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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Editorial 01.10.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


month october 01, edition 000312, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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




















  1. RED CHINA IS 60












  1. RED CHINA IS 60






























3.      NO NEED TO WORRY…!















  1. U.S.-N.K. TALKS











The denouement was a foregone conclusion, but nonetheless it did not fail to surprise when it happened by way of the Union Government informing the Supreme Court that it has decided not to prosecute Italian middleman Ottavio Quattrocchi any further for his role in the Bofors bribery scandal. This means the Government has decided to close the case and thus bring the Bofors saga to an end; the Solicitor-General has said as much in the Supreme Court while arguing against continuing with the prosecution of Quattrocchi. If we were to look back at recent events, we would come to the conclusion that withdrawal of prosecution and closure of the case were only to be expected. After all, the Congress-led UPA regime not only facilitated the ‘de-freezing’ of the London bank accounts where Quattrocchi was believed to have parked his ill-gotten gains from the Bofors deal, it also ensured that his detention in Argentina would not result in his deportation to India and later had the red corner notice against the Italian wheeler-dealer, issued by Interpol at the CBI’s behest, withdrawn. Justifying that action, taken in the most surreptitious manner, the Prime Minister had described the ongoing prosecution of Quattrocchi as an “embarrassment”. There is no reason to disbelieve Mr Manmohan Singh and we can be sure that he was ‘embarrassed’, as were his minders in the Congress. But, and we need to ask this question all over again as the Government prepares to fully exonerate a foreigner accused of looting India, must the nation carry the burden of their “embarrassment”?

The Bofors scandal came to light in 1986 when Swedish auditors pointed out that Rs 64 crore had been paid as bribes by the manufacturers of the field gun to secure the order. Subsequently, the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India had, in its report, confirmed bribes were paid by AB Bofors. The then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, had initially said middlemen were not involved in the deal; he later modified that claim to assert that neither he nor his family members had received any kickbacks. The Congress’s defeat in the 1989 general election showed the people believed otherwise. An FIR was filed in 1990 when VP Singh was Prime Minister; tragically his Government did not last long enough to carry the case forward. Soon after the Congress returned to power and PV Narasimha Rao became Prime Minister, Quattrocchi, rightly sensing his political clout had diminished, fled the country. However, Rao did precious little apart from collecting the documents that had been sought from Swiss authorities. It was only after the BJP-led NDA came to power that a chargesheet was filed in the case and prosecution gathered some speed. But a curious coincidence of judicial lethargy and listless prosecution enabled most of the accused, including the Hinduja brothers, to walk free. All that remained was Quattrocchi’s prosecution; now that too is being brought to an end.

If the trial court agrees to the Government’s decision on October 3, Quattrocchi will have demonstrated both his clout and guile. More importantly, bribery will gain a certain legitimacy and there will be little or no reason to shame and shun those who loot and scoot. Cynics have all along maintained that prosecution in the Bofors payola case is a wasted effort as nothing would ever come out of it. It’s a pity they will be proven right.







That the striking pilots of the national carrier, Air India, who had gone on mass sick leave to protest the substantial pay-cut in their monthly salaries and allowances, have called off their four-day-long agitation is welcome news. As many as 240 domestic and international flights had to be cancelled due to the agitation, causing significant financial losses in revenue earnings for the carrier. That apart, the impasse between the Air India management and the pilots was taking an ugly turn. Both had reasons to stick to their guns, but the repercussions of the deadlock were starting to hurt the airline and the public alike. So much so that Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel was forced to say that “all options are open” to the Air India management if the protesting pilots did not report for duty. It is good that better sense prevailed and things did not come to a point where drastic action would be needed. As of now, Air India management has decided to maintain status quo on the issue of salaries and allowances of the pilots and has affirmed to form a turnaround policy committee wherein all cost-cutting measures will be discussed and evaluated in consultation with the pilots and the staff.

The events over the last four days have shown that there is a bigger lesson to be learnt. The strike by the pilots was a result of Air India’s decision to cut their ‘Productivity Linked Incentives’ — which constitute as much as 60 to 70 per cent of pilots’ monthly pay packages — by half. The decision was taken in view of the huge losses that the airline has been suffering due to a sharp dip in its number of passengers, which has been brought on by the economic slowdown. The pay-cuts, had they been implemented, would have impacted the Indian Airline pilots of the now merged entity, the National Aviation Company of India Ltd, far more than their counterparts who formerly worked for what was earlier Air India, given the respective salary structures for the two groups of pilots. Thus, the majority of the striking pilots were from the former group. Their main grievance was that the pay-cuts were decided arbitrarily and without consulting them. Presuming that this is not the only time that the airline will be forced to think about cost-cutting measures such as pay-cuts for its staff, there needs to be a permanent consultative mechanism in place through which the management and the staff union can discuss and amicably resolve such issues. There are ups and downs in the life of any airline. The management and the staff at Air India must realise that they can ill afford to be seen working against each other in times of adversity.



            THE PIONEER




On July 8, 1996 the World Court held that states possessing nuclear weapons have not just a need, but an obligation to commence negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament. The court also held that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons would be generally contrary to the principles of international law, though there was some doubt about the extreme contingency when “the very survival of a state was threatened”. Despite this World Court opinion, the United States, Russia, France and the UK reserve the right to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons whenever their interests so demand. The US and Russia together possess around 19,000 nuclear warheads; France has around 350 warheads and the UK 160 warheads.

The 2005 US Doctrine of Joint Operations spells out several contingencies when the US could use nuclear weapons, including situations where it wants to “rapidly end a war on terms favourable to the US” or to ensure that American and international operations are successful. President Jacques Chirac announced in January 2006 that France reserves the right to use nuclear weapons against states supporting terrorism or seeking weapons of mass destruction. In 2003, British Defence Secretary Geoffrey Hoon warned Iraq that “in right conditions” the UK reserved the right to use nuclear weapons. China and India have ruled out the “first use” of nuclear weapons. Israel and Pakistan have indicated that they would use nuclear weapons if their very survival is threatened. President Barack Obama has indicated that the 2005 US Doctrine would be reviewed. But the US and its NATO allies will not rule out the use of nuclear weapons against states that do not possess such weapons, or give a “no first use” pledge against states possessing nuclear weapons.

Mr Obama has indicated that he does not expect to see the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world achieved in his lifetime. The so-called ‘nuclear weapons states’ may talk about arms limitations and undertake some token cuts in certain categories of strategic warheads. But they have no intention of eliminating nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future. Moreover, the American record on non-proliferation has been selective. In their book Deception: Pakistan the United States and the Global Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy, Adrian levy and Catherine Scott-Clark have revealed how the CIA and successive US Administrations covered up information they had about Pakistan’s relentless, China-assisted quest for nuclear weapons because of larger strategic considerations.

American ‘Non-proliferation Ayatollahs’ roar like lions when talking about proliferation by Iran and North Korea, but squeak like mice when it comes to proliferation by China. The Americans have long known that China has provided Pakistan with nuclear weapons designs, fissile material and enrichment equipment, but have deliberately turned a blind eye to China’s activities. Over the past decade, China has provided Pakistan with plutonium reactors and reprocessing technology to enable Pakistan to make lighter warheads for fitment on Chinese supplied ballistic and cruise missiles. Successive US Administrations have ignored this. Moreover, despite recent revelations about AQ Khan, the Obama Administration continues to maintain that Pakistan’s proliferation activities were carried out solely by a rogue “AQ Khan Network”, thus absolving the Pakistani Army establishment which was the prime culprit, of its culpability. If President Ronald Reagan overlooked Pakistani proliferation in the 1980s to keep Gen Zia-ul-Haq pleased, Mr Obama evidently wants to keep Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in good humour. The Obama Administration remains tongue-tied on issues of the Pakistani Army’s role in nuclear proliferation, and on the ISI’s support for Taliban leaders and groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba who kill American soldiers and nationals in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

New Delhi is not the only capital concerned by the Obama Administration’s efforts for ‘universalisation’ of the Non-Proliferation Treaty through demands that India, Israel and Pakistan should accede to the NPT. Responding to repeated statements on this issue by Obama Administration luminaries, Israel’s normally soft-spoken Defence Minister Ehud Barak retorted on September 7: “Until the Muslim world from Marrakesh to Bangladesh behaves like Western Europe, there can be no debate on nuclear non-proliferation.” Rarely, if ever, has Israel reacted in such terms to sermons on its security imperatives from an American President.

India has rejected the Obama-sponsored UN Security Council Resolution of September 24, calling on it to accede to the NPT. India should make it clear internationally that an important reason that the US is now focussing heavily on the NPT is that it is desperately keen to ensure that the NPT Review Conference scheduled for 2010 does not end in a fiasco like the review of 2005. But, the reasons why the non-nuclear weapons states stood firm in the 2005 review still remain valid, as the nuclear weapons states pay only lip service to nuclear disarmament, still insist on their right to use nuclear weapons against those who do not posses such weapons, and selectively deny technology for the development of nuclear energy. Moreover, while India would be prepared to join a multilaterally negotiated and non-discriminatory treaty on a fissile material cut-off, we cannot accede to the CTBT, which was accompanied by secret understandings and exchanges between five nuclear weapons states.

India-US relations saw a remarkable turnaround in the last two years of the Clinton Administration and throughout the eight years of the Bush Administration. The 2002 Bush National Security Doctrine resulted in the US regarding India as a partner in areas ranging from nuclear non-proliferation to climate change and global economic issues. The policies the Obama Administration has pursued since it assumed office on such issues give the impression that it regards India as a target, rather than as a partner. Including provisions in the UN Security Council Resolution of September 24 which are at variance with the letter and spirit of the 123 Agreement and the subsequent NSG waiver only accentuates misgivings and suspicions in India. Similarly, the threats held out about trade sanctions against countries that do not toe the US line on climate change, by Democratic Party Senator John Kerry, smack of crude intimidation. Given the Obama Administration’s approach to relations with China, can one see any prospect of the type of swift and effective India-US cooperation that followed the Indian Ocean tsunami? These misgivings and suspicions will have to be addressed when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits Washington, DC.







Huge billboards sprawling across the city show a couple sitting at the extreme ends of a couch with the message ‘Mitigate, do not litigate’. Ten-second FM jingles invite couples thinking about divorce to the mediation cell to resolve their differences. These advertisements by the Delhi High Court Legal Services Committee are indeed works of creativity and originality, but unfortunately, far from reality.

The concept of the alternative dispute resolution, which is being vigorously promoted by the High Court to resolve compoundable offences at the pre-litigative stage, is nothing but a way to pass on the court’s burden to an authority which is less competent.

Cut to scene in a mediation cell room. A domestic violence victim —whom I know personally — seeking justice from the court has been sent for the so-called mediation along with her husband. Her promiscuous husband had deserted her along with her 12-year-old daughter and since then she has been living with her aged parents. As she enters the mediation cell she sees various posters on the walls reading ‘I have already thought enough. Now is the time to buy peace’, ‘Talking leads to Resolving’, etc.

Suddenly a Mediation Officer (a practising advocate) arrives and calls the victim and advises, “Your husband wants a divorce and is ready to pay you the price”. He continues, “Are you ready for a mutual compromise?”

The victim protests, “This is no mediation. I am sorry, I am not for sale. What you are doing clearly suggests that you are promoting divorces. Marriage is a sacred institution and I thought the mediation would facilitate reconciliation.”

The mediation officer was quick to reply, “We cannot help much as your husband insists on a divorce.” He later declared in his report to court that the mediation failed’.

It is appalling that the Delhi High Court is promoting such quick-fix solutions to lessen the burden of the court. The so-called mediators are none other than small-time lawyers waiting for their careers to take off and are performing mediation duty for an honorarium. They are not only inexperienced but also unprofessional.

The very purpose of setting up of a mediation cell is defeated when justice is not done. To make alternative dispute resolution feasible, the mediation cell must recruit experienced mediation officers. Several marriages can be saved through mediation. But the entire process has to be made more professional.








Last Sunday’s ‘We the People’ show on a television news channel dealt with women’s right to full equality in the armed forces, including active combat. Practical difficulties like being confined inside a battle tank or ill treated as PoWs were brushed aside by fiery champions of complete gender equality.

But combat in uniform is not the only way of registering prowess, independence and capability. Much as we decry Ms Mayawati or Ms Mamata Banerjee, perhaps they are the sturdiest examples of women power. Even if the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister inherited the mantle from her mentor Kanshi Ram, she was neither his daughter nor a close family member. She was born in a Dalit family and her father was a clerk. She worked as a schoolteacher in JJ Colony in Delhi and joined full-time politics only at the age of 30. Despite this background she became the Chief Minister of India’s most populous State for the fourth time in 2007. Whatever depths she may have stooped to conquer, neither physical stamina nor questions about her mental agility prevented her from trouncing the most powerful, moneyed and formidable among her opponents.

Another extraordinary example is Ms Banerjee. She started her political career as a virtual nonentity and yet in the 1984 general election she became India’s youngest parliamentarian, defeating the renowned Communist candidate Somnath Chatterjee. Ever since, she has held the South Kolkata seat in five general elections and has recently succeeded in wobbling CPI(M)’s complacency, besides bringing the house of Tata’s to tears. Whatever be her methods, she has displayed how a woman could pull off what no man has yet succeeded in doing — challenging CPI(M)’s iron grip over West Bengal. Significantly, neither Ms Mayawati nor Ms Banerjee has been launched by lineage, stardom or personal wealth — factors which are largely responsible for women’s political success.

That brings us to women professionals. Indra Nooyi was born into an ordinary Tamil family. A convent education, a chemistry degree and an IIM Calcutta MBA gave her the same openings as hundreds of others. While an education at Yale and consulting jobs must have added substance, they were not extraordinary enough to explain her meteoric rise to become the head of Pepsi within seven years. She is listed among Time’s 100 most influential people in the world and Forbes put her down as the third most powerful woman. While immense credit has to go to an environment which rewarded competence, regardless of roots or gender, Ms Nooyi’s own achievements have been nothing short of extraordinary. Unquestionably she must have displayed supreme combative skills in the corporate world of cut-throat players. It is that quality that needs close watch particularly as Ms Nooyi’s brilliant smile gives nothing away.

Let us consider women doctors and women lawyers: As a bureaucrat in the health sector I had the benefit of dealing with the largest cross-section of doctors, super specialists and clinicians for over 15 years. When it came to competence and skills, men and women medicos were regarded as equally competent. But invariably, women, having opted for softer specialities like obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics and dermatology, found themselves overshadowed by high-profile super specialists from cardiology and orthopaedics, who advised Government behind the scenes. Prime ministerial knees and hearts have occupied the best brains and time of specialists at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. At one point an endicrinologist influenced the health policy of India simply because he was treating the then Prime Minister for diabetes.

Women doctors, for opting for certain career options, are automatically relegated to the somewhat routine area of delivering babies or tending to the female reproductive cycle. Critical as these areas are, they shut opportunities to gain in relevance, a prerequisite for being taken seriously.

Let us come to lawyers. One never hears of a woman lawyer being made the Solicitor General of India or taking on prestigious cases dealing with the Constitution or white-collar crime. When Mr AR Antulay, himself a barrister-at-law, set up a high-powered committee as Health Minister, he put together a galaxy of jurists and lawyers featuring 12 legal luminaries. Among them there was only one woman lawyer, more seen than heard.

During hearings in the Supreme Court I had occasion to sit behind the three different Solicitor Generals who defended the Health Ministry at different points of time against private medical colleges. At those hearings the courtrooms were packed to capacity as each matter had important constitutional and federal ramifications. Notably women lawyers were not present. By selecting to work in important but niche areas of the legal profession, women have side-lined themselves from the all important process of having a hand and a say in determining state policy.

It is not the physical or mental strength of women that needs debate. It is how their abilities can be channelled in a way that their voice begins to matter and they cannot be fobbed off by tokenism. Instead of espousing the role of permanent protesters for women’s rights to be taken seriously, women have first to stir themselves and select the most decisive roles within their chosen careers. The battle field is not the only arena to determine female combat worthiness or competence.








Prof Sachidananda Mohanty says in his well-written and painstakingly-researched work, Sri Aurobindo: A Contemporary Reader (Routledge), “I have often wondered why university intellectuals are reluctant to engage with Sri Aurobindo.” To this writer, the answer lies in the fact that most contemporary university intellectuals are unfamiliar with — and/or have no interest in — the Vedas, Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras which constitute the spiritual architecture of the monotheistic philosophy and monist spirituality of the Vedantic view of life. Nor are they acquainted with the Purans, the great epics, Ramayan and Mahabharat, which illustrate the application of the cardinal principals underlying this view to a spiritual and moral universe that includes gods, human beings, and non-human living beings.

There is no point in blaming Thomas Babington Macaulay and the system of Western education through English medium instruction that he introduced. Sri Aurobindo was himself a product of that system, though his exposure to it was in England from his early boyhood. Contact with the ideas generated by the post-Renaissance and post-Enlightenment Western intellectual tradition through the medium of the English language contributed to the emergence of Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay, Iswarchandra Vidyasagar, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Maharshi Devendranath and his son Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekanand, Jagadish Chandra Bose, Romesh Chandra Dutt, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and a host of other stalwarts. Familiar with the discourse at the heart of Western culture, they used the critical methods and analytical tools that evolved in its matrix, to interrogate and revive their own civilisational heritage in which they were firmly rooted. Two major consequences followed the 19th Century Bengal Renaissance and similar intellectual ferments, albeit on much smaller scales, elsewhere in India, and the reform movements of which the two main — but totally contrary in character — ones were spearheaded by the Brahmo Samaj and Arya Samaj respectively.

There were, doubtless, others who were dazzled by the military and economic power of imperial Britain, which they attributed to the superiority of Western culture. In a parallel process, they denigrated India’s traditional civilisation which they held responsible for the country’s social, intellectual and moral degradation that led to colonial rule. They, however, constituted a marginal presence thanks to continuing surge of the national sentiment during the struggle. Unfortunately, independence blunted the edge of Indian nationalism which had been sharpened by the humiliating and exploitative character of British rule. From an active presence, nationalism was relegated to the backwaters of one’s consciousness and surged to the fore only in times of national crises like wars with China in 1962 and Pakistan in 1947-49, 1965, 1971 and 1999. The result was a decline of interest in the cultural wellsprings that to a large extent defined the national identity of a vast majority of Indians.

The second reason was the influence of Marxism over a growing body of Indian intellectuals. Marx was not the virulent denigrator of religion that he is made out to be. Apart from the intellectual attraction of his philosophy, his attitude toward religion, however, influenced his Indian adherents. He wrote in A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

However carefully nuanced Marx’s critique, his rejection of religion was total; so was that by Marxist intellectuals, whose influence grew in a great measure because of the support of the entire global and Indian Communist movements behind them. On the other hand, the Vedantic tradition no longer had a charismatic leader like Swami Vivekanand and Sri Aurobindo or a stalwart literary and mystical figure like Rabindranath Tagore. Finally, given the growing complexity of modern societies and the increasing importance social, political, administrative and economic activity, subjects related to these commanded precedence in the universities. Growing specialisation in the academic world left one with little time for anything-including one’s own spiritual heritage and its exponents — outside one’s own discipline. This is an absolute shame. Sri Aurobindo’s universal and cosmic vision has much to offer to a troubled world.







The situation in Bundelkhand is turning perilous. The indicators simply stare you in the face. Between 1999 and 2008, the average number of rainy days per year has reduced from 52 to 23 in this agro-climatic zone of Madhya Pradesh. No wonder then that in the current year this beleaguered land faces a 53 per cent deficit in average rainfall.

So, is Bundelkhand totally rain-fed and dependent year after year on the quantum of water its parched grounds receive? The answer also stares one in the face. The previous year was comparatively better after five years of drought. Yet that counts for very little even a year on. A great pity, but more than that a neglect of this precious resource showing an abysmal lack of focus in developmental policies.

Some pertinent questions arise here. Would the agriculture bunds be able to stop the run-off water? How would the ground water level rise then and the soil receive the much needed moisture? In such situation, even if the expected 950 mm of rain were received, would it really meet the needs of this land?

While all these questions form aspects of development agenda, one thing is eminently clear. That the drought in Bundelkhand is not due to a failure of rains alone. As per the statistics of the Union Irrigation and Power Ministry, 1985, every year about 1,31,021 sqmt of rainwater is available in this region. Of this a mere 14,355 sqmt is used while 1,16,666 sqmt of water simply runs off. This amounts to only a negligible 10.95 per cent of water being utilised. The situation today remains the same more or less.

Unfortunately, development priorities here are not based on the larger understanding of climatic cycles and the lay of the land but choose to instead address each crisis in a piecemeal way, going from year to year, drought to drought.

Traditionally, the region, in spite of its rain woes, has managed to keep hunger at bay and that itself speaks volumes about its potential to fight drought; both these conditions normally are considered synonymous, one leading to the other. Following rain-fed principles, farmers here took to growing food crops which survived in drought conditions and used less water. Sadly the Government is impervious to this potential and has failed to explore such options. More specifically, it has failed to promote growing of pulses, which requires one-third water as compared to paddy crops.

The effect of this neglect is widespread, with deficient rains marking Tikamgarh (56 per cent less) Chhatarpur (54 per cent), Panna (61 per cent), Sagar (52 per cent) and Damoh (61 per cent). Literally the entire belt. As expected, the land is getting ravaged, losing its fertility and needs urgent attention by the Government to restore it. Instead of addressing this core need, the Government compounds the felony by granting mining lease and allowing cement factories to be set up on the now fallow land. These not only occupy large areas of land which can be restored to become fertile but pollute environment through deadly gases. Cement factories emit methane and damage huge areas of land around the factory, causing health hazards also.

Clearly the onus for creating such a situation lies squarely with the Government. But more important is the question, does Bundelkhand need this? Wouldn’t it be infinitely wiser to nourish its soil, water, forests, things which were once its strength giving sustenance to its people? Sadly the Government seems hell-bent on imposing a different of development. Blaming the rain gods solely for the ravaged land now seems like a hollow exercise when much more could have been done to prevent the damage.

The list of follies is long. Fifteen big dams were constructed in the region, of which only 30 per cent capacity is being utilised, the rest are dysfunctional because of heavy silting. NREGA could have played a very important role in addressing drought conditions. Instead the State bureaucracy stuck to routine jobs displaying a lack of drought mitigation perspective. For instance, only four per cent of the old ponds can still be used. Under NREGA other ponds could have been revived and de-silted. But these opportunities were either missed or thrown away.

Through this process, local communities’ stake and role played in water management over the centuries have also been undermined. It is no mean achievement that under their care, some of the big baawadies and taalabs like Sindoor Sagar Talab in Tikamgarh have survived for 1,000 years.

It is not only in Bundelkhand that this lack of focus or political will is seen. What is disturbing is that water management policies adopted by various State Governments have led to either rivers drying up, like the Narmada and the Sone, or flooding, like the Kosi. Sea water is finding its way back into dried rivers, causing river waters like that of the Narmada to turn saline.

Reversing all this requires a great deal of wisdom, clarity and a sense of purpose followed by action on the ground. Perhaps the starting point would be to view the current drought situation in Bundelkhand not as a vagary of nature but caused by wilful destruction of nature’s process by human beings. Can we expect our policy-makers to pay heed and meet this challenge?







West of Karl Marx and just up the path from Charles Dickens’ widow and daughter stands author Audrey Niffenegger, deep in the heart of London’s Highgate Cemetery, the setting for her new novel, Her Fearful Symmetry.

Niffenegger — who was propelled to literary stardom by her best-selling novel Time Traveler’s Wife — is telling a group of tourists about one of the most colourful characters to end up in the Victorian burial ground, the menagerist George Wombwell, who died in 1850 and now lies in a tomb underneath a giant stone lion. Niffenegger spent years researching the fabled London cemetery for her book —the final resting place for such luminaries as novelist George Eliot, actor Ralph Richardson, physicist Michael Faraday and poet Christina Rossetti, as well as Marx and a handful of Dickenses.

Now she’s so familiar with it that she can guide tourists around with professional ease.

The labyrinth of Egyptian sepulchers, Victorian mausoleums, gravestones and Gothic tombs, perched on a hill above the smoke and filth of London, seems the perfect setting for a ghost story about a woman who dies of cancer and returns to haunt her lover and twin nieces.

But Niffenegger, who has developed a cult following for her lushly romantic tales of love, loss and obsession, originally had a less storied place in mind — a huge graveyard outside her hometown Chicago called Graceland.

“At the time I remember thinking: Graceland’s fantastic, but if you’re going to have a cemetery what’s the great cemetery? And that would be Highgate,” she said, recalling the days when the idea for the novel first came to her in 2002.

“I was always interested in the Victorian and Edwardian period, and Highgate is such a beautifully concentrated and unusual Victorian place.”

The mythical pull of Highgate —where the spirits of the Victorian age seem to whisper around every corner — lies at the heart of Her Fearful Symmetry. The book begins with the death of Elspeth Noblin at the age of 44, and the subsequent arrival of her American identical nieces to her apartment.

Noblin writes on her deathbed: “A bad thing about dying is that I’ve started to feel as though I’m being erased. Another bad thing is that I won’t get to find out what happens next.” But Elspeth — who also has an identical twin sister — does get to find out: Her spirit remains in the apartment, which borders the cemetery, hiding in the drawer of a desk, and gradually learns how to haunt.

“The novel is about grief, about couples coming together, coming undone, or who seem to be together but will later come undone ... and there are other couples who are reforming, so it’s kind of an exercise in symmetry, doubling, twinning, opposites and dark sides,” said the 46-year-old Niffenegger, unmistakable in her flowing red hair, ghostly pallor and brainy glasses. She said many of the cameos in the novel are sewn from the years she spent researching the cemetery, which opened in 1839, and even volunteering there as a tour guide.

Two of those characters are based on the former chair of the charity that looks after the grounds, Jean Pateman, 88, and her husband, John.

On her tours — as in her book Niffenegger, takes visitors into the gothic wilderness beyond: Tombs, graves, catacombs, and mausoleums, many topped by statues of angels.

To the south of this day’s tourist group, at the end of a path that weaves fairytale-like through rain-battered graves, unkempt shrubbery, wild flowers and trees, is the tomb of the pre-Raphaelite Rossetti — whose melancholy verses about love and regret — hold particular resonance for Niffenegger.

“What’s great about (Highgate) is it really is like a narrative. It sort of unfolds and you can’t see very far ahead so you stop them periodically and let them look around and talk about whatever it is that you are standing in front of.”

Niffenegger isn’t alone among today’s premier novelists to have been inspired by Highgate. Tracy Chevalier — author of The Girl with the Pearl Earring — set her Falling Angels in the cemetery and calls it “the perfect setting” for a novel. “Maybe writers are drawn to it because it provides a complete atmosphere — gothic, overgrown, steeped in death — that you don’t have to make up. You can just go there and describe what you see,” she said in an e-mail interview.

“You can walk around and be quite alone and hidden. I think novelists like secret places, because we are secretive ourselves. In Her Fearful Symmetry, Niffenegger once again returns to her favourite themes of love, loss, and identity.

“They seem to run all through my art, not just these last two books but the artwork that I’ve worked on for the past 27 years, so it seems to be somehow intrinsic to what I think about. I’m not saying that I could never write about anything else, but they seem to get in there without any great effort on my behalf.” Niffenegger, also a successful artist and author of two acclaimed graphic novels, won’t comment on media reports that she signed a $ 4.5 million publishing deal for the new book.








The saffron combine has dusted up an old agenda ahead of the Maharashtra polls. It wants to end migration to Mumbai and other urban centres in the state. This follows the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena's (MNS) threat to put in place a permit system to regulate migration to India's financial capital. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), a member of the ruling coalition, joined this populist bandwagon when it pushed reservation of 80 per cent jobs for locals. Now the BJP-Shiv Sena have upped the ante by including a similar demand in their manifesto. Thanks to the obsession with carving out vote banks, Raj Thackeray's extremist demands have now become mainstream.

The problem, however, is that it is flagrantly unconstitutional. Our Constitution guarantees the right of all Indian citizens to travel, work and reside anywhere in the country. Political parties that want to contest elections are legally bound to respect the Constitution. Exceptions can't be made for the BJP, Sena, MNS or NCP. The concern of these parties for the welfare of Maharashtrians is no doubt justified, but the prescription to improve their lot is misplaced. The suggested 'permit system' would tear apart the social and economic fabric of Mumbai and Maharashtra. Mega cities and economies across time and place have been built with the sweat of migrants. Mumbai is no exception. Its history and identity can't be altered by fiat from political parties.

The Congress-NCP government, having been in office for two successive terms, ought to take a large part of the blame for the state's worries. But the saffron combine, instead of raising issues of governance and there are so many of them wants to campaign with banal slogans. The alliance hopes to check the influence of MNS, an offshoot of the Sena, with a matching rhetoric. It may suit Sena's immediate interests to force a political discourse that pits Maharashtrian against non-Maharashtrian. But the BJP, which has a pan-Indian presence and wants to expand that, will pay a price for backing the Sena's narrow political vision.

The Congress and the NCP may have criticised the saffron combine's position on migration, but they too are guilty of facilitating a political climate that encourages chauvinist identity politics. The Congress-NCP government has all along winked at MNS's hate campaigns since its growth is expected to weaken the Sena. Such agendas, even if raised only as election rhetoric, can build momentum for disastrous policy changes. If Maharashtra enforces a permit system there will be retaliatory sanctions from other states, which poses problems for the country at large. Political parties must not allow temporary (and doubtful) electoral gains to override the interests of the country and its people.







How many times have we come across a place of religious worship smack in the middle of a thoroughfare or encroaching on the road in such a way as to hinder traffic? The Supreme Court has now banned unauthorised construction of places of worship in public places. In a landmark judgement a two-judge bench has said that no illegal construction of a temple, church, gurdwara, mosque or any other religious institution shall be permitted in public spaces.

The court's directive won't be easy to enforce given the reluctance of authorities to step in where the possibility of hurting religious sentiments is concerned. But in a rare show of consensus, all states agreed at a meeting held by the Union home secretary about the need to ban unauthorised religious structures. There is some ambiguity about existing illegal constructions. The court has rightly asked state governments to review each case separately and then take action. That such action is feasible was illustrated when chief minister Narendra Modi, who often behaves as Hindutva's poster boy, backed municipal corporations across Gujarat as they demolished places of worship causing obstruction on roads and other places, despite widespread protests.

The Supreme Court ruling highlights one of the essential features of a secular state where freedom of religion is guaranteed so long as it does not clash with the laws of the country. Thus, there is a caveat of "public order, morality and health" to freedom of religion articles in the Indian Constitution. That is precisely why construction of a place of worship cannot be permitted if it is not authorised or causes inconvenience to the public.

A similar logic can be applied to other forms of religious expression or festivities that cause public inconvenience. The use of loudspeakers during religious festivals or prayers is one such example. There is no reason why a religious ceremony should be allowed to disturb the peace of people who are not involved with it in any way. Religious festivals and ceremonies are an integral part of Indian culture. Indeed, our secularism tolerates and encourages all forms of religious faith in the public sphere. But such displays must be mindful of the laws of the land. Diwali is a few days away. We have all become habituated to the noise and air pollution caused by Diwali fireworks despite inconvenience to the sick, elderly and young. But there is no reason why festivities, and construction of places of religious worship, should brazenly flout laws.








Perhaps the fastest-moving place in one of the world's fastest-moving countries is Chongqing, in China's south-west. The most populous city in China (some 30 million inhabitants), it's at the head of the Three Gorges Dam, one of the country's most important infrastructure projects. The city is not beautiful, but it has a real energy and sense of place, sitting on cliffs above the confluence of two major rivers, the Yangtze and the Jialing. One of the most impressive, if hair-raising, rides in China is the five-minute cable car journey across the river, with only some slightly creaky-looking engineering preventing you from dropping into the fast-flowing waters below. The whole city is lit by an endless array of neon lights as its inhabitants continue to fuel the country's economic boom.

But Chongqing was not always so prosperous. Just over 60 long years ago, during World War II, Chongqing, then known better as Chungking, was connected to India by the perilous air route across the Burma 'hump', an essential lifeline for the city in its defence against the Japanese occupation of eastern China. That history, now largely forgotten, has become part of a wider Chinese quest for national and global status today, and Chongqing is a key meeting point for questions that link China's past, present and future.

For seven years, from 1938 to 1945, Chongqing was the temporary capital of China, whose Nationalist (Kuomintang) government, under Chiang Kai-shek, held out in resistance against the Japanese invasion. That history was quickly blanked out in Chairman Mao's China, after the communist victory in 1949. Mao's party did not wish its official histories to tell any story which might reflect credit on their old enemy, Chiang Kai-shek, who had now fled to Taiwan, and the Communist Party's interpretation of the events of the war against Japan played down the importance of the Nationalist regime's continued resistance, without which the Allies might never have won in Asia.

However, in recent years, there has been a radical shift in the Chinese attitude towards their own history. The 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China falls today, and China's own people will take this opportunity to look at their own regime and the events that brought it to power six decades ago. That regime will stress the positive side of 60 years of Communist Party rule, including greatly raised literacy rates, lower infant mortality and of course, the fastest-growing economy in modern history. It will say rather less about human rights abuses, endemic corruption, and massive environmental pollution, all of which continue to blight contemporary China. But one aspect that will certainly be explored is China's own recent modern history.

For one key element of the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic is nationalism, and a crucial aspect of the new patriotism is a revived memory of the Sino-Japanese War including the contribution made by the communists' old enemy, the Nationalists. Chiang Kai-shek is now regarded in mainland China as a figure who did make a patriotic contribution to resisting the Japanese. And Chongqing has taken full advantage of the opportunity to recall its past glory days as a beacon of resistance, defending China's freedom during wartime. For its new status as a huge, entrepreneurial metropolis is welcome, but not sufficient.

Today's economic growth brings prosperity and comfort, but it has failed to bring the Chinese people values that they can believe in. And the events that inspired a previous generation, such as Mao's Cultural Revolution, have been exposed as disasters. That is why so many places and people in China have started to look into the past before the communist revolution for historical material to fuel the imagination of a younger generation. For instance, Shanghai, China's most advanced metropolis, is now suffused with nostalgia for the roaring days of the 1920s when the city was Asia's gateway to the world. And for many educated Chinese today, the place to look for values is China's traditional philosophy: one of this year's best-selling books was a primer on the thought of Confucius.

But Chongqing's embrace of its wartime role is perhaps the most affecting example of how contemporary Chinese social change draws on the past. If you go to the centre of the city, you will see a wealth of gleaming skyscrapers, of the sort that have become iconic of the 21st century Chinese cityscape. But nearer ground level is a much shorter monument, just a few metres tall. That monument was erected during the war to symbolise the hoped-for victory in the struggle against Japan. It survived the years of Maoist revolution and is still there today, a clear reminder in the centre of one of China's most dynamic modern cities that the past, however long forgotten, can eventually be rescued from obscurity and play a role in the present and future.

The writer is professor, history and politics of modern China, University of Oxford.






If the University Grants Commission (UGC) has its way, then it might become mandatory for university professors and teachers to clock a minimum of 40 hours a week at work. They will have to be physically present for at least five hours a day on campus and earmark six hours a week for research. This move to fix workload for academics in terms of hours spent on site is misplaced. It reflects the bureaucratic mindset of administrators in India. While less bureaucracy is desirable in all spheres of public life, education is one area that desperately needs to be unshackled.

Universities and colleges are no factory floors. The output of teachers cannot be measured merely by the number of hours they are physically present on campus. A lot more goes into the making of an effective educator. A teacher can be present eight hours a day but that does not necessarily make her competent or effective. In assessing the productivity and efficacy of teachers, it's crucial to factor in their research output and student feedback. Neither of these can be gauged from mere attendance.

Top quality universities and colleges in countries where education is of a much higher quality than in India do not lay down such absurd rules. Teachers and professors are expected to take a certain number of classes a week, be available between two to four hours in office per week to interact with students who need advice, and produce original research in their area of specialisation. Much emphasis is placed on how up-to-date they are with developments in their field of study and the quality of their teaching and research, as assessed by students and peers respectively.

Flexible work hours give teachers the freedom to spend constructive time in libraries, seminars, refresher workshops, etc all of which are vital inputs to their knowledge base. It's virtually impossible to enforce and monitor the proposal that the UGC has come up with. Instead of trying to fix input, regulators would do better to measure tangible output.







The UGC proposal to mandate professors and all teachers in full employment at universities to work 40 hours a week should be welcomed. Higher education in India, much like primary and secondary school education, suffers hugely from teacher absenteeism. Requiring professors and teachers to come to class and holding them accountable if they don't would be a big step forward in providing quality education to Indian youth.

There is a section that believes that requiring a workload of 40 hours a week from teachers is overkill. But 40 hours is really not very much. All the UGC requires is that professors be physically present on campus for five hours everyday. This doesn't mean that they have to take five hours of classes direct teaching hours are limited to 16 a week for assistant professors and 14 hours for more senior teachers. Professors will be free to spend rest of their time in libraries, conducting research, or meeting with students who wish to discuss problems or ideas with them. With class sizes in India being big, it makes sense to have teachers available for longer periods than is the norm in, say, American or British universities.

It is all very well to suggest that the level of a professor's commitment to teaching be judged through student evaluations and papers published in reputed journals. But we all know how little credence is given to student feedback, particularly when big name professors prove to be unpopular. Incentivising teachers to publish more is a good idea. But this should not come at the cost of teaching which, after all, is the primary responsibility of those in the education business. Universities in Britain and the US are facing criticism for just this; the emphasis placed on research is so high that teaching, particularly undergraduate teaching, suffers as a result. And in India, where there is no practice of professors hiring teaching assistants to share their workload, encouraging teachers to put publishing papers above classroom hours would be a big mistake. Losing a degree of flexibility in how teachers spend their time is a small price to pay to improve the standards of teaching in our universities.







It is always a pleasure to interact with trained and professional receptionists in offices who are courteous and to the point. However, many a time we encounter people who are brash and rude and pay scant respect to callers. This makes interactions futile and we tend to become desperate. Private calls are no different and pose varying problems. When we wish to talk to our friends or relatives, a small child picks up the phone. We are then compelled to make small talk to the child till his parent comes on the line, which may be after a few minutes or after an unendurably longer interval. Then, out of courtesy, we are expected to appreciate that such a small child has already begun responding to telephone calls. Only then the actual conversation begins. There are instances when a slightly older child handles the phone and is being tutored by his parents to respond as per their convenience. The child first checks one's identity and then takes instructions from the parents to reply appropriately. He may say that the parents are not available, or that they have gone for a walk and so on. As the child is not adept in this skill, it becomes quite obvious to the caller that his call is not welcome at that time.

Then there are old people who begin enquiring about all family members individually, and put down the receiver thereafter, not realising that the caller had a message to convey. Some telephones are always engaged whenever we call as the person is actually surfing the Net using the dial-up connection. We also encounter continuously engaged telephones when people gossip for hours together or children exchange notes and complete home assignments by conversing with their friends over the phone. And, of course, all of us keep getting telephone calls from call centres, whence the caller tries to market promotional offers or solicits customers for loans or credit cards. The telephone is a very convenient and powerful means of communication and with the progress of technology, it has become accessible to almost everyone. It is now necessary to bring awareness amongst the users to utilise the facility effectively and develop a sense of discipline both at the time of calling and also at the time of receiving calls.








He was a global guru, revered greatly and loved more by the thousands whose lives he had had transformed. But for us he was just Ena, the name used by his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It is difficult to believe that I had known him for less than five years.

Ena and Ema were my daughter-in-law’s grandparents, and we immediately became part of the Sunday family lunch in their gracious, spacious home. We were ensconced there before Akshata and my son got married, before they went to live with them, and much before Kahaan and later Kabir fortified the magnet that drew us into that energizing circle.

Ena in his rocking chair facing the door, Ema in her more stable one with her back to it, the couple was a gravitational centre. Every weekday morning from 9.30  to 11, it was only Ena in his universal identity as Ramesh Balsekar, as  he conducted his daily Q&A  with the multicultural seekers who  packed his large verandah. Now that he’s gone where will his disciples find an answer to their myriad confusions?  


And what about a family bereft of its focal point? As adults we are denied the carefree boon granted to the very young and the very old. Little children bring it swaddled in their innocence; wisdom bestows it on the aged. Kabir at nine months is still gestating to a consciousness of the world beyond his mother’s arms. Kahaan is a precocious almost-three-year-old, but, while we flounder, he seems to have made a quick peace with life without the familiar presence.

The two had a special bond. The seekers noticed the child confident of his place in the scheme of things as he sat quietly in his great grandfather’s lap throughout the session, and clapped along with the closing bhajans. We saw it in the way the seer understood at a deeper level what had left us, doting grandparents, only amused. The toddler and the Master, each had easy access to intimations of immortality; we alas, were too blinkered by arrogant intellect.  


Ema left us this June, shortly after she had brought in her 90th birthday with her equally sprightly friends and her devoted family. Last Sunday, Ena followed her. They had lived together for 69 years, and even gurus of negativist philosophies cannot negate the cosmic extension of such an enduring bond.  If their consecutive deaths were merely preordained --as everything is according to the Advaita philosophy expounded by Ramesh Balsekar-- then destiny is less whimsical than we think.

Staring at Ena’s sparse, 92-year-old  frame weighed down by the marigolds  on a municipal crematorium’s heartless platform, I preferred to think instead of  an imminent reunion. In the mythology of my own Zoroastrian faith, predeceased loved ones, all restored  to their glowing youth, rush to the gates of  heaven  to welcome the newly arrived soul. It’s a reassuring thought for those about to cross over and a comforting one for those they leave behind.


Three months ago, I had stepped diffidently into their room one tear-streaked dawn to see Ena and Ema lying on their joined-together beds as they had for almost 70 years. She was covered in garlands; he had been slightly sedated, but his eyes lids fluttered open and he gazed upon her wordlessly.  


Then, as they carried her out of the bedroom door in her favourite sari of quiet tussar, he shuffled to his feet, joined his palms together and murmured, ‘She was perfect.’ It was a crystal moment , capturing marital bliss, loss and my own imperfections.

Now goodbye will turn to a welcome. Ema will be elegantly turned out, as always. And Ena will impishly pull out a neatly pasted clipping from his kurta pocket and read aloud the joke which he had, as always, saved up for her restrained delight.









For as long as we can remember, both the Centre and states have been ambivalent on the issue of illegally constructed places of worship on public land. While on the one hand, no one accepts that such encroachments be permitted, on the other, the issue of communal sensitivity in demolishing such structures has been raised. The Supreme Court seems to have put paid to this by ruling that no fresh construction of places of worship will be allowed on public land while saying that a review of the existing ones will be taken by both Centre and the states. The issue of sensitivities cannot be taken lightly. The Centre itself had appealed a Gujarat High Court ruling ordering the Narendra Modi government to remove encroaching religious structures. But the resultant turmoil saw the court ordering a stay on the High Court ruling. Mr Modi, who complied with the High Court, found himself under severe attack from self-styled Hindutva organisations.


The question must also be asked as to how these structures are allowed to come up with no permissions in the first place.


In almost all cities and small towns, land grabbers have found that the easiest way to seize valuable real estate is to proclaim that the site is a place of worship. Delhi alone has 60,000 illegal structures that should have been nipped in the bud. Under guise of religion, people’s right to public space is obstructed. Recently, Eid prayers held up traffic on a busy inter-state highway with the police unable to act for fear of offending religious sentiments. Religion, in a secular state, should be a private affair that causes no discomfort to fellow citizens who may or may not be spiritually inclined. This concept of ‘in-your-face’ religiosity is the cause of communal disharmony.


True, encroachments must be removed in a sensitive manner but such actions cannot be allowed to become a law and order problem. The states and Centre must engage the clergy of all faiths on this issue. It is most certainly without their sanction that these structures have been put up more with an eye on profit than genuine spirituality. This way, those masquerading as keepers of the faith would be derailed. The real challenge will come when the move to demolish existing structures begins. But this cannot be swept under the carpet if we are to preserve long-term communal harmony and civic order.







At last, the BJP has found a fresh, daring issue — at least its Haryana chapter in Gurgaon has. With Assembly polls round the bend, the party has promised that it will ensure that ‘Western music’ becomes illegal if it comes to power. Do party members have a bad association with Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor? Did listening to Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries one Baisakhi night make them have thoughts that were particularly Aryan in nature? It turns out that the Haryana BJP has other, more deep-rooted worries about ‘Western music’, which, we suppose, means less the violent tympanum roll in Beethoven’s 5th symphony for the BJP and more the violent hip-shaking sounds from a Shakira CD.


And, of course, it’s not really about the music. If adarsh Bharatiya naaris — whose behaviour things like this really boils down to — could have gently tapped their feet to the latest 50 Cent or Britney remix, that shouldn’t have bothered our Concerned Ones. In the presence of senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley, not known to stick only to renditions of Raag Bhairavi or rollicking kirtans, Haryana BJP President Krishan Pal Gujjar stated that “in the name of culture, western music and vulgarity will be banned through law," if his party is voted to power.


What has got the decadent-liberal lot scratching their gelled hair about is whether the BJP in Gurgaon, Mecca to so many clubs and shakedowns, is waging a war against vulgarity or against western vulgarity? Because if it’s the latter, frankly, Bharatiya masti-makers would be only too happy to switch to the seriously rocking jhatka music of the ‘Dhan te nan’ remix. In fact, tight cholis may be a better idea than low-cut jeans, yaar.









For 20 years, the politics of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar has been defined by an ambiguous but nevertheless persuasive idea called ‘social engineering’. In 1989-90, the states threw up new OBC (Other Backward Caste) Chief ministers in Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Yadav. Over the next decade, a process of Dalit empowerment too gained momentum. In Patna, Dalit votes began to count more than they ever had. In Lucknow, a Dalit chief minister took office more than once. Eventually, she swept the assembly election of 2007.


Today, something extraordinary is happening in both these states. The upper caste voter, pushed to the sidelines through the 1990s and well into the first decade of the 21st century, is emerging as a potential game changer. In the Bihar election of 2010 and the Uttar Pradesh election of 2012, it is very likely that upper caste voters — a euphemism for, really, Brahmins, the urban middle classes and small, state-specific communities such as Bhumihars in Bihar or Vaishyas in Uttar Pradesh — will decide the winner.


The recent by-elections in Bihar offered a teaser-trailer. The JD(U)-led NDA lost badly to the Lalu Yadav-Ram Vilas Paswan combine. The loss could be explained in terms of the upper caste vote moving away from the NDA and going to the Congress. This reduced the NDA’s votes without necessarily adding to those of Yadav-Paswan backed candidates. However, the Congress was an effective spoiler.


Assessments from the state say the upper caste Bihari voter was sending Chief Minister Nitish Kumar a message. It is argued that while making efforts to court every section of society, Kumar has taken the upper caste electorate for granted. On his part, Yadav used the by-election campaign to appeal to Brahmins and, if not win their votes, blunt their hostility.


