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Monday, October 12, 2009

EDITORIAL 12.10.09


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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


month october 12, edition 000321, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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



























  2. 30%: A fair share for the fair sex? - By Jayanthi Natarajan






































Announced with much fanfare, the Congress' so-called austerity drive is turning out to be a major embarrassment for the party. Directives to fly economy class have been rendered inconsequential by Ministers and VIPs who buy budget tickets and force airline ground staff — or even in-flight staff — to upgrade them. Two months after the Congress Working Committee asked all party legislators to take a 20 per cent pay cut, only 76 of the Congress' 208 Lok Sabha members have taken steps in this direction. While not quite related to the austerity drive, the Congress' recent move to send party leaders to Dalit hamlets in Uttar Pradesh has also ended in a fiasco. It began when Mr Rahul Gandhi spent a night in a Dalit household and ate with the family. In the following days, a series of Congress MPs and Ministers turned up at the doorstep of astonished Dalits, bringing with them foam mattresses, bed sheets, pedestal fans, cooks, cutlery, chicken biryani, bottled water, the works. In many cases, the alleged Dalit host family was reduced to a bystander, as the Congress guest and his or her hangers on just took over. Meanwhile, Congress spokespersons and Ministers have been making rhetorical statements. The Corporate Affairs Minister, Mr Salman Khurshid, has asked India business to cut salaries of senior executives. An unseemly competition has resulted in Congress functionaries promising to travel economy class, in the cargo hold of a plane or by train. All that remains is for the party to adopt the bullock cart as the preferred mode of transport. This is not austerity, it is an extravagant joke.

It would be best if this bogus drive were called off forthwith. It is exposing the Government and the ruling party to ridicule and leading to expensive delays. In a recent example, the External Affairs Minister, Mr SM Krishna, refused to take his Ministry's special plane for a visit to Belarus and Turkmenistan. Instead, he travelled by a commercial flight, going further west to Germany before taking a connecting flight to Central Asia. As a result, he probably spent more time in the air than on the ground, transacting diplomatic business. Such stories are not atypical. In fact, they have become the norm in the most publicity-oriented and cost-intensive austerity binge undertaken in recent times. It is nobody's argument that the Government couldn't do with cutting expenditure. More than ad hoc symbolism, what this necessitates is a rationalisation of outlays and a study of how to save money without detracting from the everyday business of Government. For instance, many public buildings are not energy efficient. Can something be done here, an energy audit for instance, to make things better? In the long run, this will save more money than austerity promises that achieve nothing substantial.

More than anything else, the Congress should measure the political fallout of the austerity controversy. By first promising more than it could deliver and then attempting to pressgang its Ministers to adhere to neo-Gandhian codes, the party has made an issue where none existed. As a political move, it was entirely avoidable and unnecessary. There was no pressure from the Opposition to resort to false renunciation. Food prices were and remain a worry, yes, but they will not come down if Mr Kamal Nath flies economy or Mr Jairam Ramesh takes a train.






Even though it should have come earlier, the fact that the Government appears to be moving against illegal Islamic evangelist channels and those cable operators who beam them into Indian homes is a welcome sign. Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni has written to Union Home Minister P Chidambaram updating him about the issue of proliferation of these illegal channels throughout the country. But this is only acknowledgement of the problem at hand. Far more needs to be done to find a solution and crack down on the perpetrators. Things have come to this pass essentially because the regulating authorities have failed in their duty. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, which is the body that is supposed to be responsible for the proper implementation of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, has to be blamed in the main for the state of affairs. On the other hand, the local police, who are on the payroll of the greedy cable operators who downlink these illegal Islamic channels, also need to be held liable. It goes without saying that given the nature of the problem, there has to be a great degree of coordination between the regulatory authorities at the national level and the enforcement authorities at the local level. Without this the surge in these Islamic evangelist channels will be difficult to reverse.

The issue over here should not be confused with freedom of expression. Had these channels been perfectly fine, their promoters in India would not have had to play this game of hide and seek with the authorities. It is only because they know that applying for legitimate licences would be problematic due to the kind of content these channels are broadcasting that they choose to circumvent the law of the land. Most of these channels such as Peace TV and Saudi TV — channels that are under the scanner — are known to broadcast programmes that are best described as radical in nature. These programmes are uplinked from places like Dubai and others in West Asia and essentially sermonise its viewers on religio-political topics. Needless to say that such content can be harmful and pose a serious threat to the secular fabric of our society by radicalising sections of the Muslim youth. Hence, there has to be a strict mechanism in place to monitor such channels and their programmes. The debate as to what is permissible and what is not is something that can take place once all these channels are brought under the ambit of the law. The point over here is that no channel should be able to bypass the existing rules and regulations. They must all conform to the same standards that legitimate channels have to meet. The cost of letting unregulated channels proliferate right under our noses is something that we cannot afford.


            THE PIONEER




Political fortunes and public opinion can be quite fickle and are subject to dramatic changes. Sometimes political leaders and parties are extremely vulnerable when they are at their peak or when the Opposition momentarily looks weak and scattered. This is the time for the Congress and its leaders to take stock of the situation and plan for the future. A series of minor 'accidents' has exposed a lack of political control within the party and this is always the first sign of trouble.

The three-month five star stay of External Affairs Minister SM Krishna and his deputy Shashi Tharoor was a big political blunder. The incident was no doubt exaggerated by thoughtless remarks but the fault really lies with the party which allowed the situation to aggravate. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi were right in condemning these indiscretions but the damage was already done.

The party has tried its best to cover up the episode with its austerity drive but the people are not buying it. As more and more Congress leaders try to imitate the sentiments and the objectives behind the visits of Mr Rahul Gandhi to the homes of the poor and the deprived in Uttar Pradesh, the hypocrisy of the exercise is becoming apparent with each passing day. The media coverage in this regard has been merciless. By highlighting the 'excess baggage' — henchmen, generators, crockery, cutlery, etc — that these Congress leaders carried with them to the households of the poor, the media was able to show how the very purpose of spending time with the downtrodden and trying to understand their problems was totally lost in the unashamed display of sycophancy.

The Siliguri municipal election episode wherein the Congress aligned with the Left will not die down without retaliation at some stage by Ms Mamata Banerjee and the AITC. Despite all efforts by the Congress to underplay the situation, genuine doubts will persist among the AITC cadre with regard to the intentions of their ally in West Bengal. The message will not be lost on the AITC chief or on the Opposition. All this is creating uncertainty for the future.

That President's son Rajendra Shekhawat has been given a ticket by the Congress for the Maharashtra Assembly election in preference over a two-term MLA and former Minister makes a total mockery of the system of meritocracy, although this has little to do with dynastic politics. The media reflects the public mood and the sympathy is clearly with the 'rebel' and he could well win from his constituency. However, a bigger problem for the Congress will be explaining away the crores worth of assets that many of its candidates are flaunting.

In Andhra Pradesh, the huge assets of those in governance and some in the Opposition would put many of our successful business tycoons to shame. This could well become a major issue in electoral politics in the immediate future. These are all warning signals and despite the integrity and the positive image of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress president and the efforts of Mr Rahul Gandhi to create opportunities for the younger leaders within the party, all these indiscretions are making serious dents on the credibility of the UPA.

The nexus between politicians and builders and its influence in determining the change of land use and the issue of SEZ land acquisition have created huge public discontent. One can see the effects of this in States like West Bengal and Goa. In the latter public revolt resulted in the cancellation of 14 SEZs. Chaos over this issue also reigns in several other States such as Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Huge fortunes have been made at the expense of the citizens. Unless handled tactfully, the issue has the potential to explode in the face of the ruling party and those who have benefited from these activities. It is only a matter of time before the bubble bursts and the leadership of the future will emerge from those who agitate for the public against the Government and the big business syndicates.

The Congress will win both Maharashtra and Haryana. But I wonder if the arrogance of power and a weak Opposition will allow the land grab syndrome to continue. Look what has happened to the CPI(M) in West Bengal which led to the miraculous win of Ms Mamata Banerjee in 21 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the State. An identical situation can take place all over the country as the housing boom escalates and many whose land had been acquired at Government rates, which are often 10 to 15 per cent of market prices, are ready to do political battle with the Government of the day.

Political battles are best settled by political action and judicial battles are best settled by the judicial authorities. We have a raging controversy with regard to Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court PD Dinakaran and his huge assets. The issue should be settled at an early date by the Chief Justice of India and the Supreme Court. Even though we have archaic systems and procedures we cannot ignore the principle of accountability. The political fraternity must not interfere in this vital matter pertaining to our judiciary.

The feeling of excessive pressure can result in sympathy syndrome and I wonder if this will happen in Uttar Pradesh with respect to the BSP and the SP — CBI reports have changed course in both cases — as right and wrong is determined by the voting public in our system and not by any wing of governance at the behest of the ruling party.

The UPA is firmly in control and the Opposition is in doldrums. But the public cannot be taken for granted. Vital issues exist and the media is looking for a new story every day. This is the time for caution, reflection and corrective action.






This refers to the editorial, "Lagging way behind" (October 10). Lamenting the failure of our universities to get recognised in the QS/Times Higher Education rankings of the world's top hundred universities, it pointed out that the "Indian universities really lose out in the research department". A careful examination of the ranking methodology indicates that this viewpoint is way off the mark.

In the QS/Times Higher Education ranking methodology, academic peer review has a weightage of 40 per cent followed by 20 per cent weightage for citations per faculty. Another 10 per cent weightage is assigned to employer review. The academic peer review weightage is further equally split among the five disciplines that are common in the Western universities (viz, Arts and Humanities, Engineering and Information Technology, Life Sciences and Biomedicine, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences). However the universities in India are by and large organised discipline-wise. IITs in India, for instance, are primarily focused on engineering. Therefore, even if they are the best in engineering, they do not score more than 8-10 per cent in the academic peer review category. Similar considerations weigh down the agricultural, medical, and engineering universities in India.

Further weightage for research is reflected in the research citations. Here too, Indian researchers who publish papers in Indian research journals receive less recognition because these journals have little exposure in the West or even outside the country. As opposed to this, most US research journals can be readily accessed online by almost every university researcher in the West and Japan.

Further, the rankings are based on online responses to surveys. The greater is the response with respect to a particular university, the higher will be its ranking. The universities in the West thrive on Internet whereas the Indian universities have little presence in cyberspace. Thus the very mode of the survey relegates the Indian universities that are not net-savvy to lower rankings.

I wish to offer a single-point data from my own experience: I teach in a rural Indian engineering college as well as in a US university. The quality of the undergraduate engineering students, faculty, and education in this Indian engineering college is far superior to those in the US. My general evaluations of the Indian engineering colleges outside the IIT/NIT system and the general engineering colleges in the US also point towards the same inference.

In the US, even in academic research, good deal of showmanship and mutual promotions along with pork barrel funding, what we call corruption in India, is present. Therefore, the QS/Times Higher Education rankings are not true indicator of quality of Indian universities. It will be appropriate for Indian universities to develop their own ranking methodology that gives a clear and unbiased picture.







Brought up on a dodgy diet of Western human rights and ethical pieties on the Berlin Wall, public opinion in these parts was programmed to believe that the great and good in Nato and the EU were all for pulling it down and reconstituting a divided Germany into a single democratic entity. Did not President John F Kennedy stand before the infamous concrete watch-towers and declare to swelling applause from the natives that he, an American, was also a Berliner? He spoke the words in German, which added to the theatre. But good theatre demands the willing suspension of disbelief from audiences.

Never a true believer in the ritual pronouncements of Western rectitude, I was aware that the USSR — with Stalin still the dominant force in the Kremlin — had proposed the reunification of Germany as a neutral state a full half century and more ago. The West shot this down, preferring a divided Germany, whose larger and most productive part would continue as its embedded Cold War security construct for Continental Europe.

Almost a half century later the Berlin Wall came tumbling down and with it crumbled East Germany's Communist regime and the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact, Nato's mirror image. At about this time the Indian President Shankar Dayal Sharma, on a visit to the UK, made a courtesy call on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 10 Downing Street. Her host was accompanied by a senior Indian diplomat (the source of this story), who was privy to the exchanges that followed. Britain's 'Iron Lady' took the precautionary step of banishing her note-taker and principal foreign policy aide, Sir Charles Powell — she wanted no undesirable leaks even from a someone so trustworthy — before letting her hair down on past German iniquities and the dangers a reinvigorated German people would pose to European peace and stability. Her decibels rose and with it her venom. Shankar Dayal Sharma, gasping for breath in this anti-German dust storm, was rescued by his escort's intervention. The emollient diplomat soothingly explained that an Indian President was scarcely the right person to repose such exoriating confidences, especially about a country with whom India had friendly ties.

But the page had barely turned when the most red-blooded Thatcherite in the British Cabinet, Sir Nicholas Ridley, invited Dominic Lawson, then editor of the pro-Tory Spectator magazine and son of Nigel Lawson, Chancellor of the Exchequer in the first Thatcher Government, for an extended private conversation in the sanctuary of his home.

All being fair in love and war and politics, Lawson placed a strategically concealed tape in the bushes in the sylvan setting of the Ridley rose's garden, where the Minister, not smelling treachery, spoke passionately but none too wisely about the looming German threat. Reference was made to Adolf Hitler coupled with a tirade against Germany's myriad sins of omission and commission. The ferocious broadside was recorded verbatim and duly published. The politician's favoured ruse of being wrongly quoted was clearly unfit for purpose. A traumatised Nicholas Ridley, in keeping with his aristocratic roots and mien, did the honourable thing by falling on his sword and resigning. He has been gathered gloriously to his fathers, his duty done. No samurai could ask for more.

The latest turn in an unfolding saga concerns a young Russian researcher in the Gorbachev Foundation in Moscow, who flew into London with a set of documents, which he reckoned would be of interest to the British Press. Publishing these, The Times ran the risk of damnation by Thatcherite loyalists such as Andrew Roberts, the Cambridge academic long wedded to the proposition of Britannia ruling the waves in company with Uncle Sam.

So what dark secrets were revealed? Nothing more nor less than Thatcher's fraught encounter with Mikhail Gorbachev, in which she tried to talk him out of beating ceremonial retreat from East Germany and bringing down the Berlin Wall. She was gripped by paranoia at the prospect of a united Germany, fearing the wakened demons of its Nazi past.

She summoned a conclave of leading British historians of Germany to Downing Street to read the German runes. Her German counterpart, chancellor Helmut Kohl, let it be known that he found Thatcher the most disagreeable of foreign leaders.

On German unification she was apparently joined at the hip by French President Francois Mitterrand, who with a touch of Gallic wit pronounced that he loved Germany so deeply that he wished for two Germanys! His top aide Jacques Attali swore that, faced by a unified Germany, he would desert planet Earth for a less stressful existence in another galaxy. In such manner has post-Cold War truth triumphed over rancid Cold War fiction.

To which I shall add my own afterword. Russian oil and gas pipelines constructed on the seabed of the Baltic, say some, bypass Poland and the Baltic states for a possible Russo-German condominium of the future. Of special relevance was the appointment of former German chancellor Gerhard Schroder as head of Russia's state-owned Gazprom oil and gas company in Germany. Mr Schroder, in an interview with a German news magazine, has told of his desire to build a Russo-German association on the lines set out for Germany and France by Konrad Adenaur and Charles de Gaulle.

Germany is Europe's industrial juggernaut, its exports are the largest of any nation, its engineering skills a continuing marvel. The global financial meltdown is the doing of the US and the UK. The Anglo-Saxon economic model is now a discredited nostrum with much of Continental Europe. German industry from Bismarck's time has been drawn to the Russian market and Russia's abundant natural resources.

The European Union and Nato are set to continue, but maybe as looser constructs, which will allow Berlin (and perhaps Paris) greater diplomatic and strategic space.

Hans Seekt, the Weimar Republic's foremost military figure, disturbed by his country's estrangement from Russia, penned a pamphlet in the last days of 1932 entitled "Germany between East and West." In it he warned prophetically that alienating Russia would one day have Poland on the Oder: Word becoming flesh in the aftermath of World War II.

Germany now has the experience to cultivate East and West proportionately since the world today is being becoming.








Anti-US imperialism is a shibboleth of the Communist parties in India and based on this one inalienable principle the Marxists pulled away from the Congress-led UPA Government in July 2008. The rest is history, or rather the shocking decline of the cornered Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal and the landslide victory of the Congress in Kerala in the May 2009 Lok Sabha election.

Almost axiomatically, the CPI(M)'s celebration and outpourings of admiration of the Chinese Communist Party's 60 years in power bordered on adulation. Within the CPI(M) there are subtle differences in emphasis of what makes China a great example. For some it is China's economic strength that poses a counter to a US-dominated world. For others it is China's political success in sustaining its communist ideology against conspiracies of US imperialism.

For West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee it is the flexibility of the Chinese Communists in adopting economic reforms and so unleashing productive forces that have catapulted China to third place in the hierarchy of global economies. For West Bengal State party chief Biman Bose, the shining example set by the Chinese Communists is the capacity of the leadership to diagnose and prescribe corrective measures against the worrying growth of corruption and abuse of power. Both Mr Bhattacharjee and Mr Bose acknowledge that the Chinese Communists need to urgently address problems of governance, including failing services and infrastructure for large parts of a population still living in the countryside.

Less concerned with the concrete and more with concepts, it was entirely in character for the CPI(M)'s secretary Prakash Karat to focus his concern vis-à-vis China in terms of the threat posed by US Imperialism. Therefore he has hit out at reports of China's incursions across the Indian border as a US conspiracy to malign the Peoples' Republic of China. If instead of championing China's cause, entirely unnecessary given the country's economic clout and capacity to defend itself against malingers, Mr Karat had spent a little time thinking through what made China's Communist Party successful in its leadership, it may have helped his beleaguered comrades, especially in West Bengal.

It is this stubborn refusal to correlate the concrete conditions in places where the CPI(M) has a major political responsibility with a strategy that serves to further it that has negatively affected the capacity of the party to steadily grow. Instead, it has swung like a yo-yo from leading a solid Left coalition of 62 MPs in Parliament in 2004 to an absurd 24 now, with the CPI(M) tally plunging to the lowest ever of 16 seats.

With its back to the wall, the CPI(M) in West Bengal is clearly setting a course that is different from the rigid political tactics of Mr Karat. Though Mr Bhattacharjee and Mr Bose are both his 'friends' within the Polit Bureau, it is evident that in order to survive the West Bengal leadership has decided to get real. By engaging in a startling piece of wheeling and dealing the CPI(M) has succeeded in shaking loose the hitherto strongly welded opposition alliance of the Congress and the Trinamool Congress. In Siliguri, the CPI(M) and its Left allies with 17 councillors gave support to the Congress candidate for mayor that was effectively to swing a win against the Trinamool Congress. This repeat of the little noticed tactics to engineer a Congress win against the Trinamool Congress in Uluberia in Howrah district is a sign that the CPI(M) is willing to play under the table games.

The aim of the Siliguri manoeuvre is simple. For West Bengal's CPI(M) leadership, the principal enemy is the Trinamool Congress. Therefore helping the Congress to score points against its partner, namely the Trinamool Congress, makes sense. It helps to nurture distrust, which may spiral and help unravel the partnership eventually, and all of it to the CPI(M)'s advantage.

Call it dirty politics, call it realpolitik; it is nevertheless a good tactic because it has produced the desired result. The Trinamool Congress is calling it a betrayal by the Congress. It is spewing venom. Given the dharma of partnerships, bitter and angry accusations publicly voiced acquire a life of their own.

In contrast, Mr Karat has added, it seems thoughtlessly, his presence in Kerala to a fight against globalisation and a consequence of economic reforms. By participating in a protest via a mammoth human chain in Kerala against the Free Trade Agreement with the Association of South East Asian Nations, Mr Karat has expressed his solidarity with the coconut and rubber plantation industries in that State. He has ignored, unwittingly or otherwise, the claims of West Bengal that had hoped to profit from the Centre's Look East policy of which the ASEAN FTA is a concrete step forward.

In failing to balance the competing priorities of different States that matter to the CPI(M)'s long term survival and its current status, the central leadership, including Mr Karat, is revealing that they are not practical politicians. In politics nothing is set in stone. As many within the CPI(M) argue, befriending the Congress delivers greater advantage politically than taking them on as enemies.









In a bid to embarrass India, the United Nations Human Rights Council has published draft principles and guidelines for "effective elimination of discrimination based on work and descent." The allusion is to caste-based discrimination. The UN General Assembly is expected to adopt them. Nepal reportedly has expressed support for the document.

India's stance is yet to be made public though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2006 had compared untouchability to apartheid. In doing so, he seems to have stirred up a hornet's nest. Sweden, which heads the European Union, is also said to have expressed concern about the issue in these words: "Caste-based discrimination and other forms of discrimination based on work and descent is an important priority for EU". The similarity of phrasing with the UNHRC document suggests that the human rights lobby has managed to mobilise world bodies in an attempt to corner India.

Since our constitution pledges equality but does not seek to banish caste from society, does this mean that a great social change is in the offing, under international pressure? Unlikely, given the universal failure of human rights groups to, say, free women in Islamic countries from the burqaas a prerequisite to ensuring gender equality; or standardising lifestyle norms, in accordance with secular, egalitarian codes, for all societies and cultures.

As a sovereign nation, India has the right to determine domestic policies. Moreover, any attempt to forcibly do away with caste distinctions will be counter-productive as this would mean doing away with caste-based reservations. For, there cannot be quotas for historically disadvantaged sections — erstwhile untouchables, backward classes, and so on — in educational institutes and Government jobs in the absence of caste.

New economic criteria for reservations can be laid down but several interest groups that have benefited most from the existing formula and politics of reservations are bound to revolt. Hindi belt States such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have been turned into fiefdoms by regional parties and leaders, nurturing caste-based vote-banks. The meteoric rise of the BSP, headed by Ms Mayawati; the Samajwadi Party, headed by Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh; Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav's RJD and Mr Ram Vilas Paswan's LJP in Bihar owe entirely to loyalties culled from specific social groups.

Caste-based politics is the formula for these parties' survival as much as success. The DMK and the AIADMK have skillfully played the Dravidian card for a long time in Tamil Nadu, with political power alternating between the two. The core of Tamil Nadu politics and policy-making is the Aryan-other divide. The very emergence of coalition politics owes to the ascent of regional, caste-based formations, with sufficient numbers in State Assemblies and Parliament to jostle for their share in power. Caste, in fact, has given them their place under the sun.

Banishing caste, as human rights lobbyists at world fora desire, would be tantamount to pulling the rug from beneath their feet. Or are we to assume that quotas and the ensuing privileges must stay for recipient groups but caste must be banished? That it is perfectly fair to run with the hares and to hunt with the hounds? Reconciling such anomalies with the democratic ideal is an impossibility. At the outset, our constitution allowed for 22.5 per cent reservations for scheduled castes and tribes (SCs/STs) for a 10-year period. The time span kept getting extended via constitutional amendments. States made their own laws to benefit disadvantaged groups. As a result, Brahmins in Tamil Nadu, for instance, became so marginalised that the upwardly mobile among them migrated northwards in such of opportunities. Then, the Mandal report genie was unleashed in 1990, and the ambit of quotas was increasingly expanded to encompass new beneficiaries and privileges.

Even now, supposedly egalitarian religious minorities — Muslims and Christians, the bulk of whom are Hindu converts — are clamouring for reservations on the basis of their former caste identity, howsoever undignified.

Clearly, it is difficult to shed social baggage, especially when a perceived disadvantage turns into an advantage. The route to success for many in politics and Government is via identity and reservations. It is time perhaps to conduct a census on how many people would be willing to relinquish the benefits that accrue with social labelling. The outcome would be edifying.

Even if the UNHRC and other world bodies manage to turn caste-based discrimination into a human rights issue, the mass of the people here will continue to forge marriage ties and break bread with allied social groups, as dictated by convention. For, old habits die hard, if ever at all.







There has never been a better time to be a consumer. America is on sale.

The Great Recession has caused massive job losses and hardship for millions, but it has also fostered a shoppers' paradise. Anyone who still has the means to spend can find unheard of deals.

Prices on everything from clothes to coffee to cat food are dropping, some faster than they have in half a century. Items rarely discounted — like Tiffany engagements rings — are now on sale. The two biggest purchases most people make — homes and new cars — are selling at steep price reductions.

"This is the new normal," says Donald Keprta, president of Dominick's, a supermarket chain in the Midwest, which just cut prices by as much as 30 per cent on thousands of items. "We aren't going back."

Consumers like Karen Wilmes, a mother of two in Hopkinton, RI, relish the steals. During a recent trip to Shaw's Supermarkets, she bought a basketful of goods, including Eggo waffles, Kleenex tissues and Betty Crocker cake mix. The retail price: $ 63.89. Wilmes paid $ 7.31 by buying items on sale and using coupons.

"The deals out there are unbelievable," says Wilmes, 36, who writes the Frugal Rhode Island Mama blog, which tracks local and national bargains. "We can put the money I save toward something else."

And she's doing just that, but only when she can find another deal. Wilmes and her husband recently bought a Samsung television from Best Buy's Web site for $ 1,299, about $ 300 less than she found at other stores. She also got free delivery and another $ 13 back from, which receives commissions from online retailers for directing customers their way.

What's happening now has been building for years. Wal-Mart Stores Inc introduced "every-day low prices" many years ago. redefined the idea of bargain prices during the late 1990s when it helped introduce online shopping. After the 2001 recession, automakers introduced zero-per cent financing to boost sales. McDonald's "Dollar Meals" made fast food even cheaper.

But until the Great Recession came along, consumers hadn't seen anything yet.

Last fall's financial meltdown triggered a plunge in stock prices and home values and wiped out 11 per cent — $ 6.6 trillion — of household wealth in six months. It also put an end to easy credit, which had fueled the consumption that powered the economy for most of the decade.

Those who still have jobs don't want to spend as they once did. There is a new societal pressure to be careful and smart when buying almost anything. From Chicago's Miracle Mile to malls around Orange County, Calif, it was once a status symbol to trot around with armloads of shopping bags with designer names on them. Now, it's considered ostentatious.

Traditionally, manufacturers and retailers lowered prices to clear inventory. Today, they're cutting prices because consumers are demanding it. If it lasts, the ramifications will be wide-ranging.

"There's almost a new morality to spending," Liz Claiborne Inc CEO Bill McComb told an investor conference last month.

The bargains being offered at the Garden State Plaza in Paramus, NJ, make it seem the day after Christmas. But it's only a weekday in September. The deals start at 25 per cent off and keep getting better. Neiman Marcus, Forever 21, Ann Taylor, Macy's, Gap — across the retailing spectrum there are promotions.

Retail sales remain sluggish, and more than half of the people surveyed recently by America's Research Group and UBS said they are shopping less. But when they do shop, most go to stores with lower prices or wait for sales before returning to their favourite retailer, according to the survey.

Dave Ratner sees this price chase first hand. His four-store chain in western Massachusetts, Dave's Soda & Pet City, has never been so focused on promotions and low prices. During the past year, customers stopped buying $ 50 bags of premium dog food and "special" $ 10 pet treats. Pet-related Halloween merchandise usually sells well, but he isn't stocking any this year because he doesn't think people will buy it. Instead, he's offering big discounts on cheaper brands of pet food.

"It's killing my profit margins, but if you don't offer specials and lots of promotions, you aren't operating in the current world," he says.

Great buys are not exclusive to retailing. The Government's Cash for Clunkers programme is over, but more than half of car buyers still get a cash rebate, according to JD Power & Associates.

Hotel rooms cost travellers nearly 20 per cent less, on average, than last year, the biggest decline since Smith Travel Research began collecting data in 1987.

Home prices have dropped 30 per cent, on average, from the peak in 2006. In some markets, they're down more than 50 per cent. Homes in parts of Detroit are cheaper than a new car.

Overall, prices are tumbling at the fastest rate in decades. The Government's Consumer Price Index, which measures the average price of goods and services purchased by households, has fallen 1.5 per cent over the last 12 months. The reading for July showed a 2.1 per cent annual decline, the biggest since 1950.









DO YOU ever wonder why certain states are unable to get on to the development mainstream? The case filed against former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda and five members of his cabinet may suggest why. The Enforcement Directorate has said that these people had been siphoning hundreds of crores of rupees from the state exchequer and investing it abroad. There can be little doubt that this was money that the state had received for development purposes.


The ED believes that the total money involved could be of the order of Rs 4,000 crore and the properties acquired by these former ministers include a mine in Liberia, real estate in cities in India and abroad, as well as investments in steel and power projects in India, Thailand, Dubai, Indonesia and Singapore. The action comes after state vigilance officials raided the houses of Mr Koda and the other former ministers and found gold biscuits, diamonds and documents of land and property and details of their foreign investments.


The reason why Mr Koda was allowed to get away with this brazen thievery is that he was needed by the Congress party to keep out the Bharatiya Janata Party from running the government in the 2006- 2008 period. Everyone looked the other way as he amassed a fortune. Political observers now claim that the same Congress is now determined to show that it is against corruption and wants to go into the elections with a clean image. The state is currently witnessing an extended period of President's rule. But it is the same Congress party appointed governor Syed Shibtey Razi who allowed the most brazen manipulation of state politics. Indeed, the Central Bureau of Investigation has charged his aides with taking money for transfers and appointments in the state as well.


Corruption is a fact of life in this country, but loot on this scale beggars a state and opens it up for exploitation by extremists like the Maoists who have established a strong foot- hold in the state. Not only have these former ministers enriched themselves, but they have undermined the security of the state. The authorities must make examples of such politicians by seizing their properties and ensuring that they serve long- terms in jail. And while they are at it, the ED may like to examine the record of several politicians in other states who fit the profile of Mr Koda and his colleagues.







INFLATION is looming once again as a major problem for both the common man and the government. The speed of its onset, and the extent of the increase in prices are both surprising. Given the fact that inflation was in negative territory only a few months ago, and that the prospect of deflation appeared a very real possibility, the current scenario of a sudden and sharp increase in the prices of essentials appears to have caught the government once again on the wrong foot.


The Wholesale Price Index ( WPI), which the government uses as its primary inflation market, has actually been rising steadily since the beginning of the current financial year. Although the increase over the previous year is still under one per cent, this is not reflective of the actual price situation, because of last year's high base, and the fact that the WPI does not have adequate representation of food articles, which have been the primary drivers of inflation at the consumer level over the past few months.


The impact of the failed monsoon has only worsened the situation on the food front. The crisis has assumed alarming proportions because of supply- side mismanagement.


Although the government has been sitting on more than adequate reserves of food grains, the failure to move them into the market has allowed speculators to make hay. Rising demand for pulses and edible oil have not been met by any corresponding breakthrough in production.


Imports help meet the gap, but given India's size and slow decision- making process, they often end up costing more.


The many inefficiencies in the supply chain also contribute to the mess. The government has for far too long ignored the supply- side problems in food, because of political sensitivities. Ignoring these any longer will imperil the fragile recovery underway.











INDIA 2009 is a polity in ferment. Three major tendencies jockeying for control have made crucial moves on the chessboard in the last fortnight.


Nobody can predict which of these work and which fail. But in a country as vast and diverse, as disparate and inequitable as ours, there is little doubt these will be initiatives that will be worth watching in the years to come.


To simply make a checklist of the three, they are presented best in brief.


Rahul Gandhi added pace to his drive to reach out to the under classes, signaling his party's determination to secure once again their strong support.


The Vishwa Hindu Parishad embarked on its first major mobilisation in the last decade that has no relation to Ram but is centred around an animal that is ubiquitous by its presence: the cow.


And the Maoists, already under pressure from coordination of unprecedented nature of the Union and states, stepped up offensives, most recently in Gadchiroli in Maharashtra.


There is it must be stated a world of a difference between the three. Rahul Gandhi is General Secretary of the country's oldest political party, one that has been the pivot of power for most of the last six decades. The Parishad is not a political party but is integral to a larger fraternity of organisations that seek to Hinduise society and culture. The Maoists are a proscribed political outfit, formed a decade ago but with origins going back four decades.


Rahul Gandhi wants to remake his party, connect with the grassroots, poor as he says, irrespective of caste.


But given the transformation of Dalit consciousness in the last two decades and the rise and rise of the Bahujan Samaj Party, his mass contactprogramme is centred on Dalits.


He may not know it, but there are echoes of the anti- untouchability programmes launched by Mahatma Gandhi in the Thirties and after. These did transform the consciousness of a critical section of the savarna Hindus.


But few politically active Dalit leaders of today see those efforts as more than token.



As Malcolm X might have said of the African Americans, Dalit power is an idea whose time has come. Congress will move ahead on this path if it can ensure the growth of a strong Dalit leadership in its own ranks.


This is a must if it is to take on Mayawati. Whatever her faults, she has given Dalits and the under class a means of directly wielding political power.


Whether Congress is up to the challenge or not, the present crises of the premier opposition party, the BJP, should not lead anyone to think its larger Hindu cultural nationalist fraternity is short of ideas and energy. On the face of it a campaign to save the cow may not have the attractive aura of Rahul Gandhi on his discovery of the Other India.


But history is witness that prior to the prominence of the cause of Ram's birthplace on its agenda, no issue had the salience and appeal of the cow protection movement of the sadhus in the late 1960s. The cow after all from over a century ago has helped paper over cracks on caste basis among Hindus to help create a consciousness that those who worship it are mobilised against those that harm it.


Rallying round the cow was response not so much to minority assertion as to the rise to power and prominence of the lower social orders. The cow as symbol had maximum appeal at around the time the Bharatiya Jana Sangh first tasted electoral success in many north Indian states in 1967.


As then, there may well be limits to the appeal of the cow as an emblem of community consciousness.


Much of India's milk output comes from buffaloes, which have no such prominence in religious terms.


Yet, the Parishad is testing the waters, signaling that the cultural organisations have opened another front at a time their favourite political party's fortunes have touched a nadir. It was a similar initiative when men like Ashok Singhal energised sentiment on the Ram temple issue in the mid 1980s when Vajpayee's party had just 2 members in the House of the People.


Will the card work as well as evocation of Ram Lalla did? There is no doubt it will be played in right earnest. The vast network of schools and ashrams, social service centres and volunteer groups will do their best.


Where both the Congress and the Hindutva parivar are united is in their abhorrence of another major political tendency that looms larger than before on the horizon: Maoism.


Where the Congress sees its political platform and the Hindutva family its cultural politics as salve for the polity, the Maoists want to change everything root and branch.



Maoism draws from older traditions of peasant rebellion but in the main its roots can be traced to the serious differences its founders in India Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal had with parliamentary communism.


Armed rebellions were the only way to ameliorate the peasantry, and China showed the way.


In its present incarnation, Maoists are way ahead of their predecessors in weaponry and firepower.


Their major bases lie in forest, hill and Adivasi areas.


In Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand their social bases overlap with the very groups the Hindu cultural activists wish to enlist for a competing cause.


The law and order dimension of the Maoist offensive is well known enough but the politics does need serious attention. The under class groups in the India they thrive best are in a situation where the civilising aspects of state power are rarely seen and the brutality often evident. Unlike the Marxist party in India or even the Maoists of Nepal they are unwilling to give democracy a chance.


They see it as a sham and hope to overturn it.


It will be easy to measure the success or the failure of Rahul Gandhi's efforts or those of the Sangh Parivar in the next few years.


Electoral performance will be a major index of success or of failure. Another will be whether they are able to set the larger agenda of politics.



But the Maoist challenge is a more serious one. Four decades ago, a young Prime Minister running a minority government took the Naxalites on. No one should have any illusions about how tough the crackdown with its attendant pain and suffering was. But this was accompanied by a political turn to the left that took the wind out of the sails of Left wing critics.


India is too large and complex a polity to buckle over and heel. But the questions of exclusion and the search for a common cultural idiom continue to be contentious as ever. Rahul Gandhi represents the Centre reaching out to the under class but his success or failure rests more than ever on what they think. The cow campaign in turn will fail or flourish depending on how far believers see its politics as central to their lives.


Maoism or its challengers will win the day not depending on their coercive ability but on the appeal of their ideas. The question is whether revolution is the answer or democracy can reinvent itself.


A polity in ferment and at least three ways to go. And who was it that said all politics is dead and only governance matters?


The writer teaches history in Delhi University








AS A professor, economist, minister and prime minister over the last five decades, Manmohan Singh, more than anyone else, knows how unprofessional and underperforming our bureaucracy is. He is equally aware that his pursuit of 10 per cent growth will come to naught if the sloth continues.


The genial doctor is not the kind to crack a whip but he has made it clear that nothing less than radical reforms in the bureaucracy are called for if the targets set by his government are to be achieved.


At a chief ministers conference on e- governance just before the last general elections, he dropped a few hints about the sloppiness in the bureaucracy, particularly while drafting notes for cabinet and inter ministerial consultations and in matters that related to the states. He recalled the PV Narasimha Rao regime, when he was finance minister, and noted that in those days such notes were " clear, composite, complete and nothing was missing". Cabinet secretary KM Chandrashekhar has so far maintained a low profile, but with his term now extended, he has decided to crack the whip. The grapevine has it that, taking the cue from the prime minister, he has now launched a programme to familiarise the bureaucracy with one of its basic duties — preparing notes. The result was the first " Workshop on Preparation of Cabinet Notes" where participants from the level of joint secretaries and above were to be taught to " familiarise themselves with relevant procedures, instructions, minimise deficiencies in preparing cabinet notes, create awareness for preparing better quality notes, acquire better understanding of cabinet procedures, minimise procedural errors in notes and reduce the time for finalising these". Most of us would think that these are basics that bureaucrats were taught during their stint at the Mussoorie academy as probationary officers. But the August meeting is proof that the babus have unlearnt all that. On several occasions, cabinet meetings, inter- ministerial consultations or even the Centre's meetings with state governments have been abruptly called off midway because of faulty or incomplete drafting of notes.


Something like this would never happen in the private sector where company honchos are accompanied by legal experts who vet every word that goes into a document. But in the government, this is the rule rather than the exception. Babus sometimes are too lazy to check if his or her department has the competence and the jurisdiction to look into a particular matter. They forget to check if Chandrashekhar the subject matter at hand concerns the central government exclusively or it lies in the state list which implies that the states must be consulted. In matters that call for inter- ministerial consultations, often these are given the go- by, leading to wrangling over jurisdiction.


A note which is said to have been prepared for the meeting makes for hilarious reading for no other reason than it shows how casual the approach of our " steel frame" is. Babus are advised to " check whether the name of the ministry, security grading, page number, file number etc are correctly indicated on each page, that each paragraph is not bulleted but numbered, the date of the note as given on the front page is the same as the one signed by the officer, that notes have been typed in double space of A- 4 size paper, 1.5 inch left margin has been given and the notes have not been bound spirally and been stapled only once on the left hand corner". Other gems include these: " quality of the language used must be clear and unambiguous, all pages must be numbered and arranged sequentially". Democracy may not be about speed. The commies and the tinpot dictators do things faster.


Democracy is about transparency and accountability which tyrannical despots cannot lay claim to. The cabinet secretary must be lauded for his initiative which has now been adopted by individual ministries which are now conducting their own workshops to ensure that each babu works according to the guidelines laid out. In particular, bureaucrats should know that though they think they are good administrators, they may not necessarily be good communicators.


In this age of communication, that's equally important.


The key test of course will be if this programme is extended to the entire bureaucracy and the government holds out the promise of reward for good performance. That would automatically imply that the laggards are punished. With pay cuts preferably.



AFTER a long hot and tiring summer, there is finally a nip in the air. It's that time of the year when ministers, senior bureaucrats, income tax officers and sundry PAs get ready to receive fatcat businessmen with big hearts and deep pockets. Biz czars see Diwali as the ideal time to line pockets as an investment for the future. A bureaucrat friend told me recently that in Delhi alone, gifts worth several hundreds of crores are distributed by corporates, real estate tycoons, big stock market players and such like during the festive season.


The good times may just be over. Last week, the government announced that henceforth all gifts valued above Rs 50,000 will be taxable for the receiver unless the donor is a relative or gifts are given during special occasions such as marriage. Bureaucrats and others who were used to their annual festive time stimulus package are naturally seething with rage because their loss is enormous.


Time was when babus were happy with a suit length, a bottle of Black Label and couple of kilos of dry fruits. Now moneybags are known to hand out imported cars and penthouse apartments. Previously such gifts were exempted from tax. That's why I doff my hat to Mayawati who admits her rags to riches transformation to the donations in " small change" from millions across the country.


Yet I believe it won't be long before they find a way out of this one. For one, who will decide on the value of the gifts? In the past, it was easier to put a price on gifts.


But at a time when a Mercedes comes free on purchase of a penthouse apartment, the task of putting a price on a gift is not easy. A plasma TV whose value you or me may declare as Rs 50,000 may be only worth a tenth of that to the brazen babu. So trust them to find a loophole here. My hunch is that despite Pranab da 's diktat, most of them will remain unscathed.



CABINET secretary KM Chandrashekhar may have found a way to deal with truant babus, but who will tame truant ministers? MK Alagiri has raised the truancy bar to new heights. It's almost five months since he took charge of three very important departments as the minister for chemicals, petrochemicals and fertilisers, yet his attendance in office has been abysmal and important files are piling up.


Though there are two secretaries to assist him — Bijoy Chatterjee in chemicals and petrochemicals and Atul Chaturvedi in fertilisers — the minister is in dread of meeting them. The reason: communication problem. Alagiri speaks only Tamil and both secretaries do not understand the language.


Being senior officers, they are not going to let the simple matter of language come in the way of effective governance. One of them even wrote to the cabinet secretary to say that he had not seen his minister for over two months while the other is biding his time in office waiting for Alagiri to show up. Recently, the minister skipped the meeting of the 13th Finance Commission where he was to present the fertiliser ministry's projections.


He also gave the go- by to the meeting of the apex body of industry on fertiliser imports.


It is no secret that Alagiri's heart lies in matters relating to the DMK. Sources in the DMK say that Alagiri has held out twin threats: either he be assigned secretaries who speak Tamil. If that is not possible, he wants to be reassigned to Tamil Nadu. Most would say the latter is the better option.


But until either happens, a lot of important work will continue to be held up. But on the flip side, consider this. The minister isn't around, the official cars are lying idle, the lights and the airconditioners have never been switched on in his office. That's a lot of saving on petrol and energy bills.


That's austerity Alagiri style.


RAHUL Gandhi's well- meaning forays, often unscheduled, into the hinterland are turning out to be a nightmare for his security men. Even senior Congress leaders are beginning to get worried. On his visit to Kerala last week, he took off unannounced on three different occasions, sending the SPG and the local police into a tizzy. On such occasions, policemen do get anxious, even irritated, just like you or me would if a son or a daughter stayed out late. In Kozhikode, he suddenly stepped out at night for a stroll on the beach leaving an anxious state police officer to ask another " Where is our friend hanging around now?" It was an innocuous query. But it was picked up by the police wireless and soon the Youth Congress was seeking the officer's suspension. What are police officers supposed to do? Particularly when someone like Rahul disregards their advice, skips their cover and simply vanishes. I am reminded of the time when during his prime ministership, Rajiv Gandhi — an ex- Indian Airlines pilot — wanted to take command of the special IAF plane that was flying him. The SPG chief, who was on board, politely but firmly vetoed him. It's time BV Wanchoo, the current SPG chief, did some plain speaking to Rahul.









This year's Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama has provoked unusual controversy. Critics of the award have said that the man is barely nine months into his presidency. In this short period he has hardly accomplished enough to qualify him for the award. Obama himself appears to concur. Although he's accepted the award, he doesn't quite feel he belongs to this gallery of greats. We agree that Obama hasn't done nearly enough to earn him the stature of, say, a Nelson Mandela. But does that invalidate the Nobel committee's decision to award him the Peace prize? On the contrary, it could be a brilliant move.

Think about it this way. The American president holds critical decisions of war and peace in his hands. That calls for some checks and balances, but the American public takes very little interest in foreign affairs. According to the terms of this "don't ask don't tell" arrangement the US president is allowed to pursue privately what would be scandalous if exposed to the public realm. President Reagan, for example, waged what was effectively a terror campaign against Nicaragua because that country had a government the US didn't like. President Bush took the US to war with Iraq by linking that country, falsely, with both al-Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction.

In a well-known episode from Hindu mythology, Shiva drinks poison to save the world. The US president is a bit like Shiva, a god of creation as well as destruction. Indians often pray to rid themselves of their anxieties, by outsourcing them to the gods. In a similar act of transference, Americans outsource matters of nasty statecraft to their president. They rely on him to drink poison, figuratively speaking, so that they may be allowed to continue with their lives undisturbed. Other nations, too, may outsource their security to the American president.

The Nobel committee is a pragmatic body which would like to maximise peace outcomes. It could, of course, have avoided controversy by giving the award to some inconsequential tree-hugging activist somewhere. But crucial matters of environmental safety depend on decisions taken by the American president. The future of the world hinges on men like Obama. By awarding the Peace prize to him, the Nobel committee is in effect telling Obama that the world has certain expectations of him. It's an act of counter-transference designed to negate the 'bad' transference that happens when quasi-divine powers are conferred on the US president. William Shakespeare once wrote that some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. Having recognised Obama's potential, could the award be the Nobel committee's way of thrusting greatness upon him?







The stormy discussion around telecom regulator TRAI's intent to enforce a mandatory 'pay per second' mobile tariff is significant because it will affect close to 500 million telecom consumers, millions of shareholders and several bellwether stocks. TRAI wishes to mandate that every operator offer at least one per second plan. While on the face of it this appears reasonable, even pro-consumer, it does raise a few questions about over-regulating the telecom market which has so far worked pretty well.


