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Saturday, October 17, 2009

EDITORIAL 17.10.09


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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


month october 17, edition 000326, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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





























































In directing the CBI to investigate the "2G spectrum allocation scandal", the Central Vigilance Commission has made Telecom Minister A Raja's position in the Union Cabinet completely untenable. Mr Raja had the same portfolio in the previous UPA Government. He inherited a booming telecom sector with a stable policy regime. In 2007-08, he began giving away telecom spectrum to new players on a bizarre first-come, first-served basis, and at rates fixed in 2001. Protesting civil servants were silenced and a coterie that included the Minister's private secretary took charge. Those were strange days, with the Minister's overseas trips and alleged secret meetings with Indian telecom czars in cities such as New York becoming the subject of gossip in official circles in New Delhi. At the end of it all, the telecom licence garage sale is believed to have caused a loss of Rs 60,000 crore to the exchequer. Charges of "malafide motives and blatant corruption" are now going to be scrutinised by the CBI. It is widely believed the slush funds found their way back to Tamil Nadu and played a role in purchasing votes and buying off rival candidates in the Lok Sabha election. His performance as Telecom Minister and his ability to, as the old line goes, deliver the goods, has made Mr Raja one of the most trusted lieutenants of Mr M Karunanidhi, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK leader. Indeed, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought to take away the Telecom Ministry from Mr Raja in May 2009, the DMK hit back and caused a mini-crisis. Eventually, the Congress had to cede ground and Mr Raja retained a Ministry that has, in his years, acquired a reputation for rent seeking.

After the CVC's orders to the CBI, it would be most appropriate if Mr Raja were asked to leave the Cabinet. If he is unwilling to do so and would rather wait for the CBI to submit its findings, and if his ministerial car and bungalow mean so much to him, he could perhaps be retained as a Minister without portfolio. This was the interim arrangement made for Mr Natwar Singh in 2005, after the Volcker Commission implicated him in the Iraq 'Oil-for-Food' scandal. Whatever the mechanism, Mr Raja's removal from the Telecom Ministry is necessary not only to facilitate a rigorous CBI inquiry but also to sequester the upcoming 3G spectrum allocation process from potential wrongdoing and crony capitalism. For over five years, successive DMK Ministers — Mr Raja was preceded in office by Mr Dayanidhi Maran — have been promising a transparent auction of 3G spectrum to private telecom companies. All that has resulted is delay and deliberate indecision. A section of established telecom service providers has fairly openly alleged that the Minister and his coterie are favouring dubious new entrants even at the cost of potentially destabilising the entire telecom sector. After the 3G auction takes place, the business model will simply not be able to accommodate the plethora of small, fly-by-night companies Mr Raja has granted 2G operation permission to. A consolidation is bound to occur, but those who are hoarding spectrum will demand a king's ransom to exit. This is Mr Raja's plan. It can only be thwarted by the Prime Minister calling the DMK's bluff and hanging up on his Telecom Minister.






Over the last few years, there has been a noteworthy increase in awareness levels regarding global warming and climate change. The results are visible in our daily lives with eco-friendly cars gaining popularity, people becoming more conscious about their carbon footprints and Earth Day assuming greater significance than before. As Governments across the world race to evolve new strategies to deal with the challenges that an increasingly warmer planet is bound to present, there are fast emerging differences in approach. Broadly speaking, at the international level there is a general consensus to try and roll back the effects of global warming by undertaking measures to counteract the carefree industrialisation of the previous century. Hence the focus on evolving a carbon emission reduction treaty that will bind countries to specific emission reduction targets. This strategy is accompanied by vociferous advocacy for alternative, renewable sources of energy, conservation of non-renewable fossil fuels and reduction in unnecessary consumption. However, there is an alternative view that is gaining ground. According to the people pushing this line of thought, global warming is nothing but a fancy term for one of Earth's many cyclical periods of rise in temperature. To bolster their hypothesis, they cite the planet's several ice-ages that were followed by subsequent rise in temperature. If they are to be believed, instead of fighting global warming, we should adapt to it. To them, the extinction of several species of plants and animals due to climate change is simply part of the same process that wiped out the dinosaurs: Evolution.

Such theories need to be treated with scepticism. It is a fact that many of the proponents of this 'adaptation' hypothesis are either sponsored by multi-national oil companies and those whose interests will be hurt if the world switches over to a greener lifestyle or by those who stand to profit commercially through climate change. For example, the otherwise grave news that the Arctic Ocean could be completely ice-free during summers in another 10 years has been interpreted by the adaptation theorists to mean that these waters will soon become completely navigable for a certain portion of the year and, therefore, will open up a new avenue for the shipping and fishing industries as well as for the exploration of untapped reserves of oil and natural gas. Nonetheless, casting aside concerns about global warming will be suicidal. Where the adaptation theorists have got it wrong is that earlier periods of high temperature in Earth's history were all part of a natural physical process that lasted over several thousand years. What we are witnessing today is completely man-made, which is confirmed by the extraordinary rise in average global temperature in such a short span of time — almost by a degree Celsius over the last century. Information on global warming and climate change will only get more extensive from here on. Hence, we must keep our eyes open for red herrings.



            THE PIONEER




Is poverty boring? Or is it merely inappropriate, just too in-your-face during the holiday week that precedes Diwali? It doesn't seem right to behave like a sourpuss when the national mood is celebratory, when traffic and shopping are indistinguishable from each other in Delhi and Mumbai, when those of us who can afford to be happy are happy with a bang, and when a strange form of cricket full of hugely unknown players dominates the television set.

I can blame it on Hindustan Times. This week it carried a front page report quoting a study done by worthies in the highest echelons of Government, which showed that the number of Indians living below the poverty line had actually increased by 10 per cent, taking the figure up to 38 per cent. Add the marginals and more than half of India exists at subsistence levels. That sounds too polite actually. More than half of India does not sleep with a full stomach.

There are two categories growing in the Rising India of elephants, tigers and various Maharajah animals that grace the covers of silly books: The super rich, and the abysmally poor. At the top of the wealth peak are both legitimate businessmen who have the skill, entrepreneurship and financial genius to turn enterprise into a pot of gold. Alongside them are the creators of illegitimate riches, the well-dressed, greasy scumbags who make deals with banks and politicians, loot the country and stash billions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts that, naturally, our authorities can never access.

Since it is the commonly acknowledged dream of newspaper-reading Indians to turn our nation into a superpower within the foreseeable future, an objective question needs to be answered. Is poverty a hindrance to superpower status? Oliver Twist, Uriah Heep, Micawber and Scrooge lived in the world of Dickens and Charles Lamb wrote on chimney sweeps, young boys who climbed up chimneys to clean the soot. This did not prevent Britain from becoming a world power under the watchful eye of Queen Victoria and her successors. Did the British nabobs mope about the wretched beggars and prostitutes on the streets of London, or did they simply get on with conquering the world?

An impoverished population can actually be quite useful for such an enterprise. You need foot soldiers and cannon fodder for imperial armies: What would Britain's Generals have done in World War I without their local poor, or the million Indians ready to put on a uniform for a soldier's pittance? The rich are not easy to turn into a battlefield statistic. A thrusting economy also needs cheap labour to keep prices competitive (owners never, of course, reduce the size of their profits and bonuses, they merely skim the wages of the lowest in the ranks). China's story is heavily dependent on the virtual slave labour on assembly lines; equally, Indian businessmen need sweatshops, just as Americans once did when they were in a comparable stage of economic growth.
Face it: Those who invested in the poor for their political survival have been marginalised in the last two decades, and those who invested in growth have flourished. The latter had a ready answer, of course: Only growth could eliminate poverty. The latest statistics show that it has not. Charity is alien to the culture of wealth, so the private sector is more interested in profit than welfare. The state, which should ensure that welfare gets priority, is more concerned with the glamour of growth. So, after nearly two decades of economic reform the poverty levels have increased at an astonishing pace, taking us back to the Seventies, at least on this count.

We began our exercise in nation-building with Gandhi's talisman: Whenever in doubt, think about the poorest amongst us and consider whether what we are doing would benefit him. Every socialist, whether inside Congress or outside, carried it around as a badge of honour. Look where the socialists have ended up, including of the tricolour variety. Socialists have become the lost tribe of India.

Communists had no time for Gandhi. They opted for either two beards or a moustache: The fulsome growth of Marx, or the pointy triangle of Lenin, or the Ottomanesque upper lip of Stalin. All three have been shaved clean in Kerala and Bengal. They might soon have to rename themselves the Communist Party of Tripura. Trade unions have become the spoilt brats of our system, limited only to their constituency interests, contemptuous of the unorganised poor.

Why have the poor turned away from povertywallahs?


They have not. The povertywallahs have abandoned the poor. The Naxalites, who had been virtually eliminated from politics by the mid-Seventies, have emerged as Maoists and expanded into space vacated by the socialists and communists. Between them, they would have most of the seats in over 150 districts, which would probably have made them the largest bloc in Parliament. The true Opposition in India has moved away from Parliament, which is not good news for either democracy or India. The Maoist vote does not get translated into seats, because Maoists do not offer candidates, or indeed play the artful game of electoral manipulation along seams of caste or community or faith.

It is perfectly understandable that the two principal parties in Parliament, Congress and BJP, are outdoing each other in schemes for massive state aggression towards Maoists. It is in everyone's vested interest that Maoists are crushed, physically. The Government throws around palliatives in time-honoured fashion, promising development the moment Maoists are killed. Why did it need Maoists to remind the Government that these districts required development? That is not the only question. When Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, honestly and bravely, reminds the country that Rajiv Gandhi was right, and that only 16 paise in the development rupee actually reaches the target, he is ignored. I suppose they will start calling him a socialist next.

Sorry for being a party-pooper, or at least trying to be one. Remember Queen Victoria, and have a happy Diwali!







In reality, search for truth is in renunciation of the unreal. Even knowledge belongs to the unreal, not to the real. In fact, knowing the unreal as unreal is knowledge (gyaan). In the knowledge, the unreal dissipates away leaving the real that remains as it is since the real is eternally established. The only hurdle in experiencing the ever-attained truth is the accepted dominion and importance for the unreal.

Therefore, attaining the truth is self-evident as well as self-provident. What really is lacking is the rejection of the unreal. Attainment of the truth is not a possibility (since it is ever-attained); rather the unreal is departing continuously. The dominion of the unreal is mere an illusion in one's imagination and has no basis. Departure (renunciation) of the unreal is the very nature of this world; therefore, renunciation (rejection) of the unreal is easy as well as supreme.

The subtle fact is that one need not reject the unreal, rather one has to experience the reality of its absence as such — Naasato vidyate bhaavah (Dominion of the unreal cannot exist) (Gita 2/16). By renouncing something, the ego (the renunciate) will remain back in the act. But, by acknowledging the actual absence of something does not leave any trace of an ego back. Until a trace of the ego remains, the dependence on the unreal continues. Actual reaction of the unreal becomes complete only when the ego is mitigated without any traces.

There is no ego in one's true self. True awareness is the awareness of an ego-less state in oneself. To appreciate the awareness on the ego-less self nature, there are two useful techniques:

First, the ego does not operate in the deep sleep; but the self remains as is. Therefore, everyone experiences the absence of the ego as well as the presence of oneself though the experience is revealed into one's perception after the sleep. We say after waking from sleep, "I had such a good relaxing sleep that I had no idea what was going on". Yet, we have an absolutely clear idea that 'we had no idea'! Therefore, 'I had no idea' is the experience of the absence of the ego. Whatever has the awareness of its absence is the ego-less self.

Second, an individual travels through various wombs, the wombs change, the bodies change, but the soul 'self' remains as it is. The ego remains different in different wombs (and bodies), but the nature of the self remains the same irrespective of the wombs and bodies.








Any Internet search for human rights organisations would reveal a long list of entities dedicated to the subject. Most consist of individuals devoted to a topical or geographic approach to the basic issue of upholding and guarding the principles of human rights. However, one organisation exists in a league of its own — the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). This body was set up by the UN General Assembly in March 2006 to address human rights violations and make recommendations. Yet from its very inception it turned into a purely political institution, hijacked by a small number of member states whose own human rights records are nothing less than disgraceful.

A mere perusal of the list of members reveals an incredible degree of cynicism in assigning this body with the mandate of safeguarding human rights. How can Pakistan, a state which refuses to bring to justice the perpetrators of the Mumbai 26/11 attacks, investigate allegations of human rights which are far milder than its own transgressions? Can a state like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in which women are denied such basic values as voting or even the right to drive a car, pass judgment on human rights?

Can impartiality and objectivity be expected from them in any manner whatever?In this politically charged body, in which human rights themselves play no role whatever, political expediency has brought about an obsession with just one country in the international arena, Israel. Of the 11 special sessions that have been held by the Human Rights Council, five were dedicated solely to the condemnation of Israel. The resolutions that have been adopted are utterly devoid of even a minimal effort to present objective analysis. The human rights ideal has served as a fig leaf for cynical political horse-trading and Israel, the only Jewish state in the world, has become the whipping boy.

This biased and politicised approach adopted by the council has been condemned by global leaders. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan twice criticised the Council for "disproportionate focus on violations by Israel" and urged the same attention to other states. The current UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, issued a statement saying he was "disappointed at the council's decision to single out only one specific regional item given the range and scope of allegations of human rights violations throughout the world." Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson expressed her opinion on the council stating: "This is unfortunately a practice by the council: adopting resolutions guided not by human rights but by politics. This is very regrettable." And the list goes on — including such entities as Human Rights Watch, an NGO that cannot be identified as being pro-Israeli, which accused the Human Rights Council of silence in the face of atrocities throughout the world and the UN watchdog, UN Watch, which declared that "No one has ever disputed that the Arab-controlled Human Rights Council deliberately selected individuals who had made up their mind well in advance — not only that Israel was guilty, but that a democratic state with an imperfect but respected legal system should be considered the same as, or worse than, a terrorist group".

Under these circumstances it was hardly surprising when, in January 2009, the Council adopted a resolution establishing a fact-finding mission with a mandate which even transcended the already shockingly-low value system to which it had previously sunk. According to the mandate, the mission was to "investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying power Israel, against the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory particularly Gaza Strip".

This formulation represented a complete abandonment of a basic, or even a cosmetic, attempt to establish what really happened in the Gaza Strip. The mandate was unique in that it established in advance which party was to bear the guilt even before the investigation began. To add insult to injury, the mission comprised those who had publicly made their position against Israel known prior even to their appointment.

Needless to say, the report produced was not worth the paper it was written on. The fact that Israeli towns and villages had been under constant bombardment for eight long years and over a quarter of a million innocent civilians had been living under constant threat of the Hamas arsenal of weaponry did not even merit a passing mention in the report. Also conveniently omitted were the countless Israeli attempts to prevent the war by use of diplomatic measures that also included Egyptian mediation, which were met only by Hamas intransigence. The report also failed to mention the Hamas commitment to the destruction of Israel as well as its devotion to a rabid anti-Semitic ideology.

The Richard Goldstone report,therefore, became an unsophisticated distortion of reality and presented a biased and one-sided picture. It is apparent that "fact-finding" was not on its agenda, but rather designing an additional tool to cater the ambitions of some of its members to harness various international bodies for another political campaign against Israel. It squandered an opportunity to conduct a thorough investigation into the entire campaign. This has had the effect of further eroding the already besmirched reputation of the organisation in the eyes of the democratic world and highly compromised its future actions.

But there are even more dangerous ramifications. It drew an extremely dangerous parallel between the right to self defense by a state that has been continuously targeted and attacked unprovokedly and intentional killings of civilians by a recognised terrorist organisation. According to the conclusions of the report, terrorists operating from densely populated areas would enjoy complete immunity while any State which attempts to protect its citizens from such attacks is, in essence, powerless. As such, any terrorist organisation which wields de-facto control over a population is granted protected status. The report justifies the use of terror in the name of "self-determination" in flagrant contradiction of the accepted view of the international community regarding inadmissibility of terrorist acts under any circumstances.

Finally, in its accusation that Israel intentionally targeted civilians, the report disregarded all the measures taken by Israel aimed at reducing the civilian toll that had been acknowledged by all other serious independent inquiries. It made no mention, for example, of IDF precautions such as cross-verification of intelligence prior to targeting or the numerous incidents in which operations were aborted due to concerns about disproportionate civilian harm. And while the report did, reluctantly, acknowledge Israel's "significant efforts" to issue warnings before attacks, it dismisses these as not having been effective. It cast doubts on all the statements of Israeli officials and members of the armed forces barring those that supported the initial premises of the report.

It extensively quotes, for example, from the statement of a small group of Israelis for their criticisms of Israel and yet the assertions of the selfsame group are given no weight whatever when they confirm that Hamas booby-trapped civilian buildings.

The report even attempted to question the independence of the acclaimed and highly regarded Israeli judicial system, whose rulings often serve as guidelines for many democracies fighting terror.

The writer is Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Israel in India








The world's human rights community is on tenterhooks this Diwali. Reason: standing between them and utter irrelevance is the outcome of a debate now on in Geneva on whether or not the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) should ratify the Richard Goldstone report on the role of Israel in the Gaza conflict.

If UNHRC ratifies the report, a dangerous message will be sent out for freedom-loving people all over the world. So says Israel and its friends in the West. If it does not, then the message will be equally dangerous for freedom-loving people all over the world. No prizes for guessing who says that. Confused? That's the name of the game in the human rights business. It's all about which side you are on.

Saturday Special has been following this debate closely for some time, not just as international news, but something close to the Indian reality. While world powers argue over the Goldstone report, our opinion makers have been divided down the middle over a uniquely Indian development — the government's decision to go all-out against Maoists/Naxalites whose war is not just against the Indian State, but also against our democracy and the Constitution.

The 'whose human rights?' debate got its highest spokesperson this month when Home Minister P Chidambaram said 'human rights activists will have to chose'. This set off media slanging matches between jholawallas and retired police officers. The normally erudite apologists of Left- wing terror went ballistic and scrambled to organise meetings and seminars denouncing the Indian State's authoritarianism. They were not much distracted by the brutal slaying of Jharkhand police officer Francis Induwar. But what about the credibility of the United Nations?

The UNHRC's ambivalence on the Goldstong report has raised serious concerns about the world forum's neutrality. While Israel and its western allies are celebrating its success in forcing the Palestinians to defer demands that the International Criminal Court investigate allegations of war crimes which took lives of 1,400 Palestinians, nobody can deny that the oldest internal dilemma of the UNHRC is out in the open.The Goldstone report has courted controversy by equating the Hamas' armed struggle with the Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip, categorising both as crime against humanity. Israel and its allies termed the report an attempt to undermine Israel's legitimate right to self-defense.

The final recommendations make no mention of Israel's security concerns. It is contrary to the international law. Article 51 of the UN Charter forbids all use of force except that for "self-defense if an armed attack occurs." Disputing some of the findings of the report, Israel said the Israeli International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) compiled a report on their research of the casualty figures published by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR). The ICT claimed that many of those listed by PCHR as civilians, including civil policemen, were in fact hailed as militant martyrs by Hamas.

The moot point is that the UNHRC agenda is under a cloud. Since its inception in 2006, it has issued 25 resolutions against individual states, of which 20 targetted Israel. The colossal failure of the international body in recognising atrocities by others has obviously raised fear that its focus is Israel. The UNHRC has passed no resolution condemning 200,000 deaths in Darfur. Similarly, it failed to address systematic abuses in Belarus, China, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Libya and Zimbabwe.The Sri Lankan government's atrocities against Tamil citizens during war against LTTE had no effect on the 'slumbering' international body .

As per an estimate, 5.4 million people have been killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1998 but there has been no hint of an emergency UN session to discuss it or condemn it. Strangely, the UN is mandated with the moral authority to adjudicate on matters of international concern, yet an alarming number of its agencies are headed by countries whose human rights records range from questionable to appalling, including Libya, Zimbabwe, Algeria, Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Burma.

The dubious nature of the UNHRC was exposed when an NGO urged Islamic authorities to outlaw honour killings, female genital mutilation and the stoning of women. Egypt, Iran and Pakistan objected to the initiative as an "attempt to link bad practices" to Islam and UNHRC ruled "evaluation of a religious creed" inadmissible. In most recent case, the UNHRC voted to end its examination of systematic rape and torture of pro-democracy activists protesting against the rigged election in Iran. In this case, it has been nobody surprise that President Ahmadinejad goes scot-free after spewing out an anti-Semitic rant at the UN General Assembly, and willfully manipulate the fact denying the truth of Holocaust.

The Goldstone report and its possible burial have left the UNHRC between the devil and the deep blue sea. Faced with a clear and obvious case of war crimes, and pressure from the US to delay or bury the report, the UNHRC finds its going tough, as the failure to refer the war crimes charges for trial will not only be seen as exoneration of Israel, but as further proof of Israel subversion and control of the United States on the international body.

Now the deferment of the report, which could have been successfully used by the Palestinians, has put question marks on the vulnerability of UNHRC to western pressure, particularly the US. The intensity of US involvement and the UN reliance on the United States creates a situation in which decisions made by the US, for or against involvement, have a more significant impact on the outcome of the UN mission. This condition restricts UN decision making, and makes it vulnerable to vicissitudes of US arm-twisting. This is an alarming situation as this vulnerability in the UN approach sometimes creates political problems for the UN as some states start believing that UN actions are an extension of US policies.

It's US hegemony that forced the UNHRC keep its mouth shut on Guantánamo detention camp and other secret detention centres where detainees undergo inhuman torture. In 1999, NATO bombed Serbia with depleted uranium bombs, which caused a cancer outbreak in the region, but the UN seems to be oblivious. Following the Goldstone report, Israel's position is also very shaky. It is first a diplomatic disaster for Israel as the report shatters its continued attempt to portray itself as helpless victims of terrorism from Hamas. There is already fear in Israel. Vice-prime minister and strategic affairs minister Moshe Ya'alon cancelled his British visit after he was warned that he might face arrest on suspicion of war crimes.

What exacerbates the crisis for Israel is that the author of the report is no anti-Semitic, middle-eastern official, but a Jewish judge from South Africa. No longer can Israel seek protection behind charges of bias and prejudice. The future of this debate is highly exciting. But at stake is the future of human rights and the credibility of the UN system.

The writer is Deputy News Editor, The Pioneer







Justice Richard Goldstone happens to be Jewish and cannot be dismissed as biased or even anti-Semitic. The Zionist criticism that the UN Human Rights Council includes states that have a dubious human rights record or that a number of human rights violations have not been investigated by the UNHRC is to miss the point. The fact of the matter is that Israel has violated a large number of UN Security Council and General Assembly Resolutions — more than any other country in fact. There would have been even more UN Security Council Resolutions but for the US and Western vetoes.

Not very long ago the International Court of Justice found the Israeli separation wall which encroached on Palestinian territories to be a violation of International law. Israel virtually ignored the World Court decision. It remains to be seen how far the Goldstone Report will be acted upon and what role Israel's mentor the US will play in the Security Council. Even if the Fact Finding Mission's recommendations are not followed, it has done a signal service in bringing to light the war crimes committed by the Israeli armed forced against a relatively weak guerrilla force and defenseless civilians.

This also has lessons for India's current foreign policy of increasing friendship with this militarist state. The Palestinian struggle is the longest and best documented national liberation struggle since the mid twentieth century. In order to obtain arms the similar quality of which are available from other countries, India has chosen one of the most notorious states in the World whose systematic oppression of the Palestinian people has no parallel.

It seems that Indians have forgotten what its stalwarts like Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi had to say about Israel and why they staunchly supported the Palestinian cause. The World has changed but Israel has not — except getting bigger through expropriating Palestinian land through the notorious method of creating settlements where earlier Palestinians lived. The current attempt to change the demography of East Jerusalem is an attempt to deny a future Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Human rights abuses by the Israeli Defense Forces have often been alleged and extensively documented by human rights groups in Palestine and elsewhere. The Israeli assault on Gaza early this year was so ferocious that a UN fact-finding mission was sent and produced a 575-page report. The head of the four-person mission, headed by Justice Richard Goldstone, came to the conclusion "on the basis of the facts…that there was strong evidence to establish that numerous serious violations of international law, both humanitarian law and human rights law, were committed by Israel during the military operations in Gaza." "The mission concluded that actions amounting to war crimes and possibly, in some respects, crimes against humanity, were committed by the Israel Defense Force [IDF]."

The Goldstone report went on to state: "The mission finds that the conduct of Israeli armed forces constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention in respect of willful killings and willfully causing great suffering to protected persons and as such give rise to individual criminal responsibility."

It also found that the direct targeting and arbitrary killing of Palestinian civilians is a violation of the right to life." It criticised the "deliberate and systematic policy on part of the Israeli armed forces to target industrial sites and water installations," and the use of Palestinians as human shields. The objectives and strategy the Mission concluded was a deliberate doctrine of the IDF involved "the application of disproportionate force and causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilians."

At the press briefing, Justice Goldstone said that the mission had investigated 36 incidents that took place during the IDF operations in Gaza, which he said did not relate to decisions taken in the heat of battle, but to deliberate policies that were adopted and decisions that were taken. On the mortar attack on a mosque in Gaza during a religious service which killed 15 members of the congregation and injured many others, Justice Richard Goldstone said even if allegations of the mosque being used by military groups and as a storage of weapons, there was still "no justification under the international humanitarian law to mortar the mosque during the service," because it could have been attacked at night when it was not used by civilians.

The Mission was also critical of the Gaza militants for firing rockets and mortars against Israeli civilians as constituting "war crimes" and possibly amounting to "crimes against humanity." It added that their apparent intention of spreading terror among the Israeli civilian population was a violation of international law.

The Mission recommended that the Security Council should require Israel to take steps to launch appropriate independent investigations into the alleged crimes committed, in conformity with international standards and report back on these probes within six months.

It further called on the Security Council to appoint a committee of experts to monitor the proceedings taken by the Israeli Government. If these did not take place, or were not independent and in conformity with international standards, the Mission called for the Security Council to refer the situation in Gaza to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. It also called on the Security Council to require the Committee of Experts to perform a similar role with regard to the Palestinian authorities.








UNTIL even a couple of weeks ago, the repeated terror strikes in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan did not attract too much attention. The NWFP and the neighbouring Federally Administered Tribal Areas are after all considered a safe haven for the Taliban from across the border and indeed their Pakistani counterparts. That the Taliban effected several attacks there — unfortunately enough — was considered par for the course since the " war on terror" began.


But with the latest wave of attacks, Pakistan faces a far more serious problem: the militants who were thought to be restricted to the restive areas up north have now moved south and east, respectively to Pakistan's business hub of Lahore and the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, launching strikes at will, that too at high- security installations. Besides there is growing evidence that the differentiation between militant groups that are ' assets' for the Pakistani state and those that threaten it is losing relevance.


The targets are well- chosen, and if the militants wanted a strong message to reach the highest echelons of government and the military, the goal has been met.


The Pakistan army now has to make a difficult choice. For the last 60 years or so, the entire might of the country's military establishment had been trained on India.


But it can no longer afford to concentrate on the eastern front when militants are killing hapless civilians and policemen in the cities with audacious regularity.


In that sense, Pakistan is at a crossroads.


Its political leadership has shown little astuteness in understanding the real demands of the militants even as it gives a wide berth to US Air Force drones to enter its territory and strike targets at will.


Blaming India for what Pakistan calls New Delhi's meddling in its internal matters by encouraging terrorism in the Balochistan province is not going to help.


It is at best a diversionary tactic and will achieve nothing if Islamabad has to win its internal war on terror.


Admittedly, it is not easy to break bonds with the same terror monster that the Pakistani state machinery created since the 1980s, a phenomenon that has come back to haunt it. However, in this case, Pakistan faces a Hobson's choice. And the sooner it realises this, the better the chances of the country surviving what is perhaps the most disturbing period in its history.







It is ironical that children are still dying of vaccine- preventable diseases in a country which prides itself as a leading supplier of childhood vaccines to the world. The data about deaths in Delhi's government hospitals due to vaccine- preventable diseases like diphtheria, tetanus, measles and whopping cough, revealed under the Right to Information Act recently, is shocking.


But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The shortage of childhood vaccines is pegged at over 10 crore doses, as per information compiled by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Health action groups and civil society activists have been warning of this shortage ever since the health ministry decided to close down three state- run vaccine manufacturing units after a World Health Organisation review found that they did not meet the Good Manufacturing Practice regulations. Instead of pumping in funds to upgrade them to WHO standards, the then health minister A Ramadoss decided to close the units down.


This left the large vaccine market — which thrives on government procurements — wide open to private manufacturers.


These companies demanded " sustainable price" from the government and the price negotiations lingered on, causing delays in procurement. The cumulative effect of all this is the shortage of essential vaccines.


Though Ramadoss' successor in the health ministry, Ghulam Nabi Azad, has assured Parliament that the public sector vaccine manufactures would be revived, this is apparently taking time. The health ministry should make clear its position on the issue of vaccine procurement and its blueprint to meet the shortage immediately, and also spell out the road ahead.


What we need is a good mix of supplies from public as well as private sector, since dependence on any one could lead to ugly situations like the one we are facing now.







AS THE US readies itself for a surge of troops in Afghanistan, there have been arguments about involving India in stabilising Afghanistan.


The Obama administration had initially wanted to include India in its AfPak policy but later stepped back because of Indian remonstrations. The assessment of the US was that India was likely to see such a move as an attempt to mediate on Kashmir, making any potential cooperation with India difficult.


The thinking behind the initial US proposal has, however, not disappeared. The US still wants to insert India into the AfPak process but now, informally rather than formally. The US perception is that a solution to the Afghan problem can be facilitated if India and Pakistan work together in Afghanistan rather than oppose each other. Pakistan also wants the US to involve India with the Afghan issue but for its own reasons.


First, Pakistan is unhappy with the equation created by the US between Afghanistan and Pakistan. This equation has connotations of extremism, terrorism, failed states, and ineffective governance. For a country seeking parity with India, being equated with Afghanistan is a grave insult.


Second, Pakistan's argument is also that it faces a threat from India and therefore it cannot wholeheartedly support the US, ISAF and NATO from the Eastern border of Afghanistan. If the US wants Pakistan's help, then it must help remove the Indian threat and pressure India to restart the composite dialogue.


Third, Islamabad believes that India is entrenching itself in Afghanistan, and undermining Pakistan's "legitimate" position there besides using its consulates to destabilise Balochistan.



And finally, it believes that the only force available to it to counter the Indian influence in Afghanistan is the Taliban.


If the US were to reduce India's role in Afghanistan, then Pakistan would have less reason to preserve the Taliban as its long term strategic instrument.


There are many in India who believe that the Pakistani thinking is still in terms of gaining a tactical advantage over India while keeping its strategic options open. Tactically, the effort is to deny, wherever possible, any diplomatic advantage that India may gain over Pakistan.


The radicalisation of Afghanistan was the result of the deliberate design of the CIA and Pakistan. It is being fuelled today by the western presence in Afghanistan and the indiscriminate bombing by NATO and ISAF. India was never a part of the problem in Afghanistan, so why is it being projected as a part of the solution that America and Pakistan seek? On the face of it Pakistan's and India's interests in Afghanistan are such that they leave little possibility of co- operation.


Pakistan has always tried to dominate Afghanistan — either as a friend, a dominant neighbour, a proxy occupier or as a country where it seeks strategic depth against India. India's interest lies in countering Pakistani desires and to this end, it wants an independent or neutral Afghanistan.


Afghanistan has always, but for the brief Taliban interregnum, considered itself an unspoken ally of India because of the suspicion of Pakistan's intentions.


Had the Taliban regime endured, it would have done the same to balance Pakistan. This is traditional neighbourhood thinking.