Yet, the story of Bihar is not quite the re-emergence of the Lalu phenomenon. It is questionable if traditionally privileged caste groups will readily go to his corner. Indeed, even after the by-election results, the Congress has refused to entertain ideas of any grand alliance with Messrs Yadav and Paswan. It senses the Brahmin/middle class voter is coming back to the party only because the Congress is fighting alone, unencumbered by a Mandalite chieftain.


On the other hand, far from diminishing the cohesiveness of the NDA in Bihar, this set of by-elections has actually increased the dependence of Kumar and the JD(U) on the BJP. As the alliance partner that brings
in upper caste votes, the BJP will be able to bargain from a stronger position.


In the end, however, it will be locked in a contest for the Brahmin and urban middle class constituency with the Congress. A mini-battle between two national parties will shape the future of what has for 20 years been an intensely and incestuously local polity. The upper caste voter will decide which OBC will run the chief minister’s office in Patna.


The tectonic plates are just beginning to shift in Bihar. In Uttar Pradesh, the pieces of the jigsaw have already formed a fresh picture. Here, the Congress’s ‘go it alone’ approach — at the starting block in Bihar — is acquiring critical mass. As is now apparent, Uttar Pradesh is devolving into a two-horse race between the Congress and the BSP. The Samajwadi Party (SP) is slipping back to its Lok Dal past, a party of upper OBCs with little incremental appeal; the BJP is in decline.

What exactly is happening in Uttar Pradesh? The Congress is becoming a magnet for Muslims. Again, state by-elections from August 2009 can be cited as evidence. In 2007, the Congress had finished a poor fourth in Malihabad and Moradabad (West) assembly constituencies. In the recent by-elections, it finished a respectable second to the BSP in Moradabad (West) and third to the BSP and an Independent in Malihabad. The SP and BJP were left behind. Both seats have sizeable Muslim populations.


The Muslim voter is only coming because he now considers the Congress as being in the reckoning. Underpinning this viability is the migration of the Brahmin and urban middle class vote. To some extent it was seen in the Lok Sabha election, when the Congress did better than expected.


Already, the talk in Lucknow is the party will project somebody like Rita Bahuguna Joshi as chief ministerial candidate in 2012. If so, it will be the first time since


N.D. Tiwari and 1989 that a mainstream party will venture to promise a Brahmin the top job. For two decades, social engineering and its confounding calculations had rendered this impossible.


Mayawati and the BSP will not give up without a struggle. The lady senses the broad social coalition she crafted for the 2007 election is now history. As such, she is focusing on her core voters — Dalits, particularly more prosperous or educated sub-castes such as Jatavs.


Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Uttar Pradesh this past week — and his politically-loaded gesture of sleeping in a Dalit house — indicated the Congress too is alive to the formidable challenge that Mayawati presents. However, the party may well consider the Brahmin vote sewn up.


As such, if the fates are willing, Brahmins could influence the choice of Bihar’s chief minister in a year, and Uttar Pradesh could have a Brahmin chief minister in two-and-a-half years. The gospel of social engineering will require re-engineering.


Ashok Malik is a Delhi-based writer(The views expressed by the author are personal)









Today marks the 60th year since Mao Zedong stood on the podium of the Forbidden City to announce the birth of Communist China. Based on China’s own history of peasant revolts, he saw and tapped into the revolutionary potential of the peasantry and turned it into the revolutionary force that succeeded in changing the face of China, putting in place a huge reform programme aimed at land reform and poverty alleviation under the single party rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).


Women were given equal rights, child labour was abolished and infrastructure for basic health and education put in place.

However, Mao’s 30-year reign left a mixed record. His great mass movements, including the Great Leap Forward of 1958, hoping to catapult China into the first world, left millions dead in a famine that followed. Similarly, the Great Cultural Revolution from 1966-1976, an attempt to destroy the old, was a dark chapter in China’s revolutionary history.


Mao’s constant class propaganda and his attack on intellectuals saw the horrific victimisation of many great writers and intellectuals. Many died or committed suicide. Monasteries and temples were destroyed. According to demographic data, millions died to fulfill Mao’s ideological dreams.


The biggest surprise during Mao’s tenure was the famous rapprochement with the US and Nixon’s surprise visit to China in 1971. The Sino-US alliance changed the global balance of power and brought China out of its enforced isolation. It became a member of the UN Security Council (UNSC), and was already a nuclear power in 1964, emerging as an important player in the world arena.


China’s economic reforms were ushered in under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping in 1978. They revitalised China’s agricultural sector and ushered in State ‘capitalism’. Deng Xiaoping famously said, “It’s good to get rich”, and these reforms succeeded in pulling more than half the population above the poverty line. Today, it is the second largest economy in the world standing at more than $3 trillion, underwriting US debt and propping up the financial institutions in South-east Asia. It is the engine that drives global manufacturing and is one of the largest consumers of energy with demand rising by 15 per cent per annum. Its economy continues to grow at more than 8 per cent per annum.


As a permanent member of the UNSC, China has quickly filled the vacuum left by the fall of the Soviet Union, emerging as a strong counter to US unilateralism. It has the world’s largest standing army, with modernised forces matching the power and technology of the West, and China’s own projection of its ‘peaceful rise’ has succeeded beyond measure. Today, there’s even talk of a G2 between China and the US.


While China races ahead, it has internal problems that will need to be carefully handled if it is to remain a stable power.


Amongst these is the growing internal economic disparity — visible in the more than hundred thousand riots and demonstrations that have taken place in China over the past few years, related to land takeovers by the State, corruption in the CCP and displacement of large peasant populations. Education is no longer free, and is leading to greater and more permanent class divisions. The enormous environmental damage caused by rapid
industrialisation and increasing use of fossil fuels, has turned it into the world’s largest polluter. The total control of the CCP and lack of an effective judicial system are also issues, as is the ethnic unrest in Xinjiang and Tibet.


Thus, the main challenges before China today are internal and not external. Yet, these problems do not detract from China’s remarkable journey into the 21st century. We can only hope that its rise will remain a peaceful one that will lead to regional and global stability and not to the birth of a new and aggressive world power.


Ravni Thakur is Associate Professor, Delhi University(The views expressed by the author are personal)













Air India’s self-indulgent pilots have called off their strike, but the takeaway from their drama remains unchanged. This country must seriously take stock and ask, do we really need a national carrier? Or put simply, would it not be in the interest of consumers and of the government that sustains it to simply shut down the airline? The balance sheet is uninspiring even in a sector where being in the red is for long stretches of time a way of life. This is a company unable to pay for fuel or airport usage, that begs the government for a bailout, and all the while refuses to tighten operating costs in a hyper-competitive marketplace. The most compelling reason put forth for bailing out the airline is to protect jobs. Yet, Air India’s over-paid pilots were, until Wednesday, striking work in protest against the few sensible cost-cutting schemes that the management chose to take up to keep it going.


The pilots’ unreasonableness must be seen in the context of larger structural flaws and poor decision-making. A flurry of aircraft acquisitions has meant added expenditure with few lucrative routes to generate revenue. Air India’s state-insured troubles have been compounded by a merger with Indian Airlines that hasn’t quite worked. And its employee to aircraft ratio is one of the highest in the world. That Air India’s cost cutting was legitimate seems obvious and reasonable enough. After all, the 50 per cent cut in productivity-linked-incentives (PLI) is only for those earning more than Rs 2 lakh PLI per month. For those earning Rs 10,000 or less PLI per month, there is only a 25 per cent reduction.


But such are the perverse labour laws that protect our pilots, that the most well-paid amongst them, earning at least a couple of lakh rupees a month, were able to unionise and collectively bargain (a strategy meant to protect the meek from the mighty, not the mollycoddled from management), bring our national career to its knees, and inflict daily damage of Rs 12 crore. Though the strike has been called off, no hard decisions have been taken — on the fate of our national carrier or of its pilots. The government must settle matters once and for all by carefully considering its options.







Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego” was a popular computer game in the ’80s, starring a trench-coated international fugitive, and meant to teach children geography as she popped up in various parts of the world. For long, after he was accused of facilitating the Bofors bribery, Ottavio Quattrocchi was a name like that — surfacing every now and then as the long arm of Indian justice reached out for him now in Malaysia, now in Argentina. Now, that attempt seems to have been decisively abandoned, as the UPA government dropped the case, citing paucity of evidence and declaring further pursuit a “waste of time”.


The opposition is outraged, but the Congress-led government shrugs its shoulders, saying it was about time the “phantom of Bofors” was exorcised and the character assassination ended. To outsiders, Bofors is the definitive symbol of corruption and the bad old days of one party, drunk on power. And ever since the UPA came back to power, it has persisted in the rolling over of institutional propriety. Law ministries, attorney generals and the CBI have all been complicit in this gradual loosening of the noose around Quattrocchi’s neck — unfreezing his London bank account (defying instructions from the Supreme Court, and later lamely admitting that over $4 million had already been withdrawn), withdrawing the Red Corner notice (issued to Interpol earlier by Indian law enforcement agencies, to enable his extradition). His name was cut out from the Interpol list just before UPA-I left office.


The furtiveness is what makes it so awful. Given that Quattrocchi is an enormously contentious figure, and that this one case is so bound up with the personal probity of the Congress leadership, it would have been far more fitting and honest to give the matter open airing. The involvement of law enforcement agencies in a seemingly stealthy way only casts the Quattrocchi case in a more lurid light. The sad fact is that even if Ottavio Quattrocchi was pure as the driven snow, and none of the charges stuck, the way this case is being handled, there is no possibility of political closure.










Vijender Singh has become the world’s highest ranked boxer in the middle weight (75 kg) category. For someone who has not struck gold in the biggest bouts, that number one ranking reflects an amazing consistency. And for a country that has traditionally not been able to sustain its boxers at a professional level, those who may be kept in the business of their sport even when amateur pursuits are exhausted, he has become the dream story that brings aspirants and followers to boxing. That is why rankings matter. (Though in the format of boxing, rankings are irrelevant, with bouts decided on draws of lots.)


That victory matters is written into 23-year-old Vijender’s profile. He had, he once confessed, considered abandoning boxing when it appeared that he would not qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Of course, he finally did, and won India its first medal ever in boxing, a bronze. But that medal mattered for more than just his marketability and promise. It radically changed the narrative of Indian boxing. Young boxers often admit to being deeply conscious of the story of Gurcharan Singh — including Vijender, who says he cried that day he had lost a place in the semi-finals in the 2000 Sydney Games on a countback. Singh left the country for the anonymity of playing the boxing circuit in the US, leaving Indian boxers to wonder at how emblematic that Sydney tie could be.


Recently, a decision was taken to admit women boxers in the Olympics, giving hope to India’s leading women boxers. As clusters of boxers, and thereby a boxing tradition, form in diverse parts of this country, boxing is fast becoming Indian sport’s most enthralling reference for aspiration. Vijender has perhaps accelerated that process.








The weakening of the American dollar in international markets and stronger foreign capital flows to India in recent weeks suggest that in the coming year the rupee could witness pressure to appreciate. Allowing the rupee to appreciate could be a way out of the policy dilemma of the Reserve Bank of India concerned with low growth and rising inflation. Preventing appreciation could, on the other hand, lead to either higher liquidity, if intervention is unsterilised, or to the familiar difficulties of sterilisation.


Despite the US being the epicentre of the global financial crisis, the dollar strengthened in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis. This somewhat surprising development has been explained by the increase in risk aversion of investors from around the world who preferred the relative safety of US treasury bills. In the last six months the dollar has weakened. It moved from $1.26 to the euro in early March to $1.47 in the last week of September. This weakening is being seen as the end of the phenomenon of the “flight to safety”, or the “dollar as a safe haven”.


As the risk appetite of global investors has increased in recent months, India has witnessed a return of foreign inflows. Both FDI and foreign portfolio flows have been strong. As the Indian economy grows at a relatively faster pace than the world economy and as the long-run growth prospects of the Indian economy remain strong, India can be expected to attract capital inflows.


The global weakening of the dollar and continued capital inflows can put pressure on the rupee to appreciate. What should be the RBI’s response?


One option is to do nothing and allow the rupee to appreciate. This would offer the RBI a way out of its current policy dilemma. It is currently faced with rising inflation and an economy just recovering from a big shock. If it were to raise interest rates, in response to inflationary expectations, it would be increasing the cost of borrowing for businesses and households. While the economic situation has improved compared to last year, it is too soon to make credit more expensive. GDP growth is still below the decadal average of 7 per cent. The growth rate of non-food bank credit (seasonally adjusted month on month) has certainly recovered from the post-crisis sub-10 per cent levels, but remains in the range of 15 to 18 per cent, and much below the pre-crisis level and the RBI target of 20 per cent. Business cycle conditions thus suggest that it is too soon for the RBI to raise interest rates.


What will rupee appreciation achieve? Most importantly, it will reduce the prices of goods which are either imported or priced at import-parity prices. While food prices, especially of fruits and vegetables, have risen the fastest, this is a supply management problem that can be addressed separately. If the concern is about prices of manufactured goods rising, these can be reduced by having a stronger currency. The exchange rate pass-through in India is both significant and quick.


But what about the effect of appreciation on exports? An appreciation of the rupee could hurt exports, which are already suffering a huge contraction.


Rupee appreciation would make our exports more expensive for foreign consumers, who would consume less Indian goods as a consequence, and the export sector may have to adjust to cater more to the domestic market. But where should the demand contraction to contain inflation come from? If interest rates are raised, it is domestic consumers whose demand contracts, whereas if the currency appreciates, it is foreign consumers whose demand contracts. For the Indian consumer who gets imports cheaper, and does not have to tighten her belt (which she would have to, were interest rates to be raised), rupee appreciation is preferable. For Indian companies whose raw material costs go down and who will not have to pay higher interest costs in already difficult times, a stronger rupee will be a better option.


The other response option to the pressure on the rupee to appreciate could be to prevent rupee appreciation. In this case, the RBI would buy dollars. Remember that India does not have a case for building foreign exchange reserves further as we sold barely 10 per cent of our foreign exchange reserves in the crisis. So the sole purpose of buying dollars would be to prevent rupee appreciation. This would lead to an increase in the monetary base. One option would be to leave the intervention unsterilised. This may raise concerns about higher inflation. To sterilise its intervention, the RBI would sell government bonds. But the RBI is already selling large amounts of government bonds thanks to the government’s borrowing programme. Its capacity to sell more bonds is limited as banks are already holding more than 27 per cent of their deposits as government bonds. And the government’s borrowing programme for the second half of the year will also require the RBI to sell more government bonds.


A more likely scenario is that there will be a partial sterilisation of its forex intervention and the consequent expansion in the monetary base will push the RBI to raise the cash reserve ratio (CRR). Raising the CRR in the present conditions will make bank credit more expensive. Through this strategy India could thus end up with some unsterilised intervention, excess liquidity, a higher CRR and more expensive bank credit. By pegging the rupee to the dollar, a weakening currency, the effective exchange rate will depreciate and thus push up inflation.


In summary, a pressure on the rupee to appreciate would be a positive development. It offers the RBI an easier option as it can avoid raising interest rates until business cycle conditions change further. Under this option, the brunt of demand contraction will not be borne by Indian industry or households. The crucial question will be whether the RBI can resist pressure from the exporter lobby.


The writer is a senior fellow at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Delhi ( )








The book jacket of Eat, Pray, Love carries a quote by Julia Roberts saying it is the book she’s presenting all her girlfriends. Like women everywhere, Roberts, currently shooting for the much anticipated film adaptation in India, relates to this 2006 bestseller by Elizabeth Gilbert, about her year-long travelogue of self-discovery and spiritual seeking in Italy, India and Indonesia.


Ever since the Beatles discovered Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, India has been a destination for Westerners seeking alternative routes to peace and fulfilment. Richard Gere is a regular in Himachal Pradesh after he discovered Buddhism and the Dalai Lama. The Osho Commune in Pune has many more foreign visitors than Indian. Madonna and Sting are famous converts to Ashtanga Yoga and age-old Indian techniques in meditation. A stay at an Indian ashram is a must for international backpackers even if finding themselves may not be a top priority. Considering the nation’s expertise in self-healing and our revered spiritual philosophy, we must be a very happy country if we have in corporated any of our own legendary wisdom. Interestingly, a study by the World Values Survey suggests that nations do not necessarily get happier as they get richer.


Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love is self-deprecatingly witty and effortlessly readable while documenting details of her allegedly traumatic life. She is brutally honest about her bitter divorce and bouts of suicidal depression. Her constant state of emotional flux keeps the reader’s interest even though her shrill musings on why she’s a wreck could appear to have more to do with her utter self-absorption and inherent narcissism than anything else. Still, problems real or imaginary remain problems if they’re in your head and the excellent logic of how bad other people’s lives are doesn’t always work.


The question of happiness is entirely one of perspective. Gilbert may be unhappy and single but a book advance has funded her year of travel, an opportunity most young Indian journalists could kill for. She’s quite attractive, has a healthy family, a pretty substantial bank account and, by her own admission, a terrific ability of making friends wherever she goes. Sampling a variety of delectable pasta in a café in Rome while pondering worldly pleasure, or relaxing on a beach in Bali, can’t be that bad. What’s she whining about?


Indians, meanwhile, even the rich ones, are thanking God for smaller mercies, like uninterrupted electricity and running water, acutely aware that there are no guarantees and this small privilege can be snatched away anytime. In times of retrenchment, we are hanging on to jobs by our teeth wondering how we will pay the next EMI if our company shuts down or sacks us. If our kids do not get 99.9 per cent they are doomed to study in obscure colleges while we drum up the funds somehow, to set them up in a career. But most of us just plod on, uncomplaining and relentless since there is really no time for a nervous breakdown or to consider lofty ideas like happiness.


Both Dominique Lapierre in his book City of Joy and, more recently, Danny Boyle while making Slumdog Millionaire observed the remarkable optimism they saw in the slums in Kolkata and Mumbai, respectively, despite the daily struggle for survival. Religious faith and belief clearly do help keep depression at bay. Puzzled sociologists coined the philosophy of “happy poverty” after studying the lives of the poor. That might sound horribly cruel but there are enough examples of well-to-do people not finding contentment to keep the debate alive.



Unhappiness in urban India, though, say therapists, is growing at an alarming pace where, broadly, people face problems in three spheres of life related to money, health and relationships. The inability to cope has finally caught up with those of us whose lives closely mirror our Western counterparts. But apparently, even Julia Roberts isn’t ecstatic all the time and she earns $20 million per movie. Contemplate that.











Obama's international engagement makes it harder to hate America


AT his United Nations debut, Barack Obama urged global cooperation to combat nuclear proliferation, climate change, and other problems that go beyond the borders of any one country. The speech was well received all over the world, except one place -- America's right-wing netherworld, which quickly began whipping people into a frenzy. For Michelle Malkin, the speech was evidence that Obama was "the great appeaser," though she then went on to say, "From the sound of it, you'd think you were listening to Thomas Jefferson."


(That's bad?) For Rush Limbaugh, Obama's speech was "basically a coup against America." At the National Review's website, a debate broke out -- an entirely serious debate among serious people -- as to whether the speech proved that Obama actually wanted the world's tyrants to win, in the tradition of past intellectuals who admired Mussolini and Hitler. This is the discourse of American conservatism today: Obama is bad because he loves death panels and Hitler.


There is a serious case to be made that it's not worth taking the United Nations seriously, that it's an anachronistic institution based on 60-year-old geopolitics and a platform for tyrants and weirdos. But while much of that is true, the United Nations is the only organisation in the world to which all countries belong, and as such, it does have considerable legitimacy. And that means power. As David Bosco points out in Foreign Policy magazine, over the past two decades the Security Council has authorised "more than a dozen peacekeeping missions,imposedsanctionsorarms embargoes on 10 states, and created several war crimes tribunals to prosecute those responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity, including sitting heads of state." It's worth putting in the effort to shape its decisions. Obama's speech was part of a calculated strategy. In sentiment it recallsRichardNixon'slineafterlosing the California governor's race in 1962: "You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore." Obama was tellingtheworld:theUnitedStatesis willing to be cooperative, to rejoin international institutions, to adhere totreaties.Butinreturn,othercountries will have to help solve some of the world's common problems. You can't just kick us around anymore.


Let's go back just one year. Many countries had come to believe that Americashowedlittleinterestinthe world. This hostility had become an easy excuse to reject even modest concessions to US requests. If this sounds partisan, recall that after he was elected president of France in 2007, the pro-American conservative Nicolas Sarkozy was asked by Condoleezza Rice what she could do to help him. "Improve your image in the world," he said.


There is a phony realism brandished on the right these days that says no one will ever cooperate with America. Russia and China have their own interests, and any attempt to find common ground is naive. We might as well all hold hands and sing "Kumbaya." Now, of course countries have their own interests, which areofteninconflict.Buttheyalsooften share some common interests.
A central task of diplomacy is to explore those areas of agreement, build on them, and thus create a more stable world. That's why we have treaties on everything from tradetotaxation,adheredtobymost nations for their collective benefit.


In fact, Obama's approach has already produced remarkable results.

RussiaandChina,afterlongopposition, agreed last week to a toughening of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And in a striking shift, Russia signalled that it may support tougher sanctions against Iran. The Obama administration's decision to cultivate a relationship with both countries, to listen to their concerns, is paying off.


Obama's outreach to the world is an experiment, and not just to see if the world will respond. He wants to demonstrate at home that engagement does not make America weak.

For decades, it's been thought deadly for an American politician to be seen as seeking international cooperation. Denouncing, demeaning, and insulting other countries was a cheap and easy way to seem strong.Inthebattleofimages,tough and stupid always seemed to win.


Obama is gambling that America is now mature enough to understand that machismo is not foreign policy, and that grandstanding on theglobalstagejustwon'tsucceed.In a new world, with other countries more powerful and confident, America's success -- its security, its prosperity -- depends on working with others. It's a big, bold gambit. I hope it works. Newsweek








At Kingsmead in 2007, watching the Indian team prepare for the second Test after a miraculous win at Wanderers, it seemed like an odd time for Dilip Vengsarkar to bring up a young fast bowler from Delhi.


“You haven’t seen his action?” the then-chairman of selectors asked a section of the media from Mumbai. “I’ve followed his performance,” someone replied. Dilip waved him away, implying that it wasn’t the same thing. Then he repeated his words, this time not as a question: “You haven’t seen his action.”


A few months later, we knew what he had meant.


When Ishant Sharma charges in — tall, strapping, head still, ball held loosely in his fingers — there is a moment when it seems his flawless run-up will unravel. But he shifts his weight forward, still perfectly balanced as his right arm goes up high to smoothly release the ball.


His waist doesn’t seem to have a mind of its own like Ashish Nehra’s, his back isn’t cocked forward like Irfan Pathan’s; there is no hint of stiffness like Zaheer Khan, and no extra fluidity like Sreesanth.


Over the last two seasons, Ishant was the brightest trophy in an Indian bowling cupboard full of shining silverware — if Zaheer was the wily senior partner at the peak of his powers, R.P. Singh had disconcerting bounce, Munaf Patel accuracy, Irfan Pathan swing, and Sreesanth a certain X-factor. But somewhere in the last few months, the treasure chest has started to lose its glitter.


Effective swing bowlers are springing up in every part of the country (from Kamran Khan to Anureet Singh during the IPL) but there is a growing sense that India’s frontline international seamers are now appearing jaded and predictable.


Their one-dimensional nature again became apparent against Pakistan and Australia this week, when two different combinations were punished despite picking up early wickets. And what’s most disappointing for M.S. Dhoni, Gary Kirsten and bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad is that this is happening at a time when the fast bowling unit seemed to be at the cusp of something bigger — closer than Indian cricket had ever been to reaching the next level.


Of the lot, the Ishant problem is the most intriguing because there is no big, visible drawback to fully explain his lack of effectiveness. Ishant made minor changes in his bowling over the last season — in international cricket the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ theory doesn’t really apply as batsmen start to read you, and he was wise to that. But what should’ve been a development year, in which he strengthened his resources, became a season in which the load of frontline paceman fell squarely on his shoulders in Zaheer’s absence.


Confused between going flat out and holding back, trying to adapt to the prescribed technical adjustments, Ishant’s arm is no longer ramrod straight, his wrist is falling sideways, and he isn’t hitting the right lengths, even if by just a few millimetres. Suddenly his Midas touch is a spell in which he’s driven, cut and pulled.


Given the scenario, India may have missed a trick by not drafting at least one of Munaf Patel and Sreesanth. While Munaf’s steadiness can allow Ishant the freedom to express himself, Sreesanth can take over as the team’s wildcard to balance out Ishant’s changed responsibilities. Things will perhaps get better with Zaheer’s return, but India must be mindful of the fact that ineffectiveness, especially in the case of bowlers, is often a virus that can’t be cured quickly.


Five years ago, Zaheer, Nehra, Irfan and Balaji had looked ready to make the team a genuine fast-bowling powerhouse. But things went downhill long before they could reach the top. A few defeats and Zaheer lost his edge, Irfan his movement, Balaji his confidence and Nehra his fitness. Luckily for India, the rebuilding process didn’t take as long as it could have. They may not be so fortunate again.


The positive for Ishant is that even when he’s being punished, there is a sense that he could get it back together

really quickly. The result may have changed but at least the run-up remains robust as ever.










The editorial in the latest issue of the Organiser, titled “Under UPA, vote-bank dictates the course of law”, says: “One of the favourite phrases of Indian politicians is that ‘the law will take its own course’. If it was true, the Supreme Court would not be reminding the government about carrying out the death sentences given by the court. Last week, the Supreme Court asked the Centre to decide fast on the death sentences. Three years after the Supreme Court ordered death sentence for Afzal in the Parliament attack case, the UPA government is dithering over carrying it out. By various implied statements, the government has conveyed that hanging him would hurt the sentiments of a section of the society and hence it is sitting over the mercy petition. In fact, a minister in the previous UPA cabinet even went so far as to suggest that hanging Afzal would affect the chances of the release of Sarabjit Singh languishing in Pakistani jail on a false case of espionage”.


It adds: “The DMK government in Tamil Nadu last week commuted sentences and released nine prisoners, all convicted in the Coimbatore bomb blasts that killed 51 people. They are hardened terrorists, belonging to the banned organisation, Al-Umma. The convicts had three more years to go in their 13-year punishment. But the government took into account their ‘good conduct’ and released them on the grounds of ‘compassion’ to mark the occasion of the centenary of Anna Durai. This same government now has taken a different stand on the Rajiv Gandhi assassination convict Nalini. The government has said that it would first seek permission from the Centre before taking a decision on it. The two positions of the same government are not matching”.


It concludes: “The case in point is, the communalising of the system of crime and punishment by the UPA. The politics of this conglomeration is totally and blatantly communal. Right down to railway ticket concession to students, the UPA seeks to divide the people by religion, by caste and by region. The Supreme Court’s ruling on death sentences is a timely warning to the government not to prevaricate on carrying out justice. It should take the cue and speed up several pending cases against terrorists and punish them. It may yet act as a deterrent”.


The Tibet commitment

In an analysis titled “India has a moral commitment on Tibet” Ram Madhav observes: “Almost five decades of efforts to resolve the border issues have resulted only in India conceding every time and ending up as the loser. Zhou talked of a ‘package deal’; Deng talked of a sector-wise approach. We today see neither of them to be relevant anymore. Of the 2500-km border, the only peaceful sector is the middle one, namely the Tibet-Uttarakhand/Himachal border, which is not more than about 550 km. The Chinese refuse to talk anymore about the Aksai Chin. For them it is a settled fact. What is unfortunate is that even our own leadership stopped talking about it. Rajiv Gandhi visited China in 1988; Narasimha Rao in 1993 and Vajpayee in 2003. The nation has not heard them talk about the occupation despite the fact that there is a unanimous Parliament resolution of 1962 on getting that territory back. For the Chinese, the obvious policy appears to be to get the maximum territorial advantage of the talks. That is the reason behind their constant harping on Arunachal Pradesh... In 2006, just a couple of weeks ahead of the visit of the Chinese President Hu Jintao to India, the Chinese Ambassador to Delhi Sun Yuxi had made the outrageous claim that Arunachal Pradesh belonged to China.”


He adds: “One of the most contentious issues between India and China has been the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his people on the Indian soil. Although successive Indian governments, starting with Jawaharlal Nehru in 1954, have conceded directly or indirectly that Tibet is a part of China, the Chinese harbour serious apprehensions...India has a moral and ethical commitment to HH the Dalai Lama and his people. Every Indian wants them to realise their dream of a return to their homeland but with dignity and honour. Unfortunately our government has completely abdicated that duty. It is only the American official visitors who raise the question of Tibet with their Chinese counterparts; we seldom do that”.








Corporate chieftain-turned-author Gurcharan Das, whose post-liberalisation book ‘India Unbound’ became a bestseller in a dozen languages, has turned to the Mahabharata in his new book ‘The Difficulty of Being Good: The Subtle Art of Dharma’. In conversation with Saritha Rai, Das discussed dharma, contemporary politics, and more.


What was the inspiration for the book?

My previous book India Unbound had concluded on the positive note that economic prosperity would extend. It was only later that I began to realise how horrible day-to-day life is for the average Indian. Every interaction with the state is fraught with moral failure. Twenty per cent of a rickshawallah’s earning is taken by the police as bribe. One out of four school teachers doesn’t show up in government schools but parents bribe to get their child enrolled even in such schools. Our ministers are caught on tape accepting bribes. India is prosperous but Indians cannot be happy until we have fixed our governance issues. That’s what drove me to the Mahabharata. I wondered if I could bring its insights to the ordinary person and make them aware of the moral failure that blankets us like Delhi’s smog. Could I capture the essence of civic virtue from the Mahabharata?


Your book is intriguingly titled ‘The Difficulty of Being Good’.

The idea of dharma has evolved through history and has now become a personal attribute representing qualities such as honesty and non-violence. A person’s conscience is his dharma, swadharma, a very liberal idea of ethical behavior. The bottomline is that every person is fully responsible for his actions.


‘India Unbound’ represented artha or material well being. Your latest book represents dharma or moral well being. Is that your own life journey?

In this morally ambiguous century, it is a search for self. In the Mahabharata, examples abound of characters being conflicted, yet left to their own devices. It is very sophisticated moral reasoning. The book has not made me more moral, it has made me more conscious of moral issues and improved my moral reasoning skills. A character like Arjuna is conflicted about war. That made me think that we would like our leaders to put the moral concern into the equation before going to war. The US war in Iraq or Vietnam does not seem a just war.


You have written a book about Mahabharata at a time when working Indians are busy watching the bottomline, market share or stock price.

The Mahabharata made me realise that the world is a marketplace founded on very moral ideas where every transaction is based on the premise of trust. Everybody - employees, suppliers — has to be treated justly. There is great dharma in capitalism and when the balance gets tipped, you get the likes of (former Satyam chairman) Ramalinga Raju. Being ambitious for your company is moral but greed for the sake of your children is not.


Who are the Arjunas, Karnas and Duryodanas in the modern Indian landscape?

Both Anil and Mukesh Ambani have an aspect of Duryodhana in them. Anil Ambani suffers from envy which drives him to make the world believe he is as good as his brother. Mukesh too has facets of Duryodhana in denying his brother his rightful share of the father’s wealth.


On the other hand, Murthy and Nilekani exemplify moral behaviour. Your company can’t gain global marketshare unless there is excellence within. India could not be the world’s second fastest growing economy but for its corporate heroes.


So where does the concept of dharma come in?

Dharma is always at stake. Take Manmohan Singh’s morally ambiguous silence over the selection of a president to succeed Dr. Kalam. It was clear to everybody that Pratibha Patil has a tainted past. There were scandals involving a co-operative bank and accusations that her family had siphoned off money. There was a clamour against her nomination but the Congress Party had already decided they wanted a woman. They made her the president of India. Manmohan Singh, an otherwise moral, Bhishma-like persona was part of this conspiracy of silence. As the Mahabharata says, a fourth of the blame goes to Bhishma for choosing to remain silent.


Is India still Unbound? Or, has some of your optimism for India come off from the time you wrote your last book?

What I predicted in India Unbound is coming true. When this global crisis is over, India will go back to the earlier growth rates. I feel prosperity will spread in India. But what is holding it back is the failure of the government. More than economic reforms, we need government reforms. We need to fix our government; we need police, judicial and administrative reforms.


How would you apply the teachings of the Mahabharata to decision-making?

Despite all the ambiguity and uncertainty in the world, the Mahabharata snatches victory in the actions of Arjuna or of Yudhishtira. There is a contest between the kshatriya ethic and Yudhishtira’s personal ethic. He has to protect his people above all else. Similarly, the CEO has to engage in highly moral behaviour at all times. In some ways we are lucky to have Manmohan Singh. He may not be the most effective leader but he is a humble, austere man. So, it is not all about Mulayam Singh and Mayawati. It is not only the Shakunis out there.







Indian stock markets may be generating among the highest returns in the world at the moment, but there is still plenty to be concerned about the lack of depth, transparency and information flow in the markets. Incredibly, nearly two decades into liberalisation, less than 3,000 Indian firms are listed on a stock market. Even more incredibly, only 170 firms, or 6% of the 2,830 stocks traded on the bourses, are covered adequately by research analysts. In this context, Sebi’s recent suggestion that all listed companies must share more information with analysts will add value to independent research and help investors make informed decisions. Limited information hampers trading of small and mid-sized companies and their valuation tends to suffer compared to larger companies. As a result, retail investors do not have adequate information to make the right investment decisions and this makes them susceptible to market rumours. Information is the key to any rational decision and reporting of company financials on a half-yearly basis, instead of once in a year as is currently done, will help investors analyse company fundamentals better. It will also help assess the corporate governance practices adopted by companies. Also, for the moment, most research on listed companies is done by broking houses, whose revenues are linked to commissions generated by the very trade they inform on—a clear conflict of interest that has to change so that retail investors can make unbiased investment decisions based on full disclosure by companies.


Eight months after the Satyam accounting fraud, it is imperative that some of the earlier recommendations made by Sebi’s Committee on Disclosures & Accounting Standards should be also looked into. The committee, among other things, recommended that listed firms declare their balance sheet details on a half-yearly basis, rotatate statutory auditors and reduce the time-frame for declaring annual results. In fact, under present regulations, investors often remain in the dark about a company’s annual performance (mostly blue-chip companies) for at least four to five months if the company chooses to declare audited results, for the fourth quarter. To bring in transparency in the functioning of the company, it must be mandated that companies declare their full-year audited results within two months. There is also a need to standardise the extent and quality of reporting by various companies as some report audited, some reviewed and some unaudited and unreviewed results which may either be standalone or consolidated. Introducing a more consistent and comparable format for quarterly reporting must be mandated for companies. Even more importantly, there is need for a greater proportion of company stocks to be traded on bourses—at the moment, promoter holdings are too high in most companies. Only a combination of deep markets and better information will prevent the formation of periodic bubbles.







Many in India, including many trade unionists, persist in seeing China’s enormous economic success as a validation of a workers’ state. But it is absurd that those concerned about working-class rights should get misty-eyed about China. As Communist China turns 60, the one thing it isn’t is a working person’s paradise. India treats its workers better. On paper, labour in China is well organised and ought to be able to look after its interests. The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), the umbrella trade union in China, consists of 1.5 million grassroots trade unions with 193 million members, and the nationwide trade union admission rates have reached a high 71.5%. But unfortunately, the programmes and activities of the ACFTU have always remained subordinate to the wishes of the CCP and the state. The subservience is so complete that workers have to often resort to independent action to redress their grievances. Free collective bargaining, a strategy often employed by trade unions everywhere else, including India, is yet to be fully respected by employers in either law or practice.


The scenario for labour is made worse by other regulations that hamper labour market flows like the strict curbs on migration. A Chinese citizen who is assigned an area of residence at the time of his/her birth has to cross innumerable hurdles to get a change of residence officially sanctioned. This not only restricts the mobility of workers and their ability to improve their earnings, but also adds to costs—the price of securing temporary work permits is high even going up to one month’s pay in large cities like Beijing. This is not only a huge burden on migrant workers, who are estimated to be around 200 million, but also discriminatory for the disadvantaged poor in far-flung areas. The State also discriminates sharply between local residents and migrant workers on social welfare benefits like health insurance, pension programmes, unemployment benefit, workplace injury insurance and maternity leave, all of which are largely limited to local labour and not to migrants. Labour unrest in recent years may have forced China to introduce new legislation like the Labour Contract Law in 2007, which empowers individual workers the right to negotiate their own written employment contract with employers. But it provoked an outcry from both domestic and foreign employers, who are used to employing very cheap labour, for long hours—the main reason for competitiveness of Chinese manufacturing. Workers have not done as well as public or private enterprise in Communist China. Something for India’s rather spoilt trade unions to mull over the next time they rail against Indian neo-liberalism.








So, global recovery is under way, at least for now. The financial system did not collapse. Trade has started growing again. Now’s a good time to assess India’s strategic stance with respect to globalisation. India did impressively well through the crisis, seemingly shielded from the worse effects of the global storm. One view is that India got the pace of insertion into the global economy about right in the past twenty years. Fast enough to propel growth, but slow enough to avoid excessive risks. The large public sector presence in banking meant greater safety in the era of toxic assets, and helped India avoid a financial crisis. This may be true, though I think it is also a case of unintended consequences of an inefficiently large public banking system.


So, what of the future? Is globalisation worth the risk? Some will answer: obviously yes, for further and deeper global integration is the only route to prosperity. Others will reply: not on the current terms, for look at the disruptions that flow from global markets, the destruction of activities, the loss of livelihoods, and the damage to the environment associated with globalisation.


I think this is the wrong way to frame the debate. Globalisation, in some form or other, is here to stay. The more interesting questions concern how international and national designs can shape its course with respect to growth dynamics, risk management and social justice. Let’s take one (big) part of this. Can national policy designs for risk management be consistent with dynamic growth? History suggests the answer is yes, but that is also easy for countries to get stuck with distorted designs.


The first lesson from history is that insertion into global markets has typically gone hand in hand with the expansion of social provisioning and risk management. Statistical analysis by Harvard economist Dani Rodrik found that more open economies have more extensive social systems for managing risk. An extreme is the case of Scandinavian countries: these are open, affluent, highly productive economies with the most extensive system of social provisioning in the world. They are frequently ranked near the top of competitiveness scales by bodies such as the World Economic Forum, that are far from socialist in inclination!


The expansion of social provisioning is, indeed, a universal feature of industrialising countries. Economic historian Peter Lindert links this to the rising political influence of middle and working class groups, as the vote was extended. And links with competitiveness has been a longstanding concern. The seminal Beveridge report, written in 1942, that laid the basis for the British welfare state, says that “...the State in organising security should not stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility.”


A second lesson from history is that designs are all too often distorted. The same Beveridge Report also says that “....proposals should not be restricted by considerations of sectional interests.” Yet that is a common pattern. Even well-intentioned designs create or support “sectional interests”. Particularly problematic has been the link between social protection and the labour contract—a heritage of the Bismarckian reforms of 19th century Germany. This is inequitable in dualistic labour markets that typify developing countries. And it leads to resistance to dynamic change, since workers stand to lose a lot if they lose their job.


A different distortion has been vividly illustrated by both the recent and past financial crises. Where market structures and political connections create patterns of influence favouring participants in the financial system, these often are disproportionately bailed out when an adverse shock occurs.


Both lessons from history are relevant to India. Looking forward, comprehensive mechanisms for household risk management are both socially desirable and a complement, not an alternative, to the dynamic processes of change that are part and parcel of India’s continued insertion into global markets. India already has 40% of UK’s income when Beveridge wrote his report in the 1940s. Moreover, middle and poor groups are as central to India’s polity as they were in Britain then.


But India also has a wealth of special interests and distorted designs, whether in organised labour, the beneficiaries (including recipients of “leakage”) of inefficient schemes such as the Public Distribution System, and public or private firms for which the state bears the ultimate risk. These are both sources of ossification that slow economic transformation and of entrenched interests that politically resist change. There are big design challenges, and even bigger political ones. NREG is an example of a good design, but only applies to one set of risks to part of the population. Globalisation versus social provisioning is a false tradeoff. Globalisation is indeed needed for prosperity, but effective risk management for households—and not firms—is equally necessary for both economic and political reasons.


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








Everyone seems happy—the government has promised a few thousand crores, salary cuts will be ‘discussed’ and the Air India executive pilots’ strike is off. But everyone knows that there’s a problem.


Consider, first, that it was executive pilots who went on mass leave. The difference between regular pilots and executive pilots is that the latter are not members of any union. Unionised pilots have been declared as ‘workmen’ by a court order under Workmen’s compensation Act. But it was non-workmen executive pilots who behaved like trade unionists. This is a serious problem for any organisation.


Second, while the civil aviation minister is being seen as an ultimate source of a solution, that’s not really the case. It’s not that the minister declared, rightly, that he is not the minister for Air India. The substantive issue is that AI is managed at one end by management that is “independent” and at the other end by the Cabinet and the GoM (Group of Ministers Committee). The latter have taken all decisions on major issues like purchase of aircraft or merger of Air India and Indian Airlines. If AI is to revive, it’s these entities that have to deliver. Getting them to do so is tough. For example, much press was devoted to the promise of revamping AI’s board of directors. Celebrities were mentioned. But deadlines have passed and the board remains unrevamped.


Management changes in AI are typically abrupt and seem to bear little relation to achieving results. When AI chiefs are removed, the action is associated with questions that have little to do with operational efficiency. The un-ceremonious removal of a CMD recently set the rumour mills rolling, mostly because there seems to have been no official rationale. Recall the suspension of the MD in early 2000 and his subsequent reinstatement. The current CMD has everybody’s goodwill. But he is basically working in a place, not quite geared to top management basics.


This leads us to the third issue: is public sector ownership the problem? Singapore Airlines and Emirates are public sector but are among the top airlines in the world. Also, remember all full service airlines (as opposed to low cost ones) around the world are doing badly, whatever their ownership structure. AI’s problem is that it is run like a government department. It is said of Singapore Airlines that it will never delay a flight even for its own minister. Can we think of that in India and for Air India?


For demonstration, look at the executive pilots’ issue again. If it appears that the government has given in, can AI economise on salary and wage costs? Cuts are not supposed to apply to just pilots but to all executives. If the AI management is seen to be making compromises for pilots, how will it negotiate with the rest of the staff? True, wage costs as a proportion of total costs in AI, at 18%, are lower than in foreign airlines. But AI is in deep trouble and it needs economising everywhere. Also, why doesn’t AI management think of utilising its pilots more and, if contracts permit, lower the usage of foreign pilots?


The economising issue is especially vital because of the government offer of providing help.


The government needs assurance that AI will manage its affairs better because it is already committed heavily in AI’s finances—it has given sovereign guarantees for about



Rs 50,000 crore for the 111 aircraft ordered. While Boeing has deferred delivery of B787s, AI has not sought deferment of the balance deliveries. This is about half of the order. If AI becomes insolvent, the liability will fall on the government. Surely, this is something that should concentrate minds in the government?


What AI management needs to tell its employees is that AI has been a public sector undertaking for the last 60 years and its employees have been the advantage of job security as well as good salaries. In fact, salaries of AI employees have generally been better than those of private airlines. When the organisation is in a crisis, employees must now do their bit to help the management. But can the management communicate this message convincingly?


And does it have the courage to act tough if required? The last major public sector civil aviation strike took place in 2000 when air traffic controllers, employed by the Airports Authority of India, went on strike. That strike was successfully broken by use of Essential Services Maintenance Act. If employee agitation becomes a serious problem in restructuring, AI management must remember the usefulness of blunt weapons.


The writer is chairman, International Foundation for Aviation & Development, and was formerly with the civil aviation ministry. He has also served on the board of Air India







The two global acquisitions in the IT space over the last two weeks—Dell acquiring Perot Systems for $3.9 billion and Xerox’s buyout of Affiliated Computer Systems (ACS) for $6.4 billion—are both good and bad news for India’s $50 billion outsourcing industry. These two acquisitions, which have the same underlying motive—-reducing the dependence on hardware revenues, which have been declining due to markets becoming saturated and expanding the high-margin IT services portfolio—have made existing giants Dell and Xerox even bigger.


The change in the pecking order of the outsourcing industry means more competition for Indian IT big-wigs like TCS, Infosys, Wipro and HCL Technologies, who have been largely competing with the likes of HP, IBM and Accenture for global outsourcing contracts so far.


The recent vendor consolidation exercises points towards the world moving more towards end-to-end integrated deals. In such a scenario, players like Dell and HP have a significant edge as they can offer both hardware and software services components to their clients apart from extending software offering to their hardware clients and vice versa.


Analysts predict more of such deals as the global economic crisis has rejigged the global outsourcing model. Though it will be a year before Dell and Xerox can fully leverage capabilities of their latest acquisitions, Indian IT players will be better off bracing themselves for increased competition. Maybe it’s time for Indian vendors to find their niches, plug gaps or acquire new capabilities to compete with the giants— old, new and future ones.

The good news however, is that as Dell and Xerox fully launch themselves into the software services outsourcing space, they will need to turn to markets like India for their knowledge resource pool and acquire the same labour arbitrage as their global peers like IBM and HP have. All this means more jobs for Indian IT professionals.


These companies already have significant presence in the country through their delivery centres and it is quite likely that they will be expanded to meet the greater needs of the merged entities.







Though well after the deadline, Air India’s executive pilots have called off their agitation and resumed work. What did the trick was Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel’s announcement that the contentious order cutting down the incentives for executive pilots had been kept in abeyance by the Air India management. So, when Capt. V.K. Bhalla came out with the pilots’ decision to withdraw the stir, he had reason for some cheer, and he thanked the Pri me Minister for his intervention. A couple of days ago, a senior Air India management official told the media that a lock out was imminent. That was when the Prime Minister’s Office intervened, ruling out any such move and asking the Civil Aviation Ministry to end the strike. Now that the ‘sick leave’ protest is over, the committee set up by Air India to hold consultations with the executive pilots should get going. It is imperative that the airline put in place a turn-around plan that will persuade banks, financial institutions, and the Government of India, to provide the financial support so necessary for reviving its fortunes.

Cutting down costs and enhancing revenue seem to be the twin planks of any restructuring plan that Air India has to draw up. With a dynamic team in the Aviation Ministry to back it, the airline’s management must swiftly initiate the negotiation process. Whatever is firmed up without consultations invariably runs into problems at the implementation stage, as the proposed change in the allowance package for executive pilots has shown. The management must take all sections of employees into confidence and evolve an agreed plan of action to fly Air India out of the present turbulence within the next two or three years. The Ministry must also utilise this opportunity to lay down a basic framework for all the airlines. First of all, a full fledged regulator must be created to deal with the ground rules and disputes. The Directorate-General of Civil Aviation cannot handle all aviation-related issues. The airlines must be encouraged to file their operational plans and the fare structure for every quarter or half-year, and made to stick to it. The peak season has begun. Now is the time for them to maximise revenue and operate to capacity. But having attracted more passengers to travel by air with affordable fares and off-season discounts, the airlines need to resist the temptation of raising the fares to abnormal levels and making a fast buck when one of them is hit by a strike and forced to cut services. Even in an industry that is so strapped for revenue, such moves will be short-sighted and will only erode goodwill and turn away passengers. The interests of the travelling public need to be protected.








