly and then swiftly, though cautiously, to clinch heavily paid nuclearism deal along with several other secret understandings, yet to be revealed, with Bushdom rogues.







He was the colony bully: A tough fellow, who used swear words like others their good mornings and goodbyes. I had to go down and face him as he had attacked my supervisor and even the watchman. “Lord,” I prayed, “Walk with me!”

I went down and looked him in the eye, talked gently to him, and it seemed the bully in him disappeared; a new meek fellow listened. I walked back home and grinned to a God above, “Thank you for walking with me Lord!” Her name was Carol, and she was eighteen. She was on a one- week cruise of the Hawaiian Islands. It was a wonderful cruise with friendly people on board, but for days the others on the cruise had watched as Carol walked around with a limp and knew she had on an artificial left leg.

Today was the last day of the cruise and a talent night when all the passengers participated in a contest. It was finally Carol’s turn. She came on stage wearing neither shorts nor Hawaiian garb, but a full length dress. She looked beautiful.

She walked up to the microphone and said, “I really don’t know what my talent is, but I thought this would be a good chance for me to give what I think I owe you all, and this is an explanation. I know you’ve been looking at me all week and wondering about my fake leg. I thought I should tell you what happened. I was in a motorcycle accident. I almost died, but they kept giving me blood and my pulse came back.”

“They amputated my leg below my knee and later they amputated through the knee. I spent seven months in the hospital – seven months with intravenous antibiotics to fight infection.”

She paused a moment and then continued, “If there’s one thing that happened to me at that time is that my faith became very real to me.”

Suddenly a hush swept over the ship. The waitresses stopped serving drinks. The glasses stopped tinkling. Everybody was focused on the tall eighteen year old blonde.

She said, “I look at you girls who walk without a limp, and I wish I could walk that way. I can’t, but this is what I’ve learned, and I want to leave it with you: “It’s not how you walk, but who walks with you!”

At this point she paused again and said, “I’d like to sing a song about my friend who walks with me,” and she sang: And He walks with me and He talks to me, And He tells me I am His own, And the joy we share, In our time of prayer, None other has ever known!

“Thank you!” There was not a dry eye, not a life that wasn’t touched that night on board that cruise near Hawaii.

I wonder who walks with you as you limp through life? I wonder who walks with you as you face bullies and insensitive people every day? Just remember what Carol said on board that luxury ship, “Its not how you walk but who walks with you..!”








The Board of Investment (BOI) has almost completed a strategic paper highlighting the government policy issues aimed at attracting local and foreign investors against the backdrop of global recession. After the completion of the paper, the BOI will seek approval for it from higher authorities, according to the executive chairman of the board. Clearly this is crunch time even for countries like Bangladesh where policies and rules are comparatively more favourable for investment, including foreign direct investment (FDI). Last year's record FDI investment is proof enough that the country, despite some serious constraints, could attract foreign investment quite appreciably. But the snowballing impact of global meltdown will definitely have a negative impact on investment in developing countries, including Bangladesh.

It is exactly at this point the country needs branding, a highly positive branding at that, and a concerted effort to overcome its constraints of which power and gas shortage are the most outstanding. If the year 2008, when an unelected government was in power, could draw the record FDI, imagine what could have been the investment volume had all the proposals, including those of Tata, for investment materialised. Surely, on that count the branding suffered a little but now that an elected government is in power, the branding effort should gather steam. Projecting the country in an investment-friendly manner matters but then we need to do some homework on it as well as improve such areas as infrastructure development and law and order situation.

That Bangladesh made significant progress to secure the top position among South Asian nations in terms of providing an investment-friendly atmosphere will be only cold comfort if the investors shy away now simply because of lack of power and gas. Now the government has taken some contingency plan alongside floating tenders for large power plants and looking for alternative sources of power generation. All this makes its intention clear. But the message has to be effectively used for the country's branding. We hope the BOI initiative will be a big step in that direction.








Extortion as part of our political culture took off soon after Liberation when extortionists would throng offices and business empires to collect what was then euphemistically called "donation."  Today the terminology may have changed but the practice has not and each year tends to reach its pinnacle ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr. Although most cases are not reported to the police, several hundreds are taking place each day in the city. That some law enforcers themselves reportedly involved in such crimes is of grave concern. Transport owners and employees too allege they have to pay money to extortionists at different spots on the highway and that traffic police and highway police are allegedly involved speaks volumes of the enormity of the problem.

The open admission by the Inspector General of Police Nur Muhammad, who on August 31 said, "There is extortion on the highways and some of the 1.25 lakh policemen may be involved in it." It is a clear indication that the authorities are fully aware of the curse. All kinds of businessmen from owners of luxurious shopping complexes to roadside vendors have fallen victim to extortion and generally had to meet the demands out of fear. More than 200 traders, especially owners of shopping complexes, have reportedly filed general diaries against known gangs. And the President of the Dhaka Metropolitan Shop Owners' Association said recently that silent extortion through SMS and mobile phones is now widespread.

Add to this, a minister's statement that extortion has caused food prices to rise beyond control. There are also hundreds of petty officers and police inspectors who have a lion's share of this lucrative extorted money, if it can indeed be called that. But when extortion money paid to officials and employees of several service sector agencies account for roughly two per cent of the Gross Domestic Product, it is depravity at its best and time to call a halt to this practice.








"...The motorman of the slow train rammed into a local at Mahim station primarily because he was 'disillusioned' says the preliminary inquiry report…" TOI, Sept 15th
A 'disillusioned' engine driver, I pondered aloud and opened the dictionary to find out what meaning my revered lexicon gave for that word; it said someone who was 'disenchanted' with life or something, was known to be disillusioned. No, no, say the railways that's not what we meant, what we meant was, 'that he saw the red light but it did not register in his mind!' So thanks to the railways we have a new official word for someone who skips a red signal; he or she is disillusioned. In all fairness to the railways, words have always changed through the ages, not as suddenly as the railways have done, but slowly over a period of time. Take the word, 'artificial' which once meant 'full of artistic and technical skill' which I'm sure many railway engineers are, today has an entirely different slant to it. Or what about the word, 'nice' which once meant someone who was ignorant or unaware now means someone good. I wonder whether this came about because we think naivety is a good characteristic to have and all idiots are nice?