India at least wants to cultivate Kabul sufficiently to ensure that Pakistan's dominance of Afghan affairs is curbed. It cannot do so militarily so it has chosen the path of development. India is not the largest donor to Afghanistan — it is in fact the sixth largest — but it is the most effective donor.


The American aid in Afghanistan goes largely in administrative expenses and the fat fee of US consultants.


Indian money goes directly to the Afghans.


Does this rule out any cooperation between India, Pakistan and the US on Afghanistan? Not quite.


India and Pakistan can work together to create a neutral Afghanistan — if the thinking of the Pakistan army changes — with its neutrality being guaranteed by both the countries as well as Afghanistan's other neighbours.


This requires that Pakistan be freed of any fear that India will attack it.


Pakistan would need US assurances for this. While India does not want US mediation in Kashmir, India could give a non- attack guarantee to Pakistan which could be underwritten or re- guaranteed by the US as a friend of both. At some point this kind of device would be needed for peace — although what its exact contours could be one cannot say at present.


There are, however, two spoilers in this scheme.


The first is China which wants to squeeze India using Pakistan. This strategy will become increasingly ineffective as India moves on the path of rapid economic growth.


The second negative factor is the Pakistan army's dominance of Pakistani society. Its dominance must diminish to reasonable levels for peace to unfold between India and Pakistan.


The US can bring this about to some extent. US pressure can ensure that the Pak army comes under civilian control by using aid as a lever. However, it is unlikely to happen in the immediate future as the US needs the Pak army to fight the Taliban even though it does not trust it fully. The US perception is that some elements of the Pakistani establishment are still protecting the Quetta Shoora and assisting in the attacks on Afghanistan through the NWFP. This explains the talk of extending the drone attacks to Balochistan.



As far as India is concerned, it does not have any army, police or even military and police trainers in Afghanistan. India is building roads, bridges, hospitals, power projects, public transport, training civil servants, and doing agricultural development.


Although much is made of an Indian role in Balochistan, which India denies, the fact is that there is probably some other foreign involvement there aimed at Iran. India's tactical interest in Balochistan, if any, can only be to create pinpricks in retaliation for what Pakistan is doing in Kashmir.


The more important point is that Pakistan need have no worry from India on its eastern front. It should concentrate on fighting the Taliban and for that it should withdraw as many troops as it needs from its border with India and get the US to guarantee this. This will allow the Pak army to control its own Taliban as well as the Taliban attacking Afghanistan.


Pakistan must, however, stop support to the insurgency in Afghanistan to win India's trust. If it does that, India could be persuaded to recommend the induction of Pushtoon elements — the unarmed Taliban — into the government.



The Pushtoons are India's traditional friends but today it is pitched against them thanks to Pakistan. If this situation can be changed, then India and Pakistan can join hands to build Afghanistan's infrastructure, education and healthcare system.


The Afghan problem cannot be artificially limited.


What happens in Afghanistan impacts a much wider area around it and not only Pakistan and India. The Central Asian states are deeply disturbed by fundamentalism and drug trafficking emanating from Afghanistan. Russia is worried about the possible impact of the Afghan developments on its Muslim population and does not want the Central Asian buffer to collapse. Iran is deeply worried by the radical Sunni, Wahabi ideology of the Taliban. China has restive Islamic radicals snapping at its heels in Xinxiang. The issue, therefore, is much wider in scope and the concerns shared by these countries are as acute — if not more than what India raises because some of them are geographically contiguous neighbours of Afghanistan.


The co- operation between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan can fit into a broader framework of dialogue between Afghanistan, its neighbours and other international stakeholders in Afghan peace and stability.


A limited regional framework cannot replace this broader process. For India, the regional approach will work only if its purpose is not to clip its wings in Afghanistan to make space for Pakistan.









Unable to nab any important Maoist leader in spite of intensive police operations in Lalgarh for nearly five months now, the government has now decided to train its guns on the softest target — the intelligentsia who are being accused to be sympathisers of the rebels.


Writer Mahasweta Devi, filmmaker Aparna Sen, theatre personalities Bibhas Chakraborty and Kaushik Sen were all suspects till a public outcry and an open threat of " bloodbath" by Mamata Banerjee forced the state home secretary to announce that the police had no concrete evidence against them.


He did not explain though why he had put these eminent people on the list of suspects only a week earlier.


It all began with the arrest of Chhatradhar Mahato — leader of the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities ( PCPA) spearheading the Lalgarh agitation for over a year.


The police claimed Mahato had admitted during his interrogation that a section of the intelligentsia was in close touch with the " Maoist- led PCPA" and that they had been heavily raising funds for the Lalgarh agitation." A week later, the home secretary denied the police claim. But that did not prevent the police from raiding a printing press in Kolkata, shutting it down and arresting its owner allegedly for printing Maoist literature. Four leaders of civil rights organisations were also arrested. Carefully " leaked" media reports suggest that the police were keeping a close watch on several journalists, professors and students of premier institutions and were regularly listening to their telephonic conversations.


Senior CPM leaders like Biman Bose have claimed innocence saying that the state government had no option but to follow Delhi's war strategy of first silencing the intellectual sympathisers of Maoists before launching an all- out crackdown against the guerrillas some time in November. But in the same breath these CPM leaders say that paramilitary operation is essential to eliminate Maoists and the Central forces should stay on in Lalgarh.


Strangely, the CPM seems to have forgotten that they had been under a very similar attack four decades ago in West Bengal and that instead of eliminating the Marxists, the Emergency of the 1970s rather increased their popularity and catapulted them to power in 1977. In the early years of 1970s, the CPM did not adhere to peaceful methods of agitation alone and used pistols, pipe guns and bombs at will.


Expectedly, the witch hunt has generated effects that could only make the Maoists happy.


Kolkata has so far seen two rallies — huge in number and able to choke off roads for hours — one by civil liberties groups and the other by the intelligentsia in protest against " state- sponsored terrorism". Instead of spending around Rs 10 lakh daily to keep the Central Reserve Police Force in Lalgarh and giving the police a free hand, Maoists could have been tackled much better had the government spent some of its energy and funds in development of the abysmally poor tribal areas of the state.





THIS Diwali do not expect any services in case of fire as the state fire services department has virtually collapsed.

Minister Pratim Chatterjee is unwell for over a month now and work in the department has come to a standstill. No files are moving.


The minister had a cerebral attack a month and half ago. Earlier, he had to undergo an openheart surgery. Since then he has become irregular in his office.


He could not even attend meetings with the puja organisers to review the fire preventive measures taken by the local clubs.


The minister's absence in office has resulted in halting of recruitment of 200 drivers for fire engines and 1,500 firefighters.


The decision to purchase a 50- metrehigh turntable ladder from Japan is also on hold.


Senior officials fear the worst during the festival of lights. In case any major fire breaks out during Diwali, the department would be hardpressed to bring the situation under control.


The department was severely short- staffed and lacked necessary equipment, they said.


Can copspose as journos to make arrest?


CAN THE police pose as journalists to arrest someone? Two weeks ago, the Special Task Force of the Kolkata police had posed as reporters, mingled with other scribes to seek an interview with Chhatradhar Mahato, the PCPA leader. When an unsuspecting Mahato appeared for the interview, guns were put on his head and the policemen whisked him away. The incident immediately provoked Maoists to accuse the accompanying scribes that they had deliberately helped the police to arrest Mahato. The Maoists were later convinced that the real scribes had also been duped by the police.


Kolkata Press Club, the Indian Journalists' Association and National Union of Journalists, who shot off a protest letter to CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, said the police action would put journalists to unnecessary risks. The government is still unmoved. It was nothing wrong for the cops to pose as scribes and arrest a wanted Maoist like Mahato, the state home secretary said.

The fallout has been immediate.


Maoists, who were too keen to give interviews to reporters visiting Lalgarh, now have stopped meeting scribes altogether.


Only telephonic interviews are being allowed.


The journalists remain a hapless lot now.



THE CPM has always been vocal against the Gandhi family accusing it of monopolising political power in the country. When it comes to its own home turf, however, the CPM doesn't even blink an eyelid in emulating the family it so criticises.

The party has chosen Romola Chakraborty as a candidate for the Belgachhia East constituency.

Romola is the wife of CPM's controversial state secretariat member and minister Subhas Chakraborty who died two months ago. Though CPM officially cited no reason why Romola was chosen as a candidate, insiders said that she was the only option as the party lost a sizeable chunk of its support base and the only choice left was to bank on a sympathy wave.

Dynastic rule by CPM bigwigs was so far confined to the districts and municipalities. This never happens in Kolkata. In panchayat and municipal polls, wives of powerful CPM leaders have often been fielded in seats reserved for women.

The Trinamool Congress, too, is not far behind the CPM when it comes to monopolising political power by a single family. Union minister Sisir Adhikari and his son Subhendu Adhikari have already pocketed the two Lok Sabha seats from East Midnapore.

Now Sisir's younger son Dibyendu has been chosen as the Trinamool candidate for the Contai South assembly byelection.



UNIVERSITIES and colleges in this state have for the last three decades remained under tight control of the CPM. The power of employees' unions and in some cases even the Left- leaning teachers' associations have been enormous.


With gradual loosening of the CPM's iron grip over the state, two vice- chancellors have found the courage to protest. On Monday, the VC of Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswa Vidyalaya in Kalyani, R. K. Samanta, resigned in protest against the manner a section of Left- leaning teachers continuously harassed him. The teachers had staged a demonstration inside Samanta's chamber last week and had even ransacked his office.

Last week, the VC of Viswabharati University Rajat Kanta Roy wrote to governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi urging him to increase his security and save him from a section of militant teachers and employees of the university.


General secretary of Viswabharati Employees' Union Debabrata Hazari, however, argued that the VC was blowing the situation out of proportion. He said his organisation had only opposed sacking of two employees and that there was no threat to the VC's security. Roy, however, has demanded round- theclock vigil both around his office and at his residence in Santiniketan.


Aloke. Banerjee@ mailtoday. in







THIS is with reference to the Question of the Day, ' Did Venkatesh Prasad, Robin Singh and Rahul Dravid deserve to be sacked from the Indian ODI Set- Up?'. After its pathetic performance and the Indian cricket team's inglorious exit from both the Twenty20 World Cup and the recently- concluded Champions Trophy, it was obvious that some heads will roll.


Although both M. S. Dhoni, the captain and Gary Kirsten the coach are equally responsible for the disastrous show in the two tournaments, they cannot be touched even with a 10- foot barge pole for the time being.


In the process, the low- profile and hard- working Venkatesh Prasad and Robin Singh, respectively the bowling coach and the fielding coach, have been made scapegoats and shown the door to mollify the anger of India's cricket fans.


It would have been more appropriate if the services of the two seasoned campaigners had been terminated in a dignified and graceful manner. But then, that has never been BCCI's forte.


On the other hand, the exclusion of Rahul Dravid is fully justified because as a grafter of runs, he was never a fit contender for the demanding ODI format. The return of explosive batsmen like Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh will bolster the batting line up, and a slow and dour batsman like Dravid will simply have no chance to figure in the playing eleven.


Lov Kumar Chawla via email



THIS is with reference to your editorial comment, ' Look before you leap' ( October 16). Since the tests carried out regarding genetically modified ( GM) food have been mainly on pigeons, rabbits, chicken and mice, and no randomised extensive tests have been carried out on mammalian acceptability and tolerance, the introduction of brinjal and other such food crops which are awaiting clearance to be introduced in the human food chain, would be risky.


Modified genes when transferred to human beings could cause allergies, leading to an overpopulation of allergens, which in turn could trigger new antibiotic resistant diseases.


R. K. Malhotra via email



WHATEVER may be the considerations — political, economic or strategic — China will always be inimical towards India, a fact that all political parties need to internalise.


However, at the same time, we must not club Chinese meddling in Pakistan- occupied Kashmir ( PoK) with the Beijing's strong reaction to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Arunachal Pradesh. By doing so, we give the impression to the rest of the world that we will dilute our claim to Arunachal Pradesh in exchange for China moving out of the strategic infrastructure projects in Pakistan- occupied Kashmir.


We maintain that PoK is part of Kashmir and we consider both tracts of land as Indian territories. So is the case with Arunachal Pradesh. If we take the line that both the regions are integral parts of India then why be ambiguous in our statements, and let that be exploited by the Chinese and the Pakistanis.


R. L. Raichandani via email








Since times immemorial, light has been associated with inner illumination and joy. Think of why we imagine the "Eureka!" moment as a lightbulb coming on. Equally, in beliefs across cultures and continents, light evokes a point of arrival for those traversing the dark as a trial, a rite of passage. Thus Rama returns from exile, his path illuminated by lamps deepawali hailing the homecoming. Light, then, not only shows the way, it is itself a destination.

In gloom, we often speak of light at the end of the tunnel. No phrase today is more aptly describes a world seemingly emerging from the worst recession since the Great Depression. Only yesterday, we braced for a frightening replay of the 1930s' busts and bread queues. How could we not, with the experts telling us that we had no idea how bad it was? One celebrity economist even famously warned that we were standing at the edge of the abyss.

A year since, we're seemingly back from the brink. Green shoots are appearing, some of the greenest in India. It's not just the festive season watch those gold coin and auto sales! that's spreading feelgood. If factory shutdowns, layoffs and credit scarcity dampened spirits yesterday, today India Inc seems upbeat. Firms, once handing out pink slips, are hiring again. Investors, who fled or postponed entry, are once again betting on our growth story. India, analysts conjecture, could achieve 8-plus per cent growth sooner than forecast. Should a second wave of reforms be boldly initiated, we could transform our flightpath. In recovery mode as well, neighbouring China is elbowing past rivals as global trade's top gun. Both Asian giants seem set to emerge stronger than before from the slowdown.

Elsewhere, hope floats. Europe's manufacturing and services are pepping up. Global bourses are lively and, fears of asset bubbles notwithstanding, market confidence after a skittish year is a mood upper. If fuel inventories were piling up, oil prices are now heading north. That hits pockets, but look on the bright side: it's also a sign people want to be on the move again. Above all, the US may see positive third quarter growth after ages in the red. Jobs will languish for a while yet, but the recession's most likely over. So the Fed says, so it's straight from the horse's mouth.

Many insist we're still in the tunnel, that the exit's a long way off. Others say the darkness is lifting in defiance of doomsaying. Look at it in terms of the distance travelled from Diwali 2008 to Diwali 2009, and it's perhaps remarkable we see a light ahead so soon at all. To reach it, we must keep moving towards it. Today, why not simply celebrate the journey back home?




Top article


Few issues are likely to have as crucial an impact on India's future as its ability to rapidly and significantly improve its human capital. Even though higher education is critical to this goal, few policy areas have been as politicised or poorly executed. I begin by addressing the lack of clarity in thinking about the fundamental underlying question: What are the goals of Indian higher education? Appropriateness of public policy, after all, depends on the aims being pursued.

All societies wrestle with the "proper" role of higher education. Is the intention to train people to enter the labour force, or to prepare them to be easily trainable by their employers? If the former, then one might emphasise professional education; if the latter, then an education that develops analytical and critical thinking skills would be more desirable. Should the emphasis be primarily on developing skills, disseminating knowledge or creating new knowledge? Is an important goal the creation of a middle class, or a society with greater social mobility? Is it to mould the minds of young people? If so, to what end? Do we seek to create better citizens or promote a stronger sense of nationhood?

The most discernible instrumental outcome of higher education is its links with and impact on labour markets. Let us say one of its key goals is to provide skills to a very large number of new entrants to the labour force. But then, should one invest in IITs or ITIs? Suppose we want to leverage the human capital resulting from investments in higher education to improve Indian health care. A supply chain of health care would require doctors, nurses and paramedics, pharmacists and lab technicians, hospital administrators and even accountants. If the goal then is better societal health outcomes, where should resources be directed? In India, investment in the human capital of nurses and paramedics might matter much more than specialist physicians, and in civil and environmental engineers who can ensure clean water and sanitation much more than the high-tech engineering behind MRIs. But what do we do? When we think of skills we are obsessed with IITs; when we think of health care we can scarcely think beyond doctors.

But suppose the priority were different: designing higher education to promote greater socio-economic mobility. Many underlying handicaps faced by students from lower socio-economic groups appear to occur much earlier in life. Indeed, they begin at the prenatal stage and are subsequently amplified by poor health care in early childhood followed by poor education at the primary and secondary school level. Policies seeking to rectify these handicaps through affirmative action in higher education admissions, together with financial transfers in the form of scholarships, are undoubtedly important, but they are far too late and benefit only a privileged few. This is not a reason to discontinue these policies, but we must apply much greater energy and investment in earlier stages of individuals' lives for this goal to be achieved in any significant way.

What if the goal of higher education focused less on narrow instrumental benefits and instead on something fundamentally deeper but less discernible: shaping the sensibilities and values of citizens? Should policies have national integration as a goal, transforming universities into sites for creating a more cosmopolitan Indian identity out of multiple parochial identities across the country? That too might require a form of affirmative action but with a difference. Fifty years ago, even regional Indian universities had faculty from all over India. By contrast, faculty at most state universities today are locally recruited (often products of that university itself), and there is a virtual absence of mobility in faculty labour markets in the country. Apart from the nepotism and mediocrity that result from such in-breeding, state universities have failed to light the spark of a more cosmopolitan Indian sensibility and instead become petri dishes of parochialism. Should there be reservation policies to ensure greater representation of out-of-state faculty and students?

What if India could conceive of higher education in a more strategic sense, as an instrument of Indian foreign policy and "soft power"? A country with renowned universities is able not only to retain its own best and brightest, but also to attract talent from around the world, generating knowledge, wealth and influence. Would India then create tiny "islands of excellence", while allowing its broad-based universities to go to seed? Would it create universities catering to a narrow clientele, such as NRIs or the SAARC community, or broad-based institutions of learning open to all? Would it rather push its talented students to do their research in the best foreign universities, or instead invite these universities to flourish in India?

These broad aims are not mutually exclusive indeed there will always be multiple goals underlying higher education. But clarifying these goals and placing them within an overall vision of India's future that helps prioritise trade-offs is an essential first step if the country is to take advantage of its most important and expanding resource: its people.

The writer is director, Centre for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania, US.






President Barack Obama lighted a diya at the White House, thus becoming the first US president to celebrate Diwali. In doing so he went one up on George Bush, who started the tradition of Diwali at the White House but didn't personally turn up for the occasion. Obama not only lived up to his multicultural image, he should have reassured those who think that India has no place in his administration's vision.

That's A Thought

Heard about the latest course offerings from the University of Madras? It's about to launch a new discipline, 'Kalaignar Thought', leading to the award of an MA degree. Kalaignar refers to M Karunanidhi, the serving chief minister of Tamil Nadu. Mayawati must be bemused. The proposal, if implemented, would set new benchmarks in the subversion of public institutions to promote sycophancy.

Outside In

Can babus be evaluated by senior babus? That's the dilemma with which cabinet secretary K M Chandrasekhar, who has called for "third party" evaluation of India's babudom, is seized. The Sixth Pay Commission has unleashed a bonanza for babus, and it's only fair that their performance be rigorously appraised each year. If that means calling in external evaluators for an objective view, so be it.






Ratnakar Shetty, chief administrative officer of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), has raked up the old club versus country issue. India's first round exit in the Champions Trophy, he feels, proved that the Indian Premier League (IPL) is detrimental to the national team's interests. According to him, the lure of the riches on offer in the IPL is distracting younger players. Allegedly, it is making them lose focus by prioritising the Twenty20 league over domestic Ranji Trophy cricket. He is, of course, entitled to his personal opinion, however wrongheaded it may be. But the worrying aspect is the scope he has as a top BCCI functionary to impose his muddled logic on the country's cricketing structure.

The BCCI's jurisdiction is the running and organisation of the sport in the country. It does not own the players and it has absolutely no business deciding what they ought to put at the top of their list of priorities. If some of the younger players or older, for that matter decide that they would rather focus on the IPL than try to get into domestic sides or the national team, so be it. A relatively stress-free career that can pay handsome financial dividends with a reduced risk of long-term, debilitating injuries of the kind that more rigorous Test cricket can cause may make perfect sense to them. Who is to say they are wrong?

Ultimately, the system will regulate itself. There is unlikely to be any dearth of players who value the prestige and fame of wearing the national cap over IPL money. Not that being on the Indian team is any hardship financially, with central contracts and product endorsements. And for all the fear of the IPL leeching from the bench strength available for the national side, the reverse is more likely. Looking at the current lot, Yusuf Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja, two of the bright young prospects, made it to the Indian team because they were first noticed after making a name for themselves in the IPL. The more competition formats there are, the greater the degree of interest and investment in cricket.






Ratnakar Shetty needs a patient hearing. The emergence of T20 cricket and the resultant impact on the organisational structure of international cricket has major implications, especially on young cricketers. T20 cricket and its main platform, IPL, have changed the way the game is played. One significant change is that the focus has shifted from the national (or state/county) team to clubs. True to its name, IPL has been quite a professional's league. The best of the lot is promised the highest pay packet. That sounds cool.

But is it really? Young cricketers now dream of playing T20 because that promises a ticket on the fast road to fame and money. There is a price to be paid for instant glory. T20 is slam-bang cricket. It doesn't value technique or admire solidity. The premium is on making a quick impact. Youngsters are game because there's money in it. They don't seem to realise that such a short-sighted approach to the game is detrimental to their own careers in the long run. As a senior BCCI official, Shetty is right to ask if players are falling short on their commitment to the national team. Team India has not won an international tournament for a while now.

Young players with a lot of promise seem to fall by the wayside after a few series. They are pitchforked into playing international cricket before they are ready for it. They don't get time to hone their skills in domestic games. The short, snappy format of T20 allows them to get away with flaws in technique and temperament. These are exposed when the going gets tough. So, the time has come to regulate matches and ensure that players don't lose focus. Young cricketers must not be allowed to wither away as they chase money at the cost of an extended international career. These players need to be nurtured so that they succeed in every format of cricket, especially Tests. What better motivation than national pride to succeed in Test cricket.









Corporate affairs minister Salman Khursheed created quite a stir recently when he warned companies to refrain from paying "vulgar salaries" or face the music. Mukesh Ambani took his advice and cut his salary by 65 per cent. Flaunting wealth is distasteful; it is also imprudent when market capitalism is still trying to find a comfortable home in India. However, the minister was profoundly wrong. The trouble with judging other people's lifestyle is that soon you are tempted to control other things, and this is a short step to the command economy. Not to live ostentatiously is a call of dharma, not a legal duty.


The distinguished minister, who is a sensible lawyer, quickly realised his error and pulled back the next day. "Only the company's shareholders can decide salaries...It cannot be mandated, but should be self-exercised," he said. Yes, this is the right position only shareholders have the right to fix salaries in a democracy, not the government. The significance of his two positions, however, goes beyond vulgar salaries and reflects an old conflict between our ideals of liberty and equality.


There is a voice in each of us which values liberty. It was alarmed at the spectre of the dreaded days prior to 1991 when our government did believe that the way to make a poor person rich is by making the rich poor. There is another voice, however, which values equality. This egalitarian voice was sympathetic to Khursheed's advice to CEOs. Millions are hurting from the global economic recession and something is wrong when some earn Rs 40 crore while 250 million Indians survive on less than Rs 50 a day.


These two voices constitute the modern idea of a fair society. In democracies, liberty precedes equality. Socialist societies value equality more and will sacrifice freedom for more state control. The contest between these two ideals has been going on for 200 years but it ended when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989. Liberty won, and it will win in China too one day. Absolute equality is unrealistic because the human ego will not shrink that far. So we have learned to live with the lesser goal of an "equality of opportunity". In our desire for a just society, the political Left continues to champion equality while the Right gives precedence to liberty.


I have always believed that it is none of my business how much Mukesh Ambani earns. He creates lots of jobs, pays his taxes, produces wealth for society and that is good enough for me. Moreover, we ought to be more concerned with reducing poverty in a poor country rather than worry about inequality. Controlling CEO salaries will not lift the poor. But economic reforms will. A minister of corporate affairs can make a huge difference by making it easier for a person to start and run a business. The vast majority of Indians are self-employed entrepreneurs in the informal economy. They cannot enter the formal economy because of formidable barriers of red tape and bribery. Hence, India has the shameful distinction of being 134 in a list of 180 countries in the ease of doing business. Cut the tape, Mr Minister, and you will spawn enterprise and prosperity.


A well-ordered society, however, ought to design institutions that help to diminish inequality while preserving liberty. If the advantages of the affluent are perceived as a reward for improving the situation of the worst off, then the inequality will be perceived as more just. If the lowest worker in a company believes that his prospects will improve if his company performs well, then he will not resent an outstanding CEO earning 50 times more. This was elaborated elegantly by the American thinker, John Rawls, in his famous book, The Theory of Justice.


If you want to take the sting out of inequality, Mr Minister, cut red tape but also give the poor titles to their small property so that they can get a loan against it and start a business. And persuade your UPA colleagues to implement labour reforms so that 90 per cent of Indians in the informal economy can hope for some sort of safety net. This is the way to genuine, inclusive growth. And let's not worry too much about vulgar salaries.








Pakistan is struggling under a wave of terrorist attacks whose immediate purpose is to stop an expected army offensive against the tribal areas of Waziristan. However, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the 'Pakistan Taliban', have a long-term goal of replacing the present Pakistani State with a Deobandi Islamicist polity. After Thursday's five-pronged day of mayhem, the TTP's head Hakimullah Mehsud tossed in a threat against India as well. Since the TTP has never shown an ability to strike beyond the borders of Pakistan, his comments seem to have been more the rhetorical flourish of someone consolidating his newfound position. What matters to India is the lesson the Pakistani establishment learns from its bitter struggle with the TTP. So far, it seems Islamabad is earning a failing grade. As the meandering case against the Mumbai 26/11 accused indicates, Islamabad continues to believe that the TTP fight has nothing to do with its policy of safeguarding the Lashkar.


The Pakistani leadership created all the three terrorist alliances that now ravage South Asia: the TTP, the various Afghan Taliban groups and the Punjab-based militant groups like Lashkar and Jaish-e-Mohammad. The second and third receive tacit acceptance, if not outright backing, from Islamabad because they target Afghanistan and India. The first has become a Frankenstein monster, turning against its maker. But there is growing evidence that the TTP is also attracting the backing of some of the other groups. The obvious lesson Islamabad should draw is that, ultimately, it cannot be certain that its terror offspring will not turn their guns on the Pakistani state. So far, there is only fragmentary evidence of any change in mindset.


Indians recognise that the constellation of terror groups in Pakistan, including al-Qaeda, are birds of a feather. Which is why we should resist the temptation to gloat over Pakistan's predicament. Mehsud may not have struck at India, but if he is able to bring down the Pakistani State, he most certainly will. The ideological vision of all these Islamicist terror groups is the same in its choice of enemies. But nothing much can be done until Pakistanis come to accept there is no point in hairsplitting between the killers in their midst. The awakening of Pakistan to this simple fact is probably the most important bit of mass education the world faces today. And unfortunately it seems it will only be passed on through a pedagogy of violence.








If your father was beheaded, his body abandoned on a deserted highway as a dare to the power of the State, how would you possibly explain it to your children? Frances Induwar's ten-year-old son alternated between devastated tears and determined courage as he announced that he was going to be a policeman like his dad. He said he wanted to fight the Naxals who killed innocent people. It was an indelible image that should have seared our conscience and, once and for all, ended the debate about whether the worthiness of a cause can justify political violence.


And yet, here we are entangled in that old web of 'ifs and buts'. Some worthy exceptions apart (people like Medha Patkar condemned the incident unequivocally), you would be surprised at how many activists continue to talk about the "terrorism of the State" each time they are asked about murder as a means of protest. One of them even announced grandly on national television that there had never been a "revolution" without "some violence." Another launched a polemical assault on the evils of capitalism. It's frightening to see how many people resist simple condemnation of violence and cling onto the clichéd, wishy-washy narrative of a Robin Hood fairy tale.


Actually, I think the Home Minister — easily the best man for the job we have had in decades — was spot on when he said activists had a moral dilemma. Were they going to continue to rationalise vigilante violence? Or would they encourage Maoists to abandon arms and take up the Centre's offer for dialogue? After all, even Kashmir's largest indigenous militant group, the Hizbul Mujahideen called a ceasefire (sadly for all of ten days) before talks first began with the Home Ministry in 2000.


Chidambaram — who is essentially liberal — has resisted easy labeling of Maoists in media clichés, arguing that, "not all Naxals are terrorists." But no government can afford to just sit back and watch 40,000 square kilometres of India virtually secede from the nation. Today, over 2000 police stations are under Naxal control. You can either pretend the problem doesn't exist — which is what the previous home minister did. Or you can make an attempt at tackling it head-on. Obviously, the solution cannot be some swoop-down-at-midnight-Nandigram-style operation where innocent tribals get crushed between the State and the Naxals.


But, at least the Naxal issue is now being debated in the mainstream — by the Cabinet, in the media and by development workers. This is a huge change from years of indifference, when the remoteness of the areas under Naxal influence and the lack of urgency by anyone in the administration, just relegated it to India's heart of darkness, allowing the shadows to grow deeper and longer.


Yes, as Rahul Gandhi argued, the failure of governance may well be at the root of the malaise. It's difficult to sell the idea of democracy to a people where participation in politics promises no relief from oppression. And yes, as we have seen in conflict zones across the country — Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland, — the State can sometimes be a beast. Fake encounters, false allegations and exaggerated nationalism are guaranteed to be counter-productive and alienating.


Earlier, the irony of the government response to the Naxal challenge was that while Shivraj Patil hemmed and hawed and did pretty much nothing, a disastrous entity called the Salwa Judum was allowed to unleash mayhem in Chhattisgarh. Dressed up as people's resistance to Naxal violence, the Salwa Judum was clearly a private militia backed by the state government.


It's been beset by controversy including serious allegations of recruiting and arming children. But, unlike the Maoists, at
least the Salwa Judum could be taken to court. And the Supreme Court was clear. In 2008 it told the government, "You cannot give arms to somebody and allow him to kill." The good news is that the Salwa Judum's knives have been blunted and it's been directed to stay out of all operations.


And while this dispensation in the Home Ministry is categorical that arming civilians is no answer, a sharp public condemnation could help in undoing some damage. The government also needs to move carefully in its crackdown on Maoist supporters and sympathisers. The long detention of Binayak Sen was reminiscent of similar mistakes made in the Kashmir valley where the due process of law was often abandoned. The government also needs to pay attention to genuine voices working on the ground. Development workers, like Himanshu Kumar, who have worked for years in Dantewada, have often raised a legitimate question. Why are poor, deprived people choosing a brand of politics that could end their lives?


It's a question we will have to tackle sooner or later. But in the meantime, we desperately need a less polarised debate.


Heady stories of the 60s brand of rebellion cannot distract us from the brutality of what could become a civil war.


Equally, before urban India opines glibly on places it has never been to, we should reflect on our own lack of empathy with the deprivation of millions. But no matter what, we just cannot justify political violence.


The State's excesses can be contained by the checks and balances of a judicial system. Our courts may be slow. But they usually end up on the right side of the law. Extra-constitutional violence, whether that of the Naxals or the kind unleashed by groups like the Salwa Judum, can have no place in our democracy.


Frances Induwar's widow was asked by Rahul Gandhi what she thought was the best way to tackle the Maoists. Even in her moment of loss she found the grace to talk about how the state's development needed to reach the poorest of the poor. But she also implored her husband's killers to stop the violence. Will they listen to her?