The International Monetary Fund is set to play a significantly enhanced role in promoting global economic growth and stability. In one of the important decisions taken at the Pittsburgh G20 summit, the IMF has been given the mandate to assist in a new mechanism for a peer review of every country’s economic policy framework and performance. Policies of many countries including India are already being reviewed by the IMF and after the G20 summit the policies of the ric her countries’ policies will be subject to scrutiny. Of course, much will depend on how the IMF goes about fulfilling the mandate. But the decision at the summit is in itself a big step towards ensuring that the policies pursued by the G20 countries “are collectively consistent with more sustainable and balanced trajectories for the global economy.” In a related development, the IMF itself will be restructured and made more democratic so as to reflect the current global economic order rather than what prevailed in 1945 when it was set up. Its executive board will become more broad-based. The IMF’s system of quotas — from which the voting power of individual members is derived — will be realigned in such a way that developing countries including India and China, now having a 43 per cent share, get five per cent more. That, however, falls short of the 50 per cent share the developing countries have been asking for. But the G20 ought to be complimented for finally moving forward on a long-pending agenda of internal reform of the IMF and the World Bank.


The key question is whether the IMF will be able to alter the economic policies of countries that have directly or indirectly contributed to the global economic crisis. At Pittsburgh, there were few concrete suggestions for an orderly unwinding of “global imbalances” — the huge current account deficit of the United States matched by the current account surplus of China. It is not clear whether the IMF will be in a position to influence China’s exchange rate policy (leading to a revaluation of the yuan) or the U.S.’s inclination to consume. Obviously, continued global cooperation will be necessary even as the world economy climbs out of the recession. The IMF, which has forecast a gradual recovery, has gained in reputation by its generally deft handling of the crisis. For instance, it mobilised resources swiftly and stepped up lending to the countries in need, thereby containing the crisis. Even more significantly all the loans came without the onerous conditions and advice of the kind that showed a disregard for national sensibilities as it happened during the Asian crisis over a decade ago.










With India’s relationship with the United States and China under relentless focus, it is not surprising that the Indian President’s recent visit to the Russian Federation went almost unnoticed. Yet the trip served to remind both sides of a friendship that they once swore by and whose potential remains high despite years of mutual neglect, changed global circumstances and diversification of interests.


At one level, Pratibha Patil’s trip, like any presidential outing, was all ceremony and nostalgia. Dulcet tunes from the Raj Kapoor-directed Shri 420 filled the Grand Kremlin Palace’s incredibly beautiful gold and red Alexander Hall when President Dmitry Medvedev raised a toast to his Indian guest. If the blast from the past was ever so sweet, so was the ritual recalling of the golden years of “Hindi-Rusi bhai-bhai” and the references to India and Russia’s shared civilisational roots.


Yet as the tour progressed, and the Indian presidential delegation was swept up in a whirlwind of high-level meetings and state events, it became clear that the visit was more than a goodwill exercise, that the rhetorical flourishes in the individual and joint statements were not as ornamental as they seemed; indeed, that there were strains in the once rock-solid bilateral relationship that the trip would strive to address — not through dramatic gestures and agreements as might be expected from a Prime Minister-level summit, but via signals and words conveyed by Ms Patil that Moscow would weigh, interpret and absorb.


On the flight into Moscow, Indian officials had admitted to a “sense of drifting away on both sides.” It was only a perception, they hastened to add, yet they had no answers to why such a perception must undermine a relationship they said was strong and based on high levels of trust. The unease was evident in Moscow too, with the intelligentsia — the media, security analysts, policy wonks, etc., — nearly unanimous that India-Russia relations, never the same after the break up of the Soviet Union, had suffered more recently from India’s “obsessive” engagement of the United States, and Russia, in turn looking elsewhere to consolidate its business and strategic interests.


At the people-to-people level, there was goodwill, yes. Older generation Russians spoke with genuine affection about India; after all, the international friendship had dominated their growing up years. As Russian analysts invariably pointed out, “there is nothing but good feeling for India.” But for the younger lot, exposed much more to the West than their parents, India was a fading, distant memory. Awara and the Kapoors had no name recall among them, and for those of us on the Indian side raised on weekly doses of Soviet Land and stories of India-Soviet bonding, the Russia we were visiting turned out to be not the country of our imagination.


Most Russians had not heard of the ongoing “Year of India in Russia” celebrations just as not many in India knew that 2008 was celebrated in India as the “Year of Russia in India.” The “gala concert” that the Indian side had billed as the high point of Ms Patil’s visit turned out to be an indifferent affair with the organisers struggling to find audiences for the below-par performance put up by Indian artistes at the world famous Bolshoi theatre.


That the Indian side was only too conscious of the tensions was apparent from Ms Patil twice choosing to place the relationship in its own context. At Mr. Medvedev’s banquet, she had spoken of countries, including Russia and India, pursuing “multi-vector” foreign policies. “However,” she added, “I can assure our Russian partners that even as we improve our relations with other countries, it will not be to the detriment of our tried and tested friendship.” The Indian President reiterated the point at her meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. India’s relationship with Russia, she said, will not be “at the expense of its relationship with other countries.”


To observers in Moscow, it was plain that by “other countries” Ms Patil had meant the U.S. India would have no reason to “assure” Russia about any other relationship, nor would a visiting Indian President stress a point like this unless there was a felt need to do so. At an informal briefing by Indian officials, a Moscow-based journalist came quickly to the heart of the matter, asking, “Is it not a fact that India is sitting in the lap of the United States?” Clearly upset at the accusation, the Indian side once again emphasised the “unique” nature of the bilateral relationship which ought not to be “viewed from the prism of any other relationship.” Keeping this relationship on track was not only “one of our top foreign policy priorities but is the cornerstone of our foreign policy.” The visitors also drew the reporter’s attention to Mr. Putin’s own reminder that the relationship was truly and really one of a kind: “Russia’s support for India at the Nuclear Suppliers Group in defence and nuclear cooperation showed the truly strategic nature of our partnership. Russia does not have this kind of a relationship with any other country.”


Back in India, reaction to the outcome of the visit has varied from “usual diplomatic hyperbole” to “there is indeed some recognition that this relationship is strategically important and must come to the front burner.” There is unanimity of opinion that the Soviet Union’s “immeasurable” assistance in defence and heavy industry contributed to making India what it is today. Russia has continued this support and, despite some problem areas, remains India’s most important military supplier even today — at a time when India has started to diversify its purchases. A case in point is the nuclear submarine built with 60 per cent Russian assistance.


Not just this. If the Soviet Union unfailingly backed India on Kashmir, Russia has done its bit for advancing India’s nuclear ambitions and in the face of perceived American attempt to roll back the clean exemption given last year by the NSG. Ms Patil was still on Russian soil when Moscow sent word that Russia would not agree to the Washington-authored G-8 curbs on the sale of Enrichment and Reprocessing items and technology.


Nobody, not even the most enthusiastic backer of closer Indo-U.S. ties, refutes Russia’s crucial place in India’s foreign policy scheme more so given the problematic future shape of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. The U.S. tilt towards India is no longer as visible as it was in the George Bush days, which means that India would need all the help it can muster in the event of the region exploding into a crisis.


The emerging view in India is that India-Russia relations can never reach the heights scaled by India and the Soviet Union simply because there are 15 countries today where there was just one country earlier. India has necessarily to engage the U.S., and it cannot be faulted either for seeking to diversify its military purchases. But equally, there is a need to be transparent with Russia and invest sincerely and visibly in the relationship. There is a solid reason for doing so. The foreign policy interests of India and Russia almost converge, and the two countries uniquely have no conflict of interest.


Yet all this might come to nothing if India and Russia do not improve the currently abysmal levels of bilateral trade. The two countries are hoping eventually to raise trade volumes from the existing $2.5 billion to $10 billion. To place this in proper perspective, one has only to consider trade volumes between Russia and the European Union, which tripled between 2000 and 2007 to $63 billion and even between Russia and Turkey, which rose from $11 billion in 2004 to $38 billion in 2009.


New Delhi has made much of the annual reciprocal visits to India and Russia by the two Prime Ministers. But there has been far more to-ing and fro-ing between Russia and Germany which recognises the strategic importance of gas-rich Russia and wants it integrated into the European economy. If Germany and Turkey could reach out to Russia despite a history of conflict with it, why cannot India which admittedly has never had a conflict of interest with Russia?


As the world’s largest exporter of natural gas, and second largest of oil, Russia has enough and more to satiate India’s energy security needs. India has spent valuable time revisiting done deals with the U.S. (not signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, civil nuclear deal, etc.). It can surely spare some time to rebuild relations with an old friend.











The Copenhagen climate-change negotiations are 10 weeks off, and time has run out to reach a detailed international agreement. Yet failure to reach a comprehensive agreement need not be a cataclysm, if the U.S., Europe, China, India and a few others take some important practical steps while a new protocol continues to be negotiated.


The U.N. summit on climate change last week, followed by the Pittsburgh G20, made clear the broad global consensus on the seriousness of the climate crisis, and the need to act. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon skilfully brought the parties together to acknowledge their shared responsibilities. There was enough practical talk to give shape to a meaningful partial accord in Copenhagen, with substantive content to move the world forward.


The climate issue is too complicated to swallow in one gulp, as was tried in Kyoto in 1997. This invites a toothless agreement that could be more posturing than progress. We should think about the component parts of real progress, and then insist on practical policies by all major players, even as the legal framework is hammered out for later signature. There is still time for a three-part package: a political framework, a financing package, and a series of practical steps announced by all major regions to tilt the trajectory on emissions.


The political framework would lay out the basics: that all countries have “common but differentiated responsibilities;” the world needs to cut emissions sharply to stay under a 2{+0}C rise; that rich countries will have to pay poor ones to bear the expense of clean technologies; and the rich must help the poor to adapt, especially since the majority of poor populations reside in tropical regions vulnerable to the effects of climate change.


To these points should be added a basic developmental point. The climate issue should in no way stop developing countries from raising living standards, and fast enough to narrow the gap with the richest countries. Emissions targets and financing should be set to protect the right of the poor to economic development, with development based on cleaner, sustainable technologies for power, transport, buildings and industry. The rich world will benefit as the poor world goes green, and will have to pay much of the cost to bring that about.


The final component of the political agreement involves sharing clean technology between rich and poor countries. There are three ways to do this. First, rich countries should include the poorer countries in publicly financed research and development efforts, such as carbon capture and sequestration, or electric vehicles. Second, they should allow the least developed countries to freely license proprietary technologies for local use, as they do with AIDS drugs and other essential medicines. Third, they should establish a fund to pay down the royalties on privately owned intellectual property so that developing countries other than the least developed can use IP at subsidised rates, but without eliminating the incentives for private-sector innovation under the patent law.


This brings us to financing. The rich world should make clear that their financial commitments for economic development — made in the U.N. summit in 2002 in Monterrey, Mexico, and at the G8 Summit in 2005 in Gleneagles, Scotland — will still be met, and that the extra costs of climate-change mitigation, adaptation and technology transfer will be additional to the promised development aid. The poor world will absolutely balk on climate change if they believe climate financing is just a shell game with already committed development aid. The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, recently suggested a sum of $100bn a year for climate financing by 2020. The real needs are likely to be much greater and come much earlier. No doubt this figure was an opening gambit.



These agreements are within reach, at least as a general framework without specific numbers attached. Unlike the world trade negotiations, in which “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” climate negotiations should aim for an interim agreement on general principles, financing and technology transfer even before the final deal is signed and sealed. But something more must be added. In addition to all the talk, governments should announce a meaningful set of practical programmes to reduce emissions on a large scale. These should include: testing carbon capture and sequestration at coal-fired plants in the U.S., Europe, China, India and Australia; tightening global supervision to support a rapid expansion of safe nuclear power; increasing global projects in renewable power, such as India’s large-scale solar initiatives; establishing a global network of scientific and engineering institutions to help each government to understand the costs, benefits and trade-offs of clean-tech options; increasing the donor financing of clean energy in low-income Africa; raising energy efficiency through rapid adoption of specific improved technologies; and a global effort on the new generation of electric-powered vehicles.


Let’s arrive in Copenhagen prepared not only to sign a political statement but launch a range of real actions that can begin to turn away from the global threat of catastrophe. Taking the problem in steps and committing to practical actions in each area would set a path towards bold emissions reductions, and would help to inspire the world to do more. The world is confused. A practical approach of the U.S., China, Europe and others on specific technologies and avoid deforestation can help to break the log-jam. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009


(Jeffrey Sachs is director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and author of Common Wealth.)










Twenty-five million more children will go hungry by the middle of this century as climate change leads to food shortages and soaring prices for staples such as rice, wheat, maize and soya beans, a report says.


If global warming goes unchecked, all regions of the world will be affected, but the most vulnerable — south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa — will be hit hardest by failing crop yields, according to the report, prepared by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) for the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.


The children of 2050 will have fewer calories to eat than those in 2000, the report says, and the effect would be to wipe out decades of progress in reducing child malnutrition.


The grim scenario is the first to gauge the effects of climate change on the world’s food supply by combining climate and agricultural models.


Spikes in grain prices last year led to rioting and unrest across the developing world, from Haiti to Thailand. Leaders at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh last week committed $2bn to food security, and the United Nations is set to hold a summit on food security in November, its second since last year’s riots.


But the U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, is pressing the World Bank and other institutions to do more. He said the industrialised world needs to step up investment in seed research and to offer more affordable crop insurance to the small farmers in developing countries. Though prices have stabilised, the world’s food system is still in crisis, he said at the weekend.


“Ever more people are denied food because prices are stubbornly high, because purchasing power has fallen due to the economic crisis, or because rains have failed and reserve stocks of grain have been eaten,” he said.


Even without global warming, rising populations meant the world was headed for food shortages and food price rises.


‘The food price crisis of last year really was a wake-up call to a lot of people that we are going to have 50 per cent more people on the surface of the Earth by 2050,” said Gerald Nelson, the lead author of the report. “Meeting those demands for food coming out of population growth is going to be a huge challenge — even without climate change.”


After several years in which development aid has been diverted away from rural areas, the report called for $7bn a year for crop research, and investment in irrigation and rural infrastructure to help farmers adjust to a warming climate. “Continuing the business-as-usual approach will almost certainly guarantee disastrous consequences,” said Nelson.


The G20 industrialised nations last week began discussing how to invest some $20bn pledged for food security earlier this year.


Some regions of the world outlined in the report are already showing signs of vulnerability because of changing rainfall patterns and drought linked to climate change. The British development charity Oxfam yesterday launched a $152m appeal on behalf of 23 million people hit by a severe drought and spiralling food prices in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Uganda. The charity called it the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa for a decade, and said many people in the region were suffering from malnutrition.


But southern Asia, which made great advances in agricultural production during the 20th century, was also singled out in the IFPRI report for being particularly at risk of food shortages. Some countries, such as Canada and Russia, will experience longer growing seasons because of climate change, but other factors — such as poor soil — mean that will not necessarily be translated into higher food production.


The report was prepared for negotiators currently trying to reach a global deal to fight climate change at the latest round of U.N. talks in Bangkok. It used climate models prepared by the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia to arrive at estimates of how changes in growing seasons and rainfall patterns would affect farming in the developing world and elsewhere.


Without an ambitious injection of funds and new technology, wheat yields could fall by more than 30 per cent in developing countries, setting off a catastrophic rise in prices. Wheat prices, with unmitigated climate change, could rise by 170 per cent -194 per cent by the middle of this century, the report said. Rice prices are projected to rise by 121 per cent — and almost all of the increase will have to be passed on to the consumer, Nelson said.


The report did not take into account all the expected impacts of climate change — such as the loss of farmland due to rising sea levels, a rise in the number of insects and in plant disease, or changes in glacial melt. All these factors could increase the damage of climate change to agriculture.


Others who have examined the effects of climate change on agriculture have warned of the potential for conflict. In a new book, Plan B 4.0: Mobilising to Save Civilisation, Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute, warns that sharp declines in world harvests due to climate change could threaten the world order. He saw Asia as the epicentre of the crisis, with the latest science warning of a sea level rise of up to six feet by 2100. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009








Any woman who has to report a rape fears that she won’t be believed — with good reason. Conviction rates are low, and many cases don’t even get to court. Now, in a twist that even the most imaginative novelist would have been pushed to devise, the arrest of the film director Roman Polanski has prompted a fierce debate about what constitutes rape. Polanski fled to Europe to avoid jail more than three decades ago, and his celebrity supporters are jostling f or a place on the airwaves to explain that what he did wasn’t “really” rape.


Foremost among them is the actor Whoopi Goldberg, who has introduced a whole new concept — “rape-rape” — into the debate: “I know it wasn’t rape-rape. It was something else but I don’t believe it was rape-rape.” It would be nice to think that she is alone in making this ludicrous distinction, but she isn’t. Others might not put it so crudely, but plenty of people are willing to excuse a sex attacker because what he did wasn’t “really” rape.


According to this line of thinking, it doesn’t count if any of the following circumstances apply: the victim knew her attacker, had been drinking or taking drugs, was wearing nice clothes, or agreed to go into a house with him. Thanks to Goldberg, we need a new vocabulary to deal with such cases; they’re not “rape-rape,” so we might decide instead to call them something less pejorative, such as “rape-lite.” Polanski didn’t want to spend time in prison for such a minor infraction.


Another celebrity supporter, the actor Debra Winger, has dismissed his conviction for statutory rape as “a three-decades-old case that is dead but for minor technicalities.”


She is furious, not just on behalf of Polanski himself but for the Zurich film festival, where he was due to receive a lifetime achievement award. “We stand by him and await his release and his next masterpiece,” she declared, joining a roll call of supporters which already encompasses government ministers, director Andrzej Wajda, and novelist Robert Harris.


It’s hard to believe any of these people are talking about a 44-year-old man who was alleged to have groomed a 13-year-old girl for sex, got her drunk, fed her a drug and raped her. The child testified to a grand jury that during a photo session in 1977 at the LA house of the actor Jack Nicholson (who wasn’t there at the time), Polanski encouraged the girl to drink champagne, got into a jacuzzi with her and persuaded her to take a sedative.


Then Polanski sent her to a bedroom. Drunk and terrified, she protested that she didn’t want to have sex, but Polanski took no notice and asked when her last period was. She couldn’t remember and he asked if she was on the pill. He performed further sex acts before the weeping girl got into his car and was driven home. Would that be rape? Or “rape-rape”?


Goldberg doesn’t know what happened between those two people, but the prosecutors thought they did, and Polanski was arrested on suspicion of rape, sodomy, child molestation and furnishing dangerous drugs to a minor. The charges were dropped only when the child “expressed in no uncertain terms that she wished to maintain her anonymity and avoid the further trauma” of a rape trial. Polanski agreed to plead guilty to the lesser offence of unlawful sex with a minor, statutory rape, but fled to France rather than risk facing sentencing. Now the past has caught up with him, and Polanski is facing extradition and the prison sentence he deserves. His supporters urgently need to locate their moral compass and stop making excuses for an unrepentant sex attacker. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009


(Joan Smith is a novelist and author of Moralities.)









The European Commission announced an overhaul of the EU’s VAT (sales tax) system on Tuesday in its latest attempt to prevent its much-vaunted carbon trading system being riddled by multimillion-euro fraud.


Criminals who for years had been ripping off VAT from finance ministries around the EU on the trade of items such as mobile phones and computer chips have recently moved in on Europe’s 90bn carbon market.


Last month the UK Revenue & Customs raided 27 businesses and private addresses across London in relation to a suspected £38m VAT fraud on carbon credits. It has since released nine suspects on bail but the investigation is continuing.


With just two months to go before the Copenhagen climate summit in December, the EU is desperate to get its house in order as it tries to get its form of “cap-and-trade” carbon trading scheme adopted around the world as a key weapon against carbon emissions.


Officials know that a carbon market leaking millions to VAT “carousel” fraudsters would be difficult to sell on the international stage so it has moved quickly in response to a surge in VAT fraud on carbon this summer.


Brussels said it would harmonise policy between EU states and introduce a so-called “reverse charge” mechanism, which would remove the need for VAT to change hands between carbon traders every time carbon credits are sold.


This was the method adopted by the Dutch government in July as carbon traders noticed a surge in trading volumes that could only be attributed to fraud. The French government simply removed VAT from carbon markets, while the British made carbon trading zero-rated for VAT purposes. The three countries are home to the bloc’s main carbon exchanges: Climex in Amsterdam, BlueNext in Paris and London’s Climate Spot Exchange and European Climate Exchange.


Laszlo Kovacs, the European commissioner for taxation and customs, said: “VAT carousel fraud is against member states’ finances and they should have the means to combat it efficiently. However, actions taken against this fraud should be taken in a consistent manner across the EU and clear evaluation criteria should be established.


“Very recently, several member states have been confronted with carousel fraud related to greenhouse-gas emission allowances ... the very high mobility of these allowances and the very high amounts at stake are an important element.”


A U.K. Treasury spokesman said: “The UK government took decisive action in July to protect taxpayer revenue from the threat of VAT fraud on carbon credits.


“We support the commission in seeking an EU-wide solution and will consider any proposal carefully.”



In its simplest form, the fraud occurs when a trader of credits in, say, Britain, buys some from another country free of VAT, then sells them on within Britain, charging the VAT to the buyer. The seller then disappears without handing the VAT over to the taxman. This is known as “missing trader” fraud. Some criminals re-export the credits, reclaiming VAT as they do so, then re-import them again. They can do this repeatedly, reclaiming VAT many times, hence the term “carousel” fraud.


Britain lost billions of pounds to carousel fraud, mainly on mobile phones, in 2006 and 2007 before the government changed the mobile trade to “reverse charge” VAT, meaning the tax was only levied on the final buyer and removed from the supply chain.


The European Union’s carbon market is now worth about 90bn a year. It is a combination of futures and spot trading and it is the largely unregulated spot market that has been targeted this summer by the fraudsters.


The European police agency, Europol, has said it is convinced many other carbon credit VAT frauds have been committed across Europe but the total losses to national governments are largely unknown, although probably run in to the hundreds of millions of euros.



“This represents a considerable degree of sophistication on the part of the fraudsters,” said Andrew Roycroft, a tax lawyer with Norton Rose.


He noted that the commission had also empowered member states to bring in a reverse charge on other items where fraud is suspected, including trade in perfume and in precious metals such as platinum - widely used in jewellery and catalytic converters in cars.


“There is clearly a problem in more than one member state and not just in the markets for mobile phones and carbon credits,” he said.


Richard Ainsworth, professor of VAT policy at Boston University, in the USA, applauded the commission’s move as a short-term fix. But longer term, he said, countries could fix their VAT systems and make them fraud-proof by introducing a system of certified tax compliance software that firms would have to use to prove their legitimacy. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009








The water in Australia’s biggest river is running so low and is so salty that the nation’s fifth-largest city, Adelaide, is at risk of having to ship water in to its residents, politicians have warned.


Adelaide’s water crisis follows similar problems in cities around the world, as the combination of growing population, increasing agricultural use and global warming stretches resources to the limit. Experts are warning of permanent drought in many regions.


Salinity levels in some stretches of the Murray River already exceed World Health Organisation recommendations for drinking, and South Australia’s water authority and 11 rural townships east of Adelaide have been told to prepare for the worst.


“Another dry year will deplete our reservoirs and the water in the Murray will become too saline to drink. We are talking about 1.3 million people who are not far off becoming reliant on bottled water. We are talking a national emergency,” said South Australian MP David Winderlich.


As early as next week, water from parts of the river may become too dangerous to drink, which would require the water authority to begin delivering bottled supplies to hospitals, clinics, care facilities and supermarkets, said Winderlich.


“There’s simply too many people pulling water out of the river,” said Roger Strother, Coorong council mayor. “We’ve been saying that one day it would catch up, and this summer is when it is going to happen. It could be next week.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009











As it celebrates the 60th anniversary of the 1949 Communist revolution led by Chairman Mao Zedong today, there is much that the People’s Republic of China can legitimately be proud of. Led by the engine of economic growth, in recent decades its comprehensive national power has grown exponentially. But easily the most striking aspect of the rise of the Chinese system has been the accretion to the capacities of its military establishment, which was among the four "modernisations" underlined by the late Deng Xiaoping, who inspired the dragon’s resurgence in the era after Mao. More than anything else, it is arguably this factor that has provoked considerable latent unease in China’s neighbourhood, causing the subject of keeping a rising China within a stable framework of rules to become a staple of regional and international political concerns. In the event, it is interesting that Beijing should be asking India and Pakistan to seek a resolution of the Kashmir issue through peaceful and friendly consultations, and has even offered to play a "constructive role" in settling the problem. The observation of assistant foreign affairs minister Hu Zhengyue to this effect was made to a group of visiting journalists and does not carry the imprimatur of the highest organs of state. Nevertheless, China watchers are known to track little and big developments, and nuances of wordplay, for that country doesn’t have a settled system of political articulation on account of the system it runs.


The only concession to Indian sensitivities in the Chinese statement is that it refers to the Kashmir question as a "bilateral" issue (between India and Pakistan). It is well known that this country has always discouraged any international solicitousness as regards Kashmir. Pakistan, on the other hand, has chosen the opposite course. It likes the idea of "internationalising" the Kashmir question in the hope that this will help further its claims. Seen in this light, Beijing’s low-key but unexpected activism on Kashmir is certain to please Islamabad but not New Delhi. There is also no little irony in the fact that China sits on a chunk of Kashmir’s territory gifted to it by Pakistan even as it complacently urges its South Asian neighbours to deal with the contention between them through peaceful and friendly consultations. Given this state of affairs, there is discernible presumptuousness on its part to offer to play the role of a disinterested broker.


China’s own record of settling problems that are a carryover from history is far from satisfactory. The Vietnamese know this to their cost in the case of the Paracel and Spratly Islands in Vietnam’s Eastern Sea and Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. Taiwan remains disputed territory. On the border marking Tibet’s contiguity with India, Beijing moved troops in 1962. Xinjiang in China’s northwest is not tranquil either, and is a region with a past that China seeks to dispute. A record such as this is hardly conducive to the offer of good offices to other countries. China should celebrate the anniversary of its revolution with gusto, but its advice to others, if it is not to provoke hilarity, should be grounded in realism.










There is an unassailable argument for a re-look at the process of appointing Supreme Court and high court judges. The letter of the Constitution is clear that it is the President who appoints judges after consultation with the Chief Justice of India in the case of Supreme Court judges. In the case of high court judges, the Chief Justice of the high court as well as the chief minister and the governor were consulted. Over a period of time, however, the Supreme Court came to interpret the term "after consultation" (with it) in such a manner that it effectively became "after concurrence". In other words, the apex court took its interpretation a little too far.


The function of the court is to interpret the law, and not to change it. But judges seemed to have used their creative jurisprudence in interpreting this particular provision.


If we look at the background of the issue, the function of appointing judges lay very much with the executive in the pre-Emergency days. The President would consult the Chief Justice and a couple of senior judges before taking a decision. During the Emergency, however, the executive, namely the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, appointed judges out of turn.


Subsequently, the number of judges to be consulted, apart from the Chief Justice, was raised from two to five. Some of the names up for appointment would sometimes not be acceptable for various reasons. The President would even ask the Supreme Court to revisit the matter. It was also decided that the recommendations of the judges’ collegium had to be made in writing. If a judge disagreed with a decision, his opinion had to be placed on record. However, this arrangement too did not work. There is no concrete evidence to indicate what went wrong, but apparently the reason had something to do with the names being suggested by the collegium. They would at times be lacking in professional competency.


In the current case in the news, that of Justice Dinakaran, it would be very difficult for the government to accept the recommendation of the collegium. The collegium itself will have to reconsider his appointment. The committee to review the working of the Constitution set up in 2000, of which I was a part, has already recommended the creation of a National Judicial Commission that should look into the issue of appointments. There was confusion over who should be the chairperson of the commission. My recommendation was that the vice-president of the country should be given that position. However, the matter was not resolved. Essentially, the idea is to have a body other than the collegium that would decide appointments, though judges would not be excluded from it. The vice-president would have moderating influence.


Subhash Kashyap is former secretary-general, Lok Sabha


System not flawed, outcome may be

As far as taking a re-look at the process of appointments is concerned, this is an ongoing task. However, this does not depend only on the existing system. In my view, there does not seem to be an essential flaw in the present scheme of things. The issue really is whether the right people are being promoted and the unscrupulous ones weeded out.



Till 1993, the system of collegium seemed to have worked fine and it gave us some of the most enlightened judges who helped develop law in the country. But then things began changing. In the recent case of Justice Dinakaran, there are serious allegations against him.


The question now is whether he should be elevated to the Supreme Court, and whether it will only be the Supreme Court collegium that will decide the issue.


During my tenure there were two instances where allegations of misconduct and corruption were made against certain judges. In the so-called Mysore sex scandal case, I got the matter probed by top judges. When it became clear that the judges being accused of certain indiscretions were not so involved, the matter was closed. In another case, concerning a judge from Rajasthan, I inquired into the matter and took his resignation. So, the collegium system does work.


One has to realise that be it the judiciary, the legislature or the executive, the quality of its people reflects the quality of the society we live in. After all, our judges do not materialise from outside.


The same is true of legislators, and the executive. Of course, there is no denying that the judiciary needs to be much cleaner than the other organs as it is the last resort of the people where they come to seek justice. Moreover, the judiciary is the custodian of our laws. So, the margin of deviation in the case of judges ought to be minimal, if at all. Nevertheless, there is corruption all over and it gets reflected in virtually every aspect of our public life. The need is to ensure transparency and to weed out unwanted elements. If that is ensured, then the present system is good enough.


Among the problems of the Supreme Court, or the Chief Justice of India to be more specific, in dealing with allegations of corruption is that there is no institution to carry out an inquiry. Such an institution, provided within the purview of the Chief Justice of India, may be an effective means to weed out corrupt judges.


As far as the collegium is concerned, the system will work fine provided it is slightly more balanced. It would be ideal if nominees of the Prime Minister and the President, and somebody from Parliament, were brought on to the collegium.


Justice V.N. Khare is former Chief Justice of India









The Centre has now filed an affidavit in the Ishrat Jahan killing to support her mother’s call for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) enquiry. And to counter the claim of the Gujarat government that, in gunning down the teenaged student and her friends in 2004, it had acted on the advice of the Centre. But you said they were Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) terrorists, said the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state government to the Congress-led Centre. We merely talked of a tip off, said the Centre. The affidavit, said home minister P. Chidambaram, "did not give a licence to the state government to kill innocent people".


Curiously, instead of focusing on the illegal and immoral act of staging an encounter, the debate now seems to be centered around whether or not the youngsters were terrorists. "The LeT’s official website has claimed that all four were their agents, then why is the Government of India trying to prove the contrary?" argued BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy. Adding, "It seems the institution of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) is under threat".


Sadly, the danger is far greater. It is not the IB, or any particular government or any political party, but the very idea of democracy that is under threat. By sidestepping the main issue of individual freedoms and right to life and offering full-throated non-arguments about "terrorists", we are hitting at the very foundation of our democratic state. Whether the victim of an extra-judicial killing deserved to be killed or not is not the point. In a democratic state we need accountability and fair treatment. Without which we cannot hope for justice.


Ishrat’s case was a fake encounter, ruled Gujarat Metropolitan Magistrate S.P. Tamang. It appears that Ishrat Jahan, 19, Javed Ghulam Sheikh, 19, Amjad Ali, 25, and Jisan Johar, 17, were not linked to any terror group and were killed in cold blood by the state. The Gujarat police kidnapped them from Mumbai, brought them to Ahmedabad, murdered them in custody, lined up their bodies on the streets at night, planted weapons on them and pretended they were Pakistan-supported LeT terrorists who had come to kill Narendra Modi. The fiendish cops were led by D.G. Vanzara, then DIG (now in jail for faking the "encounter" killing of Sohrabuddin and his wife Kauser Bi) and his deputy N.K. Amin, along with several other top police officers including then Ahmedabad police commissioner K.R. Kaushik and the then chief of the Crime Branch, P.P. Pandey.


And what are we, the people with a voice, the students, the media, the aam janata that keeps democracy in motion doing about such calculated murders? What do we do when we see justice being thrown out of the ring as politicians wrestle with mob sentiments and twisted reasoning, much like the monstrous men in a WWF wrestling match? We cheer them on. They play to the gallery and we, the gallery, play along.


Because it is the laziest thing to do. It’s easy for us to accept victims of encounters as terrorists and to support their murder. We skip all the steps between an "encounter killing" and its justification. First, was it a real encounter or a staged killing? Second, if real, was killing the only option? Third, was the victim a truly dangerous criminal or armed terrorist? And finally, did the victim really deserve to die? There could be several more steps between the killing and the justification, but that doesn’t concern us. We ignore the process and base our support on assumptions. Here’s our lazy logic. First, the victim was an armed terrorist. Second, he must die to make us safe. Third, the police killed him to protect us. Finally, the police must be hailed as heroes. This social sanction allows the police to get away with murder.


Exactly a year ago, we saw the "encounter" at Batla House near Delhi’s Jamia Millia University that killed two youngsters. Encounter specialist M.C. Sharma was killed in the incident, apparently shot by the "terrorists". The media served up the police version almost verbatim, hailing the heroic Sharma as a braveheart killed by "terrorists", zealously demanding bravery awards for the hero and denouncing the boys killed and captured by the cops. The boys, some of them students at Jamia, were from Azamgarh district of Uttar Pradesh, which the media promptly renamed Atankgarh (terror-fort). And except for a couple of notable exceptions, made no attempt to probe the holes in the police theory. The boys were presumed guilty, thus their killing was justified and their assumed killer made the superhero. Never mind that Sharma had been in fake encounters before, like the one at Ansal Plaza where two people were murdered and passed off as Pakistani terrorists — in fact as members of the LeT, like Ishrat and friends.


The police do seem to have this nasty habit of killing Muslims and passing them off as Pakistani terrorists. But if you thought not being a Muslim protected you from such "encounters", think again. They could pretend you were an armed criminal. Like they did with Ranbir Singh, 24, the management student killed in Dehradun in August. Or they could pretend you were linked to extremists, like they did when they killed Chungkham Sanjit and the young and pregnant Rabina in Imphal in July. It’s easy to get away with murder in Manipur, like elsewhere in the neglected Northeast. The security forces, with their special impunity in the troubled states, can murder, rape and torture at will.


And that is a power they are willing to share in Naxalite-dominated regions. Vigilante groups armed and empowered by the state are joining in these extra-judicial killings while we sigh about the "Naxal menace". There are thousands of encounter killings around the country, from Kashmir to Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat to Chhattisgarh and Assam, and we support it all out of sheer laziness. Some of those killed may be Naxals, some may even be terrorists. But most are not. The point is not whether the victims were innocent or culpable. But whether they got justice. That’s the only way to protect our human rights.


Due process of law, which is tossed aside through security measures like encounter killings and tough terror laws, must be respected if we are to keep ourselves and our democracy safe. We must stop supporting instant justice by the police. Because we cannot be a nation of lynch mobs. And finally it is fair procedure — and not murderous cops — that protects us and all that our nation stands for.


Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at:







Dr Vandana Shiva (A plate full of toxins, September 11) has done great service by raising important issues relating to the value of recombinant DNA technology in the breeding of crop varieties for resistance to drought and to overcoming micronutrient deficiencies in the human diet.


I was a contemporary of James Watson and Francis Crick at the Cambridge University, United Kingdom, during 1950-52 and I have been following the developments in molecular genetics since the time they initiated the era of new genetics with their description of the double helix structure of the DNA molecule in 1953. At every stage in the genetic modification process, appropriate technical tools are employed to assess desired results of expression and integration. The process of creating novel genetic combinations involves the selection of a suitable event after detailed analysis of the gene integration and its stable expression in the subsequent generations as well as analysis on their toxicity, alergenicity and effect on non-target organisms and environment.


During the process of transformation, the gene integrates into the genome of the host cell. Different transgenic events are subjected to such studies as are prescribed by the regulatory authorities. Since there is inadequate confidence in the current regulatory systems and authorities, a committee I chaired recommended in 2004 the establishment of an autonomous, statutory and professionally-led National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority, capable of inspiring professional, political, public and media confidence. Steps are underway to establish such an authority by an Act of Parliament.


As regards drought tolerance, a key gene that allows plants to defend themselves against drought, freezing temperatures and extreme heat has been identified. Although drought tolerance is a polygene trait, there are genes which trigger a series of gene expression that control the drought tolerance trait.


In relation to genetic enrichment of iron in rice, better quality staples constitute an important pathway to overcoming iron deficiency anaemia which, according to Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, affects nearly two billion women, men and children. Naturally occurring mutations, for example the genes involved in quality protein maize, can also be harnessed in breeding work. Crops, particularly vegetables, which are rich in micronutrients should also be promoted.


I have often pleaded for mainstreaming the nutritional dimension in the National Horticulture Mission so that appropriate horticultural remedies can be recommended for the nutritional maladies prevailing in an area. We should not worship or discard a research tool because it is either old or new, but should choose an appropriate mix of Mendelian and molecular approaches to genetic recombination, which can take us to the desired goal surely and safely.


My personal approach to using the science of biotechnology for enhancing human food and nutrition security is what I had proposed in my 2004 report on agricultural biotechnology in the following words: "The bottom line of a National Agricultural Biotechnology Policy should be the economic well-being of farm families, food security of the nation, health security of the consumer, protection of the environment, biosecurity of the country and the security of our national and international trade in farm commodities".


M.S. Swaminathan is the chairman of the National Commission on Farmers. He is consideredto be the father of India’s green revolution.









Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yet again made India’s position on the nuclear non-proliferation issue clear when he stated in New Delhi on Tuesday that “global non-proliferation, to be successful, should be universal, comprehensive and non-discrimatory.” This reiteration had become necessary after the adoption of a resolution by the UN Security Council on Sunday, calling for ending the spread of nuclear weapons. India stands for complete nuclear disarmament, which cannot be achieved by the non-proliferation regimes like the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) being pursued today. The world must go in for a convention on banning the production, stockpiling and uses of nuclear weapons, applicable equally to all powers, including those with large stockpiles in their possession.


How to ensure the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons has emerged as a major challenge before the world after the discovery of the controversial programmes of Iran and North Korea. It is well known that Pakistan’s nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan, who ran a widespread nuclear proliferation network, played a key role in the dangerous nuclear commerce. What is, however, more disturbing is that the Khan nuclear network has also been in touch with the leadership of the terrorist outfits like Al-Qaeda. This shows that the global non-proliferation regime has failed to produce the desired result, as pointed out by Dr Manmohan Singh while addressing an international conference on peaceful uses of nuclear energy on Tuesday.


The cause of nuclear non-proliferation came under sharp focus soon after the Obama Administration replaced the George Bush Administration in the US. With the Security Council adopting the latest resolution on the issue, there is an increased pressure on the countries like India, Pakistan and Israel, which are in possession of nuclear weapons but are not signatories to the NPT and the CTBT, to accept these measures in their present form. India’s case is, however, different because of New Delhi’s impeccable non-proliferation record. There is no point in asking India to sign the NPT or the CTBT when it has been strictly observing the voluntary, unilateral moratorium it has imposed on nuclear testing. No discriminatory regime can help achieve the real objective. There is need to go in for universal disarmament so that even the five original members of the Nuclear Club have to destroy their nuclear arsenals.








The government and the passengers and employees of the ailing Air India would have felt relieved following the pilots of the airline calling off their five-day-old strike on Wednesday. The truce, however, may not last long. The warring parties, pilots on the one side and the government on the other, appear to have merely secured some breathing time. This is because the pilots claim to have received assurances that their incentives would not be cut. The claim is clearly not without basis since the Civil Aviation Minister, Mr Praful Patel, is also on record as saying that pilots have no reason to strike work because their performance-linked incentives (PLI) had not been cut yet. Mr Patel may pat his own back and claim that his tough-talking ultimatum forced the pilots to see reason but clearly it is his ministry which has buckled down and given in to pressure by the pampered high fliers.


The minister’s public stand is that cost-cutting measures would be taken in consultation with the pilots and other employees. It implies that no such consultation was held before announcing the slew of measures, including cutting the pilots’ incentives by half that led to the strike in the first place. The strike, therefore, is one more instance of Air India mismanaging its affairs , which has been headed primarily by bureaucrats and administered directly by Mr Praful Patel’s ministry. Also, once consultations resume, it is doubtful if the government will still be able to maintain its tough posture and impose the cuts.


Pilots and planes will fly, but putting the Maharaja back to good health is going to be a tough task and there is already a clamour for Air India’s privatisation. Accumulated losses of over Rs 7,000 crore and hefty overdrafts can scarcely be undone by promised improvement in efficiency or cost-cutting. With competition becoming increasingly fierce , stop-gap measures can bring about little difference to the balance-sheet.







Those who are familiar with playing scrabble know that ‘Q’ becomes a problem when not used in time. Q stands for Quandary, or Quiz or various other variations. It also stands for Mr Q or Mr Quattrocchi. The Central Bureau of Investigation was in a quandary over what to do about the man from Italy accused of being involved in the Bofors gun deal that hit the headlines in the late 1980s. As we all know, the CBI sleuths plan their journey according to the weather report coming from the government of the day. In this case, the political forecast was in conflict with the professional advice. The CBI had once suggested that a strong case existed against Mr Q. But the opinion has undergone a sea change with the passage of time. So, after full 23 years, he is finally off the hook. The Opposition can be depended on to raise a bit of stink but it too will be hard pressed to explain why it could not nail him when the NDA happened to be in power.


Mr Q has been more agile in movements than the men of the CBI. The trial continued longer than any soap opera. As far as the CBI, which is often given to positive thinking, is concerned, it seemed to think that he had committed neither a sin, nor crime. Perhaps that is why it had permitted the defreezing of his accounts in London. Nor did it lose its sleep over its failure to obtain his extradition from Malaysia and Argentina or whichever country Mr Q chose for being away from law. The red corner notice against him which was in force till last year was subsequently dumped somewhere.


The petitioner against him is not amused and has accused the Centre of being hand in glove with the accused. It is a matter of nitpicking who is hand and who is glove. The CBI somehow fails to recognize — willingly or otherwise —which is the hand and which is the glove. Mr Q can have the last laugh while playing the end game.
















ON July 8, 1996, the World Court held that countries possessing nuclear weapons had not just a need but an obligation to commence negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament. The court also held that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons would be generally contrary to the principles of international law, though there was some doubt about the extreme contingency when “the very survival of a State was threatened”. Despite this World Court opinion, the United States, Russia, France and the UK reserve the right to use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons whenever their interests so demand. The US and Russia together possess around 19,000 nuclear warheads; France has around 350 warheads and the UK 160.


The 2005 US Doctrine of Joint Operations spells out several contingencies when the US could use nuclear weapons, including situations where the US wants to “rapidly end a war on terms favourable to the US,” or to ensure that the US and international operations are successful. President Chirac announced in January 2006 that France reserves the right to use nuclear weapons against States supporting terrorism, or seeking weapons of mass destruction. In 2003, British Defence Secretary Geoffrey Hoon warned Iraq that “in right conditions” the UK reserved the right to use nuclear weapons.


China and India have both ruled out the “first use” of nuclear weapons. Israel and Pakistan have indicated that they would use nuclear weapons if their very survival is threatened. Despite President Obama’s protestations that the 2005 US Doctrine would be reviewed, neither the US nor its NATO allies will rule out the use of nuclear weapons against States that do not possess such weapons, or give a “no first use” pledge against countries possessing nuclear weapons.


President Obama has indicated that he does not expect to see the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world achieved in his lifetime. The so-called “nuclear weapons States” may talk about arms limitations and undertake some token cuts in certain categories of strategic warheads. But they have no intention of eliminating nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future. Moreover, the American record on nonproliferation has been selective. In their book, “Deception: Pakistan, the United States and the Global Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy”, Adrian levy and Catherine Scott-Clark have revealed how the CIA and successive US Administrations covered up information they had about Pakistan’s relentless, China-assisted quest for nuclear weapons because of larger strategic considerations.


The American “Nonproliferation Ayatollahs,” who roar like lions when talking about proliferation by Iran and North Korea, squeak like mice when it comes to proliferation by China. The Americans have for long known that China has provided Pakistan with nuclear weapon designs, fissile materials and enrichment equipment. They have deliberately turned a blind eye to China’s activities. Over the past decade, China has provided Pakistan with plutonium reactors and reprocessing technology to enable Islamabad to make lighter warheads for fitment on Chinese-supplied ballistic and cruise missiles. Successive US Administrations have ignored this.


Moreover, despite recent revelations about Dr A.Q. Khan, which the Americans must have known about over five years ago, the Obama Administration continues to maintain that Pakistan’s proliferation activities were carried out solely by a rogue “A.Q. Khan Network”, thus absolving the Pakistan Army establishment, which was the prime culprit, of its culpability. If President Reagan overlooked Pakistani proliferation in the 1980s to keep General Zia-ul-Haq pleased, President Obama does likewise now, evidently to keep General Kayani pleased. The Obama Administration remains tongue-tied on issues of the Pakistan Army establishment’s role in nuclear proliferation, or on the ISI’s support for Taliban leaders and groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba, whose members kill American soldiers and nationals in Afghanistan and elsewhere.


New Delhi is not the only capital where there is a sense of outrage at the repeated chants by the Obama Administration that it seeks “universalisation” of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and wants India, Israel and Pakistan to accede to the NPT. Responding to repeated statements on this issue by Obama Administration luminaries, Israel’s normally soft-spoken Defence Minister Ehud Barak retorted on September 7: “Until the Muslim world from Marrakesh to Bangladesh behaves like Western Europe, there can be no debate on nuclear nonproliferation”. Rarely, if ever, has Israel reacted in such terms to sermons on its security imperatives from an American President.


India has rejected the Obama-sponsored UN Security Council Resolution of September 24 calling on it to accede to the NPT. India should, however, make it clear that a major reason why the US is now placing such repeated emphasis on the nuclear nonproliferation treaty is that it is desperately keen to ensure that the NPT Review Conference, scheduled for 2010, does not end in a fiasco like the Review of 2005. But the reasons why the non-nuclear weapons countries stood firm in the 2005 Review still remain valid, as the nuclear weapons States pay only lip-service to nuclear disarmament, still insist on their right to use nuclear weapons against those who do not posses such weapons and selectively deny technology for the development of nuclear energy. It should also make clear that while India would be prepared to join a multilaterally negotiated and non-discriminatory treaty on a fissile material cut-off, we cannot accede to the CTBT in its present form, as among other reasons, it was accompanied by secret understandings and exchanges between “nuclear weapons States”.


India-US relations saw a remarkable turnaround in the last two years of the Clinton Administration and throughout the eight years of the Bush Administration. The 2002 Bush National Security Doctrine resulted in the US regarding India as a partner in areas ranging from nuclear nonproliferation, to climate change and global economic issues. The policies the Obama Administration has pursued since it assumed office on such issues give the impression that it regards India as a target rather than as a partner.