Quite often at a wedding service I sang the words, "Be present 'awful' father to give away this bride' and wondered how we could ever call God awful, till to my delight and amazement I found that when the hymn writer used that particular word, it meant, 'full of awe' Today it means exactly the opposite! Here are a few other words which have changed dramatically over time: 'Girl' formerly signified any young person of either sex, maybe the reason that Joan of Arc led her troops for quite some time, "Who's leading us?" Reply, "A girl!" Relieved response from the trooper who had asked, "Ah, better a girl than an old general!"
'Polite' at first meant 'polished' and was attributed to any smooth, shining surface. 'Shrewd' once signified evil or wicked and Thomas Fuller uses the expression a shrewd fellow meaning a wicked man. 'Acre' once meant any field and it is still used with this significance by the Germans who speak of God's acre referring to the cemetery!       

Lawyers note; 'libel' once meant any little book, but as many small tracts in the early days of printing were personal and offensive in character, the word acquired its present meaning. And 'goodbye' once meant 'God be with you' which I'm going to say now, as I close, once again expressing my thanks to the railways for creating new meanings to the Queens English, thus keeping her, the language and not the Queen, alive and kicking...!








THE killing of terrorist mastermind Noordin Mohammed Top is a significant breakthrough in the war on terror in our region. The Malaysian-born bomb-maker was responsible for the mass murders of hundreds of innocent people, including 88 Australians, in the 2002 Bali bombings and another four in the 2005 bombings. Justice has finally been done. While some victims' families are relieved, others, understandably, feel indifference, given that his demise will not return their loved ones.


Top eluded authorities for years, shielded by a protective network of Islamist militants. Kevin Rudd rightly gave Indonesia's security agencies full credit. It was a difficult operation effectively performed and required skill, planning and professionalism.


Yet as the Prime Minister warns, the threat from Jemaah Islamiah is far from over. Experts believe Top groomed successors. After years of dogged counter-terrorism work, however, Indonesian authorities have built up valuable expertise, developed with technical, forensic and investigative support from Australia.


Such close co-operation reflects the maturity, stability and strength of one of our most vital bilateral relationships. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a retired soldier turned politician, who was a platoon commander in East Timor in the 1970s, deserves much credit for convincing ordinary Indonesians of the importance of a strong counter-terrorist response and co-operation with the West. In forging close ties with Australia, he recognises that in the age of terror, the security of both nations is inextricably linked.








LIKE Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan, The Weekend Australian welcomes new Treasury projections that suggest Australia's population will reach 35 million in 40 years - seven million more than expected - because of a rising birthrate and rapid immigration. As former treasurer Peter Costello said in office, population is destiny. As birthrates decline across much of the developed world, Australia's increase over the past two years, from 1.79 to 1.93 births per woman, the highest since the 1980s, is a sign our society is making it easier for women to combine motherhood and careers. The increase also reflects grassroots optimism and confidence in our future. So is the strong interest from migrants eager to move here, enrich the nation and take on Australian values and citizenship.


Greens leader Bob Brown deemed such expansion "a recipe for planetary exhaustion and great human tragedy", while Labor backbencher Kelvin Thompson warned of "sleepwalking into an environmental disaster". Their alarmism reflects the misanthropic thread that runs through much that passes for environmentalism and defies demographic and economic logic. The Gorgon natural gas project is just one example of Australia having the resources and the resourcefulness not only to meet its own energy needs, but also to build exports that will help support more citizens. In turn, population growth will help support those in retirement. A larger base of working people will be better able to help support healthcare, the frail aged and those relying on pensions. But as the Treasurer said yesterday, there is no room for complacency about the fiscal pressures that will arise as the proportion of people older than 65 rises from 13 per cent to 22 per cent in 2049, and those 85 and over increases from 1.7per cent to 5 per cent.


In recent decades, rapid population increases in Western Australia, Queensland, in mining towns and in the sunbelt centres of the east coast have reflected new business and employment opportunities. In coming decades, governments will probably find greater cost benefits encouraging growth outside capital cities. It is not impossible to imagine such centres as Newcastle, Gladstone, Mackay and Townsville with populations around one million.


Meeting the needs of millions more Australians will also demand realistic investment in much-neglected infrastructure, especially dams and transport. It is clear the national interest is best served by growth. In a region where our neighbours are increasing by hundreds of millions, economic and population growth are essential for our long-term survival. The post-World War II axiom populate or perish should be updated to "populate and prosper".








WHEN Australia's population clock struck the 21 million mark on June 29, 2007, there was a media frenzy to find our 21 millionth person. Reporters scoured hospital maternity wards looking for likely candidates. Was it Melbourne's Mia Ruby? Jasmine Holthouse from Canberra? Or Sydney's own little Natasha Morgan from St Clair? Imagine the fuss when we hit 35 million. That is the number of people the Government is now expecting to call Australia home by 2049, the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, has revealed.


In a carefully leaked preview of Treasury's third Intergenerational Report on the ageing of the population, which is expected to be released in full before Christmas, Swan revealed Australia would be home to a younger, but bigger, population than previously thought.


That is both good news and bad. Starting with the good, it shows the pace at which Australia's population is ageing has slowed since Peter Costello released his first Intergenerational Report in 2002. Like a miracle skin cream, rising fertility rates and record migration have helped to peel back some of the layers from the ageing population.


In 2002 the Treasury expected the proportion of the population aged 65 and over to hit 24.5 per cent in 2042. Today Treasury expects the proportion of people 65 and over will rise to a smaller 22 per cent by 2049. That is still a sizeable increase from about 13 per cent today, and 8 per cent in 1969, but it is moving in the right direction. As a nation we are still ageing, but not as quickly.