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









Having grown up in the megalopolis, I have an obvious emotional attachment to Mumbai. Which is why when at a studio discussion this week, when a panelist referred to the 'Maximum City' registering minimum voting as a sign of Mumbai's 'resident non-Indian' mentality, I felt aggrieved.


Surely, a city with the energy and enterprise of Mumbai, a city which literally never sleeps, can't be seen through such a cynical worldview. And yet, as voting day for the Maharashtra assembly elections wore on, it became apparent that Mumbai was struggling to pass Pappu's electoral test. The overall voting percentage was just around 45 per cent, only a shade better than the disgraceful 43 per cent in the Lok Sabha elections, and well below the state average of 60 per cent. If Naxal-affected Gadchiroli could see a voter turnout of 63 per cent, what stopped half of Mumbai's enlightened citizenry from coming out and voting?


Perhaps, it's the same reason that stopped them from speaking out when Karan Johar had to apologise to Raj Thackeray for referring Mumbai as Bombay in one of his films. It's also possibly the reason why, within weeks of angrily claiming that 'enough is enough' in the aftermath of 26/11, Mumbaikars seemed to have allowed the government to whitewash its role in the utter mishandling of the terror attack.


Maybe, it's the same mindset that has chosen to watch the city being reduced to a giant slum by a political class, which sees slum-dwellers as one large votebank and little else. Perhaps, that's also why year after depressing year the city goes under water in the monsoons. It also explains why no one has been able to challenge the builder-babu-neta nexus, which has allowed the mangroves and green areas to be concretised. You commute for aeons in a creaking railway system, flyovers don't get built on time, a sealink takes years to come up, dilapidated buildings remain hostage to antiquated laws: nothing seems to change.


A look at the morning papers will give you a sense of how the city lives in a bubble of its own. Nowhere has Page 3 been merged as effortlessly into Page 1 as in Mumbai. Shah Rukh's trousseau, Salman's antics, Priyanka's twittering — Mumbai seems to have magnified the trivial and made Bollywood its temple of worship.


It wasn't always like this. This is the city that had a ringside view to the freedom movement. It was here that Gandhi gave his clarion Quit India call, where Jinnah cut his political teeth, where Ambedkar shaped his ideological fervour. It was a city whose professional middle class was deeply engaged in public life. The 1960s, for example, were a period of political churning, with the likes of the Congress's S.K. Patil, the communist leader S.A. Dange, the firebrand George Fernandes and the demagogue Bal Thackeray fiercely competing for political space. The 1967 election of South Mumbai is seen as a defining moment: the socialist Fernandes defeating the city's then uncrowned king, Patil. Could anyone imagine in today's Mumbai a trade unionist with meager resources being able to take on the mighty political machine backed by the all-powerful real estate empire? When did it all change? Most analysts suggest it was the failed Datta Samant-led textile strike of the 1980s that broke the soul of a city and deprived it of a large industrial workforce that almost acted as a buffer between the elite and the poor. The strike led to mill closures, massive unemployment and left the labour movement discredited and leaderless.


The 1992-93 riots and bomb blasts ended up communally dividing a city's ersatz cosmopolitanism. A Mumbai of mixed neighbourhoods was now a city of hostile communities. The underworld was now overground as gangs bypassed the legal machinery for dispute resolution. The political class was building its own self-protective mechanism by engaging in rapid capital accumulation. Unemployment, crime, communalism, corruption: Mumbai was nestling on a tinderbox.


Rather than confront a difficult situation, a large number of elite and middle class Mumbaikars have chosen the soft option: secede mentally, if not physically from the world around them. Who cares what happens to Naxalism in Gadchiroli so long as the violence is confined to a distant border of Maharashtra? Farmers can commit suicide in Vidarbha. But so long as malls are well-stocked, why be concerned? North Indian students may get beaten up while appearing for an exam. But till our son can take his SAT and GMAT and apply to an American university, how does an attack on migrants change our lives?


Okay, so the potholed roads trouble us, we don't like getting stuck in a traffic jam and, yes, we hate being caught in a flooded street. But at the end of the day, that's the price one pays for living in India. In any case, there is always the escapist fantasy world of Bollywood or Bigg Boss to turn to for succour.


What's true of Mumbai could be equally true of all our mega-cities, each dominated by a mindset that is self-centred, depoliticised and perhaps resembling that of a 'resident non-Indian'. Maybe I was wrong to have believed that Mumbai was different. Maybe, it's time to snap out of the sepia-tinted nostalgia that is still Mumbai for me.


Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief , IBN Network(The views expressed by the author are personal)








Lalgarh and the arrest of Kobad Ghandy brought to light two things that we have, always, either known as facts or suspected as possibilities — that militant Maoists are every bit as keen on publicity as everybody else; and that there are intriguing, though not altogether inexplicable, pockets of urban elite sympathy for their ideology. As Maoists wreak havoc across wide swathes of the country and as the Indian state engages them in battle to combat its gravest internal security threat, it is pertinent to include within the ambit of our concern about the Naxalites the radical appeal of their "cause" to some members of the intelligentsia. Therefore, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram's double act of countering the Maoist violence through security forces on the one hand, and exposing the intellectual vacuity of their ideology by connecting that ideology with their cynical violence, is a timely improvisation.


This intellectual challenge to the extremists' ideology is not a softening on Maoists, but an invitation to civil society to form its ideas and opinions on the basis of facts and not the other way round. The home minister's outreach is necessary, given recent attempts by Maoists — from Kishenji to Ghandy — to use the mass media to intimidate as well as entice, the latter as a bait for those among the educated urban classes only too willing to be swayed. None of this is to refute the discourse of deprivation and lack of development in the areas where Naxalites are active. But it is to liberate that discourse from the grip of the Maoists and their sympathisers and work towards the uplift of the marginalised. It is also to expose how Maoists, by the violence they have unleashed on security personnel and civilians, by their persistent destruction of infrastructure, are actually the greatest obstacle to the development of these areas. As Chidambaram underscored on Thursday, the recent two-day bandh and consequent mayhem inflicted by the Maoists on Jharkhand, Bihar and parts of West Bengal have set back development efforts in the affected areas. If so much time and resources need to be spent on rebuilding damaged roads, bridges, railway stations, telecom towers, schools and offices, how and when will the same be allocated for building new ones? And that still leaves out all the needless blood spilt.


Those who offer "moral" support to the Maoists for the quasi-state institutions they provide and so-called services they render should note that genuine, permanent and progressive socio- economic development for the tribals and farmers would, in truth, deprive the Maoists of their raison d'etre. Thus they obstruct development.







Sport often yields nationalism, but the Indian Olympic Association has gone one better. For a body with a despairing record of nurturing medal-winning squads for international competition, it has found itself another battle to fight on India's behalf. It was a remarkable media briefing on Thursday, with IOA chief Suresh Kalmadi's challenge to the Commonwealth Games Federation finding rousing accompaniment in V.K. Malhotra. So as Kalmadi demanded the dismissal of CGF CEO Mike Hooper, Malhotra struck a stirring tone of nationalism, connecting the issue to India's sovereignty and adding, "These are Commonwealth Games and not Imperial Games."


Kalmadi is picking the wrong fight. Every big sport event has its bureaucracy, and they do have the trappings of a globalised aristocracy. The arrogance and closed-ness of these bureaucracies was on display recently when the International Olympic Committee heard the world's most powerful man and his wife plead the case for Chicago to get the 2016 Games, and then voted for another option. And so we saw recently that every effort was made in New Delhi this month to have as much of the traffic off the roads when the Commonwealth Games big fellas came to take stock. As hosts of the event next year, residents of the capital city know they must brave the disruptions to the city's routines that will come. That's the way multi-sport events are. Odd that the IOA, with the planeloads of delegates it carries to all parts of the globe to learn how the show is conducted, should actually think that it can carry popular or political support to fight what are nothing more than ego battles.


At the centre of the dispute between the IOA and the CGF are assessments of Delhi's preparedness. There are two aspects to preparedness: infrastructure and operational. Infrastructure more or less falls in the responsibility of local governments, and Delhi will hopefully get its act together. It must, or the Games will go elsewhere. It is the CGF's case that operational aspects too are lagging — media and accreditation, for instance — and is seeking to get more involved in them. To call this imperialism is definitely odd. And to indulge in petty public spats is to tarnish India's reputation as a host.







If there is a reason common to why Tirupati laddoos, Darjeeling tea, and Goa feni are epicurean delights, many would argue that it is because the air, soil and local peculiarities of their place of origin are key to the quality of the final product. At least that is the argument for granting Geographical Indication status to products — a status that is akin to trademark, but where the distinction is not symbolism but geography. After the recent decision to grant Tirupati laddoos — its sweetness apparently prescribed by the Central Food Technological Research Institute Mysore — GI status, comes news that the European Union is considering granting GI status to "Darjeeling" tea.


Those against the very concept of Geographical Indications miss a simple point: place matters. The origin of a product does play a role in consumer choice. Darjeeling tea, with its unique fragrance and flavour, owes much to the Shiwalik Hills in the Lower Himalayas. Even if not playing a direct role in helping customers decide, there is the question of honesty. The French would argue that producing sparkling wine in California and calling it Champagne is plain misrepresentation — it dilutes precisely what makes it different. The weavers of Benaras and Kancheevaram, for instance, would readily see the logic in that.


The EU has, for the moment, "notified" Darjeeling teas as eligible for GI status. Complainants have a six-month window after which GI status will be granted. This is welcome news, as it will protect a unique brand in the lucrative but highly competitive European market. The Indian government and our manufacturers must gear up for more such victories, and the government must assist our most valued products in enjoying the full range of intellectual property right protections — at home and abroad.








Not many people would have heard of Haji Banda Hassan, or either of his two sons, smalltime entrepreneurs and ordinary residents of a non-descript two-room property somewhere in Central Delhi. Even fewer may have heard of Rajiv Goel, longtime trading entrepreneur and former vice president of New Delhi's Khan Market Traders Association. A lot more people, at least in Delhi, would have heard much about Khan Chacha, the small hole-in-the-wall eatery in Khan Market that has been dishing out succulent kebabs to a generation of Delhiites. Now, this small eatery — closed down for the time being — is at the centre of a fierce dispute, now in the Delhi high court, between Messrs Hassan and Goel. And it isn't simply a landlord-tenant property dispute as is being reported in city newspapers.


It is a dispute about intellectual property — in this case the Khan Chacha trademark, whether it rightfully belongs to Haji Banda Hassan aka Khan Chacha or whether it belongs to Rajiv Goel. The high court, in an interim order till the next hearing later this month, has prevented Goel from operating his just opened branch in Delhi's Satya Niketan under the Khan Chacha name, following a complaint from Haji Banda Hassan.


Like in all such disputes, there are two sides to the Khan Chacha story. The first version comes from the Hassans. The Hassans have been in the kebab business in Khan Market since the early '70s, assiduously building up a reputation and goodwill among their steadily growing and increasingly loyal clientele. Their eatery has, of course, changed location over the years, most recently in 2006 when it moved into the now disputed property owned by Goel. The Hassans claim that they were tenants at the property and paid a monthly rent, and ran an independent business under the Khan Chacha brand name.


There was no trouble for two and a half years until Goel decided to open a new restaurant in Delhi's Satya Niketan under the Khan Chacha brand. He then planned to expand the hole-in-the-wall Khan Market eatery into a plusher two-storey outlet, under the same brand name. The Hassans claim that they had no wish to franchise. And that Goel had no right to expand using their brand name without their consent. So he ordered them to vacate the Khan Market property. Without using the technicalities, what the Hassans essentially allege is that Goel has pirated their brand name — Khan Chacha is inextricably associated with the Hassans and the quality food at reasonable prices they serve, which is a violation of their intellectual property.


However, and this is the key, the Hassans had no idea that they could register a trademark which would grant them protection from this sort of thing.


Goel's version of the story is quite different. While he readily admits that the Hassans have been selling kebabs in Khan Market since the early '70s, he challenges them to prove that they did so under the Khan Chacha brand. Instead, he told your correspondent, that he was the one who first put up the Khan Chacha board when the Hassans moved into his property. And that he is the one who assiduously built the brand "Khan Chacha", and in fact legitimately registered it under his name. The Hassans, he says, were well aware of this. All the time that they were on his property, there was a signboard outside saying that Khan Chacha was a unit of Goel Foods. So, in Goel's view, he has the intellectual property rights over the particular Khan Chacha brand name/ trademark. But since the Hassans and their recipes were strongly associated with the brand, he was quite happy to have them as partners, but which they refused.


Goel believes that the Hassans are now trying to subvert his rights over the brand name by appealing to emotion and the media.

The fact is that either of them could be right, but not both — one is certainly indulging in copycat piracy. There must be countless other ambiguous cases like this in India, particularly in the large domain of small unorganised business, where the knowledge of intellectual property rights is at best rudimentary. And these disputes cannot be settled by emotion or the media. They require a serious, and preferably quick, intellectual property dispute settlement mechanism, which we lack at the moment. If a case like this drags in a regular court for years, the Hassans, Goel and we the consumers all stand to lose.


A good intellectual property rights regime, apart from speed in dispute resolution, should at a minimum try to reward genuine innovators, satisfy consumers and keep pirates and thieves out of business all at the same time. There can be genuine debate about how exactly to balance genuine innovator interest with consumer interest but there should be no debate about the status of infringers of intellectual property rights.


We really have nothing to fear from a stronger intellectual property regime backed by a serious awareness drive, other than from the scaremongers and intellectual pirates. It will help prevent confusion of the Khan Chacha variety. And don't for a minute believe that a strong IPR regime, while avoiding confusion and spreading awareness, will compromise consumer interest. That's scaremongering. It will not.


Even in the most contentious area of intellectual property rights — pharma — there are solutions which balance the interests of producers and consumers. Patents and exclusive marketing rights ensure that companies can earn return on their massive investments. We need that as an incentive or firms will not invest in the development of new drugs which we so desperately need as consumers. This helps not only Western pharma firms, but Indians pharma firms too as they engage in more R&D and move up the value chain. Safeguards like compulsory licensing ensure that in case of a health emergency no one is deprived of affordable drugs.


Take the rather different examples of copyright in films. If we want good quality films (which need big budgets), we need producers, not pirates, to make money. In any case, cinema tickets are competitively priced, so there is no fear of consumer exploitation. And now, we get very quick DVD releases at very reasonable prices — in consumer interest.


It's time that we called an end to laxity on intellectual property rights. Limited awareness and weak intellectual property rights institutions affect us all as the Hassans, Rajiv Goel, and patrons of Khan Chacha will all testify.








Twenty years ago, when the world changed decisively for the first time since Churchill's Fulton ("Iron Curtain") speech in 1946 or Berlin's fall to the Red Army in 1945, we were not reading Herta Mueller. Nor does she challenge the Philip Roths on our shelves now. But earlier this year, Mueller told a Romanian newspaper:


"I didn't choose what to write. It chose me." What chose her and innumerable other writers — some of the best of them anthologised in Roth's seminal, pioneering Writers from the Other Europe series — was the political, personal and intellectual warp that had trapped East Europeans till 1989. Learning about the Nobel award, Mueller remarked: "My writing always had to do with how... a handful of powerful people could steal the country. Where do they get that right?"


That "right" is the product of power, authority and ideology drunk on the utopian dream of building a paradise, and building a hell instead. The sounds and images of 1989 — the Autumn of Nations — have persisted. But what did the power that Mueller mentions do to people like her? Why did the experience of writers in these police states encapsulate and magnify the spiritual, cultural and political death-in-life of their compatriots?


If they were silenced or driven underground, writers behind the Iron Curtain bore the consequences of speaking out. Paradoxically, if they were not collaborationists, they could still invest freely in writing. And they captured, created and smuggled out (the last if they could not, or did not, emigrate) pictures of the post-Nazi totalitarian state; they enlightened and politically stimulated select compatriots through samizdat editions. But if Lech Walesa's Solidarity was a workers' movement in Poland or East Germany's New Forum was led by civil society, erstwhile Czechoslovakia's first post-


communist president, Vaclav Havel, was a playwright, essayist and intellectual of standing. To linger on Havel's significance is to grasp the uniqueness of the Czech Velvet Revolution.


Under absolute state censorship, what is not suppressed is perverted. Of all its evils, what these writers grasped early on was the perversion of language, and where their task began: "political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and... one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end..." (George Orwell in "Politics and the English Language", as pertinent as ever). This was more elemental than banning suspect writers, dismissing them from academic posts, subjecting them to abject labour in construction works or garbage disposal, spying on them, jailing them.


Even when literature in shackled societies performs extra-literary tasks, when litterateurs do what social scientists and philosophers should, their goal, first and last, is the rescue of language. In Love and Garbage, Ivan Klima's autobiographical protagonist — a writer like himself dismissed from his post — composes an essay on Kafka while sweeping the street. In Bohumil Hrabal's Too Loud a Solitude, Hanta educates himself from books he saves from the hydraulic press he has been operating for 35 years that turns them to pulp. The assault on thought and expression and the physical destruction of knowledge is there for all to see. But without thought and its perfect expression, language dies, taking a culture's repository of knowledge with it. And without language, there is no communication. Klima, reflecting on the decline of Czech under communism, coined the term "Jerkish" (English equivalent) — an invented language for communication between humans and chimpanzees, with a vocabulary of 225 words; Orwell's "political English" meeting its Bohemian counterpart.

While the West learnt to read Czech émigrés like Milan Kundera and Josef Skvorecky and later, internal "exiles" like Klima, Hrabal, Havel, Ludvik Vaculik, Jiri Grusa, et al, while America embraced Polish defector and supreme poet Czeslaw Milosz or the Nobel committee honoured him in 1980 (before the next Pole Wislawa Szymborska in 1996), it was Havel who, in Prague's dissident political space, demonstrably gave Czechs their language back. The fall of the Berlin Wall on


November 9 — the Cold War's starkest symbol — may yet strike us as the popular, defining image of the sudden end of communism, but its death was foretold in this struggle of a few to preserve civilisation against barbarism, who never


forgave Soviet tanks rolling into Prague on an August 1968 night.


Once the void created by totalitarianism was filled, once the samizdat became redundant, the writer was no longer in intimate and inspirational contact with his reader, no longer in the same demand. Discos and sex shops eclipsed liberated book shops where serpentine queues would form immediately after 1989. That perhaps was not quite what the subterranean writers of communist Europe had sacrificed two-to-four decades of their lives for; but, having done their bit as intellectuals in one form of exile or the other — raising awkward questions, demolishing handed-down dogmas — they would be the last to complain about 1989. Having known hell, even purgatory is heaven.








In 1803, Napoleon said "China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world". He said it at the peak of his glory and at China's nadir. It is now the 21st century, Napoleon is no more and the Dragon is not sleeping. India shares around 4000 kms with China and yet India does not know how to deal with China. A glaring example was evident when all the members of the SAARC, except Bhutan, pitched for observer status to China at the Dhaka SAARC Meet, and India had little choice. China had done their homework well with the neighbours. We expect Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to look towards India, but they prefer to rush further north and are eagerly embraced. Pakistan treats India as an equal and is determined to settle political scores. Bhutan and Maldives are quite happy playing no role.


The Chinese leadership follow the ancient war master Sun Tzu, who in his Art of War said "Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat". Although in China's geo-political screen, USA is the sole target, it considers India a potential stumbling block on its course. Sun Tsu adds, "To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting".


One such Chinese tactic is the establishment of String-of-Pearls which is already accomplished. Each Pearl serves the Chinese military and economic interests. The Hainan Island Military facility has been upgraded recently along with the Woody Island airstrip in the Paracel archipelago. China has built a container shipping facility at Chittagong in Bangladesh besides assisting the military build-up of Bangladesh Army. A deep water port in Sittwe in Myanmar is complete and China has also built a deep water port in Gwadar in Pakistan which will serve its interest in the entire straits of Hormuz. China moved further deep by developing Hambantota Port, thereby consolidating its presence in the Indian Ocean, and provided military help to Sri Lanka to defeat the LTTE. China is the only country to have an exclusive economic zone in Sri Lanka. It has created a maritime reconnaissance and electronic intelligence station in Coco Island, which is just 18 km north of Andaman, and additionally controls the Myanmar ports of Akyab, Cheduba and Bassein. The honest admission of our naval chief about the Chinese blue navy power, and the air force chief's statement that our strength is one third of the Chinese, is troubling.


In the Himalayan frontier, the scene is more worrisome. Across the frontier China has built remarkable world-class infrastructural facilities, while our soldiers and citizens in most of the portion and in the McMahon line stretch trek on foot. China already has a railway line inside Tibet using permafrost technology. In contrast, we could not extend a single km of rail route beyond Morkung Selek at the Assam-Arunachal boundary which the British built before Independence. This massive rail and road infrastructure, built by China along the Tibetan plateau, has a drastic strategic implication for India in the context of our unresolved border row. The report about the Chinese move to build dams along Yarlong Tsangpo is a strategic ploy and will have serious implications for our very eco-system.


Arunachal Pradesh is in deep trouble as sporadic Chinese incursions occur while the government continues to say that the intrusions are due to differences in the perception of the McMahon Line. If the Chinese PLA were to come right into the heartland of Arunachal, we can't justify it just because Chinese perception is that the whole of Arunachal is Chinese territory. The prime minister's financial grants for road development in Arunachal is a marked departure from past policy and is a welcome step. The government has moved from the obsolete policy of keeping Arunachal underdeveloped (without roads near Mc Mahon line) as a means to stop a quick Chinese advance in the event of war! Still, it can't completely eradicate the acute bottlenecks created due to such long neglect. An extensive military transformation and massive road and rail network with substantial economic development in the forward areas of Arunachal and other sectors along the Indo-China border will balance the existing lopsided scale.


Thanks to the lackluster attitude of successive governments and a lack of general awareness, Arunachal Pradesh does not interest the whole country like Kashmir does. The just concluded Assembly elections in Arunachal went without much notice in the rest of India. Apparently, it is too far from Delhi. Arunachal Pradesh, the largest state in the North-East, is five times bigger than the Kashmir Valley and a very rich state with abundant natural resources. Patriotism is ingrained in the blood of every Arunachalee. But a majority of our country-men are oblivious to its existence. An Arunachalee feels the pain if somebody ask for proof of citizenship in Delhi or fellow Indians want to know if he has come from China, Nepal or Thailand !


May be Arunachal Pradesh does not send enough members of Parliament and does not contribute much revenue in the government's kitty, the way Maharashtra or Tamil Nadu does. Remember, we lost Aksai Chin because not a blade of grass grows there.


The writer is a former BJP MP From Arunachal Pradesh. He is currently with the Congress party








On October 12, Daily Times traced the source of the brazen attack on the army GHQ in an editorial: "Again, it was South Punjab which was in focus and, against all assertions to the contrary, this time counter-intelligence was clearly effective against the terrorists. How else can one judge counter-intelligence if not from this forewarning that even named the outfits? If this tip-off was ignored, it can only mean that there is 'denial' somewhere of there being terrorist trouble in South Punjab. Most attacks in and around Islamabad, including the one on Marriott Hotel, have been traced to South Punjab. Today, in the so-called Seraiki Belt, no one dare speak against the erstwhile jihadi organisation now clearly aligned with Al Qaeda. The government stance is the leader of Jaish-e-Muhammad, Maulana Masood Azhar, is not to be found, but the foreign press has reported his presence in Bahawalpur with new training facilities for his terrorists in the nearby desert. Interior Minister Rehman Malik says the deed is done by terrorists aligned with Al Qaeda, but he also adds some other connections that introduce breaches of logic that only he can understand. He says the terrorists are working for their foreign masters against the integrity of Pakistan. 'Foreign masters' have been named by others as India and the US. Unless explained more fully, this means India and the US are paying Al Qaeda — which Mr Malik says runs the TTP — to wreck Pakistan."



Just a day earlier, a Dawn editorial held: "The attack has highlighted the threat not just from the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, but from those based in Punjab. Security officials said some of the militants involved in the attack in the city of Rawalpindi, next door to the capital, Islamabad, appeared to have links to Punjab. 'South Punjab has become the hub of jihadism,' Pakistani analyst Ayesha Siddiqa wrote in a magazine article last month." An interesting aside to this major event was reported in The News on October 12: "The GHQ attack saved, at least, two top players of the present set-up from being sacked for creating misunderstanding between the Army and the President House. It was decided in a high-level meeting on Friday (last week) that these two men, considered close to the president, would be sacked from their jobs."


The country's security was challenged yet again when armed men attacked Lahore's security bodies on October 15. Daily Times reported a worrying component of the attack on October 16: "Top security sources have said offices of private TV channels, the National Press Club in Islamabad, other press clubs across the country and offices of the print media are likely to be the next target of terrorists. Meanwhile, a Taliban group also sent two letters to the Lahore Press Club, one on October 12 and the other on October 14, warning that if the media "does not stop portraying us as terrorists ... we will blow up offices of journalists and media organisations".



The Daily Times on October 12 commented on the clause in the Kerry-Lugar Bill that connects military aid to dismantling jihadi networks inside Pakistan,: "There are clauses that appear to be the handiwork of the Indian embassy in Washington D.C., and Indian lobbyists. These include the ones dealing with the dismantling of terrorist bases of operation in Pakistan; preventing terrorist groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, from operating in Pakistani territory and carrying out cross-border attacks on neighbouring countries. "








Everyone enjoys the goodies, the glitter and glamour and the endless zest for living that grips people around Diwali. All this does translate into increased consumer spending. Some consumers delay their purchase decisions until the festive season, both due to auspicious reasons and also to avail of the festive offers available during this time. This is especially important this year, as, hit by the economic slowdown, consumers have tightened their budgets, and the retail sector has been one of the biggest casualties. With market sentiments gradually turning positive, a ray of optimism and confidence can be seen in the Indian consumer. The festive season has built in expectations for most retailers, that the consumer would be back on a spending spree again.


Historically, the festival season accounts for around 20-40 per cent of the yearly sales in the consumer-centric sectors. Last year, there was a subdued demand during the festival season on account of recession in the market. However, initial data for the current year shows that the festival season has started on a good note as people are feeling good about the economic turnaround. For example a 10-35 per cent growth in sales has been observed in lifestyle products during this period.


Retailers are all set to cash in on this opportunity. Many companies in the consumer durables sector, automotive sector and other extended categories have initiated large scale advertising campaigns, announcing the launch of a number of new brands, new models of existing products in the market, special festive discounts etc. to boost consumer spending. There are deals galore everywhere. Other than straight discounts, consumers are lured with travel packages, cash vouchers and other sorts of gifts.


It is expected that the festive season will set the tone for economic revival and growth forecast for the next fiscal. The revival in organised retail sales points to an increase in urban consumer spending that could lift up the overall business environment. This revival, supported with buoyant consumer demand, has induced the big retail players to materialise their business expansion plans. Besides stocking up more, retailers are also on the way to renewed hiring and expansion.


It is definitely true that there has been a significant improvement in buyer sentiments in the second quarter. This is a result of a number of factors put together, including positive segments brought out by a strong political regime, a market upsurge in the economy, stabilisation of inflationary pressure and increased job security. Retailers are leveraging the current market dynamics by focusing on offering greater value to shoppers and providing consumers with various options.


The Indian retail sector is one of the key sectors being tracked by overseas investors. At present, 100 per cent FDI is allowed in wholesale cash and carry businesses, while in single brand retailing, 51 percent FDI is allowed but none in multi-brand retailing. Currently the share of organised retail is still very small in the overall market. Further, due to the existing FDI rules, which act as a roadblock for foreign investment in multi-brand retail, the pace of growth of organised retail has continued dawdling over the period. The sector is hopeful of reaping indirect benefits through the abolition of the fringe benefit tax and hike in the personal income tax ceiling as it will further increase consumer spending. Further, some recent developments like the proposal to introduce Goods and Service Tax could have a positive impact on retail.


Despite the fact that these factors lure foreign investment in the retail sector, there remains an apprehension on account of the FDI hurdle on investment in multi-brand retail in India.


On the whole, it appears that despite difficult economic times, the Indian retail growth story is all set to see better times with the changing economic scenario and positive consumer response, albeit with a bit of turbulence. Domestic consumption will be powering the expansion. The slowdown witnessed by the retail sector has helped the retailers to re-work their strategies and operation for long term sustainability. The festive season has only accentuated the recovery curve. So no guesses on who is most happy this Diwali. The expansion of organised retail has both the consumer and the retailers saying Happy Diwali!


The writers are senior professionals, Retail & Consumer Products Practice, Ernst & Young. The views expressed herein are personal







The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) wants the Commonwealth Games Federation's (CGF) Chief Executive Mike Hooper to be sent back from India because of, among other things, his alleged indiscipline. One of the cases that IOA officials have been highlighting deals with one A.K. Kesri, a director in the office of the Organising Committee's Secretary General Lalit Bhanot. Kesri had written a letter of complaint to IOA President Suresh Kalmadi on July 27, 2009 alleging that Hooper had misbehaved with him, almost broken his spectacles, and that he was "always whistling during his movements in the office building". This letter is reproduced below, on the left. In response, Kalmadi shot off a letter, dated July 31, to CGF president Mike Fennell, bringing the "unfortunate incident" to his notice. This letter is reproduced below, on the right:

Organising Committee Commonwealth Games Delhi 2010


July 27, 2009



The Chairman


OC CWG Delhi 2010


Sub: Misbehaviour and use of unparliamentary words by Mr Mike Hooper, CEO, CGF



I, A. K. Kesri, Director, Office of Secretary General was operating on the work station in front of the Vice Chairman's Office due to space constraint in front of S.G. Office.


Today, on 27th July 2009 at about 10:30 A.M. Mr Mike Hooper was trying to open the office chamber of Vice Chairman. When he failed to open the door he came in front of my work station and starting shouting at me that who has changed the lock of this room. As I was unaware of the development I asked him "what happened". He replied that he is having the key of this room but lock is not opening which means somebody has changed the lock. I told him that it may be under instructions from competent authority which is not known to me. He again started shouting at me using the filthy language and thrown the key on my face. Fortunately I escaped from damage of my spectacles. I told Mike Hooper that this is not a gentleman's behaviour and he should behave properly. Then he started threatening me that he is going to complain and he will teach a lesson to me.


Some of my colleagues also informed that he was using very abusive language for the O.C. staff and management too. He is not maintaining the office decorum and always whistling during his movements in the office building.


This is for your information and such necessary action as deemed fit and proper.

With regards.

Sincerely your's

A.K. Kesri


Office of Secretary General

Organising Committee Commonwealth Games Delhi 2010



Dated 31st July 2009

Dear Mr Fennell,


Hope you are doing fine.

I would like to bring to your kind notice an unfortunate incident of Mr Mike Hooper misbehaving with one of the staff members in the Secretary General's office. The concerned staff, Mr A K Kesari, Director, has submitted a written complaint, the copy of which is enclosed.


After shifting the office of the Organising Committee to the new office premises, Mr Mike Hooper has been allotted office space on the 8th Floor which is expected to be completed in 2 weeks time. He was allotted an alternate office space on the 2nd floor to operate but he refused to do so and started using another office on the 9th floor of the building which was allotted to Mr Randhir Singh, the Vice Chairman of O.C.


Such untoward incidences, as mentioned in the complaint, are a matter of concern for the staff of OC.


In this regard I would like to convey my advice that Mr Mike Hooper may operate from his office-cum-residence which has been allotted by the O.C.


Suresh Kalmadi, M.P.