Including the provisions in the UN Security Council resolution of September 24, which are at variance with the letter and spirit of the 123 Agreement and subsequent NSG waiver, only accentuates misgivings and suspicions in India. Similarly, the threats held out about trade sanctions against countries that do not toe the US line on climate change by Democratic Party Senator John Kerry smack of crude intimidation. One wonders if, given the Obama Administration’s approach to relations with China, one could really see any prospect of the type of swift and effective Indo-US cooperation that followed the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Such misgivings and suspicions will have to be addressed when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits Washington.








You should ‘always be well turned out,” this was the jewel of advice for appropriate appearance that my father gave me. Although the idea stuck and pushed me to take great pains at dressing up right, during my tennis career, it often took a toll on my performance!


In time, the jewel was lost, as I felt that repeating a “winning garment” during a tournament —washing only its armpit section— was the true mantra for winning! Many a winning thus rested solely on superstition. For the times it worked, my resolve only became stronger.


Years later, when I graduated to matrimony, my father’s jewel struck again. I was reprimanded often for not appearing as a newly-wed. A crackpot neighbour added fuel to the fire with his comment: “How has she been kept in the family without any jewellery?” It stung my in-laws! I escaped from the caustic remark as the entire neighbourhood considered him a crackpot.


Miscellaneous excuses. Heat, itching, rash etc helped me to shun customary bangles and my only daily

accessory remained a watch, till a younger cousin advised how true dress sense plays many a trick. The shopkeeper is attentive, people flock to you, chat more openly...


I took the baggage of  “well-turned-out” with me yet again when I entered newspaper reporting. Thus, politician’s interviews were forthcoming. Dignitaries prioritised my query, refreshments arrived as I waited. Undoubtedly, it felt superb. Initially I felt like a hypocrite but later drew myself as an “expert”.


In my enthusiasm to share my good fortune from the jewel, I pushed this advice: “Look your best when you go for an interview”, I told a senior journalist on her assignment to the university.


Elated, she shored her tresses of rubber bands and went all loose-haired, smart in the hottest month of June! A few kilometres further, sweating and panting, her struggle for a lone rubber band proved futile. Fanning herself and holding her hair in a mock knot, a clerk seeing her dishevelled, promptly handed her a stapler: “This is all I have”. Surely cursing me, she stapled with the oddity!  Pulling hair over the silver staples, wishing them to be invisible to the interviewee!


At another time, on a reporting assignment in Pakistan, a fellow journalist washed her crinkly hair. In their washed state, I complimented that her hair reminded me of Bollywood actress Kangna Raunaut’s curls. Her thrill to be the actress’s look-alike was only short lived. During the Punjabi “boliyan” session when the Indian jatha jumped into bhangra mode, a cocky devotee sang: “bari barsi khatan gaya si, khat ke liyandi chhoti bhen, , mainu ki pata si oh vichon “niklegi  daain”  and pulled the “Kangna” to dance the “bhangra”.


The cutting look she gave me stays with me.









The controversy over increase in minimum support price (MSP) for paddy by Rs 100/qt for the marketing year 2009-10 is apparently lopsided and fine-tuned only to echo the voice of the state government.


Surprisingly, many state economists who so far has been strong advocates of diversification of state agriculture and were all for linking MSP with global prices of cereals, particularly paddy, have taken a U-turn, terming paddy price hike as “inadequate” without commenting on many other facets of the issue.


No one has uttered a word about its implications on the livelihood of landless poor consumer. No issue of parity in price has been raised. Where are the environmental concerns now, particularly sustaining water resource and soil health for the sake of which we wanted to slash the area under paddy by almost half? Or do we want these problems to aggravate further?


The bonus on MSP is due to natural calamities and treating it as part of MSP is a misconception. The farmers need to be compensated through bonus on MSP due to increase in the cost of production but the incidence of such natural abnormality should not fall on an average consumer.


The prevailing retail price of sugar has already touched Rs 35 a kg. Who is responsible for this? The failure of successive governments to check hoardings is said to be sole reason.


Apart from this, the basic reason of the inability to maintain parity of sugarcane price with that of rice-wheat has led to sugar crisis which needs the government’s due consideration in the price policy.


The state prices of sugarcane will have to be enhanced at a faster rate to increase or even to sustain the existing area under the crop. Taking lead, Haryana has already announced Rs 185/qt which would compel the other states to follow.


This sequential chain of events would put a strong economic pressure on sugar mills, ultimately landing into a helpless situation evoking the problems of delayed payment to the sugarcane growers, hoarding of stocks etc. Sugarcane is a crop planned for two years by the farmers for which suitable parity has to be ensured in advance to stabilise its area.


The area under cotton crop in Punjab declined from 7.6 lakh ha in 1988-89 to just 4.5 lakh ha in 2002-03 due to serious pest problem. Now in spite of best efforts and resultant increase in yield of cotton crop, its area which was captured by paddy crop could not be brought back in its fold, obviously due to lack of parity between cotton and paddy prices.


It is time emphasis is laid on the revival of cotton crop in the south-western districts. This is the most effective way of achieving agricultural diversification in the state. This will also rejuvenate cotton based industries and generate job opportnities.


Escalation in the price of cotton is faster than even in paddy. It could be a thrust point in the pricing policy which has not been properly taken care of. Not only absolute prices, but the high degree of production risk and malpractices in cotton market should also be a serious matter of concern for us.

The demand for diversification in favour of pulses and oilseeds could not make much headway because of the lack of effective support price backed by procurement. Unfortunately, the paddy price has overshadowed manyimportant issues.


The writer is a former Professor & Head, Department of Economics & Sociology, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana








Party conferences are all very well, but they are not always closely related to life on this planet. That doesn’t usually matter, because life in the dangerous and lovable; it has fights, feuds and reconciliations; and endless speculation about who is up or down.


In Labour’s case, though, we will be treated to a particularly otherworldly experience this week, in that the one bubble-world question is hardly going to be discussed, namely whether Gordon Brown will still be Prime Minister at the election.


Journalists will still use the conference as an excuse to interview each other about it. That will only add another layer of unreality to the proceedings. Not since the Conservative conference of 2003, in which Iain Duncan Smith’s speech was interrupted by 17 standing ovations, will a party put on such a strenuous show of unity in defiance of the bubble’s own obsessions.


Let us skip over the bubble, therefore, to Friday, when a real political event occurs that does have implications for life on this planet, or at least this European corner of it.


It could, of course, be argued that European politics is even more detached from Earth-bound matters than the Westminster bubble, and there is some truth in that. The detail of the Lisbon Treaty is technical and confusing.


This supposed “tidying-up exercise”, as Jack Straw once called it, has spawned a bureaucratic Hydra of heads: a president of the council, a president of the commission and a foreign and security high representative thing. None of the changes in the treaty will make any difference to the shape of our bananas or which side of the road we drive on.


And yet there is a larger and simpler truth, which is that Britain’s place in Europe is a basic alignment of our politics. It does make a real-world difference whether the British Government is working with the grain of the rest of Europe or against it. Which is why the response of British leaders to the Irish vote is so important.


In my interview with David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary is scathing about David Cameron’s refusal to spell out his response to a yes vote. So far, the Conservative leader has clung to an ambiguous form of words: that, if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified, he “would not let the matter rest there”.


On Friday, that slogan is likely to become unsustainable. At that point, Cameron faces a series of choices. What to say, and when to say it? To anyone observing from the outside, both are no-brainers.


He has to say that a Conservative government would accept the Lisbon Treaty now that it is likely to be ratified before the election. And he should say it within minutes of the result of the Irish vote becoming known. Waiting until his conference speech the following Thursday is the sort of thing that Gordon Brown would try to do.


Yet it looks as if Cameron will not say what he ought to say, in which case when he says it becomes irrelevant. I understand that the Conservative leadership is still hoping that, even if the Irish say yes, the treaty will be delayed by a legal challenge in the Czech courts. Vaclav Klaus, the Czech President, has not put his blob of sealing wax on the parchment yet, even though it has been approved by his parliament.

Klaus is a Eurosceptic, whose party is a member of the Tories’ new group in the European Parliament. But there is an air of wishful thinking about all this. British Eurosceptics have wound each other up for months about how the Lisbon Treaty could be derailed, seizing with an alarming lack of proportion on rogue polls in Ireland and a ruling by the German constitutional court that was reversed, as expected, last week.


My knowledge of the Czech legal system consists of a novel by Franz Kafka, but Foreign Office officials who are paid to know about such things say that the challenge is “not a problem”.


Miliband is not wrong to say that “it looks like the Tebbits, etc” won’t let Cameron say, “Of course we’ve got to

live with Lisbon.” The transformation of the parliamentary Conservative Party into an almost exclusively Eurosceptic body is one of the longest-lasting and most poisonous legacies of Margaret Thatcher. Cameron himself is a gut sceptic, though he has the political wit to include the pro-European Kenneth Clarke in his Shadow Cabinet. But does he have the political courage to tell the rest of his party what it is so unwilling to hear? Not yet.


Hence the discussion, as we report today, about other referendums that a Conservative government could hold.

Cameron as prime minister could not hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty once it has been ratified, as the Europhobes want: to repudiate the treaty after it has come into effect would be to leave the EU. Hence the compromise plan for a popular vote on other issues that might come up in future negotiations. It is not going to satisfy the hardliners.


By arrangement with The Independent








With several issues on the boil, power crisis has emerged as a major issue. The common man has every right to enjoy the basic amenities with which he or she can lead a comfortable life. But long power cuts are the root cause of major public discomfiture.


Even after 62 years of Independence, we could not resolve the power crisis. It is impossible to lead an easy life

without electricity. Schools, colleges, hospitals, banks, corporate sectors, industries, agriculture etc. all are facing a big problem due to power cuts.


Generators are used regularly and they add to the noise and air pollution. This has also become an environmental hazard. Enormous quantity of diesel consumed in generators goes wasted everyday.


Claims by the government of no power cuts during night time are a cruel joke. People continue to face powerless days and nights. Irregular and insufficient power supply have played havoc with the industrial and agriculture sector.


Unscheduled power cuts (in addition to the scheduled ones) are compounding the woes of domestic customers in urban areas. Summers were unbearable for the common man because of the crisis.


The situation during the ongoing autumn is no better. There is no dearth of electricity cuts. If any curative measures are not taken, this state of affairs will worsen in the upcoming winters and summers.


It is the duty of government to give power to all citizens without discrimination. Increase in tariff is no solution to this problem. Inflation has already broken the backbone of the common man. The government should realise that people who are misusing the facility given to them should be put under check.


Those who have been provided free electricity are misusing it. The government has provided free electricity to some farmers and people below poverty line just to strengthen their vote banks but these people, oblivious of the sufferings of their fellow countrymen, are brazenly misusing the benefit. These people waste power by cooking food on heaters. This is adding to the crisis.


Some people also manage to steal electricity. They devise new methods to pilfer power without bothering about the wastage as they know fully well that they don’t have to pay for it from their pocket.


All ministers and bureaucrats residing in VIP zones are being provided 24 hours uninterrupted power supply. So how can they realise the problem of a common man? Had power cuts been there in VIP areas too, they would have known where the shoe pinches.


The government should review its policy of providing free electricity to select classes. Instead, they should also be charged, may be a nominal tariff so that the disproportionate burden on the common man is rationally distributed. Those availing themselves of free or subsidised power should use it judiciously. They should switch off the electrical appliances not in use.



Politicians need to think beyond vote banks. It is not wise to appease one section for the sake of votes at the cost of a major section of society. It is also the responsibility of everyone to combat this crisis.


The government and the general public should join hands to combat this crisis collectively. The focus should be on energy conservation and effective execution of power generation projects to solve the power crisis.








Despite apprehensions expressed by the police and security forces, the Durga Puja festival went off peacefully and the people of Assam could enjoy the festival with an open mind till early hours of the day. This is a welcome development and one hopes that this peaceful atmosphere will prevail in the days to come so that Assam can see light at the end of the dark tunnel. In fact the overall law and order situation in Assam showed signs of improvement in the past few months with the major militant groups keeping a low profile, but the police and security forces should not become complacent and they should remain vigilant to ensure that the atmosphere of peace prevails in the State in the days to come. Of course, the police and security forces achieved considerable success in the counter-insurgency operations in the past few months, which may have put the militant groups on the back foot, but the possibility of the militants striking back cannot be ruled out and the forces should not lower their guards after the Puja festival went off peacefully. The police and security forces must remember the fact that last year, the militants struck a day after the Dewali festival killing more than 90 persons and that was one of the most gruesome of the terror attacks in the State. For years, Assam witnessed a lull in terrorist attacks when the militant outfits try to regroup and the lull for the past few months should not make the Government complacent and a close watch on the activities of the militant groups should be maintained to ensure that no militant group is able to go for fresh recruitments and launch extortion drives to increase its strength.

The decision of the DHD(J), considered one of the most dreaded of the militant groups of Assam, to surrender arms to solve the problems through talks is a welcome development and this may isolate the militant groups like the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the anti-talk faction of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB). The Central and State Governments must expedite the process of talks with the militant groups, which already signed cease-fire agreements with the Government to solve their problems through talks as amicable solution of the problems of these groups will definitely encourage the active militant groups to come forward for talks. The Government must realise the fact that signing cease-fire agreements with the militant groups alone will not solve the problems and the delay in finding solutions will only complicate matters. The delay in holding talks with the NDFB resulted in division in the ranks of the outfit and the anti-talk faction headed by Ranjan Daimary has now become a cause of worry for the Government. Similarly, the slow progress of talks with the United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS) strengthened the hands of the KLNLF in Karbi Anglong. On the positive side, the KLNLF reportedly sent feelers to the Government to express its desire to come for talks and the authorities concerned should take full advantage of the situation to bring the outfit to the negotiation table.








Poor road connectivity continues to be a perennial bane retarding the State’s development process. In fact, the entire North-East continues to suffer on this count, as even after six decades of independence, the road network has failed to touch many places, especially those situated in remote, hilly and border areas. Much of the backwardness of the region stems from the absence of a sound road infrastructure. Even today, this has been a major deterrent to the growth of key sectors such as industry and tourism. Agriculture, the main occupation of a majority of the populace, too, has been among the worst hit. Transportation of agricultural produce from villages to market places becomes next to impossible for lack of all-weather surface linkage. While the average availability of roads in Assam continues to be well below the national average, it scores even worse when it comes to blacktopped roads. This makes transportation a nightmare during the prolonged monsoon season. The sub-standard quality of the existing network of all-weather roads is another major lacuna. The nagging border row with several neighbouring States, especially Nagaland, has a lot to do with the absence of road connectivity. The Assam-Nagaland border is virtually inaccessible from the Assam side with the result that officials from the administration and police rarely visit these areas.

Notwithstanding some progress made under the PMGSY in connecting villages with all-weather roads, the overall situation remains far from satisfactory. The presence of several thousand wooden bridges is another big problem. Of the 5,000-odd wooden bridges, only 1,200 have been replaced by concrete structures. With funds no longer remaining a constraint following various World Bank- and ADB-sponsored projects, there have been some improvement in road connectivity in Guwahati and other towns. But for ensuring all-round progress of the State, the development process has to reach the grassroots. Tourism which has immense potential in the State can get a kick-start only with adequate road linkage. It is regrettable that the PWD road connecting a World Heritage Site like Manas National Park should be in a state of perennial disrepair. Nothing can exemplify better the State Government’s insincerity towards the cause of tourism. While the Centre has been liberal in providing finance worth thousands of crores for road development, an equally urgent need is there to ensure strict monitoring and surveillance, as funds have a strange way of not reaching the intended beneficiaries in the State. Compromising with road quality during construction – a widespread practice – must be stopped forthwith









Unknown to the people of Meghalaya, the 130-day old Congress-led Meghalaya United Alliance (MUA) government was, at its inception, given a clear direction by the Congress High Command and the UPA government at the Centre that the contentious issue of uranium mining has to be sorted out sooner than later. Indeed the issue of whether or not this strategic ore should be mined has occupied the consciousness of the people of Meghalaya for over twenty years ever since the Atomic Minerals Division (AMD) of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) found 9,500 tons of uranium oxide deposits in 9.22 million tons of ore located in West Khasi Hills district in areas bordering Bangladesh.

The area is well demarcated and 422 hectares of land is already leased out to UCIL for its pre-project development activities. An energy starved country like India requires to harness every form of power – hydro, thermal, nuclear and other alternative sources. If India is to join the ranks of China in industrialisation then energy is a crucial input and those ruling this country have the onus to generate that energy from all sources. But there are strong voices of protests that have emerged across the country questioning whether India is mining uranium for energy purposes or whether it is strengthening its nuclear capability to be one-up on its Asian neighbours, especially Pakistan which has some nuclear warheads ready to be exploded at short notice.

It is ironic that Pakistan which shows all the signs of a failed state should be talking big about its nuclear capability. But Pakistan has obviously made nuclear armament a priority and put peaceful development at the end of its shopping list. Former President, Pervez Musharraf had recently made public that large chunks of development funds flowing from the United States have been diverted towards bolstering Pakistan’s armoury and keeping the armed forces on perpetual alert. Such actions are expected from a military dictator. But the problem is that each time Pakistan asserts its preparedness for a full scale war with India, this country gets hiccups about its nuclear capability. With the Pokhran blasts today becoming a matter of contention about whether we really have the bomb, it has become even more important for this country not only to develop its nuclear potential but to make it an improved version of Pakistan’s.

This struggle for one-up-manship in the area of nuclear competence diverts the attention of the country from real development which millions of Indian are still deprived of. Drinking water, sanitation, health care, education are priority areas which Governments do not give adequate attention to. The ordinary citizen is really in no position to know for a fact whether the Uranium sought to be mined in Meghalaya will be used for peaceful purposes or if it will become the element of death. The world has always been divided between pacifists and antagonists. There is a school of thought which feel that the safety of the country is uppermost and that every citizen must be willing to make sacrifices towards that end. But there are other realists who believe that peace is the only way forward. Unfortunately there is no meeting of minds between the two.

What is most unfortunate is that in Meghalaya, the otherwise well-knit tribal communities are now sharply divided on whether or not to mine Uranium. The Khasi Students Union (KSU) has vociferously opposed Uranium mining ever since the issue first surfaced in the 1980’s. The Students’ body have stuck to their guns. At this very moment they are in Delhi to join issues with an all India anti-nuclear body called the National Alliance of Anti-nuclear Movement (NAAM). Like the Jews who go to the wailing wall at Jerusalem to mourn their fates, the NAAM will be wailing at Rajghat on October 2 when the nation celebrates Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. NAAM’s call to every Indian citizen is to stand united against any kind of nuclear activity. Their slogan, “Don’t Nuke Our Children’s Future,” has caught the imagination of the KSU which is gradually being isolated in Meghalaya, even as more groups obviously with a vested interest are coming forward to support the Government on its Uranium mining venture.

At no time has there been such a sharp division in society. Even in West Khasi Hills which is the fulcrum of the Uranium debate views are divided. The pre-project development package promised by UCIL is too tempting for the people of West Khasi Hills who have so long lived in stark deprivation. West Khasi Hills is one of the most backward districts of Meghalaya lacking in basic infrastructure like roads, health, education, drinking water and employment. Naturally people are happy that something is about to be done for them. Their contention is that people who do not belong to West Khasi Hills have no right to speak for or against Uranium mining because they who live in Shillong do not know where the show pinches. This argument, is in itself a potential weapon of social and political fission. That there is no moderate voice to call for a dialogue among the two contenders is a dangerous trend because it could lead to some kind of civil war in Meghalaya.

Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh who has just returned from the G-20 summit at Pittsburgh recently stated that India will push for a massive growth in nuclear energy from the current 4,020 MW to 470,000 MW in 2050. A confident looking Dr Singh committed to nuclear energy even to the point of staking his own position during the nuclear debate in parliament, must have be having a positive action plan on how to harness siuch a huge quantum of nuclear energy. This obviously means that all available Uranium resources will be tapped. And Meghalaya with its high-grade Uranium is part of that larger national vision.

Chief Minister DD Lapang is under great pressure to ensure that there are no stumbling blocks to the Centre’s energy expansion plan. He has obviously been told that the Centre could invoke the Eminent Domain Clause to smoothly take over the all land which contains Uranium, following the payment of compensation to the owner/owners of that property. Mr Lapang had hinted recently that the Centre might use extraordinary powers should the opposition to uranium mining turn volatile. In the event of such an exigency neither the people not Government of Meghalaya would be able to negotiate a win-win deal with UCIL which it is now in a position to do.

This pragmatism has dawned on a sizeable chunk of Meghalaya’s population but as usual they are neither vocal nor organised. Many are wary of expressing their views on the plea that they are not nuclear scientists and therefore not in a position to agree with either of the parties in conflict over Uranium. The irony is that even in the MUA coalition there are those who are still not with the cabinet in its decision to allow UCIL a free run of West Khasi Hills. It appears that Uranium has the potential to even ground the present MUA forcing it to take on board other groups that will enable the Congress to facilitate Uranium mining in Meghalaya. We can only surmise as to what the consequences of this political and social fall-out will be. Lapang is not in a very happy situation right now. The Chief Minister’s cup of woes seem to be spilling over into the Uranium mines.








From the first cry to the last groan, man’s life is a perennial strive for the blessings of the Divine. The experience of divine blessings makes one realise that the inner striving for the eternal does not go astray and may win divine recognition. This realisation activates the latent divinity within the self. Tales of God as the Blesser of sincere devotees abound in the world’s scriptures. Blessings are normally expressed in the form of good wishes. Such good feelings packed with the power of purity have the quality of effectiveness. A person blessed with divine grace is a person who feels and stands under the canopy of divine protection. The divine blessings thus do not directly operate externally in bringing about certain material gain but internally in the personal relationship that flowers between the soul and the supreme father.

Human life is a life of dignity. A person who really understands his or her inherent worth and respects that of others, comes to know that worth is not something assigned by external sources, but rather comes from a source that is universal and eternal. Supreme Father, ie, the supreme soul is the ultimate source of eternal beneficient powers and pure thoughts of good wishes. But the question is what is that who receives these divine powers and blessings? It may be observed that when it rains, the thursty earth absorbs the water and the fertile earth nourish the whole world; the sun shines out the rays of light which the living bodies as well as the plants receive. But the Godly powers and blessings are very subtle. The self, which is the subtle, conscient point of energy driving the gross physical body is the direct recipient of such divine powers and blessings. Human dignity is thus the external expression of an internal state of self-worth. But due to a gradual turning away from the inner self over a period of time, the strong pull of the physical senses began to influence and spurred our inner being, the true recipient of the divine blessings. Hence the flow of divine powers and blessings gets disrupted, consequently, we find ourselves today often uncertain of distinguishing the right from the wrong; actions become progressively degraded. Unable to find contentment from within, the soul has turned all its attention to the pleasures derived from material sources and found himself in a void of inadequate, transitory experiences. In such a vulnerable situation, the soul grasps at any source of comfort. The level of motivation inevitably degrades into sense – gratification, which traps the soul into seeking greater pleasure to offset greater dissatisfaction.

The Supreme uses the might of His spiritual qualities for the benefit of the world when it reaches its darkest hours. The scriptures give us the symptoms of extreme Kaliyuga (Iron age), when evil will be at its peak. These symptoms very much match the scenario in the world today. At this juncture, everybody has become spiritually depleted. This has created the fear and the subsequent need for divine blessings and protection. It is the time to connect us internally with the almighty supreme Father. Although the strength of science gives comfort to life, sorrow and sadness have not disappeared. Infact, human powers have divided and wrenched the world. Divine power is the only way to heal the world. Divine powers like love, peace, happiness, bliss are totally benign, benevolent, beneficient, unlimited, unconditioned and universal to create and sustain universal harmony. Hence, the Brahma Kumaris are organising a worldwide programme on the theme of ‘Global Festival for Receiving God’s Powers and Blessings’ from October 1 to 4, 2009 at Guwahati, as part of the global programme to convey the message that one can receive Godly powers and blessings by loving remembrance and warn His unlimited blessings by adopting a righteous way of life. Blessings are such that one need not to labour hard to receive them. They are just gift to us on the part of our supreme Father. All that we need to do is just to turn our mind and intellect towards our beloved father and thus atune ourselves to receive our God fatherly birthright and become worthy recipient of the Divine Blessings. It would indeed be a very poor conception of God if He were held responsible only for the bondage and sorrow of His children and the efforts for emancipation from them were not regarded as inspired by Him.

There is a proverb that once upon a time, golden sparrows lived in this land of ours and the lions and the deers drank waters in the same pond. But in course of time human powers no longer served universal good. The time is therefore ripe when we need to take power from God, who is the truth and the ocean of purity, in order to make our good intentions real.

(Published on the occasion of Global Festival for receiving Divine Powers and Blessings).









One setback does not failure make. What promised to be the biggest merger in India’s corporate history is not to be — the Bharti-MTN deal is off. Yet, Indian industry and Bharti itself are better off than if such a daring enterprise had not been ventured at all. The Bharti-MTN deal, even in its failure, stands testimony to the soaring vision, financial muscle, will to achieve and voracious appetite for success of corporate India. When Tata Steel acquired Corus for $12 billion, Indians cheered, not so much for the gains in terms of corporate profits or strategy that the deal brought the Tatas, as for the ambition to achieve that the acquisition revealed.

As India globalises, and Indian industry spreads wings across the seven seas, acquiring mines in Latin America and Australia, oil blocks in Africa and companies in Europe and North America, ordinary Indians rejoice, not just shareholders and promoters. This is because such bold conquests across the world hold the promise of liberation from the sense of smallness and inadequacy that two centuries of colonial rule had imposed on a civilisation that was one of the most advanced in the world, before the onset of the industrial revolution in the west. And for corporate India, one company’s success spurred another to even greater glory. Confidence spawns creativity and scale makes it profitable in a manner that is not possible within a small national market.

Bharti drew inspiration from both the energy and enterprise of large cross-border acquisitions by Indian companies in the recent past, when it proposed India’s largest ever foreign deal, the $23 billion liaison with South-Africa based telecom operator, MTN. It pursued the deal with energy, mobilising finance, political blessings, legal acumen, shareholder lobbying and deal-making and negotiating skills on an unprecedented scale. The deal finally crumbled, hitting the wall of national pride in South Africa. But Bharti can be trusted to cut its losses, and start looking for the next big opportunity without wasting tears over spilt national pride.

National pride is what Indians have been expressing over the success of Indian companies abroad. It is not surprising that national pride should ride high in other countries as well. Yet, national pride in corporate matters represents a lower order of maturity in the evolution of economic progress. Britain pioneered the industrial revolution but today has sold off virtually all its original national champions to foreign buyers. Yet that economy thrives, being one of the most dynamic in Europe. India has not evolved to that level, yet is better placed than many other countries of the world. When the Singh brothers sold Ranbaxy to Daiichi of Japan, there was more admiration for the excellent price the promoters managed to obtain for their company than nationalist outrage over the sale of one of India’s premier pharma enterprises to a foreigner. When Indian companies make deals abroad, including in countries that have not progressed on transcending national pride in corporate achievement, India’s corporate leadership must appreciate the magnitude of the challenges they must, perforce, encounter.

There are dual challenges in tackling this. On the one hand, India Inc must appreciate the value in engaging with the world at large at multiple levels — not just corporate handshakes but cultural exchanges and strategic dialogue identifying common economic ground. On the other, the government of India must become more proactive in promoting Indian business abroad. And this is not just a question of our missions or ministries back home being receptive to the ad-hoc requirements of individual business engagements. What is also needed is a new, and meaty, foreign aid budget that can offer much valued Indian expertise in, say, setting up institutes of technology, management and accountancy or in building hospitals or roads, in countries that are hospitable to Indian companies. At present, our official vision of foreign aid is focused on inflows.

We need to think seriously, and think big, on foreign aid that flows out from India, to lubricate Indian commercial interests. This, of course, is in addition to the bilateral and multilateral engagement that is already going in the right direction of losing their developed country bias.

And finally, what the Bharti-MTN deal highlights is the need for India to enhance its preparedness for global acquisitions, including by creating much larger banks. We must modernise company law, taxation and currency regimes to bring in the flexibility that Indian multinational need, in order to secure deals that come up against inflexible regulatory requirements in other countries. Here, the issue is not jingoistic one-upmanship over whose regime should prevail. The issue is which country’s company stands to gain the most from a transaction.







He’s multi-faceted: at times a Red Indian, at times a sumo wrestler, sometimes a monk and sometimes a Parisian lover boy. These days though he’s just a poor whipping boy, who has been more red faced than red Indian, a squirmer rather than a wrestler and more of a monkey in the middle and less of a monk. Over the past few days or so the once high flying Maharaja has been grounded by the very men and women who were supposed to help him soar over the skies. His royal highness can only watch in silence with his head bent low, as his subjects, stranded at airports and forced to rejig their trips to USA, Japan, Thailand and Paris, bay for his turbaned head in a royal rage.

The pilots seem to believe that if they are flying a Maharaja then surely they are entitled to a higher share of, ahem, the ‘royalty’. That the Maharaja’s once ample bottom line is fast receding and his treasury fast emptying are of little concern to these highfliers. They are safe in the knowledge that they are flying the one Maharaja who still has a royal privy purse. For, in its infinite wisdom, the government decided that every rule must have an exception and in the case of royalty and privy purses and decided that rather than pay out small sums to numerous rajas it would rather pay large sums to one Maharaja.

With the purse strings having been loosened yet again, the slightly red-faced Maharaja is all set to take off again. We wonder though whether tired of this constant grounding by his crew he is reminiscing in his Italian avatar — that of a gondolier in Venice ‘Chi Vola Vale, Chi Non Vola non Vale, Chi Vale e Non Vola Š un Vile’

Translated: He who flies is worthy, He who doesn’t fly is unworthy, he who is worthy and doesn’t fly is a coward.










Kraft Foods’ unsolicited bid for Cadbury has lifted M&A activity, but has also drawn attention to hostile takeovers. If Hershey’s makes a counter offer, it would certainly trigger a bidding war. Corporate India is witnessing its own bidding battle between Bharati Shipyard Limited and its rival ABG Shipyard Limited to acquire Great Offshore Limited. And while their tussle is ongoing, the shareholders of Great Offshore have reason to celebrate. The script recently closed above Rs 560, three times to what it was trading last year. From the shareholders perspective, no one can question the increased value bids like this offer. But events like this do compel one to think why India hasn’t witnessed many unsolicited takeovers, especially if they enhance shareholder value.

By no means is one advocating them, but takeovers are the fastest way for companies to achieve expansion of product and customer base. They provide immediate access to additional production lines and markets and these factors must have been considered by the boards of Bharati and ABG while making their respective bids for Great Offshore. With a large number of stocks trading at a discount to the company’s underlying assets, one wonders if factors other than business ethics prevent corporate India to take advantage of this route of inorganic growth.

Currently, the acquisition of shares and voting rights of a listed company are governed by the Sebi Takeover Code. Its objective is that the moment an acquirer crosses a certain specified shareholding threshold, he is under an obligation to provide the existing shareholders the opportunity to either tender their shares for sale or continue as shareholders. The Takeover Code also stipulates ongoing disclosure requirements, which could make it burdensome for a sneaky acquirer to gain control of a company, especially if the attempts are unwelcome. Interestingly, however, the regulations don’t make a distinction between friendly acquisitions and hostile takeovers.

But it would be unfair to infer that the Takeover Code presents any direct barriers to a hostile acquisition. Nevertheless, historically, India has witnessed only a handful of hostile takeover attempts. Foremost amongst these (predating the Takeover Code) is the highly contentious and unsuccessful attempt by Swraj Paul to take over Escorts Industries. Thereafter, and after almost 15 years, corporate India witnessed the only successful hostile takeover of Raasi Cements by Indian Cements in 1998. And more recently, Harish Bhasin (stockbroker) led a series of bids to acquire DCM Shriram Industries Limited and his attempts earned him the dubious reputation of being the ‘corporate raider’.

To protect against such raiders, internationally, companies commonly adopt the “Poison Pill” or Shareholder Rights Plans. This involves the issuance of low priced preferential shares to existing shareholders if a purported hostile bid were consummated. Such new issuance results in diluting the shareholding of the raiders, thereby making the acquisition prohibitively expensive. Another equally popular strategy is the “Pac-Man Defense”, where the targets make a counter bid, on its invader, with a view to change roles and go after its chaser. Then there is the “White Knight” that is often approached by the target itself to make an offer, more enticing than the hostile bidder, but with the objective that the target management doesn’t get dislodged.

In India, however, some of the above stated defences may not entirely be applicable. While Indian companies may be able to issue warrants, which trigger when an acquirer crosses certain shareholding thresholds, it is important to note that these warrants cannot be used to buy shares at a substantial discount. Under the recently issued Sebi ICDR Regulations, the exercise price of the warrants must be the average of the weekly high and low of the closing price during the six months or the two weeks preceding the date when the general meeting of the shareholders is held to consider the proposed issue. Additionally, the ICDR Regulations require 25% of the price payable for the warrants to be made upfront, which amount is forfeited if the warrants are not allotted within a period of 18 months.

In the final analysis, as financial markets remain volatile and since Indian companies are unable to utilise some of the traditional takeover defences, hostile takeovers could soon become an ongoing reality. In such a situation, one wonders the role which local financial institutions, who traditionally have ties with promoter families, may adopt in potential takeovers. And with a sizeable share of the Indian equity pie now with Foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs) can one expect that FIIs will be driven by their fiduciary obligations to increase shareholder value, offered in situations of hostile takeovers? With Sebi once again reviewing the Takeover Code, the regulator has a tough balancing act at hand. It must not overtly encourage hostile acquisitions, but can neither act as “killer bees” to fend off hostile takeovers.

(Author is a senior corporate lawyer with Amarchand Mangaldas. Views are personal)








Intelligence is being aware and spontaneous. When you are deeply aware, you cannot make mistakes! With awareness, you don’t rely on what others have taught you. You don’t rely on the past conditioning that has gone on inside you for many years. With deep awareness you are in the present moment, alive and alert. Your intelligence by its very nature is spontaneous. It is only a question of awakening it from within.

The first step is to watch yourself and see how you unconsciously react to situations. See how your actions are rooted in your attitudes and conclusions from past experiences. Watching yourself with awareness is the first step. The good news about awareness is — it is the only step that is needed! Most of the time, we continue to live in the dead past and miss the wonderful dimensions of life. Or we get angry over what has happened and feel hurt. Or we blindly follow other people’s directions instead of relying on our own intelligence, because it is easy to place responsibility on others. This is dangerous because sometimes we are not even aware that we are missing responsibility and intelligence.

You say you are being obedient, but you are actually shirking the responsibility of owning up to your actions. It is always easy to put the blame on the whole world for what happens in your life. But if you just look a little deeper, you can see how you are completely responsible for what is happening in your life!

We do many things unconsciously because we do not live every moment with awareness and take responsibility for our words and actions. Then, when the effects of these actions happen, we claim we don’t deserve the results! If you just look with deep awareness, an energy will awaken — the energy of intelligence — which is enough to bring about the solution to your problems.

The very awareness is enough to break free from the past conditioning and act intelligently. This awareness will simply kindle the spark of intelligence that has always been a part of you. The whole key lies in being aware so that your intelligence can function.

Acting out of your own intelligence is taking complete responsibility for what you do at all times. Follow your intelligence with the clear understanding that you alone are responsible for your actions. Then you will not hurt anyone including yourself. The light of awareness is enough to remove the darkness created by years of living by habit.

Be Blissful!








The G-20 heads of government, meeting in Pittsburgh, made all the right noises on reform of the banking sector. Banks will be required to hold more capital. Compensation policies in banks must not encourage excessive risk-taking. Large banks must be subjected to stricter standards than the rest. So, are we about to see a brave new world of banking? Any celebration would be premature.

There are at least three reasons why progress on the ground may not match the rhetoric of the G-20 meet. The first is a sense of complacency as the global crisis shows signs of bottoming out. The second is the difficulty in reaching a common understanding among regulators on precisely what new rules should be put in place. The third is that banks that are too big to fail are likely to be with us even after the crisis blows over.

It is hard to miss the signs of complacency as the world economy shows signs of recovery. Last July, the IMF revised its forecast for world economic growth for 2010 from 0.6% to 2.5%. Several banks have seen their stock prices recover smartly and are poised to post obscene profits this year.

Why ‘obscene’? Because profits in the present environment have flowed from a combination of unusually favourable factors. Monetary policy aimed at stimulating economies has lowered banks’ cost of funds. Banks have benefited from infusions of capital from government. Government guarantees have allowed banks to raise funds at lower cost than otherwise. Large banks that have survived and gobbled up those that failed are reaping the advantages of market dominance.

Banks in the US are taking every opportunity to repay public funds so that they are freed from restrictions, especially restrictions on compensation. Goldman Sachs is set to declare its highest bonuses ever — the betting is that average bonus could touch a million dollars this year. There are also reports that Goldman is planning to surrender its banking licence.

Governments need unusual resolve to overcome any sense of business as usual and push ahead with measures to prevent the next big crisis. The one solid assurance we have is that capital requirements for banks will go up. But how much more capital banks will have to hold is yet to be spelt out.

Most regulators will be wary of taking unilateral steps for fear of putting their domestic banks at a disadvantage. So, we need regulators to reach agreement quickly on what is an appropriate level of capital. Indian banks are operating today at a capital adequacy of 13% against the regulatory norm of 9%. If the regulatory norm goes up to, say, 12%, Indian banks should plan for capital in the region of 15-20%. Public sector banks, where government shareholding is close to 51%, please note.

Some regulators want a special allocation of capital against the trading book. There is also a broadly held view that there must be an additional capital requirement for large banks, given their greater potential for disruption. Regulators have their work cut out in harmonising these perceptions and arriving at common norms for capital.

Some believe that higher capital requirements will have the perverse effect of pushing managers to take more risk because of the pressure to earn returns on a higher capital base. This is not necessarily true. When leverage in banking declines, managers’ incentive to take risk is reduced. Indeed, we need more capital in banks not because it provides a better cushion when failure happens. We need more capital to prevent failure in the first place by reining in the appetite for risk.

Higher capital is an indirect way to rein in excessive risk-taking. The direct way is regulating managerial pay. The G-20 mentions a number of measures: deferring variable compensation; paying such compensation in stock rather than cash; and clawing back compensation when bankers run up losses. But it may not be enough to get the design of compensation right. Some caps on compensation may be inevitable. In India, the RBI has not hesitated to step in to regulate pay of private bank CEOs, using certain norms. The G-20 communique waffles on this point.

Lastly, there is the issue of ‘systemically important’ institutions that are too big to fail. Higher capital cannot address this problem. Plans for orderly resolution of these institutions in the event of failure may be of little avail in times of crisis. This problem needs to be tackled head-on either by limiting the scope of banks, say, preventing deposit-taking institutions from having certain types of activities. Or it may require limits on the size of banks. But such measures are considered too radical even in today’s context. We need an even bigger crisis before such solutions find acceptance.

Whether it is capital requirements or executive pay or the problem of large banks, solutions will be slow in coming and will be in the nature of compromises worked out by politicians, regulators and powerful banking lobbies. Moreover, by its very nature, financial innovation is likely to find its way around many regulations — witness the huge ‘shadow banking system’ where the present crisis originated.

It would be unrealistic, therefore, to expect stronger regulation of financial institutions by itself to stave off the next crisis. Better macroeconomic management must supplement regulation. Perhaps, the biggest gain from the present crisis is a wider acceptance today of the importance of ‘macro-prudential’ surveillance, including the notion of leaning against asset bubbles. This will require, among other things, monetary tightening or counter-cyclical measures targeting particular sectors and a moderation of volatile capital flows as bubbles build up.

Again, there is work to be done on identifying the trigger points for such actions. But at least, the Greenspan thesis that policy-makers do nothing in the face of asset bubbles no longer has as many takers as before. Booms and busts are, of course, integral to capitalism. But policy-makers have an obligation to limit the frequency and intensity of disruption. This applies especially to crises resulting from banking failures, where the sins of a managerial aristocracy are visited on the hapless multitudes.








He is known for managing Fidelity International’s India investment portfolio. As portfolio manager of Fidelity Equity, Fidelity Tax Advantage, Fidelity India Growth Fund and more recently, Fidelity International Opportunities Fund, Sandeep Kothari favours the bottom-up approach to investing. In an interview with ET , he discussed the current environment and his investment rationale in volatile times. Excerpts:

In the three and a half years that you have been in India, has there been any shift in your investment philosophy?

We are a bottom-up sort of investor with greater focus on stock specific, rather than big macro, calls. Our tendency to look at a business from a slightly longer-term perspective is also reflected in our portfolio or the churn in our portfolio. I try to reduce the number of variables at play and work with those under my control. So while macro has been an important factor over the past 12-15 months, it is not the only one we rely on to take a call.

At inflections, company fundamentals may not tell you much but at the end of the day you need to have some view and some framework to work with. For instance — though not necessarily in the portfolio — Maruti at Rs 400 or Rs 380. Rather than take a call as to when the economy will turn and ride that way, we would focus on the fact that the company will survive and Indians will buy cars. So, here we have a company whose track record is out there, with a 50% market share, a strong balance sheet and the fact that the Japanese are putting R&D out here. Therefore, to make a call with that perspective is far more easier, rather than try to forecast as to how the liquidity will play out, when the banks will get funded, etc.

How has the global factors affected your strategy?

Consider a scenario of, say, the US going through a double dip. It will have implications for sectors and companies in India, as they don’t work in isolation. But one should not make investment decisions based only on developments there. In that event, we’ll go back to the drawing board, think about the business and events that are discounted in the stock price and take a call. Things may be looking very bad, but if events are discounted, the track record is good and the business is expected to survive in the long term, it becomes an easier decision.

Has your strategy factored in the possibility of interest rates rising soon?

If long-term structural stories are in place, business cycles will not bother you. If you have been owning a stock for three years, you will continue to hold it. Right now, a classic business cycle is playing out, and it is gaining momentum. Our markets have turned earlier and surprised everybody. Valuations have gone up, the earnings cycle is very strong but we still don’t see euphoria in the market. However, we need to contend with various uncertainties such as liquidity, factors that cause a downturn and how long a downturn can continue. At this point, I am not convinced that central banks will begin tightening or inflation would go out of hand within six months. The business cycle could continue for some more time. If you have more structurally strong companies in your portfolio, the need to constantly review your holding is reduced.

Do you have a large cap bias?

No. When you invest in a small cap, specially in an emerging market, you take a liquidity risk. The liquidity risk has to be justified by the returns you expect. There are enough small caps in the portfolio that we have held through the cycle, and we have been very comfortable. Without going into specifics, we have been holding Whirlpool as part of our equity fund for a long time, as we like the business and we believed in the management. It has paid great dividend. If a large cap gives me 50% return and small cap 70%, I rather be with the large cap rather not take the liquidity risk. For small cap investing, it has to be really long-term view.

What is your view on the current lot of IPOs and the way it has been priced?

Capital markets are there to raise capital, whether for balance sheet repair or growth. It is up to the investors to think what value they want to pay and what risk they are seeing. That said, we have participated in very few IPOs that have hit the market in recent times. It is a function of the market and valuations. If valuations were right, we would have participated in a bit more.








Ine Lejeune , global indirect tax leader, PricewaterhouseCoopers, leads PwC’s global indirect taxes network comprising 1,800 experts based in 118 countries. A noted expert in VAT/GST, she advises Chinese ministry of finance on that country’s ongoing VAT reform programme. Ine spoke to ET Bureau on what India should learn from global experiences as it plans to adopt the goods & services tax.

As India gears up to adopt a dual GST system with federal and state components, what all have it to learn from the experience of other countries that already have such a system, the EU in particular?

What we have in the EU is a common Vat legislation applicable to all 27 members of the Union, that is, a common framework put into identical national laws. The member states are entitled to the revenue from taxes on consumption in their jurisdictions and a small portion of such revenue is assigned to the EU federal budget by each state. The EU has a way of distributing the VAT proceeds among jurisdictions that is different from what India, I understand, is planning.

When India adopts the dual GST, it is important for it to keep the whole system simple with a Central GST law and a model state GST law that is consistently followed by all states. Ideally, both the Central and State GST should be single-rate systems. Global experience has shown that multiple rates can be problematic. Under the EU system, 10% space is given to each country to opt for their specific rates and this has been a disaster, as is evident from a complex web of litigation being created. There is a tendency among countries that had initially gone for multiple rates to move towards a single rate; the latest example is Switzerland. It’s important that VAT/GST system does not add to the cost of doing business. India’s complex political system might not allow a single rate system at this juncture but you would do well to keep the system as simple as possible.

Being a relatively late entrant, India has the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of other countries and formulate a faultless GST system. VAT/GST system would have a smooth run with e-invoicing, e-payment, e-filing and e-audits. Europe would soon go for a fully electronic system, the economic benefits of which is estimated at $350 billion or 2% of the GDP of the Union.

For federal countries, the rules at the central level should be consistent with those for states. OECD guidelines for aligned global VAT/GST is worth following, too.

How do you define an ideal GST/VAT system and what is the model closer to that in the world now?

There are diverse VAT systems in the world. There will be 163 countries with a VAT/GST by 2012. (The Gulf Cooperation Council countries are planning to adopt the system by 2012).

The ideal system is one that would be marked by a broad base, single rate, minimum exemptions, minimal zero-rated supplies, wide definition of taxable person and a high threshold. Exemptions create an embedded VAT cost. So , it is advisable to substitute exemptions by a low standard rate. I would rate New Zealand system as the best amongst the lot; Singapore has a good system too, but the EU is still at the lower end of the ladder.

India is planning a composite GST rate of around 16% (8+8). How does this rate compare with the best systems worldwide?

The average VAT rate worldwide is 16.4% which means you are very much there. It is 19.4% in the EU and 9.88% in Asia Pacific. The average rate is 16% in South America. The highest rate of 25% exists in Norway, Sweden and Denmark while the lowest rate of 5% is in Canada and Nigeria.

There is an allegation that VAT/GST is a regressive tax as it minimises the number of tax rates to even a single rate, as a result of which low-income earners will have to fork out a relatively higher proportion of their income as consumption tax, than the rich.

The VAT/GST system is superior to other models because it can minimise hidden taxes. The system militates against cascading of taxes in B2B transactions. It is therefore non-regressive and fair to the final consumer as well. A Vat system is based on tax collection in a staged process, with successive taxpayers entitled to deduct input tax on purchases and account for output tax on sales. Further, any negative effect on the low-income people due to lack of rate differential can be compensated by the governments in the form of special allowances and social security measures, because the VAT/GST systems equip them with a stable and predictable revenue source. Consistency is critical to the integrity of GST. The system should be as equitable and efficient as possible to overcome regressive elements.

What about the handling of VAT disputes?

In EU, the European Court of Justice is having a very effective role in pre-empting/resolving VAT-related disputes between member countries. The court’s rules are binding on states and businesses and it sticks to a set of generally accepted interpretations of the VAT law provisions. It would be crucial for India also to have an independent agency which could arbitrate and give binding rulings on centre-state/ inter-state disputes over jurisdictions and the right to tax proceeds. I understand that a dispute resolution mechanism is being thought of.