There are two ways this generational rejuvenation has been achieved: more babies and more immigrants. Australia's fertility rate - the number of children a female would bear during her lifetime on current rates - has risen to 1.93, up from a low of 1.73 in 2001. We are producing babies at the fastest rate since 1981, though not as fast as during the baby boom years following World War II, when there were 3.5 births per woman.


Record immigration has also boosted numbers. The Howard government, while perceived as anti-immigration because of high-profile events like Tampa, and the Pacific solution to illegal immigration, actually presided over a record intake of mostly skilled migrants. Because migrants tend to be younger, their arrival helps produce a younger society than otherwise.


But now the bad news. Unfortunately the cure for one problem sows the seeds for the next. It is true that the only way to combat an ageing population - bar introducing state-sanctioned euthanasia for the over 85s - is to have a faster-growing population of young people.


But population growth puts a strain on existing resources. Swan has argued that the Treasury findings underscore the need for tough budget decisions. Tough decisions will indeed be needed to bring the budget back to balance - but a rapidly growing population will also require additional spending on infrastructure. Swan touched briefly on this point, saying ''careful environmental and infrastructure planning'' will be necessary. That is an understatement.



Australia has no comprehensive plan to deal with its growing population. Decisions on migration are made at one level of government - federal - in isolation from the states, which are responsible for actually housing, educating and caring for the new inhabitants.


It is worth noting that the research body Swan was launching this week, the Australian Institute of Population Ageing Research, will reside in Sydney, at the University of NSW. Sydney has always been Australia's international front doorstep. It is a pity, then, that its hinges are rusted and the doormat is fraying. The NSW Government's inability to address chronic problems with public transport and a lack of new housing will only make them more pressing as the population grows.


According to the demographer Bob Birrell, of Monash University in Victoria, about 30 per cent of net immigration is to NSW. Of those, nine out of 10 people settle in Sydney. Many find homes in the outer western suburbs to be close to their local communities. And yet these are the areas most poorly served by public transport.


The solution to the ageing population has created a new challenge of a rapidly growing population. Providing adequate urban infrastructure for Australia's biggest city is too big a challenge to be left to an incompetent state government.


Canberra, we are going to need your help. And your money.








THE test for immigrants intending to become citizens has been changed: no longer will would-be Australians have to be experts in the careers of Don Bradman and Walter Lindrum. Instead they will have to answer simple, straightforward questions such as: have you stopped beating your spouse? This will be much simpler, and in answering intending citizens should gain important insights into Australian values. The correct response, readers will be aware, depends on the applicant's sporting ability. For the non-sporting applicant, the correct answer is: "All domestic violence appals me. I only apply discipline occasionally, out of love, in private, as my religion prescribes, and using a padded whip." For those who have a chance of gaining this country a gold medal at the London Olympics (or indeed, of playing in a rugby league grand final) the correct answer is: "No. Unless you have pictures which might offend major sponsors, in which case my spouse got those bruises falling down the stairs."





35 million Australians? Start preparing now

The challenge is to ensure a more crowded country remains liveable.


THE Australia of 2049 might seem a far-off place, but Treasurer Wayne Swan has released updated population forecasts that confirm that now is the time to start reshaping the way we live. Australia today is home to almost 22 million people, but yesterday's preview of Treasury's third intergenerational report points to dramatic growth and change, with the population set to reach 35 million in 40 years - 7 million more than the forecast of just two years ago. Already, a population of 22 million is presenting challenges in the areas of transport, housing, water, energy, health and education. A country of 35 million cannot simply be a bigger version of today's Australia if it is to be sustainable. Change is unavoidable and it will not only affect our children but most Australians living today, since current life expectancies suggest about 60 per cent of us will be around in 2049.


As then treasurer Peter Costello said when he released the first intergenerational report in 2002, ''demography is destiny''. The population forecasts raise big questions. Where will we live? How will we get around? How will we support ourselves and afford all the services an ageing population requires? What must be done to secure supplies of food, water and energy? The issues of food, water, energy and climate change are intertwined, so what does a population increase of 60 per cent mean for managing climate change and emissions targets for 2050?


We basically know the answer to the first question. Two out of three Australians live in big cities, which is where most of the extra 13 million people will end up. So the focus of questions about life in 2049 will fall largely on our cities. Melbourne has been the country's fastest-growing city for the past five years, and is already confronting the challenges that Australia as a whole will have to resolve. Although some new cities may develop, existing cities will house many more people. In terms of area, Melbourne and Sydney are already confronting the limits of growth. Urban sprawl cannot be reconciled with sustainable living for a population of 35 million.


The obvious and sensible response - since Australian cities are among the least densely populated in the world - is a shift towards medium-density living. That has been the declared goal of urban planning for some years, but state and city planners have been stymied by the NIMBY (not in my backyard) and BANANA (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone) syndromes. Australians resent having decisions imposed on them. So the only way to prepare in good time for 2049 is to ignite a deep and vigorous debate about what we want of our cities and what can and can't be sustained. This can't be put off: we will live with the consequences in 2049 of big decisions made now. Get it wrong, and the current inconveniences of overstretched city services will seem minor by comparison with life in an ill-prepared Melbourne and Australia with 60 per cent more people.


As Mr Swan said, ''Careful environmental and infrastructure planning will be required to support this population.'' Governments, developers, planners and architects are, of course, aware of this. Mr Swan's speech was delivered at the launch of a Sydney-based institute on population ageing, which he said was ''arguably one of two of our greatest challenges along with climate change''. Another new think tank, Melbourne's Grattan Institute, which recently appointed a program director for cities, Jane-Frances Kelly, is further welcome evidence of the desire to promote the vital debate about the city of the 21st century. While opinion makers must step forward to lead this debate, the success of any solutions that emerge, however inspired or creative they might be, will depend on the public being engaged and persuaded. The Age intends to play a leading role in this process.