Chairman, OC CWG D2010







Last week, Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit said the 2010 Commonwealth Games delegation had "gone back happy" after having its "doubts cleared". Last month, Union urban development minister Jaipal Reddy assured us all that everything was "on course" for the prestigious sporting event. Sports minister MS Gill has repeatedly assured that all preparations would be completed on time and that the Games "will be a successful event". But the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) is refusing to play ball. Its president has demanded an independent technical review panel to step up monitoring of the preparations. That's made the chairman of the Indian organising committee mad. Suresh Kalmadi is demanding that CGF chief executive Mike Hooper be immediately repatriated from India. He has also rejected the call for an independent monitoring panel. Yet, wonder of wonders, most Indians—read: Delhiites and the media—haven't put their weight behind the home team. The reason is simple. It doesn't need 20/20 vision to recognise the import of all the "work in progress" signs dotting the capital. When the CAG recently reported that 13 of the 19 main sports venues were badly behind schedule, even that was no shocker to anyone who simply walks around Delhi. Far from building a competitor to Beijing's Bird's Nest, we are recycling the 1982 Asiad host as the main Games stadium. From roof to floor, everything is a mess, even at Jawaharlal Nehru stadium.


The only thing, on balance, is that the Commonwealth Games are simply a reflection of India's overall infrastructure muddle. It's actually not a question of money, but of governance. Report after report, incidence after incidence, we have seen projects fail to deliver on schedule. Citizens' protests—some conservationists speaking up for the Yamuna's floodplains and some others for an historical monument adjoining an underground rail link merely being two obvious examples—are oft-cited red herrings. Again, like the CAG report on the Commonwealth Games progress, just look at government data—the statistics and programme implementation ministry has recently estimated that nearly half of government projects are behind schedule. When our policymakers know well—they can quote the Chinese example at the drop of a hat—that infrastructure projects are key to boosting growth, their lackadaisical approach to demanding results is inexcusable. As is Kalmadi's refusal to accept that Hooper has cause to complain. When our house is in complete disorder, when everything from special stadium overhauls to ordinary road upkeep is severely stunted, how can one sit on a high horse? If fingers need pointing, how can one just direct them outwards? Hooper is only stating the obvious. Delhiites know this, and Kalmadi can't rabble-rouse us to pretend otherwise. Kalmadi is a Congressman and the Congress is in power. Therefore, the Congress has the main political responsibility for saving India's face. Will the Congress do something, please?






The Prime Minister's speech at Scope's excellence awards, a function to recognise performers in and among government-run enterprises, gave an interesting insight into how the UPA government views the role of PSUs. Obviously, in keeping with what seems to be the party line, the PM made no reference to large-scale sell-offs or privatisations. He, however, made interesting points about the listing of PSUs on stock exchanges. Listed PSUs, as the PM pointed out, contribute 24% of the total market capitalisation of the Bombay Stock Exchange. And in terms of market capitalisation, five of the top ten BSE companies are public sector undertakings. The PM obviously used these telling statistics to highlight the relative success of some PSUs. It would be hard to deny that at least some PSUs have done well, particularly those that have had to compete with players from the private sector in India and from companies from abroad. It may also have to do with the fact that being listed on stock markets adds an important dimension to the corporate governance of PSUs.


Once listed on a major stock market, PSUs are compelled to follow best practices in corporate governance, particularly disclosure, which is often a problem in the more non-transparent unlisted PSUs. It would be reasonable to argue that listed PSUs are by and large better performers than PSUs which are not listed and wholly owned by the government. Managements also have the added incentive of looking at stock prices of their company. Arbitrary government intervention will also be less likely once a public sector company becomes publicly listed. The probability of the government presiding over a crash in the stock price of one of its PSUs because of a blatantly bad decision will be much less for fear of a public outcry. Moving forward, for a government that dislikes the disinvestment word, incremental listing of PSUs on stock markets is probably the best way to lower government ownership and increase private shareholder control. Of course, some particularly sick PSUs may need a strategic sale because no one will buy their listed shares. But for the ones that make a profit, listing on the markets will be a uncontroversial way towards privatisation. If a significant amount of shares are eventually offloaded, PSUs will also be vulnerable to takeoevers if they do not perform. That will help keep them on their toes. And if they are always on their toes, then the government will get better value for the shares it does sell. It is a win-win situation. The Prime Minister should proceed with divestment by listing straight away.








The fact is that we have too many news channels in our country. And since these childish enterprises have very little to do, they keep running the same news items again and again irrespective of whether the news is real, exaggerated or even manufactured. To make matters worse, they accompany these re-runs with bellicose images. What else can one make of the fact that we are incessantly told that 6,000 Chinese bloggers (a country which has hundreds of millions of bloggers) think that Arunachal belongs to China and while we are being told this we are presented with visual images of stern Red Army soldiers marching in wicked proletarian unison? Even laidback and bored watchers like me can justifiably get paranoid that China is about to invade Nandigram, Gadchiroli and the drains of Noida (parts of our great country cleverly avoided by our own hapless police!).


Let's try and restore some sanity to the debate. We need a confrontation with China pretty much just as much as we need a swine-flu epidemic. In the sixties, we provoked them (and if you don't believe that we provoked them, read Neville Maxwell's book—our great socialist government minions gave him access to the Henderson-Brooks report which we ordinary citizens are yet to see). And in return, they gave us a bloody nose. There were some good fallouts though. The egotistical General Kaul (who in all probability would have tried to engineer a coup d'état) was sacked as was the incompetent Krishna Menon.


One can argue with equal emphasis that the last thing China needs is a confrontation with us. While they have been quite successful in many ways, they are still a poor country and their primary objective is to increase their national wealth while managing social cohesion—a difficult task at the best of times which is made more difficult during periods of rapid growth accompanied by volatility. Confrontation is not in the interest of either country; but it might be in the interests of bloggers who can draw attention to themselves and of TV channels starved of Bollywood gossip and murder stories.


The Chinese state unlike the Pakistani one is in control of the country and the ruling elite is rational and therefore one can argue would be susceptible to rational arguments and incentives. We must make sure that they in turn feel the same way about us. There are numerous sensible ways in which we can resolve matters. One radical solution is for each country to insist on paper that they are not "conceding sovereignty over even one square millimetre of land" and then proceed to unilaterally grant the other side a perpetual lease over the lands actually occupied by the other party. This would be a neat trick. No face is lost.


The hyper-nationalists on both sides can feel happy that sovereignty has not been compromised and pretty much nothing need change. Similarly, each country can unilaterally accept as dual citizens of the lessor and the lessee the residents of these thinly inhabited parts. We will still require to have some give and take on the ground as we actually lay down markers on the leased land. But this can be done quietly by soldiers and engineers without involving internet aficionados and TV camera crews.


Having dispensed with the border problem in this manner or in any similar imaginative and intelligent way, perhaps we can turn our attention to the things that matter much more to the citizens of both countries. We can focus on increasing trade between our two high growth economies; we can suspend our restrictions on Chinese workers coming in and working on our infrastructure projects and in return they can ease up on visa requirements for our businesspersons. We can encourage greater cross-border investments. We can consider opening up our showcase infrastructure projects (e.g. metros) to minority investments from Chinese entities. We have been hesitant in this area. There is no need to be. We can and we should boldly welcome Chinese investments in most if not all sectors. They, in turn, could even consider giving our companies preferential investment terms. We can increase greatly the intake of Chinese students into our colleges and in turn get more of our students, teachers and researchers into China's burgeoning university system.


We can let the Chinese know that while we respect the Dalai Lama because such respect is central to our heritage (Gautama Buddha was probably the greatest historical Indian, was he not?), we really do not support the mischievous machinations of sundry Hollywood celebrities, western governments and the CIA. It is the CIA's habit to encourage people to revolt (the Hungarians in 1956, the marsh Arabs in the nineties and so on) but never give them enough support to win. They have done the same thing with Tibetans knowing full well that American trade and investment relations with China will always take precedence over the crocodile tears shed for Tibetans or Uighurs. We on the other hand understand that encouraging secessionism elsewhere can backfire on us and in any event have no desire to cynically manipulate a great Buddhist religious figure and his followers. Our respect and affection for them does not translate into political support of any kind.


Both countries should focus on increasing interactions between civic groups—Chambers of Commerce, CEO Forums, Writers Forums, Cinema Chambers—all of these can stay engaged in more meaningful ways. If Bollywood movies can be shot in Malaysia, Switzerland and Australia, I don't see why we cannot have our traditional hero and heroine traipsing on the Great Wall and lip-synching their way on and on about Dil, Pyaar and Mohabbat as they habitually do with great aplomb and abandon!


We need not succumb to the false argument that if we are not aggressive and hyper-patriotic, we somehow become naive and supine. I believe it is high time we explored rational win-win outcomes and stop allowing the agenda to be set based on hysteria and unsustainable bellicosity.








Here is a story from the treasure-trove of the Net. It is the month of August, on the shores of the Black Sea. It is raining, and the little town looks totally deserted. It is tough times, everybody is in debt, and everybody lives on credit. Suddenly, a rich tourist comes to town. He enters the only hotel, lays a 100 euro note on the reception counter, and goes to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to pick one. The hotel proprietor takes the 100 euro note and runs to pay his debt to the butcher. The butcher takes the 100 euro note, and runs to pay his debt to the pig-grower. The pig-grower takes the 100 euro note, and runs to pay his debt to the supplier of his feed and fuel. The supplier of feed and fuel takes the 100 euro note and runs to pay his debt to the town's prostitute that in these hard times, gave her "services" on credit. The hooker runs to the hotel, and pays off her debt with the 100 euro note to the hotel proprietor to pay for the rooms that she rented when she brought her clients there. The hotel proprietor then lays the 100 euro note back on the counter so that the rich tourist will not suspect anything. At that moment, the rich tourist comes down after inspecting the rooms, and takes his 100 euro note, after saying that he did not like any of the rooms, and leaves town. No one earned anything. However, the whole town is now without debt, and looks to the future with a lot of optimism.


This is supposed to be a description of the global economy, especially US, today.  This is the festive season in India, with exchange of gifts.  If there is one pan-Indian festival, that happens to be Diwali.  Even if one ignores Dhanteras, in most parts of India, Diwali coincides with worship of Lakshmi, goddess of wealth.  Accordingly, it is the season for gambling, personal gifts, corporate gifts, dry-fruit and liquor sales, expenditure on fireworks and concentrated quarter for sales of consumer goods.  Estimates of consumption expenditure are no more than guesses.  If one ignores sales of retail consumer goods, one is probably talking about incremental consumption expenditure approaching Rs 10,000 crore. There is a story about Lakshmi being Bhrigu's daughter.  However, more commonly, she emerged from the ocean and the ocean can be a metaphor for trade, with this Diwali signifying revival of India's exports.  Let's not forget elephants are identified with Lakshmi.  Before Diwali, central government public expenditure has been on white elephants and a certain state government public expenditure has been on black elephants, or their statues.  Both invoke multiplier benefits.  No wonder Lakshmi's transport is the owl, which is what Central and state governments make of citizens.


Keynes got credit for the multiplier concept.  Keynes never said anything about digging useless ditches and then filling them up to trigger employment creation.  That is Joan Robinson's interpretation.  But even if Keynes had said that, he would have been beaten to the concept by Asaf-ud-daulah in 1783/4, who built Lucknow's Bara Imambara as a famine-relief public works programme.  More interestingly, whatever was constructed during the day was destroyed at night, so that there could be incremental employment next day.  Scrutinised through indigenous historical lenses one understands nuances one misses out through Western lenses, such as why no productive assets are created under NREG.  For instance, Hindu rate of growth is believed to have been an off-the-cuff remark by Raj Krishna, suggesting tongue-in-cheek that there was something intrinsically Hindu about 3.5%.  However, 3.5% is more robust than that.  Hindu texts can be interpreted as recommending an overall savings rate of 16%.  This was essentially for private household sector.  Interpreted thus, we aren't remarkably over that figure, with private corporate and public sectors excluded.  An ICOR of 4.5, then yields a growth rate of 3.6%.


If the savings rate is 16%, there must be triggers for consumption. That's precisely what these festivals do.  Unlike some other religions, Hindu festivals are spread throughout the calendar year, with only February and December relatively lean months.  This probably has to do with Hinduism's evolution as an organised religion, with expenditure shifting from small household-based sacrifices to larger community-based public events, within and without temples.  Earlier, there were kings too. There aren't any kings now.  So we are left with public expenditure (fiscal multipliers) and private expenditure (consumption multipliers).  The Economist recently ran a story titled "Much ado about multipliers" and concluded, "Fiscal multipliers will probably be lower in heavily indebted economies than in prudent ones. But policymakers looking for precise estimates are deluding themselves."  That story was about fiscal multipliers.  We don't want elephant-type fiscal multipliers to crowd out Diwali-type consumption multipliers by the owls.


The author is a noted economist







Genetically modified brinjal, or Bt brinjal, the first food crop in India to get GEAC approval, is now just one step away from the farmers' fields and then our dining tables. Under development since 2000, by Mahyco India and its public sector partners, Bt brinjal has undergone rigorous, and science-based regulatory approval process before reaching at the doorstep of the Union environment ministry. The ministry nod is eagerly awaited not only by the Indian agriculture scientists and farmers but also by those in Bangladesh and Philippines, the partner countries in the USAID-assisted Agri-Biotechnology Support Project -II (ABSP-II).


GEAC has granted, according to reports, technical approval to the event in which the cry1Ac gene of the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is inserted into a particular chromosome of the brinjal plant that enables it to resist the attack of the fruit and shoot borer pest, that destroys almost 60% of the crop.


This technology developed by the US multinational Monsanto was gifted to the resource poor farmers of Asia through Mahyco India and ABSP-II. In India, Mahyco partnered with the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, Coimbatore, the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, Karnataka and the Indian Institute of Vegetable Research, Varanasi. These three public sector institutions have transferred locally suitable high-yielding superior varieties of brinjal into Bt brinjal varieties. They have also produced large quantities of seeds for release to the farmers when the environment ministry approves that.Varieties are not hybrids and farmers will be able to save the seeds for the next crop without necessarily buying the seeds again. However, for the hybrids developed by Mahyco, the farmers will have to buy the seeds for each crop for the full benefits of Bt. The approval of Bt brinjal might expedite the development process of at least 11 other popular varieties of vegetables and fruits under various stages of trials and experiments.


Progressive farmers, encouraged by the success of Bt cotton, are keen to have Bt brinjal released to them for commercial cultivation.







It is reassuring that a positive and statesmanlike initiative by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi has been matched by a like response from Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. There can be little doubt that the five-day visit by a group of ten parliamentarians of the State's ruling combine to Sri Lanka, for a first-hand assessment of the conditions of the nearly 250,000 war-displaced Tamils housed in government-run camps in the north, has contributed to a better understanding of the prevailing situation in the island nation. After months of confusion and misperceptions, influential sections of the Tamil Nadu polity have had a rare opportunity to come to terms with the realities of post-Prabakaran Sri Lanka. There appears to be a readiness to look ahead towards practical solutions rather than behind to a benighted past dominated by calamitous violence, terrorism, and illfare in the cause of a secessionist struggle that never had a chance of achieving its proclaimed goal. By enabling the delegation freely to visit the refugee camps in Vavuniya district, Jaffna town, and plantation areas where Indian-origin Tamils are settled, Sri Lanka demonstrated a far-sighted willingness to accommodate the sensitivities of political parties in Tamil Nadu. In concrete terms, the mission can be commended for obtaining an assurance from President Rajapaksa that 58,000 displaced Tamils in the camps would be returned to their homes in a fortnight's time, and that the remaining Tamils would be resettled gradually, as soon as de-mining operations permitted a safe return to their areas.


President Rajapaksa clearly has his priorities right — the first priority being the duty of the state to take care of the immediate basic needs and the safety of its Tamil citizens displaced during the fierce endgame of a three-decade-long civil war. To send the displaced people home in the absence of conditions assuring their safety from landmines and the minimum infrastructure needed to carry on life and work would have been an abdication of the government's responsibility to its own citizens. The victims of the civil war need all the help they can get from their government, aided generously by India, other foreign governments, and genuine international aid agencies, to rebuild their lives and future. The Sri Lankan government must be encouraged to be more open and liberal in its policy towards people who were once in thrall to the LTTE; this would imply that only those who had organisational links with the extremist outfit need to be retained in the camps after the de-mining exercise is completed. The search for a just and enduring political solution acceptable to the Tamils, the Muslims, and the majority Sinhalese needs to be speeded up but the reality is that this can come only after the displaced Tamils are returned, in substantial measure, to their areas and after the presidential and parliamentary elections are completed by the first half of 2010.







The Czech President, Václav Klaus, is causing considerable irritation among his fellow heads of state and government in the European Union by not signing the Treaty of Lisbon. The Czech Republic is the only one of the 27 EU states yet to ratify the Treaty, which all member-states signed on December 13, 2007. Both chambers of the country's parliament have approved the Treaty, and the constitutional court has ruled it does not violate the constitution. Mr. Klaus n evertheless has raised objections at this very late stage. He demands exemptions from the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is a part of the Treaty, and new provisions to protect the Czech Republic against claims arising from the expulsion of Carpathian Germans after the Second World War. He seeks to bolster his case by pointing out that Poland and the United Kingdom specifically obtained exemptions from the Treaty (although this happened before the ratification process began). Mr. Klaus's demands, if conceded, would require a repetition of the ratification process in all 27 EU states. As the process has taken eight years and is still incomplete, that is something no member-government wants.


Not surprisingly, even the Czech parliament is growing restive and there is talk of impeachment if Mr. Klaus does not heed the constitutional court's ruling. One solution would be for the other 26 states to issue a declaration accepting his demands; Irish concerns were thus accommodated after Ireland rejected the Treaty in June 2008. The Treaty, which contains some genuine improvements, including a substantial foreign policy role, over previous EU arrangements, has been criticised for being an EU constitution smuggled in by the back door after the French and Dutch voters rejected it; the EU's reaction to the Irish rejection was close to casuistry; and the Treaty has not allayed the remoteness the people of the member-states feel from its institutions. Mr. Klaus, however, may only be trying to keep his own political career afloat. He cannot be President again after his term expires in 2013, and his Civic Democratic Party is cool towards him. So he may be attempting to cast himself as a Eurosceptic on a pan-European stage, unmindful of the damage he does. It is important to ensure that this political adventurer is not allowed that opportunity.









For watchers of India's grassroots democracy, the place to be in recently was Bhilwara in Rajasthan; the town and the countryside were decked out in carnival colours for an audit exercise that saw thousands come together — social rights activists led by Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan's stalwart campaigners Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey, NGOs, State government officials and Ministers, and observers from the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India .


The project under the scanner was India's showpiece Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, and the purpose of the social audit was to assess how the programme worked, if it worked at all. Naturally, it was democracy, warts and all, in exhibition, with commitment and dedication battling entrenched vested interests at every step.


First, the positives. The most striking thing about the campaign was its unflagging spirit. For close to a fortnight starting October 1, bands of social audit activists, among them farmers, labourers and schoolteachers, ate, breathed, slept and walked — yes walked — NREGA. A total of 125 tolis (groups) set out on foot across 375 panchayats, poring over muster rolls, job cards, cash books, technical sanctions and other NREGA documents. They carried out spot inspections, gathered feedback from beneficiaries, and took complaints right down to where it mattered — to the local post office that blocked payment of wages and to the sarpanch who, villagers fearfully whispered, had siphoned off NREGA funds.


The padayatris drew no stipend, not taking even a food allowance, and quite gamely let on that "we were told we wouldn't get a paisa, and must ask for food from the villagers."


For those of us in the media who had descended on Bhilwara straight from the elitist environs of Delhi, there was something unreal about so many young men and women toiling hard without expectations of a reward. Yet how could anyone miss the commitment of a people who trudged from village to village in the hot afternoon sun, singing and shouting NREGA slogans? Sona chandi main nahi maanga; gadi, bangla, main nahi maanga; Limca, Shimca, Pepsi Cola, main nahi maanga; rozi roti, purna padhaiyee, photocopy; desh ka kharcha, kharcha ka hisab, main ne maanga (I don't want gold and silver; car and bungalow; nor do I want Limca and Pepsi Cola; But I do want food, full literacy, photocopies and an account of public spending).


A bigger surprise was the Rajasthan government's drive and enthusiasm. The young District Collector of Bhilwara, Manju Rajpal, was on the job 24x7, making surprise checks, holding meetings late into the night, examining complaints and booking FIRs against errant panchayat staff. Banna Lal, the State government's newly appointed director of social audit, came with a formidable reputation, having unearthed a huge scandal in a food-for-work programme in Janawad in Rajsamand district. Also in Bhilwara for the audit was the State Commissioner for NREGA, Rajendra Bhanawat — again a tough taskmaster judging by the steel he displayed at a meeting with zilla parishad Chief Executive Officers. When a CEO quoted a village sarpanch as saying he needed to share his bribes with "people on top," Mr. Bhanawat shot back: "Who are the people on top? I want the names."


But this was not all. The Rajasthan Minister for Panchayati Raj and Rural Development Bharat Singh sat through five hours of a jan sunwai (public hearing) on the social audit, and the final day saw the organisers debate the outcome of the audit in the presence of Union Minister for Rural Development C.P. Joshi. Mr. Joshi, of course, was brought by a personal reason to Bhilwara: It is his parliamentary constituency.


Prima facie it all seemed too good to be true. As a hack remarked, the selfless MKSS activists, the earnest Collector, a government that would go the extra mile to facilitate the audit, all recalled a 1970s feel-good Doordarshan documentary more than real-time India with its conflicts and confrontations.


Obviously, the Bhilwara project was not quite the glitchless, seamless mass movement it appeared to first-time observers. Behind the impressive grand finale was a history of struggle for accountability in public spending. The MKSS had met with resistance in all its previous social audits in Rajasthan. In 2008 in Jhalawar, MKSS audit members were brutally set upon by village officials. The Bhilwara audit was itself preceded by days of dharna by sarpanchs (village heads) who feared being held to account. And though they came around eventually, the truce turned out to be fragile. In a lot of places, the records had to be wrested from reluctant panchayat officials. There were also showdowns between the sarpanchs and the auditors at many of the jan sunwais held on the penultimate day. In Baran village, a young woman auditor who reported irregularities in NREGA work was heckled by sarpanchs who told her plainly that she was a busybody. In Taswaria, the village heads insisted on being spared punishment for wrongdoings, unmindful of the presence of Minister Bharat Singh.


The social auditors confronted irregularities almost everywhere, and these went well beyond the expected complaints around delayed and stalled payment of wages. Job cards, required by law to be in the beneficiaries' possession, were routinely withheld by the panchayat staff, resulting in NREGA workers not being able to claim what they earned. NREGA is premised on simple transparency, an example being the use of village walls to display work and payment details so that these become public knowledge. Yet the auditors repeatedly found fake muster rolls, bare walls and misplaced job cards. The material used in construction work was substandard and record books showed inflated figures against usage.


In the villages in Panchayat Samiti Hurda, the auditors were stonewalled by a vexing collusion between the panchayat staff and a powerful section of villagers for the use of JCB earthmovers for digging trenches. NREGA's cost components are just two, labour and material, with asset creation being the end product. Yet because the programme's primary objective is labour employment, machines, which would speed up asset creation, are excluded from it unless justified by impossibly difficult terrain. Even in such a situation, machines must be separately accounted for and not adjusted against material costs.


The sarpanch-villager collusion worked like this: The sarpanch and his acolytes would hire the JCB machine to cut down time and labour, yet fudge the record books to show full employment and extended periods of work, thus earning huge sums of money for no labour at all. Obviously, the conspiracy excluded the bulk of the workers in whose names the wages were drawn. When social auditors brought up this point at the Taswaria public hearing, they were shouted down by the sarpanchs and their supporters, all insisting that they were not up to doing tough NREGA labour. One villager challenged MKSS functionary Shanker Singh to do the labour himself.


Mr. Singh tried reasoning with the angry gathering. Using limericks and humour, he argued that the JCB was not an innocent machine but a precursor to big corporate giants eyeing the NREGA's vast funds. "Mind you, the minute corporates come in, NREGA goes out," Mr. Singh said, comparing the situation to the story of the mouse and the fat man. The man was unperturbed when the rat ran over his belly but in reality the rodent had shown the way to snakes and scorpions that would surely follow. As Mr. Singh explained to The Hindu, in Rajasthan alone, an estimated Rs. 9,500 crore will be spent on NREGA in 2009, making the programme lucrative for big corporates. If they came in, the NREGA would cease to be a wage employment programme.


The roadblocks that the Bhilwara social audit teams faced cannot however detract from the achievements of the exercise, which for the first time ever united two sections conventionally at loggerheads: civil society and government. And obviously the irregularities we witnessed in Bhilwara were nothing compared to the situation in other States where NREGA was struggling to get off the ground.


Reluctant as the Bhilwara sarpanchs were, they produced the account books in the end, enabling the audit teams to understand how the system worked and plan for future improvements.


As Ms Roy explained, "Yes, there are irregularities but I would think these form a small proportion of NREGA work. More to the point, through years of struggle we have institutionalised a system of transparency in Rajasthan which ensures against big scams." Mr. Dey saw the audit as a prototype for NREGA assessment elsewhere in the country. "We have shown that given political will, resistance can be beaten down."









  • The Geneva talks have taken off to a good start because both sides abandoned the sterile approach of past negotiations
  • Sustaining the momentum for a lasting rapprochement between Iran and the global powers will not be easy
  • A re-accommodation of a resurgent Iran as a leading player in the regional pecking order is unlikely to please Saudi Arabia and Egypt


Contrary to the prognosis of failure made by leading hawks in Israel, Europe and the United States, Iran's first round of talks with the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany has got off to a promising start. Senior officials from Iran, the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany held intensive discussions in a secluded villa overlooking the placid Lake Geneva on October 1.


Surprisingly, the day-long dialogue yielded substantial results, which set the wheels of diplomacy moving rapidly in several capitals, including Vienna, headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).


Within two days of the talks in Geneva, Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the IAEA, which monitors whether countries harnessing atomic energy go by the book, arrived in Tehran.


Dr. ElBaradei's mission included preparations for an early inspection of Iran's second uranium enrichment facility, located inside a mountain near the holy city of Qom.


The urgency of his arrival is tied to Iran's declaration in Geneva that it was ready to open this facility to U.N. inspectors within two weeks. Iran maintains that it took the step to dispel the notion that its second plant, named Fordo, was in any way connected to a covert nuclear weapons programme. His talks in Tehran resulted in an agreement by the two sides to facilitate inspection by IAEA experts of the Fordo site on October 25.



The second element of the IAEA chief's mission was to pursue Iran's stunning offer in Geneva that, in principle, it is ready to send abroad for further enrichment most of its existing stockpile of low-enriched uranium. Iran has enriched more than a tonne of uranium to a 3.5 to 5 per cent level. It is now ready to transfer most of this material to Russia for enrichment to a level between 19 and 20 per cent. Russia, in turn, will send it to France for conversion into metal fuel rods. It will finally return to Iran, in this form, for use in a small facility in Tehran that makes isotopes for medical use. In a cautiously optimistic assessment of the situation resulting from the Geneva conference and his talks with the Iranians, Dr. ElBaradei said: "I see that we are at a critical moment. I see that we are shifting from confrontation to transparency and cooperation." Further discussions are scheduled for October 19.


The Iranian move to transfer abroad its stocks of low-enriched uranium for fuel fabrication is potentially path-breaking. It would mean that Iran, after the shipment leaves its shores, would no longer have the material to produce atomic weapons. By implication, this should ground moves to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities, avidly proposed by hawks in the U.S. and Israel, citing that Iran had a big enough stockpile for making at least one nuclear warhead.

The Iranians now have to do two things which could help to permanently ward off the threat of air strikes on their atomic infrastructure. First, they have to work on a stable arrangement to ship abroad regularly low-enriched uranium produced in the IAEA-monitored facility in Natanz. This will ensure that Iran, now as well as in future, is unable to accumulate a uranium stockpile that is large enough for conversion into weapons. Second, Iran may have to expand its cooperation with the IAEA, to reassure friends and foes alike, that it does not run secret facilities which produce material for weapons. For this purpose, its signature to the Additional Protocol, which would allow the IAEA to inspect at short notice its suspect facilities, could go a long way in boosting international confidence in its claim that its nuclear programme has a peaceful orientation.


The Geneva talks have taken off to a good start because both sides abandoned the sterile approach of past negotiations, which were leading to more sanctions and hostility and possibly war.Iranian officials, including their delegation head in Geneva, Saeed Jalili, emphasised that the global powers, during discussions, did not exhort Tehran to give up its on-going uranium enrichment programme. This marked a significant departure in the western position from the Bush era, during which three rounds of sanctions were imposed on Iran, which refused to suspend enrichment in Natanz, citing its legal rights to enrich as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Recent foreign minister-level talks between the Americans and the the Russians in Moscow have further reduced the chances of fresh sanctions. The sharp shift in stance by the Americans and their allies towards the Iranian nuclear posture can be attributed to the Obama administration's better appreciation of the "big picture" obtaining in the region.


Unlike sections of the Bush administration, especially the former Vice-President, Dick Cheney's office, the Obama administration appears to have concluded that air strikes against Iran, even by Israel, can lead to catastrophic consequences. Hard-headed realists in the Pentagon and elsewhere in the U.S. security establishment realise that air strikes would generate a dynamic that would eventually draw American forces into a much larger and difficult-to-extricate conflagration. For instance, Israeli air strikes would, inevitably, result in a swift retaliation by Tehran, which could threaten the flow of oil from the Strait of Hormuz. Given the sledgehammer impact of this move on an ailing international economy, the U.S. navy would have to step into the conflict, starting a spiral which would make it inevitable to induct into Iran American ground troops, who already have their hands full in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike in the initial stages of the Iraq war where American forces were not militarily preoccupied in the region, air strikes against Iran can draw the U.S. into a protracted, hard-to-win war. An exit from this situation will then be possible only by either a tacit admission of defeat or bringing into play a horrific nuclear weapons dimension; a scenario which the U.S. establishment would try its best to avoid. Not surprisingly, Defence Secretary Robert Gates has been consistent in downplaying military action against Iran, to promote American security objectives in the oil-rich region.


The U.S. administration also better appreciates the fact that Iranian cooperation will be pivotal to extricate American troops from Iraq and to the success of Washington's troubled venture in Afghanistan. Iranian influence runs deep among Iraq's Shia militias, who have the power to cause instability which is enough to force American overstay in Iraq. Iran is also the key power broker for stability in Lebanon, on account of its influence over the Hizbollah militia.


Besides, an Iranian-Syrian nexus exercises unrivalled influence over the Palestinian Hamas in Gaza, making Iran's eventual involvement in resolving the Israel-Palestine dispute indispensable.


While a good start has been made in Geneva, sustaining the momentum for a lasting rapprochement between Iran and the global powers will not be easy. Powerful forces in the region are bound to lose out, and will retaliate, if tensions between Iran and the West begin to ease, and the regional geopolitical order becomes more accommodative of Iran as West Asia' s pivotal power. Israel, which has been designated since its inception as America's chief ally in the region, will be badly hurt in case the promise of Iran's budding détente with the global powers cements.

Tel Aviv is well aware that Iran will press the Americans hard to bring the Israeli nuclear programme within the ambit of discussions as a quid pro quo for its cooperation on the nuclear issue. Mr. Jalili has already said Tehran wishes to cooperate with Washington on global disarmament — a position that squarely targets Israel's undeclared nuclear weapons stockpile. Once the threat of war disappears and a comprehensive dialogue begins, it will be logical also to expect that Iran will link its help to restrain Hizbollah and Hamas to real concessions by Israel in its dealings with the Palestinians.