What is your position on the debate on consumption taxes versus income taxes?

I would bet on the ability of the consumption tax (VAT/GST system) to enhance economic efficiencies and bring about equity. Data show that the share of consumption taxes to total taxes is increasing in many countries.

The US is the most obvious non-VAT country. Why is it that the world’s biggest economy is not convinced of the benefits of the system?

In the US, sales tax is charged only at final sale to the final consumer. Though they may have reasons to stick to that, studies have shown that the government is missing some 40% of the revenue due to the absence of VAT.









The government will persist with its efforts to turn around Air India (AI) and the pilots stir will not make any difference to the initiative, civil aviation minister Praful Patel said on Wednesday. Speaking to ET Now soon after AI pilots called off their stir, the minister said the national carrier had to take a lot of tough decisions to come out of financial distress. Excerpts:

Is Air India unable to manage its relationship with employees?

I do not think that is the case. The financial health of airlines has come under severe pressure, leading to problems like the one we saw at Air India. The airline has a very high cost structure and it needs to be cut. Reduction in staff cost is one of the many measures being suggested by the airline. Cutting salaries and perks is never a popular decision. This affects employees and makes the management look like a devil. But the moment industry recovers from the financial crisis, things would ease.

Will the committee proposed to look into grievances of executive pilots consider the demands of other employees as well?

The Air India management will consult everybody before taking any final decision. It’s time everybody realises the problem and helps the company improve its financials. The management is under tremendous pressure. The airline has to cut cost and increase revenue. That is a pre-condition for securing government help in terms of additional equity. The government assistance will not come without riders.

Does the current compromise agreement mean that all executive pilots of AI return to work?

I wonder why pilots are agitating. Air India has already kept its earlier order (on cut in allowances) in abeyance and has decided to form a committee which will also include executive pilots to look into the matter. The ball is now in their court.


Will the government hold back the financial assistance committed to AI if the airline fails to cut costs?

Of course. The government can’t keep giving money to the airline. The government has committed to equity infusion. But at the same time, it expects the airline to cut cost and enhance revenue. The government has said it would give a letter of comfort to Air India and this will enable the airline to replace expensive debt with cheaper debt. The government is committed to restoring Air India to financial health in the next 2-3 years.

Why is AI losing market share too, apart from mounting losses?

It is not just Air India, every airline in the world is undergoing a similar problem. Air India has lost market share, but market share is only a notional thing at the end of the day.

At one point of time, Indian Airlines had 100% market share. Similarly, Jet Airways had 50% share at one point. Air India’s has grown, though its market share may have declined.

Under current circumstances, when can we expect Air India to get listed?

We can’t decide a time-frame at this juncture. In 2007, Air India had planned an IPO, but the stock market tanked and the issue was put on hold. We have to now wait for a good year or so. In the past one year, things have gone wrong. Not just Air India, it will be difficult for any airline to find investors now.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




As it celebrates the 60th anniversary of the 1949 Communist revolution led by Chairman Mao Zedong today, there is much that the People’s Republic of China can legitimately be proud of. Led by the engine of economic growth, in recent decades its comprehensive national power has grown exponentially. But easily the most striking aspect of the rise of the Chinese system has been the accretion to the capacities of its military establishment, which was among the four “modernisations” underlined by the late Deng Xiaoping, who inspired the dragon’s resurgence in the era after Mao. More than anything else, it is arguably this factor that has provoked considerable latent unease in China’s neighbourhood, causing the subject of keeping a rising China within a stable framework of rules to become a staple of regional and international political concerns. In the event, it is interesting that Beijing should be asking India and Pakistan to seek a resolution of the Kashmir issue through peaceful and friendly consultations, and has even offered to play a “constructive role” in settling the problem. The observation of assistant foreign affairs minister Mr Hu Zhengyue to this effect was made to a group of visiting journalists and does not carry the imprimatur of the highest organs of state. Nevertheless, China watchers are known to track little and big developments, and nuances of wordplay, for that country doesn’t have a settled system of political articulation on account of the system it runs. The only concession to Indian sensitivities in the Chinese statement is that it refers to the Kashmir question as a “bilateral” issue (between India and Pakistan). It is well known that this country has always discouraged any international solicitousness as regards Kashmir. Pakistan, on the other hand, has chosen the opposite course. It likes the idea of “internationalising” the Kashmir question in the hope that this will help further its claims. Seen in this light, Beijing’s low-key but unexpected activism on Kashmir is certain to please Islamabad but not New Delhi. There is also no little irony in the fact that China sits on a chunk of Kashmir’s territory gifted to it by Pakistan even as it complacently urges its South Asian neighbours to deal with the contention between them through peaceful and friendly consultations. Given this state of affairs, there is discernible presumptuousness on its part to offer to play the role of a disinterested broker. China’s own record of settling problems that are a carryover from history is far from satisfactory. The Vietnamese know this to their cost in the case of the Paracel and Spratly Islands in Vietnam’s Eastern Sea and Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. Taiwan remains disputed territory. On the border marking Tibet’s contiguity with India, Beijing moved troops in 1962. Xinjiang in China’s northwest is not tranquil either, and is a region with a past that China seeks to dispute. A record such as this is hardly conducive to the offer of good offices to other countries. China should celebrate the anniversary of its revolution with gusto, but its advice to others, if it is not to provoke hilarity, should be grounded in realism.








There are no short cuts to the problem of Indian students in Australia because Canberra’s desire to become an educational hub — a lucrative proposition — collides with reality on at least two counts. An undercurrent of racial prejudice, which bubbles to the surface on the slightest provocation, is a fact of Australian life. On the Indian side, the tendency to stick together is exacerbated by the character of the student body and the desire of many to employ education as a ploy to become permanent residents Down Under.

It was not so long ago that a White Australia policy was the law of the land, and for decades Australia has been wrestling with the dilemma of how to define itself. Traditionally, it has considered itself as an outpost of the Western civilisation, but it is marooned in an Asian sea. Indeed, some Australian leaders tried somewhat fitfully to engage with Asia to become honorary Asians. Australia has been famously called the lucky country with a small population and an abundance of natural resources, but there is a latent fear of Asian hordes crowding in to claim a share in the pot of gold.

This Australian dilemma has been exacerbated by the economic downturn, relatively benign in Australia’s case, and the economic empowerment of small town families in India to dream big. In many cases, families set aside their hard-earned money to give their sons a new start in life and seize the rainbow on the horizon. Such students, who go to Australia usually to take courses in areas well-served by Indian entities, are mainly interested in finding long-term employment.

By the nature of their upbringing, these Indian students are not equipped to deal with an alien way of life and culture, and the fact that they have to scrimp on money and take demanding jobs to see themselves through makes them vulnerable targets. Their lack of proficiency in English is a great handicap. Understandably, they live in run-down or seedy neighbourhoods and often live among Australians on the margins of poverty. A more prosperous student from a metropolitan city would live in better neighbourhoods and possess the ability to cope with Australian mores.

Against the background of racial prejudice, the evolution of Australia as the poorer Indian student’s foreign education destination has spelled trouble. A host of mushroom institutions and less than sterling travel agents have sprung up to cater to a rising demand and money-making possibilities. Although an attempt is now being made to try to weed out fly-by-night educational institutions and unscrupulous travel and screening agents, the Australian authorities will discover that it is but the tip of the iceberg.

As attacks on Indian students have mounted, Australia has acted in two ways. It has sent a stream of dignitaries to assure India that it means well and has sought to strengthen the legal and policing instruments to tackle a growing menace. Canberra must realise that screening out unsuitable students at the Indian end must form the basis of any effective plan to reduce the consequences of ill-equipped men and women facing the rigours of Australian life. Inevitably, the level of racial prejudice is highest among the poorer and less well-educated sections of the white population.

The attempt on the part of the authorities in Australia and India is to control the fall-out on inter-state relations of the understandable sense of shock and outrage as one Indian student after another is bashed up, some ending up in hospitals. These incidents have led the students in Australia to organise themselves to protest and give voice to their grievances. However, retaliation in kind is hardly the answer, as the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has reminded them. New Delhi has made known its concern to Canberra in an ample measure and the efficacy of remedial steps will depend upon their speed.

On the Indian authorities rests the responsibility of widely publicising the nature of Australian mores and the rigours of student life there. Although it is a citizen’s right to study where he or she wants to, an advisory screening committee should be instituted to draw attention to the obvious misfits. A joint Indian-Australian mechanism to exchange lists of suitable candidates would help.

Australia is an important country for India for its natural resources and the space it occupies in an area of vital interest. Although Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might have been extravagant in proposing a “broader Asia” partnership among Japan, Australia, the United States and India, there are obvious areas of convergence between India and Australia. From Canberra’s point of view, Chinese opposition to any such plan makes it a non-starter, apart from the fact that New Delhi would have its own reservations.

Australia is still finding its place in Asia even while its decision to rely primarily on American power in its strategic calculations is being fine-tuned to the reality of the nature and extent of its trade and economic relations with China. Canberra sided with China in voting against India in describing Arunachal Pradesh as disputed territory in a vote in the Asian Development Bank. Later, it has sought to explain that it was neutral on the Sino-Indian dispute and was in favour of development aid for the state.

Australia’s attitude is not as strange as it might appear because China has a growing regional and international profile and although Canberra is understandably skittish in giving China a significant stake in the country’s major natural resources industries — it vetoed a Chinese stake in a mining major recently — there are compelling reasons for Australia to guard its Chinese flank. Which goes to prove that the emotional issue of the treatment of Indian students should be resolved quickly to ensure that it does not add a new layer of complexity to Indian-Australian relations.








I hate to write about this, but I have actually been to this play before and it is really disturbing.
I was in Israel interviewing Prime Minister Mr Yitzhak Rabin just before he was assassinated in 1995. We had a beer in his office. He needed one. I remember the ugly mood in Israel then — a mood in which extreme Right-wing settlers and politicians were doing all they could to delegitimise Rabin, who was committed to trading land for peace as part of the Oslo accords. They questioned his authority. They accused him of treason. They created pictures depicting him as a Nazi SS officer, and they shouted death threats at rallies. His political opponents winked at it all.

And in so doing they created a poisonous political environment that was interpreted by one Right-wing Jewish settler as a licence to kill Rabin — he must have heard, “God will be on your side” — and so he did.
Others have already remarked on this analogy, but I want to add my voice because the parallels to Israel then and America today turn my stomach: I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Barack Obama from the Right or Left. But something very dangerous is happening. Criticism from the far Right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination.

What kind of madness is it that someone would create a poll on Facebook asking respondents, “Should Obama be killed?” The choices were: “No, Maybe, Yes, and Yes, if he cuts my healthcare”. The Secret Service is now investigating. I hope they put the jerk in jail and throw away the key because this is exactly what was being done to Rabin.

Even if you are not worried that someone might draw from these vitriolic attacks a licence to try to hurt the US President, you have to be worried about what is happening to American politics more broadly.
Our leaders, even the President, can no longer utter the word “we” with a straight face. There is no more “we” in American politics at a time when “we” have these huge problems — the deficit, the recession, healthcare, climate change and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — that “we” can only manage, let alone fix, if there is a collective “we” at work.

Sometimes I wonder whether George H.W. Bush, President “41”, will be remembered as our last “legitimate” President. The Right impeached Bill Clinton and hounded him from day one with the bogus Whitewater “scandal”. George W. Bush was elected under a cloud because of the Florida voting mess, and his critics on the Left never let him forget it.

And Mr Obama is now having his legitimacy attacked by a concerted campaign from the Right fringe. They are using everything from smears that he is a closet “socialist” to calling him a “liar” in the middle of a joint session of Congress to fabricating doubts about his birth in America and whether he is even a citizen. And these attacks are not just coming from the fringe. Now they come from Lou Dobbs on CNN and from members of the House of Representatives.

Again, hack away at the man’s policies and even his character all you want. I know politics is a tough business.


But if we destroy the legitimacy of another President to lead or to pull the country together for what most Americans want most right now — nation-building at home — we are in serious trouble. We can’t go 24 years without a legitimate President — not without being swamped by the problems that we will end up postponing because we can’t address them rationally.

The American political system was, as the saying goes, “designed by geniuses so it could be run by idiots”. But a cocktail of political and technological trends have converged in the last decade that are making it possible for the idiots of all political stripes to overwhelm and paralyse the genius of our system.

Those factors are: the wild excess of money in politics; the gerrymandering of political districts, making them permanently Republican or Democratic and erasing the political middle; a 24/7 cable news cycle that makes all politics a daily battle of tactics that overwhelm strategic thinking; and a blogosphere that at its best enriches our debates, adding new checks on the establishment, and at its worst coarsens our debates to a whole new level, giving a new power to anonymous slanderers to send lies around the world. Finally, on top of it all, we now have a permanent presidential campaign that encourages all partisanship, all the time among our leading politicians.

I would argue that together these changes add up to a difference of degree that is a difference in kind — a different kind of American political scene that makes me wonder whether we can seriously discuss serious issues any longer and make decisions on the basis of the national interest.

We can’t change this overnight, but what we can change, and must change, is people crossing the line between criticising the President and tacitly encouraging the unthinkable and the unforgivable.










There is an unassailable argument for a re-look at the process of appointing Supreme Court and high court judges. The letter of the Constitution is clear that it is the President who appoints judges after consultation with the Chief Justice of India in the case of Supreme Court judges. In the case of high court judges, the Chief Justice of the high court as well as the Chief Minister and the governor were consulted. Over a period of time, however, the Supreme Court came to interpret the term “after consultation” (with it) in such a manner that it effectively became “after concurrence”. In other words, the apex court took its interpretation a little too far.
The function of the court is to interpret the law, and not to change it. But judges seemed to have used their creative jurisprudence in interpreting this particular provision.

If we look at the background of the issue, the function of appointing judges lay very much with the executive in the pre-Emergency days. The President would consult the Chief Justice and a couple of senior judges before taking a decision. During the Emergency, however, the executive, namely the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, appointed judges out of turn.

Subsequently, the number of judges to be consulted, apart from the Chief Justice, was raised from two to five. Some of the names up for appointment would sometimes not be acceptable for various reasons. The President would even ask the Supreme Court to revisit the matter. It was also decided that the recommendations of the judges’ collegium had to be made in writing. If a judge disagreed with a decision, his opinion had to be placed on record. However, this arrangement too did not work. There is no concrete evidence to indicate what went wrong, but apparently the reason had something to do with the names being suggested by the collegium. They would at times be lacking in professional competency.

In the current case in the news, that of Justice Dinakaran, it would be very difficult for the government to accept the recommendation of the collegium. The collegium itself will have to reconsider his appointment. The committee to review the working of the Constitution set up in 2000, of which I was a part, has already recommended the creation of a National Judicial Commission that should look into the issue of appointments. There was confusion over who should be the chairperson of the commission. My recommendation was that the vice-president of the country should be given that position. However, the matter was not resolved. Essentially, the idea is to have a body other than the collegium that would decide appointments, though judges would not be excluded from it. The vice-president would have moderating influence.


Subhash Kashyap is former secretary-general, Lok Sabha




As far as taking a re-look at the process of appointments is concerned, this is an ongoing task. However, this does not depend only on the existing system. In my view, there does not seem to be an essential flaw in the present scheme of things. The issue really is whether the right people are being promoted and the unscrupulous ones weeded out.

Till 1993, the system of collegium seemed to have worked fine and it gave us some of the most enlightened judges who helped develop law in the country. But then things began changing. In the recent case of Justice Dinakaran, there are serious allegations against him.

The question now is whether he should be elevated to the Supreme Court, and whether it will only be the Supreme Court collegium that will decide the issue.

During my tenure there were two instances where allegations of misconduct and corruption were made against certain judges. In the so-called Mysore sex scandal case, I got the matter probed by top judges. When it became clear that the judges being accused of certain indiscretions were not so involved, the matter was closed. In another case, concerning a judge from Rajasthan, I inquired into the matter and took his resignation. So, the collegium system does work.

One has to realise that be it the judiciary, the legislature or the executive, the quality of its people reflects the quality of the society we live in. After all, our judges do not materialise from outside.

The same is true of legislators, and the executive. Of course, there is no denying that the judiciary needs to be much cleaner than the other organs as it is the last resort of the people where they come to seek justice. Moreover, the judiciary is the custodian of our laws. So, the margin of deviation in the case of judges ought to be minimal, if at all. Nevertheless, there is corruption all over and it gets reflected in virtually every aspect of our public life. The need is to ensure transparency and to weed out unwanted elements. If that is ensured, then the present system is good enough.

Among the problems of the Supreme Court, or the Chief Justice of India to be more specific, in dealing with allegations of corruption is that there is no institution to carry out an inquiry. Such an institution, provided within the purview of the Chief Justice of India, may be an effective means to weed out corrupt judges.
As far as the collegium is concerned, the system will work fine provided it is slightly more balanced. It would be ideal if nominees of the Prime Minister and the President, and somebody from Parliament, were brought on to the collegium.


Justice V.N. Khare is former Chief Justice of India








The Centre has now filed an affidavit in the Ishrat Jahan killing to support her mother’s call for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) enquiry. And to counter the claim of the Gujarat government that, in gunning down the teenaged student and her friends in 2004, it had acted on the advice of the Centre. But you said they were Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) terrorists, said the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state government to the Congress-led Centre.

We merely talked of a tip off, said the Centre. The affidavit, said home minister P. Chidambaram, “did not give a licence to the state government to kill innocent people”.

Curiously, instead of focusing on the illegal and immoral act of staging an encounter, the debate now seems to be centered around whether or not the youngsters were terrorists. “The LeT’s official website has claimed that all four were their agents, then why is the Government of India trying to prove the contrary?” argued BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy. Adding, “It seems the institution of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) is under threat”.

Sadly, the danger is far greater. It is not the IB, or any particular government or any political party, but the very idea of democracy that is under threat. By sidestepping the main issue of individual freedoms and right to life and offering full-throated non-arguments about “terrorists”, we are hitting at the very foundation of our democratic state. Whether the victim of an extra-judicial killing deserved to be killed or not is not the point. In a democratic state we need accountability and fair treatment. Without which we cannot hope for justice.
Ishrat’s case was a fake encounter, ruled Gujarat Metropolitan Magistrate S.P. Tamang. It appears that Ishrat Jahan, 19, Javed Ghulam Sheikh, 19, Amjad Ali, 25, and Jisan Johar, 17, were not linked to any terror group and were killed in cold blood by the state.

The Gujarat police kidnapped them from Mumbai, brought them to Ahmedabad, murdered them in custody, lined up their bodies on the streets at night, planted weapons on them and pretended they were Pakistan-supported LeT terrorists who had come to kill Narendra Modi. The fiendish cops were led by D.G. Vanzara, then DIG (now in jail for faking the “encounter” killing of Sohrabuddin and his wife Kauser Bi) and his deputy N.K. Amin, along with several other top police officers including then Ahmedabad police commissioner K.R. Kaushik and the then chief of the Crime Branch, P.P. Pandey.

And what are we, the people with a voice, the students, the media, the aam janata that keeps democracy in motion doing about such calculated murders? What do we do when we see justice being thrown out of the ring as politicians wrestle with mob sentiments and twisted reasoning, much like the monstrous men in a WWF wrestling match? We cheer them on. They play to the gallery and we, the gallery, play along.

Because it is the laziest thing to do. It’s easy for us to accept victims of encounters as terrorists and to support their murder. We skip all the steps between an “encounter killing” and its justification. First, was it a real encounter or a staged killing? Second, if real, was killing the only option? Third, was the victim a truly dangerous criminal or armed terrorist? And finally, did the victim really deserve to die? There could be several more steps between the killing and the justification, but that doesn’t concern us.

We ignore the process and base our support on assumptions. Here’s our lazy logic. First, the victim was an armed terrorist. Second, he must die to make us safe. Third, the police killed him to protect us. Finally, the police must be hailed as heroes. This social sanction allows the police to get away with murder.
Exactly a year ago, we saw the “encounter” at Batla House near Delhi’s Jamia Millia University that killed two youngsters. Encounter specialist M.C. Sharma was killed in the incident, apparently shot by the “terrorists”. The media served up the police version almost verbatim, hailing the heroic Sharma as a braveheart killed by “terrorists”, zealously demanding bravery awards for the hero and denouncing the boys killed and captured by the cops. The boys, some of them students at Jamia, were from Azamgarh district of Uttar Pradesh, which the media promptly renamed Atankgarh (terror-fort). And except for a couple of notable exceptions, made no attempt to probe the holes in the police theory. The boys were presumed guilty, thus their killing was justified and their assumed killer made the superhero. Never mind that Sharma had been in fake encounters before, like the one at Ansal Plaza where two people were murdered and passed off as Pakistani terrorists — in fact as members of the LeT, like Ishrat and friends.

The police do seem to have this nasty habit of killing Muslims and passing them off as Pakistani terrorists. But if you thought not being a Muslim protected you from such “encounters”, think again. They could pretend you were an armed criminal. Like they did with Ranbir Singh, 24, the management student killed in Dehradun in August. Or they could pretend you were linked to extremists, like they did when they killed Chungkham Sanjit and the young and pregnant Rabina in Imphal in July. It’s easy to get away with murder in Manipur, like elsewhere in the neglected Northeast. The security forces, with their special impunity in the troubled states, can murder, rape and torture at will.

And that is a power they are willing to share in Naxalite-dominated regions. Vigilante groups armed and empowered by the state are joining in these extra-judicial killings while we sigh about the “Naxal menace”.


There are thousands of encounter killings around the country, from Kashmir to Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat to Chhattisgarh and Assam, and we support it all out of sheer laziness. Some of those killed may be Naxals, some may even be terrorists. But most are not. The point is not whether the victims were innocent or culpable. But whether they got justice. That’s the only way to protect our human rights.

Due process of law, which is tossed aside through security measures like encounter killings and tough terror laws, must be respected if we are to keep ourselves and our democracy safe. We must stop supporting instant justice by the police. Because we cannot be a nation of lynch mobs. And finally it is fair procedure — and not murderous cops — that protects us and all that our nation stands for.


 Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at: [1]








Dr Vandana Shiva (A plate full of toxins, September 11) has done great service by raising important issues relating to the value of recombinant DNA technology in the breeding of crop varieties for resistance to drought and to overcoming micronutrient deficiencies in the human diet.

I was a contemporary of James Watson and Francis Crick at the Cambridge University, United Kingdom, during 1950-52 and I have been following the developments in molecular genetics since the time they initiated the era of new genetics with their description of the double helix structure of the DNA molecule in 1953. At every stage in the genetic modification process, appropriate technical tools are employed to assess desired results of expression and integration. The process of creating novel genetic combinations involves the selection of a suitable event after detailed analysis of the gene integration and its stable expression in the subsequent generations as well as analysis on their toxicity, alergenicity and effect on non-target organisms and environment.

During the process of transformation, the gene integrates into the genome of the host cell. Different transgenic events are subjected to such studies as are prescribed by the regulatory authorities. Since there is inadequate confidence in the current regulatory systems and authorities, a committee I chaired recommended in 2004 the establishment of an autonomous, statutory and professionally-led National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority, capable of inspiring professional, political, public and media confidence. Steps are underway to establish such an authority by an Act of Parliament.

As regards drought tolerance, a key gene that allows plants to defend themselves against drought, freezing temperatures and extreme heat has been identified. Although drought tolerance is a polygene trait, there are genes which trigger a series of gene expression that control the drought tolerance trait.

In relation to genetic enrichment of iron in rice, better quality staples constitute an important pathway to overcoming iron deficiency anaemia which, according to Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, affects nearly two billion women, men and children. Naturally occurring mutations, for example the genes involved in quality protein maize, can also be harnessed in breeding work. Crops, particularly vegetables, which are rich in micronutrients should also be promoted.

I have often pleaded for mainstreaming the nutritional dimension in the National Horticulture Mission so that appropriate horticultural remedies can be recommended for the nutritional maladies prevailing in an area. We should not worship or discard a research tool because it is either old or new, but should choose an appropriate mix of Mendelian and molecular approaches to genetic recombination, which can take us to the desired goal surely and safely.

My personal approach to using the science of biotechnology for enhancing human food and nutrition security is what I had proposed in my 2004 report on agricultural biotechnology in the following words: “The bottom line of a National Agricultural Biotechnology Policy should be the economic well-being of farm families, food security of the nation, health security of the consumer, protection of the environment, biosecurity of the country and the security of our national and international trade in farm commodities”.


M.S. Swaminathan is the chairman of theNational Commission on Farmers. He is considered
to be the father of India’s green revolution.









OCTOBER, in happier times, was when tourist arrivals in the Kashmir Valley built up to economy-boosting levels, for the autumn “season” often proved more rewarding than the summer attraction. Now too October attracts, as much the terrorist as the tourist. Statistics confirm that infiltration increases before winter sets in, the militants try to build up both manpower and munitions to last them through the months when snow blocks many of the traditional routes of ingress to the Valley. Tuesday’s daring attack on a CRPF squad near the bus stand at Sopore ~ three jawans were killed ~ therefore has to be seen in a larger context, even if it attracted only “routine” attention in the media. There have been other attacks in recent days, and while some may contend that violence levels are nowhere near as high as they had been a few years earlier, the warning lights are flashing. In the immediate future attempts could be made to disrupt the return to an economic comfort zone by strikes aimed at making the tourists seek other destinations. In a longer-time frame it could point to another relatively “hot” winter. Heightened action by the US-led forces in Afghanistan, and the selective crackdown by the Pakistan army would only encourage the men who live by the gun to look eastward.

The army and paramilitary would be well aware of the pre-winter movement across the LOC, but it has to be accepted that some militant groups will always breach the fencing and elude the patrols. So there can be no reduction in the vigil. Yet the security forces could face a morale/inspiration crisis of sorts. Under the strident pressure of his political opponents the J&K chief minister has been talking of downsizing the deployment, advocating withdrawal the AFSPA from certain areas, and the union home minister appears to have seconded that line of thinking. But all that tends to confuse the jawans ~ are they part of the problem or part of the solution? Has the “normality” projection diluted the counter-insurgency grid? Few of them are overjoyed with the duties they are required to perform, then comes the strike at Sopore which points to tough days ahead. The political leadership must clear their doubts, for a mental “whiteout” would be to the jihadis’ advantage.







LONDON, 30 SEPT: There is no great genius without some touch of madness, they say. And now a new study has found there is indeed only a fine line between genius and madness as both share a particular gene. Scientists have discovered that creative people have a gene, called neuregulin 1, in common which is also linked to psychosis and depression ~ in fact, it plays a role in brain development but a variant of it is linked to mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Lead scientist Mr Szabolcs Kri of Semmelweis University in Hungary said this is the first study to show that a genetic variant associated with psychosis may have some beneficial functions. “Molecular factors that are loosely associated with severe mental disorders but are present in many healthy people may have an advantage enabling us to think more creatively,” he was quoted by The Daily Telegraph as saying. For the study, the scientists recruited a group of volunteers who considered themselves to be very creative and accomplished. PTI 







NOW that the last of the resplendent images have been immersed in the Ganga, whence it was moulded, it is time to reflect on the extent of the post-festival river pollution. Central to the mess is that the Kolkata Port Trust and the Kolkata Municipal Corporation have consciously failed to put their act together despite the Calcutta High Court directive that the cost of the clean-up must be borne by the two entities. While it is improbable that the river will be cleaned anytime soon, even the funding arrangement as devised by the judiciary has not been formalised. The Ganga, in the net, suffers the worst of both worlds. The state’s environment department and the Pollution Control Board can’t shirk responsibility by blaming it entirely on the KoPT and the KMC. Still less will the buck-passing since Bijoya Dashami between the port trust and the corporation help matters. The culpability is collective, involving no fewer than four governmental agencies. The immersion has resulted in an alarming rise in the levels of what they call “dissolved oxygen”, grease, and suspended solid particles.
The river can’t be made to suffer because of a dispute over overlapping jurisdiction; once again, the failure of the executive has prompted the judiciary to set the record straight. Well may the KMC plead that it doesn’t possess the equipment to clean up the river. The KoPT most certainly does. But the corporation can’t evade its responsibility of cleaning up the ghats; also to ensure that the flowers and wooden structures are not dumped into the water. The preventive measures, therefore, are clearly the KMC’s responsibility not least because it collects taxes from the puja committees. At another remove, there is no denying that cleaning up the water comes within the remit of the port trust. Both agencies are seemingly impervious to the resultant pollution of the river as much as the environment. It severely compounds the problem of shallowness, a standing threat to maritime activity from Kolkata to Haldia. The Ganga must be cleaned and dredged; a river, after all, is an object of beauty.







Does India have a well thought-out policy to deal with China? Are we friends, foes or two countries that are “engaged” in matters of “mutual interest”? Four decades after the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict it is more than amply clear that we do not have a clear-cut China policy. This only reinforces what foreign policy mandarins have been trotting out for years ~ “India never has a proactive policy but it has a reactive policy”.
We are essentially friends with all and enemies of none. Another way to describe it is diplomatic isolation; more so when it comes to China. How much, for instance, can we really protest on the enhanced China-Pakistan cooperation that has been the cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy? Most of it ~ whether it is about building roads in strategic areas, supply of equipment for Pakistan’s nuclear programme and a regular supply of arms and ammunition ~ is hurting India.

Given this background it was only to be expected that the Government reacted the way it did to reported “intrusions” along the Sino-Indian border. A section of the government blamed it on media hype. The ITBP was actually asked to register cases against two reporters in Kolkata and Guwahati for filing false reports. The Government of India, particularly the MEA, bent over backwards to assure the Chinese that the reports were overblown. “Listen to your leaders”, a smug Chinese Ambassador told the media after one of his high-level meetings, “do not believe these reports.”


ON the cases against journalists, the last we heard is that Home minister P Chidambaram felt no action needed to be taken. But it did ensure that the media “succumbed” to pressure and there are no more stories of Chinese intrusion. But what is the truth?


For five full days, as stories about Chinese intrusions featured both in print and on TV, government officials maintained a stoic silence. There was an “off the record” briefing by a top official who tried to convince everyone that the intrusions were normal and that there was nothing to be worried about. This person gave the briefing on the basis of maps and a fairly effective presentation. For some reason the briefing was off the record and hence lacked conviction.

If a section of the government is to be believed, then most of the media should have been “persuaded” that there was no unusual Chinese intrusion after the briefing. The consequence ~ the coverage of “intrusions” would be false and “against India’s national interests”. That is a point of view.

But reports continued to flow even from Press Trust of India, generally pro-establishment in its stance. These reports were followed up by reports from other media. The PTI story like others quoted defence sources. Some TV channels started sending reporters to the border areas of Arunachal, where they spoke to villagers and got firsthand accounts of witnesses who had heard firing of shells. Sources in the ITBP were quoted and a fairly credible picture of intrusions emerged. Of course there was no real perspective because the government at least, initially chose not to comment!

It is easy to go overboard with comments like ‘we cannot be jingoistic’, but it is also important to appreciate that there are stories that the government doesn’t want publicised lest they be forced to “reprimand” the Chinese, something unthinkable since Sino-Indian relations have always remained for us a Chinese puzzle. Even as government sources lamented the “media hype” on the intrusions, it was clear from some of the visuals seen ~ including the first landing of an Air force fixed-wing aircraft at an airport in Ladakh ~ that both print and channels were getting the stories and access from official defence sources. It was also clear that the ministry of external affairs had its own views on intrusions while the defence ministry felt that these intrusions needed to be publicised. The lid was put on this conflict only after the Chief of the Army Staff said intrusions were not on the increase although they do occur from time to time.

Obviously stories of intrusions did not suit the government. But jingoism is ignored when TV channels and the print media go after Pakistan. In the coverage of Pakistan the objectives of both the Defence and MEA coincide; then it is not perceived as jingoism but good journalism. The media has put Pakistan on the backfoot ~ whether it be the question of Hafeed Sayeed, the inability of Pakistan to deal with its terror structure or AQ Khan’s latest revelations. Without for a moment suggesting that these are untrue, they are stories that suited the government perfectly. More so when the two foreign secretaries and ministers were slated to meet.


THE government and its apologists should understand that it is no use benefiting from media coverage when it comes to Pakistan and blaming the media when Chinese intrusions are written about. No responsible paper or channel would like to highlight untruths with malafide intent. The FIRs lodged against reporters from Kolkata and Guwahati need watching. Will there be similar reports of “wrong reporting” about intrusion from across the border with Pakistan? Hardly likely!

What will, however, remain unanswered of course, are the following questions based on media reports: Why have advanced landing grounds in Daulat Beg Oldi and Nyom in Ladakh now been made operational for fixed wing aircraft? Why is a squadron of Sukhois being deployed in Tezpur? Why have two mountain divisions been trained only for a Chinese threat? Why was a meeting of the China study group called? Is the government actually worried about China but too scared to admit it?

It is more than amply clear that the government is really at sea when it comes to dealing with China which has a two-thirds numerical superiority in defence if the Air Force chief is to be believed. It could also be true that 1962 will not be repeated. For China, economic domination is a top priority.

And yet the Government is not sure whether the Chinese “threat” is real. What makes it worse is that we don’t even know how to deal with it. The easy way out is to shoot the messenger. The Chinese have probably been told action against errant media is being taken. That’s one way of dealing with the Chinese. But surely if our foreign office mandarins have run short of ideas to tackle China, must they advertise it too?







THE Supreme Court (coram: Dalveer Bhandari and Mukundakam Sharma, JJ) has made a profound statement to buttress the country’s secular ethic. Tuesday’s order against the construction of places of worship on public thoroughfares, most crucially, cuts across religious denominations. It upholds the Gujarat High Court order of 2006, which had asked municipal corporations to demolish all illegal structures, including shrines, on roads ~ a directive that had sparked communal violence in Vadodara. It is no disrespect to religious sentiment to suggest that that order had served to facilitate Narendra Modi’s urban development agenda. At another remove, the apex court order will serve to reinforce Calcutta High Court’s recent directive against the so-called “road-hogging” Puja pandals, one that neither the government nor the puja committees were able to abide by this year. The apex court’s directive will apply to temples, mosques, churches and gurdwaras. And the message ought to be resonant for all states and Union Territories ~ the structural embodiment of a religious denomination can never result in traffic hold-ups and generally public inconvenience. It would be pertinent to mention that a particular shrine is said to have impeded the extension of Kolkata airport.

Pre-eminently, it is the country’s secular structure that has been protected. The court has been able to dispel the misconception that certain transgressions are tacitly condoned by the administrations. The sweep of the order is remarkably comprehensive. The ban applies to new shrines on roads, cutting across religious divides. Going by the Solicitor-General, Gopal Subramanium’s submission, it is a salutary trend that all states and UTs have on 17 September agreed not to allow new constructions. From the BJP’s Gujarat to the CPI-M’s Bengal, all states have been cautious enough not to ruffle feathers beyond a point. The judiciary has placed the responsibility fair and square on the governments, with the Chief Secretaries being asked to file status reports within eight weeks. In equal measure does that responsibility rest on the religious groups. The Supreme Court has set the record straight. It has drawn the line between religious sentiment and public convenience.











A statement that seems pure common sense becomes in India a courageous step of great magnitude. The Supreme Court has put a temporary ban on the building of any place of worship of any religion on public roads. India is used to having busy streams of traffic confusedly swerving past and swirling around unexpected religious structures jutting out from pavements at odd angles or springing up in the middle of the carriageway. Even in the busiest Indian metropolises this is a routine hazard, because the outpouring of religious fervour in brick, stone, marble, or bits of mud, rubble and foliage, is considered sacrosanct, wherever the outpouring decides to immortalize itself. Although the ban is an interim order, to be observed until the case relating to the building of places of worship in public places is resolved, it is still of great moment. The point is not just a question of road safety, although that is apparently the primary concern. The more fundamental point is the lack of civic sense and consideration that gives religious feeling primacy over the most basic requirements of urban existence.


The confident expectation that religion will be accepted as superior to all other considerations is closely allied to its politicization. Of the major sources of violence in India, the politicization of religion is one. Activists of various religions have cultivated touchiness as a potent weapon of blackmail and a pretext for violence, for so-called religious sensitivities evidently do not extend to not hurting others. The Supreme Court’s direction must be seen in this context. Even more striking is its decision to ask the respective states to take whatever steps they think fit regarding existing religious structures that affect traffic flow. It is important that the court’s rigorous even-handedness towards all religions would weaken the popular idea that, institutionally, some religions enjoy more privileges than others. But there are other aspects to be considered too. Because of the peculiar ambience created by anything associated with religion, the court has, in its wisdom, left a simple measure to the states’ discretion for the moment; after all, Gujarat erupted in 2006 over the order to dismantle illegal structures, including religious ones. This is exactly the attitude that the Supreme Court order is indirectly trying to change. Religion has its rightful place, and life is safer and more peaceful for remembering it.








A rising nation inspires both admiration and suspicion. If it happens to be a dictatorship, fear and distrust far outweigh other sentiments. That pretty much seems to be the free world’s response to the rise of New China, as it celebrates the 60th anniversary of its founding. Not even the worst critics of China’s communist rulers would deny them credit for its stunning economic success. Since Deng Xiaoping unshackled China’s economy in 1978, it has seen perhaps the most dramatic scale of wealth creation in human history. Even by conservative estimates, some 400 million people have been lifted from abject poverty in these three decades. The country’s foreign exchange reserve today stands above one trillion dollars. China’s holdings of American treasury bonds, the largest by any country, are over $800 billion. Yet, China’s rulers are an insecure lot, as the massive security drill in Beijing for the National Day celebrations shows. For all their lip service to social ‘harmony’, they know how economic injustices and the repressive political system have together created deep fissures within Chinese society. Economic inequality in China is now among the worst in the world. So is corruption among the government — and party — officials. The anger at the system shows not only in periodic ethnic violence in Tibet and Xinjiang, but also in endless agrarian and industrial disputes.


It is this absence of freedom and the rule of law that makes the world wary of China’s rise. It is denounced as a currency manipulator and a violator of intellectual property rights and other norms of fair trade. The boom in its economic growth has also seen China’s pollution record rise dramatically. According to a World Bank estimate, the country is home to 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world. Last year, its greenhouse gas emissions surpassed those of the United States of America. Far worse, however, is the world’s worry over China’s military ability and policy. Its economic growth has taken it to remote corners of the world in search of resources. But its search for strategic allies has seen China make clandestine deals with rogue states such as Pakistan, Iran, North Korea and Sudan. No wonder some policymakers in India can never forget the “China threat”. The rulers in Beijing must realize that a rising nation cannot win the world’s trust unless it earns the trust of its immediate neighbours.









I have said this before and am saying it again. We are a remarkably forgetful nation. Some of our greats we remember on their birthdays. Tagore is very special in our lives, so we remember the poet twice a year on his birthday and death anniversary. And, of course, since he almost created the modern Bengali language, we find ourselves using his words several times in a day. But many of the rest will be forgotten — those who could also make us feel proud if we only remembered them.


All this possibly gives us a guilt complex of a special kind, and we compensate by renaming streets and lanes after people. However, the important point is not that we still continue to use the old names for a long long time, as one of The Telegraph’s correspondents has rightly pointed out. There is a more tragic fate awaiting the new names. Very soon some of the persons we honour today will be forgotten. After all, what’s in a name? Who remembers today who Choku Khansama or Kalidas Patitundi were?


All this crossed my mind when I saw that at long last, Trailokyanath Mukherjee’s A Visit to Europe, published in 1889 and translated into Bengali by Parimal Goswami only eighty years later, has been republished this year in Bengali with annotations. My heart leapt for joy and I am eagerly waiting to see the Bengali edition but, frankly, I also feel a bit apprehensive, for the words of approbation in the publisher’s notice are as follows, in my translation, “The readers will surely taste the flavour of traveling in Europe in the late 19th century, looking at it through the sharp eyes of Trailokyanath.” I have not read the book, but the notice did not bear any testimony to the original purpose of Mukherjee’s travels in Europe.


Did they know who this man was? He was not only the creator of a new genre of Bengali literature, he was also a pioneer in the study of India’s “industrial evolution” in the 19th century, as D.R. Gadgil had described the phenomenon in his book of 1920. T.N. Mukherjee — that is the name by which the Western world knew him — was, of course, much more than that. It would be sufficient to say here that he organized the famous international exhibition of Indian industrial products in Calcutta in 1883 where he was reportedly awarded a medal by the visiting Russian tsarevich. Mukherjee also created a descriptive catalogue of Indian produce contributed to the Amsterdam exhibition of 1883. He was quite possibly responsible for organizing the Indian portion of the 1886 colonial and Indian exhibition in London at the height of Queen Victoria’s reign.


Trailokyanath was nothing if not versatile. Many years later, he would be giving evidence before the International Opium Commission on the different kinds of addiction to opium and the consequences. He was considered by the English to be their expert on narcotics. One has to remember that Mukherjee was considered an authority on India’s trade channels, both open and clandestine, with the rest of the world. At that time, of course, India was the largest supplier of opium and opium products to the world.


In the course of his duties, Mukherjee must have travelled through Europe not once, but several times. Apart from the travelogue that was translated into Bengali and has now been annotated, Mukherjee wrote two highly valued books in English on Indian industrial products in the 19th century. In 1883, came A Handbook of Indian Products and in 1888, Art Manufactures of India.


But this was not all. Apart from Trailokyanath, the fantastic story-teller in Bengali, and T.N. Mukherjee, the Westernized scholar renowned in an area that today would have overlapped with economics, geography and commerce, there was a third dimension to the man that could easily be missed if one did not look for it in his most abiding writing of all, Kankabati. I am talking here of the social aspect of the Kankabati story that comes out clearly, but fortunately falls just short of spoiling the ‘children’s tale’ aspect of it. Rabindranath Tagore, whose 1892 review of the book has now been republished from Sadhana as a foreword to Kankabati, obviously did not want to emphasize the former aspect.


I have to admit here I had remained sold to both Kankabati and her creator from my childhood. I was told stories alongside vivid commentaries on Trailokyanath’s habits and character by one who had been his dear little cousin and who always fought for “Trailokya-dada” in familial confabulations. She was herself brought up in a very orthodox family and in the conservative way that was usual then. Many of the idiosyncrasies of her heavily Westernized but anti-sahib dada she just hated. But I always felt she understood him and his cavalier ways of attacking family customs, purposeless obeisance to a sahib wherever and whenever one was found, and the meaningless village superstitions that abounded rather better than most of his other relatives and friends. She would share all this with her own son who was then growing up and, much later, with me when she was in her eighties. Her son was my maternal grandfather. I must warn you that the rest of my tale is only hearsay. My great grandmother told me all this, always finishing with her beautiful, toothless smile and laughter.


First story. Trailokyanath, who was tall, fair and handsome, appears in military khaki and helmet with only a big brown moustache worn as an extra piece of disguise, and an afterthought, at their ancestral house in the village of Rauto, near Kolkata (I think). He shouts in deep-throated English for every male member to come out and answer questions. Quickly a procession of shaken, half-dressed gentlemen trickles out with joined palms. “Why have you come out?” he shouts to them and then, to add to his authority, pulls at his moustache, which comes off. Before he could reverse the mistake, one of his uncles rushes up to him and starts thrashing the fallen hero mercilessly.


Second story. Trailokyonath gathers a dozen sturdy but sheepish young men of the village to drive out ghosts from the trees where they supposedly come to haunt innocent people by night. Taking unfair advantage, thieves also came every night and made off with whatever goodies they could lay their hands on. Three ghosts were spotted on the first night, but on being accosted, they uttered mantras and vanished. The chowkidar assured the young men next morning that this was what all good ghosts would do. There was one consolation though — thieves had also not appeared. On the next night, everything ditto. Three ghosts duly appeared up on a tree and, hell being raised, two held on to the branches, while one jumped down naked and was caught. It was the chowkidar! The other two could not, or would not, shed their dhotis, all three dhotis sticking firmly to a heavy glue that had been thickly spread on the branches under Trailokyonath’s able guidance.


Trying to look up Mukherjee on the internet, I could locate most of the facts. The fiction part, however, is understandably missing. But to my mind, that fiction is most of the truth about T.N. Mukherjee, the social reformer. I also found somebody on the internet describing Trailokyanath as an important reformer belonging to the Brahmo Samaj — I cannot vouch for the truth of that either.








Writing in the Partisan Review in 1949, a year after Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi fell to an assassin’s bullet, George Orwell left behind a fitting epitaph for him: “I believe that even Gandhi’s worst enemies would admit that he was an interesting and unusual man who enriched the world simply by being alive.” It is a measured sentiment, treading the middle path between gushing eulogy and blanket denunciation, the two common reactions that have polarized public perceptions of Gandhi as much during his lifetime as in his afterlife, enabling people to make either a mahatma or a monster of him. Orwell’s assessment of Gandhi, on the contrary, remains uncompromisingly sane, even though his feelings about Gandhi were ambivalent at best. It is precisely this shiftiness, betrayed by Orwell’s tone, that continues to survive in contemporary India’s attitude to Gandhi.


It is ironic that most of the principles Gandhi lived by — satyagraha, non-violence, celibacy, frugality — were, from the time of their inception, difficult, if not impossible, to incorporate in the fabric of modern life. This perhaps explains the greater popularity of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose or Swami Vivekananda as leaders of the struggle for independence. In West Bengal, for instance, you are likely to come across celebrations of Netaji’s birthday on January 23 on street corners, with the mandatory hoisting of the national flag and patriotic songs on loudspeakers. Nothing comparable is arranged to commemorate Gandhi Jayanti.


Apart from the obvious reason of Bengal being Netaji’s home state, what explains his greater claim to fame over Gandhi in this region is the romance of heroism associated with his character. The same holds true for Swami Vivekananda, who, being a karma yogi, privileged active service over passive contemplation. Vivekananda’s injunction to the youth to play football rather than sit poring over the Gita advocated a gregarious and physically robust character in stark opposition to Gandhi’s emphasis on fasting and passive aggression. People would be naturally less inclined to follow Gandhi’s example than Netaji’s or Swamiji’s — it is always easier, and more attractive, to be a hero than to be a saint.


So, in a sense, the best practitioner of the Gandhian philosophy was always Gandhi himself, given the steadfastness and absolutism with which he followed his own ideals. Human nature remains vulnerable to its all-too-human longings. Perhaps the most stinging desecration of Gandhi’s vision of social cleansing happened in his own hometown, Porbandar, as it turned into a bootleggers’ paradise over the years. No wonder an increasing number of people continue to die from drinking illicit alcohol in Gujarat, a state that had imposed prohibition in deference to the Mahatma. As for sexual abstinence, had Indians been even remotely moved by Gandhi’s views on the matter, they would have inherited a less burgeoning nation, faced less of food shortages and made a better deal with life. In spite of the brouhaha over affirmative action, the backward classes continue to suffer miserably. Regarding inter-communal relations, you need not look beyond the track record of Narendra Modi to realize how cruelly Gandhi’s aspiration for a Hindu-Muslim brotherhood has been mocked.