Many Australians will respond to all this with a deceptively simple question: why not cap the population? Closing borders to a growing global population in a world of finite resources would be problematic, but the main reason that is not a good solution is a demographic one. The forecast proportion of people aged over 65 has been revised down slightly to 22 per cent in 2049 - it is now 13 per cent - but that still means a much smaller proportion of Australians will be of working age. Migrants are significantly younger on average than the general population, so their arrival improves the ratio of workers to non-workers. Immigration is needed to ensure the workforce is big enough to fund and provide the services that all of us require.


That is the good news in the latest forecasts: increasing immigration and fertility rates have slowed the rise in the proportion of elderly Australians. Even then, as Mr Swan warns, Australia will have to find ways of ''doing more with less''. That is a test of creativity and courage, one that this generation must take on if Australians are still to enjoy a good standard of living in the not-so-distant future.

The Age











Navigate your way through the Big Issue's website to the section titled Editorial Overview and you find a statement that begins: "The Big Issue is a weekly entertainment and current affairs magazine." It goes on to list the "exclusive celebrity interviews" (such as the world's first with George Michael after his arrest in a Beverly Hills public toilet in 1998) and the reviews of "must-see film, theatre, music, DVDs, gigs and visual arts". This happy mixture is presumably what accounts for a good portion of the 147,000 copies sold every week (the figure has held steady over the past year, which in this market ranks as an achievement). But the Big Issue, which turns 18 this week, is more interesting than that – and the game is given away by the two Streetlights pages at the end of each issue. Written by homeless contributors (all the other pages are by professional journalists), they remind you why the Big Issue exists. It provides a living for 2,500 homeless people who sell copies of the magazine every week on pitches up and down the country. The Big Issue was not the first homeless paper – Gordon Roddick got the idea from New York's Street News – but it is now the most famous, with versions in Ethiopia, Australia and around the world. The model is simple: homeless vendors buy copies at 75p each and sell them on for double that. The magazine has faced problems, and criticism for being too commercial. Still, it serves an often-ignored community – and for that, the Big Issue deserves congratulations, especially in this recession. Many happy returns.







A quick flip through the handmade placards – "Don't Tread on me!", "Bury Obamacare with Kennedy", "King George Didn't Listen Either!" "Terrorists Won't Destroy America, Congress Will!", " We came unarmed from Montana and Utah … this time!" – will tell you that this particular tea party had nothing to do with Boston or Twinings. America's new breed of angry – if not apoplectic – conservatives arrived in Washington in their tens of thousands a week ago, and their noise has been reverberating through the streets ever since. Democrats dismissed the display of rightwing muscle as the work of extremists. Jimmy Carter made matters worse by saying it was racist. Even if he was right, he did the incumbent of the White House no favours, and press secretary Robert Gibbs was obliged to contradict the former president.


Who or what brought these people together? Was it only the work of rightwing populist Fox News host Glenn Beck, the man who jabs his finger at his white audience and promises them "you are not alone"? Do the disparate strands of protest against big government, the $800bn stimulus package and healthcare reform have the collective power to form a new political movement? No one knows, least of all the Republican mainstream, whose initial reaction to the recrudescence of populist rage was horror, but who might now be tempted to jump on board.


The day after Barack Obama was elected president, Republicans were leaderless and the coalition that Ronald Reagan had forged between social and fiscal conservatives irreparably damaged. Sarah Palin's antics only compounded Republican misery. But the tea party protests say otherwise. Social conservatism may be in decline, but fiscal conservatism could be just about to have a new adrenaline rush. A plethora of groups with names like Tea Party Patriots, Grassfire and Conservatives for Patients' Rights are internet-savvy. They are bankrolled by powerful individuals and corporations. FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity were set up by a campaign funded by the oil tycoon David Koch. Nothing new there.


The question is how far the tea parties can go in re-energising the Republican base until the Obama presidency undergoes its first major electoral test – the midterm elections next year. Mr Obama's reaction is to stay aloof, as he did initially with his healthcare reforms. He could not be making a bigger mistake. He should remember that he too came to power at the head of a major popular movement for change. He energised millions of voters and promised not to forget them when he entered the White House. He should now use them.







The form is still there: the party faithful, the echoing hall, the TV lights and the leader's speech. But it is not just the thick pall of tobacco smoke and the ranks of blue-rinses that are no more. The soul of politics itself has fled. Even in Bournemouth, where the Lib Dems assemble today with their policymaking powers intact, the beards and the bolshiness have gone. At Labour's conference in Brighton next week, the contrast with the past will be stark. Devolving most debate to the national policy forum tidied up politics at the expense of engagement.


Conflict between party and leaders conducted through the compositing committee was no guarantee of a democratic outcome, but it generated some of the great moments of political theatre. Everyone has their favourites: there was Aneurin Bevan's "naked into the conference chamber" volte-face on nuclear weapons in 1957, Hugh Gaitskell's 1960 promise to "fight and fight and fight again", and Neil Kinnock's attack on Militant in 1985. Even parties whose conferences lacked the constitutional weight of Labour's have still managed to produce some great moments: David Steel's rousing command to go home and prepare for government, Margaret Thatcher's way with a pun, Michael Portillo's hubristic "who dares wins". There is, however, more than nostalgia to the idea that party conferences were once a two-way conversation (sometimes shouted, but still an exchange of views) between leaders and the led, a recognition of the motivating effect on party supporters of a sense of influence. All the more dispiriting, then, that the most memorable conference event in recent times was the forcible eviction of the elderly Walter Wolfgang in 2005 and his subsequent detention under anti-terror legislation. Nowadays, the passionless procession of wannabes and apparatchiks mirrors all too closely the malaise of the parties they represent. Parties deliberately disconnected themselves from their own memberships in order to court a wider audience, only to discover that they had lost them both.