A re-accommodation of a resurgent Iran as a leading player in the regional pecking order is unlikely to please two regional heavyweights — Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Some commentators in the smaller Persian Gulf countries are dismayed at the prospect of a possible strategic partnership emerging between Iran and the U.S. It reminds them of the unhappy situation that prevailed earlier, when their profile in the region was badly undermined as Washington had the Shah of Iran on its side as its premier ally.


With a possible turnaround in Iran's relationship with the U.S. showing faint but definite signs of life, it is expected that the powerful lobbies in the U.S. from Israel and Saudi Arabia will be working overtime to weed out the green-shoots of hope that have sprouted from the Geneva talks. The coming weeks will test whether in Tehran and especially in Washington, the political will to push for peace prevails over powerful forces in the western media, academia, business and intelligence communities, which will do their best to prevent a lasting peace process emerging from the Geneva talks.









It was a gift from one of Pakistan's best known artists to Lahore — a mural on the ceiling of the entrance gallery in the city museum. Measuring 100 ft x 40 ft, it is called the Evolution of Mankind, a rich tableau of circular images — whorls, wheels, clocks and a fiery sun — and the artist's signature outstretched cactus-like arms, the entire work executed in bright blue and flaming orange, brown, white and black.


Syed Sadequain Ahmed Naqvi, or Sadequain Naqqash, better known as just Sadequain, was a painter, muralist and calligrapher, and in all three fields, a "flagbearer of modern radicalism" in Pakistani art, as an obituarist noted on his death in 1987. He took up the Lahore Museum mural in 1972, completing it in 1973.



Sadequain's works are scattered throughout the world in private collections, but Pakistan has several murals by him, at the State Bank of Pakistan in Karachi, at the Punjab University and at the Mangla Dam, all of them grand and imposing depictions of the march of human progress. Murals by the Amroha-born artist also hang in India, the most well known at the Aligarh Muslim University and Benares Hindu University.


The mural at the Lahore Museum is made up of 48 canvas panels affixed to the ceiling. Sadequain painted them all at the museum. But in the 36 years that the arresting vision has greeted visitors to the museum, the heat and moisture of Lahore, and termites, have all taken their toll on the mural.


Surprisingly, it was only when parts of the canvas tore and pieces began dropping off from the priceless work some years ago that the museum actually noticed the extensive state of decay that it was in.


Now, two well-known Indian experts are working to restore the Pakistani national treasure and put it back in shape, a cross-border project that those associated with it said speaks of the bridge-building possibilities that still exist between India and Pakistan despite the mutual distrust the hostility.


Srikumar Menon and Manindra Singh Gill were hired by the museum in mid-2006. Since then, if the work did not proceed as quickly as those involved in the project would have liked, it had nothing to do with the sorry state of India-Pakistan relations, but was more a result of routine bureaucratic delays.


Even the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which virtually froze ties between the two countries, have not been able to kill the project.


The Lahore Museum's reasons for hiring the two Indians were pretty simple.


"The whole problem in Pakistan is that we don't have experts who can restore oil on canvas," said Salima Hashmi, dean of the arts school at the Beaconhouse National University, a well-known artist herself and a member of the technical committee constituted by the Museum for the mural's restoration.


The six-member technical committee looked around the world, Ms Hashmi said, and "found the expertise was available in the neighbourhood for a price that we could afford." Menon and Gill were hired.


Their familiarity with the local climatic conditions was an additional advantage over an American or European art restorer.


The duo has previously worked on the restoration of valuable paintings in India at the Rashtrapati Bhavan and also on a collection of 70 paintings at the Mysore Palace, in addition to conservation work on heritage buildings.


They first visited Lahore in November 2006 for an initial look at the mural and interviewed several young Pakistani artists for the team they wanted to train to work with them, also conducting a two-week workshop on restoration.


In the months and years since, the Museum frantically looked for the money that was required for the restoration. Eventually, the Punjab government allotted Rs 1.5 crore for the restoration work in December 2008, and those involved in the project said if more was required, there would be no difficulty in obtaining it.


Nor was there any particular opposition in handing over the restoration to Indians. According to Ms Hashmi, "the officials involved in giving the clearances were generous enough to realise that this project is something that is above suspicion."


The Indian team was supposed to return in October 2008, but the museum, where top officials had been reshuffled, was not fully prepared for the visit. They finally came back in April 2009 by when the museum was able to complete photographing and documenting the mural, a vital preparatory step in the restoration process.


Sami-ur-Rehman, a famous Pakistani photographer, was commissioned for the task. From his photographs, experts will recreate a replica of the mural. The original will be taken off the ceiling and the replica fixed to facilitate the next phases of the restoration.



During their visit earlier this year, Menon and Gill carried out a detailed examination of the mural from a mobile scaffold. The entire work is now covered by a fine plastic net to catch any more falling pieces.


They are now due back at the end of this year, when the work is expected to begin in full swing. When completed, said Ms Hashmi, the restored mural will become a "lasting symbol of cooperation" between India and Pakistan.







Women living in rural areas in many parts of the world face severe deprivations, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday in a message on the International Day of Rural Women, calling for greater support of their rights. Noting that the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women — the only international human rights treaty that specifically addresses rural women — falls this year, Mr, Ban said t hat women frequently did not benefit from its provisions. "They are among those hit hardest by the inadequate rate of progress in improving maternal health," he said.


"They have limited access to life-saving resources," he said, stressing that too "many rural women and girls are not in school, and they lack equitable access to decision-making processes, meaning that their voices are not heard." In December 2007, the U.N. General Assembly designated October 15 as the International Day of Rural Women. — Xinhua








With time running out, almost every related project behind schedule and pressure increasing by the day, Indian Olympic Committee president and 2010 Commonwealth Games organising committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi is in a fix. And what better way to deflect attention from the deficiencies in the planning and implementation for the Delhi Games than to kick up a fuss over a virtual non-issue, brand it "imperialism" and label genuine concern — and an attempt to monitor and improve preparations — from the Commonwealth Games Federation as "interference". Mr Kalmadi tried all of this and even sought to pin the blame for tardy progress on one individual, the chief executive of the Delhi Games, Mr Mike Hooper, calling him an obstruction and saying he has been "of no use". At the same time, Mr Kalmadi sought to wiggle out of commitments made to the CGF in the form of a technical review panel which he now feels will become a "multiplicity of agencies" working towards the Games. When the CGF General Assembly met for six days in Delhi last week to assess progress in preparations for CWG 2010 after CGF president Mike Fennel publicly expressed concerns over the possible failure of the event, Mr Kalmadi had to agree to the technical panel keeping an eye on the work here. Yet, it took just four days for the IOA head to look for ways out of the scrutiny and monitoring process. At one level the organising committee's feelings about outside supervision may be justified — but only if there was no reason for concern and work was progressing as per schedule. To try and bring extraneous factors into play to deflect attention from the legitimate concerns expressed by the federation, and its attempts to improve matters, is quite simply the worst form of politics. It is also a desperate bid to keep control over an enterprise that is threatening to slip away. After all, control is the lifeblood of the Indian politician and potentially losing command over such a prestigious venture would have been galling for a professional politician. Kalmadi and Co. may have a point about interference and outside control, but, to an extent, it is a problem of their own making. Then again, it is so typically Indian to let things slide till the very last minute before waking up to looming reality. The immediate aftermath of Mr Kalmadi's demand that Games CEO Mike Hooper be removed has been a summary rejection and a reiteration by the CGF that the monitoring panel would very much be constituted. This could have been avoided had there been more attention to lagging projects and related areas of preparation. Since that has not happened, matters appear headed for a showdown. In all this, work on the Games itself seems to have taken a back seat and those who can remember recent history will recall an interesting parallel. Ahead of the 1982 Asian Games, progress was just as tardy as in this case. That was when Indira Gandhi stepped in, told Rajiv Gandhi to take over and gave him a virtual blank cheque. The outcome is well known. It may quite well be that Mr Suresh Kalmadi is waiting for history to save the day.








The recent attack on General Headquarters (GHQ) and Thursday's attacks in Lahore and Kohat and the Pakistan government's response to these incidents reminded one of the days after the terrorist attack on Islamabad's Marriott Hotel.


There were some in the government who referred to the incident as Pakistan's 9/11. While that particular date in American history can be interpreted in several ways, its greatest significance lies in the fact that it brought the state and society in the US on the same page as far as fighting the war against terror was concerned. Did we manage to achieve this consensus on September 20 last year? Perhaps not.


But this is where the catch lies. The enemy is far more intelligent than what some of our television commentators would like us to believe. In the GHQ case, the terrorists not only understood the strategic value of attacking at the heart of the Pak Army's power base, they also appeared to understand the chasm between the state and society and within the state at several levels. The attackers understand the civilian-military divide better than a lot of people who talk about a new era of civilian-military relations in the country and boast about the two sides being on the same page.


They probably understand that the civilian government might pretend to be powerful but that it depends on externally borrowed power and that in the case of friction between the two centres of power, it is the civilians who would back off. This was most obvious from the fact that instead of raising some critical questions after the attack on GHQ, all that the President and Prime Minister could do was congratulate Gen Ashfaq Kayani on the excellent handling of the crisis.


There is no doubt that the nation is saddened by the death of unarmed officers and soldiers, and supports any action to punish those who carried out the attack. But the entire event ought to be discussed threadbare without any mudslinging. Why was it that 10 men penetrated a highly guarded area and remained ensconced in GHQ for about 19 hours, especially when the Army's high command was in the premises?


There are two important issues here. First, the Pakistan Army, which is trained mainly in conventional warfare and fighting state forces, is not well trained in counter-insurgency operations. This explains why despite being armed with G3s and other types of infantry equipment the force guarding GHQ could not respond properly. Hence, this capacity must be beefed up at the earliest.


Second, the connection of the key planner Aqeel, alias Dr Usman, with the Army medical stores is a reminder of the problem that could perhaps prevail in pockets inside the rest of the military. This pertains to the religio-political inclinations of individual civil and military officials and officers that directly or indirectly support the jihadis.


Aqeel's is not a unique case. Earlier there was Major Haroon Ashiq alleged to be involved in the murder of Gen Faisal Alavi. He was linked with one of the Punjab-based militant outfits. His capture led the police and agencies to other retired officers who had split from the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and were waging "jihad" on their own. We must also not forget the Air Force officials and officers involved in the first attack on the former President Pervez Musharraf. Reportedly, the agencies were forced to go deep within the PAF in search of people connected to different militant outfits or the Tableeghi Jamaat.


At this point, how sure are we that all older links between the jihadis and individuals in the police or military have been snapped? Instead of eulogising the Army, Parliament should be carefully looking at and questioning the old linkages from the perspective of having a handle on the problem of "jihadism" and what it means for the state.


Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) director general Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas stated that the attackers had planned to use the hostages to negotiate the release of about 100 terrorists. Reportedly, there are about 400 terrorists in different jails. Some of the more high-profile detainees are believed to include Malik Ishaq, head of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) and Qari Saifullah Akhtar, head of the Hizb-ul-Jihad Islami. The government must now look at its preparedness and the capacity to protect its high-value detainees.


Although the military and government now seem inclined to consider other reasons for the attack, such as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan trying to avenge Baitullah Mehsud's death, the rescue of high-value terrorists seems to be the primary reason, which must not be ignored at any cost. It must not be forgotten that the attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore was also meant to take hostages who could then be exchanged for top jihadis. Sources even claim that the LJ's Malik Ishaq was involved in the earlier case and had decided to use the attack to get himself freed after the elected Punjab government failed to deliver on a mutual agreement between LJ and the PML-N leadership.


What's equally interesting is the fact that there is an effort by those in power to ignore or divert attention from areas which are as infested with extremist militants as Fata and the tribal areas. The sudden effort to get policemen from most districts of south Punjab to deny the existence of the jihadi problem in their areas is a reaction similar to when the government denied the Pakistani connections of the Mumbai attackers even before investigating the matter. The denial is strange since most of the attacks in Punjab or the federal capital are believed to be provoked or carried out by Punjabis or Punjab-based militant outfits.


Perhaps the fear is that this might divert international attention towards Punjab or make ordinary Pakistanis think about the reasons why jihadis have spread terror across Pakistan and not confined themselves to the tribal areas as the authorities would like us to believe. Interestingly, even the ISPR's emphasis is that the attack might have involved Punjabis but that it was carried out at the behest of the Pakhtun Taliban.


It is indeed important to fight militants in Waziristan who are influenced by Al Qaeda, but why does it have to be at the cost of ignoring the Punjab-based outfits who are proving to be good hosts for the terrorist network? Sources believe that Al Qaeda has trickled into areas bordering Punjab. These outfits operate beyond the Pakhtun-inhabited tribal areas and their threat is evident from the sectarian killings in Dera Ismail Khan and other places.


There is a possibility that the civilian government might lose the initiative in an urge to appease the military and the latter might just lose the initiative to act against those that were part of the GHQ attack for unexplained strategic reasons. This raises the question of how much bloodshed would there be before strategic re-evaluation.


The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst.


By arrangement with Dawn







Everything has been affected by the global recession hovering over us for the past one year. Austerity is the latest mantra, as is understanding economics: Are you on the side of John Maynard Keynes or, strangely enough, Ayn Rand, idolised by the discredited Alan Greenspan, head of the US Federal Reserve? So it was only a matter of time before the world of art and theatre also began to use the "R" word as inspiration. Whilst many books have been churned out about the crash (people writing knowledgeably of a phenomena very few had predicted) now at last, a play has been written about it, called rather positively The Power of Yes. Though, of course, the message is anything but positive. It is running to packed houses and favourable reviews at the National Theatre.  


Sir David Hare has been writing and producing plays since the 1970s. He has often written cutting-edge theatre — taking cue from the real world of social and political events. Since he usually has firm views about his subjects, the plays are usually controversial — such as Stuff Happens (2005) on the Iraq war. He named people and critiqued the government policy very successfully in the play.


This is a challenging way to write for a commercial platform: not only are you examining events which have impacted the current world, you are also portraying real people, and putting words in their mouth. It requires immense courage, and it is a measure of the maturity of the British politicians that they are stoic about their portrayal. And if there is any rancour, it is never expressed in public. Won't be the right thing to do, old chap!  


So, for years Sir David Hare has been able to seriously examine issues without any roadblocks being put on his creativity. If there has been any censorship, no one is any the wiser — because the productions by themselves would give many decision-makers sleepless nights. This is a far cry from India, of course, where an international film on Jawaharlal Nehru's romance with Edwina Mountbatten — hardly an issue for anyone to get agitated about more than 40 years after the event — is stuck because the government would like to re-draft the script. And, here in the UK, Sir David is pillorying the living Prime Minister every night at the National Theatre and, while Gordon Brown may gnash his teeth about it, he has not mumbled a single word against it. Neither has the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, and nor has the Labour Party taken to the streets and shouted slogans. Or burnt the theatre down. 


It shows a level of maturity that the politics in UK has achieved. It also shows a level of security and confidence in the British people that they can watch so-called inflammatory material and be allowed to make up their own minds, rather than a scared government worried about opening up any form of debate, in case the "legacy" of the political party is somehow depleted. It is only when this level of maturity arrives in the political system in India, that Indian art, theatre and literature will be really free to evolve.  


Sir David's play is extremely well researched. The format is fairly simple and, in a sense, not terribly theatrical because he uses a number of "talking heads", like actors walking on to deliver their dialogues without much action at all. He uses his own character — of a puzzled playwright trying to find out why the financial crisis occurred — as the pivot. And in reality, too, that is how the play was written. He had been asked to make a play about the "credit crunch" by the director of the National Theatre and so he ended up working like a forensic scientist. He not only gathered the body of evidence and the fingerprints left by fat cat bankers and even Nobel Prize winning economists, such as Myron Scholes, but also tried to prove who killed the world economy.


Surprisingly, even though just this week was the anniversary of the big bank bailout in the UK — we have been inundated with information about the "recession", the depression and (every now and then) the mirage-like recovery — most of us have not really sat and figured it all through. Therefore, I have to say, the National Theatre had an enthralled audience watching, literally with shock and awe, how the government and bankers colluded to create first the boom, and then the bust.


The real success of the play is that we too learn about the banking crises as it unfolds — and the effect is a little bit like understanding how to make a bomb. Once you know the ingredients you feel like a fool, because you never knew it was so simple! The play should have been called The Idiots' Guide to Making Markets Collapse. But it really scares you because for the first time you realise that most bankers are really not terribly smart and they have all our money! And the second shock is to understand that the so-called "bail out" of the banks, which is supposed to stabilise the world economies, is actually going to leave enormous debts that future generations are going to struggle under. In all it is probably the most clever, most relevant and most frightening play I have seen in a long time.


As is his wont, Sir David uses real people and real names: therefore, George Soros, billionaire and philanthropist, appears in a guru-like avatar as he grumbles about losing a few million here and there, but overall points out the bleak future under the brightly painted rainbow. Others who do not come across so beatifically, alas, is a friend Sir Howard Davies, currently the director of the London School of Economics and formerly the head of the Financial Services Authority. Some others, such as the very Left-leaning Labour politician Jon Cruddas, were very pleased by their own portrayal as normally bank benchers in New Labours regime do not get such prominence.  


However, overall, the power of the play lies in its honesty and its ability to question statements such as Mr Brown's famous line of abolishing boom and bust. This is an open society where debate is encouraged and Sir David's lucid portrayal of even a subject like economics makes it a discussion where we, the British aam aadmi and aurat, can vociferously participate in. Another equally well-received play running right now is Enron. Hmmm… now that should interest Indian politicians, shouldn't it?


The writer can be contacted at








My relationship with God is uncluttered. There is no one in between — just me, my prayers and Him. I have been brought up in a very religious family that believes in going to temples and doing puja. They are obsessive about it and so I have inherited my faith as a family tradition.


I do not worship all the time but I make it a point to say my little prayer everyday. I also go to the temple every Thursday. It gives me strength. I have been carrying a pocket Bible in my bag since I was in class IV. I believe in all forms of God — they are all one. I get my strength from all of them and that's how I see the Almighty.


I get all my answers from God. He communicates with me via dreams or an intuition. This has been happening since my childhood. I still listen to my intuitions and dreams for many things in life. It is important to believe in God because in times of trouble we remember Him.


I have still not ventured into spirituality. I feel I am too young for that and don't feel the need for it yet. However, spirituality for me is to go deep into one's self where one finds peace. As I grew up, my prayers changed. Now I don't want fairytales from God. I have become more practical. I pray for good health, lots of opportunities and lots of money!


(As told to Shubham Shukla)


Niharika Nag is a Bengaluru-based model








"Tally ho! Tally hoo! Tally Ha ha ha ha ha!"


From Invocations To Call Mounted Fools Into A Ring (With apologies to Shakespeare from Bachchoo)


I once wrote a film called Split Wide Open (directed by Dev Benegal) in which a young Indo-Morrocan actress called Laila Rouass starred. Ms Rouass has gone far beyond the credits she gained as the heroine of SWO, has had lead parts in several British TV serials and has appeared for the past weeks on a very popular show called Strictly Come Dancing. As all the contestants do, she ballroom dances with a professional partner who steers her through the eliminative competition.


Last week, as part of an episode approaching the finals, she and her partner, Anton du Beke, were being followed by the camera in rehearsal when she brought in some fake-tan spray. Anton jokingly said that if she wore that she would "look like a Paki". Laila took it as a racial slur and burst into tears. Anton apologised, said it was in jest, but the incident became huge news.


It was, the newspapers said, a repeat of the incident in which Shilpa Shetty was called a "popadom" by the late Jade Goody on the TV "reality" show Big Brother. There was a big fuss about "racism" after that incident too, but my sentiments were at the time firmly on the side of hapless idiots like Jade and her mother who had no other insight into character, or handle on notoriety than a crude racial insult. I pitied their ignorance and knew that Ms Shetty with all her beauty and talent and was far above what she, and a vast number of the viewers, regarded as the British equivalent of "trailer trash". It was petty reflexive racism — to be pitied.


I would not say the same about the leader of the British National Party (BNP), one Nick Griffin who is next week to be given a panellist's seat on the BBC's prestigious political show Question Time. His neo-fascist, avowedly racist (they don't allow anyone but whites to join and their main policy plank is repatriation of immigrants) party won two seats in the elections to the European Parliament and the BBC probably calculate that an exposure of their views would be counter-productive to their cause and that a ban on their representation on TV would assist it.


I support the BBC in this decision. Griffin, Cambridge educated and politely accented, must be given enough rope to hang himself. It is not that I don't think he and his ilk are pernicious, but I firmly believe that the majority of the British public are not racists.


Pockets remain. My youngest daughter, Best Beloved (not her name, but the one I have stolen as a sobriquet from Kipling), enrolled at the age of 12 in a secondary school in Henley-on-Thames, a backwater, wife-swapping, menopausal town some 45 miles from London and joined up with a gang of boys and girls whom she found the most accessible and outgoing in her year. In time the pairing and preferring jealousies and tensions in the group caught up and two of the boys in her friendship group began a campaign of racist persecution against Best Beloved. They called her "Paki" and soon even the girls of the group joined in and ostracised her for no transgressive fault of hers.


Best Beloved is sensitive but toughened and though she cried she did absorb the idea that the racism of children was born out of ignorance, bad upbringing and we constantly urged her to keep the family motto firmly in mind and use it as a mantra: "The intelligent must make concessions".

Other friends from her earlier years rallied round and soon the hapless racist boys were isolated, even repentant, and all was well.


This was not the Nick Griffin or BNP sort of racism. Not even the laddish banter of Anton du Beke. It was the Jade Goody reflexive, not reflective, sort as this sort of taunt has no vicious or Right-leaning political convictions reinforcing it. It's the sort of racism that will come out shouting for some of the BNP's sentiments, but will never, in the cold light of day, put them in power.


Much more pernicious and sneaky is the racism of the nouveau riche and jumped up middle classes, the financial grabbers of Britain. I recently came across the fact that a group of them, with whom I have no contact or truck, have referred to me, in front of my 15-year-old daughter and her friends, as "Rasputin". It is said with venom and is, of course, as ignorant as it is vulgar. As any schoolchild who can refer to Wikipedia will know, Rasputin was a charismatic monk who held the undying loyalty of the Czarina by professing to cure her son of haemophilia. There is no parallel fascination, spell or magic claim that I can be accused of. The only similarity I suppose is that I am not white British and neither was Rasputin. It's just a more pretentious way of saying "Paki" or of Jade Goody's "poppadum" — pretentious because in a half-witted way it thinks even idiotic or mistaken references to history give the insult a veneer of wit and status. And that paraded in front of a 15-year-old!


Not that Best Beloved hasn't a perspicacious grasp of the suburban morality of this money-insulated low-life and can see that acquired accents do not ladies or gentlemen make.


The serious point here is that even in Oswald Mosley's day the working classes of Britain didn't support the British union of Fascists. There have been no serious Right-wing phalanxes of opinion in the last hundred years that have gathered momentum. The Rasputin-wallahs are losers. The closest one came was the electorate of Margaret Thatcher's Tories who relied on exactly this lower middle class-wanting-desperately-to-be-considered-upper-crust toffs as their base. They had nothing to do with the gentry or middle classes of the previous centuries and Victorian era who gave Britain its colonies and a vast amount of its civilisation.


Jade Goody and her ilk, probably a small number of the parents and disfunctional families of some of the racist taunters in Best Beloved's school, got left out of that civilisation, but any view of their type and talent will demonstrate that they are as much or more victims than the people they call "popadums".


Not so the "Rasputin-wallahs" who mistake a crudity for an aphorism and brazenly parade their ignorance and vulgarity before children with no thought to the child's emotional sensitivities. The shame — but then busybodies have none.








Last year, since the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the domino effect  on western banking institutions in September, the effects of the recession did not really affect our Diwali celebrations. Traditionally, this is the Indian season for living the good life.

Treating your family and loved ones to a few luxuries and making best use of all the offers is part of the fun of the celebrations. But this year, Diwali is definitely feeling a bit subdued, if not downbeat.

For one, in spite of all the jolly predictions that the worst is over, the upturn is neither perceptible nor visible. And while there may be indications of economic recovery, the fact is that for the common man life is a bit tough and things are getting expensive. Not merely real estate prices or such things, but even vegetables.

Add to that the problems of company cutbacks, salary cuts and cost-cutting and it is clear that this is not a Diwali for big spending. Even gold, the one thing Indians like to buy around this time has broken records in the market, which is a bit of a dampener. This is bad news for consumers and retailers, which creates a bit of a spiral.

The dull mood is accentuated by the lack of traditional fireworks. The cost apart, the efforts of the activists have paid off and there is a realisation that burning up good money for momentary pleasure and that too which can harm the environment. Today's urban children are well aware of the dangers of child labourers working in fireworks factories and also of noise pollution.

Yet, this Diwali must not be all about doom and gloom. All pleasure is not related to spending money. The essence of this truly cross-cultural Indian festival is a triumph of light and of hope.

It is also a victory of good, celebrated various across India as Ram's return to Ayodhya or of Narakasur's defeat or of Kali's dance of death leading to new life. This is the last harvest-related festival before the onset of winter and leads to a change of weather, of season and towards new beginnings. To many, it signifies a new year as well, so there are more good tidings.

It is this lesson of Diwali that we need to take joy from. There is that little nip of change and happiness in the air as the monsoon says farewell and for some of us, the heat recedes as well. The symbolic triumph of good over evil is always a good omen to take into the future, as we vanquish our own personal demons — even the economic ones.

With a little bit of luck, the time that is to come will bring us better times. Let the light this Diwali be a beacon of hope to all.







Beer has a tough role to play in society. It realises it will never be as revered as wine although, in a clear majority of the cases, it will be the one that brings people closer to God than wine ever will and I don't mean by dying.

Sure wine is a lovely ferment but beer is no ordinary second batter — it is a ferment in its own right with its own tasting notes, aroma profiles and signature making styles.

So before you spill your pint in sheer surprise, let me tell you about some beers that you don't normally get to hear much about and, more importantly, many of which are already available in India.

Trappist Beers: Monks are religious and abstain from all pleasures. But somehow they were able to justify making wine and beer and all sorts of alcoholic concoctions. I guess you need some (fun) ways to pass time in a monastery. Needless to say, the beer that is born of such labour is truly marvellous worship-worthy stuff.

Currently only seven monasteries can use the seal to authenticate them as original Trappist beers (that is, beer made by the Trappist monks). Chimay is a popular one. It is available in India along with another one, Rochefort. There are four others in Belgium and there is only one in Holland.

Micro-Brewery Beers: This is a real neat concept. It reduces the time between making the beer and drinking it. This is done by setting up a brewery and then building a restaurant around it! The beers are made in smaller quantities so that they needn't be stored and effectively you have fresh beer every time you walk in.

The benefits of drinking beer made minus the preservatives can only truly be appreciated the next morning, marked by the pleasant absence of any headaches or nasty hangovers. In Delhi, okay, Gurgaon, two such exist — Rockman's Beer Island in Ambience Mall and Howzzat at Galaxy hotel. Little Devils is another local North Indian brand.

The South has only one entrant, Geist beer, an Indian beer brewed in Belgium but with a signature recipe perfected by two Indian enthusiasts who (if I recall correctly) are affably known as Techie and Sparky.

Gueuze Beers: This is special beer made in the same way as Champagne. The bubble is produced by double fermentation and the beer is even aged like Champagne. It doesn't cost like the expensive bubbly and for a beer, it is quite an acquired (super sour) taste. I like it but it is yet to come to India. But look out for Cantillon, a popular Belgian brand.

Lager: This means literally to shelve (age) beer. All bottled beer are shelved for a bit before being sold, hence the term. The fresher version is Draught (pronounced draft).


Other Beers: Think Perry and Cider, not just ales and stouts. The differences are many but don't let that bother you. I prefer to drink all these as closest to the source as possible (without having to put my lips to the keg-tap that is) and hence prefer to enjoy them when in the UK mostly.

Suddenly that local beer with a bird on its bottle doesn't seem so alluring anymore, eh? I know the feeling. While it is all good to beat the heat with a chilled brewsky, it is cooler to have a proper beer and not just coloured fizzy water. Cheers to you guys, I am off to cool off!







Thank God, I am not a citizen of the Islamic state of Pakistan. Imagine if my parents had been enamoured of Jaswant Singh's newfound hero Mohammad Ali Jinnah and migrated to the Islamic State of Pakistan.

What a tragedy could have befallen my family and me! I could have either myself turned into a bigot or my kids could have taken up guns in the pursuit of a puritanical Islamic state like Saudi Arabia. I am extremely indebted to my parents for sticking to their roots in Allahabad and happily accepting the citizenship of 'Hindu India' instead of saltanat-e-khudadad-e-Pakistan (godly kingdom of Pakistan).

Ironically, there is nothing godly or saintly about Pakistan today. Pakistan could never become a modern republican state. So the state eventually withered away and got out of everyone's control. There was a time not too long ago when the world believed that it was the Pakistan army whose writ ran the country. How naive was this understanding.

Once considered the most powerful power centre, the Pakistan army headquarters in Rawalpindi is now under attack from Pakistani jihadis. The world also thought that the Punjabi elite had a tight grip over Pakistan establishment. Now the Punjabis themselves are not secure in their beloved town of Lahore where terrorists' strike at will.

Who then controls Pakistan? Is it the democratic establishment led by Asif Zardari? No, not at all! There is no consensus between Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif, the two leading rival democratic parties, even in these moments of grave internal crisis. Are the executive and judiciary now acting as the watchdog? Well, both sympathise with the likes of Hafiz Saeed and nuclear technology smuggler AQ Khan more than the state of Pakistan. Saeed and Khan are the two ideological masters of Pakistani jihadi philosophy.

All the Pakistani terror groups revere them. So it is neither army, nor the Punjabi elite that controls Pakistan any longer. Instead it is men like Saeed and Khan who do, ideologically at least.

You cannot arrest Saeed in Pakistan because he is the ideological pope of jihad. You cannot prosecute him either. The police would make such a weak case that it won't stand in a court of law for a minute. The judiciary would let him walk out because of his 'heroic services' in 'destabilising India'. And even America cannot harm Khan.

After all, he delivered a nuclear bomb to the insecure Pakistanis, stealing and smuggling nuclear technology from all over the world. The world is convinced that he smuggled dreaded technology to North Korea and Iran. He is the last hope of the jihadis who believe that Khan would one day deliver them a nuclear device to destroy their hated enemy, America.

Pakistan is today controlled by the syndicate of Taliban, al Qaeda and Punjabi terror outfits like Jaish e Mohammad. But why is it that Pakistan has failed in modern sense of the word state? A modern state in the post renaissance and post industrial revolution world is essentially run by the will of the people through democracy. 

Pakistan has nothing to do both with renaissance and industrial revolution. Its ideological frontier very soon after its inception was a medieval Islamic state whose only function was to destroy India.

So the people were always kept at the margin of state affairs. Pakistan elite facilitated the military takeover of the establishment to fight India and 'liberate Muslim Kashmir from Hindu hands'.

When the entire Pakistani establishment failed to harm an emerging modern Indian state and got truncated in 1971, it vengefully came up with the idea of jihad against India 'to bleed India in Kashmir'.

A jihad genie like Jaish e Mohammed was created with the ideological training from men like Saeed and Talibani madrasas spread across the tribal belt of Pakistan to harm India. The genie is now out of the bottle consuming the state that created it.

A medieval Pakistani state, run by an army and ideologically driven by myopic people like Saeed and terror outfits like Jaish, has had to finally come to this pass where no one now understands who runs Pakistan.

Pakistan shunned renaissance wisdom and post-industrial democratic institutions.  Such a medieval state has had to run out of steam sooner or later. So it is now imploding  and being consumed by the medieval and tribal hatred it nurtured against India.