Apart from a generally frazzled India, riddled with sundry demands of statehood, shattered by internal rebellions and threatened by dangerously porous international borders, what poisons the life of the nation are political leaders, donning the khadi that Gandhi had made a cult of, and professing to lead a ‘plain living, high thinking’ existence. Yet it is this self-fashioning, more than anything else, that has become inseparable from the aura of fraudulence that surrounds them: think of the Bollywood neta, in a Gandhi topi and with folded hands, an icon synonymous with corruption in the popular psyche.



Yet Gandhi’s ideas have also entered the fray of modernity in decisive ways. In his autobiography, Gandhi speaks of his desire to blur every distinction between the private and the public, so that his life embodies the metaphor of the open book. Shorn of all secrets, politicians too are supposed to represent a pristine persona, one who allows his private ethics and public actions to converge and define his social role. The intense scrutiny to which the public and private lives of politicians are relentlessly subjected in the media harks back to the way Gandhi used his own journalism to illustrate his ideal of transparency. From honesty to austerity, Gandhi remains the true begetter of many debates that continue to engage India more than 60 years after his death.


But to what extent can Gandhi’s words be heeded to the letter in the age of market economy and globalization? The quick disintegration of the national agenda for cost-cutting into silly jokes shows, for one, the extent to which Gandhi’s ideas have been literalized and thus misrepresented. For Gandhi, austerity was a way of life, not a convenient excuse to garner votes. It did not mean standing in the queue with the aam aadmi to buy vegetables or travelling with the so-called ‘cattle class’ on aeroplanes. Gandhi considered frugal habits and an unblemished soul as keys to a fearless existence. He embraced this belief fervently, doing away with any security around him, even at the risk of inviting a fanatic’s ire. Although possessed of a sterling sense of humour, Gandhi would probably have been the last person to crack poor jokes at the expense of the middle class. The Indian middle class is intelligent and has developed something of a knack for turning the tables on the leaders in election time. This class also works very hard to be able to afford an economy ticket, and would not like to be ridiculed for it.


To retrieve Gandhi from the realm of tokenism (khadi being the most pervasive token), India would have to reinterpret the symbolic potential of Gandhi’s life’s work. When Gandhi began his “experiments with truth”, he was venturing into uncharted terrain. He “enriched” the world, to borrow from Orwell, complicated the established cycles of life, death, justice and injustice. India after Gandhi can be a richer place by reinventing his way of life. The rehabilitation of Gandhi in public life need not be done merely through comedy, as in the film, Lage Raho Munna Bhai, which introduced the notion of Gandhigiri (a user-friendly version of the sterner stuff). Politicians, for one, can stop wearing the khadi like a school uniform and affecting the manners of overzealous schoolboys dying to save the world. The janata would be far better pleased with their elected leaders if the latter started behaving more responsibly and taking a little more interest in the lives of others.









Gandhian principles have often been described as rigid and are believed to cultivate discipline in society. Some equate Gandhi with non-violence, though the concept of ahimsa was not his contribution. He preached peace and applied this principle to politics. It worries me when I see politicians breaking all decorum in Parliament to suit their vested interests. There is no doubt that the spread of non-violence is imperative for instituting change in an unstable world. The path of truth is the path of non-violence. Once society learns to speak only the truth, perhaps we would not need such programmes as Sach Ka Saamna.


We want fast results and short-term gains, and in the process of attaining these goals, we tend to disregard truth and non-violence. It is also true that these standing principles do not bring instant success but bestows one with the confidence and perseverance needed to triumph. Even in this day and age, people have shown active resistance through non-violence. Recently, Islamic clerics came out showering roses, demanding the closure of a liquor shop in Lucknow. The shop-owner promised to move his premises elsewhere. For the protesters, it was a moral victory over what was perceived as an unattainable task. Even today, peaceful resistance through hunger strikes has been successful in securing public support for justice.


It is well known that vegetarian food is better for our diet. A similar principle was laid down by Gandhiji. The frenzy of health-conscious living finds inspiration in his philosophies. He was also opposed to alcohol and promiscuity. These principles could provide a guideline for a better society with lower incidences of deadly diseases. Gandhi was also a staunch believer in brahmacharya. For him, it meant “control of the senses in thought, word and deed”.


The idea of his that still has to do a lot with Indian polity is simplicity. Wearing khadi and completely withdrawing from a Western lifestyle are perhaps impossible today. At present, Gandhi’s code of simplicity has translated into modified conduct. Even after 62 years of independence, a large section of Indians live in deprivation. Thus, it is important for the rest of the society to lead a simpler life, so as to empathize with, and express compassion for, fellow human beings. The present austerity drive might curb the perks of a politician but it would also allow the poor to relate better with their leaders. Gandhi’s belief in equality still has relevance, though undercurrents of discrimination still pervade the social order.


Gandhian principles have modified effects on our lives today. His principles were intertwined with the practical, day-to-day problems of the masses. Gandhi’s loyalties lay not with abstractions, but with living human beings. In everything he did, he tried to mould a new Indian who could stand on his own feet and make India truly free, a process that is yet to meet its coveted destiny. “I have conceived no such thing as Gandhism,” Gandhi declared. “I am not an exponent of any sect. I never claimed to have originated any philosophy.” But Gandhism will continue to be an integral part of our existence as Indians and as citizens of this world.


Subhashis Dutt

Class XII, Birla High School (Boys)

In India, even a toddler knows who Mahatma Gandhi is. But I am sure you could count on your fingers the number of people who actually follow his teachings. There are a few people, though, who do strive to pursue his teachings in real life. When Barack Obama was asked if he had a chance to invite a famous person to dinner, whom he would choose, he said Mahatma Gandhi. Obama said that it was by following Gandhi’s teachings that he had become the man he is today. He even has a picture of Gandhi hanging in his office.

But what do his teachings actually represent? Do they involve protesting non-violently or never telling lies? Different people make different meanings of his teachings. To me, he simply symbolizes hope. He gives new meaning to the proverb, “Where there is a will, there is always a way!” — he teaches me that if you think you can, then you can! And that itself is half the battle won. The battle may not necessarily have to do with freeing a country from oppression. It can simply mean the determination to score a 100 in a subject in the next examination if you have managed 89 in one.

Gandhi has taught me that although violence may sometimes seem to be the easy way out, it does not pay later; that failure is the stepping-stone to success; that it is of utmost necessity to respect your parents without whom you are nothing. The Father of the Nation has taught me to value life, the importance of believing in myself, of living life to the fullest and of smiling through its darkest hours.

Julia Banerjee

Class VIII, Calcutta Girls’ High School










Being a signatory to the Alma Ata Declaration in 1978 that promised ‘Health for All by 2000,’ it looks like India has miles to go to achieve the goal that it never took seriously. Inequality of access and entitlement makes quality medical treatment a pipedream because of the rising disparities of wherewithal to avail of the benefits of the medical advances.

Our public hospitals are in an awful shape and India is the most privatised health market in the world. Public support for healthcare averages less than one per cent of the GDP, and public health investment and expenditure registers a precipitately declining trend. In 2002, the private sector accounted for 78.7 per cent of total health expenditure, while public expenditure made up just 21.3 per cent.

The recently-drafted National Health Bill  comes close to recognising right to health and hopes to stride towards the mammoth goal of health for all. But the fine print of the bill needs a closer scrutiny because how far it is going to address the increased private control and rapacious marketisation of healthcare is not clear.

The government’s focus now is on a selective and targeted programme based healthcare policy with the public domain being confined to family planning, immunisation, selected disease surveillance and medical education and research.


It is a departure from the definition of the Bhore Committee  of the health policy in India which stressed on a comprehensive universal healthcare system. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that his government is determined to increase public spending on healthcare from 0.9 to 2 per cent of GDP.

Health being defined as the state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity, there’s no fair count of how many Indians would qualify as being healthy. More than 27 per cent of the undernourished population globally live in India which is home to more than 230 million undernourished people, more than any other country. Aid agencies say if India wanted to reduce poverty by 2015, the year marked by the United Nations as the deadline to attain the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to development, it needs to spend at least three per cent of GDP on health.


India’s maternal mortality rate (MMR) stands at 450 per 1,00,000 live births which is way behind a mandated reduction to 109 by 2015. The UN Human Development Report 2005 baulked at such contrast that while some of India’s cities were in the midst of a technology boom, one in every 11 Indian children dies in the first five years of life for want of low-technology, low-cost interventions.

In yet another estimate, annually 22 lakh infants and children die from preventable illnesses; over a lakh mothers die during child birth, five lakh people die of tuberculosis in India. Diarrhoea and malaria continue to be killers while five million people are suffering from HIV/AIDS.

Medical care is the foremost common cause of rural family debt. It is noted that mounting health expenses prompt many poor households denial of treatment, incomplete treatment, or worse, under desperate circumstances, treatment at the cost of financial and social wellbeing. Households curtail spending on food, sell assets or take loans, children are dropped out of school and/or forced to work, adults are pushed into labour, people are made to work longer and harder than usual — factors which can give rise to further indisposition.


Talks of expansion of public-private partnerships in health, and public health insurance fall aground because we do not have a basic health delivery system in place. We should broaden the area of mandatory public health insurance for people that acts more expediently and less bureaucratically, with special emphasis on children and with a growing life expectancy, on the elderly. Such schemes must be made mandatory while coverage has to be more inclusive and comprehensive.

If India does not urgently spend more on healthcare and save its poor population from poverty and hunger, it is condemned to face the risk of slower economic growth.







If we work on marble or on brass time will efface it, if we build a temple, time will crumble it into dust, but if we work on the innocent beautiful minds of children by instilling principles and values, that engraving will brighten generations to come...”

She entered the class room, her head bent, shoulders drooping, her walk with a drag, her steps filled with reluctance. She looked a picture of utter joylessness and for a girl of eight, it was definitely not the right kind of look.

She went straight to the basket kept on a table in the corner of the room, picked up one card from it and went to her desk and laid it on top. The teacher, after going around the class to check on every child, stopped at the child’s desk on  seeing what the card read — it said ‘sad’ and the girl was sitting with doleful eyes. The teacher gave an understanding and knowing look; took the card in her hands and showing it to the whole class said, “today our little miss is sad. Let us all do something about it.”

The magic started working — the whole class made the best effort to change the mood of the girl. What followed was a scene of love, empathy and a scene of ‘reaching out’ to a distressed soul. In the evening while on her way back home, the girl had a beaming look of happiness and contentment.

Young children love to be included in a process of creating something that gives them a sense of identity, a sense of identity to their feelings and emotions.

This particular ‘best teacher award’ winning teacher did exactly that. She came up with an idea, to keep a basket with small cards in the class room, with the names of all the emotions written on them, like ‘angry’, ‘afraid’, ‘sad’, ‘happy’, et al. A student can go and pick up that card which defines her/his ‘mood’ and rest of the class will either enjoy it together if it is worthy of celebration, or try and alter the negative mood in the best way possible. By introducing something like this, the teacher is trying to inculcate lasting values of empathy, helping nature, brotherhood and understanding.

This US-based teacher from South Carolina stands as a role model to many teachers, with her many other innovative ideas. She is known to bring in positive energy into the class, because she has it in her.








When some detainees or convicts sentence themselves to death, there are those who may tacitly agree with the self-inflicted penalty.


Thus when Assaf Goldring - charged with murdering his three-year-old daughter - took his life on Yom Kippur, a widespread opinion, maybe even the prevalent unspoken opinion, was a certain approval that he had meted out to himself the capital punishment that courts in other lands may well have handed down for the cold-blooded homicide of a helpless toddler.


Similarly, when popular entertainer Dudu Topaz strangled himself with an electric kettle cord in August, there were doubtless those who reasoned that this was the appropriate ending. Unable to cope with the collapse of his career, Topaz had, appallingly, commissioned the battery of the showbiz executives he blamed for stymieing his career, and now faced many years behind bars, disgraced.


It may even be asked whether we, as a collective, possess the right to deny someone in such circumstances the right to implement said self-sentencing. Is it more moral to keep a prisoner alive against his will and subject him to what may subjectively be viewed as greater torment than death?


We cannot pass judgment here on such philosophical predicaments. The moral concern should be kept in mind, however: It is possible - just as in the case of a court-imposed capital punishment, deemed inhumane in many societies and eschewed by Israel - that the wrong persons may lose their lives. Mistakes occur in detentions, and even in trials. Likewise, suicide may be the product of temporary mental malfunction. Innocent inmates may despair and end things before truth triumphs. Jailhouse humiliations may breed depression precisely among the more sensitive sorts who are not cut out for custody.


Clearly the picture is not one-dimensional. Which is why the ease with which inmates in Israeli jails are managing to execute themselves is something that should worry us all.


MOST DISTURBINGLY, the failure to keep such inmates alive points to an underlying, systemic problem. The claim by prison service apologists that "anyone determined to kill himself is bound to succeed," voiced repeatedly after both the Topaz and the Goldring suicides, is both spurious and ethically unacceptable.


The authorities pinpoint "candidates" for suicide and put them on special watch. If suicidal inmates nevertheless manage to overcome surveillance, the incontrovertible bottom line is that the vigilance was inadequate.


And the trouble is that it keeps getting more and more inadequate. There are no grounds to believe that prisoners this year are more suicide-prone than in the past. But jailhouse suicide numbers are rising.


In 2007, seven prisoners committed suicide. Nine did so during 2008. Nine months into 2009, 13 suicides have already been confirmed. The prison service's claim to have prevented 750 attempts cannot be substantiated or even credibly evaluated.


An internal investigation may have cleared Topaz's wardens, but their ostensibly competent conduct is hard to reconcile with the fact that a prisoner denied shoelaces had an electrical cord at his disposal. Goldring was allowed out into an enclosed 5-by-5-meter courtyard, in which he managed to scale a 3-m.-high wall before diving from it headfirst. Where were his guards? If they failed to prevent a suicide-watch inmate scaling a wall, how effective are they in preventing escapes? That's not a rhetorical question. Several high-profile prisoner escapes in recent years constitute the dismal answer.


OFFICIAL NONCHALANCE toward prisoner suicide, moreover, can abet other crimes. Aduan Farhan - charged with murdering teenager Dana Bennet - has confessed to strangling cellmate Aharon Simahov in 2004. At the time, however, Simahov's death was casually ascribed to suicide, further investigation wasn't deemed necessary and the case was closed. For a long while, therefore, Farhan literally got away with murder. His crime would never have been suspected had he not given himself away. Superficial, careless forensics go hand in hand with superficial, careless supervision of severely at-risk prisoners.


The bottom line for all of us on the "outside" is that lax standards "inside" can lead to the de facto takeover of prisons by the worst of strong-arm tyrants and underworld power brokers. The resultant loss of control cannot but impact the safety of the law-abiding citizenry.


The prisons service needs to improve its performance and bring those suicide statistics back down. And when it fails, it needs independent, outside investigations, because as things stand, it is evidently disinclined to learn from its mistakes.








You've got to hand it to Jimmy Carter. No matter how wrong he is, no matter how many times he is refuted, no matter how inane his ramblings, he just keeps on coming back. Forget that he was eviscerated in a landslide election. And forget that historians and the public rate him as the worst president of all time. Carter doesn't seem to have gotten the message. We're stuck with him forever.


Most recently Carter shared the penetrating insight that opposition to President Barack Obama is fueled by racism. Obama himself disagreed. More importantly, Obama's biggest critics like him a lot more than the ex-president, even though Jimmy is a white man.


But leaving aside those inconvenient facts, it seems incredible that Carter would accuse Obama's critics of racism when Carter is widely perceived to be an anti-Semite. His non-stop criticism of Israel as an apartheid state and his refusal to acknowledge Israel's right to defend itself has confirmed in the minds of many that Carter has a bit of a problem with the Jewish state.


But I for one have never bought it.


Carter, I have argued, is not so much an anti-Semite as he is what Lenin famously called, 'a useful idiot,' his mistake being to always side with the weaker party, notwithstanding their immorality. Let us never forget that the Carter administration tried to view the Khmer Rouge as the rightful government of Cambodia even though they slaughtered one out of three Cambodians. For Carter, weakness is itself a sign of righteousness.


I GREW up in the United States during the 1970s when we danced to disco music, wore leisure suits, and watched The Brady Bunch. But as if that weren't torture enough, we had Jimmy Carter as president. I can still recall how depressing it was to watch him announcing one catastrophe after another, from the skyrocketing misery index to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, to the capture of our hostages in Iran, to the tragically botched rescue attempt to free them. Fortune did not smile on Jimmy Carter.


But Carter's biggest failing is that he's without a moral compass. To be sure, his heart wishes to do good. It's just that his head is often confused as to what the good is. Throughout his career he invariably defended tyrants and dictators at the expense of their oppressed peoples, not because he was insensitive, but rather because he was confused.


Carter always subscribed to what my friend Michael Scroccaro calls 'Underdogma' - a knee-jerk championing of the underdog, however immoral, as if poverty dictates virtue and weakness dictates righteousness. So, if the Israelis have jetfighters and the Palestinians only Kassams, that must mean the Israelis are the guilty party.


Carter's underdog obsession is what motivated him to legitimize Fidel Castro and take his side in a bio-weapons dispute with the United States, and to praise North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung with the words: "I find him to be vigorous, intelligent,... and in charge of the decisions about this country." Carter added absurdly: "I don't see that they [the North Koreans] are an outlaw nation." He also hailed Marshal Joseph Tito as "a man who believes in human rights," and said of murderous Romanian dictator Nicolas Ceausescu, "Our goals are the same: to have a just system of economics and politics... We believe in enhancing human rights."


Carter also told Haitian dictator Raul Cédras that he was "ashamed of what my country has done to your country," which made most Americans ashamed of Jimmy Carter.


From all this I concluded that Jimmy Carter is not an anti-Semite so much as hopelessly naïve and utterly lacking in moral judgment. A well-meaning idiot.


TO BE sure, I received a great deal of criticism from readers who told me I'm the one who is hopelessly naïve. Jimmy Carter is a glaring anti-Semite. Was I blinded by my own theory?


Therefore, when Carter said in 2006 that Israel's policies in the West Bank were actually worse than apartheid South Africa, I began to question whether my readers were right. When he added in his 2009 book The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy that due to "powerful political, economic, and religious forces in the US, Israeli government decisions are rarely questioned or condemned, voices from Jerusalem dominate our media," I said to myself that anyone who rolls out the old Jews-control-the-world theory probably is an anti-Semite. And then the clincher seemed to be Carter's recent pronouncement that "the key factor that prevents peace is the continuing building of Israeli settlements in Palestine, driven by a determined minority of Israelis who desire to occupy and colonize east Jerusalem and the West Bank."


You mean Palestinian terrorism, Arab aversion to democracy, and 60 years of Arab wars to annihilate Israel had nothing to do with the absence of peace? Surely this man was a bigot! And yet, something inside still told me that Carter didn't harbor any unnatural hostility to Jews.


I was therefore delighted to chance upon Prof. Alan Dershowitz's outstanding series of articles detailing the millions of dollars that Carter has personally and institutionally accepted from leading Arab sources, including Saudi King Fahd, the now-defunct BCCI bank, Shiekh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahayan, and Agha Hasan Abedi, among others. These millions, some of which even went to bail out the Carter peanut business in the late 1970s, finally vindicated my earlier theory.


Jimmy Carter is not an anti-Semite. He is simply a man with a price.


The writer is founder of This World: The Values Network. His newest book is The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation.









It is a pity that amid the 10,000 documents he perused while seeking war crimes in Gaza, Judge Richard Goldstone did not make time for one book - or even one review. The book is The Bitter Road to Freedom: A New History of the Liberation of Europe, by historian William Hitchcock, and reading it would undoubtedly have given Goldstone insight into the reality of warfare. But even Richard Bernstein's thoughtful review in The New York Times last May would have sufficed.


The book details the sheer scope of civilian casualties, including Allied ones, that Europe's liberation from the Nazis entailed. For instance, 1,300 civilians died in a single Normandy department, Calvados, on D-Day alone; another 1,200 died the next day. Some 900 French civilians were killed in a single town, Rouen, on another single day, April 19, when Britain bombed it to soften German resistance. Altogether, about 19,890 civilians died in the five worst-hit French departments over just 11 weeks: June 6 to August 25, 1944.


Hitchcock's point, Bernstein noted, is not that the Allies committed war crimes, but that "even in a morally clear, entirely just and necessary conflict like World War II, civilian suffering was tremendous."


Indeed, Hitchcock goes even further: World War II succeeded "in large part because it was so brutal," Bernstein quotes him saying. The Allies won, "but this victory required massive force."


And that is the truth Goldstone's commission signally ignored: It is not possible to wage any kind of war without civilian casualties. The Allies did not slaughter French civilians intentionally. But if civilians are present in a war zone, many will inevitably die.


Partly, this is because mistakes are inevitable. Information in wartime is always imperfect; it is often impossible to know whether the people in your sights are civilians, enemy fighters or your own soldiers. Soldiers must make split-second judgments using this imperfect information, and sometimes they are wrong.


Moreover, even with correct information, nobody is infallible. And misaiming by even a hair can mean hitting an innocent person or building instead of the target.


That is why all battles produce friendly-fire casualties. Indeed, four of the 10 IDF soldiers killed in the Gaza fighting - fully 40 percent - were friendly-fire deaths. Does Goldstone believe Israeli troops shot their own comrades deliberately? Presumably not. Yet he insists that numerous Palestinian civilians were killed deliberately. That Israelis err when killing their comrades but never when killing Palestinians is a conclusion so illogical as to defy comprehension.


And indeed, simple error can easily explain many of Goldstone's "Israeli war crimes." But Hitchcock also offers a lesson relevant to the rest: Not only is it impossible to wage war without civilian casualties, but the harder you try, the less effective your fighting becomes.


IN IRAQ and Afghanistan, for instance, America used far less force than in World War II; consequently, both conflicts have lasted far longer. Or as Bernstein quotes Hitchcock saying, reduced force "is a more humane approach than in World War II, but so far it has been less effective." Goldstone's rules, however, would make war less effective still. His list of "Israeli war crimes" includes many "disproportionate attacks" on legitimate targets, attacks that achieved a military purpose "at the cost of too many civilian lives." While acknowledging that avoiding civilian casualties is difficult in "heavily populated" areas where combatants "mixed and mingled with civilians," he nevertheless accuses Israel of not taking "all feasible measures" to avoid these casualties.


What "feasible measures" could Israel have taken besides those it did, like dropping leaflets and telephoning private houses to tell civilians to leave? Goldstone never says, but the implication is clear: When soldiers could not be certain an attack would not kill civilians, they should have held their fire.


The problem, of course, is that holding fire whenever civilians are present means rarely getting a chance to fire at all, thus precluding effective military action. Indeed, prior to the war, Israel repeatedly tried pinpoint attacks on Hamas operatives, for which the rule was "don't fire if civilians are present"; yet these never dented the Palestinian rocket attacks.


The Gaza operation, precisely because it was larger-scale, secured a lull that has thus far lasted nine months.


Perhaps Goldstone truly believes that since effective military action inevitably involves civilian casualties, it

should be outlawed: that since multiple attempts to stop Palestinian rocket fire without war - two truces, pinpoint attacks, international pressure and blockade - failed, Israel should just have let Hamas continue firing thousands of rockets a year at its citizens. Yet few people would accept that solution were their own countrymen under fire.


Speaking in Jerusalem nine years ago, Goldstone attributed his views on war and war crimes to the Holocaust. But he clearly failed to learn the obvious lesson: What ended the Holocaust was overwhelming force. Had the Allies adopted his impossible standards, World War II would never have ended, and Hitler would have continued slaughtering Jews with impunity.


BUT GOLDSTONE also ignores one final lesson from Hitchcock: Despite far higher casualties, Europe's liberation aroused less antagonism among civilian victims than Afghanistan's has, in part because "the Normandy invasion lasted just one summer, and the people whose homes were destroyed knew that it was all over and they could start rebuilding," Bernstein quotes him saying. Afghanis have no such comfort.


But neither do Gazans - because Israel used just enough force to secure a lull, not enough to destroy Hamas. Hence both sides know another round is coming. Hamas is rebuilding its arsenal, and will eventually resume the barrages; Israel will ultimately respond, and everything Gazans have rebuilt will be destroyed.


Indeed, the true tragedy of Israel's Gaza war was not excessive force, but insufficient force: insufficient to actually end the conflict and let both sides rebuild.


And that is also the tragedy of Goldstone's report: Out of genuine concern for civilian casualties, it creates norms of warfare that would preclude victory from ever being achieved - thus condemning civilians on both sides to never-ending conflict.








There is a dangerous and proficient killer on the loose, roaming across Israel and preying on the innocent.


With little regard for social, economic or cultural backgrounds, this faceless predator has claimed an astonishing number of victims, compiling a tally that would be the envy of any major terrorist group.


Yet unlike the struggle against our enemies, this is one war where each of us can actually do something to turn the tide against a daunting foe.


It is the battle against breast cancer, and the time to take action is now.


Today, October 1, marks the start of International Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Around the world, events will be held over the next few weeks to alert the public to the danger posed by this dreadful disease.


From the US to the Ukraine, organizers are gearing up to spread the word in an effort to promote early detection and prevention and cut the risks associated with breast cancer, which strikes both men and women with ruthless abandon.


Sure, no one really likes to contemplate or talk about disease. It is one of those terrifying things that we occasionally hear about but then delude ourselves into thinking that it cannot possibly strike close to home.


But the data suggests otherwise.


"According to the latest available statistics, breast cancer strikes one in eight Israeli women," Prof. Ben Corn, MD, who is Chairman of Radiation Oncology at the Tel Aviv Medical Center, told me.


He noted that, "in more than a third of the cases, the disease has spread beyond the breast by the time it is detected." As a result, a quarter of those hit by the disease die within two years of its discovery.


All told, about 4,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in Israel each year. That is an average of more than 10 per day, or about one every two hours! These numbers are simply startling.


NEXT TIME you are in synagogue or at the movie theater, just look around and consider this: the odds are that one out of every eight ladies in the room will at some point in their lives hear the devastating diagnosis that will wreak havoc on them and their families.


Nonetheless, despite the fact that prominent public figures such as former Education Minister Yuli Tamir and popular singer Sharon Haziz have been diagnosed with breast cancer, there is still very little public consciousness about it here in Israel.


Indeed, fewer than half of Israeli women over the age of 50 reportedly get a mammogram, leaving them dangerously exposed to the possibility of uncovering the disease only once it is too late.


And while just one in three breast lumps actually turns out to be malignant, it takes a biopsy to find that out.

That is what makes early detection so crucial. There is as yet no cure, so catching the cancer before it spreads, and getting proper treatment, still offers women the best chance of survival.


Moreover, there are also a range of preemptive actions that women can take, from adopting a healthier and more active lifestyle to reducing alcohol consumption to consulting with your physician, all of which can greatly reduce the risk of contracting this potentially fatal disease.


In other words, breast cancer can be contained or even overcome, but only if people wake up and do something about it.


THANKFULLY, A group of women in the Sharon region have decided to do just that. Under the slogan, "Awareness can save your life", a 4-kilometer Breast Cancer Awareness Walk, followed by a "happening" for the entire family, is slated to take place on Friday morning, October 16, at 9:15 am sharp in Park Ra'anana.


The goal is to rouse people to action, educate the public and inspire women to get themselves tested.


The march is taking place under the auspices of the non-profit Tishkofet organization, which assists people and their families throughout the country in coping with terminal illnesses, in cooperation with the Ra'anana municipality, the Maccabi and Clalit Health Funds and Meir and Tel Hashomer hospitals.


It will be a march for the living, a siren call to thousands of Israelis to start taking the threat of breast cancer seriously.


The walk is in memory of two very special women - Mindy Greenberg and Diane Taragin - both of whom lived in Ra'anana and put up a valiant fight against the disease.


No memorial could be more fitting than a large event which will save people's lives by motivating them to get tested.


It is therefore crucial that each and every one of us make an effort to be there and show our support. So go online to Tishkofet's website at and register to take part. All proceeds from the event will go towards assisting breast cancer patients and their families.


Like many of you, I too was unaware of how widespread breast cancer is, or of the simple steps that can be taken to detect it, such as self-exams, mammograms and MRIs (for those at higher risk). This information can make an enormous difference in people's lives.


Our sages tell us in the Tosefta (Shabbat 9, 22) that "Nothing supersedes the saving of life." So it is incumbent upon each of us to overcome whatever hesitation or reluctance we might have to confront the issue of disease, and arm ourselves with all the facts.


Speak to your wife, your daughter, your sister or your mother-in-law, and tell them - please! - to go get tested. Follow up by speaking with your doctor about what you can do to change your lifestyle or your eating habits and those of your family.


And on October 16, make sure to come out to Park Ra'anana and join the Breast Cancer Awareness Walk.









Five years ago, in a remarkable gesture of peace, Israel removed every one of its soldiers and over 8,000 civilians from the Gaza Strip. And the states of the Human Rights Council (HRC), applauded this unprecedented measure. They told us in no uncertain terms that in the nightmare scenario that terror would take root, they would back us in our inherent right to self-defense.


Five years later, the greenhouses we left behind had been ransacked by Hamas, over 8,000 rockets and mortars had been fired on schools and kindergartens in Sderot and other Israeli towns, and an unceasing supply of weaponry was smuggled through tunnels into Gaza from terror-sponsoring states like Iran.


Israel's urgent appeals to the international community were to no avail, and our attempts to extend a fragile cease-fire were met with new, increased barrages of missiles from Hamas. All the while the range of the attacks was increasing. Now Ashkelon and Beersheba were within reach. One million Israelis had to live within seconds of a bomb shelter.


The decision to launch a military operation is never easy. It is even more challenging when we have to face an enemy that intentionally deploys its forces in densely populated areas and launches rockets from crowded school yards and mosques. These are new and horrendous challenges, and we sought to deal with them responsibly and humanely. Yet when we dropped millions of leaflets and made thousands of phone calls to warn civilians in advance of operations, we were witness to the callous and deliberate Hamas tactic of sending women and children onto the rooftops of terrorist headquarters and weapons factories. In such cases, missions were aborted, letting the terrorists escape. Israel protected Palestinian civilians that Hamas had put at risk.


IN GRAPPLING with these dilemmas we sought the guidance of other states. We may not have all the right answers but we struggle to ask the right questions. And in discussions between officials charged with securing the lives of their civilians we hear genuine admiration for our restraint. For example, when Colonel Richard Kemp was asked about Israel's conduct in Gaza, he replied: "I don't think there has ever been a time in the history of warfare when any army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties and deaths of innocent people than the IDF in Gaza."


In complex urban warfare, though, civilian casualties are tragically inevitable. There also may have been incidents in which soldiers did not always maintain the standards that we expected of them. The true test of a genuine democracy is how it deals with such cases. Following the Gaza Operation, Israel has opened over 100 separate investigations into operational questions, like damage to UN centers and medical facilities, as well as specific allegations of misconduct. Of these investigations, 23 have already resulted in criminal proceedings. And this process continues.


Israel struggles to deal with these tough questions, raised by terrorists acting within civilian centers.


But these questions seem to not occupy the authors of the shameful report which was presented to the HRC.


Like many other states, we could not support a resolution which only addressed one side of the conflict, and which established four separate mechanisms to condemn Israel and not even one to examine Hamas.


Like many of the distinguished individuals who rejected invitations to head the fact-finding mission with its

one-sided mandate, we objected to a mission which, in the words of Mary Robinson, was "guided by politics, not human rights."


While Israel has cooperated with dozens of inquiries and investigations from international organizations into the events in Gaza, it refused to cooperate with this Mission. And the report presented Tuesday justifies that decision.


This is a report in which the right of self-defense is not mentioned, in which the smuggling of weapons into Gaza through hundreds of tunnels deserves not a word. A report based on pre-screened Palestinian witnesses, not one of whom was asked about Hamas terrorist activity or the abuse of civilians, hospitals and mosques for terrorist attacks.


A report which gives credibility to every allegation or hearsay against Israel, and none to even direct admissions of guilt by Hamas leaders AS JUSTICE Goldstone revealed in an open correspondence: "We did not deal with the problems of conducting military operations in civilian areas. We avoided having to do so in the incidents we decided to investigate."


The authors of this "Fact-finding Mission" had little concern with finding facts. The report was instigated as part of a political campaign, and it represents a political assault directed against Israel and against every state forced to confront terrorist threats. Its recommendations are fully in line with its one-sided agenda.


Unlike the Hamas terrorists who rejoice with every civilian death, Israel regards every civilian casualty as a tragedy and is committed to fully examining every allegation of wrongdoing, not because of this report, but despite it.


For let there be no doubt - this report will do nothing to ease the lives of those in Sderot and Gaza City, Kiryat Shmona and Jenin. In providing support and vindication for terrorist tactics, it is a betrayal of Israelis and moderate Palestinians alike.


Regrettably the report, claiming to represent international law but in fact perverting it to serve a political

agenda, can only weaken its standing in future conflicts. It broadcasts a troubling - and legally unfounded - message to states everywhere confronting terrorist threats, that international law has no effective response to offer them, and so serves to undermine willingness to comply with its provisions. At the same time, it signals an even more troubling message to terrorist groups that the cynical tactics of seeking to exploit civilian suffering for political ends actually pays dividends.


Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we want to find a way to live in peace with our neighbors. This is the ultimate question that Prime Minister Netanyahu asked the General Assembly last week: "The same UN that cheered Israel as it left Gaza and promised to back our right of self-defense now accuses us ... of war crimes? And for what? For acting responsibly in self-defense? [...] Israel justly defended itself against terror. This biased and unjust report is a clear-cut test for all governments. Will you stand with Israel or will you stand with the terrorists? Because if Israel is again asked to take more risks for peace, we must know today that you will stand with us tomorrow. Only if we have the confidence that we can defend ourselves can we take further risks for peace."








I spent Yom Kippur at home with my husband and children, reflecting on the past year. Working at the heart of the controversy over the UN report on Operation Cast Lead, I find the need for moral calibration to be more pressing than ever. There is no better time to focus on the leading principle of our work: the basic idea that all humans have a right to dignity and wellbeing.


The Gaza Fact-Finding Mission headed by Judge Richard Goldstone found that both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes in last winter's military operation in Gaza. Its report calls on both sides to launch criminal investigations into these allegations and to hold accountable anyone found to have committed these crimes. If either side fails to do so, the mission has requested various UN bodies to take measures to ensure such accountability.


Israel's response has been a categorical condemnation of the report as biased and one-sided (Hamas has made a similar condemnation). Government spokespeople and major Jewish organizations claim the report is so fundamentally flawed as to be useless, or worse, a blood libel. Yet we know that Justice Goldstone accepted the offer to head the inquiry only on condition that its mandate was explicitly expanded to include all sides. Indeed, while Israel claims the report ignores eight years of Hamas rocket fire at southern Israel, the report firmly denounces these attacks, calling them war crimes.


THE GOLDSTONE Report is unsettling. I was disturbed by the framing of Israel's military operation as part of "an overall policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population for its resilience." The facts presented in the report itself would not seem to support such a far-reaching conclusion. In light of the sweeping conclusions regarding Israel, the very careful phrasing regarding Hamas abuses is particularly conspicuous. The mission did not find conclusive evidence regarding Hamas's use of mosques and civilian buildings for military purposes, nor does it criticize Hamas's firing from and shielding themselves within civilian areas.


Yet the report contains serious allegations that cannot be explained away by accusations of bias. Twenty one members of the Samouni family were killed after soldiers concentrated them in a single building, which was later bombed. The army used white phosphorous in a densely populated civilian area. At the same time, massive harm was caused to infrastructure, including Gaza's major suppliers of chicken and flour.


I shudder to think that our forces may have been instructed to inflict intentional harm on innocent civilians. Yet precisely for this reason, I demand that my own country investigate this matter.


Acknowledging that some members of the Human Rights Council have a worse human rights record than Israel can hardly absolve us from responsibility for our own conduct.


Contrary to the impression conveyed in Wednesday's Jerusalem Post, B'Tselem views the Goldstone report as the result of serious, professional research that is genuinely concerned with promoting justice. All the tendentious mudslinging and the more grounded criticism cannot delegitimize the report's central recommendation: that Israel must conduct credible investigations into its own conduct. The whole international system is based on the premise that justice should be done at home. Only in cases where there is no possibility of obtaining a domestic remedy does the international community step in to fill the vacuum.

FOR MONTHS, Israeli human rights organizations have urged our government to open credible, independent investigations into the hundreds of allegations of military misconduct in Gaza. The authorities have stubbornly refused, largely making do with military debriefings that categorically absolve our forces of any wrongdoing. Only a handful of military police investigations have been opened, and the one criminal investigation to be concluded is the exception that proves the rule. A soldier in the Givati brigade was tried, convicted and sentenced - for stealing a credit card.


At last, we have now heard that the government is considering opening an independent Israeli investigation into the operation head by former Chief Justice Aharon Barak. Such a move must be applauded and supported. However, this investigation must not simply be a way to deflect criticism and reach a foregone conclusion that Israel has done no wrong. It must be a tool to promote a search for the truth. As we emerge from a period of personal reflection and reckoning, we must take the next brave step as a society: to stand as our own judges for the acts committed in Gaza. Every Israeli has the right to know what the army does in our name, and it is our duty as a democracy to ensure that the principles of public debate and criticism be upheld. As Jews, it is our moral obligation to ensure that international law, formulated after WWII to protect innocents at time of war, be upheld.


So we now have a choice. We can continue to shoot the messenger and bury our heads in the sand, hoping despite all signs to the contrary that this whole controversy will somehow disappear. Or we can initiate a genuine process of truth-telling and taking responsibility. Such a process may well be painful, but we will emerge stronger and healthier for it.


This is the time to do it.


The writer is Executive Director of B'Tselem: the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.
















Yesterday's decision by the security cabinet to approve the Egyptian-German initiative to release 20 Palestinian female prisoners and detainees in exchange for a sign of life from kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit is not a balanced deal. For a piece of information, Israel is paying in "hard currency" - people who were convicted or are suspected of hostile acts against its citizens.


Some will certainly argue that willingness to release the Palestinian women in exchange for a videotape sends a message of weakness to the opposing side. Others will say the deal will encourage Hamas toward greater price gouging and inflate the list of Palestinian prisoners the organization wants in exchange for Shalit.

Still, no step toward the release of the soldier who fell into the enemy's hands three and a half years ago will be an economical deal. Israel has more than once paid a high price for its captured soldiers, and even for bodies and body parts of the dead. This is not the first time it will have paid for information about a captured or missing soldier.

Grave apprehension stemming from a lack of certainty about Shalit's mental and physical well-being have been added to anxiety over his fate and longing for him. Watching the tape might somewhat ease the suffering of his loved ones. Concern over his fate has long expanded beyond the circle of his family and friends. Multitudes of Israelis hope for the return of the soldier from Mitzpe Hila to his family and country, and will be relieved to see and hear the young man whose face is now familiar to everyone in Israel.

After the deal was reported, Gilad's father Noam said, and rightly so, that the tape is not a substitute for the release of his son. But hopefully the release of the Palestinian women will increase pressure on the families of the Hamas prisoners to spur the talks forward and complete the deal to release Shalit in exchange for their sons imprisoned in Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision to agree to the new initiative a "confidence-building measure" in the indirect negotiations with Hamas. It is reasonable to assume that documented proof that Shalit is still alive will encourage the government to go another step further and pay the set price to extricate him and end this painful affair








The basic facts have not changed: Iran is galloping toward nuclear weapons. The Iranian clock is currently ticking at the rate of three kilograms of enriched uranium per day. Despite impressive successes in the realm of prevention, prevention is not preventing the Iranian bomb, it is merely postponing the assembly date. Delay is important, but it is not enough. Fact: Again and again, the Iranians have deceived those who are trying to thwart it. When its storehouses contain enough raw material for 30 nuclear bombs and enough semi-processed material for one bomb, the Shi'ite power is on the threshold. Its distance from full nuclear-power status ranges from one year in the worst-case scenario to three or four years in the best case.

Nor have the strategic implications of the basic facts changed: If one fine day Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announces he has a nuclear bomb, the world will be a different world. Morning coffee in Tel Aviv's Florentine neighborhood will not be the same coffee; Kir Royale in the Place de la Bastille will not taste like the same champagne. Even if we assume that Tehran will behave rationally and refrain from using its doomsday weapon directly, the very fact that it has nuclear weapons will cause the entire Middle East to go nuclear. A nuclear Iran will also change the balance of power between Middle Eastern radicals and moderates. It will turn the Middle East into a multipolar nuclear system sitting atop a seething, unstable region.

No Cold War-era situation will resemble the new situation. A nuclear Iran means a nuclear Saudi Arabia, a nuclear Egypt, a nuclear Turkey and a nuclear third world. A nuclear Iran means the 21st century will be the century of terror.


And yet, something fundamental has changed: The events of the past week proved that with regard to Iran, the West of fall 2009 is different from the West of spring 2009. The Pittsburgh declaration issued by Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown was merely the visible tip of the iceberg. Beneath the water, the United States has been engaging in energetic and enthralling diplomacy for the last few months. The fact that the Democratic administration's senior officials feel close to Europe lets them tighten the North Atlantic alliance. Their willingness to woo and appease Russia wins them a measure of cooperation from Moscow. In China, too, the Americans have been doing a good deal of legwork.

Thus, if at the beginning of the summer it was still possible to wonder whether Obama had internalized the Iranian problem, today the picture is clear: Very belatedly, the U.S. president, French president, British prime minister and German chancellor are trying to impose a real diplomatic siege on Iran. They are doing everything that can be done via diplomatic efforts to try to stop the catastrophic centrifuges of Natanz and Qom.

In this situation, there is no genuine fear of an imminent Israeli attack on Iran. There are five reasons why this is so: The optimal moment for a military strike has passed, the last possible moment for a military strike has not yet arrived, the international community is finally waking up, the Iranian regime suffers from deep political and economic weaknesses, and the current Israeli leadership is a responsible leadership that does not rush into battle and is not quick on the trigger.

But the fact that, for now, Israel is showing restraint and even lowering its profile should not mislead anyone. Today, in Geneva, the diplomatic confrontation between the Western world and Iran is entering the home stretch. In previous heats, the Iranian athlete proved he is both faster and more determined than his pampered, lazy opponents. This time, the outcome must be different. The moment the talks have exhausted their usefulness, the Western powers must impose immediate, aggressive sanctions on Tehran. They must exploit the Iranian regime's lack of legitimacy and the Iranian economy's vulnerability to the fullest in order to keep Tehran from producing a nuclear weapon.

If the international community does not employ harsh diplomacy now, it will put itself in an impossible dilemma: an Iranian bomb or bombing Iran. And if that happens, the quartet of Obama, Sarkozy, Brown and Angela Merkel will bear personal responsibility - not only for the emergence of a new Middle East, but for the emergence of a whole new world.








Israel should thank Judge Richard Goldstone and his commission's important report. After subjecting him to useless, automatic mudslinging, Israel suddenly realized that it should finally investigate the events of Operation Cast Lead. Why? What happened? The ground has started to tremble under the feet of a number of Israeli statesmen and officers.

That, it turns out, is the only way to teach us a lesson. Goldstone held up a mirror to us; we tried to smash it, as is our wont, but this time, as opposed to earlier reports, smashing it did not work. Suddenly it was reported (and denied) that Defense Minister Ehud Barak has asked former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak to head an investigative committee, suddenly the head of Military Intelligence is calling for the adoption of the "ethics code" composed by Prof. Asa Kasher, and suddenly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called an urgent meeting to discuss establishing an investigative committee.

What happened? Again, it turns out, everything is personal. It is also too little, too late: An "investigative committee" is not enough, nor is the ethics code written by Kasher, who told Maariv a few days ago that the Gazan doctor Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish was responsible for the deaths of his daughters. And yet it's good the ground has started to quake under our feet.


Are Ehud Barak and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi sweating? That's the only way Israel will learn. Not only if it is proved that there were war crimes in Gaza, but if people also have to pay for their actions. That is good news for Israel: Thanks to Goldstone, people in Israel will think twice and perhaps even three times before they bring down another barrage of cast lead on a helpless civilian population.

From now on, Israel's only consideration will not be minimum losses on its side. From now on, the international and personal implications of every brutal attack will be taken into account. That's exactly the function of international bodies: to prevent more unbridled attacks like Cast Lead. Thus Goldstone fulfilled his task, and in so doing proved he is a Zionist and friend of Israel. Thanks to him, Israel may change its belligerent ways and look at them in the future through the prism of international law and the personal cost involved in breaking it. If up to now we thought only how to kill without being killed, from now on we will think about the price tag attached to mass killing of the other side.

It's a pity we waited for Goldstone, a pity that we are so dependent on pressure by foreigners to fashion our own image and that only when personal harm appears imminent are we prepared to take a good hard look at ourselves. If ever there were a war that should be investigated on our own initiative, and immediately, it is Cast Lead. While it caused us few losses, and therefore no one thought to investigate it, what happened in Gaza cannot remain suspended in space, and those responsible cannot act as if nothing happened.

The wounds of Gaza have not yet healed, the debris has not yet been cleared and the housing there has not yet been rehabilitated. Israel has also not been rehabilitated. It still insists that everything went as it should have. But cracks are now appearing. There is something cynical and depressing about the fact that it is happening only after Israeli leaders started to fear for their personal fates. Now it may be hoped that Goldstone, the United Nations and the world will not give in. No Israeli would want to see Barak arrested in London, but every fair Israeli should hope that if war crimes were committed in his name, those responsible will pay the price, and better that it be in Israel.

The hollow, demagogic argument many Israelis use that Israel did in Gaza what everyone does might be true, but it is morally distorted. No traffic violator or any other criminal can excuse his actions by saying "everybody is doing it."

Is the world hard on Israel? Perhaps. But Israel also enjoys endless preferential treatment. The world acts differently toward us, turns a blind eye to Dimona and is silent about the occupation, and now it no longer wants to keep silent about Gaza. Why? Because this time we went too far. That is not only the world's right, it is its duty.

Goldstone began the work, Israel should continue it. In the end, the image that looks out from Goldstone's mirror is our image, not his.








Over the summer, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden boldly asserted that Israel, "as a sovereign nation," has the right to protect itself against a nuclearizing Iran. In law, the precise protective action that Biden had in mind is called "anticipatory self-defense." Now, however, official Washington is offering Jerusalem much less audacious "advice" than undertaking a permissible preemption. In essence, the current and still plainly futile message is "tougher sanctions."

On several occasions, the "international community" has imposed "serious" sanctions against Iran. Nonetheless, uranium enrichment has only accelerated in that country. At no time, in fact, has Tehran shown even the slightest inclination to value a promised proper place in the world higher than simply getting "the bomb." Once again, Washington just doesn't get it.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understands, of course, that his country can rely on its Arrow anti-missile system for only a very limited measure of active defense. Israel's ballistic missile defense network can never provide the Jewish state with adequate security from a nuclear attack on its civilian population. Recently, Defense Minister Ehud Barak affirmed this essential understanding, stating explicitly three times that all preemptive options must remain on the table.