Within Labour, there are two views on how to turn things round. The left-leaning Compass urgently demands the restoration of some form of pluralism and internal democracy. The Fabians argue that power is less important than voice. That means more than listening. It means engaging with criticism and allowing members' concerns to influence the shape of party policy. The challenge is to avoid reproducing the head-on conflict between grassroots and leadership while retaining the edge of danger that a balance of power engenders. But first there is the much greater challenge of prising party managers' fingers off the levers of power. Even now, when public confidence in Labour has reached an all-time low, there is a complete failure to acknowledge that central control is counterproductive, that getting rid of not just national figures like the former Norwich MP Ian Gibson but reportedly hard-working councillors too, while using a combination of union influence on nominations and centralised power to parachute party favourites into safe seats, does more damage than ideological spats usually could. The Tories are demonstrating just the same obsession with control, expelling the MEP Edward Macmillan-Scott for opposing their candidate for the deputy leadership of the European parliament, and bruising local party workers by their imitation of Labour's methods of imposing centrally selected parliamentary candidates.


This world of homogeneity has to be broken. It will require cultural change among members as well as party managers, for there is no point trying to undo centralisation to replace it with a dictatorship of the grassroots. Compass formulates the question as a choice between political party as big tent or campsite, a monolithic organisation or a coalition built around an ideological core. No answer will emerge on the seafront this year, but the need to find one will surely be starker than ever.








It still isn't clear exactly what happened to the Russian-crewed freighter Arctic Sea, which mysteriously disappeared in European waters last month. Inconsistencies and the implausibility of the official story — it was a hijacking — have prompted considerable speculation.


Those imaginings have been spurred by the visit to Russia of Israeli President Shimon Peres and the "disappearance" for one day of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reportedly secretly visited Russia to discuss Iran. This incident sheds little light on Russia's relations with the Middle East, but has generated heated speculation in that regard.


The Arctic Sea is a Malta-flagged vessel that departed Finland on July 21 with more than a dozen Russian crew members and a cargo of timber worth about $1.8 million. A few days after departure, a group of men boarded the ship. It was first reported that they claimed to be environmentalists seeking shelter from a storm, but by the time they boarded the ship, they were wearing clothes and masks that identified them as police.


The vessel continued to send signals suggesting that all was normal for a week; on July 30 radio traffic ceased and the vessel disappeared. That triggered a massive hunt until the vessel was found Aug. 16, off the coast of Cape Verde, a considerable distance from its intended destination of Algeria, and eight alleged hijackers on board were arrested.


That short story raises a lot of questions. First, the idea of a pirate attack in the Baltic Sea, some of the world's most traveled waters, is far-fetched. Second, why would pirates target a ship with a relatively low-value cargo? Moreover, why the silence and the changing of stories after the supposed attack?


The mystery thickened the day after Russian announced it had found the ship, and Mr. Peres made a surprise visit to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The speculation became even more feverish on Sept. 7, when Mr. Netanyahu also "vanished" for a day. Officially, the Israeli prime minister was visiting "a security facility." Slowly, however, news leaked out that Mr. Netanyahu had boarded a private jet for his own secret visit to Russia. The Israeli government continues to stonewall inquires about the prime minister's whereabouts, but winks and nods to the press suggest that speculation is correct.


In Moscow, he reportedly voiced concern over the possible sale of Russian anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. That provided substance to earlier suggestions that Mr. Peres had also pressed the Russian president to reconsider the proposed sale.


Those reports shine some light on the Arctic Sea's voyage. Before it set out with the lumber, it spent two weeks undergoing repairs in the Russian port of Kaliningrad. Maritime experts believe that the ship picked up another cargo at that stop, one that wasn't on the reported manifest.


By this logic, it was that cargo that the hijackers were interested in. By seizing the ship they intercepted a planned delivery of weapons, perhaps missiles, intended for the Middle East, most likely Syria or Iran.


The crew might be able to answer some of the questions about this episode, but they have been told to make no comment since they returned to Russia. And, intriguingly, the Russian expert who first suggested the Arctic Sea was carrying a secret cargo has been threatened and forced to flee the country.


The entire incident casts some light — however unfocused — on the volatile situation in the Middle East and the role that external powers play in keeping that conflict alive. There is a lively trade in weapons that fuels the violence. Israel has been increasingly vocal in its complaints about Iran and the threats it sees from Tehran's support of Islamic extremists as well as its alleged pursuit of a nuclear weapon, an intention that Iran denies it has. Not surprisingly, Israel is worried about the acquisition by Iran of more advanced antiaircraft missiles, which would ostensibly be deployed to protect nuclear facilities.


In another twist in an already twisted tale, some observers believe that Russia may have dispatched the hijackers to grab the illicit cargo. That means that Moscow may not be aware of — or control — all the activities of its vaunted weapons industries. But if Russia was aware of the shipment, and the Israel secret services were responsible for the heist, then the Israeli officials' visits were a warning to Moscow.


One way or another, Russia plays a crucial role in the Middle East. In addition to providing weapons, it has sold a nuclear reactor to Iran, and Moscow has a veto in the U.N. Security Council. Close ties with Tehran give Russia considerable influence. As Iran ups the ante on discussions of its nuclear program, Moscow's thinking matters: At a minimum, no deal is likely without its approval. Moscow's skepticism about the utility of sanctions against Tehran blunts that tool.


Unfortunately, there is little indication of how Russia can contribute to a solution in the Iranian situation.










If Sri Lanka is to become a tropical paradise again, it must build enduring peace. This will only occur through genuine interethnic equality, and a transition from being a unitary state to being a federation that grants provincial and local autonomy.


Yet even in victory the Sri Lankan government seems unable to define peace or outline a political solution to the long-standing cultural and political grievances of the Tamil minority, which makes up 12 percent of the 21.3-million population. A process of national reconciliation anchored in federalism and multiculturalism can succeed only if human-rights abuses by all parties are independently investigated. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has acknowledged that civilian casualties were "unacceptably high," especially as the war built to a bloody crescendo.