TRAI has been exercising a policy of forbearance on tariffs for many years. What are the compulsions forcing its intervention at a time where 12 operators per circle three times higher than the global average are already engaged in the fiercest price war that the industry has ever seen? Three operators Tata Docomo, BSNL and MTS have already introduced the 'pay per second' scheme without any regulation, compelling others to follow. Is there any evidence of market failure or consumer dissatisfaction compelling TRAI to act? Does a per second offering by incumbents constitute predatory pricing for new entrants? Last but not the least, if intervention is critical why didn't TRAI act for years to proactively recommend a pay per second regime before this?

The debate needs to be balanced at many levels: consumers' immediate and long-term interest (especially if this move adversely affects new competitors) and consumer interest versus industry margins. A 'pay per second' plan does mean savings for consumers and the consumers must have the best, but should this be TRAI's priority given other pressing issues that need its immediate attention? Finally, the issue of predatory pricing is significant. It is unclear whether the per second tariffs offered by incumbents are anti-competitive, and whether that will significantly distort entry pricing for new competitors.

It is perhaps best for the regulator to hold off its guns. The TRAI Act wisely provides for a statutory consultation process before jumping to conclusions. Its pre-emptive statement ahead of economic conclusions derived from a detailed analysis of the per second regime is premature and unwarranted. Yet, if the consultation offers a sound basis for this regulation, it should be enacted without delay. TRAI's winning bet would be to give market forces a chance. Act it must, but not in haste and preferably not in vain.







The Sachar committee report, when it came out in 2006, created a stir among advocates of social justice and minority rights. The report and the surveys conducted in its wake revealed continuing disparities between the Muslims and the rest of Indian society, particularly upper caste Hindus. In a country where social prejudice is widespread, not to say endemic, advocates of minority rights have found it natural to attribute the plight of Muslims to the practice of discrimination against them. It is, of course, difficult to demonstrate that those Muslims who have fallen behind in the competition for education and employment have been individually the victims of discrimination, or that prejudice was the sole reason why they fell behind.

Presumption of prejudice and injustice against Muslims has created a demand for special provisions in recognition of their separate status as a minority. They did enjoy such a status under colonial rule. That underwent a major change with India's partition and attainment of independence. The Constituent Assembly sought to create a new consensus on the basis of equal citizenship for all without consideration of race, caste, creed or gender, and protection of minority interests in cultural and educational matters. The constitutional consensus was against provisions for the representation of minorities in politics and administration of the kind adopted for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. There would be quotas for the latter, but not for the former.

On quotas, Nehru and Ambedkar thought alike. Ambedkar gave pointed expression to the view then shared by most: "It is wrong for the majority to deny the existence of minorities. It is equally wrong for minorities to perpetuate themselves." He did not want the special interests of the minorities to be ignored, but he also did not want a return to the status quo ante. The new Constitution was designed to establish a new political order based on the rights of the individual as citizen. Some concessions could be made to groups that had suffered the consequences of centuries of geographical isolation and social segregation, but religious minorities did not fall within their scope.

India had been since time immemorial a society of castes and communities. What counted in its traditional social order were village community, caste and joint family rather than the individual. The new Constitution sought to make a break from the old order by enlarging the role of the individual citizen and restricting the role of castes and communities. Ambedkar and his associates in the Constituent Assembly were not unaware of the challenges in making a break with the past.

Ambedkar's anxiety about the minorities seeking to perpetuate themselves must be seen in the light of the primacy he assigned to citizenship in the new constitutional order. Communities were important, but it would be wrong to allow their claims to supersede the claims of the individual. Some wished to give the village community primacy. He opposed them, saying, "I am glad that the draft Constitution has discarded the village and adopted the individual as its unit."

The positive response to the Sachar committee report was an endorsement of Ambedkar's view that it would be wrong to ignore the existence of minorities. But what about his view that it would also be wrong for the minorities to perpetuate themselves? It is doubtful such a view will be received kindly by those who were enthused by the report and the committee's recommendations. India's political climate has changed substantially in the last 60 years. In December 1946, when the Constituent Assembly first met, only the Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha espoused identity politics. Today, it has become the staple of all political parties.

Prejudice against other communities is a common feature of large societies that contain a plurality of communities. It does not take an equally virulent form in all societies, nor is its expression equally pernicious in all historical conditions. Realistically speaking, one cannot eliminate social prejudice but only try to moderate its influence and to insulate certain spheres of life from its exercise. Constitutional morality requires bringing discriminatory practices to light, and allowing grievances to be articulated. It will be difficult to argue that the combative assertion of one community's rights as against those of another is the best way of coping with social prejudice. Minority right is a powerful sword but it would do well to remember that, in our present political circumstances, it is a double-edged sword.

A reasonable approach to the problem will lie in recognising that social prejudice infects all communities. Minorities undoubtedly have grievances against the majority that cannot be brushed under the carpet. The majority also has grievances against the minorities, and not all of those may be without foundation. Grievances on the one side tend to reinforce those on the other. Identity politics, which brings different communities into confrontation with each other, may have made people more conscious of their rights, but it has also made social prejudice more difficult to control.

The writer is professor emeritus of sociology, University of Delhi.




Q & A



Gail Omvedt has written extensively on social movements and political traditions, especially those of Maharashtra. In an interview to Amrith Lal , she discusses the assembly elections in Maharashtra:

What are the people's issues in this election?

People's issues are almost always the same, genuinely inclusive development, support for farmers that is meaningful, especially in drought areas, provision of education especially primary education. Most of these are only taken as slogans, never meant to be implemented. Education is crucial for Dalits and other excluded groups, yet the Indian state has always emphasised expense on higher education for the elite. There are today two streams quality and usually English-medium education for the elite, rote learning in the vernacular for the masses. The latest statistics show an appalling number of children outside of school. Where is this ever taken seriously? Finally, the overcoming of communal discords and some kind of genuine policy that would lead to the annihilation of caste are the immediate needs of the people, not always realised or expressed.

The contest in Maharashtra is between two tried and tested fronts. What explains the lack of a credible third alternative?
BJP is discredited for obvious reasons. But Congress is also discredited because it also is not taking any genuine innovative programmes and remains a dynastic possession. Rahul Gandhi's "symbolism" of staying in Dalit households is patronising. In many ways, Mayawati's statues have meant a greater empowering symbolism, recalling many of the heroes of the anti-caste movements. Dalits today are saying something like what African Americans in the US said earlier - if you want to fight racism, don't come to us to do it, fight racism in the white community. Fight caste and caste discrimination among the elite, not among the subalterns.

Dalit politics promised a radical alternative. Why did it fail?

BSP was growing, especially under Kanshi Ram who took seriously the idea of building a coalition of backward castes, Dalits and minorities. Mayawati's "sarvajan" policies threw this off the track. RPI (Republican Party of India) factions are finished. Now let us see what happens. People that is, Dalits, the rural poor, the subaltern castes, religious minorities such as Muslims are voting in terms of their interests, and are fairly calculating about this.

Farmers are said to be influential in Maharashtra politics. But agrarian distress is acute in the state. How do you see this contradiction?

Farmers were never really influential; their issues were always filtered through the politicians' versions of them, for instance, the continual promises of "free electricity". When the farmers have only asked for reasonably priced but reliable electricity, the politicians invented "free electricity" and they continue to invoke farmers without really doing much. The crucial issues of higher prices, not subsidies for inputs, and investment in infrastructure remain.









On a recent late evening, we were at the Galileo Galilei airport, waiting for a delayed Pisa-London flight. I saw a nattily dressed individual taking a seat in front of us. His face seemed familiar. It was like meeting a long lost friend. I studied the shoes and the tagged briefcase, trying to casually see the name without making it too obvious. The man turned to speak to his companion. That's when i got a chance. In the dim light all one could make out was 'Richard'. Was it really Lucknow-born Harry Roger Webb the singer who was all the rage in school? He wore Presley-like hair and gear and did hits that were the rage on dance floors 'Living Doll', 'The Outsider', 'Travellin' Light', 'Young Ones', 'Summer Holiday'. I turned to the wife. She studied the bag tag and nodded. What next? It was a classic middle-age fix. Should i just go up to him and thank him for the many hours of joy his music gave my pimply generation? But then, would not i be letting out my age to the attractive young lassie seated next to me who kept throwing glances at me from her Paulo Coelho, no doubt daring me to go up to a stranger and make a complete ass of myself?


That's when he stood up. The face that adorned the music albums in my teen years was now furrowed but there was no doubt about it. Abruptly, Cliff Richard picked up his briefcase and scooted. I said to myself, 'Shoot', as the lassie smiled mischievously to herself. I kept thinking of jam-sessions, juke-boxes, jiving and humming 'Blue Moon' on the midnight flight after that missed opportunity to shake hands with a celebrity. I was out exploring South Kensington with my camera early the next morning, and something stopped me. I wasn't going to blow this one, now that there was no frowning companion or teasing red-heads around. I went across to the short man apparently rehearsing dialogue with a companion. I cut in without much ado. "Hey, you've always been my favourite hero since Midnight Cowboy, Dustin!" The grey-haired man looked surprised but responded good-humouredly, "Get out of here! You don't just barge in on people like that. Now stand next to me, and get a picture taken. Say hello to mum and the boys." The picture, now framed, takes pride of place at my work station.








The second suicide bomb attack on the Indian embassy building in Kabul is a stark reminder that few countries have as much at stake in the present war in Afghanistan as India. There is a simple historical fact: the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan coincided with the worst years of the Kashmir insurgency. This was no coincidence. The Taliban allowed militant groups to set up safe havens on Afghan soil and tap the country's heroin exports for funding. They also provided a tangible example of how insurgents could use religion and rifles to come to power. This was the earlier 'Af-Pak' equation, one that allowed Pakistan to wage asymmetric warfare against India at little cost. Despite claims to the contrary, there is no hard evidence that if the present Taliban formation were to come to power, it would not again convert Afghanistan into a hub of global terrorism.


While the embassy attacks and the killing of Indian workers in Afghanistan are a reminder of the Taliban's enmity, the truth is that there are few countries where India has as strong a positive association. Polls have shown that India is among the most favourite nations with the Afghan public. In Afghanistan's August election, both of the main candidates saw India as a friend — a rare state of affairs in South Asia. It is not as if India has a perfect record when it comes to Afghanistan. For example, it made a poor decision to support the Soviet invasion. Nonetheless, India has become the preferred land of exile and nation of example for Afghan leaders.


Both realist and idealist motivations merge when it comes to India's interest in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, India's own political and strategic limitations mean it is reduced to a largely humanitarian role in Afghanistan — and one fundamentally dependent on the United States, eventually creating a stable and independent Afghan polity. Which is all the more reason India must use every opportunity to assert its Afghan role. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao's decision to fly to Kabul after the blast is a good gesture. But India should also consider increasing its aid commitments and its paramilitary deployments. Under no circumstances should those responsible for the attacks come to believe that acts of terror will make India sacrifice its national interest.







For years, many of us women have spent much time trying to come up with smart put-downs for nauseating pick-up lines. To add to your knowledge, we have scoured the Net and have come up one that is suitable for a family paper. It goes Man: Your place or mine?


Woman: Both. Man: Huh? Woman: You go to your place, I'll go to mine.


Now it turns out all this effort was largely useless. A website poll says that six out of 10 women actually fall for a cheesy chat-up line. Such pukeworthy lines as "Apart from being beautiful, what do you do for a living?" apparently went down well with the ladies. Of course, all it not lost. The very over-the-top ones fell flat but, nevertheless, it is one in the eye for us feminists that we still love a patently false bit of puerile prose from men. So much for all that wheeze about women getting attracted to men with a sense of humour and the intelligence to recite the World Bank report on migration backwards. All we want is just something to flatter the flattened ego and we're game. Now it is possible that those of us who sneer at cheesy lines are doing so because we don't have too many eager gentlemen queuing up at the door. So we are making a virtue of necessity. But we must insist that women must make up their minds. Do they want the one-line spouting roses and candlelight sort or the contemptuous, hard to get Mills and Boonsian type?


We'll just have to wait till the next poll comes along. All we can say with certainty that these rapidly-changing parameters of what's attractive and what's not will keep men on their toes. And us editorial writers in business for a little longer.









Few stand-up comics have been as good as Bal Thackeray, and none has cashed in on his talent more profitably. Armed with his lines, and little else, he built a party and made and spent billions. Elections are no fun without him, and he's absent from the one in Maharashtra tomorrow, a dull event.


Eighty-four in a few months, Thackeray has been keeping indifferent health. He hasn't spoken in public for two years. This year he skipped the annual Vijayadashami rally he has held since 1966. To last year's rally he came but did not speak.


This is a loss for those who know Marathi and can enjoy him. He's a truly great performer: understated in slapstick, always deadpan and with a rapper's sense of rhyme. His response to why so much was being renamed after Shivaji: 'Shivaji nahi tar kai Quattrocchi?'


From his Vijayadashami pulpit he revealed his view, often arrived at mid-speech, of Enron, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Friday prayers and atomic bombs.


On September 28, the Shiv Sena released its manifesto. It promised to finish a proposed Shivaji monument off Marine Drive in five years. A week later, in his newspaper Saamna, Thackeray described the idea of the monument as foolish. 'Was one needed', he asked, 'when another stood just down the road at the Gateway of India?' After Shivaji we have already renamed the Prince of Wales Museum, Victoria Terminus and the airport. As word spread, his son Uddhav said Thackeray had been misunderstood. But what's possible also is that he wouldn't have read the manifesto.


It is quite unfair to judge the Shiv Sena for its policies. It's not that sort of political party. It has no caste base; it only has Thackeray and his utterings.


Most mornings, the news service PTI is kept busy with translations of Saamna's editorials and interviews — the man most interviewed in Thackeray's paper is Thackeray.


Thackeray demands this; Thackeray blasts that. It's good copy, and easy to get because Thackeray has an opinion on a lot of things from the habits of middle-class Mumbaikars (always drying undies in their balconies, embarrassing Thackeray before his foreign guests) to diplomacy (why haven't we obliterated Pakistan?).


Though these lines are delivered ex cathedra, they aren't to be taken seriously. We know this because often the opinion is in street language and includes calling people names, like bhadwa (pimp).


People get fired up by this, but that's only because they misunderstand Thackeray. In 2001, Shiv Sainiks burnt down the 400-bed Singhania hospital, killing two including a baby. The Sena hasn't rebuilt it, but it did indicate that it was sorry.


The evidence shows that Thackeray doesn't hate much. He dislikes Muslims, but sips warm Heinekens on his roof with Dilip Kumar.


He's angry about Marathis being under-represented, but gives his Rajya Sabha tickets to Bengali Pritish Nandy, Bihari Sanjay Nirupam and Gujaratis Mukesh Patel and Chandrika Kenia. He rants against Western culture, but is ecstatic that Michael Jackson used his toilet (whether Jackson graced it with a Number 1 or a Number 2 we do not know).


Of late the joy has gone. The Sena has been out of power for 10 years. That's a decade without cash, and it's tough to nourish a political party without the income that ministries bring.


Parties cannot run on one-liners alone.


People who realise this bolt. His first deputy Chhagan Bhujbal left him in 1991, a second deputy Narayan Rane left him in 2005. When he put son Uddhav in charge, his nephew Raj left him in 2006.


Thackeray's larger sorrow must be that his son doesn't have his talent. Uddhav is what he appears to be: boring. He cannot speak lucidly, and is introverted. He likes to photograph wildlife, but hasn't the patience of National Geographic. There's a terrific picture of him shooting close-ups of a tiger that his chamchas are holding down with ropes.


Raj, on the other hand, is funny and charismatic.


A fine caricaturist like Thackeray, Raj is less surefooted on knowledge. On his site he has sketched Yeltsin and called him Brezhnev. He likes the gently menacing language of Ram Gopal Verma villains. His letters to shopkeepers warning them to change their boards from English to Marathi show this unexpected side. You could be taught a lesson, Raj says, 'I will personally supervise this special tuition.'


We know that he certainly carries a big stick. When he was arrested last year, his party went berserk and killed people. Raj apologised, clarifying that these weren't planned assassinations. So that's OK then.


The Thackerays have communicated to India the image of the Marathi as sullen and hostile. This is incorrect. The Marathi is hardy, cheerful and relentlessly high-culture.


There isn't reason for him to be resentful. Outsiders have helped built the economy of his great city. In the 19th century, Gujaratis built the stock market and in the 20th North Indians built Bollywood, employing lakhs of people.


They were able to do this because the British state guaranteed the trader rule of law, the filmmaker protection from moralists, and the citizen a monopoly over violence. We democratised violence and now any group can profess hurt, and beat up and kill.


The British built this city. Their talent was building institutions. Our talent is renaming things others built.


Our politics have always been rubbish. But with Thackeray at least we got entertainment. We don't even get that now.


Aakar Patel is a Mumbai-based writer and businessman.


The views expressed by the author are personal








In a state, which gave Indian politics the words 'aya ram gaya ram' to symbolise easy defections in the 70s and the 80s, a multi-cornered fight could throw up many surprises on October 22.


Haryana seems all set to return the Congress to power. Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda could rewrite history by becoming the first leader in 30 years to help his party retain the government after virtually a full-term.


Hooda has strengthened his party even in areas where it has never won earlier. But, there is still an element of uncertainty. The state may have simple people, but they have pride and big egos. If that gets hurt, they might just ignore all the good work.


In the last Assembly polls (2005), nearly everyone agreed that Om Prakash Chautala as the Chief Minister had done a good job but the electorate thought otherwise. In some places, the main grouse against him was 'his arrogance and the coarse behaviour of his sons'.


Chautala not only lost from one seat to young Randeep Surjewala, but his party managed to win only nine seats, one short of the number required to make him the official leader of the Opposition. The Congress was victorious in most Jat-dominated areas, thereby, ending  Bhajan Lal's hopes of becoming the next chief minister. The overwhelming Jat support ensured that Hooda — who had on three occasions beaten Haryana's Tau, the late Ch. Devi Lal in the Lok Sabha polls from Rohtak — was elected as CM.


This time Hooda is lucky that the opposition is fragmented. There is satisfaction that the party had won nine out of ten seats in the May Parliament elections and main rival Chautala has drawn a blank in the two consecutive Lok Sabha polls of 2004 and 2009.


He would have been better placed if polls were held on schedule in 2010, as many incomplete projects would have gone on stream by then. There is always a risk of going to the polls earlier and the example of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, which advanced the parliamentary polls in 2004 by some months is an example. The gamble boomeranged.


The Assembly elections are unique this time. The BJP, which earlier used to contest along with Bansi Lal's Haryana Vikas Party or Chautala's Indian National Lok Dal, is now without an ally. It may find the going really tough. Bhajan Lal's outfit, the Haryana Jan Hit Party, has chosen candidates keeping caste considerations in mind.


Bhajan Lal appears to have forged a secret understanding with Chautala in order to give a tough fight to Congress nominees. This time he wants to establish his younger son, Kuldeep Bishnoi in state politics. Chautala is hoping to regain some of the lost Jat seats in his erstwhile bastions. He is pitted against another well- known Jat leader, Birendra Singh, grandson of late Sir Chottu Ram from Ucchana.


The seemingly sound Congress position is because even in its worst days, the party has never polled less than 28 per cent of the total vote. Second, Hooda has grown in stature in the last four-and-half years and is considered close to the party high command.


Third, his rivals within the party are considerably weakened and some of them may find it difficult to win in the Assembly polls without him.


His biggest problem this year is the high prices of essential commodities. The polls are being held during the festive season and everyone is likely to feel the pinch. Congress president Sonia Gandhi is backing Hooda to once again deliver the state to the party. Between us.


 Linga Ram (22) used to drive private vehicles before he was allegedly forced to join as special police officer (SPO) in insurgency-hit Dantewada district, about 450 km south of Raipur.

His family, whose principal source of income is farming, had filed a petition at the Chhattisgarh High Court, seeking Linga Ram's relief from service.

The Court has acceded to the family's request, and directed the Dantewada police to allow him to relinquish his post.

The order comes amidst an escalating battle in the state between Maoists and the security forces.

His counsel Vivek Sharma told Hindustan Times that after Linga's reluctance to continue as SPO, the police detained him, following which his brother filed the petition.

However, Dantewada Superintendent of Police Amresh Mishra told HT that Linga himself decided to become SPO though he resigned on Thursday after the court's decision.

"The police did not force him and in fact his decision to quit the job was influenced by his family members," Mishra said.

The Chhattisgarh police began recruiting SPOs as part of the antiMaoist operations in mid-2005. The hiring created controversy when it was alleged that the state police were recruiting teenagers.

Before the court's decision, Linga Ram's family members lodged a complaint with the Dantewada collector and superintendent of police (SP) to relieve him but nothing came out of it then. It was only after the high court served notice to the Dantewada SP that Linga Ram was produced before the court and his statement recorded.

Notable citizens like historian Ramachandra Guha and former bureaucrat E.A.S. Sarma challenged their hiring in the Supreme Court in May 2007 as being tantamount to the state arming civilians.

The police use these young tribals as informants, and rely on them to negotiate little-known and remote forested terrain, which are home to the Naxal guerrillas.

These young people are also the most vulnerable: in Bastar's sharply polarised landscape (where Dantewada is situated), over 150 SPOs have been killed in combat, or murdered.

SPOs are not in regular employment.
Around 3,000 of them in Chhattisgarh, deployed in the Naxal hotbed of the Bastar region, are in combat with Maoist rebels side by side with the regular state police and paramilitary personnel.

The court's directive, as interpreted by the legal circles here, was aimed to convey to the police that every young person has the liberty to take a decision about himself or herself and the police should not force them to become SPOs.

An SPO in Chhattisgarh gets a monthly pay of Rs 2,150, of which Rs 1,500 is reimbursed from the Centre's allocated security-related expenditure.

"The roles and responsibilities of the SPO are similar those of a police officer, in accordance with the provisions of the Police Act," said Pawan Deo, deputy inspector general of police (intelligence).

SPOs get arms training and weapons.

In the tribal belt of Chhattisgarh, where jobs are very few, the tribals are encouraged to join as SPOs as they also act as feeders for the security forces involved in waging a battle against the left-wing extremists.

However, the SPOs continue to draw flak from human rights organisations even though their condition is no better than the loosely structured armed village squads, who suffered heavily in violent Naxal attacks.

This is for the first time that the judiciary has had to intervene on behalf of a tribal youth from a Naxal-infested area.

Over the years Chhattisgarh has trained SPOs from among the tribals in the Bastar region. The SPOs on various occasions formed part of Salwa Judum campaign.

The Salwa Judum is a loose antiNaxal unit comprising civilians, built up by the Chhattisgarh government.
This move has been criticised by the Supreme Court.

"Linga joined as SPO on August 27 this year. He informed the court that he hasn't got his salary so far," Sharma said.

However, the police remain keen to retain him. "Perhaps they believe Linga's reported acquaintance with Naxals would be of tremendous use to the security forces," Linga's counsel at the Court said.

"Our doors will remain open for him if he decides to come back," said Mishra.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh repeatedly said the Naxal problem was the greatest security threat the nation was facing. The attitude of the state police bears him out on this. The state having to set up alternative units to deal with insurgency was unheard of so far.







Pakistan's commandos did not take too long to end the brazen daylight attack and the hostage siege at the Army's General Headquarters in Rawalpindi over the weekend. Pakistan has also apparently captured an attacker — one Dr Usman — who had once served in the army medical corps and is currently associated with militancy in Pakistan. Despite the shock waves that the attackers sent out by storming the GHQ, it would be premature to conclude that the army and the ISI will end their dalliance with extremist groups. That these attacks were a warning to the military leadership in Rawalpindi is not in doubt; they were in fact promised in recent days by the leaders of the Pakistani Taliban. Direct attacks on the security forces have become a new element of the Taliban strategy, onewe first saw in March with the penetration of a paramilitary force compound in Lahore; and so have bold attacks on such highly visible targets as the Sri Lankan cricket team in the same city.


The storming of the GHQ has come on top of suicide bomber attacks on a United Nations office in Islamabad and a marketplace in Peshawar last week. Their political objective was to undermine the morale of the Pakistan army, which is reportedly ready to launch a major campaign against militant strongholds in the tribal regions straddling its western frontiers with Afghanistan. It took prolonged political pressure and economic incentives from Washington to nudge the Pakistan army towards South Waziristan.


Reports from Pakistan suggest that the latest attacks involve not just elements of the Taliban and other Pashtun groups from the frontier but also militant outfits in Punjab that were directed to launching attacks in Jammu and Kashmir and beyond in India.


Optimists would hope that the latest attacks might compel the Pakistan army to rethink its current deliberate differentiation of various extremist groups based on its soil — "fight some and feed some".  The army has often acted against Al-Qaeda, under American pressure, and has recently taken on some of the groups affiliated with the local Taliban that challenged the writ of the Pakistani state. But


it has been reluctant to go after either the Afghan Taliban or the Kashmir groups that it sees as strategic assets. If the militant groups are all banding together, one would expect the Pakistan army to act against them all. The pessimists, however, would insist that this latest round of attacks are not strategic enough to compel a change in the army's policy of using extremist groups as instruments of its policy to destabilise Afghanistan and India.







Reports indicate that the Supreme Court collegium may be reconsidering its earlier decision to appoint Karnataka High Court Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran to the Supreme Court. The reason for this, it seems, is a report by the collector of the district where Justice Dinakaran's landholding is being questioned.  Of course, such a report is hardly conclusive proof of guilt. Justice Dinakaran must be given every chance to defend himself — as the collegium seems to have asked of him.


But what about the original decision of the collegium? Should not have the collegium done a thorough background check before appointing Justice Dinakaran? It can of course be argued that these allegations were made only after his appointment. But should the Supreme Court have to rely on outside allegations before conducting its own inquiry? Justice Dinakaran's own innocence or guilt apart, this episode shows that our judge selection process needs to be addressed.  The world's most powerful court self-selects, brooking neither executive inputs nor legislative veto. This puts a tremendous burden on our apex court — the burden to use its unfettered discretion wisely in every single instance. That the Supreme Court has still managed to keep the confidence of the public speaks volumes for its institutional probity despite such encompassing powers.


But it is a reputation that is increasingly under siege — by allegations of corruption, the furore over declaration of judicial assets, and now, the controversy over Justice Dinakaran's appointment. That the court is reassessing its own decision is reason enough to revisit the current procedure over judicial appointments. The two yardsticks for reform that are being suggested are increased public scrutiny of the decisions (a transparent process) and cross-institutional concurrence (which, in the Indian context, means the Centre have some sort of say, but in a manner that does not impede the judiciary's autonomy). It is within this framework that the larger dilemmas thrown up by Justice Dinakaran's appointment must be resolved.










Picture this: two NASA LCROSS spaceships, one the size of a bus and the other a car, estimated at $50 million each, crashing into the surface of the moon at 5,600 miles per hour. To put that into perspective, that's roughly twice the speed of a bullet. For all the jokes doing the rounds, the mission — launched in July — does bring back data to further on-going research on the presence of water ice on the moon.


Much hype has gathered around the live images of dust clouds as the second spaceship relayed live feedback of the mission. NASA's goal was to better understand the geological make-up of the moon and the composition of its surface. Mike Wargo, NASA's chief lunar scientist, called it "exploration and science working together", making the mission a first of its kind. Just last month, scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation found evidence of water on the moon, fuelling further interest and speculation. LCROSS was to bring back samples from the bottom of the craters, which allow for novel discoveries. Further the mission would also inform scientists of temperatures along the moon's surface, and the effect of radiation from the sun on the atmosphere.


The 113-day voyage has brought back a wealth of data and NASA scientists report that the "instruments worked exceedingly well." This has not stopped cynics from embarking on the usual why-is-it-necessary tirade as well as on complaints that NASA "bombed" the moon, prompting some to call for discussion of international treaties protecting it. Rather than contributing to the debate such unfortunate statements are counterproductive. The mission failed to display the fireworks we conjured up in our minds; but in reality the information it brings back should more than suffice.  








The public debate in the US over reforming its healthcare system is a tremendous opportunity for India to learn. Given the level of development of India's health insurance sector, we can pick and choose what will work best here, while staying away from policies and programmes that proved to be costly in the US.


The broad goals for India and American reform are similar: Obama, in his address to Congress on September 9, laid them out as covering the uninsured, reducing the costs of healthcare, and more security for those with insurance. In India, only 15 per cent of India's population has any kind of health insurance, and only 2 per cent has private health insurance, so the broad goals here are also accessibility and affordability.


Here's what India can learn from the US to achieve these broad goals. First, build the retail model, as against group insurance. The predominant way to get health insurance in the US is through an employer, who purchase large "group" plans for their employees. Quit or lose your job, and you also lose your cover. The "retail" model of health insurance is extremely rare, and very expensive. As the costs of healthcare have risen, employers have had to build these costs into their products, making their products uncompetitive in the global marketplace — and in the case of the automobile industry, nearly bankrupting them.


India appears to have followed the US by starting to offer health insurance as an employee benefit. Costs will increase, and they will wind up in product costs, decreasing competitiveness. India must focus on building the retail model.


Second, insurance must cover out-patient care. US products cover the entire health spectrum: in-patient, out-patient, preventative, curative, medical, dental, vision. Current products in India only cover hospitalisation — nothing for out-patient or preventative care. In 2008, India spent Rs 2,00,000 crore on healthcare. Of this, a whopping Rs 130,000 crore, 70 per cent, was spent on out-patient care! Yet, Indian insurance companies are continuing to develop products that focus only on hospitalisation. Not only is expanding beyond that to preventative care good business, it will also lead to better health. It might appear to be counter-intuitive; however, covering out-patient care will reduce total healthcare expenses, by allowing early detection of diseases, and preventing patients from becoming chronically ill and requiring expensive hospitalisation.


Indeed, prevention and wellness is one of the important elements of American reform. Obama wants insurance companies to provide incentives to consumers to change "unhealthy" disease-causing lifestyles into ones that include exercise and healthy diets, and refrain from smoking.


India's increasing affluence is resulting in the same lifestyles: Indians walk less, eat more processed foods, smoke increasingly more, and are consequently becoming obese, stressed out, and vulnerable to diabetes and cardiac-related issues. It may be premature to provide incentives like the US is planning; it may be better to begin with educating people about the correlation between lifestyle and disease.


Thirdly, the US is being forced to increase technological use to reduce costs. India's industry benefits from these technologies already existing today; it does not have to wait for their development like the US did. We should immediately implement technology for claims processing, plan administration, electronic medical and health records, and so on. Each of these will increase efficiency, improve quality, and decrease cost.


Then there is the question of how much beneficiaries should pay. Most US insurance plans require them to pay a deductible as well as a co-payment. This reduces unnecessary consumption and reduces fraud. Products in India are "cashless": consumers pay nothing. Though in reality they may end up paying for the entire procedure if the insurance benefit is capped or denied. India should create products that require deductibles and co-payments, forcing the consumer to stay aware of the costs and prevent hospitals from charging more from the insured than from those paying out-of-pocket.


Fifthly, there are lessons to learn on pay structures. One of the problems America is trying to fix is its "pay-for-service" model in which physicians are paid by the quantity and complexity of the services provided — incentivising prescribing more and more services even when there may be better, lower-cost treatments. The US is now moving to a more balanced combination of pay-for-service combined with pay-for-outcomes.


India is only just beginning to define treatment guidelines for different conditions. Absent these, the same condition can cost significantly varying amounts in different hospitals. India has to come up with a consistent way to pay for service — but it should be thinking simultaneously of the pay for outcomes model.


Overall, India's health insurance industry is just starting out. There is much to learn from the US debate. The writer is an expert on the health insurance sector.


She is based in New Delhi








So now we know that roads paved with good intentions lead not to hell, but to Nobel peace prizes. Or so the five clueless Norwegians on the prize committee appeared to think.


In our disputatious, divided world, I can't remember the last time a consensus of opinion developed so quickly and so strongly: the Norwegians' decision to hand the Nobel prize to someone eight months into a so-far undistinguished term in office is a bit odd.


But the very fact that this consensus has developed is actually even odder than what caused it. After all, in some ways, awarding the prize to the pre-eminent spokesman for a cause the committee wants to further — even when the spokesman hasn't yet achieved what he set out to do — isn't unusual: Al Gore hasn't fixed global warming, nor has Aung San Suu Kyi freed Burma yet. But this time, the reaction was immediate and near-universal: he hasn't done enough.


Indeed, nothing was more certain to focus the resentment of those who already felt that Obama was showered with more adulation than he deserved, or to crystallise the disappointment of those who were beginning to feel that he wasn't living up to the hopes he raised. The reason that the reaction has been so all-encompassing and severe is that the backlash had begun in people's heads — they just hadn't known how to express it.


So it was that these five Norwegians — who are no doubt now hiding from puzzled, questioning friends in their holiday cabins in Lapland — have managed to accomplish what his Republican rivals, the Clintons, and all America's late night television hosts failed to do: turn Barack Obama into a figure of fun. A few months ago, people were worrying he was unmockable. But now, within a few hours, there were dozens of Obama-jokes doing the rounds. Everyone had one.


Here is a sample, from Twitter: "Obama's peace prize to be delivered by drone aircraft; accidentally ends up in civilian wedding 20 miles away." "Obama wins prize: Ahmadinejad demands recount." "I just played Solitaire on my computer; and, dammit, Obama won that too." "Ironically, Obama's biggest accomplishment as president so far: winning the Nobel." "Hey, Hillary! Remember that 3 a.m. call you were so worried about? It happened. Nobel Prize." "Fortunately, he can reuse his acceptance speech about world peace when he wins Miss World." Everybody had something to say, whether to point out that the same day — having apparently run out of earthly countries — the US was bombing the moon, or that someone who can kill flies with the single-minded, merciless, robotic purpose Obama famously displayed should have been disqualified.


This might appear to be a re-assertion of normality. After all, there's no reason why Obama should actually have been above humour. But there is something here that should worry those who care about his agenda anyway: he is in serious danger of losing control of how he's viewed. Of course, the Obama-as-Messiah thing was inexplicable from the start, especially to the man himself; but now he is in danger of having his most useful assets — his way with words, his reputation as an outsider, his uncanny ability to make people look forward and expect better — turn into easily-discounted negatives, into jokes.


Let nobody think that that hasn't happened before. When Obama took office, some curmudgeonly commentators — all right, it was I — worried that he showed too many parallels to an earlier transformative liberal, Jimmy Carter. Carter too relied on personal qualities — in his case, a bluff earnestness. When that quality became the butt of nasty humour, he became helpless. And now Obama's qualities are being mocked; though of course, Carter won the peace prize well after his presidency. Which might just mean that "Obama is becoming Jimmy Carter faster than Jimmy Carter became Jimmy Carter", as another line doing the rounds has it.


It might well be the case that the very smart people Obama has around him have figured all this out. Certainly, the words that Obama spoke in his first response appear to have been carefully thought out. He said he felt he didn't believe he "deserved to be in the company" of previous winners, that it was an affirmation of American leadership. All very well. But there was an unusual awkwardness to how he delivered these words; and his leaden banter about how his kids equated the prize to a three-day weekend and the dog's birthday sounded like it could go, unaltered, into a Saturday Night Live parody of the over-entitled, hyper-lucky first family.


The trouble is that Barack Obama, for all his gifts, is perhaps too gifted. Unlike Tony Blair or Bill Clinton, he never had to learn to moderate his charisma with self-deprecation, because his charisma apparently caused not envy but uncontrollable outbreaks of Hope. And without a little self-deprecation, how is he going to deal with becoming less a figure of awe and more a figure of fun?


It might seem a little unfair that something beyond Obama's control, the decision of the aforementioned five Norwegians — currently trying to delete their Facebook accounts and ignore emails asking what they were thinking — is causing the Obama-as-promiser-and-little-more bandwagon to gather weight. But the truth is that he asked for it. He raised hopes when he ran which he rationally knew would never be met in office. Those hopes spilled over from the American electorate to the rest of the world. And, in the end, it is for raising these hopes that Obama has been awarded the prize. In a way he did, in fact, earn it.


Carter was the last American president to win. But he wasn't the last serving American president to win. (The first president to win was noted war-monger Teddy Roosevelt, showing that the Norwegians haven't been able to get their act together in a hundred years. Teddy, terrified that someone might think he was soft, then overcompensated by massively expanding the size of the US Navy and, post-presidency, attempting to personally denude Africa of big game.) No, that was Woodrow Wilson. Who, in speech after persuasive speech, raised hopes everywhere, including outside America, for a new era in which liberal internationalism would rule. Except he couldn't push his agenda through, began to be taken less seriously, and left a legacy of failure. Barack Obama, a man with a sense for history, is likely to be more than a little apprehensive.


Obama didn't ask for this particular prize; but, in asking for a bigger prize, the presidency, he cynically raised expectations that caused this one to be handed to him as well. And he has squandered the unprecedented political capital he came in with. It just took what should have been the crowning moment of a politician's life to make that sad fact clear.








The recent debate regarding unacceptably high corporate salaries has been engaging as well as somewhat surprising. It is therefore important that the context be understood. The reactions in the media as well as amongst business circles were triggered by the phrase "vulgar salaries". It is not a word of my choice or initiative. To be honest, it was used by a mediaperson to ask if I approved of vulgar salaries. How could I have said that I did? It would indeed have been my saying yes to the question if I had stopped beating my wife! In any case my answer was that we in India have not reached the level of liberalism to make vulgarity a fundamental right. How that sums up my entire view on corporate salaries is not for me to ask. But since I have views, as indeed should every thinking, responsible person, I shall state them explicitly.


The immediate reaction also seems influenced by the memory of the prime minister's appeal, way back in 2007, to abjure conspicuous expenditure in a country like ours, still struggling valiantly to ensure inclusive growth. But from that to surmise that the government is in a mood to control salaries and more is wide off the mark. As some observers have said, the law at present puts a cap of 11 per cent of profits beyond which proposals have to come to the government for prior approval. Very few have noticed that the draft legislation forwarded to Parliament and under consideration of the Standing Committee does not have a cap. But of course, Parliament will take the final view. I also need no reminder that many of the huge salaries are drawn well within the cap and by persons whose contribution to the economic landscape is very impressive and indeed applauded by us. Voluntary restraints by them indeed deserve a warm round of applause. Yet the bottom line remains that there is a need to talk about these things as part of the corporate governance debate. Besides, not everyone against government control also accepts that some form of regulation is unwarranted. The discussions at G-20 and the pronouncements of President Obama on corporate "greed" are certainly stronger statements than words like "vulgar" and "indecent"; furthermore no one has yet repudiated the view that the Wall Street remuneration fiasco had something to do with the global recession.


Corporate governance is about many things: independence of directors, diligent internal audits, fair disclosures all around, objective and responsible statutory audit with appropriate standards of accounting and reporting, appointments committee, remuneration committee, social responsibility, environmental sensitivity, perhaps affirmative action and inclusive growth. But more than all these and at the root of the entire edifice is shareholder democracy. As governmental controls disappear in favour of regulation, shareholder democracy must be enhanced. How this is to be done is what we need to debate. The salaries that shareholders then approve should be seen as having the highest stamp of approval. It would be stretching the imagination somewhat to say that democracy needs no help. If this is clear then all diversionary arguments about not returning to the days of the past, as indeed of adversely affecting the reverse brain drain, need not clutter the debate. Allow me to repeat that the government wants a partnership role with corporate India but it has to be a partnership of the 21st century not the disguised proprietorship (either way) of the past.


There is one last argument that clever populists throw at politicians: physician, heal thyself! There is talk about bungalows in Lutyens' Delhi, unlimited phone calls, cars and allowances, so what if the salaries are modest. I can only suggest please come and be our guests for a week; put up with the hundreds of petitioners for jobs and other help; answer our phone which starts to ring at 5am and does not stop till well past midnight; spend some days in our constituencies and at the same time try to keep yourself from not uttering a single word that the press can turn into a story. Finally just think that whatever we have, the good and the bad, is often for a fleeting moment (short years) and then a tough election makes the rest of the life that is left pretty ugly! Meanwhile find the money it takes to nurse a constituency and every election, including the one clearly lost before the campaign begins. We accept democracy so why should you not even want to talk about it? Talking never did anyoneany harm and then, as Amartya Sen says, we are argumentative indeed. Meanwhile it is important to note that the recent talk of austerity in the party is not a political sham or necessarily about a few weeks or months of "abstaining from felicity" in the words of King Lear, but an honest exercise to recharge our moral bearings as the followers of Mahatma Gandhi. Not everything we sacrifice will change the world but it will change us, most certainly. If we do change, those who question our public morality will have to stop using that as an alibi for not doing the right thing themselves. One should not resort to populism to accuse another of populism. Meanwhile just as a few black sheep should not tarnish the entire herd; the many enlightened corporates should not allow a few myopic or less-informed colleagues to speak for the entire fellowship. Even as the industry associations ask what the country can do for you, it will be nice to know what we together can do for those of our compatriots who have no voice in the money market but do have a place in the market of ideas and dreams. Ultimately these are also the people who will add to national savings and hopefully direct them to the capital market, as corporate India and the aam aadmi collaborate.


The writer is a Union minister.








Even before the game began, the Opposition parties in Haryana (BJP, INLD, HJC and BSP) began to realise that the race for 90 seats in the Haryana Assembly is almost closed. So, the counting on October 22 is not a fight for government formation, but a test of survival and Opposition leadership.


The Congress is expected to repeat the success of Election 2005, amid a disarrayed and divided opposition. The party is riding high on Hooda's popularity and his government's performance. The National Election Study (NES) 2009 conducted by Lokniti, CSDS reveals that Hooda was rated by 32 per cent of respondents as the top choice for CM's post and Chautala remained runner up with just 14 per cent approval. More than 60 per cent expressed satisfaction with the Hooda government's performance. Even a majority of NDA voters were satisfied with the state government's performance. The Congress is seen as a party capable of improving law and order situation by 41 per cent respondents whereas 31 per cent expressed no opinion. And if the Lok Sabha results were any referendum on the government's performance, the Congress swept the state, defying conventional wisdom that the party tends to give way when up against a strong alliance. The INLD and its ally BJP barely managed a lead in seven assembly segments each, whereas the Congress led in fifty-nine. The BSP and Bhajan Lal's HJC were ahead in eight and nine assembly segments respectively in May 2009.


However the twist in the story is in the long view — traditional caste arithmetic has gone awry and political parties in Haryana are desperately seeking new equations. The marginalisation of Bansi Lal's Haryana Vikas Party has contributed a great deal towards the current shift, as a section of the Jat community (around 28 per cent of the population), which so far backed the HVP, found itself at the crossroads. Hooda's timely effort to emerge as a focal point of this peasant community has enhanced the Congress share among Jats by 17 per cent since the 2005 election.


But the Congress must seriously think over its assiduous wooing of Jats, as it fuels a sense of caste discrimination, and consolidates traditional Congress voters among Punjabis, Dalits, Sikhs and Banias against it. Hooda's plan of edging out INLD from the Jat frame and letting HJC-BSP and BJP fight for a slice from the same non-Jat votes may prove fatal in the long run as the ruling party has lost nearly one-third of its support among the Dalits (around 19 per cent of the state population). The principal beneficiary of Dalit desertion was the BSP, which posted a significant swing of 35 points in its favour. The BSP has developed tremendous damage potential, as it has crossed the threshold of viability in the last Lok Sabha elections by garnering around 16 per cent of votes. Some may believe that the BSP has lost steam since May and the votes do not correlate to the party's strength on the ground. But if events unfold in sync with its social engineering formulas of courting Rors in Karnal, Meos in Gurgaon and Faribad, Rajputs in Bhiwani, Sainis in Kurukshetra, Brahmins in Rohtak and Banias in Hisar, the party would have much more than what the BSP supremo has projected in multi-cornered contests, as the victory margins could be small.


The BJP needs to worry, because so far it sailed through because of its ability to complement HVP and INLD votes. The INLD's last hopes rest on its understanding with the Akali Dal swaying Sikh voters, and Hooda has countered this by announcing that on November 1, Haryana would get its own Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee to manage the 72-odd gurudwaras and other Sikh institutions in the state. Sikhs are in sizeable population in at least ten assembly segments. The veteran Bhajan Lal is busy preparing the ground for his successor in Hisar and is approaching Ahirs in Mahendergarh, Gurgaon, Punjabis in Faridabad, Karnal and Kurukshetra and Balmikis in Ambala in his last battle.


Despite rebellion and some disenchantment with incumbents, things look safe for the Congress in the absence of a strong 'open' alliance. The tactical understandings between HJC-BJP and HJC- INLD are not worrying, as they merely ensure the victory of a few prominent family trees. But overconfidence might blind the chief minister from seeing future implications of this election. As the call for a non-Jat CM will doubtless run deep in the Congress, the party may find it difficult to keep its present social composition intact.


The writer is with Lokniti, CSDS.









THE executives who run big, ailing news organisations -- in particular Tom Curley of AP and News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch -- complain every chance they get that search engines -- in particular Google -- are stealing from them, because Google links to their stories but doesn'tpaytheAPorNewsCorp.todoso.The way the news bosses see it, that is theft, plain and simple. They say Google is making tonnes of money by shamelessly lifting their content, and it's driving newspapers out of business.