No country can be expected to cooperate in its own annihilation. Leaving Iran to the manifestly unpersuasive sanctions of the United States, and/or of the United Nations, could bring Israel to the outer limits of survival. If U.S. President Barack Obama already understands this, and if he also cares about Israel's survival, he would not now be demanding that Netanyahu hew obsequiously to a discredited and banal policy of contradictory Iran options.

For now, Israel's best hope would seem to lie in some prospect of internal Iranian reform, and Jerusalem should therefore do whatever it can to help along any such transformation.

At the same time, it is entirely possible that the Islamic Republic of Iran will remain unchanged with respect to its basic critical stance on Israel, and that suitably enhanced forms of essential military preparedness will have to be implemented in Israel.

Here is the key issue: As long as Israel can reasonably assume that any expected Iranian leadership will remain rational, Prime Minister Netanyahu could focus on "living with a nuclear Iran." Such a "coexistence" policy would represent a regrettable, but largely unavoidable, position, one that would need to be backed up with a selectively partial end to Israel's "nuclear ambiguity" (the so-called "bomb in the basement"), and with genuinely credible threats of Israeli nuclear reprisals for nuclear aggressions. More precisely, these deterrent threats would have to include aptly explicit references to Israel's nuclear targeting doctrine ("counter-city" or "counter-value," never "counter-force"), as well as compelling evidence of both the survivability and penetration capability of Israel's deterrent nuclear forces.

If, however, Israel cannot reasonably assume that all still-plausible Iranian leaderships will remain rational, Netanyahu would need to make highly informed judgments concerning the expected probability of Iranian leadership irrationality.

Where such an expectation would be "low," Israel could continue to rely in part on the enhanced nuclear deterrence measures just discussed. (There would also have to be a complementary and partial reliance on ballistic missile defense, or the Arrow). But where such an expected probability would be deemed "high," Israel could have no rational alternative to some form of preemption against pertinent Iranian nuclear assets or infrastructures.

It follows from all this that virtually any necessary nuclear policy taken by Israel vis-a-vis Iran will offend Washington, and that Netanyahu will simply need to accept such a negative political response from Obama as the distinctly lesser evil.

The writer is a professor of international law at Purdue University and was chairman of Project Daniel, a small private group that delivered a special report, "Israel's Strategic Future," to former prime minister Ariel Sharon in January 2003.








No committee headed by former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak should be established, nor should any other committee. It would evolve from an "investigative" committee into a commission of inquiry. And instead of concentrating on preparing the army for the coming battles, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and our senior officers would concentrate on defending their honor and innocence.

We should not delude ourselves: The campaign against Israel will continue even if a committee exonerates the Israel Defense Forces and the political leadership - even more so if it finds them at fault. After all, Aharon Barak will want to preserve his international reputation as a prophet and admonisher of Israel. Let's not dig our own grave.

I've spoken to officers. They understand that in addition to endangering their lives on the battlefield, they will have to give up trips and studies in certain countries - a negligible price for those with a sense of mission. On the other hand, they are angry at what is beginning to look like a ritual: facing a commission of inquiry after every campaign. If this absurdity does not stop we will not have a fighting army. After all, emasculating the IDF is the goal of Israel's enemies, both within and without.


They want to turn us into the leper among nations. There is a primeval fear of lepers. And fear gives rise to hatred. And the blood of lepers, certainly lepers who perpetrate crimes against humanity, is permitted. That's what happened in Europe throughout history and reached a climax during World War II. This service - official legal authorization that we are a nation that frequently sins against humanity - has been granted us by one of our own (those who agree with him, but don't dare say so, repeatedly emphasize that he is a "Zionist").

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion accused us of a worldwide conspiracy; now comes a Jewish judge and reveals that the truth is even more bitter: From the moment we returned to our homeland we have been committing far worse crimes. Controlling the banks and the world media and causing conflict among nations - even using the blood of Christian children for baking matzah - was only the tip of the iceberg. When the Jews run an army they reveal the full extent of their satanic nature. That's another reason why the independent Jewish entity must be disbanded.

And if the defamatory campaign does not succeed, there is the other option, the one being created in Bushehr and Qom. And to prepare the ground for that option we must expose the true face of the Jews. And that is what Richard Goldstone is doing.


An example of this preparing of the ground is what happened in Britain. The ordinary Englishman who reads in The Evening Standard that Israel's defense minister is wanted for crimes against humanity was reinforced in his awareness - after all, the delegitimization campaign did not begin yesterday - that everything he has been fed about the Jewish people is nothing compared to the harm this nation really does.

The plot to turn us into the lepers of the world is deeply etched in the consciousness of many nations, even those who pretend to carry the flag of justice and purity. What all those enlisted against us have in common - countries, non-governmental organizations and foundations that finance the hunt - is the desire to depict Israel as an impure, unprotected animal that may be hunted freely.

And then the reader of the popular press on the London Underground, the New York subway or the Paris Metro will react with indifference at best regarding the powerlessness of his government, which is not fighting to prevent the nuclearization of Iran. After all, so he is told, this arms race is directed only against Israel.








Critics of pending health care reforms claim they want to ensure that the government does not thrust itself between patients and doctors to dictate what medical procedures can be performed. Yet many are trying to do just that when it comes to one legal and medically valid service: abortion.


Republicans and anti-abortion Democrats in both houses of Congress are seeking to prohibit millions of Americans — those who might receive tax subsidies to help them buy insurance — from purchasing plans that would cover an abortion.


In a rational system of medical care, there would be virtually no restrictions on financing abortions. But abortion is not a rational issue, and opponents have succeeded in broadly denying the use of federal dollars to pay for them, except in the case of pregnancies that result from rape or incest or that endanger a woman’s life.


These restrictions, which constitute an improper government intrusion into Americans’ private lives, apply to the joint federal-state Medicaid program, the health insurance exchange that covers federal government employees, and health programs for military personnel, American Indians and women in prison, among others. This approach disproportionately harms poor women, who often can’t scrape together enough money for the procedure until delay has made abortions more costly and more risky.


Now abortion opponents want to apply similar restrictions to low- and middle-income Americans who would receive federal subsidies to buy coverage on the new insurance exchanges that would be created by pending health care reform bills. (These exchanges would offer an array of policies for individuals who buy their own insurance or work for small companies.)


In an effort to defuse the issue and allow health care reform to proceed, the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Senator Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, have backed a proposal that follows the spirit of the federal restrictions while allowing some leeway for people to choose plans that cover abortion on the exchanges.


This proposal would prohibit the use of federal tax subsidies to pay for almost all abortions. Health plans could provide abortion coverage provided they used only the premium money and co-payments contributed by beneficiaries and kept that money segregated from the subsidy. In every state, there would have to be at least one plan that covers abortions and one that does not.


This compromise is still far more restrictive than the rules for other tax-subsidy programs. The subsidy for employees’ contributions to their health coverage at work, for example, can be used to buy insurance that covers abortion. Roughly half of the employer-provided policies cover the procedure. Nor are there any restrictions on paying for abortions with the tax-favored health savings accounts so beloved by conservatives.


Nevertheless, conservative critics of pending reform bills want to prohibit the use of tax subsidies to buy any health insurance policy that covers abortion. Some want to require women to buy an extra insurance “rider” if they want abortion coverage, an unworkable approach given that almost no one expects to need an abortion, few women would buy the rider and, therefore, few insurance companies would even offer it.

There should be no restrictions on abortion coverage in the exchanges. Health care reformers should not retreat on this issue, but we recognize that principle is often sacrificed in Congressional bargaining. Democrats who support the compromise must find a way to prevent it from being used later to go after other tax subsidies and thus further deny Americans’ rights to make their own health-care decisions.







An immigration crackdown by the Obama administration has led to the imminent firing of about 1,800 workers at American Apparel, the trendy clothing company whose downtown factory is one of the largest still left in Los Angeles.


This time the feds came with payroll audits rather than the guns and dogs of the Bush years. The director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Morton, called it a milestone in the fight against illegal immigration: “Now all manner of companies face the very real possibility that the government, using our basic civil powers, is going to come knocking on the door.”


The government has to enforce the law. But one has to ask who benefits from a crackdown like this.


Mr. Morton’s own boss, the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, used to argue that crackdowns made no sense when workers had no shot at legalization. “To look ‘tough,’ what little enforcement we have ends up being arbitrary and unfair,” she wrote in a 2007 op-ed article in The Washington Post when she was still the governor of Arizona.


American Apparel wouldn’t be our first target in the notoriously shady garment industry. The government has not charged it with knowingly hiring or exploiting illegal labor. By most accounts it has tried to maintain a legal work force given how hard it is for employers to weed out applicants whose fake documents look authentic.


Unlike companies that routinely seek out illegal immigrants (the better to exploit them), American Apparel pays $10 to $12 an hour, well above the minimum wage and industry standards, plus health benefits. It hires locally, cultivates a trained work force and is seen as a valued corporate citizen in Los Angeles. The city’s mayor called the firings “devastating.”


President Obama and Ms. Napolitano inherited a failed immigration policy. They have promised do better in setting priorities, hunting down abusive employers and pressing for comprehensive immigration reform that will give workers hope and a path to legalization.


A crackdown that forces 1,800 taxpaying would-be Americans into joblessness in a dismal economy is a law-enforcement victory only in the bitterest, narrowest sense. As a solution to the problem of unauthorized workers — 1,800 down, millions to go — it’s ludicrous.







For three weeks in 2002, the nation’s capital was terrorized as a sniper and his young accomplice killed 10 people at random and wounded three others. The two murderers were caught and convicted. When their rifle — a Bushmaster XM-15 — was tracked back to a Tacoma, Wash., arms dealer, Brian Borgelt blithely told investigators that, yes, the $1,600 rifle was one of 238 weapons that seemed to have been stolen or missing from his inventory.


We applaud the news that a federal judge has just rejected Mr. Borgelt’s attempt to regain his license. But it isn’t much comfort. A federal study in 2001 tracked three out of five guns used by criminals to a small number, less than 2 percent, of federally licensed gun shops like Mr. Borgelt’s. Seven years after the sniper killings, the problem of negligent — or corrupt — gun dealers is, if anything, worse.


Thanks to Congress’s timidity before the gun lobby, most federal efforts to crack down on dealers like Mr. Borgelt remain largely toothless. Agents are hobbled by time-consuming procedures that often mean it takes years before a shop can be shut down. Congress’s main reaction to the District of Columbia shootings — after victimized families won damage claims — was to pass a law protecting the gun industry from civil damage suits.


For years before the sniper attacks, Mr. Borgelt was repeatedly cited for failing to track sales and inventory or

to properly file background checks on purchasers. Despite warnings, he easily stayed in business at the Bull’s Eye Shooter Supply.


The grisly shootings finally compelled the government to revoke his license. Mr. Borgelt then sold the business to a friend (other defunct dealers like to sell the shops to their wives). Bull’s Eye is still open, and Mr. Borgelt continues to run a shooting range upstairs. In the same craven spirit, legislation lately in Congress affecting gun control would further weaken the powers of federal enforcement agents to conduct dealer audits.










Not long ago, I found myself driving east across Kansas at dawn, cutting across the north/south band of the Flint Hills. Venus was riding bright above the horizon. And as I drove, I began to think about the morning star’s orbit around the sun.


Everything felt oddly stationary — the stars fixed overhead — except for my car humming along the blacktop and the grasses on the stone outcrops bending under a southern wind. Yet Venus was roaring along in its path, rotating clockwise on its axis while orbiting counterclockwise around the sun. Earth was roaring around the sun, too, except that our planet happens to rotate clockwise on its axis. In the grand scheme of astronomical motions — imagine, too, the rotation of the Milky Way and the overall expansion of the universe — my car had come to a virtual standstill, though I was doing 80.


I cannot do the calculations to sum up all those motions, to figure out how fast and in what direction I was really moving as I drove across the prairie. It’s no easier sitting at my desk, watching October roll across the landscape, a bright day following a warm, wet night when the falling leaves adhere to every surface. Somehow, I can’t help imagining my life as a vector with a velocity and direction I cannot calculate.


A day isn’t just a standard measure, all the same size so each fits on a calendar page. A day is a period of light, an astronomical event. I felt that on the road that Kansas dawn. The broad swath of the sun’s light rolls upward from the darkness, morning after morning, and then we roll outward into the ocean of stars at night. It seems extravagant, a glorious squandering of motion to give light, and life, to the grasses bending under the breeze, slowly retracting their shadows as the sun begins to climb. VERLYN KLINKENBORG








President Obama is flying off to Denmark to lobby for Chicago’s Olympic bid.


Or, in the words of the House minority leader, John Boehner, he is “going to go off to Copenhagen when we’ve got serious issues here at home that need to be debated.”


This is the sort of thing an opposition party is supposed to say because it sounds virtuous even if it makes no sense whatsoever. It’s like complaining that the health care bill that Congress has been working on since 1964 is being rammed through without enough study.


Senator Christopher Bond of Missouri has been trotting around the cable TV circuit, complaining that the president needs to spend those precious Copenhagen hours consulting with the military about Afghanistan and working “to keep our country safe.” Bond is the logical point man on these matters because he is the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. And I do not want to hear any jokes.


Actually, the president will hardly miss any White House time at all. He’s leaving on Thursday night, sleeping on the plane and spending part of Friday morning hanging out with the International Olympic Committee before taking off for home again.


Truly, it is not the sort of mission you want to whine about if your party’s last chief executive spent more than one-third of his presidency hanging out at Camp David or clearing brush outside Crawford, Tex.


And did you hear the Democrats complaining about that? Well, yes, actually quite a bit. Still.


No American president has gone to lobby for the Olympics before. But then no American president had gone on the David Letterman show before. No president had ever made a speech in Cairo before. No president had ever been called a liar by a U.S. representative during a speech to Congress. No president had ever been accused of “following Marxist theory” by Andy Williams, the pop singer we haven’t heard from since “Moon River” was in vogue.


There was a time when no head of state would even consider running off to beg members of the unpredictable, quirky and occasionally bribable Olympics committee for their votes. But these days, you can’t beat them off with a stick. The president of Brazil, who is popularly known as “Lula” is there, as is the prime minister of Japan, who is popularly known as “the new guy.”


The city of Madrid is the fourth contender for the 2016 Summer Games, reportedly trailing behind Chicago, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo. So Spain is just sending the king, who is popularly known as “Your Highness.”


There are downsides to Obama’s decision to race off to Copenhagen, none of them involving failure to make the country safe.


One is that it might actually not make sense for Chicago to spend tons of money to win the right to stuff the city with new places to throw a javelin.


Chicagoans seem about evenly divided on whether hosting the Olympics would actually be a good thing, although they are overwhelmingly certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that they do not want to be on the hook for cost overruns. Which their City Council, nonetheless, voted unanimously to guarantee.


But the White House is full of people who love Chicago and want to see it shine on a world stage. You can just hear them telling each other that it’s easy to come up with reasons not to try, but where did that ever get anyone? Seize the day! Beat Rio!


“I’m going after you in Copenhagen,” Michelle Obama told the wife of the Brazilian president.


This was said in good humor at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, a well-known venue for joshing.


What if Obama goes to Denmark and Chicago loses anyway? Let’s hope the White House has been guaranteed that the fix is in. If you’re going to waste the administrative momentum on a big gamble, it really ought to be to slow global warming or to reform Wall Street, not to make sure the 2016 triathlon champion wins his medal in Illinois.


The worst downside about Obama’s trip to Denmark is that even though the Republicans’ complaints are spurious, he did say the other day that he couldn’t go because he was too busy “making real the promise of quality, affordable health care for every American.”


His new confidence that it’s all right to leave suggests that maybe the president feels as though the promise got real when the Senate Finance Committee began pummeling a bill into exactly the shape desired by lawmakers who represent large and representative states like North Dakota and Montana and Maine.


If so, this whole scenario is very depressing. I prefer to think that Obama suddenly agreed to go to Denmark not because Chicago couldn’t win without him, but because he just needed a short break from thinking about Max Baucus.


Nicholas D. Kristof is off today.








WE awoke on Tuesday morning to the house shaking. Earthquakes in this part of the world usually last for a minute or two. But this time the house shook for five minutes. The children and I left our beds and ran outside to the clearing in front of our house, where our neighbors had already gathered. Then just as suddenly as it had started, everything became quiet, and we went back inside.


I packed up my three boys and drove them to school. Just after I’d dropped them at the gate and was heading to my office, I turned on the radio. The announcer was talking about cars floating like toys in the parking lot of the Pago Plaza shopping center and warned that the tsunami’s second and third waves were expected to hit us on Tutuila Island in less than an hour’s time. Instinctively, I swung the car back toward the school. I just wanted to get to my children.


The road was jammed with traffic and, at the school, frantic parents were calling out their children’s names. Teachers urged us to remain calm. Mr. Moi, the principal, was also encouraging everyone not to panic. Our children, he said, had been evacuated to the highest point on the school grounds, and we could pick them up there.


On my way, I heard hymns. Some children were singing, while others were praying and crying. It was quite a sight. I saw one of my sons and told him to go look for his brothers while I did the same. After 15 minutes he ran to me and said everyone was at the car, and I quickly ran there, too.


My 10-year-old was in tears. “Mom, I don’t want to die,” was how he greeted me. My only thought was to drive to the highest accessible point on Tutuila — the village of Aoloau. The drive up, usually 5 minutes, took 20; it seemed everyone was heading there. We stayed in Aoloau for three hours, listening on the car radio to updates on the rising death toll. We heard reports from the neighboring nation of Samoa, the damage that the tsunami had done to the villages of Falelatai, Lalomanu and Aleipata. People had died. People were missing. Two radio stations had been lost. The only one still transmitting was the religious station. We listened to prayers as we watched waves gathering momentum below in the distance.


Meanwhile, people living across the street from where we and many others were gathered outside our cars brought coffee and bottled water, and soda for the children. At one point, we heard bells ringing from down the mountain. We didn’t know what it meant — maybe another death.


I decided to return home. It was becoming too chaotic where we were, and the exhaust from cars and trucks climbing the hill was choking. We had to drive higher to turn the car around. As we climbed, I was amazed by the hundreds and hundreds of people atop Aoloau — this island’s entire population of 62,000, it seemed. As we descended, a tremendous amount of traffic was still on its way up.


Our house is at least six miles from the coast, and I decided we would be safe there. We got home around 11 a.m. We ate breakfast, then took a nap; I wanted the children to be as calm as possible. When we woke at around 3, my sister had made lunch. She told us the death toll on our island had climbed to 14. Half an hour later, that number became 22. And many more were injured. The deaths were mostly in the coastal areas.


The photos posted online were overwhelming. Villages lay devastated. Cars had been washed into buildings, boats onto roads. And water was everywhere. On the main road in Fagatogo, the post office was flooded.


By 6 p.m., everything was still. No wind moved the trees. I responded to e-mail messages from friends in New Zealand, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Michigan — an outpouring of concern for our island. I heard the bells ring for evening prayer. Our prayer was one of gratitude that our family and neighbors were safe. But our hearts were with — are still with — those who cannot say the same, who would sleep for the first time that night without a son, a daughter, a mother, a father, an uncle, an aunt, a cousin. Their loss is our loss.


My cousin named Samoa, in Modesto, Calif., contacted me on Facebook to ask if I would pick up Opi, his 64-year-old father, who lives on the mountain above the coastal village of Leone, and bring him to my house. So I loaded the children into the car and drove over there. But Opi could not think of leaving his beloved Leone. I listened intently as he told the story of his day.


Opi starts every morning by walking through the village. “The quake hit as I was stretching at the gas station,” he said. “I warned Noelle to lock up and leave as soon as she could. I knew there would be big waves because the quake shook for a good five to six minutes.” As he left Noelle’s store, he waved to four old women weaving mats in a small fale — a Samoan thatched-roof shelter — across the street. “Go home!” he told them. “There’s going to be a wave coming soon.” But the old women just laughed and called out: “Have faith, Opi! God is good!”


When he got up to his house, he heard a crash, as if something had fallen from the sky. Looking down toward the village, he saw the gigantic wave advancing onto the land. He ran toward the fale to get to the four women. But as he passed the dispensary, he realized how strong the wave was, and knew that no matter how fast he ran, they would not be there.


“Still, I couldn’t stop running,” Opi said. “I just wanted to see them one more time. These women are always there at the fale. Every morning I do my rounds of the village, they are always there. Waving at me and I wave back at them.”


Before he even reached the village, the water was already up to his waist. “I knew the fate of those women,” he said. “I just wish I could have done something more. I could have gone over to them and taken them away from the fale with me in the first place. But the waves hit so fast. One minute I was waving at those old women and the next minute, they were gone.”


I asked Opi if he wanted to come with us. “No, this is where I belong,” he said. “I need to be here. There’s so much to do down here tomorrow.”


Opi then hugged us all and told us to return home. But the boys wanted to see Leone. So we took a drive down to the village. The first thing that hit us was the stench of mud. Then, we could see the devastation: cars stuffed in houses, buildings broken in half and filled with debris. The post office there was in ruins. All the houses along the coast were flattened by debris. “And I saw a shoe that must have belonged to a baby, Mom,” said one of my sons.


We noticed people from the Department of Public Works and the American Samoa Power Authority working to fix the bridge connecting Leone to the villages on the western side of Tutuila. They waved at us and told us to drive carefully. We waved back and thanked them for working so late.


On the radio, we heard one public service announcement after another. All schools were closed till further notice. Electricity was out for the night in some villages. Meetings were canceled.


We got home at 9 p.m. By 11, the children were all asleep. The neighbors’ lights were out. The dogs were quiet. The land was quiet. The trees breathed peace into our dreams.


Sia Figiel, the author of the novel “Where We Once Belonged,” is an educational officer for the Congressional delegate from American Samoa.











The prime minister has placed Kashmir at the centre of the issue of Pak-India relations. He has said that good relations with India depend on a solution to the Kashmir issue and that without this peace in the region is not possible. It is significant that Mr Gilani made his remarks in Gilgit, an area whose future has long been tied to that of Kashmir. The matter of whether or not Kashmir should be tackled as part of the Indo-Pak talks process has been debated for years. One school of thought, made up primarily of the doves on either side, thinks it important to move ahead on other fronts instead of tackling an issue that has remained intractable for more than six decades. It argues that friendlier ties and confidence-building measures are essential to creating the more relaxed environment necessary before any progress can be made on Kashmir. The other school of thought holds that friendship is impossible unless the issue that has ignited two wars between the South Asian neighbours is tackled head on.

There are advantages and disadvantages in both views. But in an age where terrorism has emerged as our biggest enemy, the question of Kashmir takes on greater urgency. The link we see between elements in the establishment and militancy is tied in to Kashmir. Perhaps we would have been spared the crisis we face today had the attempts made many decades ago, when Pakistan was still in its infancy, to settle the matter succeeded. Of course they did not. The problems that originated in 1947 fester on. Today the need to settle the matters is greater than ever before. How this is to be done is a question we cannot instantly answer. Like the story of the chicken and the egg it is impossible to say if CBMs are a pre-requisite to settle Kashmir or if they should wait till the core issue is resolved. There is no one answer. But we can say without hesitation that Kashmir's future needs to be settled so we can see greater peace in the region and an end to the militancy that is inspired, at least in part, by the tensions over that territory which have persisted for far too many years.







The unmanned aircraft, whose missions over our tribal areas are rarely acknowledged by the US, have rained down more death in at least two attacks in North and South Waziristan. Sixteen people are reported to have been killed – among them a number of foreign militants. The target appears to have been a Taliban commander whose house was bombed. It is uncertain if he survived. The drone strikes reaffirm US policy. The intention clearly is to take out top-level targets and weaken the Taliban. Since the death, in August, of Baitullah Mehsud – the biggest success so far – there have been ten more drone attacks. Sixty-five militants are reported to have died in them. Over the past year it is estimated that at least 70 missile strikes have taken place. The number of militants killed in the same period is unknown, but some key leaders of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan are thought to be among those felled. Unfortunately other victims include women and children, whose only crime was to have been living in Waziristan and to have been present in the wrong place at the wrong time.

These deaths are a tragedy. That term, 'collateral damage', phrased by the Americans, continues to disguise the horror of conflict. The extent of the suffering the war in our northern areas has inflicted on ordinary people is still poorly understood. Their tales have not been told. They remain, at best, statistics rather than human beings hit in a terrible way by a war not of their own making. But the fact also is that the drone strikes have acted to take out key figures. Many of them have obviously been based on immaculate intelligence information. The manner in which Baitullah was tracked down and killed is an example of this. We must also ask why our security forces failed, for so many years, to hit the militants as hard. The peace deals signed with them at periodic intervals obviously played a part in this. It must be noted the latest strikes have coincided with bombing raids over villages by PAF planes. Key militant hideouts are reported to have been hit. It is possible the US and Pakistan are working with each other to 'soften up' Waziristan before a full military operation there. There is anticipation that this will start soon. If the latest strikes signal joint action, this is good news as far as the battle against militancy goes.









The LHC has called the attorney general and chief election commissioner to appear before it in a case involving the Punjab government's petition to stay by-polls to four National and provincial assembly seats. The court also declined to stay the polls, scheduled for November 7 by the CEC, holding that the Election Commission was under no obligation to consult a provincial government when setting dates for polls. The Constitution lays down 60 days as the period within which the polls must be held after a seat falls vacant. The Punjab government, in a petition that surprised many of its own members given it is the ruling party in the province, has cited law and order as the reason for the request. Few are ready to believe this, for there is not much of a law and order problem in Rawalpindi and Lahore. What is more, the polls, with NA-55 in Rawalpindi and NA-123 in Lahore also up for grabs, offer a route for PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif to reach the National Assembly.

Sheikh Rashid, the doyen of 'Pindi politics who now intends to contest as a candidate of his own Awami Muslim League, claims his arch rivals, the Sharifs, want to keep him out of the lower house. Rashid had suffered heavy defeat in the 2008 poll. Despite this his standing in his home city makes him a tough rival. This though is unlikely to be the key reason for the PML-N move. The PPP-decision to put up candidates on all seats, thus threatening the unstable alliance, is being seen as one clue to the curious decision. The delay could enable talks to be held. Others insist the PML-N is simply eager to avoid losing seats and weakening its own standing. But the poll issue has re-focussed attention on Punjab and the tense political situation there, with coalition partners now at odds and the governor locked in further conflict with the CM.









The raging debate in the US whether or not to send more troops to Afghanistan is eerily reminiscent of how almost 50 years ago the military bureaucrat General Westmoreland kept asking for more US troops for the Vietnam quagmire. The huge difference between Vietnam and Afghanistan with respect to terrain and ideological motivation notwithstanding, the basic theme of the insurrection remains the same -- an armed struggle against a weak and corrupt government propped up by foreign troops. The far more pragmatic Stanley McChrystal, with years of combat experience in special operations, is many cuts professionally above Westmoreland.

This article quotes key excerpts from McChrystal's initial assessment as Commander, US and NATO allied military forces in Afghanistan. “Our strategy cannot be focused on seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces; our objective must be the population. In the struggle to gain the support of the people, every action we take must enable this effort. The population also represents a powerful actor that can and must be leveraged in this complex system. Gaining their support will require a better understanding of the people's choices and needs". Success will depend upon this theory (also expounded in Vietnam) being converted into reality on the ground.

"The fight is not an annual cyclical campaign of kinetics driven by an insurgent "fighting season." Rather, it is a year-round struggle, often conducted with little apparent violence, to win the support of the people. First, to protect the population from insurgent coercion and intimidation demands a persistent presence and focus that cannot be interrupted without risking serious setback. Second, and more importantly, we face both a short and long-term fight. The long-term fight will require patience and commitment, the short-term fight will be decisive," said McChrystal.

The US and NATO commander emphasises that "the conflict in Afghanistan is a war of ideas and perceptions, perceptions generally derived from actions and real conditions, for example by the provision or a lack of security, governance, and economic opportunity. The people of Afghanistan represent many things in this conflict -- an audience, an actor, and a source of leverage -- but above all, they are the objective. The population can also be a source of strength and intelligence and provide resistance to the insurgency. Alternatively, they can often change sides and provide tacit or real support to the insurgents. Communities make deliberate choices to resist, support or allow insurgent influence. The reasons for these choices must be better understood." The report does not address the root problems at ground zero of the insurgency, endemic unemployment and poverty. A visionary approach is required for massive economic infusion to make the area on both sides of the Durand Line, particularly FATA, into one of economic resurgence.

The report addresses corruption and abuse of power but it does not give it the primary weightage it should. Karzai and his lot should not remain in power even a day. Abdullah would probably be worse. The many excesses of the Taliban era notwithstanding, they successfully eliminated criminal networks, narcotics and corruption. In the eight years since the Talibaan were deposed in November 2001, "criminality has contributed to a pervasive sense of insecurity among the people. Extensive smuggling diverts major revenues from the government and increases its susceptibility to insurgent penetration. A number of government officials are reportedly complicit in these activities at all levels, further undermining the government's credibility. The most significant aspect of the production and sale of opium and other narcotics has a corrosive and destabilising impact on corruption within the government. Narcotics activity also funds insurgent groups. The public perceives the ISAF complicit, with no appetite or capacity -- to correct the situation."

The general notes that "the government of Afghanistan and ISAF have both failed to focus on the weakness of state institutions, malignant actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials and ISAF's own errors have alienated large segments of the Afghan population. They do not trust the government to provide their essential needs such as security, justice, and basic services. This crisis of confidence, coupled with a distinct lack of economic and educational opportunity, has created fertile ground for the insurgency. The Quetta Shura Taliban's establishment of ombudsmen to investigate abuse of power in its own cadres and remove those found guilty capitalises on this government weakness and attracts popular support for their shadow government. A foreign army alone cannot beat an insurgency; the insurgency in Afghanistan requires an Afghan solution. Eventual success requires capable Afghan governance capabilities and security forces." Sensible words – but is this possible engaging the Taliban in dialogue?

Local and regional power brokers are current or former members of the government their financial independence and armed followers give them local autonomy, further hindering efforts to build a coherent Afghan state. Outright sadists like Rashid Dostum are war criminals who should be tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC). To quote, "their interests are directed to self and self alone, not aligned with either the interests of the Afghan people or the government, this leads to conflicts that offer opportunities for insurgent groups to exploit".

McChrystal (and the US) fail to really understand the extent to which Indian presence has alienated the Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He notes the support for the Taliban within Pakistan and by elements of the ISI. "The major insurgent groups in order of their threat to the mission are -- the Quetta Shura Taliban, Haqqani network, and Hizb-e-Islami Gulbuddin. These groups coordinate activities loosely, often achieving significant unity of purpose and even some unity of effort, but they do not share a formal command-and-control structure. Despite our best efforts, the insurgents currently have the initiative". McChrystal admits that the current Afghan government is perceived by Islamabad as pro-Indian: "their activities largely benefit the Afghan people but increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan or India."

Pakistan must be made strong economically, targetting FATA especially. The US must not continue to keep Pakistan "afloat only" and fiddle with the Indian card in continuation with the Bush policy. It will not only lose Afghanistan and maybe in the bargain Pakistan, but the whole region. Take the recurring success of the drone strikes in recent months; could these be possible without Pakistani hands on the controls? If anything, this should show, along with Swat, how the Pakistan Army is the world's best bet against terrorism. By increasing the funding and equipment to the army necessary for fighting both counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency within Pakistan, the US will win the war in Afghanistan.


The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder







In a way, Railways Minister Ghulam Mohammad Bilour of the ANP was right when he accused the chairman of the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, Mufti Muneebur Rehman, of being a remnant of the Musharraf regime. This may not apply personally, perhaps, but is certainly a valid political comment. The fact is that the Musharrafian period managed to subvert all the various concepts of democracy, praetorian-ism, liberalism, secularism and Islamism. Many of the ideological contradictions of that period, suppressed by the democracy of reconciliation that followed it, simply rose to the surface in the guise of the Eid moon-sighting controversy. The confrontation between Bilour and Mufti then became a manifestation of the various religious/political fractures and identity politics that now dominate the social fabric of Pakistan.

Mufti Muneeb exemplifies much of the dilemmas and tensions with reference to Pakistan's internal religious discourse and its relationship to the state. The ANP represents the kind of contradictory positions that left-of-centre secularists are yielding to on the issue of religion. This is spurred by the prevailing spirit of political compromise on one level and growing social conservatism on the other. Both parties here understand the tremendous power of religion and its bearing on their political relevance.

One cannot categorically rule out that the ANP did not deliberately provoke the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee as motivated by a political decision to challenge the nexus of federal centre/religious authority. It may have not been the best opportunity or event to take issue with. However, the Mufti's counter-accusation that the ANP is guilty of "politicising religion" and questioning the role of a secular party on religious matters is absolutely amazing. This is especially strange in a context where religious parties, actors and privatised religion have completely usurped the right to intrude in the public realm of politics and even challenge the state in some cases. In other words, it's all right for the religious right to Islamise politics, finance and personal matters, but not for secularists to buffer the role of religion or religious authorities in matters of state, culture or public interaction, including those between the majority and minorities, men and women.

Both the broadcast and print reports on this controversy have highlighted the nature of the contradictions that have left us hanging after General Musharraf and his cohorts imposed an artificial potpourri of political systems and a refocused religious identity on us. In one media debate, Mufti Muneeb took the Musharrafian stance that revealed the very essence of the struggle of Islam in relation to modernity and its (dis)contents. He despaired over the ANP's lack of deference to the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee (just as many despair of the lack of a cohesive stand amongst the Muslim Ummah), yet at the same time he was incensed at the ANP's claim of following the Saudi decision to celebrate Eid a day earlier. The Mufti referred to respecting the Saudis but insisted that ours is a sovereign, democratic and independent state that must not defer to any authority outside of the nation-state. Hence the secularists are now using Saudi Arabia as an ideological reference point while the religious right is insisting on Pakistan's ideological independence from the seat of this same central authority that captures many Muslims' imagination.

The internal division within the religious right on many issues is clear. Unfortunately, the secularists too are guilty of not having worked out a deeper intellectual understanding of the model of secularism that they envision for Pakistan. Given our history, geography and diversity, this is not so improbable a task but requires more rigour from the supporters and representatives of secular politics.

The other interesting point of debate was over the ANP's accusation that the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee had no status in matters of the state. The Mufti responded by accusing the Pakistani state of having no writ on the ANP-ruled Peshawar on the issue of Eid day, let alone with regard to controlling the tribal areas. This is rich, given that neither the secularists nor the religious right raised any such objections when earlier this year, the government passed the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation. The NAR both relinquished the state's authority on matters of religion as well as signed away substantial legal writ in the NWFP. However, it is on the issue of Eid that the place of religion on state matters and the writ of the state become critical respective concerns for these two adversaries.

In a miscalculated application of the spirit of reconciliatory politics, the liberal ruling party continues to accommodate the religious right in all matters, including the repeal of discriminatory laws, such as the blasphemy law. The extrajudicial violence perpetrated under the cover of the blasphemy law challenges the writ of the state in a far more insidious manner than any arbitrary announcement of Eid. Yet, both issues apparently warrant equal remedies of setting up "committees" that will include the arguments of and "carry along," the religious right. How much do we bet which of these urgent issues will get resolved first, if at all?

Those who anguish over the inability of Pakistanis to celebrate Eid on a single day should weigh the relevance of symbolic matters such as how, when and where we worship. Instead, we need to reconsider the far more substantive matter of resolving the place, need and limits of the serious authority we wish to relinquish to the realm of religion, to men who dominate this arena and the influence it has over matters of the state. The Ruet-e-Hilal Committee vs. ANP controversy was neither trivial nor simple sensationalism. On the contrary, it embodied precisely the kind of competing and contradictory politics that need to be highlighted and debated. In this way, Pakistanis will understand better the role of institutions and become further politically aware of what we can do to influence them to the people's advantage, rather than the other way around.

The writer is a sociologist based in Karachi. She has a background in women's studies and has authored and edited several books on women's issues Email:










In my previous column I wrote about Pakistan as I remember it when I came in 1952. There are many more pleasant memories to reminisce on. In this article I would like to dwell on our stay in the Sher Shah area near the Lyari river. We all recently saw on TV and read in the papers about the riots and disturbances there as a result of gang warfare and the murder of Rehman Dakait who was hailed as a benefactor by the local poor community.

I have already mentioned that I came to Pakistan on August 14, 1952, via Khokhrapar, took a goods train from there to Karachi where I reached about 10 p.m. From there I took a tonga to Nazimabad where my elder sister and brother-in-law were living. The next day my two older brothers, Rauf and Quiyum (who were both in the police department), together with their friends, Saeed, Rais, Ehsan and cousin Inayat, came to see me. They took me to where they were living in Sher Shah. There were three large rooms in their building, each with its own small kitchen and bathroom. My brothers had one room, their friends, Ehsan, Eng Qayyum and cousin Inayat the second and the third was occupied by a Pathan family from Bhopal. Their son, Iqbal, was an old friend of ours from school days in Bhopal. A very friendly Sindhi lady, a widow, used to come in the morning, prepare dough mixed with butter and take it to the nearby tandoor to have the rotis baked. These fresh rotis we took for breakfast with tea before going our respective ways for the day. There were many Pathans, Sindhis, Makranis and a few refugees living in the area. An extremely cordial atmosphere reigned. In the evenings the Pathans would sit outside, play daf and sing "Bhayya Qurban, Bhayya Qurban". I can still hear their singing in my mind.

My special interest here is to tell you about the wonderful character of the Makrani people of the area at that time. They were in the majority; were tall of stature with short curly hair and dark complexion. They looked very similar to Bedouins and were probably descendants of the Arabs who came to this area centuries ago with the Muslim armies. They were an extremely jolly people, with shiny eyes and smiling faces. Most of the men worked at Keamari port, as guards at cinema houses or plied donkey carts for the transportation of goods. Those of us who have seen their donkeys have not failed to notice how healthy these are and how well they are treated. There seems to be an understanding between owner and donkey and this is apparent in every behaviour. I noticed at the time that they would stop work punctually at 4 p.m., return home to rest for a short while and then take their donkeys to a place near our building and let them roll in the sand. After this they would brush them down, often hugging and kissing them in the process. Never once did I see a Makrani mistreating his donkey. They used to carry an old cigarette tin in which they had collected a few pebbles. When they wanted the donkey to speed up, they would simply shake this tin, making a rattling sound. The donkey understood what was required and would trot or gallop. They also held donkey cart races on Sunday mornings from Khaliq Dina Hall to Keamari. The donkeys were decorated with colourful beads and garlands for the occasion. It came as a shock to me when I saw some of the painfully cruel behaviour meted out to donkeys, ponies and horses in this part of the country. They are beaten with long sticks, made to pull overloaded carts and work long hours, often with open sores. When they get old or sick, they are simply left somewhere out in the open to suffer and die.

One of the things I vividly remember is a moving moment that occurred in Lyari. We used to walk to Chaikiwara and catch a bus to Nazimabad from there. One day I took the bus and after only a short drive, when we reached Miran Muhammad Shah area, the driver suddenly stopped. He raised both hands, smiled and said: "Aray bheran (oh brother), what you think you are doing – taking a stroll in your garden?" I got up to see to whom he was talking and saw not a person but a kitten sitting in the middle of the road. The driver actually got down from the bus, carefully picked up the kitten with both hands and softly put it down on the footpath. After that we went on our way. I will never forget this show of kindness to one of God's creatures.

Contrast this to the two following painful episodes that happened in our area upcountry. Once, when I was on my way to Kahuta and after having passed the airport crossing, I saw a truck in front of me frantically swerving from left to right. I thought that something had gone wrong with his truck and he was losing control. Nothing of the kind! A mongoose was trying to cross the road and the driver was trying to run it over with his truck. Just how cruel does one have to be to unnecessarily extinguish a life! The second episode relates to the unnecessary killing of a beautiful dove. Again on my way to Kahuta (I took that road every day) I used to regularly see a pair of beautiful doves pecking grain by the side of the road near Aliot. I was so used to seeing them there that I would look forward to passing by. One day when we were near the spot I saw the car in front of us swerve suddenly to the side, hitting one of the doves and killing it. I can't describe the pain I felt. Why intentionally kill an innocent bird? It still hurts me to think of it. Doves, parrots, etc. mate for life. If one partner dies, very often the other dies too.

We lived at Sher Shah for about a year. It was considered a poor suburb of Karachi, but it was peaceful and the people were extremely friendly, jolly and helpful to each other. The Makranis were very fond of dates and one could find date stall everywhere. Whenever there was a plague of locusts, they would catch them, fry them by the side of the road and then sell them. I tried one once and found it to be quite tasty. Almost every evening you could find elderly ladies sitting by the side of the road frying small fish, just like they do in Chad, Mali, Niger, Sudan, etc. The smell alone was enough to tempt. Very often, on my way back from college, I would buy some. Though small, they were very tasty.

Makrani children are extremely cute (all small children are, but these were cute in a different way). They looked very much like African pikaninis with dark curly hair and shiny eyes. They were very playful and loved practical jokes. Near where we lived there was a depression in the road in which rainwater would collect. One day, after it had rained, our friend Ehsan was passing by on his bicycle while I was at the same place, but in a tonga. I saw Ehsan gain speed and raise his feet in anticipation of riding through the puddle. Once he was in the middle of the puddle, a Makrani boy ran out and caught the bicycle from behind, causing Ehsan to fall off right into the middle of the puddle. He ran away laughing. Ehsan was not angry, recognising it for what it was – a harmless prank.

These children were also very fond of playing football, which they were good at. Some of them even went on to represent Pakistan in international events. It was a pity that we did not have the facilities to groom this talent to the full.

Look now and see what this nice area and these friendly people have become. Is it their fault or have they been let down by successive governments and been forced to become terrorists, killers, kidnappers, etc.? How sad!







It is a big achievement of Education Policy 2009 that it acknowledges and lays the ground for early childhood education (ECE). The policy commits to an age-appropriate learning provision to children of three to five years. By focusing on this age group, we will not only be creating school-preparedness but also curtailing the dropouts rate in earlier grades. In ignoring three- to five-year- olds we have been losing 40 percent of children enrolled in public schools in grades one and two.

Early childhood is the most rapid period of development in life. The formative growth of the brain, before birth and during childhood, is fundamental to the physical, cognitive and emotional development of an individual. The brain at birth weighs only about 25 percents of its eventual adult weight of 1.5 kg. Amazingly it reaches nearly 90 percent of that weight in only three years. By age six, it is almost adult size. Also synapses are created with astonishing speed in the first three years of life. For the rest of the first decade, children's brains have twice as many synapses as adult brains. The personality of a child is formed by age six or seven. The absence of a stimulating environment for a young child robs the brain of optimal brain development.

The early years of a child's life provide the foundation for development of lifelong skills and all subsequent learning. Good health, a safe and nurturing environment and the right kind of mental stimulations give a child a strong framework for growth and helps ensure successes at school, at work and in society. International experience suggests that early interventions provide a unique opportunity to avoid future learning problems.

High-quality early childhood education programmes have significant benefits. The major conclusion of the "Perry Preschool Research Study," for example, was that high-quality preschool programmes for disadvantaged young children contribute to their intellectual and social development in childhood and to their school success, and reduced commission of crime in adulthood. Scientific research shows that early childhood interventions are less costly and more effective compared to later interventions in education, that they lead to higher intelligence scores, higher and timelier school enrolment, lower dropout rates, higher school completion rates, improved parent-child relationships, improved social and emotional behaviour, increased earning potential, and economic self- sufficiency in adulthood.

The challenge is of a frightening magnitude. Approximately 30 percent of Pakistan's total population is below the age of nine. We have 24 million children below the age of six. Of these one-third will never see a school in any case, and those who enrol will mostly drop out. Without the basic stimulation and nutrition, many poor children enter school not ready to learn. These children will do poorly at school and eventually drop out, even at the workforce they would be earning the lowest wages.

What would be the next steps once we have recognition of the needs of this age group, as some of the concerns are that there is no access to early childhood education opportunities for the diverse sections of the country in schools or in communities? Due to poverty and lack of access to basic social services, a majority of children under five years of age are suffering from malnutrition, poor health and lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. Coordination of this age-appropriate intervention with other related departments and ministries, such as health, is required as this age group needs nutritional supplements and mothers need to be made aware of immunisation.

Active citizenship along with a strong national will is imperative, as the government alone is clearly ill-equipped to undertake the task. We need to take up advocacy at the national level, and bring together a group of experienced institutions to work together. It is a very specialised field and children learn through interactive child-centred style, rather then academics. Innovation is required and a clear understanding of economic disparities and heterogeneous population has to be kept in mind. For the country a three-pronged plan will work and that being the urban centres where there are functional schools will be supplemented, peri-urban areas and community where this intervention will be undertaken by trusted and committed mothers from within the community and can become an income generating venture for them as well. Basically for the rural areas the implementation would be based on a non-formal model.

Governance and standardisation of the specialised area is also important. Both the public and private sectors lack the expertise to plan, implement and monitor ECE programmes. No serious research has been undertaken in the country on the age group. Teachers, community workers and mothers trained in accordance with the national curriculum are needed to help young children acquire the crucial competencies-social emotional physical and cognitive to lay foundation for academic learning with out over emphasising academics before children are ready for formal learning, relevant methodology, age-appropriate learning equipment to meet individual learning needs, parental involvement and provision of infrastructure are all important. Financing will be key as well, as the government at this point is not able to fulfil its commitments due to shortage of funds.

It is all workable and we owe it to Pakistan and its children to provide a better chance for attacking the worst effects of illiteracy and poverty and breaking the vicious cycle of perpetuation of poverty. The task is challenging in the absence of institutional support systems and at the household level we don't have literate parents to support such understanding and push for change. It is very much a take-it-or-leave-it situation and if you leave it, it is clear that the 24 million under-six poor and illiterate children will be determining the future of Pakistan, rather then a shrinking educated elite.

The writer is founding-director of Children's Global Network Pakistan. Email:










The question of what makes news is one that is becoming increasingly relevant. Every day, we are assaulted by TV talk shows and hosts who claim to put issues before us. In many ways these shows, which have huge viewership, set the agenda for what is discussed and debated at various places.

They have as such drawn out the framework for what people see as 'politics'. They have also, without hesitation, offered to dubious former intelligence men and others the platform from which they have made their recent series of disclosures – allowing them to serve whatever purpose motivated them to emerge en masse. In the past, similar space has been offered to pro-Taliban clerics and to others who see little evil in violence.

Through the month of Ramazan many of the major shows have projected the cause of charities of all kinds. This was obviously intended as a social service – and it has had the positive effect of drawing attention to the illiterate, the sick, the blind, the disabled and the destitute who exist on the fringes of our society. Donations have poured in to the many organizations that do such an excellent job of helping those in need.

But somewhere an important message was ignored. The state of Pakistan must assume more responsibility for the plight of its citizens and divert funds to tackle the hunger and deprivation that exists everywhere. This, in many ways, is an even bigger issue than that of political alliances or the tensions between different wings of government that we hear about daily, often from guests who hustle from one studio to the next.