The continuing air of martial triumph in Sri Lanka, though, is making it difficult to heal the wounds of war through three essential "Rs": relief, recovery and reconciliation. In fact, the military victory bears a distinct family imprint: President Mahinda Rajapaksa was guided by two of his brothers, Gotabaya, the defense secretary who authored the war plan, and Basil, the presidential special adviser who formulated the political strategy. Yet another brother, Chamal, is the ports minister who awarded China a contract to build the billion-dollar Hambantotta port, on Sri Lanka's southeast.


In return, Beijing provided Colombo not only the weapon systems that decisively tilted the military balance in its favor, but also the diplomatic cover to prosecute the war in defiance of international calls to cease offensive operations to help stanch rising civilian casualties. Through such support, China has succeeded in extending its strategic reach to a critically located country in India's backyard that sits astride vital sea-lanes of communication in the Indian Ocean region.


Sinhalese nationalists now portray Rajapaksa as a modern-day Dutugemunu, a Sinhalese ruler who, according to legend, vanquished an invading Tamil army led by Kind Elara more than 2,000 years ago. But four months after the Tamil Tigers were crushed, it is clear the demands of peace extend far beyond the battlefield. What is needed is a fundamental shift in thegovernment's policies to help create greater interethnic equality, regional autonomy and a reversal of the state-driven militarization of society.


But Rajapaksa, despite promising to address the root causes of conflict, has declared: "Federalism is out of the question." How elusive the peace dividend remains can be seen from Colombo's decision to press ahead with a further expansion of the military. Not content with increasing the military's size five-fold since the late 1980s to more than 200,000 troops today, Colombo is raising the strength further to 300,000, in the name of "eternal vigilance." Soon after the May victory, the government, for example, announced a drive to recruit 50,000 new troops to help manage the northern areas captured from the rebels.


The Sri Lankan military already has more troops than that of Britain or Israel. The planned further expansion would make the military in tiny Sri Lanka larger than the militaries of major powers like France, Japan and Germany. By citing a continuing danger of guerrilla remnants reviving the insurgency, Rajapaksa, in fact, seems determined to keep a hyper-militarized Sri Lanka on something of a war footing. Yet another issue of concern is the manner the nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians still held by the government in camps where, in the recent words of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, the "internally displaced persons are effectively detained under conditions of internment."


Such detention risks causing more resentment among the Tamils and sowing the seeds of future unrest. The internment was intended to help weed out rebels, many of whom already have been identified and transferred to military sites. Those in the evacuee camps are the victims and survivors of the deadly war. To confine them in the camps against their will is to further victimize and traumatize them.


Sri Lanka's interests would be better served through greater transparency. It should grant the U.N., International Red Cross and nongovernmental organizations at home and abroad full and unhindered access to care for and protect the civilians in these camps, allowing those who wish to leave the camps to do so and live with relatives and friends. Otherwise, it seriously risks breeding further resentment.


Then there is the issue of thousands of missing people, mostly Tamils. Given that many families are still searching for missing members, the government ought to publish a list of all those it is holding — in evacuee camps, prisons, military sites and other security centers. Even suspected rebels in state custody ought to be identified and not denied access to legal representation.


Authorities should disclose the names of those they know to be dead — civilians and insurgents — and the possible circumstances of their death. Also, the way to fill the power vacuum in the Tamil-dominated north is not by dispatching additional army troops in tens of thousands, but by setting up a credible local administration to keep the peace and initiate rehabilitation and reconstruction after more than 25 years of war.


Any government move to return to the old policy of settling Sinhalese in Tamil areas is certain to stir up fresh problems. More fundamentally, such have been the costs of victory that Sri Lankan civil society stands badly weakened and civil liberties curtailed. The wartime suppression of a free press and curtailment of fundamental rights continues in peacetime, undermining democratic freedoms and creating a fear psychosis.


Public meetings cannot be held without government permission. Sweeping emergency regulations also remain in place, arming the security forces with expansive powers of search, arrest, detention and seizure of property. Individuals can still be held in unacknowledged detention for up to 12 months. For the process of reconciliation to begin in earnest, it is essential the government shed its war-gained powers and accept, as Pillay says, "an independent and credible international investigation . . . to ascertain the occurrence, nature and scale of violations of international human-rights and international humanitarian law" by all parties during the conflict.


Pillay has gone on to say: "A new future for the country, the prospect of meaningful reconciliation and lasting peace, where respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms can become a reality for all, hinges upon such an in-depth and comprehensive approach."


Unfortunately, Colombo still seeks to hold back the truth. Those who speak up are labeled "traitors" (if they are Sinhalese) or accused of being on the payroll of the Tamil diaspora. Last year, a Sri Lankan minister accused the U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, John Holmes, of being on the rebels' payroll after Holmes called Sri Lanka one of the world's most dangerous places for aid workers.


The media remains muzzled, and a host of journalists have been murdered or imprisoned. Lawyers who dare to take up sensitive cases face threats. Recently, a well-known astrologer who predicted the president's ouster from power was arrested. And this month, the U.N. Children's Fund communications chief was ordered to leave Sri Lanka after he discussed the plight of children caught up in the government's military campaign.


Rather than begin a political dialogue on regional autonomy and a more level-playing field for the Tamils in education and government jobs, the government has seen its space get constricted by the post-victory upsurge of Sinhalese chauvinism opposed to the devolution of powers to the minorities.


The hardline constituency argues that the Tamils shouldn't get in defeat what they couldn't secure through three decades of unrest and violence. Indeed, such chauvinism seeks to tar federalism as a potential forerunner to secession, although the Tamil insurgency sprang from the state's rejection of decentralization and power-sharing. The looming parliamentary and presidential elections also make devolution difficult, even though the opposition is splintered and Rajapaksa seems set to win a second term.


Reversing the militarization of society, ending the control of information as an instrument of state policy and promoting political and ethnic reconciliation are crucial to postconflict peace-building and to furthering the interests of all Sri Lankans — Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. So also is the need to discard the almost mono-ethnic character of the security forces. Colombo has to stop dragging its feet on implementing the constitution's 13th amendment, which requires the ceding of some powers to the provincial or local level.