At a meeting of media executives going on this week in Beijing, Murdoch and Curley gave impassioned speeches, saying they're mad as hell and they aren't going to take it anymore. They warn that aggregators like Google had better start paying up, or else.

"We content creators have been too slow to react to the free exploitation of news by third parties without input or permission," Curley told the audience."The aggregators and plagiarists will soon have to pay a price for the coopting of our content," Murdoch said. "But if we do not take advantage of the current movement toward paid content, it will be the content creators -- the people in this hall -- who will pay the ultimate price and the content kleptomaniacs who triumph."


Of course, that's not even close to true. Curley and Murdoch's macho outrage is calculated to be quotable, but it is fake.


Here's why: go to Google News, or type a newsy topic like "Obama wins Nobel" into Google's search box. What do you get? Headlines and very brief teasers linking to news stories from news sites. If you click on them, you are taken to that news site, where you can read thestory,whichissurroundedbythatsite'sads.

What, exactly, did Google steal in this scenario? If you don't click on the link, you don't see the story. If you do click on the link, you see the story on the originator's website. Instead of stealing, I would call this something else: a free service that drives lots of readers to news websites that wouldn't get nearly as much traffic, if any at all, if Google didn't link to their sites for free. That may not be as pithy as crying "thief!" But it has the advantage of being true.


Murdoch and Curley know this. How do we know they know? Because if they really thought Google was stealing from them, and if they really wanted Google to stop driving all those readers to their websites at no charge, they would simply stop Google from linking to their news stories. Google doesn't force websites to be included in its search listings.

The people who run any site can remove it from Google's results with a few keystrokes.
All they have to do is go to the Web site's robot.txt file and type this: User-agent: Googlebot Disallow: / Poof, the site becomes invisible to Google.

Their stories will no longer show up in Google searches. It will be as if they don't exist. It's not like this is some big secret. Google even has a page on its website explaining step by step how to do it. Yet neither AP nor News Corp. has taken this simple step to stop the marauding Google pirates from pillaging their cargo.
Why? Because they know that their traffic would dry up overnight. They'd rather blame someone else for their failure to compete in a changing marketplace. They happily take all the customers Google sends them for free, and then accuse Google of theft. Classy.

Perhaps I'm wrong, and Curley and Murdoch really didn't know that they had the power all along to rid themselves of the Google scourge any time they wanted to. If that's so, they know now. So go right ahead, gentlemen. Stop the thievery. Pull the plug on Google right now. I double-dog dare you.








THE Nobel committee did President bama no favours by prematurely warding him its peace prize. As he himelf acknowledged, he has not done anyhing yet on the scale that would nor ally merit such an award -- and it ismays me that the most important rize in the world has been devalued in his way.


It is not the president's fault, though, hat the Europeans are so relieved at his tyle of leadership, in contrast to that of is predecessor, that they want to do all hey can to validate and encourage it.


I hope Obama will take this instinct a tep further when he travels to Oslo for he ceremony. Here is the speech I hope e will give: "Let me begin by thanking the Nobel ommittee for awarding me this prize, he highest award to which any states an can aspire. As I said on the day it as announced, `I do not feel that I deerve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honoured by this prize.' Therefore, upon reflection, I cannot accept this award on my behalf at all.


"But I will accept it on behalf of the most important peacekeepers in the world for the last century -- the men and women of the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.


"I will accept this award on behalf of the American soldiers who landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, to liberate Europe from the grip of Nazi fascism. I will accept this award on behalf of the American soldiers and sailors who fought on the high seas and forlorn islands in the Pacific to free East Asia from Japanese tyranny in the Second World War.


"I will accept this award on behalf of the American airmen who in June 1948 broke the Soviet blockade of Berlin with an airlift of food and fuel so that West Berliners could continue to live free. I will accept this award on behalf of the tens of thousands of American soldiers who protected Europe from Communist dictatorship throughout the 50 years of the cold war.


"I will accept this award on behalf of the American soldiers who stand guard today at outposts in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan to give that country, and particularly its women and girls, a chance to live a decent life free from the Taliban's religious totalitarianism.


"I will accept this award on behalf of the American men and women who are still on patrol today in Iraq, helping to protect Baghdad's fledgling government as it tries to organise the rarest of things in that country and that region -another free and fair election.


"I will accept this award on behalf of all the American airmen and sailors today who keep the sea lanes open and free in the Pacific and Atlantic so world trade can flow unhindered.


"Finally, I will accept this award on behalf of my grandfather, Stanley Dunham, who arrived at Normandy six weeks after D-Day, and on behalf of my great-uncle, Charlie Payne, who was among those soldiers who liberated part of the Nazi concentration camp of Buchenwald.


"Members of the Nobel committee, I accept this award on behalf of all these American men and women soldiers, past and present, because I know -- and I want you to know -- that there is no peace without peacekeepers.


"Until the words of Isaiah are made true and lasting -- and nations never again lift up swords against nations and never learn war anymore -- we will need peacekeepers. Ours are not perfect, and I have already moved to remedy inexcusable excesses we've perpetrated in the war on terrorism.


"But have no doubt, those are the exception. If you want to see the true essence of America, visit any US military outpost in Iraq or Afghanistan.

You will meet young men and women of every race and religion who work together as one, far from their families, motivated chiefly by their mission to keep the peace and expand the borders of freedom.


"So for all these reasons -- and so you understand that I will never hesitate to call on American soldiers where necessary to take the field against the enemies of peace, tolerance and liberty -- I accept this peace prize on behalf of the men and women of the US military: the world's most important peacekeepers."







Later today, we will know who wins the Economics Nobel for this year. That's a good provocation to ask this question: when will we know economics as a discipline has evolved a bit more. This question, of course, provokes another question: does economics need to evolve at all? Isn't it, in broad principles, a fully mature discipline anyway? Perhaps not. You don't need to be one of those who want to abolish investment bankers or those who see immorality in Goldman Sachs' post-crisis profits to argue that the financial crisis posed formidable intellectual questions. One of the most crucial ones has to do with the 'proven' proposition of mainstream economics that distributing risks is a good thing. This proposition gets into trouble once information asymmetry is brought in. Buyers of bundled and chopped up financial assets not having equal and enough information about risks of underlying assets was at the heart of the crisis. Can economics come up with a theoretical model where the tension between risk distribution and information asymmetry can be addressed? Economists who can do that may not win the Nobel —the prize often ignores the most deserving candidates—but they will be remembered as path-breakers.


Talking of path-breakers, John Maynard Keynes poses the other big question in economics today. A flood of commentary and a rash of books have proclaimed, post-crisis, that Keynes must be the guide to everything sensible that a policymaker needs to do. It sounds so simple. But it isn't. There are two bits of Keynes. One bit that translates into public policy and that, roughly speaking, concerns the role of governments in business cycles. The other bit is all about sublimely intelligent observations that Keynes made on economic behaviour. These are all to be treasured for all times. But their applicability to public policy is not obvious, never has been and never will be. Take what Keynes said about irreducible uncertainty—those looking at economic outcomes always have to contend with that; it implied finance was always going to be unstable. This made beautiful intuitive sense even before Lehman Brothers crashed. But how do we make policy out of this insight? By clamping down on finance? How much is too much? Can this brilliant observation yield even a rough set of policy guidelines? It can't. Many of the other big macroeconomic questions similarly cannot benefit from a re-reading of Keynes. Macroeconomics that assumed complete markets and rational behaviour and advocated public policy deserves to be interrogated. But the supplanting policy framework isn't available in Keynes. Economists, in micro and macro fields, have a lot to do.






That the Indian embassy in Kabul was a target of attack for the second time in two years is a direct result of our deep involvement in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, a project which the insurgent Taliban and other extremist groups would like to thwart at all costs. India has already committed more than $1 billion in aid to Afghanistan, which is more than it gives in aid to any other single country. The Indian government, private companies and engineers and workers from India are involved in building a number of key infrastructure projects in Afghanistan. India has played a prominent role in the construction of roads and highways and in the construction of power transmission lines. Indian aid is assisting in the construction of a major dam, and a number of health centres have been set up across the country funded by the Indian government. India also set up the agriculture university in Kabul, a key institution for a country that depends heavily on agriculture. All this work has continued in earnest despite last year's suicide attack on the Indian embassy, which killed a number of people, including a military attaché and a senior Indian Foreign Service officer.


Now, after this second attack too, we have little choice but to continue our deep engagement with Afghanistan. Any slowing down of the reconstruction effort is bad for an Afghanistan which is battling an increasingly sophisticated insurgency. Any withdrawal of support from key allies like India will also weaken the ability of the fragile centre in Afghanistan to hold off extremists. It is India's interest to help the moderates stay in power and in fact extend their power and goodwill throughout the country. Of course, security for our personnel on the ground is critically important as is security for the infrastructure we are investing in and building. The question is whether at some point the government should think about deploying boots on the ground in Afghanistan at least to the extent necessary to safeguard our own security interests. A small group of ITBP personnel posted at the Indian embassy in Kabul and at consulates elsewhere may be insufficient in meeting the serious security challenge that is being thrown at India. Beefing up the presence of our security forces in Afghanistan will instill the necessary confidence in our own people as well as the Afghans who support our intervention as they strive to keep forces of extremism away. But it will also make the mad lot who create mayhem a lot madder. So, this is a tough call. But one that India may not be able to escape.








A friend of mine recently asked me what I thought the future of Pakistan would be. At first, I was inclined to brush off the query as the answer is contingent on the behaviour of a number of different institutions, organisations, and people, none of whom seem to have made up their minds just yet as to what direction they will go in. The question lingered however, and with it, the realisation that it was a query that needed to be explored using rational analysis and without submitting to emotional prejudices.


First, let's be clear about one thing: the chances of Pakistan breaking up into smaller pieces are extremely slim, and not really in anyone's interest—not even ours. This discourse achieved prominence earlier this year when the so-called Pakistani Taliban moved into Buner district, about 100 kilometres north of Islamabad. Political analysts predicted the disintegration of Pakistan into fiefdoms controlled by warlords; instead, the Pakistani army moved into the area and the militants eventually withdrew: the exact nature of the fighting is unclear as independent journalists were not allowed into the area. It is likely that the scenario was orchestrated to an extent by the Pakistani military. Promoting the image that the state is highly vulnerable allows the Pakistani army to present itself as the only force capable of protecting the country (and the world) from the catastrophic consequences of Islamic militants taking over the state (including its nuclear infrastructure). In essence, it is a way for the military to strengthen its position by convincing a large part of its own population, and the rest of the world, that it is an indispensible institution, and one that should not be weakened; and of course, it also helps Pakistan get copious amounts of foreign aid.


So where does that leave us regarding the original question? Unlike other so-called failed states such as Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan has a bureaucracy, an administrative system, a judiciary, and a military, that could, if reformed adequately and run properly, govern the country. The security threat from the Pakistani Taliban and various other separatist groups is real and large areas of Pakistan could well remain outside of central government control, but that is still a far cry from the Balkanisation of the state.


To my mind then, there are two main directions that Pakistan could take. In the first case, the civilian government could strengthen the foothold that democracy currently has in the political sphere. In this scenario Zardari, or his elected successor, would be able to implement key reforms, such as changing the core curriculum in madrassas and bringing them under government control, actually increasing civilian oversight over the military, and reforming the feudal land ownership system. The state's expenditure, along with foreign aid could then be utilised for securing essential social services, including strengthening the police and judiciary, and building up basic infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, and power plants. Increased economic opportunities combined with the promotion of non-religious education, and a conscious effort by the central government to change the paradigm of thought from one where the national identity is based upon a dialogical vision in which India is the "Other" (the hated enemy), to one which is more inward-looking, are key factors if Pakistan wants to achieve political and economic stability. Of course, I have greatly simplified the process, but one gets the general picture.


The second path that Pakistan could follow is that the military continues calling the shots without changing its basic paradigm of thought. The military has gained immense control over the state: it has vast private interests in the economy (as illustrated by Ayesha Siddiqa's Military Inc.), and for all practical purposes, it determines Pakistan's foreign policy, nuclear policy, security policy, and the military budget. The links of the ISI with numerous terrorist organisations, and the fact that the Pakistani military views these organisations as a strategic asset (the military-mullah nexus) to be used against India and Afghanistan are well known. The military's paranoia regarding India has deep psychological roots based to a large extent on the outcome of the 1971 war. In this scenario, only certain militant groups are targeted, while at the same time, the military protects those jihadis who aim to attack India and Afghanistan.


Furthermore, the madrassa structure is left intact, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are left out of the purview of the central government, and foreign aid and state expenditure is spent on the military apparatus instead of on basic social needs. In effect, if the second scenario continues to unfold, the country will keep hobbling along the way it is right now, with widespread grievances among its population, steadily increasing religious radicalisation, and without much hope in sight for improvement.


Ultimately the future of Pakistan will be determined by its own citisens—civil society, and political and military elites. The primary variable, however, is the path adopted by the military. For Pakistan to take the road towards economic development and political stability, the senior officer corps will need to voluntarily agree to a reduction in its own power, and will need to change its worldview at an ontological level.


Such reversals of basic thought processes are not easy, but they have been done before, and in a grander context than that in which Pakistan finds itself today. In the late 1980s, with the Soviet Union bogged down in Afghanistan, and facing an increasingly dire economic and social situation, Mikhail Gorbachev introduced the concepts of perestroika and glasnost which aimed at liberalising the social and political sphere; while his policies certainly had some flaws, they nonetheless demonstrated a drastic change from the traditional way of thinking in the USSR. He was eventually awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the Cold War. One can only hope that there are political and military leaders in Pakistan who are willing and able to change the dominant paradigm of thought in their country.


The writer is at Brown University, Rhode Island, US







The Human Development Report of the UNDP attracts a lot of attention partly for the theme it chooses each year to explore but much more for the Human Development Index (HDI). Everyone wants to know who went up and who moved down. This year India has stayed at 134 while China has gone up seven places to 92.


So what do we conclude ? Has India not progressed despite the high growth rate of the last few years? What we find is that between 2000 and 2007 India's HDI score moved from 61.3 to 63.4. China moved from 71.3 to 71.4. China has moved up seven places while its HDI score is stagnant and India retains its rank while its score goes up by a couple of points. These things are of course quite usual in the way the index has been set up but it can mislead popular imagination. Now I know what HDI measures, as I was involved at the time of its first being mooted. But the HDI has not changed since 1990 except in small details. It is time someone rethought about it. Sri Lanka has improved its HDI score continuously since 1980, even accelerating after 1995 .


How does Sri Lanka manage to improve its score consistently despite a twenty-five year old civil war which led to massive killings on all sides? In the middle of human suffering crises, Sri Lanka marches on triumphantly in its HDI. Should we not raise some questions about the adequacy of a measure of human development which so spectacularly misses the bus ?


The problem is that indicators chosen have little to do with the actual short-run human misery on the ground and more to do with statistics which are longer-run indicators. Thus life expectancy, which is one of the three basic variables, is interpreted as if it told us how long people can expect to live. But of course it does nothing of the sort. It is a summary of the age-specific mortality rates which a cohort born today will confront, not over its own life time, but all at once if it speeded through from age zero to its end of life, virtually in the year of its birth.


To improve its level, the key is to get infant mortality down and then life expectancy reaches a level beyond which it is hard to shift. You may have a slaughter going on in the country but life expectancy can hardly budge. Pinochet saw the beauty of this and while he was dictator of Chile. This of course is not to condone India's dismal performance. India's failure is in health and education, both in terms of primary and secondary education enrolment and adult literacy. It is due to the failure in the first forty years after independence to pursue pro-poor rather than elitist policies . India was too busy building machine tools and space rockets to educate its masses. Even the change in policy since 1991 has not had the impact it should on HDI because the development gains are filtered through politically and spread about by an inefficient public sector.


HDI is a macro measure, and has few, if any, micro foundations. One cannot ask the question as to what the HDI of an individual or a household is, and how the household by its own behaviour can enhance its human development. What we need to do is to ask these questions and then enable households to find substitutes for government policy which would improve their lives.


After all, it is not enough to enrol your child at school, if the teacher is not there to teach. Similarly the point is not to worry about life expectancy but your own health and invest in healthcare, especially for the girl child. Primary health care centres run by the local government may not have any personnel around when you need them, though the money spent on them boosts the expenditure statistics on health . If we measure development by inputs, we learn much less than if we measure outcomes.

HDR and HDI were revolutionary contributions to development thinking in the 1990's, but twenty years on, perhaps, there should be a rethinking of their conceptual basis.


The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer








Privatisation of the public sector-dominated telecom sector has changed the way people communicate and transfer data in the country. Now the task of fulfilling the dream of 'power for all' seems to be falling increasingly on the private enterprises.


The government-dominated power sector has been opened up for private investment, including FDI, in generation, transmission & distribution, and power equipment manufacturing. The enabling policy changes were brought about by the Electricity Act, 2003 and National Electricity Policy, 2005. The government initiative has received enthusiastic responses from the private sector that has only 13.5% share in the over 1.45 lakh mw installed power generation capacity, dominated by the states (52.5%) and the Centre (34%).


Though we are going to fall short of the ambitious target of over 78,000 mw of new generation capacity in the 11th Plan period ending 2012, the mid-term projection of over 62,000 mw capacity addition would be an all-time record of sorts. It would be more than the installed capacity created during the last three Plan periods, thanks to the private sector. The earlier estimate of contribution from the private sector in 11th Plan was 15,000 mw. The mid-term appraisal has raised it to 20,000 mw of installed capacity. Largely, public sector dithering resulted in missing the target.


Tata Power Corporation, India's largest private power utility, has announced massive investments in the power sector. It is setting up an ultra mega power project at Mundra, Gujarat. Anil Ambani's Reliance Power Ltd is also making huge investments in the sector. Besides, companies like BGR Energy and C&O group are setting up merchant power plants.


Distribution licences for several cities are already with the private sector. National and multinational companies like L&T, Alstom, Toshiba and Ansaldo have entered the Bhel-dominated power equipment manufacturing sector. The renewable energy sector is entirely driven by the private sector. In this field, the government plays only the facilitator's role by framing policies and offering incentives.







The decision to award the highly prestigious Nobel Peace Prize to United States President Barack Obama has clearly taken the world by surprise even as Mr. Obama himself seems a bit overwhelmed by the extraordinary gesture. It reflects the tremendous hope that has underlined the emergence of Mr. Obama as a world figure on whom is placed the burden of enormous expectations. The Nobel committee's logic appears to be a proactive one. The peace prize is not just about rec ognising achievement. It is also meant to be a catalyst for positive change. The entire world knows that Mr. Obama has triggered strong opposition from the American establishment for his bold ideas on nuclear disarmament, his advocacy of dialogue with Iran, North Korea, and even Myanmar, and his emphasis on the need for a just resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute based on mutual recognition of the inalienable rights of both peoples to security and sovereignty. If the President has so far managed to take only baby steps in the direction of all these goals, one reason could be the extent to which his ideas are being opposed by entrenched interests and lobbies in the U.S.


This said, the conferring of the Nobel award on a leader young in office and still relatively untested has evoked criticism. The decision has been seen in some quarters as premature, going against the tradition which has indeed boosted the Nobel Peace Prize's prestige, that the award is given in recognition of actual achievements in bringing about peace. Like every politician with a feel for global politics and power, Mr. Obama must long have nurtured the ambition of achieving that recognition. He might have preferred winning the award when the fruits of his promised diplomatic exertions become a little more apparent. The gestation period for the birth of peace in West Asia is obviously longer than the nine months Mr. Obama has been in the White House for. The promised abolition of nuclear weapons would not happen in his lifetime, the U.S. President has famously said in Prague earlier this year. But intermediate arms control can be accomplished in a matter of months and it would seem that the Norwegians could have waited at least until 2010 when his selection would have looked less arbitrary and premature. Perhaps the Nobel committee hopes the peace prize will increase Mr. Obama's domestic bargaining power while simultaneously making it harder for him to abandon the course he has set should the political pressure get unbearable. Yet this high level assertion of faith in Mr. Obama's sincerity and capability should make it easier for him to take bold strides in diplomatic initiatives in West Asia and on the disarmament front.








Corporate Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid's exhortation to the corporate sector to eschew large compensation packages to the chief executives and other members of the top management has to be seen in perspective. The appeal is certainly not the first by a minister, nor will it be the last asking companies to exercise restraint in an area that has come under international scrutiny. The Prime Minister had made a similar appeal two years ago. Perceptions, though not ne cessarily hard facts, have from time to time driven many observers to ask for a check on "lavish" salaries and perquisites in the top echelons of the corporate sector. In an earlier era when the Indian private sector depended heavily on the government, the practice was to dictate norms on matters that are elsewhere left to the domain of the shareholders. The legacy has however continued in the post-reform era. There are provisions in the Companies Act that subject executive compensation to legislative guidelines: the objective is to link it to the net profits of the company. The managing director's compensation cannot exceed five per cent of the net profits and for directors including non-executive directors the limit is 11 per cent. Loss-making companies too are subject to specific guidelines. Besides, companies will have to disclose in their balance sheets full details of compensation packages above a certain level.


In the financial sector internationally, large compensation and bonus packages tied with short-term results led to excessive risk taking and an inordinate focus on short-term performance. Mr. Khurshid's appeal has less to do with extra-large compensation packages endangering long-term corporate health and more with the flaunting of wealth by a few of the beneficiaries. The issue is not really whether the CEOs and other top managers deserve them or whether they would leave if they are not so compensated. In the context of mass poverty and at a time when the government has embarked on an austerity drive, compensation packages that seem so totally lopsided in relation to the average level of wages and the vulgar flaunting of wealth by a few at the top of the corporate pyramid do seem invidious. The corporate sector as a whole needs to be sensitive to these concerns. Some of the highest compensation packages are paid to the CEOs who are also promoters of the company. For the promoter-CEOs, dividend income is a bigger source of wealth creation. They, more than the professional executives, must heed the call to exercise restraint.










In the second term of the United Progressive Alliance government, China-India relations have experienced a smooth transition and taken on a new momentum of sound development. In June this year, Chinese President Hu Jintao met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Both leaders reiterated they would jointly promote the sound development of bilateral relations, enhance mutual trust, deepen mutually beneficial cooperation, strengthen communication and coordin ation, and push forward the Strategic and Cooperative Partnership between the two countries towards continuous, stable, and healthy development.


In his congratulatory message to Premier Wen Jiabao on the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the Founding of the People's Republic of China, Prime Minister Singh reaffirmed the same sentiment. In August, Chinese State Councillor Mr. Dai Bingguo paid a successful visit to India and held in-depth talks with Indian National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan on the boundary question and exchanged views on bilateral, regional, and international issues. In September, Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State for Environment and Forests of India, visited China and exchanged views on a wide range of issues, including climate change, environment and forests with his Chinese counterparts.


In terms of economic and trade cooperation, in 2008 China became India's largest trade partner and India the 10th largest trade partner of China. The global financial crisis has seriously impacted the real economy of both countries and caused a downturn in our industrial production and exports. The two countries do face huge challenges to sustain the growth of our bilateral trade. In spite of this, China and India as two emerging markets are still outperforming others on the whole. We have advantages such as vast markets and strong domestic demand, which have made our two countries powerhouses for the recovery of the world economy.


Both sides should tap the potentials for economic cooperation, work together to improve the trade structure and look for new areas for growth, correct the trade imbalance, oppose trade protectionism in all forms, accommodate mutual trade concerns, and create a sound environment for trade and mutual investment. We should actively discuss the feasibility of a Regional Trade Agreement, make full use of the mechanisms of Economic and Financial Dialogue and the Joint Committee on Science, Technology and Trade, so as to create solid foundation for the steady development of bilateral economic and trade cooperation — with a view to expanding our bilateral trade to $60 billion by 2010.


In international affairs, the two sides have maintained effective cooperation and coordination within the framework of the China-India-Russia Trilateral Mechanism, BRIC, the G20, and other forums. China and India have been making joint efforts on major international issues, including climate change, the Doha Round talks, the global financial crisis, countering terrorism, energy and food security, etc., with a view to protecting the interests of our two countries and other developing countries, and promoting a fair, just, and reasonable international system.


There are good reasons for China and India to work closely on global issues. Both are developing countries, share historical experiences, and face similar tasks today. The combined population of the two countries accounts for 40 per cent of the world's total. With the growing economic strength, China and India are enjoying a status and role that are much more appreciated in the world arena. Our common concerns and interests in international affairs require us to consolidate our coordination and cooperation.

The simultaneous emergence of China and India is an eye-catching phenomenon in today's world. China welcomes India's development and its bigger role in international affairs. We hope the Indian side adopts the same attitude towards China. China and India should become cooperative partners instead of competitive rivals. Both countries should seek for a win-win result instead of a zero-sum game.


It is a strategic choice made by both governments and peoples, proceeding from the common and fundamental interests of both countries, to establish the China-India Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity. President Hu Jintao said recently that China has always, from a strategic and long-term perspective, firmly and unswervingly promoted harmonious, good neighbourly, and friendly cooperation between China and India. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on his part, stated that the Indian government would give top priority to its relations with China and there is enough room in the world for the two countries to achieve development. Although there are certain forces in the world that do not want to see China and India join hands, the historical trend of bilateral friendship is irreversible.


China has made impressive economic progress, but it is still a developing country. The major task in the foreseeable future remains the development of the national economy and improvement of the people's livelihood. China will firmly pursue the path of peaceful development, and pose no threat to other countries. Its development means opportunity to India and other countries. Even when China becomes stronger, it will continue to adhere to the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence, and will never seek hegemony or engage in expansion. This is the solemn commitment the Chinese government has made to the whole world.


Recently, the Indian media reported abundantly on the India-China boundary issue. The spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China has repeatedly clarified the Chinese position toward the boundary question. Indian leaders and senior officials also refuted the reports in one voice and called for media restraint. As a matter of fact, with the efforts of both sides, the China-India boundary areas generally remain peaceful and tranquil. China strictly acts in accordance with the agreements. At the same time, both governments have been continuously seeking a fair, reasonable, and mutually acceptable solution through negotiation. The China-India Special Representative talks have made significant progress. The boundary question is an issue left over by history, sensitive and complicated, which needs to be resolved with more patience and wisdom. It is dialogue rather than story-making that would solve the issue.


In the process of globalisation, there is a strong trend of economic integration between countries. They complement each other in different ways to achieve common development. In recent years, some Chinese companies have come to India. They not only undertake projects but also contribute in many ways to the Indian economy, especially in infrastructure development. To my knowledge, those companies usually hire a lot of local workers. Take Huawei India as an example. Over 80 per cent of its staff members are locals, most of them professional and technical personnel. Among those Chinese people who come to India to work on the projects, they are required by the projects. They work along with their Indian colleagues and learn form each other. They will return to China once they complete the project.


Therefore, the Chinese companies in India are an indispensable part of economic cooperation between China and India. If we manage this properly, it will yield a win-win situation. As for the national security concerns on the part of the Indian side, I can assure you that the Chinese Government will never allow Chinese companies to engage in any acts that may undermine national security of other countries, including India.


Media play a unique role in bilateral relations. People of the two countries increase their mutual understanding and friendship through objective reporting. A positive public opinion environment is conducive and necessary to the development of bilateral relations. Indian media serve as a 'window' or a 'bridge' to the Indian public to understand China. The opinions and perspectives of the Indian media on China and on bilateral relations may influence and even shape the image of China in the eyes of the Indian government and people. The media should keep abreast with the paces of the bilateral relations and tap more positive information, so as to convey objective messages to the two peoples and serve as a booster to promote bilateral relations.


Looking ahead, I foresee a more and more active relationship. The two sides are busy working on matters relating to the Indian President's visit to China. A hotline between the two sides will be ready soon. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi has invited Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna to visit China at his convenience. A meeting of the Foreign Ministers of China, India, and Russia will be soon held in India. The two countries are also actively preparing to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations in 2010, coinciding with the activities of the China Festival in India and the India Festival in China. All those interactions will push the bilateral relations to a new height.


I am of the view that the China-India relations are standing at a new starting point, facing new opportunities for development. As Chinese Ambassador to India, I am encouraged by the potential of our bilateral relations and confident about its future.


(The writer is Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People's Republic of China to the Republic of India.)








Argentina's Congress approved a controversial bill that will give the government more control over the broadcast media, handing a victory to the President and her husband, the country's former leader, who have blamed biased media coverage for many of their political woes.


Early Saturday morning, after more than 19 hours of debate, the Senate approved the media law, 44-24, without modifications. President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner had proposed the bill to replace a dictatorship-era law that allowed media power to be concentrated in the hands of a few companies.


While many media experts have said the old law was outdated and in need of reform, analysts say the move by the Kirchner government seemed designed to give the executive branch significant discretion in the regulation of the airwaves.


Carlos Lauria, senior programme director for the Americas at the Committee to Protect Journalists, said provisions in the bill could restrict freedom of expression, in particular an article that gives the President the authority to appoint most members of a new broadcast regulatory body. The law is a victory for the Kirchners against the largest media conglomerate, Grupo Clarin, which owns the biggest Argentine newspaper and important television properties.


One provision of the media bill will require Clarin and other companies with radio and cable television properties to shed some licences within a year. Media companies have objected, saying it will force them to sell off assets at fire-sale prices.


While Grupo Clarin's dominant media position would be unlikely to pass muster with American or European regulators, many analysts saw the Argentina government's push to win swift approval of the bill as a political move designed to shore up support within the Peronist Party before a new slate of legislators are seated Dec. 10. — © 2009 The New York Times News Service


(Charles Newbery contributed reporting from Buenos Aires)







The robust reader response to last week's column ("Science journalism: role of training and experience") encourages me to address the challenge of doing science journalism competently in greater detail. Our concern is confined to science writing or reporting for a general newspaper and I tried to deal with one aspect of it — how to communicate science-related information to readers with accuracy and clarity. Science journalism goes beyond what daily newspapers, magazines, and the broadcast media do in the traditional sense. It is increasingly going online, where the possibilities of offering rich content, including graphics, are virtually limitless. It includes relatively accessible material published in some science journals, for example Nature and Lancet. Besides, there is investigative science journalism, which is becoming popular in some countries. However, the right kind of communication is a common problem.


The responses, some of them from scientists, highlight the need to have more trained science communicators not only in the print and electronic media, but also in the area of making documentaries and short films. Nanjundiaha Shashidhara suggests that all communication and journalism training institutions should have science communication as one of the core subjects, not as an optional subject. Formal training would help enrich skills to write reports and articles for newspapers but also scripts for short films and plays.


Rajagopal Velamoor, agriculture scientist and former director of Central Plantation Crops Research Institute (CPCRI), Kasaragod, Kerala, says if science journalism has not yet evolved in India into a powerful profession, it is mainly for want of training. "Science journalism is different from writing research papers," he observes, "and I learnt this by experience in my own way during and after my 40 years of service as a scientist." He has to his credit over 220 research papers and books on a variety of subjects. All this, he regrets, has not brought him media attention, leave alone media recognition as a science journalist.



Senior journalist G. Krishnan, who as a consultant trained young sub-editors and reporters of The Hindu until recently, notes that reporters are often reluctant to admit that they do not understand the subject; instead, they merely reproduce the contents of the press releases or briefings. He recalls a personal experience earlier in his career: "I remember as a 22- or 23-year-old, covering the SLV launch in the 1970s, when I was too arrogant to admit that I did not understand some of the things that were being said. A Daily Thanthi reporter asked me to explain the launch to him, which I did as best as I could. Then well-known scientist, Abdul Kalaam, who was the mission director, happened to come by and he explained it in simple Tamil so that we both got a clear understanding. It also helped me explain the same thing to the readers of The Hindu, leading to all-round congratulations in the office."


But it is rare for reporters to have an Abdul Kalaam around to explain things to them in simple language. As things stand, the quality of the press releases and background material that come from science institutions has much to do with enabling or not enabling accessibility to the general reader. What is well said will be well understood; and what is well understood can be well covered journalistically. Given the often technically demanding nature of the task, interviews with scientists who have the gift of explaining their work to people outside their field are a favourite form of science journalism. But a worthwhile interview with an expert presupposes that the journalist asks the relevant questions.



Journalists who work in various Indian languages seem to face special challenges in covering science. A senior BBC journalist, T. Manivannan, Head of BBC Tamil Service (of the BBC World Service), London, observes in an e-mail: "In Tamil Service here, our difficulties are doubled — we have to make science understandable to listeners in Tamil. Translation of technical words is a near impossible task; such translations make the content matter almost unintelligible to lay listeners, as the newly coined Tamil words may not have in most cases gained currency in popular usage and many words smack of punditry." What is true of Tamil probably applies to other Indian languages.


Although India has a long history of science journalism, efforts in the direction of popularising science and creating a scientific temper among the people (the need for which was often emphasised by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru) are yet to make a breakthrough. Science education has developed but its reach in society is limited.


Science journalism in India began in the 19th century, taken up as a public service mission. Interestingly, Digdarshan, a monthly journal published in Hoogly in West Bengal, was trilingual (it used Hindi, Bengali, and English). But it was only after Independence that concerted efforts were made to popularise science. The Scientific Policy Resolution of March 4, 1958 played a significant role in spreading science education and also in developing industry and technology. Media attention was limited to publishing news of scientific discoveries and related developments, mostly in the inside pages. In the last two decades there has been a measurable expansion of the scope of s & t coverage in daily newspapers and magazines, thanks to rapid developments in science-intensive sectors of the "new economy", notably information technology and biotechnology. Unfortunately, studies reveal that while science coverage has increased over the years, there has been no significant improvement in the quality of science writing. The message of science is yet to reach large sections of people across the country, who largely remain in the grip of superstition, as was evident from the recent incident of mass whipping of women who were allegedly possessed by "evil spirits" in a Tamil Nadu village. ("Mass whipping of women to cast away 'evil spirit'", The Hindu web edition (


Even in western countries, science journalism has run into trouble in recent years, a situation made worse by the economic crisis. In the United States, for instance, cost cutting by newspapers has led to a significant decline in the number of science journalists. Twenty years ago, nearly 150 American newspapers had a science section; now fewer than 20 have it. In response to this challenge, 35 of the country's top universities recently came together to launch a non-profit wire service, named Futurity, to provide articles on academic developments, particularly in the s & t field, to popular web sites such as Yahoo News and Google News. The universities see this, at best, as a temporary solution.









Elizabeth H. Blackburn won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Carol Greider and Jack Szostak for discovering "how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase." This was for solving a major problem in biology, "how the chromosomes can be copied in a complete way during cell divisions and how they were protected against degradation." Dr. Blackburn, a Tasmania-born American scientist who is Professor of Biology and Physiology at the University of California, San Francisco, has likened telomeres, which serve as protective caps for the genetic information in the cells, to the end caps of shoelaces known as aglets. Dr. Blackburn, along with Dr. Greider, is credited with the identification of the cell enzyme telomerase, which replenishes the telomere. Research over the years in the area has led her to demonstrate the significant role that telomeres and telomerase have in human health, in particular age-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.


Dr. Blackburn was in India in February 2009 on a lecture tour as the featured speaker of the 2009 Cell-Press-TnQ India Distinguished Lecture Series, which included talks on "Chromosome Ends and Human Health and Disease" in Bangalore, Hyderabad and New Delhi.


This is an edited excerpt from a wide-ranging interview Dr. Blackburn gave Frontline's Science Correspondent, which was published in two issues of the magazine in April-May 2009:


Your work is concerned with the role of chromosomes in human health and disease. What aspect or component of a chromosome is critically involved in this?

The part that we work on is the very ends of chromosomes, which are called telomeres. Much like the tips of shoelaces, telomeres are molecular caps that protect chromosomes [which carry the genetic information inside the nucleus of a cell]. Because without special protection the chromosome ends are susceptible to being chewed away and frayed away by natural processes taking place inside cells.


So we focus on how those ends carry out their biological roles and what they consist of in terms of molecular features and how an enzyme that we discovered some years ago, called telomerase, replenishes the ends as they wear out.


Telomeres wear down with time, and when these become so worn that they cannot sustain cell division any more without causing chromosome instability, cell division stops [senescence]. This is what leads to ageing. One characteristic aspect of ageing is the increased susceptibility to disease, particularly age-related diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Then the question is: Over time can the balance of telomeres wearing down versus the telomeres being replenished [by the action of telomerase], first of all, affect human disease? And the answer is yes. Then is there anything that we can learn which changes the balance between the wearing down and the replenishment that might have impact on human diseases?


How does this wearing down of telomeres happen?

There are a couple of known reasons as to how the telomeres wear down. We can ask a bigger question as to 'why' but let's answer the 'how' first. It is twofold.

One is DNA replication, which has to happen for the genetic material to be completely copied so that there are two copies of the genetic material before a cell divides and then each copy goes into the two daughter cells. That molecular machinery made of enzymes and associated proteins is very good at copying very accurately almost all the length of the entire chromosomal DNA with very high accuracy. But for some strange reason that a human cannot think why, it cannot copy the very ends of a linear DNA. It's just an odd deficiency in this enzyme that is otherwise engineered to be so exquisitely very accurate and thorough in copying.


Bacteria have circular chromosomes. Bacteria are much smarter than us; they don't have this problem. But eukaryotes – everything from humans to plants to yeasts to single-celled organisms except bacteria — have linear chromosomal DNA. The other reason is that there are enzymes in the cell that naturally chew away on DNA ends because of the repair processes that they sometimes can carry out. But the primary reason is the inability of the DNA replication machinery to carry out copying at these very ends. Telomerase is the enzyme that adds the extra DNA to the ends. Basically, it just adds a buffer of DNA that does not code for proteins but acts as an attraction for protective proteins, which form a kind of a sheath around the ends of the chromosomes.


You have been emphasising that what is observed as telomere shortening and the role of telomerase in human health is an association and not really a causal connection.

We know that in rare genetic diseases there is clear causality though these genetic diseases are a more extreme by definition and so they are not in the general population. But when you look at them, they give you an idea of what's happening in a relatively extreme case. When you compare what happens in more common situations — with modulated amounts of telomerase action — with what happens in extreme cases in genetically engineered mouse models, can you put them all together? We can make a case for causality that when telomerase is down, it does have consequences. But one just wants to be careful not to over-interpret the shades of grey kind of thing. As a scientist, as somebody who is looking at it all, I always want to be careful because biology has a way of turning around and surprising you. So the weight of evidence is pretty much like this: lower [levels of] telomerase could indeed plausibly contribute to things like diseases of aging."


There is this other side of telomerase activity, namely, its role in cancerous cells, which proliferate because of uncontrolled telomerase activity, the opposite of what we have been talking about.

Cancer cells have a lot of other things that are really wrong with them, and we should never forget that these are cells that have become deaf to all the signals that the body sends out, such as you can multiply a certain amount, you can be in a certain place in the body, where to stay, where to move, and so on. Most cells get a barrage of chemical messages from neighbouring cells, from neighbouring tissues, hormones, etc. Cancer cells suffer a variety of changes and they don't listen to the signal that says that they are supposed to be in a certain part of the body but they migrate and metastasise and keep multiplying.


So if you have a cell that is deaf to a signal that says stop multiplying and keeps multiplying, it will have chromosomes that will get shorter and shorter. The only way a cancer cell is going to be able to survive is to have telomerase, which now has the ability to replenish those ever-shortening telomeres. And the funny thing about cancer cells is not that they have active telomerase but that they actually have a lot more than you think they ought to have. Why so much? Especially when their telomeres are not particularly long; they are actually, if anything, short. These other functions that telomerase has seem to push cancer cells towards having properties that make them more malignant. These other functions we don't understand at all but we see them when we perturb just telomerase in a very targeted way.


What's remarkable is that if we look at just the whole spectrum of human cancers and we look at how much telomerase activity there is in a tumour sample, 80 to 90 per cent of the time there is a lot of telomerase activity relative to what's going on in the normal cells where it's much more closely regulated and reasonable in amount. So what's really interesting is telomerase is a real favourite among cancer cells. There are very few things where 80 to 90 per cent of the cells have a given feature but this is quite unusual.

We know that certain genetic pathways that get unregulated in cancer cells — which start with genes and then pathways of signalling that make these cancer cells just multiply and go to the wrong places — and there are several different ones. But there is this commonality, which I find very curious. Eighty to 90 per cent is really high. Now it's not a 100 per cent. Some cancer cells get by with low telomerase activity. You know the exceptions and those would be instructive to study but if you just look at the generality of human cancer cells it's almost like a defining feature. So we have to take notice of what cancers are telling you; we've got to learn something from this. And certainly the telomeres are maintained but what is revealing are these other things.


In your talk, you spoke of how the technique of ribonucleic acid (RNA) interference could bring telomerase RNA levels down. Could cancer be treated by targeting telomerase activity in this way?

When you bring telomerase RNA levels down by using a mechanism that targets the RNA for destruction, the cells which were running on very high telomerase levels are now running on a lean diet of telomerase.


They are still proliferating but they change their nature. They stop being so aggressively cancerous in their properties and they start to look a bit more normal.


The most dangerous cancer cells are actually the ones that are more like stem cells, which have this ability to produce themselves over and over again. More and more cancer biologists say stem-cell-like cells in cancers are the most dangerous.


What's interesting is [by targeting the telomerase RNA] we can work them to being less stem-cell-like. We have also seen less metastasis; less metastatic lung tumours in the case of melanomas [for example]. That's another way of approaching the problem, to make the cancer cells less dangerous. You might still want to kill them off at the same time. But probably since cancers can change — like bacterial populations can grow resistant variants in response to certain antibiotics and then take over the entire bacterial population — if you hit them with one thing, they become resistant to evade that and then they are the ones to proliferate.


So you just want to hit the cancer cells in as many ways as possible without causing a whole lot of collateral damage to the normal tissues. It's nice to have other arrows in your armoury. Also, completely knocking out telomerase will make a lot of sense. True, but why not use what the cancer cells have told us, which is that the high [levels of] telomerase is also making the cells, for reasons that we don't understand, apparently more malignant.


Conversely, do you think telomerase could also be provoked to be more active and thus prevent or slow down the ageing process, as some believe?

Here is my take on this. How do we estimate what is going on with ageing? One way is to say, how long do people live? I think that's pretty genetically clear. If everything is going right, for humans it's not going to be more than 120 years, the maximum known. It's not clear to me how exactly telomere maintenance might relate to that because people have been looking at centenarians and looking for genes whose alleles are more or less represented.


So far nothing relating to telomerase or telomeres has shown up in these people. In fact, their telomeres look pretty good. You would see diseases of ageing going up but people who live a long life seem not to get cardiovascular disease very much. Why they die is actually very unclear. Gerontologists would say that suddenly there would be a little crisis and they would just die. But that won't be accompanied necessarily by years of heart disease or anything like that.


Extreme-longevity people look very old but they seem to remain healthy throughout and free of disease for a long, long time. What gets most people are diseases of ageing and that's where this link with the shorter telomeres and diseases of ageing seems so consistent. I don't want to say completely that telomeres have nothing to do with the death of extreme-longevity people. It might in ways we don't understand. There might be connections but it's not unravelled.


So what might be feasible in a sort of dream world would be that if telomerase could be stimulated by any of these methods in a way that it is optimal, and doesn't turn it on to do something crazy, then would that be helpful in mitigating getting these diseases like cardiovascular disease and cancer? Because you are programmed pretty much for 100-plus years, you could be healthy up to that time in your life. And then something will happen, as it seems to happen with very old people. Suddenly, some small perturbation happens and very quickly you go downhill — sometimes it's pneumonia, sometimes it's a fall or sometimes it's just something, and you just don't recover from it.


From what I understand so far, the telomere maintenance part will be much more related to whether you will have a healthy old age. Actually, there's a very nice new terminology that is catching up. People talked about lifespan [earlier], now it's 'healthspan.' What you would like to have is that healthspan should be as close as possible to your lifespan. As far as we know, there is nothing much we can do about lifespan. I have no particular feeling that humanity would necessarily want to live till 1,200 [years]. It might be fun but for the immediate future, we have got to live with what we've got.








The international media suggests that people in Pakistan continue to be puzzled about the weekend's attack by terrorists on the Pakistan Army headquarters in Rawalpindi, and the prolonged siege of an exterior section of it that commenced Saturday morning and ended early Sunday with the release of hostages and the death of many on both sides, including a brigadier. The surprise is on account of the fact that the General Headquarters (GHQ) is thought to be one of the best-guarded places in the world. In the past, an attempt by extremists to mount an assault had been thwarted at a checkpoint more than a kilometre short of the nerve-centre of the Pakistan military, which in reality also doubles as the epicentre of Pakistani politics, such has been the Army's dominating position in that country's public life for decades. It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that it is relatively easier to target the Chief of Army Staff, as Gen. Pervez Musharraf once was, when he is commuting in the twin cities of Rawalpindi or Islamabad, than mount an assault on the heavily-fortified Army headquarters. That's a different ballgame altogether, unless insiders are part of the conspiracy. In that event, the world is unlikely to be told officially. A successful attack of a certain scale on the GHQ, in which the nerve centre itself is hypothetically seized, will in fact have an unsettling influence on security establishments round the world, including New Delhi, as Pakistan is a country with nuclear weapons. The fear of terrorists seizing command and control of the Army is tantamount to their getting hold of the nuclear arsenal, and the capsizing of the Pakistan state. At a joint press conference in London with British foreign secretary David Miliband on Sunday, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton appeared visibly relieved to announce that Pakistan's nuclear weapons were safe.