The link between poor governance and the situation of people has yet to be made. In many ways the media serves the interest of an incompetent government by failing to take up these critical issues and thus allowing it to avoid making these a priority, though of course this should not be an excuse to the indifference that we see to the worsening plight of people.

In recent months we have seen multiple stories about parents forced by poverty to sell children. There were accounts ahead of Eid of fathers who, faced with an inability to buy new clothes or shoes or even food, killed themselves, and sometimes their families as well. These reports hardly ever make it beyond the single column item, placed well beyond the outer pages. Misery is not on the media agenda. As a result the volume of despair grows. So too does the gap between people and a state that has been unable to fulfil its most basic responsibilities to them.

Scattered around the Internet and buried in reports from different agencies are the figures that testify to the situation we live in. Levels of hunger are 'alarming', significantly higher than those in most South Asian countries and matching levels in Sub-Saharan Africa. Child malnutrition is rampant. More than 33 per cent of a population that has continued to grow with little check live below the poverty line. Millions of others hover close to this mark. Almost a half of this sea of people is illiterate.

A person somewhere in the country goes blind every minute, often because they lack the means to seek help. Many others die from preventable disease. Campaigns such as that to contain polio have suffered severe setbacks due to mismanagement. These issues rarely make news.

Neither do many others. The loss of parks in congested cities such as Karachi, the blatant chopping down of trees in Lahore to make way for plazas such as those that have crept up along M M Alam Road, the poisoning of land due to indiscriminate pesticide use, the means used to increase milk production by injecting animals with hormones or the steroids used to expand the volume of meat obtained from poultry or cattle are matters that are routinely relegated to 'feature' pages and magazines. Journalists are trained to treat these as 'soft' news, unfit to make news pages.

There is a kind of macho pride involved in insisting that the existing divide between 'hardcore news' and 'social problems' must be retained. The inches on front pages are reserved almost invariably for statements, speeches and reports that focus on the chaotic political happenings that unfold daily. The question of how meaningful these are to the lives of people has not been sufficiently explored. But losing tree cover or forcing people to consume food that is effectively poisoned directly effects the quality of life of almost everyone. It is for this reason that such issues have increasingly stolen away space from the politicians in many countries. In India, the strident efforts by some sections of the media to take up issues of the environment and of pollution have played a part in the ushering in of new legislation.

Today, around the world and at home too, the role of the print media – particularly of daily newspapers – is being questioned. In a time of 'instant' news from the TV channels and over the Internet, few wait for the papers to land on their doorstep to read about the latest bomb blast or the contents of political speeches. Research also shows that globally more and more readers are accessing papers over the Internet, leading to debate over whether they should be made to pay for these services. The attempt by newspapers to go in for more in-depth reporting – even though this can lead to sensationalism in some cases – indicates some awareness of a changed environment. But perhaps they need to think of more rapid evolution to survive in it and create a distinct niche for themselves. This has happened in many places around the world. One route is to set new agendas as to what constitutes news and how people's lives are affected by events of all kinds that take place around them.

For editors and journalists, this is a challenge. Breaking away from the established norm is never easy. Media interests are increasingly tied in with political and commercial ones. But in times of recession bold tactics are necessary. The print media – freed by the 24-hour news channels from its traditional responsibility of delivering news and doing so ahead of its competitors -- can chalk out a new path. It has been offered a new liberty it must take advantage of. By doing so it may find it has served the interests of people and itself, ending the uniformity we see on most channels and widening the notion of what constitutes news in a nation beset with many problems and challenges.








I was on my way to Gwadar from Turbat when I heard news of the brutal murder of Rasool Buksh Mengal, a Baloch nationalist leader, who was abducted from the small town of Uthal and tortured to death allegedly by the security agencies. I could feel the agony and distress of my Baloch friends who took the risk of escorting me on a trip to Gwadar involving inter-city road travel, passing through populated areas and bazaars and meeting local intelligentsia. These were highly vulnerable conditions for all of us. There was a call for a shutter-down strike in the whole of Balochistan. The next day, we kept receiving information and anecdotes about the strike in various parts of the province on our cellphones. Again, there was agitation and arrests. The Baloch are not treated as equal citizens – instead, they are being betrayed and insulted by omnipotent Pakistani establishment for the last 62 years.

What the federation has offered to Balochistan in the last so many years is extreme poverty and hunger accompanied by successive military operations and police interventions in the name of restoring law and order, and disappearances of political activists and killing of tribesmen who ask for their legitimate rights. Besides this, the province just has one university and medical college for the whole province, few equipped hospitals and abysmal municipal services. The reason usually cited by the civil and military establishment and the inefficient and fragile political governments at the centre is the prevalence of the sardari system which hinders development. One may ask what development has been achieved in the areas of the loyal sardars who have been at the beck and call of the establishment?

Gwadar port's strategic and economic value has never been in doubt. But subsequent developments on this project without any participation of local population have left the Baloch people bitter. The master plan of Gwadar port, the city and military base adjoining it, has never been discussed in Balochistan's provincial assembly. Gwadar city turned out to be a major land grab for investors. The Baloch protested against this move as they think that the massive influx would once again deprive them of a share in opportunities.

Rightly so, the Baloch hold Islamabad and the power centres of Punjab responsible for their sufferings. Silence from the rest of Pakistan on such uneven development and injustice proves that we have not learnt anything from our past. Instead of realising the gravity of the Balochistan issue and trying to reconcile with our Baloch brothers and sisters, the claim of Punjab government on the NFC award that it is getting less than its due share is beyond any norms of civility. We are fast approaching the point of no return. The end of military interventions in the province and pulling out of the army is the essential first step.


The writer is a human-rights activist based in Lahore. Email:








THOUGH India is entrenching itself to strengthen its illegal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir yet the world, by and large, has now realized the grave implications of the issue for regional and global peace. The international community is gradually appreciating that there can be no sustainable peace in South Asia without resolution of the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir.

Two major developments confirm that the world community was concerned about the issue that has made regional peace and progress its hostage. Chinese Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Hu Zhengyue has urged India and Pakistan to seek a solution to the Kashmir issue through peaceful and friendly consultations and offered to play a ‘constructive role’ in resolving the dispute. And in a related development, the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) has regretted Indian pause on dialogue with Pakistan and called for early resolution of the long-standing problem. It was also a coincidence that during his maiden visit to Gilgit, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani told India in clear-cut terms that there can’t be any normalization of relations and peace in the region without settlement of the Kashmir dispute. All these are significant developments as they come in the backdrop of intensified Indian campaign to hoodwink the international public opinion by portraying the legitimate freedom struggle of the Kashmiri people as terrorism and physically eliminate Kashmiris in a systematic manner. There was also a recent report that India was planning to follow the footstep of Israel in establishing settlements of Hindus in Kashmir with a view to changing its demographic composition. It is also an open secret that India was constructing dozens of medium and large size dams as part of its long-term strategy to choke Pakistan’s share of water under the Indus Basin Water Treaty. Indian designs are a prescription for continued trouble in the region and that is why the international community was expressing concern over non-resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Beijing’s offer for mediation is important in that China is neighbour of both India and Pakistan and has genuine stakes in regional peace and stability. It is also important because failure of the talks is a clear testimony to the fact that bilaterally the two countries were unable to make any progress towards resolution of the core issue. We hope that other world powers especially the United States and Britain as well as the UN would also play their role in this regard.









AMERICAN plan has started unfolding with confirmation by Ambassador Anne W Patterson that the Taliban militant group’s leadership council, dubbed in Washington as Quetta Shura, was now high on the Obama administration’s agenda. She told Washington Post that in the past, we (the US) focused on Al-Qaeda because they were a threat to us. The Quetta Shura mattered less to us because we had no troops in the region”.

In fact, what Patterson has said was already formalized in the Kerry-Lugar Bill wherein Quetta and Muridke have specifically been mentioned as bases of militants requiring Pakistan to take action to dismantle them. There was also an intelligence leak expressing intention of the US administration to allow bombing of Quetta. There has been no clarification of the report and instead Patterson’s statement confirms existence of such a nefarious plan. It was in this perspective that Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani thought it appropriate to declare unequivocally that the US drone attacks would not be allowed in Balochistan. In our view, General Kayani has done well by conveying this to the US during meeting of Tripartite Commission in Kabul, as this reflects the mood and anger of the nation. However, we firmly believe that mere statements would not suffice as Americans have been violating Pakistan’s sovereignty by launching continued missile and drone attacks in FATA despite appeals by Pakistani leadership against such a provocative approach to a complex issue. We would suggest that both the civil/political and military leadership should carry out in-depth exercises to assess fuller implications of such an eventuality and firm up a response in line with national dignity and honour. It is also responsibility of the political leadership to mobilize local and international public opinion against such aggressive and nefarious designs.








THE State Bank in its Monetary Policy for October-November has kept the key interest rate unchanged at 13 per cent causing dismay among large borrowers. Though economists and analysts had expected that there would be no change in the discount rate, which was cut by one per cent in August, yet the business community believes that it is extremely on the high side and discourages fresh investments.

There is no doubt that the interest rate in Pakistan is highest in the region and after fall in inflation to 10.7 per cent in August from an all time high of 25% about six months back, the Central Bank failed to explain the reasons for not bringing down the interest rate which plays a key role in economic activity. It was because of the high interest rate that investments by scheduled banks declined significantly and so their profits. Higher interest rate, increasing energy tariff and unfavourable international environment because of recession impacted negatively the industrial sector. As a result the industrial production continues to decline while the local markets are flooded with foreign goods at the cost of local products. It is because of an unfavourable environment that non textile goods export fell by 19 per cent while 41% decline in oil import bill is an indicator that energy consumption is going down meaning that either the industries were closing down or cutting their production. This is an alarming situation because it will lead to cuts in jobs, increase the level of unemployed manpower and raise the poverty level. Therefore it is high time that the State Bank must devise a strategy to bring down the interest rate to single digit, that we witnessed when Dr Ishrat Hussain was heading it and thus create an enabling environment for investment and boosting industrial production. Higher production would not only increase our exports but also contribute in further bringing down the inflation. At the same time the commercial banks should devise attractive loan packages and extend loans to only sound parties. Negative private sector credit off take is the root cause of weak performance by the banking sector and increase in lending would compensate for low interest rate and contribute significantly in revival of the economy.









One excruciating offshoot of the awesome “composite dialogue” process between Pakistan and India (now comatose?) was that all and sundry jumped into the fray to put in their two pennies’ worth. A cursory glance at the Op-ed pages of the national press of the past few years would make it abundantly clear that even those who hardly have had a nodding acquaintance with India-Pakistan affairs have been gleefully grabbing the opportunity to pen weighty articles evaluating the “options”. The snag was that the whole issue has been so horribly muddled up as a consequence that the proverbial man in the street knows not whether he is coming or going.

What about the quest for peace, to take just one instance? The good old dictionary defines peace as “a state of quiet or tranquility; freedom from or cessation of war or hostilities; absence of civil disturbance or agitation”. Definition-wise, then, peace is a “good thing” per se. It should also be a desirable goal to pursue and - if one is not accused of gilding the lily - a consummation devoutly to be desired. All right-thinking people would – or at least should - agree that peace between neighboring states in general and, nearer home, between Pakistan and India, in particular, is a circumstance well worth striving for. Quest for peace between India and Pakistan is, thus, wholly unexceptionable. Wars between states have solved nothing in the past, nor can they be expected to do better in the future. Having stated this for the record, one must move on to the essential caveat that love for peace - though a good thing in itself - nevertheless should, under no circumstances, be permitted to put a State in such tight a corner that it perceives no option but to jettison its sacred principles and/or national interest in the process. This said, now to the free-for-all debate that has been going on in the national media mostly through the efforts of our so-called liberal intellectuals. The point that needs to be made – and stressed – is that, in order that for peace to be lasting and irreversible, it must not only be honorable but also fair and equitable.

Merely reaching out for an elusive peace without weighing the attendant consequences would be akin to trying to race a cart with square wheels. Many of our peaceniks, in their ebullient enthusiasm, have exhibited a regrettable tendency to advocate a policy of sacrificing all sacred principles at the altar of what they perceive to be the “peace process”. In so doing, they were blatantly guilty of getting their priorities all muddled up. For one thing, they conveniently ignore the dictum that a fair settlement of issues is the stepping stone to peace, rather than the other way round. They also forget the dictum that platitudes can never be a viable substitute for good sense. A mere “declaration of intent”, let it be said, has no substance on its own unless and until it is backed up by tangible evidence of its essential ingredients. Let our armchair intellectuals chew a bit on the outcome of the New York meetings in this light.

And now to the essential prerequisites of what can be loosely termed as the peace process. The first would be: mutual trust and confidence. There can be no hope for real peace if one side is bent upon playing games and scoring debating points at the expense of the other. Another essential would be the prior tackling and elimination betimes of the root causes of tension. With these two out of the way, one would, then, have some justification to reach out for the ephemeral concept known as peace. What all this adds up to is the truism that unless and until the disease itself is identified and tackled, mere suppression of superficial symptoms is of no consequence whatever. An “interim peace” – which so many peaceniks had no hesitation in advocating – is bound to turn out to be worse than no peace at all.

Another imperative is to ensure that a proper sequence of events be maintained in the order that the situation demands. In the particular case of the India- Pakistan peace process, for instance, it would have been preferable if the root causes of tension had been tackled first before going in for the so-called Confidence Building Measures. In actual fact, what was witnessed in the “composite dialogue” was basically akin to a situation in which an impatient surgeon commences cosmetic surgery on the patient, without waiting for the festering sores to heal first. The Confidence Building Measures - that were so extolled by peaceniks - represented no more than piddling attempts to paper-over the ever- widening cracks in the crumbling edifice. In simple terms, all it amounted to was, in effect, ineffectual camouflage of festering sores with the help of surgical plaster.

Peace, it must also be recognized, can never be brought about piecemeal. Either it comes as a package or it does not come at all. Those who advocate that one side continue to swallow sugarcoated bitter pills one by one, “to serve the cause of peace”, are not doing the so-called peace-process any good. In order to make the process credible and credit-worthy, it is essential for each side to put its shoulder to the wheel, as it were. Nothing would do the exercise greater harm than a situation in which one of the two sides so obviously plays out a charade, merely to gain time. Such tactics may have paid dividends in the days gone by. In the New World Order, the stakes are just too high to be trifled with. Now for a reality check! Recognizing that things having reached something of an impasse, what needs must be done to salvage what remains of the peace process? Is the situation at all redeemable? It is never too late to turn things round, provided always that political will is not lacking. Needless to say, both sides would need to demonstrate an unvarnished commitment to peace. What we don’t need is what in this age of cybernetics may be called “virtual peace”. This latter concept would lead the two sides nowhere.

The Indian tendency to play ducks and drakes with the process need not be taken too seriously. In any case, with the overflowing of the CBM basket, the senior officials’ channel has since outlived whatever usefulness it had. It is the second (back) channel that had at one time generated some hope. This channel – going by the information leaked out to the press- appears to have bounced like a dud cheque. The development that the Indian Minister of External Affairs has read its (back channel’s) last rights is not entirely unwelcome news. From all indications, our back-channel stalwart had all but sold out the country’s interests.

If this wretched channel had produced a wee rabbit out of its clandestine hat, it could have at least justified the expending of tax-payers money to finance his jaunts to far off exotic lands. It did not have to be a prime rabbit – even a wee, pint-size one would have sufficed. This denouement would, at the very least, have demonstrated, in a way, the two sides’ commitment to peace, if nothing else! Meanwhile, it would be counterproductive to go clutching at any passing straw that our intellectuals have made a habit of doing.









I happened to attend an event at Nehru Centre London, on 3rd Sept’09. I was lucky to meet lots of well-wishers of both India and Pakistan. It was basically a goodwill social function to promote Asghar Wajahat’s play ‘Jis Lahore Nai Dehkya O Jamyai Nai’. Almost all speakers were repentant of the Indian Partition and loss of human lives on both sides. It was such a cordial atmosphere that most of the outsiders thought both countries’ were about to declare a European like Union very soon. However, I observed a few unhappy pessimist faces who were heard discussing it as a mission impossible.

I personally felt very fine sentiments expressed by some of the speakers. It was surprising to learn that most of them were very hardliner Indians. At the outset I was very impressed and thanked some of them for their fine feelings for Pakistan. I had very frank discussions with one of the visitors without exchanging any introduction. He was reluctant to disclose his identity and I thought it appropriate not to insist and both of us remained strangers for quite some time. He suddenly asked me to call him ‘Chandar’ and I reciprocated with ‘Choudhry’. He never offered any visiting card and I kept mine in the pocket. I guessed he was a politician belonging to the sitting Indian government because this function was basically organized by an Indian association and I was there due courtesy of an Indian girl studying with my daughter.

During the very informal discussion, I told him that Mr. Jinnah was very bold and frank with the Indian Leadership, Mr. Gandhi, Nehru, and Patel, to avoid the partition in lieu of special status and security for Muslim community’s rights as equal citizens in the undivided India. This was virtually declined by the two at the 1946 Cabinet Mission held under Lord Pethick Lawrence, the Secretary of State for India. This has also been published in the recent book Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence, in which Mr. Jaswant Singh praising Mr. Jinnah and accusing Mr.Nehru and Patel for this act of dividing “Bharat Mata into two”. Mrs. Indra Gandhi made it three in 1971, and felt very proud of it. The prejudice is still so strong that poor Jaswant Singh is not able to sell his books in some of the States’ in India. However, this bias has been neutralized and has become a source of advertisement for the book. Mind you Jaswant Singh was no friend of Pakistan when he was the Foreign Minister in BJP Government. He was then a political leader but has now come down to earth and realized that the truth must be told to people as history’s property and asset. Chandar was very kind and patient to listen to my criticism undisturbed. However, he asked me point-blank, if I was in politics. He felt a sigh of relief that I was a retired Air force officer who fought all the wars with India. I was in Air Defence and had the privilege to control and got the first Indian Canberra Spy Plane shot down in 1959 near Rawalpindi and also the last Indian Raider Mig 21 on the last day of 1971 war, near Pasroor in West Pakistan. At this stage I thought Chandar was definitely a diplomat, otherwise he would have objected to my narration of the war incidents. I was glad to be talking to a real down to earth gentleman. He put his hand on my shoulder and argued for reconciliation and forget-and-forgive approach. Frankly as a soldier I was getting a little apprehensive about his good behaviour and wanted to round off the conversation as meaningless by both on account of lack of any authority and connection with the governments to have any contribution for the cause. He probably sensed my feeling and told me that he had a good business in London, his father had migrated to England in 1950’s but he thought there were more chances for us all and for our coming generations in Indo-Pak Subcontinent if some kind of accord takes place between India and Pakistan. He said this was his passion as an Indian today and his roots in Pakistan before partition.

Irrespective of whether we both could help reduce tension or bring some reconciliation, 90% of the people gathered there craved for peace between the two countries. I provoked him with a wish if this kind of spirit existed with Hindu Leadership of that time; there wouldn’t be a Pakistan today. However, I was very frank in telling him that the present change I feel is because Pakistan is a physical reality now and as strong militarily as India. All these sympathies and concessions are being showered because of this. To return to brotherhood fold and new relationship like European Union of course is for the benefit of both the countries. India is a big brother and like traditional honour of this title in the Subcontinent, India must offer some generosity to come to terms on core issues like Kashmir, rest of the small problems will automatically settle with passage of time. There is no way to get closer without solving Kashmir in accordance with the wishes of its people and both India and Pakistan agreeing to their wishes. The rut of ‘Attott Ang’ has to be buried as it was accepted a disputed territory by Mr. Nehru and the UNO in 1948.

One day kashmiris have to get the right of self determination, why not today? This will demonstrate a natural pull towards each other. I am sure this may form the basis to start a communion like European Union. Indian and Pakistani troops are facing each other all along the borders. Small instances at times are unavoidable particularly when the relationship is not good and tempers are high. However, It does not warrant to stop talking and create war-like situation, especially by the big brother. Kargil was a senseless operation started by Gen. Musharaf but at the end of the day, went to India’s way. Humiliation in the world was enough punishment for Pakistan. Any more than that would have destroyed half of India and Pakistan. Such happening should not deter us to take our eyes off from the main aim. Mr. Vajpayee stopped talking to Nawaz Sharif, even after knowing the real story. Similarly Bombay attack by some extremists was another stupidity which brought both the countries at the brink of war, and it has taken us almost one year to talk to each other again. Similar type of incident where a very serious bombing attack at Grand Hotel Brighton was done on 12th Oct 1984 where PM Margaret Thatcher, government Ministers, and Conservative Party members were staying for a conference. IRA terrorists carried out attack at 02:00hrs in the morning, which were so intense that PM’s bathroom was damaged. Besides other casualties, one MP and a Minister’s wife were killed. This attack was no less than the Taj Mahal Hotel Bombay, but Mrs. Thatcher addressed the conference at 09:00hrs the same day as scheduled to show how little importance was given to IRA terrorists. That is how mature leaders of mature nations behave in crisis. They kept talking to IRA and today most of their differences have been settled.

We are almost one and a half billion people living in the subcontinent with different diversity, religion, and culture. One should not expect all hunky-dory at all times, especially so when innumerable issues are unsettled and need solution. The main aim of promoting good will and good relationship must be kept in sight always. Unfortunately personal interest of politicians is always a big hindrance in the way of peace and people do not understand the evil behind these usual patriotism gossips of these leaders. We both need strong leaders who are capable of taking unpopular decisions to solve the problems of our two nations. India being the big brother has more responsibility in this connection. Mr. Vajpayee was the right man to do it, but unfortunately I feel he was guided onto the wrong track on more than one occasions. The present PM Manmohan Singh is too weak and meek to take any daring decision and so is Sonia Gandhi. The reason is known to everyone and needs no further explanation. Mr. Manmohan Singh behaves apologetic talking, with one eye on congress and the other on Pakistan.

I wish he behaves like a traditional Sikh as known to us all in the Subcontinent. I feel Pakistan has been very open and has come a long way to start afresh with India. Hyderabad and Juna-garh States are a forgotten claim, East Pakistan loss, an ignored story, what more is expected out of a small neighbour? I am sure the Indian leadership must have learnt the lesson from history. Jaswant Singh has shown them the mirror after a long time. They may not turn their faces to the other side. Let them skin-off the prejudice and refrain from the exercise.... ‘Hamiasha dair kar deta hun mein’







In the most turbulent South Asian hemisphere where wars, assorted conflicts and internecine are but usually common, the Pak-China idiosyncratic closeness is a glowing’ example of mutual trust, bilateral confidence and reciprocal advantages, for all the nations of the world. The liberal depth and cavernous understanding of this friendship, diplomatically established on 21 May, 1951, and the Bandung Conference, held under the aegis of Non Aligned Movement (NAM) in Indonesia in 1955, saw a further affixing of the said ties, is unique in the whole history of mankind, which has only witnessed self-interest in foreign policy. Sixty years ago, Mao ZedonR-officially proclaimed the establishment of People’s Republic of China on October 01, 1949, which is now the most populous nation in the world with over 1.3 billion inhabitants; and since the introduction, of market-based economic reforms in 1978, it has emerged as one of the world’s fastest growing economies and second largest exporter and the third largest importer of goods.

It is important to mention that People’s Republic of China is going to celebrate its 60th national day on Oct 1st, 2009. This auspicious occasion is an event of great significance, both in historic terms as well as for a strong public manifestation of the durability and the strength of Pak-China relations. Although there are some socio-religious differences, yet both the countries have always respected each other, because their friendship is based on the principle of non- interference. Pakistan has always supported China on all issues of importance to the latter, especially those related to the question of mainland China’s sovereignty; like its entry to the U.N. in 1971 and opening of formal diplomatic ties with the U.S.A in 1970. Changing of governments in Pakistan has no impact on this long momentous journey and’ Pak-China friendship has been earnestly followed by every regime.

It is in this backdrop that Pakistan Muslim League (N) has given special importance to Pak-China relations and former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, in his fateful address to the nation, on the eve of nuclear explosions in 1998, said that the manner in which China has supported Pakistan on this occasion is praiseworthy. We are proud of our great neighbor, the P.M noted then. Likewise, President PML (N) and CM Punjab Shahbaz Sharif is also trying to further improve the bilateral relations and encourage the Chinese investors to invest in Punjab. He first went to China in 1981 and then in 1999. Shahbaz Sharif again went to. China in 2008 and highly impressed upon the Chinese investors to take benefit of the vast opportunities of invest in many fields including I.T, agriculture, industry, livestock, solid waste management and hydro- power generation in Punjab. It may be noted here that the visit was highly significant for giving necessary boost to socio-economic cooperation between the two brotherly countries, especially at the level of Punjab province. During the visit, Punjab Chief Minister held series of meetings with Chinese senior officials and top business executives to work-out a comprehensive plan of bilateral cooperation in the areas of mutual interest. Besides Beijing, he also visited China’s other major cities like Shanghai, Suzhou, Nanjing and Shenzhen to review various mega projects and special economic zones.

On the occasion, various agreements were signed between Punjab government and mega Chinese companies for co-operation in agriculture, industrial and various others sectors as a result of efforts of Shahbaz Sharif who informed Chinese investors that his government has prepared a comprehensive package of incentives for Chinese companies intending to make investments in Punjab and Chinese entrepreneurs would get maximum facilities and protection in the province, Identifying the projects for cooperation in various sectors, Shahbaz Sharif said his government has planned a number of infrastructure development projects, including elevated Expressway, Ring Road and mass transit system in the provincial capital for coping with the problem of increasing traffic. Two memorandums of understanding were signed with leading companies of Jiangsu for development projects and cooperation in the construction of Rawalpindi Expressway and Ring Road in Punjab. Meanwhile, Punjab government has already set up Punjab-Jiangsu Cultural Centre in Punjab Institute of Language, Art and Culture (PILAC), Lahore which would help to further strengthen the cultural, educational as well as economic relations between the two countries. Short and medium term courses of Chinese language, traditional painting and Chinese food- cooking would be started soon in this Centre for which China would provide teachers. It may be added here that Punjab and Jiangsu have been declared twin provinces. Sixty years is not a long period; both the countries have come a long way since then and now, new opportunities are coming up in wake of WTO regime.

China is keen to further improve trade relations with Pakistan because of its vital role as a strategic security partner. Road links between the two countries are being broadened, especially between China’s Xinjiang province and Pakistan’s northern areas with pending plans to link Kashgar and Rawalpindi by rail. Punjab has vast iron and coal reserves which could be used for steel production and power generation, Chinese firms could help to explore and extract these reserves. It is a good omen that positive changes are being witnessed in Punjab due to good governance of a compassionate doyen who has a passion to change the destiny of the nation. It is good that our political leadership has started .looking towards east for economic self-reliance as it will help to get rid of the economic shackles of WorId Bank and IMF.







The white population of United States should understand that President Barack Obama is not wholly Black. He is half White and half Black. Which means that on this account, he should be spared of a full blown racial smear storm against him that is sweeping across America in the past several weeks: caricaturing and buffooning him and his wife? He has been equated with Hitler, Castro and Stalin among other villains, under the delusion that he was socializing America through his otherwise far-reaching healthcare reforms.

A President has been called names, ridiculed, maligned and slandered obviously for no cogent reasons except that his pigment is not as fair as that of majority citizens. Does that entitle him to denigration and vitriolic blitz? There seems to be a bulging deluge of vilifications and cat calling let loose against him so much so that some of the posters demanded of him to go back to Kenya where he spent his early childhood. Such is the deplorable intensity and gravity of racial onslaught against Obama. This vicious campaign, in essence, more than Obama as a person, undermines the dignity of the office of the presidency. It means a segment of the white populace has not accepted him as the president of this country symbolized with equality, liberty, freedom and justice irrespective of gender, race, ethnicity and religion. This sordid situation is pregnant with horrifying and equally bizarre forebodings as in retaliation; the black community in future could adopt racial postures against a non-black president. And thus there would ensue a racial bad blood that might cut across the very foundations of this country, known for being free from discrimination and racial prejudices .The American constitution negates discrimination or bias or prejudice in any form, be it a job offer or grant of social benefits. It is the hang up of a particular hate filled chunk of white conservatives that raises hell and heaven in the name of color of the skin. They perhaps still look at the black community with an inborn disdain as the slaves of yester years. Human narrow obsessions can be as obdurate as to spawn over two hundred years among a community that calls itself the leader of modern liberal civilization (white man’s burden).

America is being dented from within by show of reckless and unwarranted narrow-mindedness of a section of the society that would have otherwise proudly demonstrated to the world at large, “look we are the followers of Jesus Christ who spoke and succored the lowly and the downtrodden, black and white alike.” Incidentally Jesus, the spiritual fountainhead of Christian faith and for them the son of god was not a white human. He was from the Middle East where the color of the skin is not as milky white as of those who hailed from the Britain and descended upon America as colonists. But before the advent of white races in North America, the natives living here were not white either.


Does color really matter in determining the faculties and genius of a human being? Does a color other than white really subverts or stymies the performance of a person? Does it really make him an intellectual dwarf and scum of earth to be hated? If the color is the benchmark for intellect and intelligence then we have to disown the pioneering yet mammoth creative and inestimable research work of the non-white scholars and scientists in diverse branches of human knowledge at a time when white Europe was sunk into “Dark Ages.” Based on that patrimony of knowledge, the Europeans scholars and men of merit took a queue and advanced the enlightenment and knowledge to dizzying heights, that is still continuing.


The Healthcare reform issue is being used as a handy tool to spur the antagonism of the anti Obama intelligentsia and the conservative section of society to such an extent, that he would not be able to run for the second term. It is also an attempt by Obama bashers to paint and portray him as a failed or a hamstrung president whose performance fell much short of his electoral pledges. If the healthcare reforms are essentially good and if his retreat strategy from Iraq is sagacious, his detractors would still not like him to take the well deserved credit for these sterling accomplishments. He is winding up a war that was an unbearable burden and fruitless parasite for America. He is trying to revive the endearing image of America by eschewing the path of war and blind belligerency and rerouting America’s March on a path of peace, understanding and mutual respect with the rest of the world. The question is how long American forces can fight in foreign battlefields for fuzzy and freakish reasons? Iraq is an example where America had no justifiable reason to penetrate militarily and remain caught up in a nightmarish spell for eight years.


To hold a country under the jack boots, no matter how small she might be, is a tall order in the present times. It was possible in the colonization eras of the past but not now when the world is integrated and when it is not possible to isolate a country by occupation armies. If, of late, there are signs of receding friction between USA and the rest of the world, it is because of Obama’s new thrust and ambition to douse the anti-American flames and to win the antagonists by a process of pacification. Let him do his commendable job. If his opponents could win in the next elections, let them reverse his policies and restore the blighted Bush era. That is how democracy should work. To completely blacken a semi black yet a visionary head of state by scurrilous attacks on his person, is a self-defacing propensity that would stand in good stead for president Obama but backfire against his hate mongers. It would also defile a cosmopolitan and ideally democratic America’s fair image.









The international order that emerged after World War-II has rightly been termed the Pax Americana; it’s a Washington-led arrangement that has maintained political stability and promoted an open global economic system. Today, however, the Pax Americana is withering, thanks to what the National Intelligence Council in a recent report described as a “global shift in relative wealth and economic power without precedent in modern history” — a shift that has accelerated enormously as a result of the economic crisis of 2007-2009.

At the heart of this geopolitical sea change is China’s robust economic growth. Not because Beijing will necessarily threaten American interests but because a newly powerful China by necessity means a relative decline in American power, the very foundation of the post-war international order. These developments remind us that changes in the global balance of power can be sudden and discontinuous rather than gradual and evolutionary. The Great Recession isn’t the cause of Washington’s ebbing relative power. But it has quickened trends that already had been eating away at the edifice of U.S. economic supremacy. Looking ahead, the health of the U.S. economy is threatened by a gathering fiscal storm: exploding federal deficits that could ignite runaway inflation and undermine the dollar. To avoid these perils, the U.S. will face wrenching choices.

The Obama administration and the Federal Reserve have adopted policies that have dramatically increased both the supply of dollars circulating in the U.S. economy and the federal budget deficit, which both the Brookings Institution and the Congressional Budget Office estimate will exceed $1 trillion every year for at least the next decade. In the short run, these policies were no doubt necessary; nevertheless, in the long term, they will almost certainly boomerang. Add that to the persistent U.S. current account deficit, the enormous unfunded liabilities for entitlement programs and the cost of two ongoing wars, and you can see that America’s long-term fiscal stability is in jeopardy. As the CBO says: “Even if the recovery occurs as projected and stimulus bill is allowed to expire, the country will face the highest debt/GDP ratio in 50 years and an increasingly unsustainable and urgent fiscal problem.” This spells trouble ahead for the dollar.

The financial privileges conferred on the U.S. by the dollar’s unchallenged reserve currency status — its role as the primary form of payment for international trade and financial transactions — have underpinned the pre-eminent geopolitical role of the United States in international politics since the end of World War II. But already the shadow of the coming fiscal crisis has prompted its main creditors, China and Japan, to worry that in coming years the dollar will depreciate in value. China has been increasingly vocal in calling for the dollar’s replacement by a new reserve currency. And Yukio Hatoyama, Japan’s new Prime Minister, favours Asian economic integration and a single Asian currency as substitutes for eroding U.S. financial and economic power.

Going forward, to defend the dollar, Washington will need to control inflation through some combination of budget cuts, tax increases and interest rate hikes. Given that the last two options would choke off renewed growth, the least unpalatable choice is to reduce federal spending. This will mean radically scaling back defence expenditures, because discretionary non-defence spending accounts for only about 20% of annual federal outlays. This in turn will mean a radical diminution of America’s overseas military commitments, transforming both geopolitics and the international economy.

Since 1945, the Pax Americana has made international economic interdependence and globalisation possible. Whereas all states benefit absolutely in an open international economy, some states benefit more than others. In the normal course of world politics, the relative distribution of power, not the pursuit of absolute economic gains, is a country’s principal concern, and this discourages economic interdependence. In their efforts to ensure a distribution of power in their favour and at the expense of their actual or potential rivals, states pursue autarkic policies — those designed to maximise national self-sufficiency — practising capitalism only within their borders or among countries in a trading bloc.

Thus a truly global economy is extraordinarily difficult to achieve. Historically, the only way to secure international integration and interdependence has been for a dominant power to guarantee the security of other states so that they need not pursue autarkic policies or form trading blocs to improve their relative positions. This suspension of international politics through hegemony has been the fundamental aim of U.S. foreign policy since the 1940s.

The U.S. has assumed the responsibility for maintaining geopolitical stability in Europe, East Asia and the Persian Gulf, and for keeping open the lines of communication through which world trade moves. Since the Cold War’s end, the U.S. has sought to preserve its hegemony by possessing a margin of military superiority so vast that it can keep any would-be great power pliant and protected. Financially, the U.S. has been responsible for managing the global economy by acting as the market and lender of last resort. But as President Obama acknowledged at the London G-20 meeting in April, the U.S. is no longer able to play this role, and the world increasingly is looking to China (and India and other emerging market states) to be the locomotives of global recovery.

Going forward, the fiscal crisis will mean that Washington cannot discharge its military functions as a hegemony either, because it can no longer maintain the power edge that has allowed it to keep the ambitions of the emerging great powers in check. The entire fabric of world order that the United States established after 1945 — the Pax Americana — rested on the foundation of U.S. military and economic preponderance. Remove the foundation and the structure crumbles. The decline of American power means the end of U.S. dominance in world politics and the beginning of the transition to a new constellation of world powers. The result will be profound changes in world politics. Emerging powers will seek to establish spheres of influence, control lines of communication, engage in arms races and compete for control over key natural resources. As America’s decline results in the retraction of the U.S. military role in key regions, rivalries among emerging powers are bound to heat up. Already, China and India are competing for influence in Central and Southeast Asia, the Middle East and the Indian Ocean. Even today, when the United States is still acting as East Asia’s regional pacifier, the smouldering security competition between China and Japan is pushing Japan cautiously to engage in the very kind of “re-nationalisation” of its security policy that the U.S. regional presence is supposed to prevent. While still wedded to its alliance with the U.S., in recent years Tokyo has become increasingly anxious that, as a Rand Corp. study put it, eventually it “might face a threat against which the United States would not prove a reliable ally.” Consequently, Japan is moving toward dropping Article 9 of its American-imposed Constitution (which imposes severe constraints on Japan’s military), building up its forces and quietly pondering the possibility of becoming a nuclear power.

Although the weakening of the Pax Americana will not cause international trade and capital flows to come to a grinding halt, in coming years we can expect states to adopt openly competitive economic policies as they are forced to jockey for power and advantage in an increasingly competitive security and economic environment. The world economy will thereby more closely resemble that of the 1930s than the free-trade system of the post-1945 Pax Americana. The coming end of the Pax Americana heralds a crisis for capitalism. The coming era of de-globalisation will be defined by rising nationalism and mercantilism, geopolitical instability and great power competition. In other words, having enjoyed a long holiday from history under the Pax Americana, international politics will be headed back to the future. — The Los Angeles Times








At the country's lone medical university - Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) - 11 senior teachers, 10 professors and one associate professor, were removed on the last working day before the Eid holidays. The position of the administration is that, according to the Public Servants (retirements) Act 1974, no retired government official can work as permanent staff of an autonomous organisation while that of the victims is that they were, as per the University Act 1998, duly appointed by the Public Service Commission (PSC). Whatever the case, the fact that the sacked professors had been appointed during the BNP-Jamaat coalition government seems to be the prime cause behind this summary dismissal as claimed by the victims. If this is so, this is hardcore politics and is extremely disturbing.

Experts cannot be created overnight and the sacking of so many senior teachers cannot be compensated in the foreseeable future. Rather it is feared that the vacuum created will lead to further deterioration of medical education at its highest seat of learning in the country. This kind of action will lead to further deterioration of the institution, making it dysfunctional. If there are irregularities, surely there are honourable ways of resolving them and without compromising the quality.


 For many in our country political power has become a game of spoils. It is a tool to attain privileges and not of addressing responsibility. Power is abused to ensure that the political favourites get the most lucrative jobs and those out of favour fall victims. No institution or society can function where politics alone is the determinant. Other factors like expertise and merit must also be taken into account.

The sorry state of health services has been the subject of many national discussions and the administration is only making things worse by moves of this nature. The cumulative politicisation of past decades is taking its toll on the national institutions. We certainly hope the era of politicisation comes to an end soon and the nation gets its best minds to serve, particularly in high positions. Hopefully, the administration, too, will realise soon the implication of dislodging highly skilled people in a country where they are so scarce. Unless that happens no institution will grow. 









A draft population policy soon to be submitted for approval, according to a report carried in a Bangla daily, seeks to give an impetus to the now near-moribund population control programmes. The draft policy lays emphasis on incentives rather than on coercive methods. As a smart move, it has proposed preferential treatment of couples having a single child. The couple will be given preference in various areas of social service such as government service, institutional assistance, credit and the child's admission to school.

Although belated, this focus on the problem of population that had been subjected to an unexplainably mindless indifference over the past few years will put the issue in right perspective. A country with the largest concentration of population in the world can ignore population explosion only at its own peril. So this shift in government policy for tackling a vexing but sensitive issue deserves appreciation. However, what will clinch the day for the government is its readiness to extend its services to couples of the uneducated and working class. The programmes have to be adequately persuasive to make such couples convinced that if their choice is a one-child family they have before them the best option of pulling themselves out of the poverty trap and reaching the next higher economic tier of society.

The aspiration for better living and a brighter future for the next generation is inherent in all. Also this is an effective vehicle for transforming the population into qualitative and productive human resources. Demographical planning can realise its optimal benefits when individual families also learn to behave responsibly and contribute to overall national prosperity. So the proposed policy has to involve people comprehensively at the grass-roots level for ensuring their participation in the population control programme.









My dog I've noticed has a worry line on it's forehead: Now I can't imagine what Jeff needs to worry about, he gets his food without having to work for it, and is loved, petted and looked after like a child in our house. But he seems to be worried all the time! I've noticed a lot of us humans too carry worry with us. Says Dr Walter Alvarez: The best advice I have ever found for worriers I got from the great Dr Austen Riggs. He used to say to a worried person, "First ask yourself, is this my problem? If it isn't; leave it alone." For instance, suppose a mother has fretted herself into an illness because her daughter cannot make up her mind to accept the proposal of marriage from some fine, well-to-do man. Dr Riggs would tell the mother she is foolish because it is not her problem - it is the girl who must decide what to do. The next question for a worrier is, "If it is my problem, can I tackle it now?" If the person can get right at it and settle it, he should do so. Once he has it settled, he ought to leave it alone, and not open the subject again. Often worse than a poor decision is none at all, and still worse is a decision that, once made, is quickly changed for no good reason. The third bit of advice from Dr Riggs is, "If your problem could be settled by an expert in some field, go quickly to him and take his advice." For instance, I remember a widow who was in a terribly nervous state trying to decide what to do with an old apartment house, which was not paying well. I said, "That's easy; go right off to your banker, your lawyer, perhaps your income tax expert, and then to a realtor, who is an expert on apartment houses. Take the advice of these men and settle the matter quickly." Another point I make to people is that they should try hard not to do their worrying at night. Problems ought to be thought out and settled during the day. Night is a time for sleeping. All worriers would do well to take the advice of the great physician Sir William Osler. He told his patients to live in "Day tight compartments," in other words, never to brood over the mistakes of the past or to worry about what might happen on the morrow. As Thomas Carlyle said, our job is to do quickly and as well as we can the work that lies close to our hands. Continues Dr Walter: "Some worriers may wonder why I haven't yet spoken of the great comforts that many a worrier can find in religion. I can sum up much of the faith of many a physician by quoting that wonderful old prayer, "Oh Lord, if you will only reveal to me where I can get help, I will go and get it."  In other words, let a worried person go to a priest, minister, or rabbi for spiritual help or consolation, and to physician for reassurance in regard to the state of the body. Whatever it is deal with worry immediately and there'll be nothing to stay worried about. What lovely advice for all of us. "Hey Jeff!" I shout at my dog, "There's no reason to be worried at all!" Was that a smile I just saw?









IT is indisputable, as Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin says, that education and employment are the keys to closing the life expectancy gap between indigenous and other Australians. They are also essential to improving the lives of all disadvantaged people. In remote communities, progress has eluded various authorities for decades, however, which is why programs producing outstanding results, such as lawyer Noel Pearson's Cape York reform agenda, deserve to be encouraged and where necessary, emulated.


School attendance in Aurukun on the western cape has lifted from 37 per cent 12 months ago to 62 per cent since the introduction of the Family Responsibilities Commission, which links school attendance to welfare. Alcohol restrictions have also helped, as has the innovative leadership of school principal Liz Mackie, who instigated a "no suspensions, no exclusions" policy.


At Mossman Gorge, attendance increased from an average 60.9 per cent 12 months ago to 81.6 per cent. And in Hope Vale, Mr Pearson's home community, and Coen, which are also part of the four-year Cape York Welfare Reform Trial, attendance remains high at 86.9 per cent and 93.6 per cent - in line with much of Australia.


Much of the success on the cape is due to the fact that solutions have not been imposed by outsiders, but come from local elders, who make up the Family Responsibilities Commission in each community. They understand the local people, speak their language and in most cases, encourage and help them to avoid welfare quarantining, which is an effective last resort. Between April and June this year, 252 school attendance notices and 31 conditional income management orders were issued. Progress on the cape contrasts with the inertia of some remote communities in the Northern Territory. Under the NT intervention, income quarantining has improved consumption of fresh food. But so far, not one parent who consistently fails to send a child to school has had his or her welfare payments suspended, although attendances have improved. The measures came into force in six NT communities at the start of the year, but federal and Territory bureaucrats appear to be reluctant to implement them. It is up to Ms Macklin to see they do, because further lifting the Territory's woeful attendance rates must be a priority.


Erroneously, some critics claim linking welfare quarantining and school attendance is discriminatory. The salient issue, however, is not the racial background of the children missing school, but the importance of ensuring all parents take responsibility to see they attend. This is why Ms Macklin and Queensland Premier Anna Bligh are to be commended for expanding income management to all welfare recipients, irrespective of race, in the outer southern suburbs of Brisbane - Logan, Woodridge, Kingston and Eagleby, where some schools report attendances 10 to 15 per cent below the rest of the state. Under the year-long trial, parents' welfare payments could be suspended, as a last resort, for up to 13 weeks if they fail to send their children to school regularly.


After decades of bureaucratic failure, the Family Responsibilities Commission has broken through a seemingly intractable impasse where all other approaches failed. Its success provides a framework for achieving similar success in other disadvantaged areas, both indigenous and non-indigenous.








THE Productivity Commission's proposals on executive pay place the responsibility where it belongs - on corporate boards. And while the commission's discussion paper suggests ways to call boards to account, it does not advocate imposing shareholder control of salaries or the government-set ceilings union leaders advocate. Quite right. It is not the job of government to legislate business uniformity. But wise boards will address the ideas the commission sets out. The discussion paper shows few local companies pay people the extraordinary amounts received by British and American bankers before last year's crash, and our pay system is by no means broken, but union leaders always argue that chief executives are taking more than a fair share - and a belief in "fairness" runs deep in Australian society.


The Productivity Commission was charged with considering executive pay in March, at a time when people were playing politics with business salaries. Wayne Swan called a 300 per cent pay rise for Pacific Dunlop boss Sue Morphet "sickening", although the increase accompanied her promotion to run the company. However, there are enough high-profile cases since then of people paid astronomical amounts of money for poor performances to keep the question of state-set salary caps on the agenda. Telstra paid Sol Trujillo $30 million for four years' work, while $25 billion was stripped from the company's value. And statistics showing CEOs with annual earnings equalling 200 years pay for average workers are easily abused as examples of injustice - when what they really reflect is the going rate for top business leaders in the global economy.


Given all this, boards that value the public reputations of their companies should seriously consider the Productivity Commission's recommendations. The discussion paper argues that the top 300 listed companies should be obliged to use independent consultants to design salary packages and ban executives from sitting on board remuneration committees. Nor should senior managers use their own shares to vote on their own pay. And to stop institutional investors - such as superannuation funds - quietly approving more pay for mates in management, the paper proposes compulsory disclosure of their votes on remuneration recommendations. The commission also suggests a 25 per cent shareholder vote opposing a remuneration report should trigger a mandatory explanation from the board. Two rejections in a row would constitute a vote of no confidence in the board and trigger an election for all directors. It sounds like a way to empower aggrieved small shareholders but it is not so extreme. The proposal refers to shares, not individuals who own them. With corporate investors controlling big blocks of stock, only boards that alienate their most important shareholders need fear this idea.


Rather than regulate executive pay, the Productivity Commission proposals will leave boards in control but make it harder for them to discreetly reward their managements while ignoring shareholder protests. While the commission's proposals will upset officious directors who believe they should be left to do as they like, and appal executives who abhor accountability, none should complain too loudly. Rather than radical change, these proposals improve a system that needs reforming, not replacing.








SCENE one: Enter education experts, warning against "literary works" in school curriculums and saying students should be taught to "challenge texts and develop alternative readings". They pause, hear Shakespeare being read off stage and flee, muttering about crimes against "critical literacy".