Thank you mom and pop, for not migrating to Islamic state of Pakistan because I would have also exploded if not imploded by the jihadi forces that are consuming Pakistan now.

The writer is a commentator on political affairs







Here I was in the city of Leonardo, not the Hollywood actor with sunken dreams in Titanic, but he of the Mona Lisa and other glorious artistic realities, surrounded by marble statues that had lasted zillions of years, so to speak!  I was spending the evening in Florence before we zipped down to Chianti the next day to take in wine country and all the alcohol content that came with it.

You'd think that anybody scheduled for a wine tour to Chianti would be thrilled to bits at the Bacchanalian revels it promised, complete with dancing girls moulded in the image of Monica Bellucci and Gina Lollobrigida rolled into one (imagination will get you everywhere!).

But perhaps as  a result of the excesses of youth and nights of luxuriating in combinations of whisky and rum and vodka all in one single night at that, alcohol was the last thing on my mind. Given the fact that I am prone  to break out into hives after more than  two glasses of wine in succession, I decided that travel journalism would be my brief for this trip.

If I was lucky, my readers would be more interested in knowing about the charm of chilled out Italian cities over how much grape juice went into a  particular Merlot.And so the next day we were in beautiful Chianti with its swaying olive trees and its lush countryside where the loudest sound you heard for miles was the whoosh of the car engine as it travelled the countryside.

One look at the itinerary and my worst fears were proven true. We would be covering not one but four wineries a day, every day for the next three days. Which meant that if one were to even sniff at all the wine that was offered along the way even a blue whale with fortified gills would be executing playful dolphin twirls over the water. 

The first winery we went to that day had an Italian prince with a true blue castle and his female labradors as its primary inhabitants. The prince presided over a label that was known in the market for its alcoholic strength, a fact he was happy to inform us about. 

Not only did he take us on a guided tour to his castle but subsequently invited us to a well-laid out luncheon with four different wines — all of which we were supposed to sample! Refusing to do so would be akin to professional hara-kiri. I got through that one with small sips of alcohol and loads of garlic bread.

We were off to the next location a few miles down the winding road which was located in a quaint village dating back to the 13th century. Owned by a friendly Italian villager, the lady turned out to be as hospitable as she was forthcoming about her produce. And the spread that she had laid out on her table, besides goose liver pate and Italian sparkling wine, included another four wines! Who were we to refuse!

That was not all. An hour later we were en route to the third winery of the day where besides a castle and royal lineage attending to us, we were supplied with six different wines to sample.

While the more savvy journalists took notes on the aroma and the acidity of the wines I searched for places to dunk mine ... One more sip and I was sure I would leave planet earth for some misty destination where angels played on harps.

And so for the next two days we travelled through Chianti's wineries sampling in abundance their produce at the rate of  at least 12 wines during the daylight hours. 

Sure it was great fun — the Italian villages and cities we visited on the way were out
of this world, but I'd have rather passed  over the alcoholic content. And much as I am reluctant to say it, I did breathe a huge sigh of relief once it was over.

And today when wide-eyed wine aficionados at home ask me how my trip to Chianti was I tell them with a knowing look that I could do it again. Provided of course there is enough garlic bread!









India's strong protest to China over President Hu Jintao's statement that his country would continue to support projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir clearly enunciates this country's position on what may emerge as an other prickly between the two nations. The Chinese have been making unwarranted statements, like the one criticising Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Arunachal Pradesh, which it claims is Chinese territory. The manner in which Beijing sought to block Asian Development Bank aid for a project in Arunachal earlier this year was clearly unhelpful.


The message therefore needed to go out to the Chinese government that India would not brook any attempts to browbeat her. The prompt Ministry of External Affairs statement in response to the Chinese president's commitment of assistance to a project to upgrade the Karakoram highway and the Neelam-Jhelum hydroelectric project in PoK is unexceptionable considering that PoK is Indian territory that is under Pakistani occupation since 1947. India has reason to be wary of China and Pakistan joining forces in PoK.


Significantly, Home Minister P Chidambaram said in Srinagar on Wednesday that India would issue only employment visas to the Chinese, no longer business visas, and this had been conveyed to the Chinese government. While asserting that employment visas would be issued only to highly skilled workers Mr Chidambaram softened the blow by saying that this would apply to other countries as well. Considering that Sino-Indian economic relations have been on the upswing, the implication is that the relationship in future would have to be on the basis of reciprocity in the overall context.


Yet, the new rigidity in postures does not necessarily presage a worsening of relations between the two neighbours. A meeting of Foreign ministers of India, China and Russia is due in Bangalore in a fortnight. While that could bring back an element of bonhomie, the scheduled visit of Dalai Lama to Arunachal next month would need to be watched for the reaction it might evoke in Beijing.








When it comes to lauding their services through advertisements, most cellular companies offer you "world-class performance". But when it is time to deliver, they prove to be as bad — if not worse — than some public sector behemoths. The consumer, who was expecting to be crowned the king following the entry of private operators, has not had too much of good luck. Rather, he has been taken for a ride all along. The consumer base has been expanding with new customers being added every day. But the expansion of infrastructure has just not kept pace.


The result is that the consumer has to cope with frequent call drops and congestion on the network. The problem has become more acute in the festival season but most cellular operators refuse to divert the calls through alternate routes, for the simple reason that they want to pocket money from the point of origin, carrying point and point of termination of a call.


Many companies are miserly in setting up new radio base stations in spite of the fact that the number of consumers has swelled phenomenally. In their attempt to cut corners, they have left the consumer high and dry. There are allegations that they are not averse to dropped calls because every such call earns them extra revenue. All such complaints have to be looked into.


It is nobody's case that they should squander money but providing needed infrastructure is very much their responsibility. The companies are also not averse to levying hidden charges on consumers for reasons unknown to the user.


State governments have not helped matters either by failing to come up with a policy with regard to erection of telecom towers. Indeed, they are an eyesore but cell phones have become such a basic necessity that towers cannot be wished away.


One solution was that several companies should share a tower, but even that scheme has got bogged down in petty bickerings. What the bumbling babus refuse to acknowledge is that a mobile phone is no longer a luxury for the select few and has instead become a symbol of the Aam Admi's march into the 21st century. Pity that the consumer is still being made to do with the pervious century's tools!








It is unfortunate that the Indian Olympic Association chief Suresh Kalmadi publicly called for the withdrawal of Mike Hooper, stationed at New Delhi for the past two years by the Commonwealth Games Federation to monitor preparations for the 19th Commonwealth Games in the city in 2010.


This was a matter that should have been dealt with between the IOA and the CGF during the visit of Mike Fennell, the CGF president, to New Delhi last week. That Mr Kalmadi's is an unwise move is apparent from the quick rebuff that he received from Fennell who has politely but firmly turned down the suggestion that Hooper be replaced.


Even more serious than Kalmadi's loss of face is IOA's recommendation that the Organising Committee should reject the panel of foreign experts that CGF plans to deploy in New Delhi to monitor preparations. There is clearly a trust-deficit between the IOA and the CGF and it is safe to assume that the relationship deteriorated over a period of time.


It is significant that the CGF's decision on foreign experts was announced at a press conference last week. Kalmadi was not only present there but actually sat next to Fennell as the announcement was made. If the CGF failed to take him into confidence before making the announcement, Kalmadi is surely within his rights to complain. But it is a little too far-fetched to accuse the CGF of "imperialism" and invoke India's sovereign status while refusing to accept monitoring of an international sports event by international experts.


The public spat could not have come at a worse time, with the Commonwealth Games barely a year away. Hosting the Games for the first time in India is a matter of national pride. But tussles between different sports authorities associated with the Games have been a sorry spectacle. Multiple agencies saddled with the task of hosting the Games should be reminded that the nation's prestige is at stake and, therefore, petty bickerings in public are not acceptable. It is necessary to make the Games a success and the country can do without yet another controversy.









Recent developments in education call for notice. Over the past several weeks, there have been series of discussion between the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development and an organised group of IIT teachers.


Both the Ministry and the teachers have given evidence of flexibility. This is gratifying. It is debatable whether the IIT teachers were right in going on a hunger strike. But the whole discussion was conducted in a give and take atmosphere. This is as it should be.


So far, the Ministry used to take the position that on certain matters, theirs was the last word and there was no room for further discussion. That air of arrogance is gone and now there is a spirit of give and take. What to make of it? Wherever education is going well, the atmosphere is always one of give and take. Both parties take the position that this much is possible but more than that is not possible. There is no air of threat or intimidation. And that is how it has to be.


Secondly, it is the IIT teachers who took the initiative. In terms of numbers, they are around 50,000 whereas the university and college teachers are around four lakh. Why the latter have not spoken so far is difficult to answer. But this much is clear that the leadership at the moment is with the IIT and IIM teachers.


It cannot be said that all of them are outstanding. But a large number of them are above the average category. In this way, the leadership of the teaching profession was narrowed down to the IIT and IIM categories. It is a welcome development. It cannot be said that the university and college teachers are not with this or the other category. What they think and say is important.


Two more points need to be noted. First, the IIT teachers, even though they belong to a certain category, are definitely more liberal in their thinking than those who belong to the 'affiliated' package. Secondly, most IIT and IIM teachers have generally gone abroad and a large number of them have studied there. Therefore, they know what they are talking about. If there is demand for flexibility of operations, they know what they are talking about.


So far the officials took the position that it was for them to ensure that nothing went wrong. This worked to some extent at the lower levels of operations but not at the higher levels. If somehow one category of teachers learnt to understand the other and evolve a common line of approach, it would be the 'near-ideal' position where decisions are made by the teachers and the official difficulties are mentioned but not insisted upon beyond a point. But those difficulties would be real ones and not an attempt to shut out further discussion.


In respect of every important development in higher education, the right things would be said by the teacher leaders. The job of the officials would be to see that all the difficult things are taken care of. Indeed, the teachers ran the show and what the government did was to fall in line with the teachers' line of thinking. Till recently, this was treated as not the done thing. Now the atmosphere is beginning to change, implying a change for the better.


What has been stated above is true to an extent but the real issue has to be seen a little more clearly than before. To look forward to the future, the decisions will have to be made by the teachers and the government will play a supportive role.

Two other points may be made here. The Ministry's basic job — both at the Centre and in the state level — is to ensure that the goals are formulated in consultation with the teachers. In plain word, the two main jobs of the government are, one, to provide the requisite funding and, two, to ensure that the task of assessment and accreditation is carried out regularly, professionally and without any hitch.


This implies that once the standards are laid down, the government sits back to ensure that the job has been done by the teachers and not by the government. In other words, both the release of funds and the assessment of what has been done is a job which only the government can do and has to do.


Secondly, there is lack of clarity about the levels of instruction and attainment. As recognised by most people, out of the existing number of teachers, between one quarter and one third are either not clear about it or can perform better if they were given the chance to do it. The rest of them do not function at the advanced level. That is because of confusion between the concepts of vocationalisation and advanced study and research.


This lack of clarity needs to be recognised. For over six decades, college education has been what was inherited from the period before 1947. After we became independent, we just kept on expanding. There was no attempt to differentiate between what was being done and the level and range of vocationalisation which were required to be initiated.


The examples of the UK and the US are there for everyone to see. In both countries, almost half the students opt for vocationalisation. Someone had to take the lead and change things. Marginal changes were made but no more. The rest of the job was done by the introduction of the computer and about two million jobs were created. This is not going to happen again so easily. If things go on as they are doing, there will be unemployment. And the system has to be recast.


Even when that is done, a large number of 'affiliated' colleges will have to be shut down and remodelled. Once that happens, the question of parity of pay scales will become more and more urgent. Those in the professional category of teachers do understand the problem but more and more people should understand it.


Changing the system is the real job of the new HRD Minister and others. While the Minister has been able to identify the better performing category of teachers, those who were not performing well have not been neglected either. We need to distinguish between the two categories.


If the minister can work out an appropriate level of understanding by the professionals, teachers will recognise that in the new phase of instruction, a clear distinction between vocational and higher levels of education will have to be worked out, implying that the university and college teachers should reconsider their future.


Will they do it? Such a possibility does exist and it needs to be explored. The Minister's place in history will be determined by how efficiently and painlessly this will be done.


The writer is a former Vice-Chancellor, Punjabi University, Patiala








The recent winning of the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize by Barack Obama may have further surprised and humbled him, but his hometown Chicago — known as the 'windy city' for its boastful people — may not be so sedate. It would have certainly celebrated the event with greater flamboyance, than Obama's, "…this is not how I expected to wake up," especially on a day when it was the family dog Bo's birthday!


In Chicago the iconic image of Obama as its favourite son, in the line of its historic senators like Abraham Lincoln —rests endearingly on him. The Obama memorabilia, legends and trinkets are hot items of the local tourism. Obama's house in the city's Kenwood area, close to the famous University of Chicago campus, is now as much a must-see, as is the city's Sears Tower. I combined my darshan of the Obama house along with a visit to the famous Frank Lloyd project Robbie House adjacent to it.


The Obama house turns out to be a modest, one of the numerous Georgian architecture town houses built in of the 30s Chicago. In contrast to the façade, the rear side takes the shape of a Tudor castle with turrets, sloping roofs and a small portico.


There is no signboard indicating the house's celebrity status nor is there any visible security paraphernalia — unlike the Indian VIP mansions! It sits quietly, much like its owner, as a contrast to the razzmatazz of Chicago's flashy lifestyles.


One of the most eye-catching ads of the 'Obama tourism industry' are its bicycle and Segway tours of locations flashed as "where Obama and Michelle first met," where he proposed -and most audaciously, where they first kissed!


If you are not getting seduced by any such baits; then better watch out for the Obama T-shirts and his life-size cut outs. There is usually queue at the souvenir shops to pose for a photograph along with a cardboard Obama. When I posed with the very tall, lanky President; my podgy frame came out a bit like the latter of the Laurel & Hardy duo.


But one man who really gives 'Obama tourism' a run for its money is Al Capone. And the latter is surely the winner! Even I fell for the legendry Mafia gangster, immortalised by the Hollywood movies. If one thing I couldn't afford to buy; was the package offer of a Al Capone hat, cigar with cuff links and the Mafiosi dark glasses. I ended up — as I usually do on travels; buying a book on the subject.


Back home, the copies of the Obama's Audacity of Hope rests peacefully with the Capone biography. Maybe, I should now change the order of Chicago's noble and the notorious.








Uttar Pradesh has the highest Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) in the country. The state contributes one-fourth of the maternal deaths in the country. Still, on paper, all has been fine in the state since 2005.


 Like an ostrich, the state has refused to register maternal deaths for the last four years. Having the worst civil registration record in the country, the state has repeatedly been singled out for poor performance in the annual National Conference of Chief Registrars of Births and Deaths.


The latest report of the Indian government on civil registration released in March, 2009, covering a backlog of nearly 10 years between 1996 and 2005, reveals that the Uttar Pradesh government has not submitted regular and reliable information on births and deaths to the Central government since 1996.


Despite repeated directives issued to the Uttar Pradesh government at the annual conference and the host of commitments made by the Uttar Pradesh Chief Registrar to improve the situation, many districts of Uttar Pradesh continue to have 'zero' birth and death reporting and registration.


An official from the Registrar General's office stated that the Uttar Pradesh government had almost consistently defaulted on providing timely annual proposals for implementation of the civil registration system.


Even when the Central government has released funds for implementing the proposals, "it is a perennial problem with UP that they say they cannot give us a consolidated statement of expenses (showing utilisation of funds for civil registration) – and then the Finance Department here cannot release funds on time. This has been happening almost consistently since 2001," said the official.


This glaring gap in the state, which clearly refuses to recognise the problem, leave alone address it, has been pointed out in a research report of the Human Rights Watch "No Tally of the Anguish: Accountability in Maternal Health Care in India".


The report is based on field investigations and consultations with key stakeholders between November 2008 and August 2009. Uttar Pradesh was chosen as a case study because being the most populous state, it accounts for the highest number of maternal deaths in India. It is also one of the several states that had issued a 2004 government order seeking investigations into maternal deaths.


However, as the report notes this crucial UP government order has been notoriously violated. The state government's executive order had made the medical cause of death certification mandatory in many hospitals.


Quoting an official from the Registrar General's office, the report says, "the situation in UP is very grim. Only 0.7 per cent of the total registered deaths were medically certified. Until 2004 the UP government had submitted data under the MCCD scheme only for four hospitals from the entire state even though their government notification covered more hospitals. From 2005 there has been no data at all".


Many activists and government officials feel that one of the key reasons for the non-implementation of the 2004 maternal death audit government order is misunderstanding about the purpose of such an exercise – the fear that the audit seeks to find fault for maternal deaths rather than investigate systemic causes.


This perception of reporting and investigating maternal deaths as a performance indicator is perhaps responsible for no government official being able to give any detailed example of inquiries and their outcomes following the 2004 order to the researchers.


Only one district medical officer cited an example of a maternal death in a primary healthcare centre in September or October 2008. In that case an inquiry was held, resulting in the suspension of the medical officer and nurses concerned.


A fear of inquiries, disciplinary action and attacks by patients' relatives also creates an environment that threatens free reporting. One staff nurse who was suspended without an inquiry said, "I'm naturally scared of reporting a death. I am only human. Over here if something goes wrong, they will first suspend and only then will they find out if we did anything wrong."


Even within the state significant disparities based on income, caste, place of residence and many such arbitrary factors exist. Caste-based discrimination not only adversely affects the access to health care but also affects the reporting mechanism.


A 2007 UNICEF study in six northern states showed that 61 per cent of the women who died during pregnancy and childbirth belonged to Dalit or tribal communities.


As an activist from Vanagana, an NGO working against caste-based discrimination in Chitrakoot, said that in her area there was one anganwadi worker, two Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) and an Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM) – all belonging to upper castes. None of them visited the village because they considered the Kols inhabiting the region as untouchables.


In a village visited by the Human Rights Watch research team women belonging to the Dalit community described how the ANM from the Mishra community (Brahmin) visited their village only during the polio immunization time. "Even when they come, they bring someone else who is a Dalit. He is the one who gives polio (drops). The nurse is a Mishra, so she would not touch our children. They only come in the morning to write numbers on our houses and then will record in their registers where polio (drops) were given".


The report "No Tally of the Anguish: Accountability in Maternal Health Care in India" amply demonstrates a complete lack of political will to address the issue of maternal deaths and a devious collusion between state-level and district health officials not only to deny these dying women their basic human right to survive but also the dignity of making their death part of the official statistics.








A Dalit, a cow and a poor man are three symbols that have emerged on the Indian horizons in recent years as three different forces are struggling to expand the network of their influences.


Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi is seeking on a political platform to reach the grassroots through the Dalits while the Hindutva forces are seeking space on the cultural level by turning the cow once against as their symbol of appeal.


The Maoists are fighting for a larger space on the socio-economic level through their guns for the cause of the rural poor.


Rahul Gandhi has, through his numerous visits to Dalit homes in his chosen battlefield of Uttar Pradesh, so far not revealed what he has in his mind to do about the Dalits except sharing their moments and their meals in a token gesture of his concerns for them. He does not reveal whether he is programming to satisfy their needs or he would like to kindle desires in them.


As Acharya Rajneesh explains in his treatise on Tao, needs can be satisfied easily as they are physical but desires are difficult to satisfy as they are mental and for future.


Kanshi Ram had toiled for twenty years with his social mobilisation of the Dalits to arouse them to regain the ego to give them confidence to face the immediate. He talked of their needs but not of their ambitions. Mayawati kindled their desires by winning majority single handed in the Uttar Pradesh assembly and formed the government.


The Dalits delivered a jolt to her during the last Lok Sabha elections by sending a message that she had not understood the secret of what her mentor Kanshi Ram was attempting to do. She could not use them for mobilising her needs for resources to perpetuate the self in power.


That message was interpreted by advisers of Rahul Gandhi that his earlier visits to the Dalit home had earned rich dividends and the Dalits had returned to the Congress to give it unexpected 21 seats in the Lok Sabha.


His visits and his promises do raise expectations but the question is whether he has political machinery at his command to ensure the delivery of his promises? Can he mobilise the administrations to respond positively and with commitment?


Doubts have been raised about the efficacy of his methods by a young tribal woman Champa of Bastar district when she expressed her disappointment that no follow-up work was taken up on Rahul Gandhi's promises during his visit to their village.


He might blame the Mayawati administration for standing between his promises and its fulfilment but that would not help in expanding his network of influence on the political level.


He also needs to understand that the Dalits in other states have not read the message he is conveying with his visits to the Dalits in his chosen region.


The Sangh Parivar has concluded that the Ram temple card had its successful run and cannot be repeated any more. So they have gradually begun to return to their original symbol cow for expanding their network of influence on the cultural level though they must also realise that 2010 is not 1966 when cow was an appealing symbol because it helped in identifying the enemy as one that was interested in harming the sacred symbol for the immediate daily need of meat. So this route also has a limited appeal.


The future of the Bharatiya Janata Party depends entirely on its performance in the assembly elections in three states currently on. Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat has already unsettled the leadership by his dictate that the old leaders in the party must pave the way for the young leaders to take over.


Can the change of drivers make it run faster when the engine is already spluttering? It has already lost the dynamic force necessary to propel the engine smoothly. For three decades it ran merely by the presence of its two leaders — Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Krishan Advani.


No third leader could reach their level of acceptance. Bhagwat has merely suggested change of the driver and not replacement of its engine that could be in tune with the fast-changing times and perceptions of the people.


The young generation is now transformed with new aspirations due to education and a revolution in the means of communications. Their definition of enemy has undergone a metamorphosis and a religious symbol is no more valid. In any case, the bulk of milk production comes not from the cow but from the buffalo.


Apparently the new Naxal groups that have penetrated their network in ten states have refused to learn from the collapse of the Soviet Union.


The ideal of equitable distribution of resources cannot be achieved by destroying creative assets. It can be achieved only through empowering others who have no creative assets or means.


Through violence based on socio-economic inequalities, they are merely sowing seeds of hatred that would take a long time to overcome. Violence always seeks enemies and has a habit of turning to others when one enemy falls.


The Taliban turning against Pakistan, the main instrumental character in its creation is a classic example that needs to be understood by those who are engaged in seeking a solution of socio economic inequalities by training their guns at those who have amassed assets beyond their needs and refuse to share them with the weaker sections.


The state retaining absolute power of intervention in every economic activity in the country had not only stifled creativity but also turned the administration corrupt which, in turn, made it totally inhuman and insensitive.


The need is to sensitise the delivery system and humanise those who are assigned to operate the system. The killing of a few policemen cannot terrorise the law enforcement agency into a sensitive and responsive machinery. It can lead to its extracting a heavier price from citizens. It was seen in Punjab during the days of terrorism.


The three forces are not new. They were always there with old methods. The tragedy is that politicians are not willing to change their methods. Their responses are also age old because they cannot think out of box as they depend heavily on the bureaucracy that believes in the use of force as the only means of security.








A recent study by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness," shows that women have become steadily unhappier since 1972. Maureen Dowd and Ariana Huffington greeted the news with somber perplexity, but the more common response has been a triumphant "I told you so!"


On Slate's Double X Web site, a columnist concluded from the study that "the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s gave us a steady stream of women's complaints disguised as manifestos ... and a brand of female sexual power so promiscuous that it celebrates everything from prostitution to nipple piercing as a feminist act — in other words, whine, womyn, and thongs." Or as Phyllis Schlafly put it: "The feminist movement taught women to see themselves as victims of an oppressive patriarchy. ... Self-imposed victimhood is not a recipe for happiness."


But it's a little too soon to blame Gloria Steinem for our dependence on antidepressants. Three things need to be pointed out about the Stevenson and Wolfers study: one, that there are some issues with happiness studies in general; two, that there are some reasons to doubt this study in particular; and three, that even if you take this study at face value, it has nothing at all to say about the impact of feminism on anyone's mood.


For starters, happiness is a slippery thing to measure or define. Philosophers have debated what it is for centuries, and even if we were to define it simply as a greater frequency of positive feelings than negative ones, when we ask people if they are happy, we are asking them to arrive at some sort of average over many moods and moments. Maybe I was upset earlier in the day after I opened the bills, but then was cheered up by a call from a friend — so what am I really?


As for the particular happiness study under discussion, the red flags start popping up as soon as you look at the data. Not to be anti-intellectual about it, but the raw data on how men and women respond to the survey reveal no discernible trend to the naked eye.


Only by performing an occult statistical manipulation called "ordered probit estimates" do the authors manage to tease out any trend at all, and it is a tiny one: "Women were one percentage point less likely than men to say they were not too happy at the beginning of the sample (1972); by 2006, women were one percentage more likely to report being in this category."


Happiness is, of course, a subjective state, but suicide is a cold, hard fact, and the suicide rate has been the gold standard of misery since sociologist Emile Durkheim wrote the book on it in 1897.


 By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post








Members and supporters of All Assam Students' Union recently formed a human chain near the Indo-Bangla border in Dhubri district in protest against the State and Central Governments to effectively deal with the problem of infiltration by illegal aliens, which has not only posed a threat to the identity of the indigenous people of Assam, but also turned into a grave security threat to the nation. It is unfortunate that the Central and State Governments have not dealt with the problem effectively and till date, even the process of fencing the international border has not been completed, not to speak of detecting and deporting the foreign nationals. Several dates announced by the Government for completion of the fencing have expired and no one knows for sure as to when the process will be completed. Of course, only construction of border roads and fencing will not completely stop infiltration, but the fact remains that the fencing will definitely act as a major barrier, while the border roads will be of great help to the Border Security Force personnel to intensify patrolling. It is a fact that in recent times the Government of India has increased the strength of the BSF, which is a positive development. But at the same time the State Government should have raised the second line of defence as per a decision taken more than 10 years back. The Government must also evolve a mechanism to improve guarding of the international riverine border, which is considered very vulnerable and pressure should be mounted on Bangladesh to allow the BSF to bring in the floating border outposts through the territory of the neighbouring country. The State Government should take immediate measures to strengthen the border police force and the infrastructure of the foreigners tribunals constituted under the provisions of the Foreigners Act should be improved to expedite the process of trials.

What is more unfortunate is that the issue of infiltration of foreigners is never the main issue of meetings between India and Bangladesh. It seems that most political parties try to steer clear of the issue in the interest of creating a vote bank. In the recently concluded Indo-Bangla dialogue exercise, the main issue for discussion was insurgency. It is a fact that insurgency is a major problem as leaders of a number of militant groups of India as well as other groups inimical to India have managed to establish bases in Bangladesh, which has posed a grave threat to the security of India. Despite repeated requests by India, the government of the neighbouring country has not cared to take effective steps to evict the bases of anti-India forces from the territory of that country. But elements of hostile forces manage to sneak into the country by taking advantage of the porous border. There is therefore an urgent need for sealing the border to deal with the problem. Moreover, India must put pressure on Bangladesh to accept the Bangladeshi nationals sought to be deported from India as deportation of Bangladeshi nationals from India to Bangladesh is a major problem because the Bangladesh Rifles refuse to accept such persons.







While the city continues to expand at a frenetic pace, a matching civic infrastructure continues to be more and more conspicuous by its absence. In fact, the scenario vis-à-vis even the basic amenities seem to be worsening as the city inflates in a haphazard manner. Amenities like garbage disposal, drainage and sewerage, water supply, a rapid and reliable public transport system, etc., remain almost a non-starter. To compound matters further, widespread degradation of the hills, forests and wetlands – indicators of the city's environment – is posing a grave threat to Guwahati's worthiness as a habitable city. Shrinking open space is another serious problem, aggravating with the city's unscientific expansion. The prevailing chaos is not surprising, given that all norms concerning modern urban planning are being routinely flouted to accommodate the narrow interest of a few at the expense of the vast majority. We are having multi-storey buildings even on small, cramped plots. It is not the dearth of rules but a mindset that gives scant respect to rules and laws that is at the root of the deteriorating developments. The NGO, Save Guwahati Build Guwahati, has repeatedly been taking up the matter of ensuring a planned growth of the city with the Government and the administration, but to little avail.

While the State Government has, of late, taken up a few big projects related to garbage disposal, water supply and drainage, a look at the implementation of the garbage disposal project exposes the insincerity of the authorities in executing the work. The much-hyped garbage disposal is still being done in a most unscientific manner with no segregation of degradable and non-degradable waste at source. Worse, the wastes are being simply dumped close to a Ramsar site like the Deepor Beel causing serious pollution in the wetland. The manner of functioning of our authorities makes it apparent that they are more into effecting cosmetic changes without addressing the roots of the ills plaguing the city. Most of these ills stem from the city's unscientific growth and the vandalism being perpetrated on its natural landscape. No amount of planning can ensure better living conditions for us if the ongoing desecration of nature is allowed to perpetuate. Preservation of wetlands, hills and forests should be integrated with the city's development strategy. Guwahati today represents a city devoid of any planning and the resultant appalling civic conditions. The authorities need to act fast and with a vision for the future to avert an impending disaster.








It is a well known truth that the Assamese people in general are poor entrepreneurs. The more charitable might attribute this to the easy-going, non-acquisitive nature of the people, while the less might deem it sheer laziness. We have failed to imbibe many of the qualities that go to make a successful entrepreneur — capacity for hard work, the ability to stick to a project persistently no matter what the teething troubles are and, perhaps the most important, imagination to make the best use of whatever resources we possess.

One can identify at least a dozen of our major assets which we have not made full use of, this being just one of the many factors keeping us at least a decade behind the rest of the nation in matters of economic development. The glaring example at the top of the wasted list is the river Brahmaputra. It is uncanny how we as a people have in the post-British period neglected an entity which through millennia has given the region its geographical and ethnological identity and sustained civilisation upon civilisation.

Linked as it is to the Ganges, since pre-historic times the Brahmaputra had been an entry route into a region then covered with dense jungles and infested with wild animals. As civilisations began to be erected on its banks in what today is referred to as the Brahmaputra Valley, it became a trade-corridor linking mainland India with China and other Asian countries. It had then been a vibrant and dynamic scenario, with the river being crowded with trading boats coming from afar. One could even reach the imperial city of Delhi by taking a riverine route. It also hardly needs to be pointed out that most of the battles of the Mongoloid rulers of this region with marauders from the west had been fought on the mighty river.

In the earlier days, of course, a journey from a city like Calcutta to say Guwahati was long and tedious. Even till the advent of the British, there was not much improvement, especially for the upstream journey. For instance, the Scientific Commission of Lord Bentinck's Tea Committee, which visited Assam in 1935, took four-and-a-half months to get from Calcutta to Sadiya. John M Cosh in his Topography of Assam (1937) testifies to the hazards involved. "A voyage up the Brahmaputra is attended with many obstacles not to be met with upon the Ganges. In the dry season there are no beaten paths to facilitate tracking; the boatmen must either force their way through the high reeds on the crumbling perpendicular bank, or scramble along the bottom .... During the rains the navigation is very much impeded, the banks are overflowed and little or no tracking ground is left, so that pushing along by the slowest of all processes, the bamboo, is the only means of advancing. The prevailing wind from the east adds no little impediment to the journey..."

As British colonialism consolidated itself in the region and the tea-industry took off, the enterprising bull-dog breed quickly supplanted the slow and unwieldy native crafts with mechanised steamers, the earliest being an Assam Company owned one introduced between Calcutta and Dibrugarh in 1842. By the 1860s, with the setting up of the Indian General Navigation Steam Company and the River Steamer Company, travel by steamers became more luxurious and romantic year by year.