One thing is clear. The terrorist hit was clearly of a limited scale, just to make a point, as it were. Last week, the Taliban had also attacked the reception area of the UN's World Food Programme in Islamabad, posing as a securityman , as in the case of the GHQ strike, and blown up an explosives-laden vehicle in a crowded market in Peshawar, killing nearly 50 people. Taken together, are the three violent incidents — especially the GHQ strike — intended to convince an increasingly cynical world that the Pakistan military is not in cahoots with terrorists and jihadists, and that the Pakistan Army is really a foe of the Taliban and a serious participant in the war on terror, as America defines it? The international backdrop in which the GHQ attack comes — US President Barack Obama about to decide on the contested issue of significantly raising American troop levels in Afghanistan — suggests that the Pakistan military has a stake in seeking to reinforce that impression, especially for the consumption of American policymakers.








Dear Mr P. Chidambaram,


I am part of the much maligned group, the human rights activist, that you often challenge. You suggest we protest at the wrong time and at the wrong things. You seem to think we point too many fingers. Actually, we raise some simple issues. As cottage industries of dissent and democracy, we may not be doing it effectively. We are supposed to be "sympathisers" of the Naxal movement. This letter is to clarify some of our arguments as academics, Indians, citizens concerned about the fate of our society.


Let me build a counter model for you. Working in these areas, documenting the drama of development, is a feisty old woman, a famous writer called Mahasweta Devi. She is worth all the policy intellectuals you command and her integrity is something your entire council of ministers cannot match. She understands poverty and does not have to play boy-scout pranks to demonstrate her concern. Mahasweta Devi makes three or four major points we need to recognise.


Firstly, Indian democracy is often cannibalistic. It consumes its own people. There were decades where the Army was being honoured for action against its own people. Outside our Army, we have roughly a million paramilitary troops which maintain law and order. The question one asks is what happens to a society which attacks its own people with such frequency?


One is not supporting the Maoists. One is referring to the armed groups which do not think twice about violence and murder. Along with the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), they have added to the brutalisation of the countryside and its criminalisation.


We are as concerned as you are about violence. Our voices may not carry far but while your emphasis is on the stability and the sovereignty of the state, ours is on the vulnerability and fate of ordinary tribal people. They face a cruel choice: Development destroys them and when they agitate against its inequities, the state destroys them all over again. You are asking the human rights groups to stand up. We have and we are. As a part of some of them, I can say Maoism is wrong, misguided, is murderous and often gets criminalised. Most of these groups do function as extortion agencies. But will you own up to all the women and children, and old people killed in your operations? Will you dismiss it as part of the logic of internal war?


Mr Chidambaram, logic is deceptive, managerial logic is worse. Using the Air Force against the so-called Naxal zone is to Vietnamise it. Very logical, very rational people have pursued this strategy. As David Halberstam, a great journalist and an authority on Vietnam, said, the best and the brightest came from Harvard and Yale.


The future of democracy is not just your responsibility. To condemn intellectuals who question and to label them as "sympathisers" is to inaugurate a tacit McCarthyism — the concern for internal security forces, an unnecessary homogeneity, or the dualism of "you are with me or you are against me".


Democracy is troubled and troublesome, but it is the availability of dissent and diversity that protects both you and me. This panchayat of pluralisms need expansion. Our sense of doubts demands that we rethink "development", "security" as currently defined. Let me add the word "rights". All three need to be questioned, not just academically as formal definitions but as practices. Let us ask, does development allow the rape of tribals through dams and deforestation? Does security give every policeman the right to brutalise a people? Have these words become ironic and counter-productive? To address it to a more general audience, what can the worlds of Nilekani, Pitroda and Prahlad do for these people? Does the state need a hearing aid or does it think that machine-gunned silence means consent?


On our side, yes, we have been silly. Our reports need to be more complete, less rhetorical, and occasionally less paranoid. However, some of our suggestions are practical and let me repeat them. The involvement of the Army will damage the Army. Secondly, the militarisation of the police without institutional reform and human rights sensitivity will brutalise them. As a society, we did it once in Punjab and let us not use the same tactics. Brutalising a generation is not a way to stability.


When Naxalbari happened last time, the response was brutal, but public sympathy was with them. Ever since the CPI(M) cauterised a society, public middle-class sympathy has been with you. Dissent will sound anachronistic, museumised, and even idiotically Gandhian. We must still dissent, both against you and the Maoists. The use of landmines is utterly cowardly and brutal. The Maoists should be told that. The use of sanitisation operations does not legitimise murder and harassment. You should recognise it. Torture is a stigma, the unforgettable mnemonic which both, Maoism and the state will leave for future generations to gasp in horror.


Maoism has been in the making for years, Mr Chidambaram. Once made, it cannot be unmade through violence. The pacification you propose may be seen as the equivalent of ethnic cleansing. This is not an issue for a hysterical media or the parties to legitimise. If democracy is at stake, the issue has to be solved democratically. Terror and murder can only lie defeated by the inventiveness of democracy. Body counts are not equivalent to electoral votes that we tot up for victory. In fact, by treating casualty rates as low-level production statistics, both society and state have waited too long to act.


Our response cannot be thoughtful. Let us begin with two of the government's own reports: The report on tribals and the report on the informal economy. Both focus on groups refractory but central to development. Let us ask how these two reports be applied creatively to the current problem.


Conflict resolution often becomes a formal settlement between state and adversary as the insurgent party. Let us involve civil society and community in it, maybe even a few imaginative corporations. We need to create a third space of "constructive labour", as Gandhi called it, to challenge Maoism. This also needs the tolerance which does not treat people who empathise with suffering as suspect. It will also allow the state not to be hemmed in by machismo solutions which add little to problem solving.


Thirdly, internal war needs a different kind of Red Cross. Beyond the ambulance and the human rights team, we need constructive teams. Security operations get too fond of technological solutions. The long march, the night vision device, and the remote-sensing map are not really the answer to summary executions and kangaroo courts. Here small programmes built around livelihood can offer modest alternatives with long shelf lives of sustainability.


The request, Mr Minister, is simple. Do not undermine democracy in attempting to save it. This is the irony the politics of good intentions faces today.


Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist








The last few months have witnessed a familiar story of destruction and devastation repeating itself: drought and floods in different parts of the country. If there is one reason why every Indian should hang her or his head in shame, it is the criminal manner in which we as a nation have mismanaged and misutilised our water resources. One manifestation of this negligence is the way in which funds meant for irrigation projects have been stolen to line the pockets of a corrupt few and aggravate the misery of many.


Under the Right to Information Act, a non-government organisation, the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), recently obtained damning data from the Union ministry of agriculture, which should shock most people out of their apathy. In the decade-and-a-half between 1991-92 and 2006-07 (the latest year for which relevant information was made available), the country spent an amount in the region of Rs 1,30,000 crores on major and medium irrigation projects but there was absolutely no addition to the net irrigated area under canals - amazing but true.


Wait. The situation on the ground was actually far worse, if one goes by the statistics compiled by the ministry on the basis of field data obtained from states. Page 36 of the November 2008 publication entitled "Land Use Statistics at a Glance", brought out by the Directorate of Economics and Statistics, department of agriculture and cooperation, indicates that between April 1991 and March 2007, the total net area irrigated by all sources (canals, tube-wells, other wells, tanks and ground water) went up by 12.83 million hectares (mha) from 48.02 mha to 60.96 mha.


However, the net area irrigated by canals fell from a peak of 17.79 mha in 1991-92 to 14.04 mha in 2002-03 - a fall of as much as 3.75 million hectares! Between April 1991 and March 2007, the net area irrigated by canals came down from 17.45 mha to 15.35 mha, a substantial fall of over 2 mha. The decline in the net area irrigated by tanks was even higher - by 8.8 mha - from 29.32 mha to 20.44 mha. By way of contrast, in this 15 year period, the net area irrigated by tube-wells rose from 14.26 mha to 24.06 mha - an increase of 9.8 million hectares. (Incidentally, the agriculture ministry's statistics from 2002-03 onwards has been categorised "provisional".)


In other words, the people of the country have been drawing out increasingly larger quantities of groundwater. Should we then be surprised when satellite data obtained from the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (Nasa) of the United States indicates an alarming fall in groundwater levels, especially in the country's "granary", namely, Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh.


Here's an extract from an August 12 article on the Nasa website: "Beneath northern India's irrigated fields of wheat, rice, and barley... beneath its densely populated cities of Jaipur and New Delhi, the groundwater has been disappearing. Halfway around the world, hydrologists, including Matt Rodell of Nasa, have been hunting for it… According to Rodell and (his) colleagues, it is being pumped and consumed by human activities - principally to irrigate cropland - faster than the aquifers can be replenished by natural processes. They based their conclusions - published in the August 20 issue of (the prestigious scientific journal) Nature - on observations from Nasa's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE)."


"If measures are not taken to ensure sustainable groundwater usage, consequences for the 114 million residents of the region may include a collapse of agricultural output and severe shortages of potable water", said Rodell, who is based at Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland.

As a SANDRP publication points out, another wing of the Union government, the ministry of water resources, has claimed that in the 15-year-period between April 1991 and March 2007, the country had created additional irrigation potential of 10.5 mha, of which 7.82 mha of irrigation potential has been utilised - such claims have been put out in official publications like the report on the Working Group on Water Resources for the 11th Five Year Plan period that started in April 2008. Further, the ministry is pushing for investments to the tune of a whopping Rs 1,65,900 crores for ongoing major and medium irrigation projects.


A 2005 World Bank report appropriately titled "India's Water Economy: Bracing for a Turbulent Future" indicated that the money that would be required each year to maintain the country's irrigation infrastructure - said to be the largest in the world, bigger than China's - was in the region of Rs 17,000 crores, of which barely one-tenth is actually made available. Out of this amount, much is misappropriated.


The issues relating to water management - sorry, mismanagement - are not new and have been discussed threadbare: siltation of reservoirs and canals, lack of maintenance of dams and embankments, cultivation of water-intensive crops, diversion of water for uses other than irrigation, increased "mining" of groundwater and absence of rainwater harvesting, are some of the principal reasons for the sorry state of affairs.


As many writers have pointed out, out of all the countries on this planet, India gets the maximum amount of rainfall per unit of land area. But the precipitation is concentrated in roughly four months. As Nitya Jacob wrote in the introduction of his book, Jalyatra (Penguin, 2008): "If we walled the country and didn't let any rain escape into the sea, we would have water one metre deep on the ground each year".


There is enough water for every Indian, if only we were not so wasteful. There is one set of individuals who survive each day on what another set uses up in less than two flushes in a latrine. Despite one of the richest traditions of managing water running into many millennia, today we have a crisis on our hands, a crisis that is entirely of our own making because we failed to learn the lessons that were taught by our grandparents and their grandparents.


Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator








Dynastic politics tends to anger the thinking classes in India. The argument is sound: in a democracy, surely, it is merit and hard work that must count, not a famous surname or a legacy. The most reviled family in Indian politics is that of Jawaharlal Nehru, since he, his daughter and grandson have all been prime ministers. Subsequently, of course, many other Indian political families have also followed the dynasty route diluting the criticism.

However, the news that French president Nicolas Sarkozy has pushed forward his young son to a prestigious position tells us that dynasty is alive and well all over the world and becoming common even in the so-called merit-oriented western democracies. Sarkozy has been accused not just of playing dynastic politics but also favouritism — which also should sound familiar to Indians. A cabinet minister had to step aside for Jean Sarkozy, 23, a third-year student without much experience. He will over see a multi-billion euro expansion of Paris's business district which houses top corporate headquarters.

Of course, India is not the only country where politics has been a family business. The US has had the Kennedys, the Roosevelts before them and now the Bushes and the Clintons. France booted out its Bourbon king and most aristocrats by chopping off their heads, then went back to a Republican form of dynasty soon after with the Bonaparte family. It may be facile to suggest that Sarkozy models himself on the legendary Corsican but nor can it be denied that he is not carving a new path here. His government contains Frederic Mitterand, nephew of the former president Francois Mitterand, whose autobiography recently caused a little stir.

The fact is that politics is murky business, whether in India or anywhere else. People in power tend to stick close to their own and when trust is an issue, they might well fall back on family. Besides, even in a democracy, people do get a sense of entitlement and it is not hard to imagine why sons, daughters, nieces and nephews of politicians feel that politics is a family business.

For a contemporary world, where democracy must mean equal opportunity, citizens have no option but to keep a stringent watch on what political leaders are up to. Voters do not have to buy into the "family business" theory and can instead hold each candidate up to the merit test. That should be the final answer.








Tomorrow Mumbai goes to the polls, so you would expect a bit of election fever in the air. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would put the fever at 2 (that is, near the lowest point). If you want a comparison, when swine flu was in the news, it was at 10. Given this, I expect voter turnout to be no more than 40 per cent at the most. Even this might be an over-estimation, because the number of voters who bother to show up at the polling booth for assembly elections is generally always fewer than for parliamentary elections and we know how bad that was.

Will the proposed closure of offices, shops, malls, entertainment centres and the like make a difference? It will if you assume that people didn't vote the last time around, because going to work made it impossible to do so. As far as I could tell, this wasn't so at all, because most establishments gave time off to their employees from the lowliest peon to the highest executive, so that they could exercise their franchise.

As for the closure of recreational centres, this is a completely hare-brained idea, the kind only politicians and their bureaucrats could come up with. If someone would rather go shopping or to a movie or to a restaurant in preference to voting, you shut those outlets and they will stay at home. To read, watch TV or just laze around. All the state will succeed in doing is to cause a loss of revenue to itself as well as to all the establishments that are shut down. It will also mean a loss of money to a huge number of daily wage earners. Have the bureaucrats with their protected salaries thought of that? Have politicians with their unearned income thought of that? As it is, the ridiculous system of dry days connected to elections does enough damage to the economy.

Does that mean the government should not try to do anything about electoral apathy? No one can dispute the fact that it is a citizen's duty to vote. It also goes without saying that many citizens do not voluntarily do their civic duty, whatever field that might be in. For example, it's our duty to pay civic taxes, but most of us would avoid it if we could get away with it. It is our duty to ensure safety on the roads to prevent injury to ourselves and others, yet many people drive recklessly, or distract themselves by talking on mobile phones and so on. In other words, citizens often behave like children so there arises the need for someone to play mummy and daddy. And who else can do it but our mai baap sarkar? The problem is that governments have no idea about parenting and no Mr Spock has written a bible for them, so each one flounders on in its own blundering way.

But will even the most enlightened government be able to compulsorily make its citizens vote? You could argue that it is your fundamental right not to vote, not even to caste an abstaining vote, (if they introduce a last box in the ballot paper saying 'none of the above'). But suppose that argument does not hold, how come compulsory franchise be imposed? Some countries have tried fining citizens for not voting, but in such a huge country like ours, who will keep track, who will collect the fines and how?

The main reason for electoral apathy has to do with our general contempt for politicians and political parties. People say, who do I vote for when no candidate in my constituency is worth voting for? That is the crux of the problem. We saw it at work at the last general elections when an electorate fired up by 26/11 to become politically aware, still stayed aware from the polling booths.

In short, whatever politicians do to try and make us vote, will not work, unless they are willing to do the impossible. Which is not reforming the political system but reforming themselves.








T he communist leader Jyoti Basu was once asked by a visiting American academic — "Who represents the Dalits in your party?" The veteran looked at the visitor icily and replied, "I do". The communists believe in class and not caste and are above identity politics. Dalit, upper caste, Muslim, all are the same, as long as they belong to the working classes and want to shed off their chains.


That was of course way back in the past. Since then Indian communists have come to fully appreciate the harsh realities of India. They have pandered to minority sentiments and have tried their best to link up with Mayawati in the hope that it will get them some Dalit votes, as well as to create a joint front against the much-reviled Congress. Both initiatives came to naught; Mayawati was not going to waste her time with a party that had nothing to offer.


In her time though she has freely hobnobbed with the BJP which had some clout among the upper castes of Uttar Pradesh, but when she saw their influence wane, she jettisoned them too. Mayawati's calculation is simple: I will do whatever it takes to consolidate the Dalit vote and to expand my market share by bringing in new customers into the fold.

But if there is one party she will never join hands with it is the Congress. For her, the Congress is the enemy. Yet, it is not as if Dalits have moved en masse to the Congress; she still retains her electoral base. Then why is she attacking Rahul Gandhi?Why worry about a baba-log kind of urban politician who wants to spend a night or two in a Dalit hut?


The last election results provide a clue. From languishing in the fourth place not too long ago, the Congress roared back with 21 seats. Mayawati, who was dreaming of becoming the prime minister (a dream fed by her urban supporters) managed to get just 20, only 1 more than in 2004. Moreover, the BSP made no impact outside UP, where the Dalits have not yet made up their mind about Mayawati.


In short, she has reached saturation point while the Congress is in expansion mode. Probably the biggest worry for Mayawati is that her carefully constructed coalition of Dalits and upper castes and other groups may be gradually unraveling, while the Congress is busy bringing back all those who left the fold.


The old Congress used to be a broad church that at once represented everybody and nobody. Upper castes, Dalits, minorities, everyone felt they had a stake in the Congress. The legacy of being a party that fought for freedom helped, but its leadership continued that tradition well into the 1980s. The Nehru-Gandhi family was the symbol of that pan-Indianness; they belonged nowhere yet everywhere.


Obviously this formula did not work in all states. In Tamil Nadu for example Dravidian politics had long rejected the Congress idea. In Andhra Pradesh, NTR successfully raised the banner of Telugu pride and snatched the state away from the Congress in the 1980s. The biggest blow to the party came in the mid-1980s when VP Singh split the party and joined hands with OBC leaders in UP and Bihar. The BJP repositioned itself as a party of upper caste Hindu interests. One by one the pieces were falling away. And when the Dalits finally had a party of their own, the Congress hegemony was over.


It needed a widely accepted leader with no previous baggage to once again put together that patchwork quilt. Sonia Gandhi began the process and Rahul Gandhi is continuing it. He is trying to bring back each group, slowly but systematically to the Congress. The Muslims have come back and Hindu upper castes too are drifting Congress-wards. The urban vote is fully in the bag. The Dalits are important, especially in UP where they account for 22%.


Hence his forays into the hinterland where he meets and breaks chappatis with ordinary village folk (most of whom Dalits). Mayawati knows Rahul is getting a response. While she has been busy picking up fights with the Supreme Court over erecting statues of herself for Rs635 crore, young Rahul is chipping away at her core constituency. She realises the dangers of losing the sole agency for the Dalit vote; without that she would be nothing.


It's a fight that has just begun. Mayawati's bastion is nowhere near tottering, but it is certainly under threat. There is no other party that can possibly challenge her Dalit fief the way the Congress can. Throwing insults at Rahul Gandhi will not make much difference; she should be concentrating on consolidating her base. And erecting ghastly and expensive statues is not the way to do it. In the battle of symbolism, Rahul Gandhi is definitely inching ahead. The battle is not for an election here or there; it is for her survival.









There is little doubt now that the most serious insurgencies in this country are not on its rim in the Northeast or for that matter in Kashmir but in its mainland. No less than home minister P Chidambaram has said that one in seven police stations in the country has seen incidences of Maoist extremism.

Yet, there is a contrast between the situation in the hinterland of forests and hills where Maoism today and Naxalism in the late 1960s made its stand and in the regions of the periphery. It is indeed true that a state like Manipur is going though protracted civil protest over atrocities by the security forces.

But it is doubtful if there has been a phase in the last four decades when the semblance of a political process has been at work so steadily in most though not all of frontier India. This emerges most clearly when one looks at the region with the oldest and deepest rooted of the separatist insurgencies: Nagaland.
The peace talks with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) have now entered their 14th year.


Though there has been no major breakthrough especially on the issue of a Nagalim that will include parts of several adjacent states, the fact is that neither the talks nor the ceasefire have broken down.
Even more significant and for the first time since the advent of the United Progressive Alliance government in the summer of 2004 is the statement of the Mirwaiz of Kashmir. Umar Farooq has asked his supporters not to be anti Indian and to be ready for dialogue.

As in the case of the veteran Naga leader T Muivah, nobody expects the Hurriyat leader to change his views or surrender his convictions. But the very readiness for dialogue is a positive step.

This passage from a situation of conflict and confrontation to dialogue and bridge-building is always difficult. More so when there are ethnic issues involved and there is a long record of deep alienation of the civil population from the government.

Yet, there is little sign of dialogue with the Maoists who are heirs to the Naxalite legacy that goes back over four decades. It is not just the rising of Naxalbari in north Bengal but also the agenda of the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) founded in April 1969 by the late Charu Mazumdar that lies at its root.

Simply put, the idea was that Indian society and polity could only be transformed via an armed revolution. While this strand petered out by the mid and late 1970s, it never did die out and found fresh life over the last decade with the re-unification of several smaller splinter groups and the formation of a united Maoist party.

The contrast with a state like Jammu and Kashmir in this last decade could not be greater. The state now has two regionalist parties each with its own vision of autonomy, one led by the Abdullahs and the other by the Muftis.

Meanwhile in West Bengal, the birthplace of Maoism in India, the parliamentary Left parties are in crisis. At a meta level, such parties or the socialists never struck roots in the vast tribal hinterland that stretches across several states in Middle India. It is here that the last two decades have seen far-reaching economic and social changes, few of which have benefited in any serious way the bulk of the under class.

No one should have any illusions about the respect or human rights on either side. Many human rights groups have catalogued and the courts have also acknowledged the violation of basic rights by Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh.
But it is equally important to recall that the recent beheading of a police officer by Maoists was no aberration. In fact a popular slogan o the Naxal movement in the early 1970s was to behead the class enemies.

But as in the case of Kashmir or Nagaland, there is no way a strategy simply based on force will succeed against Maoism. There is no doubt at all that ideologues committed to a path of armed struggle will not give up their beliefs and change their ways easily. But this is no reason to see their potential recruits and followers in the same light.

The previous UPA government brought about major pro-poor policy initiatives and legal enactments. In the Adivasi areas none was as significant as the Forest Rights Act that aimed to defuse discontent over land claims and tensions vis-a-vis the forest department. But the pace of implementation has been uneven.

Even worse, the measure, urgent as it was, went a very small way. If the inner frontier is to be peaceful and stable, its inhabitants need urgent public action to ensure they get a share of the fruits of development. The borderlands have shown an India willing to engage even as it refuses to bend.

Can similar statesmanship save the day on the inner frontier? The future is within grasp but only if the leadership reaches out for it.









THE Supreme Court collegium led by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan has at last decided to put on hold the elevation of Karnataka High Court Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran to the apex court following charges of land-grabbing by him at Kaverirajapuram in Tiruvallur district of Tamil Nadu. According to reports, the decision follows an "adverse report" from the Tamil Nadu government on the allegations of encroachment of huge chunks of land by Justice Dinakaran. Apparently, the Tiruvallur District Collector, after verification of records, has found merit in the charges against him. The state government has sent the District Collector's findings to the CJI. Let alone his elevation, Justice Dinakaran's continuance as the Karnataka High Court Chief Justice itself has become untenable ever since eminent jurists led by Mr Fali S. Nariman have urged the President, the Prime Minister and the CJI to institute an inquiry into the charges levelled against him by members of the Tamil Nadu Bar to the collegium.


The collegium has rightly delinked Justice Dinakaran's elevation from the list and asked the Centre to go ahead with the appointment of four other Judges — Punjab and Haryana High Court Chief Justice Tirath Singh Thakur; Madhya Pradesh High Court Chief Justice Ananga Kumar Patnaik; Calcutta High Court Chief Justice Surinder Singh Nijjar; and Gujarat High Court Chief Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan. Keeping in view the serious nature of the complaint against Justice Dinakaran, the collegium should have taken this decision earlier. As seniority is very important for a judge's career growth, the collegium should have avoided the inordinate delay in the elevation of the four judges to the Supreme Court. It is not easy to understand why judges whose record is creditable should have suffered delay for Justice Dinakaran's sake.


The Dinakaran episode once again underscores the imperative need for making the selection of judges by the collegium more foolproof and transparent. To restore people's faith in the judiciary as also protect its fair reputation, persons of high integrity and unimpeachable integrity alone need to be recommended for appointment as well as elevation. Since Justice Dinakaran's image is under cloud, he should refrain from attending the court. It is a matter of deep regret that Justice Dinakaran's name should have reached the collegium for selection at all. And for the collegium to have cleared it despite the objection of one of its senior members makes it amply clear that there is something drastically wrong in the process of selection of judges for the Supreme Court.








IT is a matter of some relief that Punjab, which has the dubious distinction of having one of the worst sex ratios in the country, has now launched the nation's first public health helpline, the prime purpose of which is to check female foeticide. Initiated as part of the National Rural Health Mission, the hotline may not bring about an overnight dramatic transformation in the patriarchal mindset that values sons over daughters. Yet, it is a welcome measure designed to give hapless women who are forced to abort their unborn daughters not only a chance to voice their grievances but also seek "subtle" intervention. The fact that the helpline is in Punjabi is slated to make it more effective and broad-based.


Punjab has been trying to fight the gender imbalance and several initiatives like Nanhi Chaon and Balri Rakshak Yojna have been taken to save the girl child. A recent survey in Punjab has claimed that the sex ratio in the age group 0 to 4 years is up from 796 in 2001 to 838. Yet the problem remains and female foetuses are still aborted without care or concern for "missing" daughters. Even NRI couples that get sex-specific tests done abroad, abort female foetuses in this land where nearly one lakh daughters are estimated to be found "missing".


Clearly, more than a hotline is needed to reverse the adverse sex ratio and only a multi-pronged approach can work. While awareness campaigns must lay emphasis on taking pride and pleasure in birth of daughters, the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act has to be stringently implemented. Merely reiterating that improving the sex ratio is top priority of the state health department or taking pride in number of cases registered against the violators of the PNDT Act will not help in tackling this social evil. Backed by firm resolve, action has to be taken on all fronts involving all sections of the community. Certainly, the helpline can help the break "conspiracy of silence". However, the efficacy of the project has to withstand the test of time. While awareness about the helpline will have to be driven home, caution will need to be exercised in providing right counselling and ensuring that its implementation does not turn into a witch hunt.








IT is an irony indeed that the nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize for Barack Obama was filed within 11 days after his inauguration as the President of the United States earlier this year. By that token, the conferment of the coveted award on him purportedly "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples" is actually for his words rather than his deeds. That this is odd and there is understandable surprise and consternation over it is borne out by a quick online poll in his hometown of Chicago which showed that over 70 per cent of the respondents felt that he did not deserve the honour just yet. This sentiment has been widely expressed elsewhere too.


Much though the Nobel committee may defend its action, there can be little doubt that the credibility of the award has come down a few notches as a result of this controversial selection. President Obama himself has graciously cast doubts over his suitability for the award saying that he did not deserve to be in the company of past laureates. Indeed, controversies are not alien to the prestigious Nobel award. Perhaps the biggest black mark on it has been the non-conferment of the award on Mahatma Gandhi whose contribution to world peace has been beyond parallel. The western bias in the selections is unmistakable. Barring exceptions, the Nobel peace prizes awarded so far in the 109 years of the award's existence are largely a story of individuals involved with forgotten peace initiatives, abandoned agreements and ultimately ineffectual treaties. Some examples are Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and in more recent times Jimmy Carter, Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat and Henry Kissinger.


Now that the award for Mr Obama has been announced, one can only hope that it will inspire the American president to spread peace and goodwill across the world and shed the bossy attitude of the US towards other countries. If that happens, the award, though prematurely given, would have served some purpose.








SOME significant events have taken place during the last few weeks that have left the nation with a sense of uneasiness. India can no more afford to be in a situation of asymmetric deterrence vis-à-vis Pakistan. Deterrence is after all a mind game. The efficacy of nuclear weapons in achieving the national objectives rests entirely on the perception of the adversary about the quality and the quantity of the weapons and the intent of the politico-military leadership.


The Facile Material Cut off Treaty (FMCT) is in the offing. India may find itself restrained from carrying out further nuclear test in order to overcome the alleged shortcomings of the Pokhran tests. The US' renewed interest in arms control agenda including getting the CTBT ratified by the senate which rejected it 10 years ago would create further pressure on India which it may find hard to cope with. Chauvinism of self-imposed nuclear moratorium needs to be re-visited and imbalances corrected if these really exist.


Whether India has adequate scientific data and the capability to switch on to laboratory testing after the CTBT comes into force is a moot point. Some in the scientific community have serious doubts about it and seem to suggest that in their perceptions, there is a need to go ahead and improve the quality and capacity before it is too late. Consider how France and China conducted series of nuclear tests unabashedly just days prior to signing the NPT's indefinite extension in May 1995.


It is perhaps for this reason that Pakistan is enhancing its nuclear capabilities, qualitatively and quantitatively. The US disclosure that Pakistan was building and refining its nuclear arsenal beyond what has been known all this while was astounding to say the least. The Federation of Americans Scientists revealed that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal could be as large as 70-90 warheads. Earlier Pakistan was known to possess about 60 such weapons. This claim was further buttressed by a report of the US Congressional Research Services, which said that Pakistan was not only making improvements to its nuclear arsenal but has also added to the list of situations under which it could employ these weapons against India.


Pakistan is also constructing two new plutonium production reactors and trying to miniaturise its nuclear warheads. Gen Musharraf has recently stated that during his tenure Pakistan had made substantial advances in developing plutonium weapons and uranium enrichment.


The Army Chief and Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, Gen Deepak Kapoor reacted strongly to these reports and hinted reappraisal of India's 'No First Use' policy and reconsideration of its strategic stance. There is a growing feeling amongst the strategic community that there is a need for a serious look at our nuclear policy and the capability in order to maintain its cutting edge. The political leadership must satisfy itself before it can re-assure the armed forces that India's nuclear deterrence remains fully effective.


However, now that the nuclear debate has been initiated by Dr Santhnaman, rightly or wrongly, and that the US has put us on the alert by disclosing Pakistan's intentions, India must rectify the imbalance in time.


The Chinese attempt to provoke India recently by intruding into Indian territory in Ladakh and painting Chinese graffiti (China) on rocks to assert their ownership has disturbed the national psyche. There was also an air space violation which happened after two long years. For over 20 years now, the Chinese have been using incursions into Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim as an assertion of their claim over Indian territory. The defence establishment views these incursions as a reflection of the Chinese policy of keeping the border issue alive. The July incursions are seen by the army as a deliberate attempt to provoke India.


Instead of lodging a strong protest, our Foreign Minister surprised every body by his August 7 statement: "...the border with China has been one of the most peaceful boundaries that we have as compared to boundary lines with other countries". Even the Defence Ministry was taken aback. Taking the queue, the Chinese foreign ministry stated promptly, "Reports of incursion are baseless." Timid responses and continued proclivity to placate the Chinese have only encouraged them to be more indulgent.


Here are a few examples of how the Ministry of External Affairs' policy of appeasing the Chinese by its overcautious responses has damaged our credibility. The MEA has prevented the armed forces from detaining the Chinese soldiers when confronted on the Indian side of the border. This is when the Chinese have no such hesitation in capturing Indian soldiers if found by them on their side of the LAC.


The Indian army has also been prevented from patrolling certain areas close to the LAC claimed by us to prevent clashes with the Chinese troops. The Chinese have imposed no such restrictions on their troops. Even the ITBP is not allowed to carry weapons to prevent provocation to the Chinese. The army finds itself hand tied by an overcautious MEA in coping with Chinese aggressive and bullish policies.


China's continued violation of LAC is in keeping with its policy of asserting its claims along the border. Except for a firm action against the Chinese in 1986, India has remained overcautious all along. It has always downplayed the seriousness of these incursions, letting the Chinese have the upper hand psychologically. Our responses are weak and minimal. For some unknown reason, in dealing with the Chinese, we tend to circumvent and dodge the issues. Is it that the Indian governments still continue to suffer from the 1962 syndrome? India should have realised by now that the Chinese only respect firmness and show of strength.


China's aggressive behaviour needs to be analysed in proper perspective. To pursue its "four modernisations" unhindered, it wanted a peaceful and stable environment, particularly along its international borders. It managed to resolve border disputes expeditiously with all except India. With India, it followed a different approach by signing a treaty of 'Peace and Tranquillity' in 1993 to achieve the same effect. Having secured borders with neighbours, it was able to concentrate on improving its economy and simultaneously modernising its armed forces in a big way.


Now that China has reached a stage wherein its economy, finance, exports and the military are global phenomena, it has begun to flex muscles with renewed arrogance and assertiveness. Large-scale military exercises in the neighbourhood of its adversaries to showcase its might is the modus operandi it follows to intimidate them. As of now, the Chinese are running a massive military exercise involving about 50,000 troops along with large contingent of tanks and aircraft north of us.


However, the Chinese seem to betray some uneasiness manifested in their recent conduct of needling India on some pretext or the other. They have surprised India yet again by issuing separate visas to Indian passport holders from Jammu and Kashmir. Are they trying to convey some message as regards their stand on Kashmir?


The Chinese behaviour could perhaps be attributed to the series of actions taken by India in securing its border against them. Deployment of front line SU-30s at Tezpur, upgradation of airbases in the east, raising of two mountain divisions for deployment in Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, deployment of T-72 tanks in the higher reaches of Sikkim and reactivation of Daulat Beg Oldi, Fuckche, Chushule and Nyama airfields in Ladakh which were literally abandoned after 1962 because of their close proximity to Chinese deployments have all added to China's discomfort.


India has to come out of past paranoia and handle China's intransigence with fortitude. The MEA must ensure integrated responses in close liaison with the Ministries of Defence and Home. We have to learn to deal with the Chinese and their ruthless attitude towards us.


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








WHILE rummaging through my music collection I stumble upon a CD on which my daughter seems to have boldly scribbled: very, very old songs. Undeniably, the songs of Talat Mehmood, Geeta Dutt, et al belong to another generation even by my own standards, let alone when judged from the perspective of a teenager.


Nevertheless, stung by her observation, I resist the temptation to tune in to the eternal Aaj sajan mohe ang laga lo janam safal ho jaaye and Piya aiso jeeya mein samaye gayo re and put the CD away, lest she puts the "relic" label on me too. Still the words "very, very old" continue to haunt me. Am I overreacting, true to my profession of a journalist, reading too much in between the lines (in this case one line actually). Do I sense my daughter's derision behind what is a seemingly an innocuous observation?


Just as I soak into J K Rowling's quote "Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young" at a neighbour's party, I come across a senior citizen. What is so special? Isn't India greying fast? Well, she is dancing to the tune of same songs with gusto and abandon. Clearly as her not so youthful body sways to the evergreen number Babu ji dheere chalna, the song is not only part of her past perfect but also present which is not flawed either.


How past and present interweave, Kal aj aur kal become one, we often overlook. Instead, we tend to draw firm lines, delineating the two into watertight compartments. At a seminar in Shimla that deliberated upon the "Changing role of teachers" a learned professor read out a paragraph: "The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannise their teachers."


Not just me, all present were certain that he was describing the youth of today. Guess what, he was quoting Socrates the Greek philosopher. Indeed, the implication is loud and clear — more things change, the more they remain the same. Yet, comparison between past and present is inevitable, both in real life and on celluloid screen. Imtiaz Ali, the well-known film director of Jab We Met fame, who seems to have quite easily mastered the art of making films on youth too couldn't resist this urge. With a firm grip on the pulse of Gen Next — remember the delectable dialogue Mein apni favourite hoon epitomising the 21st century youth — his latest offering Love Aaj Kal does exactly that. Juxtaposing vintage "till death do us apart" love of yesteryear with two-minute fast food variety of today, he makes many startling and delightful observations on commitment and love, as the present generation understands it. However, the overt and underlying message of his movie is — aaj ya kal, love is love. In city for the promotion of his film the dashing filmmaker who can easily be a hero himself revealed how youth is never dated.


Any wonder, the protagonist Veer of yesteryear (in Love Aaj Kal) is as much in sync with his times, as fashionable and as rebellious (with the gumption to elope with his beloved hours before her marriage) as the modern day Romeo who discovers the value of love the "long distance" way. Indeed, if youth and love can never be behind times, can its most potent expression music be. My CD is back in circulation. The air is filled with Hoon abhi main jawan…








IF Henry Kissinger's Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 was said to signify the death of satire, the one that's been awarded to Barack Obama may go down as the triumph of naivety. Henry the Great had indeed cosied up to vile regimes in Latin America and ordered the secret bombing of Cambodia. But he was also the arch exponent of realpolitik, who extricated the US from a futile war. That is why he was awarded the prize.


This one has gone to an American president in office for less than nine months. Yes, Obama, perhaps more than any president in history, has roused hopes of a new beginning. But nothing leaves a more bitter taste than hope unfulfilled, and therein lies the danger of this premature award.


Yes, he's made those fancy speeches – in Berlin in summer 2008 during his pre-election European victory lap, his inaugural address in January, the ones to the Muslim world in April, to the UN General Assembly last month. Not only can Obama dissect and explain a complicated problem as few others, but he's inspirational as well. But, as they say in American politics, where's the beef?


To be sure, George W Bush's misbegotten war in Iraq is being wound down. But in the Middle East, Obama's exhortations and strictures to Israelis and Palestinians have this far achieved precisely nothing. Even as he lays out a stirring vision of a nuclear-free world, Iran accelerates its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capacity that might easily ignite a new war in the region.


It's all but certain that Obama will miss his deadline of next January for closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Nor will honeyed presidential words, the White House already concedes, persuade Congress to arm US delegates to December's climate change conference in Copenhagen with a piece of legislation to prove their good intentions.


Then there's Afghanistan. The man praised yesterday for giving the world "the hope of a better future" is considering escalating a conflict in which America's involvement has now lasted as long as in Vietnam – and whose parallels with that failed war grow with every passing day.


The difference is that Obama's America has even less chance of imposing its will on Afghanistan – and if it is to succeed there, on the larger, more treacherous stage of nuclear-armed Pakistan next door – than presidents Johnson and Nixon had of victory in South-east Asia.


He may have sown the seeds of hope. But then again, so in his time did Jimmy Carter, a president to whom people these days are starting to liken Obama: another good and extremely intelligent man, who promised much when he came to office in the aftermath of Vietnam and Watergate, but whose single term ended in failure and disappointment. Seven years ago, Carter did win the Nobel Peace Prize. But that was a lifetime achievement award, more in recognition of 20 years of post-presidential toil in the world's most thankless hot spots than for anything he achieved in office.


So why did the Norwegian committee act as it did yesterday? Perhaps, you might frivolously say, to show even-handedness. Only last Friday, after all, Obama was returning from Copenhagen with his tail between his legs.


He had just suffered the biggest rejection of his presidency as his adopted city of Chicago, for which he had lobbied in person, saw its 2016 Olympics bid tossed out in the very first round of voting. The collective gasp of surprise at Obama's victory yesterday was as audible as at his failure seven days earlier. Scandinavia, the Norwegians were keen to prove, not only taketh away. It also giveth.


You could also argue that this was a political move by the committee – a calculated attempt to boost Obama's prestige as he tries to resolve those global problems listed above. And maybe it will. But it's hard, for instance, to see Mahmoud Ahmadinejad turning all sweet and reasonable, forswearing Iran's nuclear ambitions just because the fellow across the table has won the Nobel Peace Prize.


Most likely, though, it was a very human mixture of idealism and spite to which even right-thinking Scandinavians also are not immune. The idealism reflects a perception of Obama as a new embodiment of America at its best, the last hope of humanity, guided by high and universal ideals, determined and decisive, using its immense power in concert with others to build a better world. As such, Obama's prize is also a final, gratuitous shot at George W Bush (remember him?), who for Scandinavia and far beyond was embodiment of America at its worst.


But the real world has little time either for comforting myth, or pointless score settling. Obama's Nobel Prize will not weigh heavily in the deliberations over Afghanistan, the first acid test of his presidential mettle. The basic choice is simple: either to throw in more troops, spending more American blood and treasure on a war in which in any politically realistic time frame the US cannot succeed; or to wind things down, and focus on the terrorists, not the Taliban.


Most probably, though, he will split the difference, sending more troops. They won't be enough to win, but they'll delay the inevitable final failure. But for the moment, we do not even know what America's goal is in the war. And to have a goal you must have a strategy. All the rest is tactics, which at best buy time.


Which brings us back to Henry Kissinger, nothing if not a strategist. He and Nixon came to recognise that America's power was not infinite, and decided their strategy would be to extricate the US from the war.


It was messy, and took four years to achieve. Then the process was called "Vietnamisation". Call it "Afghanistanisation" or whatever, but that is the path Obama should take now. If he did, he would really earn this premature Nobel Peace Prize.


By arrangement with The Independent








EVERY Congressman in Punjab looks towards capturing political power by early 2012. They strongly sense that the present Akali-BJP combine has failed on all fronts and a victory at the polls is granted since there is no alternative except their party.


This is not a bad wish by itself. But the way Punjab Congress leaders at all levels have been conducting themselves, they ought to think twice before dreaming about power.


The Congress in Punjab is so plagued by groups and stuck in confused ideological positions that at times it becomes a laughing stock. Both inside and outside the state assembly the party demonstrates its pitiable position, despite some bright leaders making well-informed speeches.


Punjab is today suffering from a grave economic crisis. Poor quality and short supply of power to the farm, industry and domestic sectors has hampered the production and pushed up costs all around.


There is an ever-deepening agrarian crisis. Farmers are leaving their old and trusted profession of farming, Punjab's only pride on the economic map, and are moving to cities to make a better living. Leaving the agricultural sector to the vagaries of free market is proving disastrous.


Crime is on the rise and as social tensions mount it is bound to increase. Social sectors like health and education are in poor shape. A wobbly government admits a shortage of doctors, medicines and teachers but does little.


It is true that the Congress made its 'contribution' when it ruled the state towards the current mess. Yet it offers no alternative solution and one does not hear much from Congress leaders like Capt Amarinder Singh, Mrs Rajinder Kaur Bhattal or Mohinder Singh KP.


The issues do not bother them and it is only the lack of power that upsets them. When did they lead any reasonably big protest march in the state's capital, Chandigarh? They need not, as one senior leader admitted, "We do not have to slog in the streets. What is the choice before the people when elections come? The Akalis and the BJP have done nothing and the people are sick of them. They have already lost and we only wait for the elections to come to power. We shall look at these problems then." And what he will not say is that meanwhile, "we fight with one another and settle the leadership issue."


Yes, it is the leadership issue that hangs like a cloud over the Congress party in Punjab. The Congress presents better team work in Haryana and Himachal Pradesh than in Punjab. Part of the problem lies with leaders like Capt Amarinder Singh and Mrs Bhattal and second-rung leaders.


They lead delegations to central leaders, Mrs Mohsina Kidwai, party president Sonia Gandhi's all season trusted secretary, Ahmed Patel.


Complaints, largely anonymous or unsigned, reach these central leaders to fill huge boxes, finally to be consigned to the dustbin. The job of those in charge of Punjab Congress affairs, instead of helping forge unity, is to encourage one group against the other.


All this happens in the name of the invincible Congress president and chairperson of the UPA, Mrs Sonia Gandhi. This is pushing the party into a limbo and the only activity is seen to hold small meetings, protests here and there and press briefings.


One reason for the delay in deciding the leadership issue is the conviction that any leader chosen much in advance of the elections will be a spent force by that time and any new leader close to the elections will help the party's performance at the elections as that means less factionalism.


But there is another more important reason and that exposes the great secular party. It cannot choose a non-Sikh and not even a non-Jat Sikh to lead the party. When was the last time it chose a Hindu its state president and chief ministerial candidate?


Side by side it must appease the Scheduled Castes. Caste and religious considerations weigh heavily on the party that promised ages back to end interference of religion in political affairs and an end of untouchability in all its forms. What face does it have to call others communal? Meanwhile, the Akalis and the BJP are more than contented at the vacillation of their main rivals.









THE Congress top shots have not taken well to "Dalit tourism" by UP netas. In fact, Rahul Gandhi has asked the UPCC to formulate guidelines for leaders who visit hamlets inhabited by Dalits and other poor sections of society so that genuine gestures are not reduced to a picnic.


On October 2 Union Ministers Sri Prakash Jaiswal, Pradip Aditya Jain, Mohammad Azharuddin and UPCC chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi spent the night in Dalit homes. These visits seemed like an outing. Some ate chicken, some brought pedestal fans, mattresses, bed sheets and mineral water.


Local netas are supposed to hold chaupals once in a month in villages at a poorman's house. The chaupal is aimed at educating people of their right to jobs under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and old age pensions. Every block and district president of the party has been asked to hold chaupals. They are to bring ration and cook food in the settlement and not bring along food or it order from restaurants.


The Congress had started these visits to expose the BSP supremo's lack of concern for the poor. But unlike the Congress general secretary, who sticks to what is available at Dalit homes, several of his followers made sure they were not short of any amenities or conveniences.


Some, accompanied by big bands of supporters, went to the extent of hiring their own cooks, bringing food supplies and even disposable plates for dinner. Sri Prakash Jaiswal had a generator installed in order to sleep with a fan close by; ex-cricketer and Moradabad MP Mohammed Azharuddin chose to bring disposable plates to eat from.


Then there was the Bahraich MP, Kamal Kishore, who decided to skip dinner with the Dalits altogether and eat elsewhere. There were many others who brought mosquito nets, clean sheets and mattresses to do the "Dalit night".


While Rahul's plans are top secret, these leaders made the act of sharing a meal with Dalits and "getting to know their problems" a media event. The issue is likely to be played up by the BSP, whose Dalit vote the Congress is attempting to capture.