Sadly, there is little international pressure on Colombo, despite the leverage offered by the Sri Lankan economy's need for external credit. The U.S. can veto any decision of the International Monetary Fund, but it chose to abstain from the recent IMF vote to give Colombo a $2.8 billion loan. In the face of China's stonewalling at the U.N., Ban has been unable to appoint a special envoy on Sri Lanka. A U.N. special envoy can shine an international spotlight to help build pressure on a recalcitrant government. But on Sri Lanka, the best the U.N. has been able to do is to send a political official to Colombo this month for talks.


It is thus important for the democratic players, including the United States, the European Union, Japan and Norway — co-chairs of the so-called Friends of Sri Lanka — and India, to coordinate their policies on Sri Lanka. If Rajapaksa continues to shun true reconciliation, these countries should ratchet up pressure on Colombo by lending support to calls for an international investigation into the thousands of civilian deaths in the final weeks of the war.


The International Criminal Court has opened an initial inquiry into Sri Lankan rights-abuse cases that could turn into a full-blown investigation. Sri Lanka, however, is not an ICC signatory and thus would have to consent — or be referred by the U.N. Security Council — for the ICC to have jurisdiction over it. As world history attests, peace sought through the suppression and humiliation of an ethnic community proves to be elusive.


If Rajapaksa wants to earn a place in history as another Dutugemunu, he has to emulate that ancient king's post-victory action and make honorable peace with the Tamils before there is a recrudescence of violence. It will be a double tragedy for Sri Lanka if making peace proves more difficult than making war.


Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the independent, privately funded Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, is on the international advisory council of the Campaign for Peace and Justice in Sri Lanka.








Whether it falls on Sunday or Monday, Idul Fitri is a time for Muslims to celebrate what is also popularly known as the Day of Victory. Behind the big feasts and family gatherings as well as commercial excesses that have come to color the annual Muslim holiday today, we should not lose sight of the spiritual meaning of Idul Fitri.


More precisely, it is a day of moral victory that comes at the end of the month of Ramadan each year. The fasting between dawn and dusk this past month has put Muslims through a test not only in refraining from eating and drinking, but also in suppressing earthly desires and emotions and putting spiritual needs at the fore.


This is an important practice in selfless acts at a time when many in our midst are pressing for their individual rights. To complete this process of self-purification, Muslims pay zakat fitrah, or alms, to the poor before Ramadan ends, as a reminder that there are people who are far less fortunate who need help.


For Indonesia, a nation with a predominantly Muslim population, we have a particularly good reason to celebrate this Day of Victory in a big fashion this year. As a nation, we have gone through the peaceful democratic process of electing our national leaders. In spite of some small crises here and there, the economy has survived the global economic recession much better than most other countries in the world.


We have had our share of problems and challenges too, including devastating natural and manmade disasters, but by and large, Indonesia has done quite well this year. This week's edition of The Economist gives a rare accolade to what Indonesia has achieved on the democratic front and in the economy. But what the prestigious publication fails to mention is the reason for this success: the people and leaders of this country have shown patience, perseverance and tolerance - the same virtues that are being promoted during Ramadan. Without these, Indonesia would not be where it is today.


It's good to know that these virtues are largely observed all year round and not just during the fasting month. It is even more encouraging to see these virtues within individuals being put together for the collective good of the nation. There are bad apples here and there for sure, but if enough individuals in society practice these virtues, the nation should be able to survive any challenge together. And that's how it should always be.


For many Muslims in Indonesia, Idul Fitri is celebrated by a return to one's hometown. They take the word Fitri, which also means the origin or the beginning, almost literally by touching base with their roots, and in the process replenish traditional family values and wisdoms that tend to get lost or obscured in the hustle and bustle of daily life when they return to the cities.


No less important is the exchange of visits and greetings that follows after the Idul Fitri prayer, first with our immediate family and close circle of friends, expanding wider to colleagues at work, neighbors and just about all our acquaintances in the next week or two. This will be the time to ask for forgiveness for all the bad deeds we have committed or even thought of committing, and equally to forgive those around us.


Being the pluralist society that Indonesia is, Idul Fitri should be celebrated by the non-Muslim religious minorities in this country. The values, virtues and wisdom contained in this Day of Victory are wonderfully universal. The fate and fortune of this nation depends on them too. This is their day of victory just as much. So everyone should join in the celebration.


To all our readers, we wish you Eid Mubarak.








Labor figures show the domestic job market is improving. Last month, the number of the employed stood at 23.62 million, up 3,000 from a year ago.


True, the increase is anything but impressive. But if it means that the labor market, having stopped the slide, is finally starting to make a sustainable upturn, this should not be regarded as something to be brushed aside. Instead, it should be welcomed as a precursor to long-awaited stability in the job market.


Another piece of good news comes from the Finance Ministry, which, quoting a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, says Korea's jobless rate dropped by the largest margin among OECD member nations in July. The rate declined by a 0.2 percentage point - from 4 percent in June to 3.8 percent in July - the biggest margin Korea shared with Denmark.


Do all these developments contradict conventional wisdom that jobs come last on economic recovery? Not really. A closer look into the labor market shows that conditions are not as good as they look. If the job market is surmounting the initial shock from the global financial crisis, the recovery is being propped up by government subsidies.


Hidden in the labor figures are 250,000 temporary jobs the government created in June to cushion the crisis-triggered massive layoffs. Those holding the government-subsidized jobs will be driven out of work unless they land new jobs before their six-month employment is terminated in November. Then the employment figures will not look as promising as they do now.


That is the reason why government is considering giving similar jobs to another 100,000 people in December. But such an employment practice will be nothing but another stopgap measure.


An ultimate solution lies in corporate investments. What the government needs to do is encourage the private sector to make investments and, by doing so, create jobs. But investments in manufacturing alone will not create as many jobs as needed. They should be channeled into services as well.