Pretty soon a steamer trip became a perk offered by garden owners to their employees. AR Ramsden, a tea-planter, recalls one such trip. "Life in the factory was hard for a European .... so the company usually gave him ten days leave and a trip down the Brahmaputra in a river steamer in about September. When I got my leave I boarded a comfortable flat-bottomed, paddle-wheel steamer of shallow draught. The first class accommodation was most spacious, and I had it all to myself — the whole top deck protected by awning, a comfortable cabin with a fan, a bar and a lounge."

Some of these steamers were "floating shops" where "even English sheep were on sale, for a price." They stocked a host of consumer goods such as wine, cigar, ammunition, tinned food and medicines, which the passengers, as well as Europeans who came down to the ghats to meet them, could buy. Customers could purchase such 'exotic' wares as Kola Tonic (Energy for brain and body — There's a Kick in Kola Tonic — A Kick with no consequence!), Solan beer, Benbow's Dog Mixture ("Ideal tonic and conditioners for dogs"), Superior Reading Biscuits, Huntley and Palmers Famous biscuits ("The choice of our Ancestors"), Molino Pale, Medium-Dry Sherry, Johnie Walker whiskey ("Born 1820, still going strong"), Rosa rum and Sutton's seeds!

For even native passengers such steamer trips, either as a mode of communication or just for the pleasure of it, had been a thrilling experience, as testified to in the writings of various individuals, not the least being Lakshminath Bezbaroa's. Getting stuck on sand-reefs, watching gavials or river-dolphins from the deck-railings, hunting for turtle eggs or having a picnic on sand-bars, all these were aspects of that thrilling experience. Thus it is strange indeed that we have allowed a mere line on a map drawn by a disinterested bureaucrat to cut off such a vibrant and dynamic lifeline and the ancillary experiences associated with it. Very little effort had been made after Partition to revive the Brahmaputra-Ganges link, made more feasible after the transformation of East Pakistan into Bangladesh, if not for trade purposes, at least as a river-cruise experience.

Sadly, in the half century following independence there has been no endeavour, at either the governmental or the private level, to create what perhaps could have been one of the most fascinating river-cruises of the world, encompassing mainland India, Bangladesh and the North-East. Let alone harnessing the power or communication potential of the mighty Brahmaputra and its many tributaries, even lesser tourism related potentials have not been aimed at. The ambition of our entrepreneurs seem to be confined to offering a bland fare of short duration cruise rather than envision longer, more exciting one.

It is only recently that the concept of river-cruise appears to be taking root. One luxury cruiser catering only to foreigners is now operating and another one is reportedly on the anvil. But this is hardly enough. Even now we have not been able to compensate for the decades we have squandered by missing out on one of our most tangible assets. Since most of our tourism spots are concentrated in or by the Brahmaputra, it is a wonder why long-distance river cruises have taken so long to come into realisation. But then, given our lack of enterprise, perhaps it is not that much of a wonder at all!








Diwali, Deepawali or Deepannita is a festival of joy and happiness and is celebrated all over India with lights accompanied with sounds. The Hindus celebrate 13 festivals in 12 months of the year. It is said that a European officer intrigued by the religious fervour of the Hindus, once remarked: "There does not exist a thing between the heaven and the earth which the Hindus do not worship."

The remark cannot be rejected out right as untrue. The Hindus worship every conceivable object - the sun, the moon, the rain god Varuna, the thunder god Indra and many others. According to scriptures, the Hindu gods and goddesses number 33 crores. Not only gods and goddesses, but the Hindus worship also stones, trees, rivers, seas, spirits, animals and what not! Every day of the year bears some significance and is normally attributed to some gods or goddesses. Followers of other religions also worship a number of objects, but in case of Hindus the list of objects is long enough.

The Hindu belief is that there is one creator of the universe and all animate and inanimate objects are related to Him. All religious beliefs have some guidelines directing the followers to perform certain activities.

The doctrine of Hinduism states that every individual should perform pancha yajnas (five sacrifices) every day. These pancha yajnas are Brahma yajna (reading of the Vedas), Nri yajna (service to guests), Deva yajna (homage to gods), Pitri yajna (homage to forefathers by way of sraddha, tarpan etc.) and Bhuta yajna (offering food to the needy). This shows that the Hindu doctrine specifies the works to be performed by an individual even for the day and all these are nothing but some form of worship.

There are some festivals which have been celebrated from time immemorial while some are being added from time to time. Some festivals are location specific and some are celebrated across the country at the same period. Holi, the festival of colours, Janmastami, the birthday of Lord Sri Krishna, Shiva Ratri, the night attributed to Lord Shiva, Diwali or Deepawali or Deepannita, the festival of lights are a few such festivals celebrated throughout the country. According to the Hindu belief, Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Maheswara (Sadashiva) are responsible for creation, protection and destruction of the universe respectively. Everything undergoes three stages, namely birth, growth and ultimately the end. So the universe is also to undergo these three stages. The destructive form of Sadashiva is called Rudra. These three acts of the Lords are described as "Oh Lord! You create as Brahma, protect as Vishnu and destroy the universe as Rudra."

This explains that God is one and He has many forms, including the above three. Shiva and Shakti are said to be inseparable. So when Shiva is worshipped, Shakti is also to be worshipped automatically and vice versa. While Shiva is the symbol of wisdom, Shakti is the symbol of power.

Deepa in Sanskrit means lamps and the festival celebrated by arranging lighted lamps is called Deepawali or Deepannita or Diwali. The festival is celebrated on the Amavasya night (new moon night) following Durga Puja, Dusshera and Navaratri in the autumn season. There are different explanations regarding the beginning of the festival.

One explanation relates the festival to Lord Sri Ramchandra. According to this belief, when Sri Ramchandra after killing Ravana, the demon king of Lanka, returned to Ayodhya with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman, the people of Ayodhya welcomed them by planting plantain trees and decorating with lit earthen lamps, and thus the festival began. This signifies that the lamps would remove the darkness, symbolising Ravana and usher in light, thus symbolising return of Sri Ramchandra to Ayodhya.

A second explanation is that after Lord Vishnu killed Narakasura, the people celebrated it by planting plantain trees and decorating them with lit earthen lamps. Not only the Hindus, but the Jains and the Buddhists also celebrate the festival. According to the followers of Jainism, the day on which the propagator of the faith Lord Mahavira obtained Nirvana is celebrated as Diwali.

The Buddhists believe that on the new moon night of the autumn season Lord Gautama Buddha renounced the world.

Diwali is associated with puja also. While a section of the people celebrate Kali Puja or Shyama Puja on this night, another section celebrates Lakshmi Puja. In North India Lakshmi Puja is
celebrated on Diwali night. People believe that if the night brings good luck, the coming days will bring prosperity and happiness.

In many places like Varanasi, Diwali day is said to be considered as gamblers' day and many people try their luck on the occasion. The followers of Jainism celebrate
the festival for four days. They worship goddess Lakshmi on the first day. On the second day sweets are prepared and kept on street corners. The purpose of doing this is that any evil spirit would feed on them and keep themselves away from doing any harm. The third day i.e. the new moon night, is earmarked for opening new account books. The fourth day i.e. the following day of the new moon night which is the first day of the immediate next full moon period, is regarded as the first day of the new year by the Jains.

Regarding celebration of Kali Puja or Shyama Puja on Diwali night, the scriptures describe some events. According to Markendeya Purana, the story runs as follows: Goddess Durga (Shakti) became overjoyed by slaying the demon twin brothers Shumbha and Nishumbha. She began to dance. She was so excited that she put the severed heads of the demons in her hands. A garland of severed hands of the slain demons covered her lower part of the body. Being afraid of the destructive dance of the Devi, the gods prayed to her and requested her to stop. But she would not listen and continued the dance. Then Lord Mahadeva lay down among the dead bodies and while dancing, the Devi once kept her feet on Mahadeva's chest. Realising her mistake she felt embarrassed and biting her tongue, she stopped dancing. The idol of Kali is therefore seen in this posture.

Another story about Diwali and Kali Puja runs as follows: The Devas (gods) and the Asuras (demons) churned the sea together. Before starting the churning process they failed to
worship Shakti, the goddess of power. The Devi became annoyed and turned herself into the fearful destructive form of Kali or Shyama on the Amavasya night of the autumn season. The gods became worried and all of them including Lord Sadashiva worshipped her with lit lamps to please her and thus started Diwali or Kali Puja.








When corporate affairs minister Salman Khurshid had called for austere corporate salaries, we had said the matter should be left to company boards.

 Now, the biggest shareholder in India's biggest company by market capitalisation has decided that the chairman of his company should take a 66% salary cut.

Mukesh Ambani has brought down his own salary for 2008-09 to Rs 15 crore from Rs 44.2 crore the year before, following the RIL compensation committee's decision to cap the chairman's salary at Rs 15 crore.

One can crib that Rs 15 crore is not particularly austere. But the elder Ambani sends out the right signal that, at a time of widespread misery following slowdown, drought, epidemic and now floods, the richest of the land will, if not quite share the sorrow, shed a part of their pleasure. Earlier, Anil Ambani, too, had forgone his salary and commissions for 2008-09.

These symbols matter when it comes to holding society together. In terms of pure cash in hand, when promoter CEOs cut their salaries, they don't really lose much. On the foregone salary of Rs 29.2 crore, Mr Ambani would have paid a tax of 33% or Rs 9.64 crore, net of which the salary cut would be Rs 18.56 crore.

For promoters who hold a large proportion of their company's equity, it makes far more sense to take profits out in the form of dividends, which are tax-free in the hands of the recipient. The promoters of RIL own 46.3% of the company's equity.

If, instead of incurring an expenditure of Rs 29.2 crore by way of the promoter chairman's salary, RIL were to choose to pay that entire amount as dividend, after paying a 15% dividend distribution tax, Rs 11.5 crore would still accrue to the promoter, reducing the post-tax salary foregone to Rs 7.5 crore.

But this is to quibble. RIL promoters received dividends worth Rs 873 crore last fiscal. A few crore of salary is neither here nor there.


Entrepreneurs who have risen sufficiently above the poverty line don't worry about a few rupees more. They set goals for creating wealth, beating rivals or reaching benchmarks they set for themselves. In meeting those goals, they advance society. If they also behave in a fashion which makes society appreciate their contribution rather than resent their distance from the mean, all the better.







The government must follow up on the revelation that US companies have bribed assorted Indian functionaries and act against the corrupt.


India's ambassador to the US Meera Shankar has written to the Prime Minister's Office, calling for action, once these details came out as part of identifying American companies being charged with paying bribes abroad between 2000 and 2006 and thus violating the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

Now, this is neither the first instance of American companies being fined under the Act by the Department of Justice (DoJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) nor the first instance where people holding public offices have been reported to be guilty of accepting bribes.

Unfortunately, in India, with the exception of a few cases, prosecution of the guilty is rarely taken to its logical end. This must change. Corruption is commonplace around the world, only its degree varies. Rooting out corruption might seem impossible but that is no reason for giving up the fight. In any case, curbing it is feasible.

It was to this end that the US enacted the FCPA in 1977 — many American companies had admitted to bribing foreign government officials, politicians and political parties to secure some type of favourable action. Violation of the FCPA's anti-bribery provisions involves both criminal and civil penalties: companies and business entities would be subject to fines going up to $2 million per offence while officers, directors, employees and agents are subject to $100,000 and/or imprisonment for up to five years.

Further, these fines could actually be much higher under the Alternative Fines Act, as much as twice the benefit accrued to the business. The SEC is empowered under this Act to impose additional fines.

Institutional mechanisms such as the Central Vigilance Commission provide some oversight of public servants. Corruption charges have been booked against several officers in ministries, departments and public enterprises.

This mechanism needs to be strengthened. But the root problem is to reform political funding. So long as financing politics remains without an institutional arrangement, politicians will mobilise the needed funds from peddling patronage, extorting from the public and filching from the exchequer. And they suborn the bureaucracy in the process. So we must begin with reform of political funding.






All religions love light. "And God said, Let there be light" is how the Bible narrates the genesis of creation. "Lead us from darkness to light" is a refrain of religious scriptures. Diwali, or the Festival of Light, is the high point in the Hindu calendar and is celebrated not just in the world's most populous democracy but in little Indias in Serangoon (Singapore), KL (Kuala Lumpur) and elsewhere. Some festivals transcend religious boundaries.

On October 15, President Barack Obama lit a Diwali lamp in the White House while noting that "This Saturday, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists, here in America and around the world, will celebrate by lighting diyas which symbolise the victory of light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance."

Diwali touches all of us. The festival is linked to the mythic past of the idealised Ramrajya — the name Deepavali itself means the rows of lamps with which the people of Ayodhya welcomed Lord Rama on his return from 14 years of vanvas.

Diwali also signifies the light and hope for the future, some of which Obama articulated on Thursday when he talked about remembering those who are less fortunate and renewing our commitment to those in need.

Diwali also means economic prosperity of the kind which is symbolised by the muhurat or token trading on the evening of the festival on India's stock-exchanges (the BSE and the NSE) and commodity bourses (MCX, NMCE and NCDEX).

Imagine looking down from a satellite in outer space at billions and billions of diyas lighting up night-time India and wondering why on earth V S Naipaul ever called this country an area of darkness!








THE ongoing negotiations with the World Bank provide an opportunity to urban policymakers to reinvent the present form of JNNURM (called v1.0). Thus far JNNURM v1.0 has focused on upgrading macro-level dimensions of city's environment, ignoring the social and economic diversity (e.g., mixed uses and building types) prevailing in urban areas.


The top-down urban 'renewal' model underlying the present version of JNNURM is largely founded on the planning practices of Moses the ruthless New York bureaucrat who, regardless of real lives, forced highways through neighbourhoods, leading to what Peter Hall calls the "great planning disasters" of the west.

Attention of urban planners, accordingly, shifted from modernistic strategies envisioning a "sweeping, rational engineering of social life" to post-modern notions, advocated by Jane Jacobs, Richard Florida, Iris Young, and Leonie Sandercock, that inclusion of the local context and "thoughtful citizen involvement" during the planning process was important.

Such post-modern ideas, that account for multicultural and multiethnic Indian cities, have the potential to become the foundation of the remodelled form of JNNURM (labelled v2.0); additionally, mitigate the effects of rising temperatures and increased flooding in an era of climatic uncertainty.

And, these notions can be made operational through neighbourhood-level planning and real delegation based on Stohr's concept of 'subsidiary' units.

Neighbourhood-level strategic planning: The basic premise underlying the paradigm shift is that residents are best positioned to understand what changes are most likely to lead to neighbourhood improvement; therefore, a key ingredient of the second version is citizen participation, using standard tools of the communicative approach (e.g., charrettes).

Moreover, citizen involvement is expected to strengthen civil society organisations to advocate the varying needs of diverse communities, provide for strategic leveraging of resources to meet green growth objectives, and induce voluntary action to address the local effects of climate change.

Accordingly, preparation of contextualised neighbourhood improvement strategic plans based on local history, culture, issues, and resources, as opposed to the project-by-project delivery of services articulated in JNNURM v1.0, is the first element of the paradigm shift.

Given that the built environment has to be retro-fitted to alleviate the adverse effects of climatic changes (e.g., temperature increase) alternate zoning regulations, such as form-based performance, are required to be developed for Indian cities for use in local-level planning.

Presently, Indian cities practise Euclidean zoning, which leads to segregated cities by protecting localities by separating incompatible uses and ignores traffic congestion and air pollution.

Form-based regulations, on the other hand, promote mixed use development and pedestrian mobility, but relegate environmental issues (e.g., natural resources) to the back due to their focus on design. Therefore, crafting sustainable zoning and building regulations for local areas is another component of the new framework.
Finally, reliable and innovative resource generation tools, in addition to the funds provided by governments and donors are required to make JNNURM induced initiatives sustainable. Rather than increase property taxes, innovative instruments based on the principle that growth will have to "pay its own way" need to be created.

Typically, developers contribute to the cost of their impact on the local community through land dedications, impact fees (fee-in-lieu programmes, utility connection fees) and linkage fees.

Tax increment financing (TIF) is an instance of a creative instrument to help urban local bodies to finance their portion towards development activities. Essentially, TIF is a tool to harness future revenues to pay for current expenditures and neighbourhoods. One way is to designate local units, for which strategic plans are being prepared, as TIF districts to pay for their developments.

Decentralisation from below: To design neighbourhood plans that are owned by citizens, municipal bodies will have to evolve the traditional structures and means of delivering services to permit staff to collaborate with citizens to identify and implement local improvements (e.g., watershed management to reduce flooding). Generally, contemporary decentralised forms are variants of top-down approaches.

Functions which the higher levels are unable to perform or had little interest in are typically offloaded and local urban authorities are often left to fend for themselves without the required support and resources.

Moreover, despite noteworthy economic and technological progress, poverty, hunger, health hazards and exclusion from the benefits of globalisation have remained; therefore, development efforts are required to be directed at population cohorts and areas that are left behind, requiring local action as close as possible to the affected population groups.

Walter Stohr's 'Principle of Subsidiarity', is an example of a real bottoms-up approach in which processes and decisions that can be best performed at local levels are executed there, and only those that cannot be satisfactorily done at local level are "delegated upwards" to higher levels of government, the private sector, or the third sector (e.g., non-governmental organisations).

Accordingly, a prerequisite to access resources from JNNURM v2.0 will be to complete the process of entrusting functions, funds, and functionaries to the lowest local unit and establishing public-private partnerships.

All in all, post-modern principles should form the foundation of the remodelled form of JNNURM v2.0. The objective will be to ensure a higher quality of life in growing Indian cities in an era of climatic uncertainty.

What is required is to account for the different needs of population sub-groups by creating multilevel city governance structures based on the notion of subsidiarity and retrofit the built environment in association with citizens, leading to "low carbon green growth".

(Author is an IAS officer. Views are personal)








Asia's richest man has just taken a 66% pay cut to "set an example of moderation". How should one react? Should one sympathise? Or should one give in to feelings of schadenfreude? That, as you know, is one of those untranslatable German words which stands for 'shameful joy' brought on by taking delight in another's suffering.

But the moot question is whether Mukesh Ambani is suffering monetarily? He will take home Rs 150 million and a share of this year's profits. That's not small change, going by the living standards of most of his compatriots. In any case, the connection between cash and contentment may not necessarily be as large as many people believe it to be.

Indeed, one expert goes so far as to describe the relationship between money and happiness as "pretty darned small". Others are less certain. Hunter Davies, author of Living on the Lottery, which follows the fortunes of 27 winners from the British game's first year, for example, goes to a diametrically opposite pole. "Money does buy happiness," he asserts. "It makes you nicer and kinder — may be because you don't get messed around so much."

Of the 27 winners that he tracked only one turned out to be depressive and unhappy. "Those who mutter about the awful things in store for winners are simply subscribing to a compensatory myth that makes them feel better," Davies said. But other studies covering larger samples have produced more ambiguous results: of the 2,000-plus millionaires created since the inauguration of the lottery in Britain in 1994, one has committed suicide, several winners found themselves in prison, and some others have displayed the worst excesses of binge buying.

So how does one interpret Davies's findings? One explanation is that the extra cash brings in increased status and sense of security, which may actually have a greater impact on happiness than money per se.

"Such a sense of inner well-being soars beyond mere material wealth," Stuart Zimmerman and Jared Rosen write in their paean to inner security and infinite wealth. "Inner security can only be forged (no pun intended) by going beyond traditional, restrictive concepts of wealth," add the authors ostensibly transformed by 9/11. The Bhagavad Gita links it to inner silence and resolution (atma-vinigraha) and purity of purpose, all of which boosts mental strength and separates the real men from the boys.








According to David Rhodes, Global Head, Banking and Financial Institutions Practice, Boston Consultancy Group, much of Asia has 'dodged the bullet' as it had learnt from the 1998 crisis. In an interview with ET, Mr Rhodes speaks of how the banking landscape will evolve. Excerpts:


Can you give some numbers behind the banking crisis?

If you run the maths, the US banking system has written down $1 trillion of assets and they got $1.2 trillion of equity. People feel that they need to write off another $500 billion, so in capital terms they are down by around $300 billion.

The reality is that the whole situation changes every month. For instance, there are investors now willing to buy collateralised debt obligations (CDOs) as they feel that they have been written down too far and so the price of CDOs are coming back and banks would be able to write back some of the provisions they made.

When will the world economy rebound?

The single most important statistics in this whole economic story, in my view, is the fact that the US consumer spending accounts for 16-17% of the global economy. If the US consumer stops spending, it is a real problem as no one else in the world can compensate for that.

We are talking about a world where the US consumer needs to pay down debts. Leveraging by the American consumer needs to come down from 97% to 80% of GDP and that amounts to deleveraging $4 trillion.


Is there a risk of unintended consequence due to the fiscal stimulus and qualitative easing worldwide?

To borrow an analogy from someone, the quantitative easing and fiscal stimulus are the government's equivalent of what I do when my television breaks down. I thump it to make it work. This is the same, as the government is hitting the television and hoping it works.

It is a huge macroeconomic experiment. They do not really know how it is going to play out. In China, a chunk of the stimulus has gone into state-owned banks lending to the state-owned enterprises and the money cycle grew into an asset bubble and into a stock market bubble. Now that is an unintended consequence. But, more broadly the stimulus and easing has shifted the day of reckoning.

The governments are hoping that consumer demand and capital goods demand will pick up just when the government needs to rein in the monetary laxity. But that may not happen. I think that some of the fiscal stimulus have long dates attached to it.

Who'll emerge winners from this crisis?

We see three models that will continue to prosper. At the headline level, the universal bank model will be reinvigorated where banks are built around consumer deposits and consumer business. There will be some banks that are local and regional champions, built around strong customer deposits and strong retail base.

The second is the global specialist that will continue to prosper. These will include specialists in securities and asset management. In securities processing, there are one or two investment banks which will continue to prosper.

Then there is a very small number of existing multi-regional global banks. They will be in a unique position, as regulators will not allow their numbers to grow. They will become unique, protected species as no one else will be allowed to join their ranks.

There is a feeling in Britain that banks should not be allowed to grow too large and that they should taxed?
It is not in the UK government's interest to tax the banks at the moment. Allowing them to become profitable is a way of recapitalising them without the government infusing capital.

About the size of the banks, if the Conservative Party wins the next election, they may want reverse some mergers. For instance, they see the merger of Llodyds and HBOS as a step too far and they indicated that they would seek to break up the bank, if they could do it.

More generally, regulators across the world are now concerned about banks that are too big to fail and in particular, too big for the home market to rescue.

The crisis has left governments very nervous about banks that are too big to bail and secondly they worry about complexity, they worry about the ability of management to manage the global titans. That may well be a legitimate concern for those banks that grow big without maintaining simplicity of their business model.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




With time running out, almost every related project behind schedule and pressure increasing by the day, Indian Olympic Committee president and 2010 Commonwealth Games organising committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi is in a fix. And what better way to deflect attention from the deficiencies in the planning and implementation for the Delhi Games than to kick up a fuss over a virtual non-issue, brand it "imperialism" and label genuine concern — and an attempt to monitor and improve preparations — from the Commonwealth Games Federation as "interference". Mr Kalmadi tried all of this and even sought to pin the blame for tardy progress on one individual, the chief executive of the Delhi Games, Mr Mike Hooper, calling him an obstruction and saying he has been "of no use". At the same time, Mr Kalmadi sought to wiggle out of commitments made to the CGF in the form of a technical review panel which he now feels will become a "multiplicity of agencies" working towards the Games. When the CGF General Assembly met for six days in Delhi last week to assess progress in preparations for CWG 2010 after CGF president Mike Fennel publicly expressed concerns over the possible failure of the event, Mr Kalmadi had to agree to the technical panel keeping an eye on the work here. Yet, it took just four days for the IOA head to look for ways out of the scrutiny and monitoring process. At one level the organising committee's feelings about outside supervision may be justified — but only if there was no reason for concern and work was progressing as per schedule. To try and bring extraneous factors into play to deflect attention from the legitimate concerns expressed by the federation, and its attempts to improve matters, is quite simply the worst form of politics. It is also a desperate bid to keep control over an enterprise that is threatening to slip away. After all, control is the lifeblood of the Indian politician and potentially losing command over such a prestigious venture would have been galling for a professional politician. Kalmadi and Co. may have a point about interference and outside control, but, to an extent, it is a problem of their own making. Then again, it is so typically Indian to let things slide till the very last minute before waking up to looming reality. The immediate aftermath of Mr Kalmadi's demand that Games CEO Mike Hooper be removed has been a summary rejection and a reiteration by the CGF that the monitoring panel would very much be constituted. This could have been avoided had there been more attention to lagging projects and related areas of preparation. Since that has not happened, matters appear headed for a showdown. In all this, work on the Games itself seems to have taken a back seat and those who can remember recent history will recall an interesting parallel. Ahead of the 1982 Asian Games, progress was just as tardy as in this case. That was when Indira Gandhi stepped in, told Rajiv Gandhi to take over and gave him a virtual blank cheque. The outcome is well known. It may quite well be that Mr Suresh Kalmadi is waiting for history to save the day.







"Tally ho! Tally hoo! Tally Ha ha ha ha ha!"

From Invocations To Call Mounted Fools Into A Ring (With apologies to Shakespeare from Bachchoo)


I once wrote a film called Split Wide Open (directed by Dev Benegal) in which a young Indo-Morrocan actress called Laila Rouass starred. Ms Rouass has gone far beyond the credits she gained as the heroine of SWO, has had lead parts in several British TV serials and has appeared for the past weeks on a very popular show called Strictly Come Dancing. As all the contestants do, she ballroom dances with a professional partner who steers her through the eliminative competition.


Last week, as part of an episode approaching the finals, she and her partner, Anton du Beke, were being followed by the camera in rehearsal when she brought in some fake-tan spray. Anton jokingly said that if she wore that she would "look like a Paki". Laila took it as a racial slur and burst into tears. Anton apologised, said it was in jest, but the incident became huge news.


It was, the newspapers said, a repeat of the incident in which Shilpa Shetty was called a "popadom" by the late Jade Goody on the TV "reality" show Big Brother. There was a big fuss about "racism" after that incident too, but my sentiments were at the time firmly on the side of hapless idiots like Jade and her mother who had no other insight into character, or handle on notoriety than a crude racial insult. I pitied their ignorance and knew that Ms Shetty with all her beauty and talent and was far above what she, and a vast number of the viewers, regarded as the British equivalent of "trailer trash". It was petty reflexive racism — to be pitied.


I would not say the same about the leader of the British National Party (BNP), one Nick Griffin who is next week to be given a panellist's seat on the BBC's prestigious political show Question Time. His neo-fascist, avowedly racist (they don't allow anyone but whites to join and their main policy plank is repatriation of immigrants) party won two seats in the elections to the European Parliament and the BBC probably calculate that an exposure of their views would be counter-productive to their cause and that a ban on their representation on TV would assist it.


I support the BBC in this decision. Griffin, Cambridge educated and politely accented, must be given enough rope to hang himself. It is not that I don't think he and his ilk are pernicious, but I firmly believe that the majority of the British public are not racists.


Pockets remain. My youngest daughter, Best Beloved (not her name, but the one I have stolen as a sobriquet from Kipling), enrolled at the age of 12 in a secondary school in Henley-on-Thames, a backwater, wife-swapping, menopausal town some 45 miles from London and joined up with a gang of boys and girls whom she found the most accessible and outgoing in her year. In time the pairing and preferring jealousies and tensions in the group caught up and two of the boys in her friendship group began a campaign of racist persecution against Best Beloved. They called her "Paki" and soon even the girls of the group joined in and ostracised her for no transgressive fault of hers.


Best Beloved is sensitive but toughened and though she cried she did absorb the idea that the racism of children was born out of ignorance, bad upbringing and we constantly urged her to keep the family motto firmly in mind and use it as a mantra: "The intelligent must make concessions".


Other friends from her earlier years rallied round and soon the hapless racist boys were isolated, even repentant, and all was well.


This was not the Nick Griffin or BNP sort of racism. Not even the laddish banter of Anton du Beke. It was the Jade Goody reflexive, not reflective, sort as this sort of taunt has no vicious or Right-leaning political convictions reinforcing it. It's the sort of racism that will come out shouting for some of the BNP's sentiments, but will never, in the cold light of day, put them in power.

Much more pernicious and sneaky is the racism of the nouveau riche and jumped up middle classes, the financial grabbers of Britain. I recently came across the fact that a group of them, with whom I have no contact or truck, have referred to me, in front of my 15-year-old daughter and her friends, as "Rasputin". It is said with venom and is, of course, as ignorant as it is vulgar. As any schoolchild who can refer to Wikipedia will know, Rasputin was a charismatic monk who held the undying loyalty of the Czarina by professing to cure her son of haemophilia. There is no parallel fascination, spell or magic claim that I can be accused of. The only similarity I suppose is that I am not white British and neither was Rasputin. It's just a more pretentious way of saying "Paki" or of Jade Goody's "poppadum" — pretentious because in a half-witted way it thinks even idiotic or mistaken references to history give the insult a veneer of wit and status. And that paraded in front of a 15-year-old!


Not that Best Beloved hasn't a perspicacious grasp of the suburban morality of this money-insulated low-life and can see that acquired accents do not ladies or gentlemen make.


The serious point here is that even in Oswald Mosley's day the working classes of Britain didn't support the


British union of Fascists. There have been no serious Right-wing phalanxes of opinion in the last hundred years that have gathered momentum. The Rasputin-wallahs are losers. The closest one came was the electorate of Margaret Thatcher's Tories who relied on exactly this lower middle class-wanting-desperately-to-be-considered-upper-crust toffs as their base. They had nothing to do with the gentry or middle classes of the previous centuries and Victorian era who gave Britain its colonies and a vast amount of its civilisation.


Jade Goody and her ilk, probably a small number of the parents and disfunctional families of some of the racist taunters in Best Beloved's school, got left out of that civilisation, but any view of their type and talent will demonstrate that they are as much or more victims than the people they call "popadums".


Not so the "Rasputin-wallahs" who mistake a crudity for an aphorism and brazenly parade their ignorance and vulgarity before children with no thought to the child's emotional sensitivities. The shame — but then busybodies have none.








In the past, the insurance industry's power has been a major barrier to healthcare reform. Most notably, the industry paid for the infamous "Harry and Louise" ads that helped kill the Clinton plan. But times have changed.


Last weekend, the lobbying organisation America's Health Insurance Plans, or AHIP, released a report attacking the reform plan just passed by the Senate Finance Committee. Some news organisations gave the report prominent, uncritical coverage. But healthcare experts quickly, and correctly, dismissed it as a hatchet job. And the end result of AHIP's blunder may be a better bill than we would otherwise have had.


For 2009, it turns out, is not 1993. Once again, Republicans have tried to kill reform with smears and scare stories. But all they seem to have killed with their cries of "socialism" and warnings about "death panels" is their own credibility. Some form of healthcare reform is highly likely to pass.


So it's a different game than it was 16 years ago. And it's a game that the insurance industry apparently doesn't know how to play.


The motivation for the AHIP report seems to have been the decision by the Finance Committee to weaken the penalties for individuals who don't sign up for insurance, even as it retains regulations requiring that insurers offer the same policies to everyone, regardless of medical history.


The industry worries that some people will game the system, remaining uninsured as long as they're healthy, then signing up when they get sick.


This is, believe it or not, a valid concern. Many healthcare economists believe that a strong individual mandate, requiring that almost everyone sign up, will be needed to make health reform work. And the Finance Committee probably did weaken the mandate too much.


But AHIP, apparently unable to help itself, didn't stop there. Instead, the report threw every anti-reform argument the authors could think of at the wall, hoping that something would stick.


One argument was particularly striking: the claim that attempts to limit Medicare spending would lead to higher insurance premiums. In fact, the report assumes that 100 percent of any reduction in Medicare payments to hospitals will translate into higher costs for patients with private insurance.