Death of a Moneylender an with an extremely brutal financial situation in rural India. Though written as a work of fiction, former journalist Kota Neelima brings remarkable authencity and credibility to her work. In fact, it was Neelima's truth and technique that became the subject of discussion at her book launch.


Through a blaze of photographs and camera men the shy and retiring author received warm words graciously from Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit.


Sheila, who is an avid reader of books herself, said that the teaser read out by Suneet Tandon should provoke many into reading the book. The CM said that this book was a worthy sequel to Neelima's earlier work that was also set in rural India.


Next in line to praise the book was Salman Khurshid, who recalled Neelima's research style and factual portrayals, during her journalistic days. The audience was also treated to a discussion with the author before dispersing for snacks.


Rural Minister C.P. Joshi chose not to speak even though the subject was rather close to his heart and work. MPs like Azharuddin and Sandip Dixit and junior mantris like Jitin Prasad made the evening a political one. Minds were exercised in the Constitution Club even as a few of those who attended made a round of the exercise machines that are a part of the brand new gym in the newly upgraded political hangout of Delhi.








The move to improve coordination between the police forces of the north eastern States is a welcome move but only holding of periodical meetings between the heads of the forces will not yield the desired results and efforts must be initiated to ensure regular sharing of information not only between the police forces but also between all the security forces engaged in counter-insurgency operations. It is a well established fact that the militants often move from one State to the other to avoid the security net whenever a concerted operation is launched against them and only coordinated efforts by the police forces of the NE States can deal with the situation. For example, in recent months a number of leaders of militant groups based in Manipur were arrested in Guwahati as the militants make full use of the metropolitan culture of the city to use it as a safe hideout. Only regular coordination between the police forces can prevent such practice by the militant leaders. Moreover, it is recently reported that the members of the anti-talk faction of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) manage to cross over to Arunachal Pradesh whenever operations against the outfit are intensified in the district of Sonitpur while, it is reported that the militant groups often bring in arms and explosives to Assam from Bangladesh through Meghalaya. To check such kind of menace, a mechanism must be evolved to ensure daily sharing of intelligence inputs among the police and security forces of the region and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) must take the lead in this regard. The MHA should also include at least the North Bengal area of West Bengal in the security schemes for the region as the militant groups active in North East including the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the NDFB often use the North Bengal area with the help of the Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) as shelter and also to move to their bases in Bangladesh and Bhutan.

The recently held meeting of
the police chiefs of the NE States, which was convened by the MHA, also discussed the possibility of making the rehabilitation package for the surrendered militants more attractive to lure misguided youths back to the mainstream. Making the rehabilitation package more attractive may be one of the weapons to bring back the militants to the mainstream but care should be taken to ensure that such package does not attract unemployed youths to join the militant groups so that they can later come over ground to get the benefits of such schemes. Moreover, whenever any militant wants to surrender, the police and security forces should check his or her credentials as very often allegations of "fake surrenders" crop up and whenever a militant group signs a cease-fire agreement with the Government to come for talks, the number of cadres is found to be much more than the assessment of the security forces.







The saddest irony that marks mankind's progress since the dawn of civilization till the current millennium is that the homo sapiens are making the planet increasingly unlivable for every other species. Mankind's unrelenting quest for so-called progress has caused total annihilation of thousands of species, with the remaining few being pushed to the brink. The multiplying number of humans implies multiplying needs in the form of space and resources, which is invariably met through ruthless exploitation of forests. Vast tracts of virgin forests that evolved through thousands of years are being wiped out in a matter of days. Along with it we are parting forever with a vast multitude of life forms that throve within its folds, constituting a part of the complex web of life. Habitat loss and degradation today constitute the biggest challenge for the survival of the few remaining species. And nowhere is this problem more serious than in the thickly-populated developing nations in Asia, Africa and South America – regions traditionally blessed with unparalleled biodiversity.

Unabated loss of forest cover in Assam and other parts of the North-East, a biodiversity hotspot, has led to perhaps the gravest conservation challenge in the State – the intensifying man-elephant conflict. It has worsened in the past one decade, extracting a heavy toll on the elephant population. The pachyderm population in the North-East, which is among the last bastions of the Asian elephant, has plummeted largely due to the direct as well as indirect fallouts of the escalating conflict. The elephant habitats now stand destroyed, degraded and fragmented, thanks to widespread tree-felling and encroachment. The situation has compelled the elephants to stray on cropland and human settlements in search of food, invariably triggering a conflict with humans. It is regrettable that an animal which is a part of our folklore and loved and revered for its wisdom and gentleness should now be held a sworn enemy for no fault of it. To mitigate the problem, the Government will have to accord utmost thrust on protecting the existing forest cover besides reclaiming some of the lost habitat and elephant corridors. This will take some time but nothing else can ensure sustainability of the elephant population. The Forest Department needs to be thoroughly revamped with induction of trained manpower and infrastructure. The bane of organised encroachment and deforestation has to be checked with a firm hand. The issue of an exploding human population which is having a direct bearing on the State's forest cover also needs to be taken up as a matter of policy. Given the invaluable asset that forests and wildlife are, no amount of expenditure can be too high to save it from obliteration.







Will the raging controversy between the Lapang-led Meghayala United Alliance government and the Khasi Students' Union (KSU) on the issue of the proposed uranium mining in the resource-rich but economically-backward West Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya end in the immediate future? Such a possibility does not seem too bright. Ever since the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) has been keen on mining uranium in the uranium-rich Kyllang-Pyndeng-Sohiong-Mawthabah in the district, in the nineties there have been series of negotiations on the proposed mining between the representatives of the successive State governments and the KSU as well as the UCIL authorities. Put simply, each time it was held, each time the negotiation ended in a fiasco with the students' body unwilling to budge from its stand against mining.

Not that it is the KSU that is only opposed to it. In fact, in the State today, many NGOs, academics, professionals and members of civil society groups have been one along with the students' organisation to voice their opposition to the mining project. If they are objecting to it the fear of a likely damaging impact of mining on the eco-system in place, and livelihood of man in particular, at the sites is the prime reason. This fear seems to have resulted from the horrific events at different places namely, Jadugods in Jharkhand and several parts of the West Khasi Hills district a few years ago of what may be termed "the unsafe mining serious disaster".

•Broadly, what had come about at the uranium-affluent Jadugods in the recent past will certainly go down in history as one of the most appalling incidents–one of the worst forms of mining disaster. The reason was in the knowledge of all those who keep themselves posted about what has happened or what is happening around them. Essentially, it was the astounding leakage of radioactive substances that was blamed on human error that had led to serious health hazards at the mining site and its nearby areas. This unsafe uranium mining became the cause of such dreaded diseases as genetic disorder, lung cancer, et al, later in evidence among quite a sizeable section of Adivasi women literally destined to be ending up with the reported growing number of deformed babies.

An equally abominable incident of misfortune took place in the West Khasi
Hills district in the wake of the 1992 exploratory work undertaken by the same UCIL in the quest for uranium ore there had sent shock waves across the State. Although its impact was not as great as that of the Jadugoda mining a few resultant untoward incidents at the site and its adjoining areas soon after the drilling operation sent shivers down spines of many people. The incidents of several children reported, from Langpa, Nongmluh and Phlangdiloin villages, all under the Khasi Hills district, of having been taken ill, and of the shoals of fish in Kynshi and Rilang rivers found dead were what actually made them frightened.

The UCIL had reportedly begun experimental mining of uranium at its reservoir, Domiasiat in the district, a tiny, sleepy village around 150 km from the State capital city, Shillong way back in 1992. It finished the job in 2005, after a protracted period of 13 years. Undoubtedly, uranium is a very useful metal. For example, it is used as a nuclear fuel in breeder reactor and for generating electricity. India today is badly in need of uranium for production of nuclear energy and power. Which is why the UCIL had taken an interest in the West Khasi Hills district in the hope that the metal that is available will be able to cater to the needs of the country.

From the country's perspective, there has been hardly any wrong on the part of the UCIL in carrying out experimental mining there. Generally it is seen that whenever State government or a Central government proposes to take up a far too hazardous project in an area with the possibility of its existing ecosystem, health and livelihood of the people there being seriously affected at some time in the future, what is does is coming out with a white paper. The purpose is to clear doubt or lessen fear from the minds of the public if there is any, about is impact, evidence to skirt being unnecessarily implicated into a controversy.

If the UCIL is today finding it difficult to set up the proposed uranium mining project in the West Khasi Hills district after even years of its exploratory job the prime reason is its alleged procastination to perform home work before it was undertaken-initiating some confidence-building measures. This they ought to have done through public awareness campaign or advertisements in the local language papers offering an idea about the pros and cons of a commercial mining. But it so far refrained from all this, though a campaign launching was possibly the best available option with it to allay the fear and anxiety of the Meghalayans, especially the ignorant villagers in the district, about the radiation effects of the uranium mining.

After a period of inactivity following the popular movement against the proposed mining project in Meghalaya, especially in Shillong spear-headed by the KSU activists in 2007 in the form of office-picketing, bandhs, night curfew etc., the UCIL has of late made a special overture to the State government for pre-project development activities in the district. This includes, interlaia, providing relatively better schooling, arranging for healthcare centres and road connectivity as well as other much-needed infrastructural facilities the people in the district have long been clamouring. The UCIL which has proposed to set up the project at a cost of Rs 1000 crore will initially invest Rs 209 crore.

There is no gainsaying that it is an economic package and, even a layman who is aware of it knows that it can bring about a marked turnaround in the usually dull lives of the ignorant and economically weaker sections of the people in the nondescript mining areas, if and when implemented.

Therefore, under no circumstances should the people of Meghalaya miss the opportunity that comes their way; or else those regions may remain as backward with lack of basic infrastructure as always. It is good to learn that the DD Lapang-led MUA government that is mediating between the KSU leaders and the UCIL authorities in an attempt to evolve out a consensus formula on the proposed mining has agreed to lease the latter out 422 hectares of land in the West Khasi Hills for the developmental work for 30 years. Undoubtedly, it has been a wise decision on its part that must be guided by the fact that minus the UCIL there will hardly be any party available or willing to invest in such a faraway place as West Khasi Hills.

Indeed, what the State government should be lauded for is that it agreed to give the UCIL land on certain conditions, evidently to avoid any criticism from even the KSU in the future on this score. It has made it clear that the UCIL will now develop the area and take up the mining project only if the people want it. Its second condition is that works are to be allotted only to government agencies, not private parties outside the region. And, happily, it has agreed to comply with these conditions.

But, the State government and the KSU are at logger-heads over the pre-project development activities at the site. The students' body at its September 11 meeting said it would oppose the government's decision to allow the UCIL to undertake the job. The Meghalaya government has directed the police to tighten security in Shillong and at Mawthabah to maintain law and order if the KSU launches an agitation.

The government decision to allow the UCIL to conduct pre-development activities at the sites is a step in the right direction and more importantly, is conditional. The proposed work rather than causing worry and anxiety among the people there will only help them earn rich earn rich dividends. But one wonders why the KSU would oppose it. At first the UCIL should be allowed to develop the areas. Once the work is complete it would be prudent to decide if it should at all be allowed to do commercial mining.








The Right to Education Bill passed by the Parliament in its last session is a historic event in Indian democracy. It provides free and compulsory education to all children aged between 6 and 14. Special provision has also been made for the children belonging to disadvantaged group ensuring 25 per cent quotas in private schools including the disabled. The Act aims at 'inclusive education' on the principle of equal opportunity. The enactment of this legislation has been long overdue. It was Mahatma Gandhi's dream (1937) to make primary education free for all children which he termed as 'basic' education. In fact the 'Directive Principles of State Policy' as enshrined in the Constitution directs that the 'State shall strive to provide for free and compulsory education to all children up to the age of 14'. Although it is a directive to the Government to enact laws for this purpose, this had been long neglected by the successive Governm-led NDA Government made a sincere effort and it made 'Right to Education' a 'fundamental right' through a Constitutional amendment (93rd). A draft bill was also prepared by the NDA Government. During the UPA regime, a separate bill was redrafted after prolonged thinking and it was presented in the last session of the Parliament in March, 2009.

Over these years since the Constitution came in to force in 1950, Indian Republic appointed various commissions to suggest measures to reform the educational system including elementary education. The National policy on education, followed by a revised programme in 1992 stressed the need for universalisation of elementary education and adult literacy. But all these schemes failed to achieve the desired goal. Since illiteracy is linked with primary education, Government launched many schemes to eradicate it. At the dawn of the 21st century the rate of literacy in India was 64.8 per cent as against 63.3 per cent in Assam. Considering a span of almost a decade since publication of Census Report 2001, the current rate may be 75 per cent with 12 per cent 'growth'.

No up-to-date data is available from Government sources. In the South East Asian countries
primary education is free and compulsory and the rate of literacy is 80-90 per cent, much higher than our country, the biggest democracy in the world.

Development of human resources is the main function of education. It is essential for social, economic, political and intellectual development of human beings. The eight years of schooling (6-14) is the prime period of life where foundation of personality, attitude, social behaviour and learning skill are laid. Basic skill of reading, writing and arithmetic (three 'R's) are taught at primary stage. Sadly, at present in India 94 per cent villages have no primary school within a radius of one k.m. and 84 per cent villages have no school in every 3 k.m. In Assam 43.11 per cent girls are in primary schools and 30.4 per cent in Middle English School (upper primary, Census Report 2001). Education Minister Gautam Bora, in the last session of Assam Assembly informed the House that there are 8591 unaided primary schools and 4745 ME Schools in the State. Currently, 7483 teachers' posts are lying vacant and 4170 schools are run by one teacher.

To accelerate literacy drive and education for all schemes the Central Government launched in 2001 the "Sarva Siksha Abhijan" (Mission). In Assam the programme started in 2002-03. The original plan was to continue till 2010. But in view of slow progress, the period has been extended to 2012. It has covered the children of the age group of 6-14 years under the scheme "Education for all" and is meant for 'out of school' children and 'drop-outs'. For this purpose many learning centres, like Alterative schools', Our schools', 'Coordinated educational centre', 'Collective centres', Madrasa', 'Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya, Educational Guarantee scheme, Sanjogi Sikhsa Kendra, Residential Bridge Course, etc. have been established with the slogan (agenda) 'Let us go to school'. The efforts of the Mission are definitely laudable. According to some reports prepared districtwise, the SSA, has been able to make considerable progress in this direction. The Central Government funds this scheme and is under implementation by the State Government, headed by a Mission Director with a plethora of staff. The survey conducted by the SSA at the beginning (2002) re-vealed that, 14,49,088 children were out of schools and 2,74,460 were dropouts in Assam. As per the village Education Registers 13094 children still out of school till September, 2008-2009 in Kamrup district alone.


Quality elementary education is a hard task to achieve in the current scenario. Various factors are responsible for this malady. The Government aided schools are the worst victims. Despite programmes such as 'mid day meal', free supply of uniforms and books, these schemes have not yielded significant results. Corruption in the administrative machinery, lack of dedication of teachers, infrastructure and political will are the few hurdles to the progress of universalisation of elementary education. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has presented a gloomy picture about the sorry state of affairs of the 'mid day meal' scheme. It reveals serious deficiencies in infrastructural facilities, cooking of food in open, engaging students for cooking, lack of adequate potable water and utensils, absence of kitchen sheds etc. The report covers 19 States including Assam. This flawed scheme should be replaced by cash award., like scholarship to the students on the basis of monthly attendance. On the contrary unaided private schools are neatly managed and found to be of high standard. So there is more demand for quality education in private schools from those who can afford.

Another matter that needs serious attention of the government is the enrolment of 5 year old in class I standard. Meanwhile 50 per cent of this category has enrolled in school. Currently they are looked after by the Anganwadis. This system has been proved weak to manage the affairs. Government may consider to arrange pre-school class in each school.


The existing schemes appear to have failed to achieve the desired goal. Lack of transparency, accountability and monitoring has also contributed to the present state of affairs. Another important factor responsible for poor standard of elementary education is the absence of inspection by the inspective staff. Shortage of staff may be the reason for abandoning regular inspection. So adequate staff should be engaged for this purpose which will serve as 'watch-dog' for successful implementation of the projects.

The task before the Government is daunting and challenging. Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal, soon after assuming office has made sincere attempts to provide free and compulsory education to all children. The Right to Education Act passed under his able leadership is expected to achieve its goal for which goodwill of the Government and public cooperation will be needed.








The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the suicide attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul. Yet, it would be reasonable to presume a Pak hand in the bombing, insular as they seem to be to the futility of trying to play favourites among terrorists, witness Saturday's terror strike on the Pak army GHQ in Rawalpindi.


Despite this being the second attack on the Indian embassy in just 15 months, India has rightly made clear its resolve to continue its role in Afghanistan's reconstruction. That also means New Delhi asserting that it will continue to pursue its long-term interests in the region, regardless of adverse contingencies.

The problem isn't just Pak hostility to the expansion of India's role and influence. The fact that Indian and US interests and perspectives on the region's problems converge only up to a point may have a bigger role in determining how future events unfold.


Given US dependence on Pakistan's military to advance its interests in Afghanistan, it is a moot point whether Islamabad can, in the foreseeable future, be forced to dismantle the terrorist network that targets India.

The larger objective in Afghanistan has to be the winning over of the Pashtun tribes — from which the Taliban derive numbers and strength. And the Karzai regime's apparent inability to do that isn't only because of resistance from the Taliban or other warlords.

The conflict in Afghanistan has complex tribal and religious roots. Which is why a regional solution, or the Af-Pak approach, does not seem to have made much headway so far, and perhaps also the reason why there are worrying murmurs every now and then about bringing 'moderate Taliban' on board. Another risk is that resistance to the US troops on Afghan soil may extend to non-Taliban elements.

Then again, it could be counter-productive for the US to increase its troops. Given the complexity and tenuousness of the situation, there is no doubt that international assistance and involvement in Afghani-stan has to continue for a long time.

It is in that context that India must, without being drawn into any proxy wars despite such attacks, seek to further its presence and role in Afghanistan. Indeed, we should envisage this as a step in making the wider central Asian region, with which India has historical links, a zone of mutual trade and interests.







After the squall, the null. Following the Delhi ministerial, the Doha Round global trade talks appear to be on the backburner, yet again. Several reasons explain the seeming lack of progress. For one, non-agricultural market access (Nama), relating to industrial goods, which account for over 90% of world exports, trade-weighted average tariffs are already low.


On average, G-20 countries have, separately, offered to reduce applied tariffs from 2.4% to 1.8% for Nama. So the marginal utility of further tariff reduction is perceived to be limited. Also, business and industry seem rather tepid on Doha, unlike in previous rounds.

The general recessionary trends the world over have not helped matters either. Further, the US, the main trading nation, seems too preoccupied with domestic policy matters to focus on Doha.

Yet the figures suggest that successful conclusion of the Doha Round would lead to substantial gains in world trade and development, and right across the board. It would boost via access and facilitation, trade in services, agri-products and industrial goods.

In their latest meet the G-20 leaders did call for concluding Doha next year. We do need a reformed, ruled-based multilateral trading system. The recent Salzburg Global Seminar on trade and openness stressed that countries need to agree on the various sectoral modalities by December.

They can then firm up on the technicalities over the next 12 months. After eight years of talks, while the negotiating groups have elaborated general formulas for cutting tariffs and reducing farm subsidies, there are sharp differences on how countries could limit or exempt certain products from the "formula cuts."

We need flexibility to fastforward talks, taking into account national sensibilities. In any case, it's eminently desirable to implement the tariff and subsidy reforms agreed to in the draft texts. Besides, talks on trade facilitation are well advanced; and such measures could double the impact of the Round.

Additionally, studies indicate that the potential gains from trade in services would outweigh those from Nama. Further, the latter segment stands to benefit from reductions in non-tariff barriers.






Rahul Gandhi's sartorial predilections have not yet reached the proportions of the interest in the US First Lady's ensembles - there are internet sites which chronicle which designer she favours on each public event - but he's getting there.


Whether he wears a turtle-neck sweater and jacket for a night out or a half-sleeved check shirt and trousers for a day with students, it is noted in breathless detail. From his preference for bomber jackets, a la his late father, to his usual politician's uniform of kurta-pajama to his occasional jeans-and-tee outings, the scion's donning of nearly every mode of clothing that adorns Indian youth, however, sends out a subtle signal.

His dress code, actually, is as significant as his earnest forays into the lives of India's most disadvantaged citizens, even if the latter evoke sniggers from some circles.

In 2004, when Vasundhara Raje set out to win a historic majority in Rajasthan, similar smirks had been prompted by her penchant for donning what was derided as "fancy dress": the clothes of the area or tribe she was addressing. Though the urban elite saw it as nothing but a gimmick, she touched a chord somewhere and the overwhelming votes proved it.

The young Gandhi, by his conscious adoption of the garb of today's aam aadmi, may be seeking to make the same statement that another Gandhi made by foresaking his lawyer's suit in 1921 for the handspun loincloth that symbolised the masses of that time.

Had he instead decided on an anachronistic and incongruous aping of the Mahatma's sparse ensemble, the act would have reeked of typical Congress hypocrisy — of the variety exhibited by the party followers who decided to 'do Dalit' for a day to please the heir apparent.

By dressing like an ordinary Indian, he has gradually gained a credibility and empathy among some susceptible sections that many of his older and more hardened opponents may suddenly find difficult to counter.








While substantial anecdotal evidence on the impact of mobile phones on farmers has been reported in the media, rigorous demonstration of its potential has only recently been attempted. Among the most celebrated of such studies is the Jensen (2007) paper that estimated the welfare impact of introduction of mobile phones among the fishing community in some of the districts in Kerala.


The study concluded that the economic impact of mobile is likely to be strongest when the absence or inadequacy of existing telecommunications facilities acts as a barrier or bottleneck to private economic activities, but also when enough, other infrastructure exists to permit the effective use of telecommunications.

An ICRIER study on the impact of mobile phones on farmers across several Indian districts highlights the key role played by mobiles in lowering transaction costs and raising the income-levels of farmers, by efficiently addressing their immediate agricultural-information requirements.

Information asymmetries are a well documented source for inefficient functioning of markets; farmers can bridge or alleviate the information gap at three major stages of the agricultural cultivation cycle by the use of mobile phones.

One, while deciding the crop and choosing the best seed variety based on soil-type of their land; two, deciding the month/season of sowing and addressing plant protection issues during the growth of crop; and three, deciding where and at what price to sell the farm output.

Mobile phones enable farmers to access this information from a host of information providers such as scientists from seed and pesticide companies, cooperative committee office-bearers, input dealers, government agriculture extension officers, market-commission agents/traders, veterinary doctors, and so on.

If such information is available when the farmers need it, not only does it reduce transaction costs, it also improves the returns farmers can get for their produce. In the discussions with farmers, they emphasised that timing of precise information is central to minimising wastage and therefore increasing efficiency.

The recent launch of mobile-based agricultural information services in India, such as IFFCO Kisan Sanchar Ltd and Reuters Market Light programme provided a reasonable method to test the above hypotheses. UP, Rajasthan and Maharashtra, with sizeable subscriber-base, were surveyed during July and November 2008. In general, farmers were confident of the utility of the mobile phone in reducing costs and enhancing earnings. The biggest influence was reported from Maharashtra followed by Rajasthan and UP.

Maharashtra farmers took greater advantage of the mobile phone for their farming needs vis-a-vis farmers in UP and Rajasthan. It should be highlighted that in our sample the Maharashtra farmers were better placed in terms of both social and infrastructure indicators. They reported higher literacy levels, economic well-being, and had better access to agricultural infrastructure facilities like irrigation and road transport, than the other two states.

The study highlights the vital importance of complementary skills and other infrastructure to realise the full potential of better access to telecommunications. There is no benefit in access to better information if it cannot be leveraged. For example, there is no use of farmers knowing the prices that their produce could be sold for in different markets if the roads are too poor for them to be able to transport the goods to those other markets.
At a time when the government agricultural extension services are unable to adequately fulfil their responsibility of providing information on scientific modern technology for farming to all the farmers due to resource constraints and the operative inefficiencies, mobile phones along with the mobile-enabled services present us with a ray of hope for uplifting our agricultural extension system.








Just twenty months since the peak of the last stock market boom, it seems like the next one is already in the making. The market has risen over 50% since February this year. The spectre of drought held things up a little, with a flat market in August.


But with plenty of rain in the latter half of the month, September has seen a resumption of the optimism that has characterised stock trading in recent months. So, how sustainable is the developing boom? Is it real or will it dissolve as suddenly as it precipitated, resulting in another crisis leaving red-faced investors to rue their optimism and their losses?

One of the most fascinating characteristics of stock market booms is the euphoria that accompanies the phenomenon. Each time, we are told that something fundamental has changed in the market. Indeed, there is a myth attached to each bout of madness that accompanies a boom.

Yet, as Carmen Reinhart and former IMF chief economist Kenneth Rogoff have argued in their aptly titled book, [Rheinhart, Carmen and Rogoff, Kenneth, 2009, This Time is Different: Eight centuries of financial folly, Princeton University Press] contemporary finance can rarely deny the influence of precedent. So, for assessing the current situation it is interesting to look at the three stock market booms in the Indian markets since the launch of economic reforms in 1991.

First, the boom that started in late 1991. This is also commonly known as the Harshad Mehta boom as the "big bull" took investor gullibility to the extreme and used bank funds to shore up stocks before selling them at high prices. As shown by the accompanying chart, price-earnings (P/E) ratios on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) increased to over 50, the highest levels ever, as investors bought the story of unbelievable riches forthcoming as a result of economic reforms.

The discovery of the Harshad Mehta scam had a short-lived sobering effect on the market as reforms euphoria took hold again and P/E ratios zoomed past 50 again in mid-1994. This was a continuation of the 1992 boom as the sensex never fell below 2,000, roughly twice the level it had been before the launch of reforms.

This was the real reforms euphoria boom; policy liberalisation had changed things so much for the better that it was thought that unbelievable riches were indeed on the way. When it became apparent that things had overheated beyond tolerance in mid-1994, the market subsided to more sober levels and P/E ratios declined gradually below 20.

There was certainly some difference this time; reforms did bring a fundamental change to the strength of the economy and the sensex never again declined significantly below 3,000. However, the political instability of the late 1990s and the Asian financial crisis both contributed to a flattening of investor sentiment and a long period of lacklustre trading followed even though earnings were rising steadily. Not surprisingly, at times during this period, P/E ratios declined to as low as 10.

Along came the Y2K phenomenon and things became "different" again. First, Indian software companies cashed in on the Y2K scare and made huge profits. Second, the internet economy took off internationally resulting in a worldwide boom. Once the experts got into the act we were told that things really were different this time, the internet had changed the rules of economics and internet companies would never lose value!

So long as the customer base of such companies kept expanding, current losses were of little significance in the matter of company valuations. As a result, the Nasdaq (in the US) doubled its value to over 5,000 by March 2000 and the sensex also shot past 5,000 with a 60% one year growth. P/E ratios in India rose to around 30.

When internet company after internet company started to report huge losses in the international reporting season of 2000, doubts about the impact of the internet on the rules of economics began to surface and the dotcom bubble (as it had become known) quickly burst. The sensex fell below 4,000 by October 2000 and P/E ratios declined below 20.

If the theory of the internet and the laws of economics was unbelievable, the latest "difference" was equally breathtaking. In the growing bubble of international prosperity in 2006, we were told by the experts that things were different again; house prices were rising and would never come down!

The rest, as we know is history; subprime lending led to massive default in the US housing loan market and the international financial system needed massive government intervention to rescue it from collapse. Interestingly, while the sensex rose to dizzying heights, P/E ratios on the BSE never attained the astronomical levels of the 1990s boom. The ratio remained around 20 for many months in 2006 and 2007 before peaking at 27 in December 2007 just before the disastrous collapse began.

So consider the current situation. The earlier perception that India was one of the emerging economies that had decoupled from the international market was proved to be wrong as the sensex was dragged down by the great worldwide meltdown of 2008.

That India has nevertheless emerged as having one of the most resilient economies in the world demonstrates the complexity of economic relationships and that neither coupling nor decoupling is absolute. However, with P/E ratios moving past 20 again as the stock market climbs, it is a time for investor caution. Over the past two decades at no time has the market seen a sustained rise in the P/E ratio above 20 without a precipitous fall (see chart).

Perhaps the revival of the developed economies will result in the cooling of foreign institutional investors' ardour for emerging market economies, hot money will be quickly withdrawn and the euphoria in the Indian stock markets will subside. But perhaps our salvation lies in the fact that no one has yet tried to justify the developing boom with the argument that there is a significant difference this time. If they do, look out!

(The author is managing director, Micro-Credit Ratings International Ltd)








Rightly was it said that the taste of the pudding is in its eating! Monologues and exhortations on 'making up' for past bad karma through present good karma would assume meaning only when these are capable of practical interpretation through positive results that show in actual life, in the form of tangible changes for the better.


Repentance, through realisation of past mistakes and slip ups, would also bear fruit only when this is followed by adoption of new and changed ways of living, acting and thinking. Otherwise, such acts of remorse would only serve to further depress the spirit within. This would be akin to this situation conceived of by Whittier in his Maud Muller: "For all sad words of tongue and pen, /The saddest are these, It might have been."

Dynamic and positive repentance along with simultaneous intelligent analysis, observation and inferences would, on the other hand, usher in that optimism, recognising that the past is, after all, a bucketful of ashes. This, verily, is also the practical application of the great Sutra of Patanjali (2, 16) that suffering, which would otherwise have ensued, can be pre-empted.

Swamy Satyananda Sarswati, in this regard, alludes to the analogy of the intelligent farmer, who, after discovering about and repenting over the improper techniques adopted thus far, changes his approach. Though the results of the immediate harvest cannot be changed, those of the future ones can. So is the case with every aspirant's apparent drift in the past, which can be made up through realisation of specific and universally applicable rules to live by, leading to right and powerful action — karmasu kaushalam.

Thus, the actual practice of 'making up' commences from making the needed changes within — tendencies, mind sets, habits, paradigms, and perceptions, which had thus far impeded all progress towards freedom, life and light.

A highly practical guideline in this regard is found, as noted by Priyadarshana Jain, a scholar of Jainism, in Acharya Kundakunda's Pravachana Sara (3, 38). This verse observes how an ignorant soul takes many years to destroy its bad karma through painful austerities, while a true jnani does this in a jiffy, through "exercising restraint of mind, body and speech."

Indeed, the road map to the actual practice of 'making up' and thus being born to a new world is clear to the seeker who is prepared to open his eyes to sublime truths and indications, which beckon his spirit!








The Office for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) works to strengthen the United States' energy security, environmental quality and economic vitality in public-private partnerships for enhancing energy efficiency and productivity. As member, board of directors EERE, Mark Ginsberg is involved in policy making to reduce carbon emissions, strategies, and budgeting. In an interview with Smitha Venkateshwaran, he discusses measures required to reduce carbon emission and to improve efficiency of energy use . Excerpts:


What is the biggest challenge to reducing carbon emissions?

Achieving maximum energy efficiency and use of renewable energy in the most cost-effective way is the biggest challenge. For the most part, we have technologies already available that reduce energy waste and increase the use of renewable energy. Significant progress has been made by governments and the private sector to implement those technologies.

How can countries benefit from collaborating for a joint energy efficient programme?

Nations can learn from each other's similarities/problems while adopting the strategies that make the most sense to them. The US can help other nations learn from its experience, both successes and mistakes. Countries such as China and India, facing enormous growth, have the opportunity to incorporate advanced technologies as they grow and avoid the mistakes we made. The US, for instance, had access to very inexpensive energy and therefore did not make the best use of efficient equipment for a long time. Businesses have now learned that it makes good sense to invest in energy efficient motors, lighting and other equipment as it can make their operations more productive, increase employee morale and add to the profits.

What strategies can effectively reduce carbon footprints?

We have to make our buildings, industry and transportation systems much more energy efficient. With the development of the Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC), for example, in India, buildings can become substantially more energy efficient. Industrial energy consumption can be significantly reduced with tools like our Save Energy Now on-site energy assessments and software that can address large industrial energy uses such as steam, compressed air and motors.

What is the average cost for adapting to new technologies for energy efficiency?

Costs will vary by technology and application. In general, energy efficiency is very cost effective. For example, replacing inefficient lighting with new energy efficient lighting can pay for itself in a year or two. Other technologies may take a little longer. But the energy savings are only part of the story. Companies find that employees who work in energy efficient buildings are more productive, absenteeism is reduced and morale is better. This makes sense when you think about it — people can work more effectively in an office that has good lighting, temperature and ventilation. The same is true for kids learning better in schools and patients healing better in hospitals that are energy efficient.

Which are the most efficient and cost-effective sources of renewable energy?

We are very optimistic about wind, solar and geothermal energy. Each has shown the potential to be cost-effective in certain applications. Wind, for example, is very cost competitive in locations with appropriate wind sources. Solar thermal applications are very cost-effective, both for industrial process heat and electricity generation. Many locations have cost-effective high temperature geothermal resources to generate electricity and ground source heat pumps are very cost-effective, particularly in a country like India with increasing cooling loads. Hydroelectric has been a proven renewable resource and new applications of wave and tidal energy show promise.

Is EERE working on any new technology or measures to reduce dependence on oil?

We are investing substantially into alternative vehicle fuels, particularly non-food, second generation biofuels. We are also investing in the next generation of electric vehicles and advanced battery design. At the same time, we are conducting significant research and development in increasing vehicle efficiency through engine optimisation and light-weighting of materials for vehicles.







The market always makes a mental note of what the country's largest investor does. The stocks it buys, the stance it takes and the issues it grapples with. For LIC, these are tricky times. While the Sensex has surged, the insurance industry is confronted with questions related to the way it sells its products. In an interface with ET, LIC chairman TS Vijayan shares his views on issues that may define the fortunes of the Corporation . Excerpts:


The stock market has more than doubled from its bottom level last year, yet sales of ULIPs have not kept pace. Is there a crisis of confidence?

Latest sales figures show over 60% of our premium has come from ULIPs. We are also recording a good year-on-year growth. Of course, the phenomenal growth of the past is not there, as the market seems to be consolidating. When ULIPs were introduced, it was more of an investment decision and not a savings decision; now, it is again being seen as savings decision. I expect collections in September and October to be good as well. I would not say that there is a crisis of confidence.

Following the IRDA cap on insurance charges, do you need to restructure many of your products? Will you have to lower agent commission?

We may not have to restructure most products. Except that small-ticket ULIPs, of less than Rs 10,000, may be difficult to sustain, because for each policy, there is a fixed component of cost, and whatever be the ticket size, the fixed cost will remain. This will make small policies unviable. We have not exactly calculated at what ticket size will Ulips become viable, but small policies will vanish. The only other change we have to make will be the reduction of fund management charge where we are above the IRDA limits. We will not have to make any reduction in our agency commissions.

The Swarup panel has recommended that the current agency system be replaced with a system whereby customers pay fees to advisors. What is your view?

What has come out is a draft consultative paper and not even the final submission. It is a consultative paper written by a consultant. But when it came, it sounded as if it were the final report by a committee and that caused a small upheaval.

But this is an issue which has generated debate, considering that the UK is planning something similar...
In the UK, we have a small operation. So, I have an idea of the commission structures there. There the regulations allow a first-year commission of 150%. What this means is that if you pay a first-year premium of Rs 100, the company pays a commission of Rs 150 to the advisor. I don't think. it's correct to say that increasing compliance brings down the cost to the customer. I don't think, the customer has been kept in focus here. I am not sure whether a fee-based system is the right thing to do.


An IRDA committee is looking at banks distributing products of multiple companies. What's your view?
I don't think we should be asking banks to distribute products from more than one company. If they want to sell products of multiple companies, there is an insurance broking institution and it can float a broking arm. Why should a bank alone be exempt from all the brokership obligations which include capital requirement? An insurance policy is a contract and there are obligations involved and many products are very complex. If a banker stocks all the products of all companies, I do not know how he will advise his customers.


Do you feel that rebating of commission by agents should be legalised?


I think that should not be allowed. But if rebating happens in other sectors, it can't be stopped in insurance. You have said the only aim of the credit cards project is to service policyholders better. Can you elaborate?
The credit card will give us an entry into the payments exchange. Today, for payment of claim we are writing out cheques. Now, if we have a card, disbursing claims and loans for micro-policies will become very easy for us. The largest number of payouts are for annuity payments. Down the line, annuity payments are going to become very important, as we already have close to 25-lakh annuitants receiving regular payouts. Even those who participate in pension schemes of the New Pension Schemes will have to buy annuities from life insurers.

What are your global plans? Are you open to acquisitions overseas?

Last year, we opened a representative office in Singapore. The condition is that we have to start operations in two years. If Singapore happens, then we can look at Malaysia and Indonesia as well. We are not looking at acquiring companies in India. But internationally, we are finding opportunities to grow by acquiring life insurance portfolios from other companies. For instance, in Mauritius, the government has asked composite companies to split life and non-life business. We are acquiring the portfolio of some companies, which are selling their life business.

Are you still interested in getting into banking?

We do not have enough capital to buy a bank, and IRDA will never allow us to start a subsidiary using policyholders' money. The credit card business may not require huge capital, but will allow us to take part in the cash transfer system.

LIC Housing Finance has recently diluted its equity. Are you open to further dilution of your stake?
LICHF has issued equity, because it is growing very fast. This quarter, they are showing a growth of more than 70% growth. We have already reduced our stake quite a bit, and I do not think, we should reduce the stake further.

You had announced major IT projects. How are they progressing?

Our data warehousing project is fully functional and is giving us rich dividends. We can figure out within 24 hours whether a particular plan is generating profits or loss. It used to take us six months to figure this out.

We can also consolidate various policies into a single folio and send a singe renewal notice. This alone has helped us recover a significant portion of the project cost of Rs 27 crore. With the portal being activated, we have enabled development officers and agents to collect premium real time. As a result, premium payment need not be restricted to office hours. The third initiative of e-data management has helped us free a lot of real estate, as most of the documents have been scanned and sent to remote locations.








A day after RIL announced a 1:1 bonus, ET NOW caught up with RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani, who spoke on issues ranging from RIL's next priorities to the rules of a reset world economy. Excerpts


M R Ambani, congratulations on this massive bonus share issue. It's a huge gift for your shareholders, but what is the larger message you are sending out to them. Would you like to tell them through ET NOW?

As far as Reliance is concerned, we have always had what I call value creating cycles. Since we went public in 1978, our compounded returns to shareholders are in excess of 25% year-on-year.

The last growth cycle was really the biggest asset and value creation cycle in our history. It was also the most challenging. The results are we have an SEZ refinery, which demonstrates to the world that India, in spite of having no oil, can import oil, use its talent and competitiveness in complex technologies to create assets and then export products. This strengthens India in export terms and it gives us confidence that we can be on par with high-technology companies in the energy sector and even exceed them.

The other piece was deepwater gas production and we have again set new benchmarks. Where the world takes about 10 years to go from concept to (production), we have done it in a much shorter time. The project has created huge value for the economy. Natural gas is a major feedstock to the fertiliser industry and it reduces subsidies and so creates value for the government. Obviously, it also creates value for our farmers in terms of making sure that we are able to give them urea based on indigenous feedstock and it (helps) the power situation, which overall strengthens energy security.

Having created this value, we were committed to making sure that we reward the shareholders. This is a fulfilment of promises that we had made at our AGMs. Also, I would like to thank literally a few thousand Reliance managers and engineers who worked over the past four years 24x7, 365 days and it's because of their hard work that we are able to deliver this value to the Indian economy.

From the timing point of view, if you look at what's happening around India and the world, everyone is trying to cut costs. So, it was a very bold decision on your part to do a contrarian thing and come out with a 1:1 bonus.

When the economic meltdown hit the world in 2008, we were in the midst of one of the biggest capital expenditure programme, not only in India but in this part of the world. A lot of people (scaled back) their plans. Many refineries or upstream projects are on hold.

We wanted to stay on track and we had the financial resources and the discipline to execute, so we stayed on track. Once we have conviction, we think through everything and we then stay on track. Given the difficult global situation, we have now to embark on thinking through what our future plans will be and how do we create new value.

You are still cautious about the global recovery?

What happened last year was not part of a normal cycle. It was, what I called very early on, a reset. And what I meant by reset is the rules of managing the economy, the rules of business, the rules of creating value (that) will evolve between now and the next few years. To my mind, they will be very different than what we have been used to for the past 20 years. The (main change) would be that money will not create value.

At the end of the day, it is products and services that are needed by a society when delivered on a competitive basis that will create value. We need to find a solution to all the debt that we have created. We have to repair balance sheets. Governments have put in money, but remember that the government stimulus is like a crutch. We still need to find a road map so that we can have a healthy recovery and we can get to a new way that the world will work and within that there will be value creating opportunity.

So in a reset world, what is Reliance's strategy?

Well at Reliance what we always thought, and this really is from my father, is business always has to have a purpose. So we will focus on our existing sectors. We will think about what societal gaps, particularly (those which) exist in India that need either our expertise in management or financial resources. These gaps need to be filled or corrected and sometimes it (is) about creating a new business model. The third leg we are adding to is organic as well as inorganic growth.

This inorganic opportunity obviously has to be overseas?

For us, the criteria is not whether it is in India or outside. The criteria is what does Reliance bring to the table in terms of people, its processes, the synergies that you can create and above all the strength of India and how we can integrate and create some unique value.

How do you see the energy market evolve in the next 1-1.5 years?

Well, I think that if I can take a much longer-term view then the world will be forced to (take) the low carbon route to energy. To my mind, all of that is going to be dominated by technology and you know this will be one of the big opportunities of the 21st century. The next 10-15 years will be similar (to) the communication revolution in the last 25-30 years that has changed our life. Now the good news is that there will be participation from everybody and India is not excluded.

Within that, in the short-run, like the global economy, we will navigate through unpredictability, uncertainty and volatility. So it's very difficult to predict and I can admit to you frankly that whenever I have predicted I have been wrong.

Do I read between the lines that you are saying that crude prices aren't going back to the $140 levels?

Frankly I don't know and if anybody thinks he knows I got to meet the guy.

You mentioned recently that India is not a land of a million problems but a land of million opportunities. What kind of opportunity would you like your children to pursue when they get into business?

Well more than my own children I'm amazed when I see the commitment levels in young Indians (which) is the real strength of India. I think as a country we have to empower them, to unleash their energies on problems.

It took Reliance nearly 30 years to create a Rs 1,50,000-1,60,000-crore company. I can bet you that in 2025, there will be at least 10 to 15 companies that we don't know today, run by 35-year-old guys that you and I don't know, in a variety of sectors (which will be) Rs 1,50,000-crore companies. We are going to see many more Dhirubhais.

What sort of a milestone would you look for before maybe the next 1:1 bonus?

We will continue to really strengthen our position in energy and all our existing business lines but we always believe we need to take one or two big issues that India has and lead the way. So what we are thinking about right now is how can we understand the societal gaps (in terms of) what needs to be done to propel the Indian economy forward and how we as Reliance can contribute to that by putting all our managerial execution and financial resources to make a difference to millions of people. That's the goal that we have set. We will articulate this over the few next months to come.

Health and education are really the two big problems that India faces. So does Reliance have some plans to be a game changer in these areas?

(On) these issues, it is much better that we speak by action than words. But clearly there are quite a few areas like education, health and mass housing which meet the aspirations of people and we need to think through what's the right business model.

How do you really deliver services in the health and the education area to millions of people that they will value and will make a sensible business model? We think about it all the time but we have to solve the problem. We have initiatives in all these three areas and we learn from our small initiatives. When we have the confidence then we would scale those up.

If you could just wish India and our viewers Happy Diwali...

Absolutely. I take the opportunity to wish all the viewers of ET NOW a very happy Diwali and a prosperous New Year. To all my fellow Indians a very Happy Diwali, a prosperous New Year and many achievements in the coming year.








China may have flagged-off the rally in Asian equities this year, but it's the Indonesian and Indian markets that have done better on a year-to-date basis, says Sukumar Rajah, MD & CIO - Asian Equities, Franklin Templeton Investments . Mr Rajah tells Deeptha Rajkumar of how corporate India's healthy track record in terms of return on equity, as well as greater proportion of domestic demand component in earnings, is a key positive and the reason for a valuation premium over other emerging markets. However, valuations need to be validated by fresh earnings and economic data, he cautioned.


You had mentioned some time ago that though global investors remain convinced about India's long-term growth prospects, various surveys have ranked India low on different competitiveness parameters. Is there a contradiction?

India offers good potential for growth due to varied opportunities emanating from domestic growth drivers such as positive demographics and the inadequate infrastructure in the country. The latter is one of the reasons for India's low ranking in global competitiveness studies — the latest global competitiveness study ranks India at 49 (China was at 29 and Korea was at 19), largely due to underperformance in areas such as primary education, efficient labour markets, healthcare and infrastructure. Increased investments in these areas are helping India grow at a relatively fast pace.

Which other markets in Asia-Pacific look attractive to you?

Overall, developing Asia is expected to be one of the fastest growing regional economic blocks across the world due to the inherent strengths of many countries in the region. Also, apart from India, other large economies such as China and Indonesia have exhibited their resilience helped by stimulus as well as domestic demand, making them attractive investment destinations. This has obviously had a positive impact on the equity markets with the MSCI Asia Pacific (ex-Japan) up by around 60% in 2009.

How long is the current liquidity wave likely to continue? How much is your strategy affected by global

factors? Would you be more comfortable looking to deploy funds here or overseas?