During the initial stage of industrialization, it may have been necessary for the government to help finance corporate investments in manufacturing export items and daily necessities as import substitutes, both critical to the balance of international payments. As such, investments in services have not been as welcomed as in those in manufacturing, if not frowned upon.


But an argument against investment in services no longer holds. A growing number of Koreans now can afford to and actually do seek gratification in foreign countries when their demand for proper services is not met in the nation.


Take golf for instance. Golf has long been regarded, not as a popular sport, but as a luxury. Many golfers, who believe it is unreasonably expensive to play golf in the nation, choose to make a golf trip abroad during a holiday.


It serves the interests of the nation to make green fees affordable to ordinary Korean golfers. Playing golf in the nation, while serving to improve the balance of international payments, will help create jobs.


Belatedly, the government promises to ease regulations on the construction of country clubs, cut taxes on their operations and, by doing so, help lower green fees. But it is better late than never.


For greater job creation, the government will have to abandon its bias against service industries and treat them equal to manufacturing. So many jobs can be created in shopping, tourism and many other untapped or under-tapped service industries if a change in policy succeeds in enticing corporations to make investments and consumers to open their purses.


The government will do well to launch the process of writing its commitments into law immediately. The political community is called on to actively assist in the urgent legislation process.









It conforms to common sense and international rules for labor unions, not employers, to make monthly pay to corporate employees doing union work full-time. But full-time union representatives are paid by their employers because the enforcement of statutory rules on their compensation has been deferred for the past 13 years.


With the administration now determined to enforce the rules beginning next year, debates on this anachronistic issue are being conducted within national labor umbrella groups and among their representatives, government officials and academicians. But it looks unlikely that they will reach common understanding anytime soon.


Back in 1997, those rules were enacted at the recommendations of the International Labor Organization. But their enforcement was delayed in the belief that they were onerous to fledgling unions. But this rationale does not hold any longer because labor has become strong enough to engage management on equal terms.


Nonetheless, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, both of which are national labor umbrella groups, are demanding that corporations continue to pay full-time union representatives. The labor groups vow to call general strikes if their demands are not met.


But their threats are ludicrous, even pathetic, given that relations between unions and employers are invariably adversarial in the nation. There is no logical justification for corporate compensations to full-time union representatives poised to launch strikes. Moreover, corporate compensations are little different from largesse from adversaries that unions have set their sights on.


The National Assembly is urged to pass an administration-initiated revision bill during its current session so that the rules on compensation will be enforced across the board next year. The administration will have to push for its passage. The enforcement of compensation rules cannot be an object for compromise with the two national labor groups and political forces sympathetic to their cause.








ANKARA - Cyprus is back on the international agenda, with leaders of the island's rival Greek and Turkish communities engaged in intense negotiations to resolve the divided country's status. But, although new talks are underway, the international community is, not surprisingly, tired of dealing with the issue. After all, the Cyprus conflict has dragged on since 1974, wearing out U.N. secretaries-general and special representatives of all sorts, as well as bringing down governments in both Greece and Cyprus.


In 2004, the European Union, the United States, and a good part of the international community invested considerable energy in trying to resolve the conflict once and for all. Then U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his team drafted a plan, which Turkey's government took very significant political risks in supporting. The government convinced the Turkish Cypriots to make a leap of faith and vote in favor of the Annan plan in order to reunite the island.


Regrettably, the Greek Cypriot leadership at that time actively campaigned against the U.N. plan. Consequently, whereas 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots voted in favor of the plan when it was put to a vote on the island, 76 percent of Greek Cypriots rejected it. Worse yet, Greek Cyprus joined the European Union literally days after it spurned the will of the international community, while the European Union reneged on its promises to end the Turkish community's isolation if it supported Annan's plan.


Today, many people might think that all of this is water under the bridge. But the fate of the Annan plan remains very much a part of Turkish thinking on the Cyprus issue.


In 2008, the United Nations started a new negotiation process for Cyprus. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has given his full blessing to a negotiated settlement, and, similar to 2004, Turkey supports the Turkish Cypriots' willingness to find a viable solution to the division of Cyprus under the U.N. umbrella.


But it should be clear that the current talks are the last chance for a negotiated settlement on the island. So it is imperative that the transatlantic community recognize that the current talks constitute a historic opportunity. No one - not the United States, the European Union, Turkey, Greece, or the two Cypriot communities - can afford to waste it. Either the island will reunite under a U.N. plan accepted by both sides or the status quo will need to change by some other means. The isolation of the Turkish Cypriots, who opted in favor of an internationally acceptable solution, cannot be sustained any longer.

The talks between Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat and Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias are now entering a critical phase. Both leaders need the full support of the transatlantic community.


The United States is particularly well situated to contribute to the process in a positive manner, and its engagement at the appropriate level will be needed in the coming months. The U.S.-Turkish partnership, badly strained by the war in Iraq, was reinvigorated by President Barack Obama's visit to Turkey in June. American participation in resolving the Cyprus conflict would ensure that the relationship remains on a sound footing.


Contrary to many previous rounds of Cyprus negotiations, the issue this time is not confined to the island alone but embraces the wider region. The outcome of the ongoing talks, for example, will have a big impact on how Turkey assesses its relations with the European Union. Should the talks fail, the side that behaves in an uncompromising manner will bear full responsibility for dividing the island forever.

Moreover, failure to resolve the Cyprus issue would deadlock already strained security cooperation between NATO and the European Union.


The recent visit to Ankara by the new NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, only highlighted again how urgent a Cyprus settlement really is. Failure might also have security implications in the Balkans, the Black Sea, and the Eastern Mediterranean - all areas where the United States and the European Union have vital interests.


It is for these reasons that the transatlantic community should invest its time and energy in the ongoing U.N.-sponsored talks. Neither the United States nor the European Union can afford another failure in Cyprus. There is simply too much at stake.


Suat Kiniklioglu is deputy chairman for external affairs for Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party and spokesman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Turkish parliament. - Ed.

(Project Syndicate)











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