Global liquidity levels are high due to aggressive monetary easing undertaken to deal with the global financial and economic crisis. While economic data has improved in the past few months, policymakers have indicated that the recovery is expected to be sluggish and hence, policy status quo is expected to be maintained. Liquidity is only one of the factors that needs to be considered while determining allocations and economic/corporate fundamentals would be more important from a long-term perspective. In that sense, a portfolio diversified across growth economies such as India should deliver strong returns over the medium to long term.

Indications are that interest rates across the world are set to firm up gradually. Would that worry you?

Our focus is on building a portfolio of companies that can perform through market cycles and hence, interest rates don't impact the investments to a great extent. While interest rates could harden going forward, we need to keep in mind that credit growth has been muted and most companies have been able to fund their requirements through equity and bond issuances along with external borrowings. In any case, the central bank is unlikely to increase rates substantially, given that the GDP growth is yet to reach the pre-crisis levels. Sustained foreign capital flows and remittances should help the rupee remain firm. The currency is undervalued in purchasing power parity terms and should appreciate over the medium-to-long term, given the relatively strong growth prospects for India.

The flood of IPOs slated to hit the market. Is that a sign that the market is close to peaking out?

Companies across sectors are taking advantage of the improved market conditions and using these resources to reduce balance sheet leverage as well as fund capex/acquisitions. However, the spike hasn't been as high as in the previous rally and the issuance pipeline is expected to remain strong till the market momentum reverses.

Would you be comfortable investing at these levels?

Broadly, at these levels, market valuations do not seem to be ahead of fundamentals but investors need to watch out for overpricing of growth in certain pockets. Corporate India's healthy track record in terms of RoE as well as greater proportion of domestic demand component in earnings is a positive and cause for a valuation premium over other emerging markets. Having said that, valuations need to be validated by fresh earnings and economic data.








As custodian of the planet's most valuable brand, Coca-Cola, Joseph V Tripodi perhaps has the most important marketing job in the world.


Naturally, what he says is gospel for brand managers across the world. No wonder the 53-year old chief marketing & commercial officer of Atlanta-headquartered The Coca-Cola Company ponders over each question and chooses his words carefully, acutely sensitive to the responsibility that sits on his broad shoulders as the virtual 'Oracle' for the global marketing tribe. On his maiden, five-day visit to India recently, Tripodi spent an hour with ET's RATNA BHUSHAN & SHAILESH DOBHAL and shared his vision on how Coke needs to re-orient its marketing and communication. Excerpts:

This is your first visit to India. What brings you here?

Well, part of it is the India growth story. Part of it is, I've been here (with Coca-Cola) for two years, (and) I need to get into markets (that will) define a lot about (our) future. So this year, I spent a lot of time in China (particularly last year because of the Olympics). Then this year as well I have spent time in Russia, Brazil, and now India. It's exciting because the opportunity is incredible here.

You joined Coca-Cola in the middle of a slowdown (mid-2007). How's brand Coke come out of it?

We've come out stronger in strong markets. You can't paint all markets with the same brush. We have been spending a lot of time understanding what people want. As for changes, Coke tends to be a 30-second-centric television commercial culture.


But the big idea should sit at the centre of the table, not in the television spot. We are trying to say let's look at the big idea for the brand, and connecting with consumers. We are moving a lot more to consumer engagement as opposed to simply television advertising. The pace of that change will be different for different markets.

If we want people to drink our brand on a daily basis, we need to connect with them on a daily basis. So, we are trying to understand the difference between consumers and shoppers, and how to engage shoppers in stores––that's a very big focus for us (now).

You were an outsider at Coke. Your last job was in insurance. How's the transition been?

I was in beverages––head of marketing for Seagram––so there have been parallels. Here we have people in the system who very much understand the soft drink business and have spent their entire careers here. We are putting in place a system where we can facilitate more aggressive growth for the enterprise. In a system like Coke, enhanced collaboration within the system can be the turbo changer of the business. In Coca-Cola, the last thing we would want is everybody operating on their own silos.

Connectivity of different people around the world is basically what allows us to sharpen the overall learning and move faster than competitors. So, a large part of what we are doing is installing infrastructure to be able to do that.

One of the things we are evolving is more focus on digital, and understanding better customer relationship marketing. We've got probably 95 million consumers in our database worldwide. We have a very heavy focus on one-to-one marketing.

We are moving to precision marketing and moving away from what I call 'spray and pray' marketing. That means spray the message down and pray someone gets the message. Precision marketing is aligning the message with the media. It's about engaging the consumer and at the right geographies at the right time. If you can do that, you can get a much higher return on marketing investment.

Emerging markets represent 15% of Coca-Cola's sales volume and 25% of the company's growth over the past three years. Sales in India are growing over a third annually though on a small base. Does that put a huge burden of expectations on India?

Quite honestly, we would expect strong growth in India like we expect strong growth in China and Brazil. We certainly think India represents big opportunity for us. We are in different stages in different countries. India did a great job of the 'Little Drops of Joy' communication. The spirit of the campaign has been rolled out in many markets. The execution may be different but the core idea is the same.

You recently said that the changing nature of consumer engagement, the digital march, will make Coca-Cola marketing evolve into content management. Is big brand marketing morphing into being the media itself?

Well, we are talking about how we can evolve as a global marketing entity with more content management, some of which will be consumer generated, some we'll buy and some we'll create ourselves. Whether you like it or not, consumers are in a way playing a big role in content management. At the end of the day, the consumer owns the brand more than we do.

Our Facebook page is the largest page in the world after Obama's page. India, like many other markets, is a visual media market––outdoors, in-shop branding are all essential forms of branding (here). We (also) need to understand that digital marketing does not necessarily mean (only) the internet, but mobile too. As for spending on digital marketing, we'd like to be little ahead of the curve but not so ahead. For some consumers, it's best talking to them from the shelf. Others would like to be talked to in an outdoor environment. But the environment is going to change. If today, for example, digital spends are 8% (of our total ad spends), it's going to be 8%-plus tomorrow.

How challenging is to balance the portfolio of global brands—Coca-Cola, Fanta and Sprite—with strong local ones like Thums Up, Maaza and Limca?

There's nothing wrong with Thums Up leading Coke (in India). I don't have any preference. It's what the Indian consumer wants. If Coke equals Thums Up, great. If Thums Up remains the biggest brand, that's great also. I mean as long as we're leading in the cola market, we are fine.

As for balancing global and local strategy, well, what we are trying to do at the global level is work very closely with our marketing folks. There are groups of people in the world you can communicate with in a similar way. We see a global youth culture developing. People who live in urban environments show a lot of commonality in their lifestyles. Happiness, optimism is something that's shared by people all around the world. Yet, unless you don't have a local component you're not going to maximise the opportunity. That's a fine balance.

How do you think putting calorie counts on front label packs will impact consumers?

Well, we are not hiding anything, we have nothing to be ashamed of. We have a variety of products and our portfolio is healthy and for people who lead a balanced life. Globally, regular Coke is doing very well this year as well as the diet (version). We have a wide variety of full calorie or less calorie drinks. Our role is to let the consumer decide based on their lifestyles. In reality, our long-term goal in this category is long-term consumption.



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The international media suggests that people in Pakistan continue to be puzzled about the weekend's attack by terrorists on the Pakistan Army headquarters in Rawalpindi, and the prolonged siege of an exterior section of it that commenced Saturday morning and ended early Sunday with the release of hostages and the death of many on both sides, including a brigadier. The surprise is on account of the fact that the General Headquarters (GHQ) is thought to be one of the best-guarded places in the world. In the past, an attempt by extremists to mount an assault had been thwarted at a checkpoint more than a kilometre short of the nerve-centre of the Pakistan military, which in reality also doubles as the epicentre of Pakistani politics, such has been the Army's dominating position in that country's public life for decades. It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that it is relatively easier to target the Chief of Army Staff, as Gen. Pervez Musharraf once was, when he is commuting in the twin cities of Rawalpindi or Islamabad, than mount an assault on the heavily-fortified Army headquarters. That's a different ballgame altogether, unless insiders are part of the conspiracy. In that event, the world is unlikely to be told officially. A successful attack of a certain scale on the GHQ, in which the nerve centre itself is hypothetically seized, will in fact have an unsettling influence on security establishments round the world, including New Delhi, as Pakistan is a country with nuclear weapons. The fear of terrorists seizing command and control of the Army is tantamount to their getting hold of the nuclear arsenal, and the capsizing of the Pakistan state. At a joint press conference in London with British foreign secretary David Miliband on Sunday, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton appeared visibly relieved to announce that Pakistan's nuclear weapons were safe.

One thing is clear. The terrorist hit was clearly of a limited scale, just to make a point, as it were. Last week, the Taliban had also attacked the reception area of the UN's World Food Programme in Islamabad, posing as a securityman , as in the case of the GHQ strike, and blown up an explosives-laden vehicle in a crowded market in Peshawar, killing nearly 50 people. Taken together, are the three violent incidents — especially the GHQ strike — intended to convince an increasingly cynical world that the Pakistan military is not in cahoots with terrorists and jihadists, and that the Pakistan Army is really a foe of the Taliban and a serious participant in the war on terror, as America defines it? The international backdrop in which the GHQ attack comes — US President Barack Obama about to decide on the contested issue of significantly raising American troop levels in Afghanistan — suggests that the Pakistan military has a stake in seeking to reinforce that impression, especially for the consumption of American policymakers.





30%: A fair share for the fair sex?

By Jayanthi Natarajan


The media images of a young woman flight attendant breaking down, while relating how the commander of an aeroplane and his co-pilot shouted at her and shoved her, juxtaposed with the horrific video footage of an unrepentant looking mother-daughter duo in Tamil Nadu who had, quite determinedly, killed in the incubator itself two girl infants whom the daughter had just given birth to, served for me as a stark reminder of how things remain the same however much they may appear to change. I had just returned home after attending a conference regarding the status of women in national Parliaments and the importance of ensuring adequate numbers of women in national Parliaments.

As I watched these news reports, I could not help reflecting — that, on the one hand, if this was the behaviour of allegedly educated men earning lacks of rupees a month, and in-charge of an aircraft and the lives of several hundred passengers, towards an educated young woman, a crew member with far more awareness than the average illiterate Indian woman, imagine the plight of that helpless woman in a remote village in India far less aware of her rights, with even less of a voice to articulate the most pitiful of her grievances. And, as for the mother and daughter who killed the baby girls, what can be said? Predictably enough, they have been arrested.
But I would ask every thinking citizen to place hand on heart and say if they really blame the daughter or her mother? Were these women not victims of circumstance? They will undoubtedly stand trial for murder and infanticide, and be punished according to law, but who is to punish the real culprits, namely, the husband and his family who inspired such fear in the young woman that it motivated her to kill her own newborn infants? Who, in fact, will punish the society which made such unfeeling monsters out of some men that they regard daughters as disposable commodities, either murdering them at birth or selling them in youth, for the price of a bag of wheat or paddy? Is further proof than this needed that at every level of society, it is women who are the most disadvantaged and wretched of citizens.


Empowerment is something that is far more deep and complicated than just representation in Parliament. There are, in fact, some activists for women's rights who argue that gender quotas in Parliament are a mere beginning, and that empowerment must be enabled and facilitated at all levels. At best, quotas are a tool to measure in quantitative terms the success of one gender-equity policy initiative. In order for the problem to be addressed in all its complex dimensions, it is first necessary for women to get elected to Parliament in a critical mass which is able to make a difference (research has determined that mass to be approximately 30 per cent), and then it becomes incumbent upon those elected women, as well as their male colleagues, to address the depth of gender disempowerment in our country.

In this background we need to reflect on the relevance of the same old hackeneyed and clichéd arguments which are trotted out, by rote, whenever a discussion regarding the Women's Reservation Bill comes to the fore. The short answer is that women of all classes, at every level of wealth, status and achievement — or disempowerment — in our democracy are disadvantaged. And if we are to call ourselves a genuinely free democracy, we should take steps to ensure equal participation of women at all levels of national development. The Women's Reservation Bill is but one, albeit crucial, step in that direction.

The latest world trends and statistics of women in Parliaments are revealing. In 1945, in 26 Parliaments there were three women in the Lower Houses and 2.8 per cent women in Upper Houses. In 1965, out of 94 Parliaments, this percentage increased to 8.1 and 9.3 per cent respectively. In 1985, the figures were 12 per cent women in the Lower Houses and 12.7 per cent in Upper Houses, and in 2009, in 187 Parliaments there are 18.8 per cent women in the Lower Houses and 17.85 in Upper Houses.

Further, more than 15 per cent legislatures in the world have provided reservation of 30 per cent of their seats for women, and Rwanda is the first country in the world to elect a majority of women members to its Lower House of Parliament (56.3 per cent). The Upper House of Bahamas has set another record by electing women to 60 per cent of its membership. But these are notable exceptions.

One-fourth of all parliamentary chambers — 51 Lower Houses and 14 Upper Houses out of 264 — have less than 10 per cent women members, and five Lower Houses of Parliament have no women members at all. Out of all the countries which have 30 per cent or more women in their Lower Houses, more than 75 per cent have adopted measures to promote women's participation which, admittedly, includes both legislated (as in the case of legislated quotas, which we have done for local bodies, and are trying to do for Parliament and the state legislatures) and voluntary quotas (such as those being suggested for political parties to adopt).
Figures for 2008 show that only 4.7 per cent of the heads of state the world over are women, while women heads of government are 4.2 per cent. Women heads of Parliament are 10.7 per cent of the total number. Only 16 per cent of ministerial portfolios worldwide are held by women, and in 13 countries there are no women Cabinet ministers at all.

The message from the international conference was stark and clear: Greater numbers of women need to be elected to Parliaments world over, and they need to be at least 30 per cent of the total number, in order to make a difference to the status of women.

We can quibble, play politics, dwell upon real and imaginary pitfalls arising out of the Women's Reservation Bill and other initiatives to empower women, but the inescapable truth remains that we cannot call ourselves a true democracy until women share national development as equal partners.


Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.The views expressed in thiscolumn are her own.








The Nobel committee did President Barack Obama no favours by prematurely awarding him its peace prize. As he himself acknowledged, he has not done anything yet on the scale that would normally merit such an award — and it dismays me that the most important prize in the world has been devalued in this way.
It is not the President's fault, though, that the Europeans are so relieved at his style of leadership, in contrast to that of his predecessor, that they want to do all they can to validate and encourage it. I thought the President showed great grace in accepting the prize not for himself but "as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations".

All that said, I hope Mr Obama will take this instinct a step further when he travels to Oslo on December 10 for the peace prize ceremony. Here is the speech I hope he will give:

"Let me begin by thanking the Nobel committee for awarding me this prize, the highest award to which any statesman can aspire. As I said on the day it was announced, 'I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honoured by this prize'. Therefore, upon reflection, I cannot accept this award on my behalf at all. But I will accept it on behalf of the most important peacekeepers in the world for the last century — the men and women of the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.
I will accept this award on behalf of the American soldiers who landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, to liberate Europe from the grip of Nazi fascism. I will accept this award on behalf of the American soldiers and sailors who fought on the high seas and forlorn islands in the Pacific to free East Asia from Japanese tyranny in the World War II. I will accept this award on behalf of the American airmen who in June 1948 broke the Soviet blockade of Berlin with an airlift of food and fuel so that West Berliners could continue to live free. I will accept this award on behalf of the tens of thousands of American soldiers who protected Europe from Communist dictatorship throughout the 50 years of the Cold War. I will accept this award on behalf of the American soldiers who stand guard today at outposts in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan to give that country, and particularly its women and girls, a chance to live a decent life free from the Taliban's religious totalitarianism. I will accept this award on behalf of the American men and women who are still on patrol today in Iraq, helping to protect Baghdad's fledgling government as it tries to organise the rarest of things in that country and that region — another free and fair election."

"I will accept this award on behalf of the thousands of American soldiers who today help protect a free and Democratic South Korea from an unfree and Communist North Korea. I will accept this award on behalf of all the American men and women soldiers who have gone on repeated humanitarian rescue missions after earthquakes and floods from the mountains of Pakistan to the coasts of Indonesia. I will accept this award on behalf of American soldiers who serve in the peacekeeping force in the Sinai desert that has kept relations between Egypt and Israel stable ever since the Camp David treaty was signed."

"I will accept this award on behalf of all the American airmen and sailors today who keep the sea lanes open and free in the Pacific and Atlantic so world trade can flow unhindered between nations."

"Finally, I will accept this award on behalf of my grandfather, Stanley Dunham, who arrived at Normandy six weeks after D-Day, and on behalf of my great-uncle, Charlie Payne, who was among those soldiers who liberated part of the Nazi concentration camp of Buchenwald."

"Members of the Nobel committee, I accept this award on behalf of all these American men and women soldiers, past and present, because I know — and I want you to know — that there is no peace without peacekeepers."

"Until the words of Isaiah are made true and lasting — and nations never again lift up swords against nations and never learn war anymore — we will need peacekeepers.

Lord knows, ours are not perfect, and I have already moved to remedy inexcusable excesses we've perpetrated in the war on terrorism. But have no doubt, those are the exception. If you want to see the true essence of America, visit any US military outpost in Iraq or Afghanistan. You will meet young men and women of every race and religion who work together as one, far from their families, motivated chiefly by their mission to keep the peace and expand the borders of freedom."

"So for all these reasons — and so you understand that I will never hesitate to call on American soldiers where necessary to take the field against the enemies of peace, tolerance and liberty — I accept this peace prize on behalf of the men and women of the US military: the world's most important peacekeepers".








Dear Mr P. Chidambaram,


I am part of the much maligned group, the human rights activist, that you often challenge. You suggest we protest at the wrong time and at the wrong things. You seem to think we point too many fingers. Actually, we raise some simple issues. As cottage industries of dissent and democracy, we may not be doing it effectively. We are supposed to be "sympathisers" of the Naxal movement. This letter is to clarify some of our arguments as academics, Indians, citizens concerned about the fate of our society.

Let me build a counter model for you. Working in these areas, documenting the drama of development, is a feisty old woman, a famous writer called Mahasweta Devi. She is worth all the policy intellectuals you command and her integrity is something your entire council of ministers cannot match. She understands poverty and does not have to play boy-scout pranks to demonstrate her concern. Mahasweta Devi makes three or four major points we need to recognise.

Firstly, Indian democracy is often cannibalistic. It consumes its own people. There were decades where the Army was being honoured for action against its own people. Outside our Army, we have roughly a million paramilitary troops which maintain law and order. The question one asks is what happens to a society which attacks its own people with such frequency?

One is not supporting the Maoists. One is referring to the armed groups which do not think twice about violence and murder. Along with the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), they have added to the brutalisation of the countryside and its criminalisation.

We are as concerned as you are about violence. Our voices may not carry far but while your emphasis is on the stability and the sovereignty of the state, ours is on the vulnerability and fate of ordinary tribal people. They face a cruel choice: Development destroys them and when they agitate against its inequities, the state destroys them all over again. You are asking the human rights groups to stand up. We have and we are. As a part of some of them, I can say Maoism is wrong, misguided, is murderous and often gets criminalised. Most of these groups do function as extortion agencies. But will you own up to all the women and children, and old people killed in your operations? Will you dismiss it as part of the logic of internal war?

Mr Chidambaram, logic is deceptive, managerial logic is worse. Using the Air Force against the so-called Naxal zone is to Vietnamise it. Very logical, very rational people have pursued this strategy. As David Halberstam, a great journalist and an authority on Vietnam, said, the best and the brightest came from Harvard and Yale.
The future of democracy is not just your responsibility. To condemn intellectuals who question and to label them as "sympathisers" is to inaugurate a tacit McCarthyism — the concern for internal security forces, an unnecessary homogeneity, or the dualism of "you are with me or you are against me".

Democracy is troubled and troublesome, but it is the availability of dissent and diversity that protects both you and me. This panchayat of pluralisms needs expansion. Our sense of doubts demands that we rethink "development", "security" as currently defined. Let me add the word "rights". All three need to be questioned, not just academically as formal definitions but as practices. Let us ask, does development allow the rape of tribals through dams and deforestation? Does security give every policeman the right to brutalise a people? Have these words become ironic and counter-productive? To address it to a more general audience, what can the worlds of Nilekani, Pitroda and Prahlad do for these people? Does the state need a hearing aid or does it think that machine-gunned silence means consent?

On our side, yes, we have been silly. Our reports need to be more complete, less rhetorical, and occasionally less paranoid. However, some of our suggestions are practical and let me repeat them. The involvement of the Army will damage the Army. Secondly, the militarisation of the police without institutional reform and human rights sensitivity will brutalise them. As a society, we did it once in Punjab and let us not use the same tactics. Brutalising a generation is not a way to stability.

When Naxalbari happened last time, the response was brutal, but public sympathy was with them. Ever since the CPI(M) cauterised a society, public middle-class sympathy has been with you.

Dissent will sound anachronistic, museumised, and even idiotically Gandhian. We must still dissent, both against you and the Maoists. The use of landmines is utterly cowardly and brutal. The Maoists should be told that. The use of sanitisation operations does not legitimise murder and harassment. You should recognise it. Torture is a stigma, the unforgettable mnemonic which both, Maoism and the state will leave for future generations to gasp in horror.

Maoism has been in the making for years, Mr Chidambaram. Once made, it cannot be unmade through violence. The pacification you propose may be seen as the equivalent of ethnic cleansing. This is not an issue for a hysterical media or the parties to legitimise. If democracy is at stake, the issue has to be solved democratically. Terror and murder can only lie defeated by the inventiveness of democracy. Body counts are not equivalent to electoral votes that we tot up for victory. In fact, by treating casualty rates as low-level production statistics, both society and state have waited too long to act.

Our response cannot be thoughtful. Let us begin with two of the government's own reports: The report on tribals and the report on the informal economy. Both focus on groups refractory but central to development. Let us ask how these two reports be applied creatively to the current problem.

Conflict resolution often becomes a formal settlement between state and adversary as the insurgent party. Let us involve civil society and community in it, maybe even a few imaginative corporations. We need to create a third space of "constructive labour", as Gandhi called it, to challenge Maoism. This also needs the tolerance which does not treat people who empathise with suffering as suspect. It will also allow the state not to be hemmed in by machismo solutions which add little to problem solving.

Thirdly, internal war needs a different kind of Red Cross. Beyond the ambulance and the human rights team, we need constructive teams. Security operations get too fond of technological solutions. The long march, the night vision device, and the remote-sensing map are not really the answer to summary executions and kangaroo courts. Here small programmes built around livelihood can offer modest alternatives with long shelf lives of sustainability.

The request, Mr Minister, is simple. Do not undermine democracy in attempting to save it. This is the irony the politics of good intentions faces today.


Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist








All hail!! India has found a new enemy — and it isn't our neighbour — it is us! The latest hate word is "Naxal", and it is almost amusing to monitor how frequently it pops up and how obsessed the media is with this new menace. Night after night, we find Arnab Goswami and others getting apoplectic over the newest, most horrific murder committed by the "Naxals". Now the Naxal has a face — Kobad Ghandy's. We know exactly what the enemy looks like. And horror of horrors, he looks like us! I mean… Kobad? Aapro Kobad? A well brought up, well-heeled Parsi gentleman, who should be listening to operatic arias in a book-lined den pulling gently on a pipe? What the hell is he doing with those junglees in that jungle… you now… those tribals? It is impossible to reconcile the visual of this effete-looking person who claims to be a writer (hello, that is a factoid we can handle), but now stands accused of the most heinous crimes against the state. How could someone like Kobad get mixed up with something like this? Cherchez la femme. Of course, it had to be a woman. Kobad's late wife is the one the media is nailing as the instigator who pushed the Mumbai man into a life on the run. A dangerous and terrible life that has led to the grisly murders of innocents. What an extraordinary story… and so unbelievable.

Such is the power of stereotyping, that we refuse to accept "someone like Kobad" could get mixed up with a movement that is threatening to cause mayhem in gigantic swathes of our country. Ideology of this nature is something one associates with hard-core unshaven Leftists, carrying jholas, dressed in shabby kurtas and scurrying around shanty towns causing trouble. Kobad does not fit into this grid. Kobad belongs to the elite world of Willingdon Club types — the burra sahibs who drink beer on Sunday afternoons after a leisurely round of golf. Kobad and Naxals? Baap re baap. What next? The reason why this bizarre story has captured the imagination of mediawallas is because of these crazy contradictions. Parsi revolutionaries are somewhat rare. I have never come across a Parsi who would walk away from a life of refinement and comfort in Mumbai, and devote long years to working for the upliftment of desperately poor, disenfranchised tribals. As the Kobad story unfolds, more and more information is emerging that is adding to the mystery. The nugget revealed his extensive travels in five countries. This piece of "breaking news" emerged in the wake of the Red Ultras' beheading Francis Induwar, the Jharkhand police officer, "Taliban-style" (making me wonder whether the Taliban killers have a patent on this "style" of butchering victims).

Police spokesmen are calling Induwar's murder a revenge killing linked to Kobad's arrest. Across channels, clips of the cop's young son making a heart-rending call to his younger brother's school teacher, informing the person about his "papa's" death have been played over and over again. Juxtapose that with the clips of a calm and composed Kobad in police custody, and it is easy to whip up public outrage. But towards what end?
For all we know there are several other Kobads hiding in our midst. Your neighbour could be a Kobad. Or the guy you have a drink with at your favourite watering hole. Your tennis companion may be Kobad's best buddy. So could the mild-mannered librarian you discuss Tagore's poetry with. There are Kobads everywhere, if one is to go by the present hysteria. And they have just one agenda — to destroy India.

The scariest part of the Kobad phenomenon is that one can be so easily fooled… so effortlessly misled. Our conditioning prevents us from looking beyond the obvious… we have a readymade picture of what a terrorist is supposed to look like (thank you, Bollywood/Hollywood!). So… How does one crack the façade? Look beyond the mask? Bewildered by the Naxal war that is being waged against the state, we don't know how to react. We can understand the threat Pakistan represents. We can gear ourselves (albeit, clumsily) to handle the Chinese intrusions, we can deal with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and pretend we are winning the separatist war in Kashmir. We delude ourselves that we have the 26/11 terrorists on the run because we have Ajmal Amir Kasab in jail. But what we have consistently failed to acknowledge is the seething unrest that has been gathering force right under our noses for so many years in the form of the Naxals in our midst.
Kobad did not suddenly spring up out of nowhere. Had we bothered to notice him (and people like him) earlier, our "haalat" would not have been this bad. By refusing to acknowledge there was a problem and that mega trouble was brewing, we allowed a mouse to grow into a monster. For decades, those who have had to deal with Naxal uprisings have warned authorities about the potential danger of ignoring their presence. We shut our eyes, buried our heads in sand, and hoped they'd go away. But, guess what? They didn't! And today, they are in our backyard, and we don't know what to do… either, with them or ourselves.

This is exactly what Kobad and his comrades have been counting on. By patiently waiting for the somnolent state to finally wake up and take heed, the Naxals have won part of the battle. They have consolidated their presence in several states, and made significant inroads into the heart of the political process. We can ill-afford to wish them away… marginalise them. Experts tell us more than one-fifth of India is under Naxal control. Perhaps, they exaggerate. But only a bit… Kobad is one hell of a foxy dude. He ain't singing. That leaves us with P. Chidambaram thundering away on television, warning the Naxals to lay down arms or face war. "As long as the Communist Party of India (Maoist) believes in armed liberation struggle, we have no option but to ask security forces to engage them". Yeah, right on, bro. A bit late in the day to be issuing this dhamki. But, koi baat nahi. Listening to all these warnings, Naxal bosses in China must be giggling away in glee. Perhaps, this Diwali will see Indian skies lighting up with Chinese crackers.


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When he heard the Nobel Peace Prize shocker on Friday, Bill Clinton went into one of his purple rages. He picked up the phone and dialled the one person on earth who would be as steamed as he was.
Clinton: Hey, man, it's me. This thing is plumb crazy. Can you believe it?


W.: No way, Jose!


Clinton: First that prig Carter. Then that prig Gore. And now President Paris Hilton. The guy's in office three days and he gets the peace prize? He should have gotten the Nobel in chemistry, because chemistry's all he's got. Talk about a fairy tale. This... is... just... wrong! It's killing me, man. I feel like my head's explodin'. First I had the vast Right-wing conspiracy, and now I have the vast Left-wing conspiracy.

W.: I hear ya, 42. As if his head wasn't big enough. This cat is all cage, no bird. He doesn't have a clue.

Clinton: Heck no.

W.: See, I'm the one who should be mad. Let me tell you, this Norwegia thing has nothing to do with him. It's just another way for the pinkos of the world to drop a cow patty on my legacy. All that garbage in the prize statement about how special La Bamba is for bringing back wimpy multilateral diplomacy, dialogue and negotiations, the kind my dad and Scowcroft loved. Those Nobel ninnies are so lulu Left they make the UN look like a fox jamboree. The rookie already got rewarded once for not being me when he got elected. Gosh, what would he do without me?

Clinton: Fine, but you never expected to win this prize. You were the quote-unquote war President and proud of it. I had to put up with a gazillion hours of Arafat's insanity, but I guess that still wasn't enough for those Oslo ice queens. I guess ending ethnic cleansing in Bosnia wasn't enough, or bringing peace to Northern Ireland. And I guess my work with the Clinton Global Initiative saving lives in Africa and hanging with Bono and Barbra wasn't enough.

W.: Calm down, bro. You gotta take care of that ticker.

Clinton: It was a case of premature adulation.

W.: Heh-heh-heh. Yeah, very pre-emptive, sort of like Cheney's pre-emptive war policy.

Clinton: If they weren't going to give it to me, they should at least have given it to the Chinese human rights movement or the Iranian protesters or AIDS workers in the Congo. Or even Bono.

W.: Yeah, man. Bono.

Clinton: That would have helped make life better for the good guys and harder for the bad guys. Once again, action loses out to talk, just like with Hillary and Obama in the campaign. Nobel Prize for blah-blah-blah. Heck, I used to be considered a pretty good talker myself.

W.: It's aggravating, I agree. But look at it this way, 42. Everybody's laughing at La Bamba. He gets a Nobel for nada. Being loved by Europeans isn't gonna do him any good here in the US of A. I whupped that Frenchy Kerry, didn't I?

Clinton: The only peace Obama has made is bringing together the Taliban, Rush Limbaugh, the Palestinians and the Israelis to agree the guy is undeserving. It just confirms everyone's suspicion that all this dude knows how to do is dazzle.

W.: He doesn't want to be a Decider. He wants to be a Transformer. He transformed, all right — from Miss America to Miss Universe. He's a five-spiral crash, and getting the gold is just a reminder of all he hasn't done.


He's going to have to look over and see that big medallion hanging up there in the Oval, mocking him as an empty suit, a pretty boy beloved by the Blame-America-First crowd, whenever he has to send more troops to Afghanistan, or the Taliban act up, or Iran fires up for nukes.

Clinton: Maybe you're right, George. Some winners think the Nobel's the kiss of death. Any peace prize that goes to Henry Kissinger but not Gandhi ain't worth a can of Alpo. Heck, if Gandhi had known he was going to lose out to Henry the K, he could have had more time to eat french fries and chase girls.

W.: And finish getting dressed. Heh-heh-heh.

Clinton: Barack's going to give that $1.4 million away to charity. I got a charity. How 'bout he just signs it over to me? Speaking of money, we need to do another of those joint lecture things.

W.: I'm fairly footloose. This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Go choke on a herring, Norwegia!


By arrangement with the New York Times









THE Centre's announcement to waive the Rs 71,000-crore loan to small and marginal farmers is undoubtedly a major relief. Even so, the condition of the distressed farmers in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra has not improved. Suicides are endemic. Since July this year, 43 farmers have committed suicide in Vidarbha and Andhra Pradesh. In 2008-09, 377 farmers chose death in Karnataka. 

Clearly, the quality of the farmers' lives has not improved. Steps must be taken to create employment opportunities and to implement poverty-alleviation programmes to cope with hunger. There has been no decline in suicides in Vidarbha despite a multi-crore relief package for farmers in 2006.

It is shocking that 86,922 farmers committed suicide all over the country between 2001 and 2005. The rate increased alarmingly to 17,060 in 2006, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. Maharashtra tops the list with 4,453 suicides followed by Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. No fewer than 40,000 farmers in Punjab killed themselves between 1998 and 2006 with an average of over 2,000 per year. They cracked up in the wake of natural calamities and were not able to repay loans. Around 2.4 million people in the Vidarbha region are small and marginal farmers. The tragedies across the country are embedded in rural indebtedness, hunger, the failure of crops because of spurious fertilisers and pesticides or due to unseasonal rain and hailstorms or drought.

Measures not effective

These farmers have not received remunerative prices for their produce. In an effort to help the farming community, the government made certain policy changes. It removed restrictions on storage, sale and movement of food and agro-products. It decided to remove export controls and set up cold storages and rural godowns. However, these measures were not effective.

The agricultural policy had envisaged an annual growth of over 4 per cent. It provided a comprehensive crop insurance for farmers from sowing to post-harvest operations. Agriculture was also accorded the status of industry.

Previously, the rich and progressive farmers were the chief beneficiaries of government policy. In consequence, the disparity between the rich and the poor farmers increased. The poor farmers availed of loans to be in step with the rich. But the failure of their crops spelt misery. Agricultural development did not generate sufficient employment opportunities. There was a sharp increase in the number of educated unemployed.

India's new economic policy poses a major challenge to the farm sector because of the burgeoning population, dwindling natural resources, the depletion in underground water resources and the mounting indebtedness. To this is added the stagnating yield, the decline in productivity and the flip side of the Green Revolution. This has led to the degradation of the environment and natural resources.

The national agro policy was framed to meet the major challenges of Indian agriculture, specifically to increase productivity, ensure food security, and restructure the sector so as to benefit the farmers. It highlighted various shortcomings in the rural sector in respect of regional disparities, uneven development, low levels of productivity, low incomes, rising prices, problems in relation to rainfed and dryland areas, unemployment, lack of rural industry, constraints on movement, storage and sale of agro-products. 

The policy was aimed at achieving growth based on efficient use of resources, conserving soil, water and biodiversity, and meeting the challenges of economic liberalisation. It envisaged private sector participation through contract farming, correcting imbalances of the eastern, hilly, rainfed and drought-prone areas, augmenting income of the farming community, and an emphasis in processing, marketing and storage facilities.
The policy envisaged an effective pricing strategy to ensure remunerative and profitable prices to farmers for their produce and a better distribution system for the poor.. There was a degree of flexibility in fixing the support prices on a regional basis depending on the cost of transport. There was also a provision to protect farmers from price fluctuations in the world market. It proposed to remove regional imbalances to accelerate economic development, covering all sectors of agriculture including horticulture, livestock, fisheries and sericulture. Land ceiling laws were to be enforced, and families headed by women were to be given preference in land distribution.

Today's agriculture is an expensive and energy intensive technology. It requires high inputs in respect of quality seeds, chemical fertilisers, pesticides, irrigation, farm mechanisation, etc. The overall cost is high despite the subsidy on fertiliser. Small and marginal farmers have not been able to afford these inputs. There is no mechanism to help the poor farmers per se.

Tax-free income

THE policy to make agricultural income tax-free largely benefited the rich farmers who became richer thanks to the Green Revolution. Technological developments heightened disparities in the rural areas. The gap between the rich and the poor farmers widened. The farm policy has to work out a mechanism to take the benefits of subsidised inputs and incentive pricing to the poor farmers to lift them above the poverty line.
In rural India, agriculture is the most important means of livelihood for over 65 per cent of the population. It is imperative to achieve sustainable development of agriculture. The agro policy should aim at creating employment potential and round-the-year work for the farmers' families. This calls for the development of agro-based industries like fruit and vegetable processing. Balanced development of both agriculture and industry can help remove socio-economic disparities.

The economic survey projected the food output in 2008-09 at 230 million tonnes, against 230.8 million tonnes in 2007-08. The outlook for 2009-10 is rather bleak on account of the insufficient monsoon in certain states. The output may decline by 5.6 per cent. The population during 2008-09 has risen to 115.4 crore, up from 113.8 crore in 2007-08. Therefore, the current food output will not be enough to feed the people. At present, one-third of the population is half-fed because of poverty and lack of purchasing power.
The right to food has not been given an overriding priority as there is hardly any concern for the privation of the poor farmers. The public distribution system has to be revamped and the Antyodaya Anna Yojana expanded to cover rural households. Food must reach the poor.







LONDON, 11 OCT: Learning to juggle leads to changes in the white matter of the brain, a study has shown. The Oxford University study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, appears to show connectivity has improved in parts of brain involved in movement-making in juggling.

"We tend to think of the brain as being static, or even beginning to degenerate, once we reach adulthood," says lead researcher Heidi Johansen-Berg of Department of Clinical Neurology. "In fact we find the structure of the brain is ripe for change. We've shown it is possible for the brain to condition its own wiring system to operate more efficiently."

Changes in grey matter following new experiences and learning have been shown earlier. However, enhancements in white matter have not previously been demonstrated. Changes in white matter was measured assessing diffusion MRI images using new methods pioneered by the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain (FMRIB) centre at Oxford. The methods are able to compare anatomical features of white matter between individuals or over time.

"We have demonstrated that there are changes in the white matter of the brain the bundles of nerve fibres that connect different parts of the brain as a result of learning an entirely new skill," explains Dr Johansen-Berg. The researchers say that future study is required to see whether these results reflect changes in the shape or number of nerve fibres, or growth of the insulating myelin sheath surrounding the fibres. PTI







SO now we have a "national aquatic animal". Sounds good doesn't that, resonates particularly sweetly in political waters. Coming as that suggestion did from the Bihar chief minister it was quickly lapped up by the UPA government, none of its members daring to forget that not so long ago rising son Rahul Gandhi had singled out Nitish Kumar for appreciation; appreciation that, however, did not bloom into electoral linkage. But will that suggestion actually herald a revival of the river dolphins that once thrived in the Ganga's waters? It is true that resurrection of the dolphin will powerfully project the success of Mission Clean Ganga, yet it is equally true that declaring the tiger the "national animal" has made no difference to the dismal future of the big cat, nor has "national bird" status prevented farmers from poisoning crop-destroying peafowl. What next: "national" animals or birds for desert, mountain or marine ecologies? Move down a notch, the Asiatic lion being hailed as the "pride of Gujarat" has not averted its coming under threat in the Gir forests, such parochialism has actually proved an impediment to a breeding experiment in Madhya Pradesh. The short point being that rather than seek satisfaction from courtesy symbols, there must be no diversion of focus from the basic task which is to restore the river to pristine glory that even sacred symbolism failed to sustain.
It is disturbing that the critical issue of fund-sharing defied solution at the first meeting of the reconstituted National Ganga River Basin Authority. With an estimated Rs 15,000 crore required to be ploughed into the clean-up over the next decade there will be no genuine forward movement until that small matter of money is resolved. Since both phases of the previous Ganga Action Plan made minimal headway, there is little cause for confidence that no untreated sewage or industrial effluent will pollute the river after 2010. Simultaneously it must be recognised that the decreasing flow in the river exacerbates the pollution problem ~ water has the unique capacity to cleanse itself. Hence the ecological quality of the Ganga's catchment area must also merit revival action. That calls for commitment from both central and state governments. Maybe it would pay off to convince the UP chief minister that dolphins in the river have more appeal than concrete elephants along vast stretches of its banks!







Quite plainly with an eye on next year's election, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation appears to be on course towards a self-appraisal, one that raises more questions than it answers. The exercise can be endorsed only with a modified "yes". To the extent that departmental heads have been asked to prepare performance reports of employees the move will prompt the municipal authorities to pull up their socks. And the booklet that has been promised may even prompt the City Dads to blow their trumpets. The benchmarks have not been specified, let alone KMC's collective contribution towards civic development since 2005. Comparisons are odious; and yet there is an overriding anxiety to present the tax-payers with a comparative study of the work done during the present dispensation with that of the Trinamul board (2001-05). The anxiety to score political brownie points in the run-up to the KMC election, indeed the CPI-M's next trial of strength, is palpable. Ergo, the belated underpinning on performance seems contrived and largely political. An equally contrived study in contrast is unlikely to impress the citizen, his patience sorely tried by the lack of fundamental amenities. Despite the assurance to the Asian Development Bank, the KMC is yet to introduce a water-tax or unit area assessment for property tax, it has failed to generate corporate investment for the purpose of beautification, it has failed and failed abysmally to tackle the problems of waterlogging and drinking water despite adequate funds under the urban renewal mission. The slogan, "today's pain is tomorrow's gain" rings hollow to the point of a bitter joke.
Come the civic elections, the KMC will be judged on the basis of the work done since 2005 and not on the highlighted failures of the previous regime. The booklet needs to be more substantial than just an electoral pamphlet. Even if the performance evaluation report identifies the dead wood in certain departments, the Mayor-in-Council will scarcely be able to shirk its overall responsibility. Kolkata Municipal Corporation's record, to use the language of understatement, is pretty much dismal. Perfectly in accord with its tradition.







Quite the most critical aspect of the latest report of the United Nations Development Programme is the subtext, unwittingly addressed to the Thackeray circuit and the parochial lobby in other parts of the country. In the context of development and economic growth generally, it has underscored the importance of migration within borders, from one part of the country to another. This may be anathema to those given to provincialism, with a proclivity for violence if only to buttress the train compartment agenda. Movement within the country needs to be viewed from the wider academic context, and it is here that sections of the political class ought to draw a lesson from this year's UNDP report. On the eve of the assembly elections, the message is particularly valid for Maharashtra's BJP-Shiv Sena combine, whose election manifesto reeks of parochialism. Without naming any country, the report has called upon governments to facilitate migration within chiefly because it helps people to improve the quality of their lives "without giving up any of the benefits that legal citizenship provides". Even administrations with a perceived liberal and cosmopolitan outlook have not exactly viewed the issue from this perspective.

Hopefully, the political and linguistic groups across the country will now grasp the long-term benefits of inter-state migration. Implicitly has the UNDP trashed parochialism of the Mumbai variety. There is a message across the board in the statement that "migration must be considered by governments while preparing strategies to tackle poverty."

In terms of development, the report confirms India's status quo. For all the pretensions of an emergent world power, the outlook is dismal if it clings ~ for the second successive year ~ to the 134th position among 182 countries. Ever so volatile Sri Lanka, ranked at 102, has performed the best within the SAARC bloc. Even tiny and friendly Bhutan is two notches higher than India, a testament to the former king, Jigme Singhye Wangchuk's unique concept of Gross National Happiness. Discouraging too must be India's rank in the Gender Development Index (GDI) ~ 139th out of 155 countries surveyed. Overall, the report has few bouquets to offer on any of the parameters of development.








Although he is a politician, Salman Khurshid is intelligent; not even his regulation khadi uniform can hide it. Some say that he is the most intelligent lawyer in India. That could be an exaggeration. But even without that honour, he is undisguisedly brilliant. His new jihad for cutting the salaries of chief executive officers does not fit too well with this reputation. It must be admitted that he has chosen an exquisite adjective — "vulgar" — to describe high salaries. He does not indulge in cheap self-righteousness or hypocrisy. He appeals to our taste, not to our morality. But a clever adjective does not make an argument; it still falls short of the cerebral level one would expect from Mr Khurshid.


It may be that those who see an inconsistency here do not possess the requisite intelligence. Such a conclusion would be supported by the fact that another person of unquestionable intelligence, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, has backed Mr Khurshid up. It is Mr Ahluwalia's duty to support whatever ministers say, however outlandish; but this economist, who could have earned the top salary of an international civil servant if he had stuck to his first job in the World Bank, really seems to believe that Indian executives earn too much. He has also perhaps let the cat out of the bag when he said the issue had become important because governments had pumped in $1.6 trillion to bail out the world economy from a crisis. The rest of the argument would run as follows. Of that amount, the American government pumped in $250 billion into banks in trouble. Then J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs announced record bonuses for their executives. The government of the United States of America was shocked; so these banks paid back the bailout money they had received. Then the US treasury appointed Kenneth Feinberg controller of executive salaries in bailed-out institutions. The Indian government has helped thousands of rich farmers renege on their loans from banks; but it has not spent a penny to bail out any Indian company. No matter; if the Americans can do it, so can Indians. Phony egalitarianism is a speciality of the Congress. So Messrs Ahluwalia and Khurshid are just being orthodox Congressmen; the television time and newspaper columns they get are a bonus.


It does not matter how much Indian CEOs earn; what matters is how little Indian villagers earn. The government has assured them of minimum work and minimum wage through its national rural employment guarantee scheme. There is ample evidence of corruption in the scheme. Instead of performing before the media, Mr Khurshid and Mr Ahluwalia should go and catch a few politicians who are milking the NREGS.








A tragedy takes on its sharpest edge when a specially promising young life is laid to waste. Eighteen-year-old Gagandeep Singh had already won laurels as a player in the junior Indian cricket team, and there were many hopes for his future. Singh was in Meerut to play for the under-22 C.K. Nayudu Trophy, when he was shot, apparently because he got in the way, by a thug firing at the owner of a kebab outlet for alleged delay in service. It would take a particularly paranoid sensibility to imagine that an innocent visit to a kebab shop by young men could turn into a blood-soaked tragedy without the help of terrorists or insurgents. The restaurant-owner died along with Singh because he refused to serve the thugs out of turn. Another employee was seriously injured.


There is a shocking meaninglessness about these deaths that raises questions about the way Indians exist from day to day. The young cricketer's death adds to the poignancy, but the questions would have been there anyway. This is a country in which not just rich people's children, but also the children of any officer who has access to firearms can and do use guns. For the thug who shot two people dead was the son of a policewoman. There is a peculiar slackness in work culture and ethics that breeds disrespect for the paraphernalia of work, a sick sense of self-importance among petty criminals that makes a delay in service a shooting matter, a casual attitude to crime among the police some of whom have criminals as close friends, the nurturing of underworld contacts and musclemen by politicians, an indifference to the law, all of which build up to the extreme brittleness of civic life. Anything can happen at any time. There can be no security for the citizen if every thug carries a gun and feels free to use it everytime his wishes are thwarted. It may take time to deal with terrorists and insurgents. But can anyone claim that an environment with proper policing and higher professional standards would not have saved Singh's life?









As this piece is read, both the prime minister attending the G-20 conference in Pittsburgh and the external affairs minister attending the United Nations general assembly in New York will have winged their way back to the warm embrace of friendly air. Both would have truly earned the solitude of their entitled class of travel notwithstanding the superficial "cattle class" debate that consumed hours of prime television time in India — without in any way contributing to the larger issue of national governance.


Each in his own way will no doubt be immensely relieved, considering the flood of bad news that battered India from all sides, originating mainly from the very shores belonging to the country whose president was told by the prime minister that the former was loved by India. But that was a year ago. And one year in today's dynamic and complex world, with competing security, environmental, trade and financial challenges, can well be an eternity.


Peeved at being denied his Bedouin tent, Colonel Gaddafi fired the first salvo by declaring in his maiden marathon speech to the UN general assembly that Kashmir should be an independent buffer state between India and Pakistan. Coming from a country considered friendly, this just about set the agenda for what was to follow. Our delegation, one must assume, was so taken aback that even the tokenism of walking out missed them.


Soon followed the Wall Street Journal interview with the external affairs minister that quoted him as saying, "India doesn't believe that war can solve any problem and that applies to Afghanistan also. I think there could be a political settlement. I think we should strive towards that." Since the principal adversary there is the Taliban, this was logically interpreted by many to imply a conciliatory approach towards the Taliban. Before political backlash could gather momentum, the ministry of external affairs was compelled to duck and clarify that the minister did not advocate a political settlement with the Taliban, although what precisely he meant was left to one's imagination.


As luck would have it, the external affairs minister's problems were not about to end soon. The unclassified version of the much awaited report by General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of American and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan, to the secretary of defence also made it to the press around this time. Under the heading "external influences", the report states: "Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan, including significant development effort and financial investment. In addition, the current Afghan government is perceived by Islamabad to be pro India. While Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people, increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tension and encourage Pakistani counter measures in Afghanistan or India."


Unsaid in the general's eagerly awaited assessment to his commander-in-chief is the thesis that if the United States of America wishes to pull Pakistan back from its suicidal brink in Afghanistan, then reduced Indian contribution in Afghanistan is a way forward. Apologists for Pakistan may term this as incidental, but knowing Pentagon's traditional soft corner for the Pakistan military and the latter's historic mastery of using the US to further its own strategic goals, one can guess the origin of this conclusion. Whilst the external affairs minister was constrained publicly to differ with these views, many commentators noted that there were differing perceptions even within the Obama administration. One only hopes that the confidential part of the general's report contains no further adverse surprises for India, although we may never know.


Even as the foreign minister was ducking these diplomatic missiles, the US president was jointly chairing a meeting of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan, a group of 26 countries. The other co-chairs were the prime minister of the United Kingdom and the president of Pakistan, who, in his address to the UN general assembly, made it a point to display a photograph of Benazir Bhutto on the rostrum. One wonders what champions of democratic Pakistan made of this unusual gesture. Addressing the group, the US president said, "We also face a common threat. The violent extremists within Pakistan pose a threat to the region, to the United States, and to the world. Above all, they threaten the security of the Pakistani people." He further added, "We know that there are difficult challenges ahead. But that is why we must remain focused, we must be committed and we must stay together. As Pakistan makes progress, the United States will be there as a partner." Buoyed by these lofty sentiments, Asif Ali Zardari claimed, "A stable, prosperous Pakistan is the world's greatest hope against extremism."


Had the US president been even remotely sensitive to India's security concerns and, indeed, concerned about terrorism being used selectively as State policy by Pakistan, some advice or hint of caution on the unacceptability of State-sponsored terrorism would have been in order at the FDP gathering. As it was, the double standards of the international democratic order were there for all to see.


It was left to the prime minister to respond indirectly when, at Pittsburgh, in replying to a question, he made it clear that talks with Pakistan could only commence when the latter does away with the policy of using terrorism as an instrument of State policy. This, no doubt, was as much a message to the worthy FDP as it was to his US hosts and our friends across the western frontiers. Not surprisingly, the Pakistan foreign ministry spokesman was quick to respond, saying that world leaders had lauded Pakistan's efforts against terrorism in the recent meeting of the FDP, though India was unable to realize this.


The brave words spoken at the FDP gathering were in the backdrop of the Senate vote for the Kerry-Lugar bill of aid to Pakistan of about US $1.5 billion per year through to 2014. They were also spoken not long after General Pervez Musharraf, the once US poster-boy, openly boasted in a TV interview that under his stewardship Pakistan had diverted US aid meant to fight terrorists against India. And just to prove his commando credentials, he had added that he did not care what the US thought since he was acting in the interests of Pakistan.


In an interview, Bruce Riedel, the official who shaped Barack Obama's Afghanistan strategy, rightly said that there was no foolproof guarantee against Pakistan transferring US military technology to its advantage against India. He said nothing new, since Patton tanks, Star fighters and Stinger missiles have all in the past been used against India with the knowledge of the international community. Indeed, as the saying goes, a gun that fires only in one direction is yet to be invented. So why is it that we in India never tire of making pro forma appeals to the US, as indeed the external affairs minister did in a public statement quoting General Musharraf's so-called disclosure? India needs to get real. In the world of international diplomacy, the only language that speaks louder than words is military power and the perceived will to use it. Perception that India possesses neither makes it an easy diplomatic target.


To top all this diplomatic buffeting came the US-sponsored and Obama-driven resolution at the UN security council, which was being presided over for the first time by a US president himself. The resolution on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, adopted unanimously, asked all countries to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Anticipating this move, India's permanent representative to the UN, Hardeep Puri, had already written to the president of the security council, Susan Rice, indicating that India cannot accept calls for universalization of the NPT and any obligations arising from treaties that India has not signed or ratified, and this position was consistent with the fundamental principles of international law and the Law of Treaties. This fell on deaf ears.


In Pittsburgh, the prime minister reiterated India's well known position on not being a party to a discriminatory NPT. The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, was quick to smoothen ruffled feathers by saying that the UNSC resolution was not aimed at India. While this is clearly diplomatic waffle, it is a multi-warhead missile still in flight, and India will need all its diplomatic and political capital to come out unscathed. Indeed, unfolding events may adversely impact the much hailed Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement.


Earlier in the year, Clinton had paid a five-day visit to India, spending more time with NGOs and in TV studios than in the South Block. Soon thereafter it was announced that the prime minister would be the first head to be the State guest of President Obama. Indian ego was amply massaged. Could it be that all this is a prelude to what in military parlance is called softening the target? Time will tell.


The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian Air Force










President Barack Obama has just promised not to cut the number of American troops in Afghanistan or pull them out entirely as part of the current review of American strategy there, but he has not promised to increase them. Could he privately be having second thoughts about the whole war?"The maximum estimate is less than a hundred (al-Qaida members) operating in (Afghanistan), no bases, no ability to launch attacks on us or our allies," said Obama's national security adviser, James Jones, in an interview. In that case, why does the US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, want another 40,000 troops?


The Washington orthodoxy insists that there is essentially no difference between al Qaida, the mostly Arab organization that ordered the 9/11 attacks on the United States of America, and the Taliban, the local Islamist extremists who controlled most of Afghanistan before the US invasion in 2001 and allowed al Qaida to have camps there. If the US pulled out of Afghanistan, al Qaida would be back like a shot.


But hang on. For all practical purposes, the Taliban already do control at least a third of Afghanistan's territory. Yet, Jones says that there are fewer than a hundred al Qaida operatives in the country. Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan and several other countries each have more al Qaida members than that on their territory. They don't seem to be accomplishing much from those countries either. So why is controlling political outcomes in Afghanistan crucial to American security?


That question may finally be getting posed by the Obama administration. After the shameless rigging of the recent Afghan election by President Hamid Karzai, the US no longer has a credible partner in Kabul. So the current review of US strategy is taking on a broader focus.


First steps


This is Obama's last and best opportunity to escape from the futile war he inherited on taking office. In practical terms, how could he go about it without suffering too great a level of political damage domestically? And how can he avoid what happened in Vietnam, where two-thirds of American casualties were incurred during the five-year search for a way to leave without losing face?


The first steps are to reject McChrystal's demand for more troops, and to make US's displeasure at Karzai's theft of the Afghan election public. Rather than being embarrassed by the revelations of Peter Galbraith, the American deputy head of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, who was fired for protesting against UN complicity in the electoral fraud, the Obama administration should defend him. Indeed, Washington ought to attack the head of the UN mission in Kabul, the Norwegian diplomat, Kai Eide, and UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, for their attempt to suppress the truth. Attacking the UN is always popular in the US, and it would totally wrong-foot the Republicans.


Those are just the first steps, of course. The longer-term strategy must focus on dismantling the misleading narrative that is used to justify the war in Afghanistan, and indeed the whole "global war on terror." Washington is full of senior intelligence officials and senior military officers, whose careers have not become indissolubly linked to the GWOT, who would be delighted to assist Obama in that task.


Meanwhile, start putting together an alliance of non-Pashtun warlords who can make a deal with the Taliban on the division of power in Afghanistan. The Taliban will end up controlling the Pashtun-majority south and east: for most practical purposes, they already do. It doesn't mean that al Qaida gets its training camps back, or becomes any more dangerous to the US than it is now. Go down that road, and with a little luck all the US troops could be out of Afghanistan before Obama has to face the voters again. But first, he has to choose the right road.










The time has come. The culture of war, the economy of war, and the hegemony of the 'globalisers' have been a catastrophic failure and the cause of incalculable suffering, hunger, extreme poverty and social affliction. A 'new beginning' is needed urgently at the dawn of a new century and a new millennium.

Force, violence, and war have always predominated, to the point that history seems to be little more than an endless succession of battles and conflicts in which peace is a momentary break. So it has been century after century, with fleeting periodic attempts at emancipation.

Educated to use force, accustomed to heeding the law of the most powerful, trained in the use of the muscles more than of the mind, humanity has watched itself be dragged into the bloodiest possible conflicts. Enmity instead of friendship is the rule. Neighbours are not seen as brothers with whom we share a common destiny but as adversaries, enemies to be annihilated.

Fortunately there is a parallel, invisible history whose links were forged day by day out of the unselfishness, the generosity, and the creativity that distinguish the human species. It is a dense fabric, incomparable and permanent, because it is the product of many lives tenaciously dedicated daily to building the bastions of peace.


"There are no roads to peace; peace is the road," Mahatma Gandhi reminded us. A road oriented to principles and values. By justice, before all else. Peace is both a condition and a result, both seed and fruit. It is necessary to identify the causes of conflict to be able to prevent it. Avoiding conflict is the greatest victory.

UNESCO, the United Nations organisation charged explicitly with building peace through education, science, culture, and communication, recalls in the preamble of its constitution that it is the "democratic principles" of justice, liberty, equality, and solidarity that must illuminate this great transition from a culture of violence and war to a culture of dialogue and reconciliation. The great programme 'Towards a Culture of Peace', of the 1990s, was a UNESCO initiative.

The Declaration and Plan of Action for a Culture of Peace, approved in September 1999, establishes that the culture of peace is an interweaving of values, attitudes, and behaviour that reflect a respect for life, the human being, and human dignity.

The Plan of Action contains measures based on education, race, development, and freedom of expression that must be put into practice to bring about the great transition from force to the word: to foster education in peace, human rights, democracy, mutual tolerance, and comprehension, national and international; to fight every form of discrimination; to promote democratic principles and practices in every area of society; to fight poverty and bring about a form of development that is endogenous and sustainable and that benefits everyone and grants all people a decent life; to mobilise society in order to ignite in the young a burning desire to find new ways of living based on reconciliation, tolerance, and generosity, and to reject all forms of oppression and violence, the just distribution of wealth, the free flow of information and shared learning.

The 2000 Manifesto of the International Year for a Culture of Peace, signed by more than 110 million people around the world, establishes "the commitment in my daily life, in my family, my community, and my region, to respect all lives, reject violence, free my generosity, safeguard the planet, reinvent solidarity, and listen to others in order to understand them".

There have already been many regions, countries, and municipalities that have incorporated the culture of peace into their constitutions and statutes. It is very important that this trend spread, though even more important is the awareness among people that the moment has come to stop accepting the imposition of and blind obedience to power. Citizens are ceasing to be spectators and becoming actors. They are abandoning silence and fear and becoming agents of peace instead of vassals.


Today long-distance participation via mobile phone, SMS, and the internet has made possible a radical change in the fundamental component of all democracies.

Much has been accomplished in these ten years. But the inertia of the vested interests and the resistance of the most prosperous to share more are an obstacle to the emergence of a culture of peace, the word, understanding, and the formation of alliances.









Let me pose a macabre question. What do you prefer — floods or drought? Give me drought any day, I would answer it myself. But why this preference you may ask. Go ahead and ask. Here is my answer.

Drought does not kill people en masse. Houses do not crumble. Bridges are not washed away. Roads do not disappear. You do not need copters to air drop food packets and water sachets or to rescue people marooned on tree tops for as long as three days.

Our 'netas' need not do aerial surveys to assess the damage for during a drought there is no water to inundate vast stretches of land. No one does an air tour to see parched land — it is not photogenic from the top through the plane's window.

No train services need be cancelled nor rerouted to make journey more arduous. Railways do not have to worry about rebuilding the bridges and rail tracks. Nor the highways need to be asphalted afresh. No danger of epidemics spreading.

Droughts do bring misery, no doubt. No water to drink or raise crop. But no one will die of starvation but may be hunger. Our food stocks are bountiful, the government has assured us. They can always be rushed to drought hit areas because road or rail link is not disrupted. But if there are floods things are different. Even if you have stocks how will you reach the masses?

Look at the enormity of reconstruction if there are floods. The poor villager has to start from the scratch for where his home once stood is now a crumble of mud and bricks. Buried in the debris are his belongings, memories and events. A drought will not cause this type of collateral damage. It is more kind and understanding. Statistically more people have dies during floods than drought.

But this is not the reason why the celebrated journalist P Sainath wrote the book 'Why everybody likes a good drought'.








Barack Obama went to bed Thursday night under attack for "flip-flopping" on Afghanistan-Pakistan, his centerpiece health care reform plan ever further from congressional approval, and having failed to deliver the 2016 Olympic Games to Chicago. As he drifted off, news reached Washington of yet another spate of deadly car-bombings in Iraq.


On Friday, he awoke to a bolt from the blue: the news that he had won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, beating out 204 other nominees, whose identities remain secret.


With fitting modesty, the president said he did not view the prize "as recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership."


The committee said it selected Obama "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy" and for his "vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons." We imagine the committee was particularly struck by the president's April 5 Prague speech on nuclear disarmament.


Whatever the impetus, this award gives Obama added legitimacy in leading an intensified worldwide campaign to block Iran's nuclear weapons program.


Alfred Nobel intended his awards go to those who "have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind," specifying that the peace prize was to go to the person who did the best work to promote peace. It was never intended exclusively as a payback for achieving peace.


REACTION to the Nobel committee's decision ranged from bemusement to bewilderment. Paradoxically, Obama-haters were overjoyed. Rush Limbaugh: "We could not have made the world laugh at our president, but the Nobel Peace Prize Committee and their award pulled it off. We owe 'em a debt of gratitude." Here, a page one tabloid headline read: "A Norwegian joke."


This year's committee was chaired by Thorbjorn Jagland, a former Norwegian prime minister who served with George Mitchell on the 2001 Mitchell Committee investigating the causes of the second intifada. That panel is remembered unfavorably in Israel for "evenhandedly" assigning responsibility for the violence.


While the prize has often been presented in appreciation for definitive achievements - to George Marshall, for instance for the post-WWII reconstruction of Europe - it has not infrequently been awarded by a quixotic committee to persons whose accomplishments either would not have a long shelf-life, or were nonexistent.


Woodrow Wilson received the award in 1919 for founding the League of Nations - which collapsed with the outbreak of WWII. Frank Billings Kellogg, an American secretary of state, received the award in 1929 for the Briand-Kellogg Pact, which outlawed war. Henry Kissinger was granted the prize in 1973 for peacemaking in Vietnam. Two years later, the South fell to the communists. Kissinger's Vietnamese interlocutor, Le Duc Tho, was the only laureate to decline the prize, citing continuing violence in his country.


Yasser Arafat got the award in 1994, yet died an unrepentant terrorist. And, in 2005, the International Atomic Energy Agency's Mohamed ElBaradei was the winner, though he continues to downplay the danger posed by Iran's quest for the bomb.


In acknowledging the award, Obama made clear he's no pacifist. Without mentioning Islamist imperialism by name, he declared: "I am the commander-in-chief of a country" confronting "a ruthless adversary that directly threatens the American people and our allies."


WE WERE struck - and not ungrateful - that Obama made it a point Friday to single out his desire to help Israelis and Palestinians achieve peace. Though frankly, with his administration placing so much emphasis on the red-herring settlement freeze issue; with supposedly moderate Palestinian leaders inciting their people with false claims that the Netanyahu government is sending "settlers to pray at the Aksa Mosque;" and with the biased Goldstone Report gaining momentum in international forums - Israelis hardly see peace around the corner. Obama's value-neutral peacemaking approach has unintentionally raised Arab expectations that he will deliver a prostrate Israel.


His presidency is not yet a year old. There is time for Obama to emphasize that accepting Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish state is an absolute prerequisite for resolving this conflict.


There are those who would begrudge him the peace prize. We hope, rather, that the president finds the wisdom to pursue the path that can best lead to a genuine, secure and lasting peace.








Controversy is no stranger when it comes to the choice of Nobel Peace laureates, and this year's selection of US President Barack Obama is a case in point. After having served only nine months in office when the award was announced and just a few days when the nominations were closed, Obama himself admitted being "most surprised and deeply humbled" by his selection.


Accepting the award, Obama noted that he did not "deserve to be in the company of so many transformative figures that have been honored by this prize." So why was he selected, and why did he accept?


The peace prize committee explained its choice by citing Obama's leadership in creating a "new international climate," particularly his call for nuclear disarmament and climate change. But when has a Nobel Peace Prize been awarded to a statesman for oratory alone? To paraphrase one commentator, Pulitzer Prizes don't go to journalists with a great scoop; Olympic medals are not awarded to the leading athletic contenders; and medals of honor are not pinned on the chests of warriors who boast about courage before the battle is waged.


Surely the Norwegian committee grasped that a premature award might well end up exploding in their faces, as did the previous awards to North Vietnam's Le Duc Tho and the Palestinians' Yasser Arafat. The Obama administration has embarked upon a perilous foreign policy predicated principally upon the president's catechism of engagement. Judging by the results of this approach thus far, this new approach is leading nowhere and may well plunge America and the world into true catastrophe; witness Iran and North Korea.


THE PREMATURE award of the peace prize to a fledgling administration struggling to gain its footing in the international arena poses other risks. How easy will it be for laureate Obama to authorize air strikes against the Iranian nuclear plants (or give Israel the green light to do so), if engagement and then sanctions fail? And what about his longstanding promise to escalate NATO involvement in Afghanistan? To be sure, being a recipient of the prize does not diminish the powers of the presidency, but there is little doubt that the decision to resort to more coercive measures will be that much more difficult for a peace prize laureate.


One former Israeli politician recently rationalized the award to Obama on the grounds that peace prizes, in contradistinction to the other Nobel awards, were not necessarily granted for tangible accomplishment, but to encourage a particular path or philosophy.


Thus, the 2009 prize is intended as incentive for Obama to hold fast to his visions of world peace, no matter how audacious they may be. No peace prize has ever been awarded for this reason. But assuming it is a proper purpose, what does this mean for the world, for the Middle East and for Israel?


In the past decade, facing infamous assaults by Islamic fundamentalists and rogue states upon human freedom and democratic principles, the United States courageously took the lead to combat terror and to weaken its infrastructure throughout the world. This did not please everyone, particularly the Europeans. The Obama administration has blithely declared an end to this war.


In response, the Nobel committee has given its imprimatur to a radical readjustment in US foreign policy. The committee seems to want to return the world to an earlier era when grandiose programs of peace, disarmament, world government and appeasement were the watchwords of the liberal elite.


During those critical years of the 1920s and 1930s, the prize often went to people like Nicholas Murray Butler, Norman Angell, Arthur Henderson and Frank Kellogg, who spoke eloquently about world peace and world institutions, but watched casually as democracy was all but obliterated in Europe and Asia and the stage was set for World War II and the destruction of millions of lives, including six million of our own people.


The lesson of the interwar years is also instructive for the lack of moral clarity shown by the leading democracies of the time, including the United States. The inability to act in the face of forces determined to stamp out liberty led inexorably to horrors of World War II and its aftermath.


Similarly, what does it mean when the 2009 Nobel Peace laureate refuses to meet with the Dalai Lama, the 1989 winner of the award? Or when the president, in accepting his award, does not dare mention the name of a true martyr for peace, Neda Agha-Soltan, a co-nominee for the 2009 peace prize who gave her life fighting for the very ideals America was founded to safeguard? Even the Washington Post suggested that it would have been better for Obama to decline the peace prize in deference to this heroic young woman from Teheran.


FOR THOSE of us in the Middle East and Israel, the decision of the Norwegian committee bodes especially ill. For if the aim of the committee was to encourage Obama to stay his course, it means continuing with a policy that exaggerates the centrality of the Arab-Israeli conflict to the stability of the Middle East and links US opposition to Iranian nuclearization to the freezing and dismantling of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. It means embracing the view that the State of Israel owes its legitimacy to the fires of the Holocaust rather than the legacy of 4,000 years of Jewish history. It means turning a blind eye to the canards of the Goldstone Report or Spain's decision to expel the student architects of Ariel University Center from the 2010 Solar Decathlon.


Rather than set a new precedent by awarding the prize to a neophyte statesman with an untested foreign policy, the Nobel committee might well have adhered to its own longstanding precedent (followed so often during the interwar years) and allocated the prize money to its Special Fund pending the nomination of a more worthy recipient. True, Obama cannot be blamed for the decision of the committee, but it was a mistake to accept it. Had he done the right thing, it would have been seen as a truly gracious and noble act.


The writer is a practicing international attorney with offices in Israel and the United States and serves as co-chairman of Republicans Abroad in Israel.








Few of us are sufficiently knowledgeable in chemistry or physics to challenge the Nobel prize selections in these fields. However, the Nobel Peace Prize deals with the more familiar issue of politics, and, as it reflects endorsement of a political position, it naturally engenders both applause and opposition.


This year's peace prize, awarded to US President Barack Obama, is no exception. There are those who felt that the award came too early in the presidency, before he'd had sufficient accomplishments to merit an award.


"What has President Obama actually accomplished?" asked Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee. This view was echoed by others in his party.


The Republicans have it wrong. The award was not given for achievement, but for direction; not for actual accomplishments, but for pointing America, and the world, in a better direction. In the words of the Nobel committee: "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."


PEACE IS not only a goal, but also a method of achieving that goal. It is both the destination and the way. Hostilities between nations generally breed further hostilities in a spiraling cycle of violence and retaliation, which ultimately brings war, not peace. The process of using peaceful engagement between nations as the method of resolving disagreements leads to a spiraling cycle of accommodation and mutual respect, and moves the protagonists toward peace.


There are many serious international disputes that require resolution. The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the simmering dangers posed by the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran - and nuclear proliferation in general - need to be contained. Closer to home, the conflict between Israel and Palestinians and the neighboring states causes grief and threatens to produce even greater future misery for all, the longer it continues. How should these conflicts be resolved?


The approach of the Bush administration was to place US interests above all, to go it alone and to shoot first and ask questions later. In so doing, president George W. Bush abdicated America's role as leader of the Western world and embroiled the United States in military conflicts that have exacerbated tensions in the world, strengthened the hands of terrorists from a rejuvenated Taliban in Afghanistan and an unstable Iraq, and encouraged fanatics in our region. Bush antagonized and provoked enemies, alienated friends and misread geo-strategic realities.


Obama ran on a platform of change. The Nobel committee awarded the peace prize to applaud the direction that this change is taking.


The search for peace using the method of peace does not, however, mean surrender to tyranny or accommodation to evil. A case in point is Iran. Bush's saber-rattling and threats of economic sanctions against Iran were disregarded by the Iranians, who perceived the United States to be a paper tiger. Lacking national consensus to begin yet another military invasion, his threats of intervention were not taken seriously. Moreover, the US lost its leadership role and could not obtain international consensus to contain Iran's nuclear program.


Obama's approach has been to try to bring Iran into the community of nations. If Iran were to stop acting as a renegade state, trying to rebuild the Persian Empire of ancient days, it would stop its inimical policies and cooperate with the rest of the world. Obama has reestablished US leadership of the Western world and has more clearly defined the policies that the US and the rest of the world expects Iran to take.


ENGAGING IRAN in negotiations does not, however, imply acquiescence or submission to Iranian violation of international demands. Last month, Obama, together with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown held a press conference in which they expressed their respective countries' displeasure over a secret nuclear facility in Iran and demanded Iranian compliance with UN Security Council resolutions. Their statement, which was supported by Germany's Angela Merkel, demonstrates renewed unity among the Western powers and their resolve to hold Iran accountable.


The Nobel Peace Prize confers international recognition that the approach of Obama is to be applauded. Obama has restored America's moral authority and leadership role in the world. The prize has strengthened Obama's hand, early in his presidency, and will hopefully assist him in achieving great things in the remainder of his term of office.


The decision to award the prize to Obama is a demonstration of the international community's support for a multilateral rather than a unilateral approach to international affairs and a serious attempt to resolve conflict situations by engaged diplomacy, while using the military option only as a last, though sometimes necessary, resort. It is a declaration of both expectation and support, and the hope that Obama will be able to live up to his promise, for the sake of America and the world.


The writer is counsel to Democrats Abroad Israel, which takes its seat on the Democratic National Committee alongside the other 50 states and is represented at the Democratic National Convention.









Despite the controversy it has aroused, the decision by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to defer a recommendation on the Goldstone Report to the next session was rational and even extremely wise. The postponement was decided in response to an official request by Pakistan representative Zamir Akram, for the eminently sensible purpose of allowing more time for members to consider the contents of the fact-finding probe.


On the face of it, nothing could be more reasonable than allowing time to consider the 575-page report, rather than blindly supporting it on purely emotional grounds without any effort at understanding the issues and their very serious implications not only for the parties investigated by the UN mission, but for many other countries as well. If applied without any double standards, most of the recommendations in the report would seriously hamper operations by all states engaged in anti-terror and anti-guerilla operations, including NATO, the US and Britain.


BUT THERE remain many puzzling aspects to this deferral decision that have not been addressed by the mainstream media. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is almost universally blamed, even though the PA is not a member of the UNHRC and attended the session only as an observer. The request for deferral was actually made by Akram on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), comprising 57 states; the African group, comprising 53 states; and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM ), comprising 118 developing countries.


Consequently, blaming only Abbas implies that he personally holds the awesome power of dictating to all these countries how to vote, even against the wishes of his fellow Palestinian politicians. For example, until the last moment, PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told reporters that the OIC was endeavoring to have the UNHRC adopt the report, and he denied rumors that the decision was to be withdrawn.


"There has been no change in our position," he said then.


The furious condemnation directed at Abbas is bizarre while all the countries that actually effected the deferral are completely absolved. More worrisome is the complete negation of democratic procedures insofar as votes in the UNHRC continue to be determined only by political allegiances, with no debate about the merits of any particular resolution.


There is much speculation about why the PA made this unpopular decision. Some suggest that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton persuaded Abbas that ratification of the report would undermine American efforts to restart the stalled peace process. Others suggest that the Obama administration threatened to freeze financial aid to the PA government.


Implying conspiracy theories, Al-Ahram hinted at bribery, suggesting that Israel had threatened the PA with a refusal to license the new Palestinian mobile phone company, Wataniya, which is partially owned by one of Abbas's sons.


The Arab Monitor (October 2) was more blunt. Under the headline "Palestinian Authority sells human rights issue for Wataniya company's interests," it reported that "in the run-up to the current UN Human Rights Council meeting, Israel squarely blackmailed the PA, threatening to withhold frequencies for Wataniya altogether and indefinitely, unless the Palestinian delegation retract[ed] its endorsement of the Goldstone Report."


But in Al-Ahram's view, the most likely reason for the PA decision may have had to do with an Israeli threat to release records of conversations between Israeli and PA officials, implicating the latter pleading with the former to pursue the war on Gaza to the end and crush Hamas.


Whatever the real reasons for the deferral, the entire episode highlights serious shortcomings in the UNHRC that require urgent attention.


It is not Israel alone that is critical of the UNHRC. On September 22, Newsweek wrote that "in a year during which the world body marked the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, many see the new rights council as a stain on the UN's reputation."


The present Human Rights Council, comprising 47 members, was created in 2006 to replace the former, 53-member UN Commission on Human Rights. When Sudan was elected despite the Darfur genocide, the US delegation walked out, calling on the commission to consider the consequences of becoming a safe haven for the world's worst human rights violators, especially those engaged in ethnic cleansing.


US President Barack Obama has since reversed this decision, and US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice has said that the US sought a seat to improve the "flawed body that has not lived up to its potential."


In the first full year since the current council came into existence, every one of its country-specific resolutions was directed against Israel. Nine of these 10 resolutions were brought by Arab and/or Islamic groups, while, during the same period, serious human rights crises elsewhere were ignored. Since its creation, the council has passed 20 resolutions on Israel, more than the total number of resolutions for all the 191 other UN members combined. The council also has held 11 special sessions - five of them focused exclusively on Israel.


Even Judge Richard Goldstone acknowledged the blatant bias in the UNHRC. In May, in his remarks after the MacArthur Award for International Justice was conferred on him, he said, "It is not satisfactory that the accountability of Israel for its recent military campaign in Gaza sought by some members of the United Nations Human Rights Council should be partial and not even-handed. The terms of the resolution of the Human Rights Council of April 2009 appeared to me and many others as being partial and biased."


And Mary Robinson, former UN high commissioner for human rights and a frequent critic of Israel, confirmed that the council's resolution was one-sided and did not permit a balanced approach to determining the situation on the ground. It was for this reason that she refused to lead the mission.


In a recent interview, Robinson posed the question whether "governments will give Judge Goldstone's findings the serious attention they deserve, or instead fall back into an overtly political posture."


Under the circumstances, one must fear that the political posture will prevail.


The writer, based in Herzliya, is an industrial engineer and business consultant.








Should the Palestinian Authority be the main advocate pushing acceptance of the bizarre Goldstone Report in order to demonize Israel at the UN, or might it just stand aside and let a couple of dozen Arab and Muslim-majority states take the lead in doing so? This is - or should be - a minor issue, but it has escalated to push the real barrier to solving the Arab-Israeli conflict into everyone's face once again.


When the US government asked the PA not to be the main sponsor in demanding UN sanctions against Israel, the Palestinian leadership agreed for a few hours. But then, unable to resist flaunting its radicalism and obstructionism, it double-crossed the United States. This step further sabotaged President Barack Obama's efforts to advance the peace process, seemingly his No. 1 international priority.


The Palestinian leadership is once again shooting itself in the foot. It is throwing away a real opportunity for a state; it is sabotaging its relationship with Western patrons.


HOW TO explain this apparent perverseness, which former foreign minister Abba Eban once called "never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity"?


The answer is simple: When it comes down to a choice between continuing the conflict and trying to win a total victory that wipes Israel off the map, or making peace and getting a state, the Palestinian leadership always chooses the former.


And when it comes to choosing between being a bit more moderate and gaining Western support, or being demagogically radical and appealing to the most radical forces, the Palestinian leadership chooses the latter. The Fatah-dominated PA doesn't want peace with Israel; it prefers peace with Hamas, its rival that not only murders and tortures Fatah people but - one more irony - is the main beneficiary of the Goldstone Report.


Wishful thinkers beware! Reality is once again battering down your door.


The Obama administration is trying to make peace and wants the PA's cooperation. If the UN goes ballistic and now bashes Israel as an evil, illegitimate war criminal - on the basis of Hamas propaganda, no less, which is all the Goldstone commission really purveys - this will not help the cause of peace and will wreck US policy. Israel will reject more concessions; Arab states will have another rationale for not making peace and will demand that the world punish Israel with sanctions or even extinction.


The Obama administration basically said to the PA: "Look, we're getting you lots of money and diplomatic help on the basis of the idea that you want peace. No president in history has ever been more sympathetic and supportive of you. So stand aside on this issue for a few days. Do us this little favor."


But this is too much for the PA, which now faces protests and criticism at home for daring to make a small tactical concession that has no practical implication.


If the PA cannot even refrain from this kind of behavior because of internal dissension and popular pressure, can anyone expect it to compromise on territory, security measures, an end to the conflict, and the settlement of all Palestinian refugees in Palestine?


Think about that one for five minutes, please.


THIS IS at least the fourth time in the short, nine-month history of the new administration that the Palestinians and Arab states have done this to Obama.


Before the latest development:


• PA leader Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Washington for his first trip and said he had no intention of compromising on anything, but would just wait until the United States delivered an Israel that had to give up everything.


• Abbas refused to negotiate with Israel unless its completely froze construction on all settlements, with no exceptions, despite Obama's desperate efforts to get talks going.


• Arab states that were asked to make small confidence-building steps toward Israel to help the president said, "No!"


So much for Obama's apologies, his Cairo and UN speeches, strong words of support for the Palestinians (the people supposedly in an intolerable situation and desperate for a state), and his panegyrics for Islam. Flattery, Mr. President, will get you nowhere.


This strategy merely feeds the fires of radicalism. Unfortunately, the peace process of the 1990s and the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 did the same thing. More concessions breed more violence; more apologies deliver more demands.


Remember that the peace process ended when then PA leader Yasser Arafat refused a state, along with more than $23 billion in aid.


Remember that the Palestinians, handed all of the Gaza Strip, made it a launching pad for rockets aimed at Israel, instead of making it a model for launching peace.


Remember that when the Bush administration was trying to be supportive, the PA made a deal through Hizbullah with Iran to bring in massive amounts of arms on a ship. Discovering how the PA had lied turned that administration against them.


Remember that in 1989, when the United States initiated a dialogue with the PLO on the basis of its stopping terrorism, the organization instead dispatched a terrorist unit to gun down civilians on a Tel Aviv beach. This action led to the end of the dialogue.


WAKE UP, people. Peace would be preferable if possible. Peace is a beautiful dream. But that dream keeps getting interrupted by recurring nightmares.


Those who lead nations and are responsible for the lives and welfare of their people, those whose duty is to inform the people, and those who speak out publicly have a duty to cast aside wishful thinking and face the truth, as demonstrated by numerous examples and historical experience:


• Israeli-Palestinian peace is still a long way off.


• The PA is unwilling and incapable of making peace.


• Weakness in dealing with this issue breeds contempt; concessions create more violence and extremism.


• A responsible policy is one that maximizes stability by keeping Hamas from taking over the West Bank and brings down its rule in the Gaza Strip; minimizes violence by supporting Israel's right to self-defense; and does the utmost to raise the standard of living of Palestinians.


As for Obama and the European leaders, you've had the experience; now learn the lessons.








America continues to be gripped by Jon and Kate Gosselin, whose marriage has now gone belly-up and whose TV show seems to be following suit.


After The Learning Channel (TLC) informed Jon that he would no longer play a significant role in the show, he informed TLC that he was pulling the plug on his children's participation. Many cried foul. Was this a form of perverse payback? Was he pulling his kids from the show for the right reasons, or was it a selfish comeuppance?


For his part, Jon says that he had planned to pull his kids out way before TLC took its action and that his only consideration was his children's welfare.


My response: Who cares? Does it matter what the motive is? Get the kids off the show. They don't belong there as they suffer through the anguish of their parents' divorce. And clearly someone here has to be the adult.


It seems to me that TLC, as a responsible broadcast network, has to understand that now that the Gosselins' experiment in fame has ended in disaster, it is time to give this family some alone time, whether they want it or not. And that especially applies to vulnerable young children.


(Full disclosure: I spent a very brief time counseling Jon Gosselin to do exactly this - get the kids off the show).


MY OWN parents divorced about 35 years ago. I still don't think I have completely recovered. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to have TV cameras in the house as it happened. I was in enough pain without having to become a fish in a bowl or wonder how people pitied me.


What is even more puzzling is that TLC really is a different kind of network. It spent millions of dollars sending me around the United States healing families in crisis on Shalom in the Home. And yes, it was for TV. But a boatload of extra money was spent keeping me in people's homes well after the shows were completed to try and offer some help. So why would they now fiddle while this family crashes and burns?


Then there are Jon and Kate themselves. In a recent interview, Kate Gosselinjoked that "aliens" had come and abducted her real husband and replaced him with the partying animal portrayed by the media.


She was both right and wrong. It wasn't an alien. It was something called fame. And it wasn't just Jon. Both Jon and Kate Gosselin were carried away by its current until the entire family crashed against the rocks. Clearly, before the show, these were good, balanced people. They loved kids, had a huge family and loved each other. They started the show to help pay their bills. As a father of nine, I know the astronomical costs involved. But little did they realize that fame exacts a far higher price.


It's not that fame is itself a bad thing. Judaism argues, wisely, that everything in life is neutral, and it is the use to which you put the item in question that will determine whether it is a blessing or a curse. Many celebrities - Bono and Oprah are fabulous cases in point - have not only survived fame, but have consecrated their notoriety to causes larger and more worthy than themselves.


It is, rather, fame without foundation, celebrity without balance, that is so deeply corrosive. And once you see that the fame has become an addiction and that you can no longer eat breakfast without blogging about it, it's time to go cold turkey - at the very least until you can once again find your bearings.


Above all else, you dare not infect your children with your own insecure need to always be in the spotlight. Kids are naturally natural. They have no affectations and they don't care what people think of them. Why rob them of that innocence by thrusting them in front of a camera in their formative years? And why continue making them live their lives in the public glare when they are dealing with extremely painful emotions?


IN MY new book, The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation, Jackson is positively eloquent about the scars left by being forced to become a child performer at such a young age. He relates how trapped he felt as he traveled in his limo to recording studios, all the while eyeing other children who were lucky enough simply to play on monkey bars and have their parents push them on the merry-go-round.


Funny thing, that. All of us wish we were the ones in the back of the limo. Yet all Jackson wanted was the trappings of a normal childhood. We all know the rest of the story. And there is no happy ending.


Since the book's publication, I have discovered many critics who object to my using Jackson's life as an American morality tale, even though one of his principal purposes in sitting down with me to do the interviews for publication was to warn parents of the dangers of childhood neglect. In particular, many in our celebrity-obsessed culture have reacted negatively to Jackson's warnings about fame. Shooting the messenger seems a lot more convenient. Jackson has been criticized for being a poor spokesman for family values, and I have been accused by some of his most die-hard fans of publishing the book for profit, even though it was sold for an extremely modest advance and a large portion of any potential profits will go to fund my and Jackson's longtime dream of a national family dinner night, which I am realizing through an initiative called "Turn Friday Night into Family Night." But does it really make sense that the most famous entertainer of our generation should die under such tragic circumstances and the rest of us learn nothing from his life?


And the main lesson? All the cameras and adoring fans in the world can scarcely heal the broken heart of a child forced \onto a stage too soon.


The writer has just published The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation (Vanguard Press).








The genius of democracy is the rotation of power, which forces the opposition to be serious - particularly about things like war, about which until January 20 of this year Democrats were decidedly unserious.


When the Iraq War (which a majority of Senate Democrats voted for) ran into trouble and casualties began to mount, Democrats followed the shifting winds of public opinion and turned decidedly anti-war. But needing political cover because of their post-Vietnam reputation for weakness on national defense, they adopted Afghanistan as their pet war.


"I was part of the 2004 Kerry campaign, which elevated the idea of Afghanistan as 'the right war' to conventional Democratic wisdom," wrote Democratic consultant Bob Shrum shortly after President Barack Obama was elected. "This was accurate as criticism of the Bush administration, but it was also reflexive and perhaps by now even misleading as policy."


Which is a clever way to say that championing victory in Afghanistan was a contrived and disingenuous policy in which Democrats never seriously believed, a convenient two-by-four with which to bash George Bush over Iraq - while still appearing warlike enough to fend off the soft-on-defense stereotype.


Brilliantly crafted and perfectly cynical, the "Iraq war bad, Afghan war good" posture worked. Democrats first won Congress, then the White House. But now, unfortunately, they must govern. No more games. No more pretense.


SO WHAT does their commander-in-chief do now with the war he once declared had to be won but had been almost criminally under-resourced by Bush?


Perhaps provide the resources to win it?


You would think so. And that's exactly what Obama's handpicked commander requested on August 30 - a surge of 30,000 to 40,000 troops to stabilize a downward spiral and save Afghanistan the way a similar surge saved Iraq.


That was more than five weeks ago. Still no response. Obama agonizes publicly as the world watches. Why? Because, explains National Security Adviser James Jones, you don't commit troops before you decide on a strategy.


No strategy? On March 27, flanked by his secretaries of defense and state, the president said this: "Today I'm announcing a comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan." He then outlined a civilian-military counterinsurgency campaign to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan.


And to emphasize his seriousness, the president made clear that he had not arrived casually at this decision. The new strategy, he declared, "marks the conclusion of a careful policy review."


Conclusion, mind you. Not the beginning. Not a process. The conclusion of an extensive review, the president assured the nation, that included consultation with military commanders and diplomats, with the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, with our NATO allies and members of Congress.

The general in charge was then relieved and replaced with Obama's own choice, Stanley McChrystal. And it's McChrystal who submitted the request for the 40,000 troops, a request upon which the commander-in-chief promptly gagged.


The White House began leaking an alternate strategy, apparently proposed (invented?) by Vice President Joe Biden, for achieving immaculate victory with arm's-length use of cruise missiles, predator drones and special ops.


The irony is that no one knows more about this kind of warfare than McChrystal. He was in charge of exactly this kind of "counterterrorism" in Iraq for nearly five years, killing thousands of bad guys in hugely successful under-the-radar operations.


When the world's expert on this type of counterterrorism warfare recommends precisely the opposite strategy - "counterinsurgency," meaning a heavy-footprint, population-protecting troop surge - you have the most convincing of cases against counterterrorism by the man who most knows its potential and its limits. And McChrystal was emphatic in his recommendation: To go any other way than counterinsurgency would lose the war.


Yet his commander-in-chief, young Hamlet, frets, demurs, agonizes. His domestic advisers, led by Rahm Emanuel, tell him if he goes for victory, he'll become LBJ, the domestic visionary destroyed by a foreign war. His vice president holds out the chimera of painless counterterrorism success.


Against Emanuel and Biden stand David Petraeus, the world's foremost expert on counterinsurgency (he saved Iraq with it), and McChrystal, the world's foremost expert on counterterrorism. Whose recommendation on how to fight would you rely on?


Less than two months ago - August 17, in front of an audience of veterans - the president declared Afghanistan to be "a war of necessity." Does anything he says remain operative beyond the fading of the audience applause?









It's hard to overstate the significance and festive nature of the moment when Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Armenian Foreign Minister Edouard Nalbandian sat at a table in Zurich and signed a historic peace agreement between the two countries.

While Turkey and Armenia have not actually been at war, a fateful hundred-year conflict steeped in hatred has endured between them. It began with the mass murder of Armenians by soldiers of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, and continued with a bitter and inexorable dispute between the descendents of those tragic events. The Armenians demanded that Turkey admit its crime, while Turkey refused to allow intellectuals even to express sympathy for the Armenians.

Turkey claimed that the Armenians were killed and exiled during battle and that even if many were murdered, the number of dead had not exceeded 300,000. The Armenians, in all their publications, studies and art works, discuss mass murder, genocide and even a holocaust of 1.5 million victims.


The dispute between the two countries led to a harsh rift between them and hurt them both. Turkey's refusal to recognize the injustice toward the Armenians gnawed away at its chances of joining the European Union and damaged its relations with the United States, while poverty-stricken Armenia remained in isolation. Now, without having agreed on the historical details, they have taken a giant step toward reconciliation.

Reconciliation itself is more important than its components, which will no doubt give rise to further disputes. It attests to the fact that even long-enduring conflicts can be resolved, and that real leaders are prepared to change perceptions for the future's sake. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan led the reconciliation with Armenia, just as he is trying to improve relations with Greece and move ahead toward a solution over Cyprus, with impressive wisdom.

Even if the road to a real solution is still long, the parties have extracted the poisonous stinger from their relations - of exclusivity of the historical narrative and its use as an eternal incentive. The peace agreement between Turkey and Armenia thus provides a fascinating lesson for Israel and the Palestinians, entrenched in their unilateral and one-dimensional narratives in the name of absolute justice and until the last drop of blood. The Turks, whose ancestors the Ottomans ruled for hundreds of years in our region, have opened a window of hope for us.









It was the Israeli government that coined the term "kidnapped soldier," and the media obediently joined the chorus. Gilad Shalit has been a prisoner of war for 1,205 days. The behavior of Israel's governments, politicians and generals who are responsible for this scandal evokes outrage and anger in every reasonable person, not just combat soldiers. Prisoners of war are not left in captivity. Wounded soldiers are not left on the battlefield. The state has an unwritten contract with each person drafted into the Israel Defense Forces, all the more so with someone in a combat unit. This is a breach of contract, a breach of faith - in short, a contemptible act.

The violation starts with the choice of terms, and the process of denial began immdiately. The Israeli government refused to call the taking of a prisoner of war by its real name, arguing that it was a "kidnapping." The Israeli media, which on security matters marches in lockstep like a Prussian regiment behind the generals, joined the chorus. Everyone, everyone almost without exception, spoke from the first day about the "kidnapped soldier." The term is significant. Every army in the world is accustomed to exchanging prisoners of war. Usually this is carried out at the end of a war. Sometimes it also takes place during a war. The army releases the enemy's fighters in return for its own fighters.

When it comes to kidnapping, the situation is altogether different. When criminals kidnap someone and demand a ransom, the question can arise whether to pay the price, which could encourage further kidnappings. It rewards criminals.


The world media also accepted the Israeli terminology almost without exception. All over the world there were references to the "kidnapped" Israeli soldier and not the "prisoner of war." The British and German newspapers that used the term would not have thought to use it about their countries' own soldiers in Afghanistan. From the moment Gilad Shalit was identified as "kidnapped," he was sentenced to everything that has happened to him since. The full force of Israeli propaganda's powerful supremacy over all the competition, if there is any, finds expression in this case.

The negotiations between Israel and Hamas, with German and/or Egyptian mediation, is about an exchange of prisoners. The exchange involves two sides, Shalit and the Palestinians. Around the world as well as in Israel, there is only talk about the release of the Israeli soldier. The Palestinian candidates for release are simply objects, merchandise, without human characteristics. Aren't they counting the days, along with their parents and children?

They are classified as "terrorists" with "blood on their hands," criminals beyond the law, lowly murderers. And when people talk about the release of hundreds of murderers in exchange for one Israeli soldier, they confront a powerful psychological barrier - life and death through the use of words.

Loaded concepts dictate the conduct of leaders. The different and contradictory narratives of the two peoples make understanding impossible, apparently even with respect to small issues. The psychological barriers are powerful. With regard to Gilad Shalit, there must be a demand for expedited negotiations to achieve a prisoner exchange in the very near future. Until then, the intermediaries should be given absolute assurances that there will be no attempt to free Shalit by force. In exchange, Hamas should agree to have Red Cross representatives visit him, perhaps with his family as well.

Everything else is manipulation and lip service.








The torrent of scorn one hears in Israel about U.S. President Barack Obama and the Nobel Prize Committee's decision to award him the peace prize is more mockery than anything else.

Three Israelis have been awarded the esteemed prize: Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. What has become of them? The first isolated himself after getting Israel stuck in the Lebanese quagmire, the second was murdered by a Jewish fanatic who paved the way for a right-wing government, and the third, the "architect of Oslo," became the national cheerleader of the occupation.

And today? Can anyone point to a single Israeli statesman who deserves praise for his contribution to peace? And when was the last time more than several hundred Israelis gathered at Rabin Square - always the same crowd - to cry out for peace?

We are the last ones who should complain about the inaction of foreigners in anything that has to do with our conflict. One needs considerable Jewish chutzpah to elect a right-wing government and then expect the goyim to rescue us from it.

The nature preserve that remains of the Zionist left expressed disappointment that Obama did not condemn Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly following his refusal to freeze the settlements. On the other hand, among the centrist public opinion and in the media, the leader of little Israel was commended for his "victory" in the battle against the president of the most powerful nation in the world.

While Obama is promoting universal dialogue based on hope for a better future, combating racism and improving human rights, in Israel they were impressed by Netanyahu's use of the Holocaust and horror.

Those in the know promise that the report Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is preparing on the situation in the territories and progress in the peace process will wipe the smile of victory off Netanyahu's face. They say the document will reveal that Netanyahu's "Bar-Ilan declaration" in support of a two-state solution is empty of substance.

In the words of Ehud Barak to describe what he did to Nobel Prize laureate Yasser Arafat, the report will "expose the real face" of Netanyahu.

Then what? Will Obama call the U.S. ambassador to Israel back to Washington for consultations? Will he ask Congress to back economic sanctions against Israel?

How many members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, would support a harsh line against Israel? Next month, all the members of the House and a third of the Senate will run for reelection. Even the greatest supporters of peace among them will not risk being blacklisted by the wealthy Jewish lobby.

According to a survey that was disseminated on Capitol Hill by Jewish groups, the little settlement crisis has shrunk Israelis' support for Obama down to 4 percent. Essentially it is hard to complain about the American politicians.

If the erosion of the Jewish character of Israel does not cause the Jews in Manhattan to lose any sleep, why should it affect a Catholic member of Congress from Massachusetts? If Israelis themselves feel comfortable living with the conflict, why should the Americans go out of their way to end it?

Even if we assume that this old dream of the left comes true and the new peace prize laureate moves from speeches on two states for two peoples to real actions against the occupation, can anyone promise him that this will be enough for Barak and the other four Labor ministers in the coalition to shake off their servility and break up the government? And if this happens, how many seats in parliament will an Israeli leader get if he seeks to adopt the fundamentals of the Obama framework for a peace arrangement: End Israeli occupation that began in June 1967? What are his chances of making it to the Knesset at all?

With or without a Nobel Prize, Obama will not evict us from the territories by force. The United States can also make do without peace between Israel and the Arabs. Even if it seems to the Israelis that they are the center of the world, when the American voter, and even history, judge Obama, the end of the Zionist project will not be one of the top criteria.

Luckily we have been blessed by an impressive group of straight-thinking scientists like Prof. Ada Yonath. When no woman or man in Israel is worthy of praise for their contribution to peace, we will just have to make do with the brave words of reconciliation of the Nobel Prize laureate in Chemistry.








The three-month parliamentary recess that ends today has made the public all but oblivious of the Knesset's existence. Blithely ignoring the political process, the security situation and the polarization in relations between Jews and Arabs as well as Orthodox and secular Jews in Jerusalem and elsewhere, our legislators have, as they do every summer, been in a deep slumber. But now "after the holidays" is here, and the lawmakers must wake up and report for today's opening of the winter session.

Speaker Reuven Rivlin complained in a radio interview on Saturday that the Knesset does not serve as the major arena for discussing political and social issues, attributing this to extra-parliamentary gabfests like the annual Herzliya Conference. This sorry state of affairs, which is partly the result of protracted recesses and extremist tendencies in the Knesset that make rational debate impossible, should give MKs cause for concern.

It is incumbent on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is required by law to deliver a political statement at the opening session, to respect and honor the Knesset and not focus on material that has already appeared in the media. His speech will presumably evoke a barrage of heckling, as is only to be expected in a parliamentary democracy, but the honorable members should remember that there are limits to the freedom of political expression. This freedom does not justify inflammatory language or incitement to violence.


The Knesset is convening at a time when its public standing has been gravely devalued, as shown by a Maagar Mohot survey carried out for the Citizens' Empowerment Center. Asked to grade public figures according to the respect they deserve, the respondents put Knesset members beneath university faculty members, judges and senior army officers. The poll shows that the people expect MKs to maintain the principles of probity and ethics, be attentive to the public, behave with mutual respect and devote themselves more to legislative work.

The chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee in the last Knesset, Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson, observed that because MKs have to serve on many committees, they don't have time for the legislature's important task of overseeing the executive branch. This situation is exacerbated by a situation in which a full third of the 120 MKs cannot provide proper oversight because they are cabinet ministers or deputy ministers and therefore members of the executive branch.

The proposal that deputy ministers serve as voting members in Knesset committees contradicts the fundamental principle of the separation of powers, and hopefully will not be put forward again. However, the committees need to be reorganized, and we must adopt the "Norwegian law" that will allow many ministers - and not only one per party - to resign from the Knesset and become a member again if they leave the cabinet. Their seats will be held by the next person on the party's list of Knesset candidates.

Due to come up for second and third readings in the winter session is the biometric database bill, which is problematic because it constitutes a grave infringement of the constitutional right to privacy. Other subjects such as the civil union bill will also stir things up, as will the proposal to split the attorney general's powers between a legal adviser to the government and a public prosecutor. It's doubtful the latter proposal is ripe for legislation that will not severely impinge on the attorney general's standing and the binding nature of his opinions.

The hard work the previous Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee put into developing a constitution must not be allowed to go to waste. Broad agreement is still necessary on issues such as relations between the branches of government, minority rights, the scope of the right to equality and the scope of the Supreme Court's powers of judicial review over Knesset legislation.

But broad agreement has been achieved on other matters such as economic and social rights - enough to serve as a basis for a new basic law. While chances are slim for the adoption of a comprehensive constitution with wide agreement, this Knesset could chalk up a major achievement by adopting a Basic Law on Social Rights that would join the 11 existing basic laws. The chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, David Rotem, must follow in the footsteps of his predecessors, Michael Eitan and Menahem Ben-Sasson, and advance a constitution that would make Israel a true parliamentary and constitutional democracy.









The Tel Aviv municipality's decision to award the Dizengoff Prize to artist David Reeb has stirred up protests and calls that the award be rescinded after it turned out that Reeb has called for sanctions on Israel and signed a petition against events honoring Tel Aviv at Toronto's film festival. According to the petition, identifying with Tel Aviv is the same as identifying with white Johannesburg in the apartheid era.

The protests were duly rejected, of course. As a rule, from the moment a competent panel awards a prize out of professional considerations, attempts to have the decision rescinded for political reasons should be avoided. Liberal democracy today not only tolerates, but even pampers and embraces its denouncers.

It may be infuriating and a little perverse, but on the whole liberal democracy is a good deal. There's no need to get worked up over the abuse leveled by radical prize winners, the establishment's spoiled brats. The question is not why the Israeli establishment decides sometimes to reward people who depict Israel as a fascist apartheid state, but rather why people who depict Israel that way are prepared to accept prizes and honors from the establishment of such a state. What does it say about them, their integrity, honesty and seriousness?

Who's heard of an Italian anti-fascist who received a prize from Benito Mussolini? What would we say about the sincerity and self-respect of such a person? Did the opponents of apartheid in South Africa get prizes and honors from the government? Certainly not. And my grandfather, who was a revolutionary anarchist in Czarist Russia, never received any awards from Nicholas II for his activities. There wasn't a single revolutionary on the committee organizing the celebrations of the Romanov dynasty's anniversary in 1913.

Clearly, these repressive regimes did not offer their opponents awards and honors like today's liberal governments. Even South Africa, which was less harsh to its white critics, certainly didn't pamper them. The Israeli establishment's conduct in this regard attests to the liberal and democratic nature of this country's system of government.

Of course, the radical left won't acknowledge this. Some of its supporters see the root of all evil in the very fact that the Jewish people have a state of their own. They are generally unwilling to say anything favorable about this country. Others refer to the evil perpetrated by the government. And indeed, the evil of which they speak does exist, in the form of the occupation and Israel's contribution to its perpetuation - the settlements.

The refusal on the radical left to deal seriously with the Palestinians' contribution, with the threats Israel faces, or with the evil latent in Arab nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism creates a picture of reality that is more a lie than truth, but it is impossible to say there is no truth in it. In such a situation, we cannot expect that everyone will accept authoritative definitions regarding the political reality or even the Israeli government. We can only expect all people who adopt a certain definition - including a radical one - to be consistent and honest with themselves. Whoever wishes, therefore, can argue, however groundless it may be in my opinion, that a unique and sophisticated form of fascism has evolved in Israel, one that does not prevent the establishment from embracing its denouncers. And still the question remains, why are these denouncers willing to accept the establishment's pampering? No one can expect people to give up their livelihoods - even an anti-fascist has to eat - but what about prizes and honors? Sartre rejected the Nobel Prize without calling the people who offered it to him fascists. Even in the eyes of those who claim that Israeli fascism is real, despite its liberal attitude to its political opponents, it must be clear that Israeli anti-fascism is phony.






Indian nuclear scientists are trying to bully their government into testing a nuclear weapon. That would be a huge setback — for India's relations with Washington, for the battle against terrorists, and for global efforts to halt the spread of nuclear weapons.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is resisting. He must continue to resist.


If India tests, the United States is bound by a 2008 agreement to cut off all sales of nuclear fuel and technology. That would be a huge setback to India's plans to expand its nuclear power generation and its economy.


We fear that if India tests, Pakistan will decide that it has to test. That would raise tensions between the two longtime rivals, and it would further distract Islamabad and its generals from the far more important battle against the Taliban and other extremists inside their country and along their border with Afghanistan.


Congress recently approved a five-year, $7.5 billion aid package to strengthen civilian rule in Pakistan and encourage the fight against extremists. There would be strong pressure to cut that aid if Pakistan tested. And if India and Pakistan test (China also may be unable to resist), it could make it even harder for President Obama to persuade the Senate to ratify the test ban treaty.


India (followed by Pakistan) last conducted nuclear tests in 1998. Since then, there have been hints that it might test again. In recent weeks, the debate took on a new urgency when some former top nuclear scientists made the case publicly. K. Santhanam, a director for the 1998 test-site preparations, claimed those tests did not yield the desired results and were a "fizzle."


One has to wonder why he waited 11 years to raise the alarm. We suspect that Mr. Santhanam and his colleagues are worried that if Washington finally ratifies the treaty, India may feel compelled to sign on.


The treaty's appeal is undeniable. Some 182 nations have signed it and 150 have ratified it. It limits the ability of nuclear states to field fancier warheads and makes it harder for nuclear wannabes to develop weapons.


But it cannot enter into force until nine key states — including the United States, China and India — also ratify. Mr. Obama has pledged to work for Senate ratification and urged all other holdouts to do so.


So far, New Delhi does not seem to be taking Mr. Santhanam's bait. "India does not need to carry any more nuclear tests," the Indian Atomic Energy Commission chairman, Anil Kakodkar, said last month. He insisted that his agency has confidence in its ability to get the weapons data it needs by conducting simulated tests. He should keep insisting.


The United States should make clear that India has more to gain by focusing on economic growth and expanding global cooperation than on developing more nuclear weapons. And it should leave no doubt about how much India and the rest of the world have to lose if New Delhi makes the wrong choice.







All last week the people of Phoenix witnessed public outbursts by their sheriff, Joe Arpaio, as he railed against the Department of Homeland Security for supposedly trying to limit his ability to enforce federal immigration laws. He vowed to keep scouring Maricopa County for people whose clothing, accents and behavior betrayed them as likely illegal immigrants. He said he had already nabbed more than 32,000 people that way, and announced his next immigrant sweep for Oct. 16.


The spectacle raises two critical questions that the Obama administration is in danger of getting wrong.


One is the specific question of whether the federal government should keep Sheriff Arpaio in its 287(g) program, which deputizes local law enforcement to act as immigration agents in street patrols and in jails. The answer is absolutely not. Sheriff Arpaio has a long, ugly record of abusing and humiliating inmates. His scandal-ridden desert jails have lost accreditation and are notorious places of cruelty and injury. His indiscriminate neighborhood raids use minor infractions like broken taillights as pretexts for mass immigration arrests.


To the broader question of whether federal immigration enforcement should be outsourced en masse in the first place, the answer again is no.


It was only days ago that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano unveiled a plan to repair the rotting immigration detention system. The Bush administration had outsourced the job to state, local and private jailers, with terrible results: inadequate supervision, appalling conditions, injuries and deaths.


Ms. Napolitano wants to centralize federal control over the system that handles detainees. But she insists on continuing to outsource and expand the flawed machinery that catches them, including 287(g) and a system of jailhouse fingerprint checks called Secure Communities, which increase the likelihood that local enforcers will abuse their authority and undermine the law.


Rather than broadening the reach of law enforcement, using local police can cause immigrant crime victims to fear the police and divert the police from fighting crime. It leads to racial profiling, to Latino citizens and legal residents being asked for their papers. Responsible sheriffs and police chiefs across the country have looked at 287(g) and said no thanks.


Programs like 287(g) rest on the dishonest premise that illegal immigrants are a vast criminal threat. But only a small percentage are dangerous felons. The vast majority are those whom President Obama has vowed to help get right with the law, by paying fines and earning citizenship. Treating the majority of illegal immigrants as potential Americans, not a criminal horde, is the right response to the problem.







A new report from Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office should end any debate about the need to close the lethal gap in federal law that allows purchasers at gun shows to buy weapons from unlicensed private dealers without submitting to a federal background check.


Private investigators, hired by the Bloomberg administration, went to gun shows in Nevada, Ohio and Tennessee. Posing as buyers, they told the dealers that they probably could not pass a background check and secretly filmed the reaction. Unlicensed private dealers are not required to conduct checks, but they may not sell to people knowing their backgrounds are questionable. In almost three out of four instances, the investigators were still able to buy guns.


In one video issued with the report, the dealer responds, smiling, that it does not matter, "Because I wouldn't pass either, bud."


In all, 19 of 30 private sellers failed the integrity test. No less troubling, 16 out of 17 federally licensed dealers — who are required to conduct background checks — willingly accepted straw purchases, in which sales are made to accomplices. These findings are consistent with a 300-page report published last month by the University of California at Davis Violence Prevention Research Program that documented the extensive problem of straw purchases and unrecorded private sales at gun shows.


There has long been strong evidence that the gun show loophole has dire consequences for public safety. In 2000, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms found that nearly a third of the illegal guns recovered in gun trafficking investigations were originally purchased at a gun show.


A decade ago, a measure to require background checks for all sales at gun shows passed the Senate only to die in conference with the House. A similar bill is now in the Senate. Mr. Bloomberg says he is hoping this new report will help Congress find the courage to buck the gun lobby. For the sake of all our safety, we hope so, too.










One of the troubling dynamics behind President Obama's attempt to overhaul the health care system is the way it has cut along demographic lines. According to a poll by The New York Times and CBS News last month, only 20 percent of people 65 and over support the president's efforts. Only 31 percent say the federal government should guarantee health insurance for all Americans.


The elderly, of course, are already covered by government-run health insurance. The president's plan offers them little. It might even trim some Medicare expenditures. But their opposition to the expansion of health insurance does make me wonder: what about the grandchildren?


People of parenting age are more enthusiastic about universal health care: 59 percent of those aged 18 to 44 support the government's guaranteeing health insurance for all. And though ambivalent, 29 percent support the president's plans.


This political arithmetic led Tyler Cowen, a blogger and professor of economics at George Mason University, to wonder whether the passage of Medicare in 1965 wasn't a tactical mistake that doomed broader health reform. "The way to get things done in this country, politically, is to get old people behind them," Mr. Cowen wrote.


The age gap sheds light on a deep generational inequity. In the United States, as in most industrial countries, government spending skews heavily in favor of the old. Social spending on the elderly amounted to $19,700 per person in 2000, according to one study; children got $6,380.


Under President George W. Bush, the elderly got the Medicare prescription drug benefit, which is expected to cost nearly $1 trillion over the next 10 years. Low-income children under 18 got an expansion of S-chip, the health insurance plan. But even though the program cost only $55 billion over five years, Republican opposition almost killed the legislation.


One might be tempted to think the spending imbalance reflects a difference in needs. After all, the elderly tend to get sick more and require expensive medical treatment.


But children could do with more help too. The percentage of the elderly living under the poverty line dropped from 28.5 percent in 1966 to 9.7 percent last year. For those under 18, the incidence of poverty rose from 17.6 percent to 19 percent.


The share of resources devoted to the old versus the young is a function of their relative political clout. People 65 and up account for 12.8 percent of the population. But they accounted for one-fifth of the vote in November 2008. Nearly a quarter of all Americans are under 18. They don't get to vote at all.








This was Barack Obama's chance.


Here was an opportunity to cut himself free, in a stroke, from the baggage that's weighed his presidency down — the implausible expectations, the utopian dreams, the messianic hoo-ha.


Here was a place to draw a clean line between himself and all the overzealous Obamaphiles, at home and abroad, who poured their post-Christian, post-Marxist yearnings into the vessel of his 2008 campaign.


Here was a chance to establish himself, definitively, as an American president — too self-confident to accept an unearned accolade, and too instinctively democratic to go along with European humbug.


He didn't take it. Instead, he took the Nobel Peace Prize.


Big mistake.


People have argued that you can't turn down a Nobel. Please. Of course you can. Obama is a gifted rhetorician with world-class speechwriters. All he would have needed was a simple, graceful statement emphasizing the impossibility of accepting such an honor during his first year in office, with America's armed forces still deep in two unfinished wars.


Would the world have been offended? Well, to start with, the prize isn't given out by an imaginary "world community." It's voted on and handed out by a committee of five obscure Norwegians. So turning it down would have been a slap in the face, yes, to Thorbjorn Jagland, Kaci Kullmann Five, Sissel Marie Ronbeck, Inger-Marie Ytterhorn and Agot Valle. But it wouldn't have been a slap in the face to the Europeans or the Africans, to Moscow or Beijing, or to any other population or great power that an American president should fret about offending.


In any case, it will be far more offensive when Obama takes the stage in Oslo this November instead of Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe's heroic opposition leader; or Thich Quang Do, the Buddhist monk and critic of Vietnam's authoritarian regime; or Rebiya Kadeer, exiled from China for her labors on behalf of the oppressed Uighur minority; or anyone who has courted death this year protesting for democracy in the Islamic Republic of Iran.


True, Obama didn't ask for this. It was obvious, from his halting delivery and slightly shamefaced air last Friday, that he wishes the Nobel committee hadn't put him in this spot.


But he still wasn't brave enough to tell it no.


Obama gains nothing from the prize. No domestic constituency will become more favorably disposed to him because five Norwegians think he's already changed the world — and the Republicans were just handed the punch line for an easy recession-era attack ad. (To quote the Democratic strategist Joe Trippi, anticipating the 30-second spots to come: "He got a Nobel Prize. What did you get? A pink slip.")


Overseas, there was nobody, from Paris to Peshawar, who woke up Friday more disposed to work with the United States because of the Nobel committee's decision — and plenty of more seasoned statesman who woke up laughing. (Vladimir Putin probably hasn't snickered this much since John McCain tried to persuade Americans that "we are all Georgians" during last year's weeklong war.)


Meanwhile, the prize makes every foreign-policy problem Obama faces seem ever so slightly more burdensome. Now he's the Nobel laureate who has to choose between escalating a counterinsurgency in Afghanistan or ceding ground to a theocratic mafia. He's the Nobel laureate who'll either have to authorize military strikes against Iran or construct an effective, cold-war-style deterrence system for the Middle East. He's the Nobel laureate who'll probably fail, like every U.S. president before him, to prod Israelis and Palestinians toward a comprehensive settlement.


At the same time, the prize leaves Obama more open to ridicule. It confirms, as a defining narrative of his presidency, the gap between his supporters' cloud-cuckoo-land expectations and the inevitable disappointments of reality. It dovetails perfectly with the recent "Saturday Night Live" sketch in which he was depicted boasting about a year's worth of nonaccomplishments. And it revives and ratifies John McCain's only successful campaign gambit — his portrayal of Obama as "the world's biggest celebrity," famous more for being famous than for any concrete political accomplishment.


Great achievements may still await our Nobel president. If Obama goes from strength to strength, then this travesty will be remembered as a footnote to his administration, rather than a defining moment.


But by accepting the prize, he's made failure, if and when it comes, that much more embarrassing and difficult to bear. What's more, he's etched in stone the phrase with which critics will dismiss his presidency.


Slick Willie. Tricky Dick. Jimmy "Malaise" Carter. Dubya the Incompetent.And now Barack Obama, Nobel laureate.








One lesson from the Great Depression is that you should never underestimate the destructive power of bad ideas. And some of the bad ideas that helped cause the Depression have, alas, proved all too durable: in modified form, they continue to influence economic debate today.


What ideas am I talking about? The economic historian Peter Temin has argued that a key cause of the Depression was what he calls the "gold-standard mentality." By this he means not just belief in the sacred importance of maintaining the gold value of one's currency, but a set of associated attitudes: obsessive fear of inflation even in the face of deflation; opposition to easy credit, even when the economy desperately needs it, on the grounds that it would be somehow corrupting; assertions that even if the government can create jobs it shouldn't, because this would only be an "artificial" recovery.


In the early 1930s this mentality led governments to raise interest rates and slash spending, despite mass unemployment, in an attempt to defend their gold reserves. And even when countries went off gold, the prevailing mentality made them reluctant to cut rates and create jobs.


But we're past all that now. Or are we?


America isn't about to go back on the gold standard. But a modern version of the gold standard mentality is nonetheless exerting a growing influence on our economic discourse. And this new version of a bad old idea could undermine our chances for full recovery.


Consider first the current uproar over the declining international value of the dollar.


The truth is that the falling dollar is good news. For one thing, it's mainly the result of rising confidence: the dollar rose at the height of the financial crisis as panicked investors sought safe haven in America, and it's falling again now that the fear is subsiding. And a lower dollar is good for U.S. exporters, helping us make the transition away from huge trade deficits to a more sustainable international position.


But if you get your opinions from, say, The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, you're told that the falling dollar is a terrible thing, a sign that the world is losing faith in America (and especially, of course, in President Obama). Something, you believe, must be done to stop the dollar's slide. And in practice the dollar's decline has become a stick with which conservative members of Congress beat the Federal Reserve, pressuring the Fed to scale back its efforts to support the economy.


We can only hope that the Fed stands up to this pressure. But there are worrying signs of a misguided monetary mentality within the Federal Reserve system itself.


In recent weeks there have been a number of statements from Fed officials, mainly but not only presidents of regional Federal Reserve banks, calling for an early return to tighter money, including higher interest rates. Now, people in the Federal Reserve system are normally extremely circumspect when making statements about future monetary policy, so as not to step on the efforts of the Fed's Open Market Committee, which actually sets those rates, to shape expectations. So it's extraordinary to see all these officials suddenly breaking the implicit rules, in effect lecturing the Open Market Committee about what it should do.


What's even more extraordinary, however, is the idea that raising rates would make sense any time soon. After all, the unemployment rate is a horrifying 9.8 percent and still rising, while inflation is running well below the Fed's long-term target. This suggests that the Fed should be in no hurry to tighten — in fact, standard policy rules of thumb suggest that interest rates should be left on hold for the next two years or more, or until the unemployment rate has fallen to around 7 percent.


Yet some Fed officials want to pull the trigger on rates much sooner. To avoid a "Great Inflation," says Charles Plosser of the Philadelphia Fed, "we will need to act well before unemployment rates and other measures of resource utilization have returned to acceptable levels." Jeffrey Lacker of the Richmond Fed says that rates may need to rise even if "the unemployment rate hasn't started falling yet."


I don't know what analysis lies behind these itchy trigger fingers. But it probably isn't about analysis, anyway — it's about mentality, the sense that central banks are supposed to act tough, not provide easy credit.


And it's crucial that we don't let this mentality guide policy. We do seem to have avoided a second Great Depression. But giving in to a modern version of our grandfathers' prejudices would be a very good way to ensure the next worst thing: a prolonged era of sluggish growth and very high unemployment.










PUBLIC health officials are now battling not only a fast-spreading influenza virus but also unfounded fears about the vaccine that can prevent it.


Since April, more than a million Americans have caught H1N1 flu, more than 10,000 have been hospitalized, and about 1,000 have died, including 76 children. And it's only the beginning of October. Yet, in a new survey, 41 percent of adults said they will not get vaccinated.


The good news is that for the first time in more than 50 years we've made a vaccine against a pandemic strain of influenza before the onset of winter, when lower temperatures and humidity allow the virus to spread more easily. Distributing this vaccine to those who need it most — pregnant women, health care workers, children older than six months and people with compromised immunity — will be difficult enough. But the task is made harder by the various myths, spread on TV talk shows and Web sites, suggesting that Americans have more to fear from the vaccine than from the deadly disease it prevents. Here are some of those myths, and why they're wrong:


SWINE FLU VACCINE IS UNSAFE The H1N1 virus revealed itself too late for it to be included in this year's seasonal flu vaccine. But the H1N1-specific vaccine was manufactured in the same way as the regular vaccine: The shot form is made by growing the virus in hen's eggs, purifying it and then treating it with a chemical that inactivates it. This technology has been used to make influenza vaccines for 60 years, and it has an excellent safety record. The nasal spray form is made by adapting the virus to temperatures below those typically found in the body. This allows it to reproduce in the relatively cool lining of the nose, but not in the lungs where it could cause harm. This technology has been used safely for more than 30 years. FluMist, a seasonal flu vaccine used since 2003, is made the same way.


THE VACCINE IS UNTESTED The H1N1 vaccine has already been given to thousands of volunteers to determine whether it could protect them from the virus and to make sure that it caused no adverse reactions. Only then did the Food and Drug Administration license it. THE VACCINE CONTAINS A DANGEROUS ADJUVANT Some vaccines, like the hepatitis B and human papillomavirus vaccines, have substances called adjuvants, which are added to enhance the immune response, so that smaller quantities of vaccine can be given. Some people fear that the H1N1 vaccine contains, in particular, squalene, an adjuvant that, while included in other vaccines in Europe and Canada, has never been used in routine vaccines in the United States. But the H1N1 vaccine available in the United States has no adjuvant of any kind.


THE VACCINE HAS A DANGEROUS PRESERVATIVE Thimerosal, a preservative containing ethyl mercury that has been in vaccines since the 1930s, is used to prevent inadvertent bacterial and fungal contamination of multi-dose vials. H1N1 vaccine distributed in multi-dose vials will contain about 25 micrograms of ethyl mercury per dose. The issue of thimerosal received public attention in 1999 when the American Academy of Pediatrics and the United States Public Health Service took the precautionary step of asking that thimerosal be removed from single-dose vials of all vaccines. This was done in such a precipitous and frightening manner that it gave rise to the notion that thimerosal had led to autism or mercury poisoning. It hadn't.


In fact, subsequent studies found that infants could safely receive eight times as much mercury as is contained in the H1N1 vaccine. But the public's perception of thimerosal was damaged. This year, enough thimerosal-free vaccine is available to inoculate children under age 6, but that does not mean doses with thimerosal are unsafe.


New myths will inevitably arise as some of the millions of people who are inoculated against H1N1 flu suffer unrelated illnesses. Health officials will keep a close eye out for any real problems. One can only hope that the American public will understand that subsequence isn't necessarily consequence, and not be scared away from a vaccine that can save lives.


Paul A. Offit, the chief of the infectious diseases division of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, is the author of "Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine and the Search for a Cure."








LAST Wednesday, changes to New York's notorious Rockefeller drug laws went into effect, allowing judges to shorten the prison terms of some nonviolent offenders. This measure will further reduce New York's prison population, which has already declined, in the past 10 years, from about 71,600 in 1999 to about 59,300 today. (The state's crime rate also dropped substantially during that time.)


Nevertheless, mainly because of opposition from the correction officers' union and politicians from the upstate areas where most of our correctional facilities are, the state has been slow to close prisons. It was not until earlier this year that policymakers in Albany, confronted with fiscal crisis, mustered the will to shut three prison camps and seven prison annexes — a total of about 2,250 prison beds — in a move that is expected to save $52 million over the next two years.


But the state could go further. The prison system still has more than 5,000 empty beds in 69 prisons. What's more, there are other ways to lower the prison population. For starters, state lawmakers could repeal the Rockefeller mandatory sentencing provisions that remain on the books. They could also increase the number of participants on work release. In 1994, more than 27,000 people were in this time-tested program that helps them manage the transition back to their communities. Today, about 2,500 are enrolled.


In addition, the state could reduce the number of people — last year, more than 9,000 — who are returned to prison for technical parole violations like missing a meeting with an officer or breaking curfew. Most experts agree that for about half of these people it would be safer and smarter to enroll them in re-entry programs or provide more supervision. Also, more prisoners with good institutional records could be given parole. And eligibility for so-called merit time, which reduces prison terms for inmates who complete educational and other programs, could be expanded to people convicted of violent offenses many years ago.


Taken together, these actions could cut the state's prison rolls by 5,000 to 10,000 more, enabling the governor and the legislature to close at least four prisons the size of Attica, which holds 2,100 inmates, or a greater number of smaller facilities.


After New York passed the Rockefeller drug laws in 1973, a mandatory sentencing movement swept the country, raising the nationwide prison population to nearly 2.4 million, from 300,000. This experiment in mass incarceration was a failure. There is no conclusive evidence that it enhanced public safety, and some research suggests that time in prison makes people more prone to violence. It wasted billions of dollars a year. And it has devastated the low-income minority communities where most of our prisoners come from.


New York can now help point criminal justice in a more sensible and constructive direction — and show other states how to save money — by downsizing its prison system.


Robert Gangi is the executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, a nonprofit organization that monitors prison conditions.








MOUNTING evidence of early dementia among former National Football League players has gotten a lot of press attention. But there are broader medical issues that require simple reforms to protect current players, for whom a career- or even life-threatening injury is just one play away.


N.F.L. players often get excellent medical treatment, but the primary goal is to return them to the field as quickly as possible. Players are often complicit in playing down the extent of their injuries. Fearful of losing their jobs — there are no guaranteed contracts in the N.F.L. — they return to the huddle still hurt.


I witnessed this play-first ethos when the Denver Broncos allowed me to join the team as a place-kicker during training camp in 2006 and write a book on the experience. One player told me that, the previous year, a team trainer had dismissed his complaints of a knee injury; a few days later, he tore an anterior cruciate ligament. Another Bronco, now retired, told me the team gave him a diagnosis of a minor calf strain; an outside doctor found it was a severe muscle tear.


Given the sport's violence, the N.F.L.'s collective-bargaining agreement with players contains remarkably few medical provisions. Players are entitled to a second opinion at club expense, they can choose their own surgeon, they can examine their medical records twice a year. If a team doctor tells management about a condition that "adversely affects" a player's health, he also has to tell the player; if the condition could worsen with further play, he has to tell the player in writing. That's about it.


The current labor deal expires after the 2010 season. Here are six changes the players' union should insist on in the next contract:


•Team doctors and trainers should no longer be employed by — and beholden to — individual teams. Rather, there should be a leaguewide medical system with staffs selected jointly by the N.F.L. and the union, and paid for by the league.


•Doctors should inform players about injuries before they tell any club officials.


•Players should be able to view their medical records whenever they want.


•Teams should be required to report every injury, no matter how minor, to the league and the union. Comprehensive data would enable the N.F.L. to take preventive steps and study long-term effects.


•Grievance procedures should be reformed. Teams aren't supposed to cut injured players without pay, but it happens. Tougher rules would deter clubs from doing so, and from delaying hearings to force lowball settlements.

•Payments to injured players should be excluded from payrolls, which for this season are capped at $127 million per team. That would eliminate teams' incentive to cut injured players to save salary-cap space.

These measures might not reduce injuries in an inherently brutal sport, but they would help to protect the men who suffer the consequences.

Stefan Fatsis is the author of "A Few Seconds of Panic: A Sportswriter Plays in the N.F.L."







The storm over the Kerry-Lugar Bill continues, as meetings are held and reassurances extended to the army chief. As this process continues, perhaps we need to plug our ears against the hysterical pitch of the criticism we have been hearing, and ask a few basic questions: Isn't it true that Pakistan is desperate for funds to replenish depleted coffers? Weren't we driven to a situation of near bankruptcy last year? Is Pakistan today not placed at the bottom of the ladder on all kinds of tables documenting social and economic success? Has it not been conceded by former president Musharraf that assistance to the military intended to fight terrorism was diverted to the Indian border? And do we not, require a stable democracy and an end to military intervention in civilian matters? Most of us will answer in the affirmative to at least some of these questions. Beyond any doubt the Kerry-Lugar Bill is controversial. It raises issues about sovereignty and puts things in language that is not easy to stomach. But, true to stereotype, South Asians often put matters of form ahead of those of substance.

But as a nation that needs to find its feet and move out of crisis, we must also consider how this can best be achieved. If some pride has to be swallowed to do so, so be it. The fact too is that the Kerry-Lugar Bill has been drafted by Americans and approved by its legislators. They will naturally seek to protect their own interests and those of tax-payers by holding us accountable for money given and demanding that accounts of spending be submitted. These are conditions that we cannot do very much about. They may rankle, but as long as aid comes in or Pakistan requests its 'friends' for help, we must expect conditionalities to be attached to it. After all this holds true for any kind of loan. The only way out is to build economic self sufficiency, giving us greater bargaining power. This of course will not happen overnight. What needs to be done is to persuade the US to tone down some of the contents of the bill, in terms of language and phrasing. Perhaps other provisions, including those that allow Washington to waive certain conditions, thereby allowing democratic disruption if it chooses to, should also be reviewed. After all, the US rhetoric about standing for democracy is rather hypocritical given its past doings in many countries. The whirlwind we have been seeing over the past few days has at least made it obvious what the line of establishment thinking is. This is beneficial. We now need to see what compromises can be reached so that we can draw on what is good within the Kerry-Lugar Bill while rejecting portions that are unacceptable.







Each time we think we have seen the very worst side of our legislators, we are proved quite wrong. A member of the Punjab Assembly, representing the PML-N, indeed put up a rare display of boorish and even criminal behaviour at the Lahore Press Club, bursting into the premises as a woman was addressing a press conference against him and a fellow MPA. She alleged the two men had been involved in an attempt to seize her property. Following the effort to disrupt the press talk, a criminal case was lodged against the MPA. His action in front of dozens of journalists of course meant that every abusive word he used and every punch he attempted to throw was recorded.

The PML-N has been faced by a series of misdemeanours from its legislators. One tried to whisk luggage past customs and then argued with personnel as they insisted on a check. Another was accused of inviting a woman to a hotel room and then raping her. A female MPA stole the credit card of a fellow gym user and then tried to use it to buy jewellery. There have been other sordid tales of misconduct too. In most cases the party high command has come down hard. But these incidents, which have in the past involved those from other parties too, simply go to show the calibre of representation and the need for all political parties to find a way to elevate it.









The interior minister has said that Pakistan is now left with no option at all but to begin an operation in South Waziristan. The bomb blast which ripped apart a van and other targets in the centre of Peshawar has, Mr Malik argues, made this inevitable. Indeed action in Waziristan had looked inevitable for months. Perhaps if it had come sooner, the terrible carnage we saw in Peshawar and the death toll as a result of bomb blasts that has mounted in other parts of the NWFP could have been avoided. It is never good to act in haste. There were indeed good reasons for the delay and the reluctance to go into Waziristan before the final victory in Swat. But then perhaps it is not good to leave things to fester for too long either. The time for a decisive push into the heartland of the TTP has come. The organization has already demonstrated it is far from being a spent force. It has in fact struck back with a vengeance.

The mechanisms of the action, the questions of how to take on a formidable guerrilla force in a terrain that it has in the past used superbly to its advantage, is of course one for the military high command to work out. Given past difficulties in sustaining success against militants in Waziristan the planning this time round needs to be especially good. But there are other things to consider as well. In Swat, civilians suffered immensely as a result of the operation. In some cases they found themselves held hostage by militants. It is naïve to hold that in a conflict all suffering should be avoided. But whatever is possible should be done to minimize the consequences of war for ordinary people. Displacements have already begun from Waziristan. They could increase in the coming days. Fear runs high in villages and towns. Civil war is always a nightmare. We have seen this in Swat. The strategy worked out now must also aim to keep in mind the perspective of people and remember that especially in an area like Waziristan, where the Taliban have been entrenched for years, their role could be vital in winning any war.









The Baloch are feeling hard done by and are very angry, the exasperation having turned into resentment following the tragic death of Akbar Bugti and the disappearances and extrajudicial killings of their leadership. The causes of their distress are deep-rooted. This article has been prompted by references to Islamabad's trying to cobble together a "Balochistan package" and focuses on the raw economic hand dealt to Balochistan under different dispensations over the years.

Of Balochistan's total budgeted revenue receipts 94 percent are expected to flow from the federal government, highlighting both the heavy dependence on federal transfers and the huge mismatch between the assigned responsibilities of the province and the wherewithal available to it to discharge such obligations. The high fiscal dependence on federal transfers is on account of the centralised tax structure, the almost exclusive powers granted by Constitution to the federal government and because key assets/resources on which Balochistan's development will be predicated, gas, oil, major minerals sea ports are, under the existing constitutional framework, controlled by the federal government!

Also, not only have total federal transfers (including straight transfers in the form of the Gas Development Surcharge (GDS), excise duty and royalty on gas) and subvention grants grown at a modest rate of 1.8 percent per annum since 2001-02, they have also tended to be volatile and unpredictable. And Balochistan's total receipts from the Islamabad for all forms of transfers is less than 25 percent what the federal government keeps for itself simply for collecting all taxes, gas related excise duties, etc.

Moreover, the horizontal distribution of the NFC divisible pool between the provinces is on the basis of population. Such an approach suggests that all Pakistanis should be treated equally, regardless of the fact that all provinces are not starting from similar initial positions of service provision. Balochistan, with its large landmass, scattered, sparsely populated settlements and high level of poverty, has to bear a higher unit cost for providing services. A pure population-based division of the divisible pool puts it at a distinct disadvantage.

Under the 1997 NFC Award, Balochistan has been receiving subvention grants to cater for the special development needs of the province, without any agreed criteria for setting the level of subvention. There has been some indexation of the basic amount with inflation, but the criterion for setting the amount as well as negotiating raises is not clearly specified, affecting the predictability and certainty of resource flows under this head.

The government of Balochistan also receives direct transfers from the federal government on account of its ownership of gas. These transfers relate to the excise duty and royalty on gas, and its share of the Gas Development Surcharge (GDS). The excise duty on gas, which is based on production volumes, is set at a low rate (of Rs5.10 per MMBTU), established several years ago. Islamabad sets the rate and collects the tax and simply transfers to the province, without the Balochistan government being in a position to influence the related policy.

The royalty on gas is paid in recognition of the ownership of the resource by the province. It is fixed at 12.5 percent of the gas sold as valued at the wellhead price. However, the wellhead price has been fixed at a low level for the gas fields in Balochistan, compared with the royalty being paid on gas fields discovered recently whose wellhead prices are much higher; the price for its largest field, Sui, has been capped at 50 percent of the market/wellhead price of new gas fields.

Presently, the GDS is determined on the basis of the cost of exploration and is distributed between the provinces, based on the proportion of gas volumes, despite the fact that the GDS collected is a function of the difference between the weighted prescribed price (determined on the basis of the wellhead price, transmission and distribution expenditure, O&M cost, excise duty, minimum return of gas companies, etc.), and the price paid by the consumer. Balochistan's gas fields are mature and are fast depleting, which has resulted in the reduction of its share in the GDS. Since the wellhead price for Balochistan fields is low, its contribution margin, per unit of gas, to the total GDS is more than the contribution of gas fields in other provinces. By allocating GDS receipts on the basis of volumes rather than total value of gas sold, the Balochistan government's share is being artificially depressed. Whereas it contributes more than 86 percent based on the difference between the prescribed price and the defensible weighted average wellhead cost, it is presently getting a share of roughly 24 percent in the GDS distributed between the provinces. In other words, against its present share of Rs5.6 billion in GDS Balochistan would have received an additional Rs.12.5 billion.

Moreover, before 1991, GDS was only generated from Balochistan but was not paid to it, and was utilised for developing other gas fields in the country, resulting in the province losing Rs29 billion from 1991 to 1997.

This writer therefore believes that to be able to address the kinds of grievances being articulated by the Baloch (and, for that matter, also by Pakhtuns and Sindhis), a new federal structure has to be devised for Pakistan's long-term sustainability. This will require a recasting of the Constitution and the establishment of a more viable structure that gives meaningful autonomy to the provinces. This realignment will involve a slashing of the Concurrent List and the handing over of full control over all resources to the provinces in which these are located. Once Balochistan has control over its resources it should be able to sell its products to the others at the international price, the same way that Punjab sells its agricultural produce like wheat and cotton to the others at global prices. The adoption of such an approach will also address the intractable problem of provincial complaints on the size and timeliness of receipts from Islamabad for royalty and excise duties and the inter-provincial conflicts on shares in the Gas Development Surcharge.

In defence of this proposal, this writer would argue that if Pakistan's political and economic structure were to be implanted in the US, Texas (and for that matter in other federations in the world, like Canada and Australia) with all its oil, would not be rich; instead entrepreneurs in New York and Washington would be living it up. Contrast this situation with that in Pakistan, where gas-rich Balochistan, the owner of this country's lifeline and richest resource, is the least-developed province in both physical and social infrastructure, and which continuously begs for funds from the federal government to stay afloat.

Moreover, and more importantly, Islamabad should give up many of the activities that it has taken upon itself to perform, largely because of the massive share of national revenues and resources that it appropriates. The Federal Development Programme includes not only the Coastal Highway and the Sandaik projects but also the construction of provincial roads (like those connecting Chaman and Quetta and Quetta and Kila Saifullah), which should be implemented by the provincial government, because most of them fall entirely within its purview. Other than duplication of effort and expenditures, the projects also suffer from poor design and lack of prioritisation, activities that the provincial government is better placed to carry out based on local needs and priorities. It is just that Islamabad will simply not let go of functions and resources that rightfully belong with lower formations of government and is unwilling to shed weight by correcting the incongruity of its size and the expanded role and mandate that it has arrogated to itself.