The only way to justify this claim is to assume that all hospitals are purely charitable institutions, charging as little as they possibly can. Now, some hospitals may fit this description. But all of them?


What's more, this argument stands the usual logic of markets on its head: if you believe AHIP's story, competition raises prices instead of reducing them. And it doesn't matter where the competition comes from: anyone who gets a better deal, whether it's Medicare or a private insurer, makes life worse for everyone else. I don't believe that, and neither should you.


Of course, the report doesn't mention these implications. The only bad competition it talks about is competition from the government. Specifically, it claims that a public insurance option would be a bad thing — not because it would be inefficient, but because the public plan would negotiate better prices. Isn't that an argument for, not against, such a plan?


Which brings us to the ways in which AHIP may have done health reform a favour.


As I said, the individual mandate probably should be stronger than it is in the Finance Committee's bill. But there's a reason the mandate was weakened: fear that too many people would balk at the cost of insurance, even with the subsidies provided to lower-income individuals and families. So why not address that cost?


Aside from making the subsidies larger, which they should be, there are at least two changes to the legislation that would help limit costs. First, health exchanges — special, regulated markets in which individuals and small businesses can buy insurance — can be made stronger, in effect giving small buyers a better bargaining position. Second, the public option — missing from the Finance Committee's bill — can be brought back in, giving private insurers some real competition.


The insurance industry won't like these changes, but that matters less than it did a week ago.


There's also another point, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has stressed. Part of the Opposition to a strong individual mandate comes from the sense that Americans will be forced to buy policies from a greedy insurance industry. Giving people, literally, another option — the right to buy into a public plan instead — would defuse that opposition.


Even with stronger exchanges and a public option, health reform would probably increase, not reduce, insurance industry profits. But the insurers wanted it all. The good news is that by overreaching, they may have ensured that they won't get it.








The recent attack on General Headquarters (GHQ) and Thursday's attacks in Lahore and Kohat and the Pakistan government's response to these incidents reminded one of the days after the terrorist attack on Islamabad's Marriott Hotel.


There were some in the government who referred to the incident as Pakistan's 9/11. While that particular date in American history can be interpreted in several ways, its greatest significance lies in the fact that it brought the state and society in the US on the same page as far as fighting the war against terror was concerned. Did we manage to achieve this consensus on September 20 last year? Perhaps not.


But this is where the catch lies. The enemy is far more intelligent than what some of our television commentators would like us to believe. In the GHQ case, the terrorists not only understood the strategic value of attacking at the heart of the Pak Army's power base, they also appeared to understand the chasm between the state and society and within the state at several levels. The attackers understand the civilian-military divide better than a lot of people who talk about a new era of civilian-military relations in the country and boast about the two sides being on the same page.


They probably understand that the civilian government might pretend to be powerful but that it depends on externally borrowed power and that in the case of friction between the two centres of power, it is the civilians who would back off. This was most obvious from the fact that instead of raising some critical questions after the attack on GHQ, all that the President and Prime Minister could do was congratulate Gen Ashfaq Kayani on the excellent handling of the crisis.


There is no doubt that the nation is saddened by the death of unarmed officers and soldiers, and supports any action to punish those who carried out the attack. But the entire event ought to be discussed threadbare without any mudslinging. Why was it that 10 men penetrated a highly guarded area and remained ensconced in GHQ for about 19 hours, especially when the Army's high command was in the premises?


There are two important issues here. First, the Pakistan Army, which is trained mainly in conventional warfare and fighting state forces, is not well trained in counter-insurgency operations. This explains why despite being armed with G3s and other types of infantry equipment the force guarding GHQ could not respond properly. Hence, this capacity must be beefed up at the earliest.


Second, the connection of the key planner Aqeel, alias Dr Usman, with the Army medical stores is a reminder of the problem that could perhaps prevail in pockets inside the rest of the military. This pertains to the religio-political inclinations of individual civil and military officials and officers that directly or indirectly support the jihadis.


Aqeel's is not a unique case. Earlier there was Major Haroon Ashiq alleged to be involved in the murder of Gen Faisal Alavi. He was linked with one of the Punjab-based militant outfits. His capture led the police and agencies to other retired officers who had split from the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and were waging "jihad" on their own. We must also not forget the Air Force officials and officers involved in the first attack on the former President Pervez Musharraf. Reportedly, the agencies were forced to go deep within the PAF in search of people connected to different militant outfits or the Tableeghi Jamaat.


At this point, how sure are we that all older links between the jihadis and individuals in the police or military have been snapped? Instead of eulogising the Army, Parliament should be carefully looking at and questioning the old linkages from the perspective of having a handle on the problem of "jihadism" and what it means for the state.


Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) director general Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas stated that the attackers had planned to use the hostages to negotiate the release of about 100 terrorists. Reportedly, there are about 400 terrorists in different jails. Some of the more high-profile detainees are believed to include Malik Ishaq, head of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) and Qari Saifullah Akhtar, head of the Hizb-ul-Jihad Islami. The government must now look at its preparedness and the capacity to protect its high-value detainees.


Although the military and government now seem inclined to consider other reasons for the attack, such as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan trying to avenge Baitullah Mehsud's death, the rescue of high-value terrorists seems to be the primary reason, which must not be ignored at any cost. It must not be forgotten that the attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore was also meant to take hostages who could then be exchanged for top jihadis. Sources even claim that the LJ's Malik Ishaq was involved in the earlier case and had decided to use the attack to get himself freed after the elected Punjab government failed to deliver on a mutual agreement between LJ and the PML-N leadership.


What's equally interesting is the fact that there is an effort by those in power to ignore or divert attention from areas which are as infested with extremist militants as Fata and the tribal areas. The sudden effort to get policemen from most districts of south Punjab to deny the existence of the jihadi problem in their areas is a reaction similar to when the government denied the Pakistani connections of the Mumbai attackers even before investigating the matter. The denial is strange since most of the attacks in Punjab or the federal capital are believed to be provoked or carried out by Punjabis or Punjab-based militant outfits.


Perhaps the fear is that this might divert international attention towards Punjab or make ordinary Pakistanis think about the reasons why jihadis have spread terror across Pakistan and not confined themselves to the tribal areas as the authorities would like us to believe. Interestingly, even the ISPR's emphasis is that the attack might have involved Punjabis but that it was carried out at the behest of the Pakhtun Taliban.


It is indeed important to fight militants in Waziristan who are influenced by Al Qaeda, but why does it have to be at the cost of ignoring the Punjab-based outfits who are proving to be good hosts for the terrorist network? Sources believe that Al Qaeda has trickled into areas bordering Punjab. These outfits operate beyond the Pakhtun-inhabited tribal areas and their threat is evident from the sectarian killings in Dera Ismail Khan and other places.


There is a possibility that the civilian government might lose the initiative in an urge to appease the military and the latter might just lose the initiative to act against those that were part of the GHQ attack for unexplained strategic reasons. This raises the question of how much bloodshed would there be before strategic re-evaluation.


The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst.








Everything has been affected by the global recession hovering over us for the past one year. Austerity is the latest mantra, as is understanding economics: Are you on the side of John Maynard Keynes or, strangely enough, Ayn Rand, idolised by the discredited Alan Greenspan, head of the US Federal Reserve? So it was only a matter of time before the world of art and theatre also began to use the "R" word as inspiration. Whilst many books have been churned out about the crash (people writing knowledgeably of a phenomena very few had predicted) now at last, a play has been written about it, called rather positively The Power of Yes. Though, of course, the message is anything but positive. It is running to packed houses and favourable reviews at the National Theatre.  


Sir David Hare has been writing and producing plays since the 1970s. He has often written cutting-edge theatre — taking cue from the real world of social and political events. Since he usually has firm views about his subjects, the plays are usually controversial — such as Stuff Happens (2005) on the Iraq war. He named people and critiqued the government policy very successfully in the play.


This is a challenging way to write for a commercial platform: not only are you examining events which have impacted the current world, you are also portraying real people, and putting words in their mouth. It requires immense courage, and it is a measure of the maturity of the British politicians that they are stoic about their portrayal. And if there is any rancour, it is never expressed in public. Won't be the right thing to do, old chap!  


So, for years Sir David Hare has been able to seriously examine issues without any roadblocks being put on his creativity. If there has been any censorship, no one is any the wiser — because the productions by themselves would give many decision-makers sleepless nights. This is a far cry from India, of course, where an international film on Jawaharlal Nehru's romance with Edwina Mountbatten — hardly an issue for anyone to get agitated about more than 40 years after the event — is stuck because the government would like to re-draft the script. And, here in the UK, Sir David is pillorying the living Prime Minister every night at the National Theatre and, while Gordon Brown may gnash his teeth about it, he has not mumbled a single word against it. Neither has the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, and nor has the Labour Party taken to the streets and shouted slogans. Or burnt the theatre down. 


It shows a level of maturity that the politics in UK has achieved. It also shows a level of security and confidence in the British people that they can watch so-called inflammatory material and be allowed to make up their own minds, rather than a scared government worried about opening up any form of debate, in case the "legacy" of the political party is somehow depleted. It is only when this level of maturity arrives in the political system in India, that Indian art, theatre and literature will be really free to evolve.  


Sir David's play is extremely well researched. The format is fairly simple and, in a sense, not terribly theatrical because he uses a number of "talking heads", like actors walking on to deliver their dialogues without much action at all. He uses his own character — of a puzzled playwright trying to find out why the financial crisis occurred — as the pivot. And in reality, too, that is how the play was written. He had been asked to make a play about the "credit crunch" by the director of the National Theatre and so he ended up working like a forensic scientist. He not only gathered the body of evidence and the fingerprints left by fat cat bankers and even Nobel Prize winning economists, such as Myron Scholes, but also tried to prove who killed the world economy.


Surprisingly, even though just this week was the anniversary of the big bank bailout in the UK — we have been inundated with information about the "recession", the depression and (every now and then) the mirage-like recovery — most of us have not really sat and figured it all through. Therefore, I have to say, the National Theatre had an enthralled audience watching, literally with shock and awe, how the government and bankers colluded to create first the boom, and then the bust.


The real success of the play is that we too learn about the banking crises as it unfolds — and the effect is a little bit like understanding how to make a bomb. Once you know the ingredients you feel like a fool, because you never knew it was so simple! The play should have been called The Idiots' Guide to Making Markets Collapse. But it really scares you because for the first time you realise that most bankers are really not terribly smart and they have all our money! And the second shock is to understand that the so-called "bail out" of the banks, which is supposed to stabilise the world economies, is actually going to leave enormous debts that future generations are going to struggle under. In all it is probably the most clever, most relevant and most frightening play I have seen in a long time.


As is his wont, Sir David uses real people and real names: therefore, George Soros, billionaire and philanthropist, appears in a guru-like avatar as he grumbles about losing a few million here and there, but overall points out the bleak future under the brightly painted rainbow. Others who do not come across so beatifically, alas, is a friend Sir Howard Davies, currently the director of the London School of Economics and formerly the head of the Financial Services Authority. Some others, such as the very Left-leaning Labour politician Jon Cruddas, were very pleased by their own portrayal as normally bank benchers in New Labours regime do not get such prominence.  


However, overall, the power of the play lies in its honesty and its ability to question statements such as Mr Brown's famous line of abolishing boom and bust. This is an open society where debate is encouraged and Sir David's lucid portrayal of even a subject like economics makes it a discussion where we, the British aam aadmi and aurat, can vociferously participate in. Another equally well-received play running right now is Enron. Hmmm… now that should interest Indian politicians, shouldn't it?


The writer can be contacted at [1]








Is Israel just a nation among nations? On one level, it is indeed an ordinary place. People curse the traffic, follow their stocks, Blackberry, go to the beach and pay their mortgages. Stroll around in the prosperous North Tel Aviv suburbs and you find yourself California dreaming.


On another, it's not. More than 60 years after the creation of the modern state, Israel has no established borders, no constitution, and no peace. Born from exceptional horror, the Holocaust, it has found normality elusive.


The anxiety of the diaspora Jews has ceded not to tranquility but to another anxiety. The escape from walls has birthed new walls. The annihilation psychosis has not disappeared but taken new form. For all Israel's successes — it is the most open, creative and dynamic society in the region — this is a gnawing failure. Can anything be done about it?


Perhaps a good place to start that inquiry is by noting that Israel does not see itself as normal. Rather it lives in a perpetual state of exceptionalism. I understand this: Israel is a small country whose neighbours are enemies or cold bystanders. But I worry when Israel makes a fetish of its exceptional status. It needs to deal with the world as it is, however discomfiting, not the world of yesterday.


The Holocaust represented a quintessence of evil. But it happened 65 years ago. Its perpetrators are dead or dying. A Holocaust prism may be distorting. History illuminates — and blinds. These reflections stirred on reviewing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to the UN last month. The first 30 paragraphs were devoted to an inflammatory conflation of Nazi Germany (the word "Nazi" appears five times), modern Iran, Al Qaeda (a Sunni ideology foreign to Shia Iran) and global terrorism, with lonely and exceptional Israel standing up against them all.


Here's Netanyahu's summary of the struggle of our age: "It pits civilisation against barbarism, the 21st century against the 9th century, those who sanctify life against those who glorify death".


That's facile, resonant — and unhelpful. Sure, it's an outlook that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's unacceptable Holocaust denial and threats comfort. (Several Iranian leaders have also spoken of accepting any deal on Israel that the Palestinians agree to.)


There's another way of looking at the ongoing struggle in West Asia — less dramatic and more accurate. That is to see it as a fight for a different balance of power — and possibly greater stability — between a nuclear-armed Israel (an estimated 80 to 200 never-acknowledged weapons), a proud but uneasy Iran and an increasingly sophisticated Arab world.


Some of Israel's enemies contest its very existence, however powerless they are to end it. But the death-cult terrorists-versus-reasonable-Israelis paradigm falls short. There are various civilisations in West Asia, whose attitudes toward religion and modernism vary, but who all quest for some accommodation between them.


One casualty of this view, of course, is Israeli exceptionalism. The Jewish state becomes more like any other nation fighting for influence and treasure. I think President Obama, himself talking down American exceptionalism, is trying to nudge Israel toward a more prosaic, realistic self-image.


Hence the US abstention last month at a UN nuclear assembly vote calling on all states in West Asia to "accede to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear weapons" (NPT) and create a nuclear-weapon-free West Asia — an idea Obama administration officials have supported in line with a nuclear disarmament agenda.


A shift is perceptible in the decades-old tacit American endorsement of Israel's undeclared nuclear arsenal. This is logical. To deal effectively with the nuclear programme of Iran, an NPT member, while ignoring the nuclear status of non-NPT Israel is to invite accusations of double standards. President Obama doesn't like them.


I'd say there's a tenable case for Israel ending its nuclear exceptionalism, coming clean on its arsenal and joining the NPT as part of any US-endorsed regional security arrangement that stops Iran short of weaponisation. It's also worth noting the sensible tone of defence secretary Robert Gates — in flagrant contrast to Netanyahu. "The only way you end up not having a nuclear capable Iran is for the Iranian government to decide that their security is diminished by having those weapons as opposed to strengthened", Gates says.


West Asia has changed. So must Israel. "Never again" is a necessary but altogether inadequate way of dealing with the modern world.









THE worst misgivings are now confirmed. The river draft at Haldia has plummeted to its lowest level, and it will take a while for the shipping industry and maritime trade to recover in the eastern sector. With the average draft at Auckland channel down to 3.7 metres from 4 metres in September ~ 5 metres is the required minimum ~ ships will have to carry far less than 50 per cent of the cargo. Specifically, a vessel that can convey 55,000 tonnes will now have to make do with approximately 22,000. Industries generally will have to spend more on transportation if they have to use additional vessels, if not take circuitous routes as well. While this is in the realm of the immediate impact, the Kolkata Port Trust, the Haldia Dock Complex ~ and any other authority that may be responsible ~ must now admit that this almost unprecedented setback to shipping is the net result of the failure to dredge the channels. Passing the buck ~ a trend over the past few months ~ or blaming it on the lack of equipment will only obfuscate the central issue. What else is a port for if it cannot ensure the smooth docking of ships? An adverse effect on the economy is inevitable primarily because the port at Haldia handles three major commodities ~ coal, iron ore and petroleum products.

The authorities appear to be at sixes and sevens in trying to cope with the crisis. The authorities of KoPT use the language of understatement when they describe the situation as "critical". They may have ruled out the worst by saying that the port will not close. However, by blaming it on nature ~ "no one can fight nature" ~ the Haldia port authorities are merely indulging in self-deception. There is yet no admission of the fact that dredging has been a belated, half-baked exercise, carried out with largely ineffective equipment. The port must be saved and the responsibility is collective.






EXAGGERATED expectations can prove enfeebling. Hence there is every reason to applaud the home minister's assertion that the soon-to-be revived dialogue in Jammu and Kashmir will be conducted away from media glare ~ though it is doubtful if the excessively competitive and sensation-feasting television units will appreciate a responsibility to view the developments as more than a "story". Experience would suggest that participants in the dialogue would be tempted/pressured into the on-camera comments that create complications. That such negotiations are a process rather than an event needs to be widely understood: not by the media alone, sincerity, patience and fortitude will have to be displayed by the government's interlocutors. That there have been several previous attempts at dialogue that broke down, or fizzled out, at the "position stating" stage should serve to caution, and while it is easy for P Chidambaram to talk of not carrying any "baggage" it is impossible to ignore history. Yet circumstances dictate a drastically different approach now: the security agencies have delivered just about all they can, the law of negative returns is taking effect on the use of force. It is positive that the talks-offer has been welcomed except by the hardline element of Hurriyat, the moderates must be convinced that this is not another "show", and the People's Democratic Party and National Conference (both have welcomed Chidambaram's offer) must rise above petty rivalry. It adds up to a tall order.

It is as yet unclear at which level the talks will be "pitched". Ego issues would require some initial interaction with the Prime Minister, but how far the subsequent rounds are reduced is tricky. Maybe a ministerial group led by Chidambaram would succeed in securing agreements ~ to expect a single, all-inclusive "accord" will be over-simplistic ~ that the Prime Minister could endorse. At some stage Opposition leaders could be associated: it is a national issue. However, nothing must be done in the interim to dilute the authority and status of the chief minister, and current development programmes must get a boost. The high-priority/back-burner flip-flop has to end. And in the immediate future the security apparatus must gear itself to face a militant bid to vitiate the atmosphere. Thus far Chidambaram has impressed on the security front, but it take







NEPAL'S constituent assembly is rewriting the constitution, so the elevation of foreign minister Sujata Koirala, daughter of Nepali Congress chief GP Koirala, to the Deputy Prime Minister's post when the country already has one, is not beyond the law. Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, however, made it clear that it was not his decision but was done "as asked by Girija Prasad Koirala". After Sujata's return in August from Delhi to prepare for Nepal's official visit, Koirala had been putting pressure on the Prime Minister to promote her. When this did not happen, Sujata even opted out of the Prime Minister's official entourage barely hours before it took off for Delhi. Though she cited health reasons, it was obviously a sign of displeasure. The Prime Minister played his cards well. Of late, rumours have been afloat that Maoist leader and former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal "Prachanda" had offered Koirala the prime ministership and was trying to form a government with the help of the Nepali Congress. But Dahal had also said the UML government would run its own course.


With eight reshuffles in less than five months, it is all too clear how shaky Nepal's government is.
Ostensibly motivated by a sense of survival, Nepal may have strengthened his position but his action is sure to unleash infighting in the Nepali Congress. An NC spokesperson was quoted as saying that the "appointment was not the party's official decision", though Sujata claims she had the party's support. Clearly, GP Koirala is the hero in the drama. But if his party is to form a government with Maoist support, the people must wonder how they will break the parliamentary logjam with the Maoists having boycotted proceedings. As a precondition to joining it, Prachanda wants parliament to discuss President Ram Baran Yadav's action in reinstating Army Chief Rukmangud Katuwal whom he had dismissed and which led to his resignation as Prime Minister last May. The NC's stand is clear: there will be no debate on this. Prachanda holds the whip hand and he alone can break the deadlock if he reasons that since Katuwal has retired there is no point in harping on the issue. This may pave the way for the Maoists' returning to power and the fulfilment of their dream of civilian supremacy.







THE 1999 report of the ILO, titled "Give girls a chance: Tackling child labour, a key to the future", reveals that there around 100 million girls involved in child labour. The most widespread form of child exploitation is domestic work, a sector that is fraught with risks. Nine of the ten children employed are girls. They are trapped in a cycle of dreary tasks amounting to virtual slavery. It is difficult to gauge the exact extent because they operate within closed doors.

Domestic child workers are the world's most forgotten children. They are the most vulnerable and exploited, and also difficult to protect. It is only appropriate, therefore, that the ILO has decided to make the girl child the theme of the World Day against Child Labour in 2009. Despite the ban on child labour in many countries, it continues to flourish in the unorganised sector. Quoting a UNESCO report, the ILO states that of the 16 per cent of the world's population that is unable to read or write, two or three of every 10 persons are women.
Like the cycle of malnutrition, illiteracy can also be a cause and an outcome of poverty. The visibility of the work done by women and girl children is no longer an issue. It is a settled fact, one that has social, if not legal, sanction. Employers exploit the cheap labour and a pliable workforce. There is no job security or legislative protection. The children are victims of abuse, and other forms of exploitation. Domestic work is one of the worst forms of child labour.


More than 35 per cent of working boys and girls under 15, the report says, put in more than 21 hours of work a week. In return, they are provided with three meals a day, lodging and a pittance. A survey in Jakarta revealed that 400,000 domestic helps are under 15. Haiti has an estimated 250,000 child domestics, 20 per cent of whom are between the ages of seven and ten.

They are either poorly paid or not paid at all. They serve entirely at the whims of the employers. They are denied legal rights, are deprived of education and the emotional support from family and friends.
Several factors have precipitated the phenomenon. The entry of more and more women into the formal and informal job markets together with cutbacks in social services in many countries has increased the number of domestic workers.

A survey in India reported that girls aged between 12 and 15 were the preferred choice of 90 per cent of households. Children are often preferred to adults precisely because they can be dominated over and, also of course, paid less.

The global picture that emerges is that child labour is declining. However, the proportion of girls working has remained steady throughout. While there has been a fall in the number of economically active children in the 5-14 age group from 127 million (2000) to 122 million (2004) in Asia and the Pacific, the region still harbours the largest number of working children. Their work ~ in the form of household chores, domestic servitude, agricultural work and home-based work ~ can leave girls vulnerable to abuse and explanation. It is a major impediment towards achieving gender parity and equality in primary and secondary education by 2015.


East Asia and the Pacific have recorded impressive gains in terms of gender parity and primary school enrolment. However, East Asia and the Pacific, the South and West Asian sub-region still suffer from gender disparities along with Africa and the Arab states. While the situation has improved in South and West Asia since 1998, an estimated 58 per cent (2002 data) of the out-of-primary-school children are girls. Since the majority of out-of-school girls are likely to be working, efforts to expand girls' education must go hand-in-hand with efforts to eliminate child labour.

More often than not, when faced with limited resources and competing financial demands, parents prefer to invest in the education of their sons. The daughters are engaged in domestic labour.

The education of daughters is considered to be an expenditure that is not "cost effective''. Poverty is not the only factor. A girl trapped in child labour contributes to a vicious cycle, eventually preventing her from giving her own family a good start in life and slowing down the economic growth and social development of the country as a whole.

A Secunderabad-based foundation has, for instance, developed a unique approach to tackle the problem of girl child labour: communities and governments are being made conscious of the immorality of bonded and child labour.

The girl child programme has helped rescue girls, trapped in domestic or bonded labour, and then sending them to school. It has challenged traditional thinking and social norms. It has enlightened the critical stakeholders on the right of girls to education. School committees have upgraded their institutions to address the need for sanitation and security. The foundation has rescued girls from bonded labour, increased the enrolment in residential camps and schools, and postponed or called off child marriages after convincing their parents.







LONDON, 16 OCT: Telling jokes was said to a risky business for East Germany's citizens. But West Germany's spies collected and filed spoofs popular on the other side of Berlin Wall to gauge the level of discontent, declassified documents have revealed.

Files released this week have revealed the jokes were collected from letters steamed open by agents, from spies on the ground and wiretapped phone calls. In fact, the gags were scrupulously collected, filed and dispatched to Bonn, much to the delight of civil servants, The Daily Telegraph reported.

"It was our biggest hit among our superiors. The Chancellery and the ministries couldn't wait for the file to have a laugh at those on the other side," one unnamed BND spy said, adding the jokes gave valuable insights into the way East Germans were thinking about their government.









Did you know that October 15 was World Handwashing Day? To many, this piece of information would have a trivial and faintly absurd ring. But take into account two other facts recently published, and suddenly something as banal as washing one's hands begins to mean a great deal more. First, in 2006, more than half the number of people in the world who defecate in the open lived in India. Second, 386,000 children, out of the 1.5 million worldwide who die annually of diarrhoea (the second leading killer of children), are from India. The latest report by Unicef and WHO on children and diarrhoea, where these figures have been presented, says that adults and children being able to wash their hands can reduce diarrhoea deaths among children by 40 per cent.


Several other ways of preventing and treating diarrhoea have been recommended in this report. But trying to imagine situations in which access to proper toilets and being able to wash one's hands are difficult, impossible or simply not part of one's regular habits gives a sense of the complexity of the problem in urban and rural India. In spite of the various rural sanitation schemes all over India, proper toilets are still scarce, or too purely dependent on government subsidy and divorced from community initiatives. For girls and women, this is not just a question of infection, but also influences decisions regarding going to school (many of which do not have toilets) or raises questions of safety in having to go alone to the open fields. Lack of clean water in the toilets, even when these are properly constructed, continues to be a problem. In West Bengal, arsenic-contaminated water is only one of a range of ills that the poor, and not so poor, have had to contend with in the face of the government's persistent indifference. But parts of some districts, like Purulia and Midnapore, claim to have made themselves free of open defecation.


In the cities, the problem is twofold. Among those who live in slums or on the streets, toilets and the most rudimentary practices of personal hygiene continue to be unimaginable. The homeless poor must cook, eat, defecate, urinate, menstruate, procreate, decay and die on the streets without the luxury of washing their hands before and after. All these activities happen so openly, and therefore so invisibly, in the cities that they have become part of their unshocking, everyday character, which nobody would dream of changing. And among those who do have toilets with running water, a lopsided notion of personal hygiene prevents them from keeping their hands clean for their own sake and for the sake of others. Nose-blowing usually happens publicly and violently in the absence of tissues or handkerchiefs and is seldom followed by handwashing, and men tend not to wash their hands after urinating in the absence of tap, sink and soap in the public urinals (when they do bring themselves to use these). So, the next time you grasp a handrail on the Metro and it feels warm to the touch, think of World Handwashing Day — and it may not be all that amusing.









While all the other employees excitedly discussed the impending regime change in a company I knew, an elderly Karnataka Brahmin asked philosophically, "What difference does it make whether Ram rules or Ravana rules?" Afghanistan's prolonged trauma is a bit like that. While Pakistan and China stand to gain no matter who controls that landlocked expanse of mountain and valley, India's position may resemble that of the resigned Brahmin unless it takes a more proactive stand.


Yet, too obvious involvement can be counter-productive. Zia ul-Haq gloated that Kunwar Natwar Singh's advocacy for the exiled Zahir Shah was "the kiss of death" for a proposal to restore the exiled monarch as head of an all-party coalition. Without sharing Zia's malice, Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of the America-led Western forces in Afghanistan, may have been stating the bald truth when he warned that India's $1.5 billion programme of building schools, hospitals, roads and other civil infrastructure was "likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani counter-measures in Afghanistan or India".


India's imprint marked the Gandhara School and the Kushan Empire centuries before the imperial government in Calcutta was said to be "mervous" because Tsarist Russia had occupied Merv between Herat and Khiva. That was a move in the Great Game that Pakistan's insecurities and ambitions have revived. But there's a difference. Rudyard Kipling's Great Game concerned external danger — Russia creeping towards the warm waters of the Arabian Sea and threatening British rule in cahoots with a hostile Persia. This time, the peril is a festering sore that must be lanced to save Afghanistan, India and — if only they knew it — Pakistan.


Blaming jihadi fundamentalism for every kind of violence is rather like Monaco cabling France at the end of World War II to send some communists as the principality would not otherwise qualify for Marshall Aid. Whatever contacts the brutal and fanatical Taliban later developed with Osama bin Laden, the indigenous movement grew out of the mujahideen created to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan. That creation was as much the handiwork of the American Central Intelligence Agency as of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence department.


The reason for mentioning this is to advance the unfashionable view that there are more things in heaven and earth than were dreamt of in George W. Bush's simplistic creed. A joint front against "terror" is nonsensical because the same bunch of criminals is not attacking India and Pakistan for the same reasons. Even an accommodating Pakistan (Pervez Musharraf's government was one of only three to recognize the Taliban regime) can be under fire for any number of social, tribal, political, personal, factional and — yes — also religious rivalries. Pakistan's civil and military authorities are engaged in a deadly contest.


If Pakistan sponsored the Mumbai and Kabul attacks, as all Indians and many Afghans believe, it was for the same reasons that have provoked three subcontinental wars. Shah Mahmood Qureshi's outrage at India's "level of engagement" and "large presence" in Afghanistan is born of the fear that Afghanistan might join Kashmir and Bangladesh as another gain for India and setback for Pakistan. Qureshi's expectation of a monopoly over Afghanistan is not unexpected since Zia was cast in the role of saviour of freedom and democracy.


Despite their participation (under compulsion) in Operation Enduring Freedom, Pakistan's rulers will gain a signal victory if McChrystal's gloomy assessment — "the insurgents currently have the initiative" and "the overall situation is deteriorating" — comes true for whatever reason, including Barack Obama's apparent reluctance to accede to McChrystal's request for additional support in full. Not many Pakistanis will stop to consider the damage that the triumphant return to Kabul of the Taliban's one-eyed emir, Mullah Muhammad Omar, would do in the long term to their country's fragile stability and hope of nursing a liberal democracy. Instead, most would regard it as cause for jubilation, not only because official connivance has already Talibanized parts of Pakistan but because an Afghanistan without American strings would again be seen as providing strategic weightage against India.


On the other hand, a Taliban defeat would enable Asif Ali Zardari to boast that the American forces would not have won the war without Pakistan's political support and physical facilities. Not only will Pakistan expect (and probably get) reimbursement of the $35 billion to $50 billion it claims to have spent on the so-called war on terror, but it will also demand as reward a say in Afghanistan's future governance and restoration of the privileged position Pakistan has traditionally occupied in American policy-making in the subcontinent. As for the secretary of State's certification of "reasonable progress" in "preventing al Qaida, the Taliban and associated terrorist groups, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad from operating in the territory of Pakistan" for the Kerry-Lugar Act's $7.5 billion grant, we know how readily successive American presidents ignored the evidence even of American agencies to certify year after year that Pakistan was not making the bomb.


If it looks like a "heads I win, tails you lose" situation for Pakistan, it is no less so for China, which backs Pakistan as part of its strategy of isolating and upstaging India. A Taliban defeat would reduce Afghanistan's role as a base for moral and military support for secessionist Muslim Uighurs in Xingjian. A Taliban victory would compound India's discomfiture though it would also enable jihadis worldwide to claim the scalps of both superpowers.


Geopolitics apart, China is eyeing the untapped deposits of copper, iron, gold, uranium and precious gems that comprise Afghanistan's mineral wealth. A Chinese State-owned company is already active in the Aynak copper reserves, worth tens of billions of dollars, in Logar province south of Kabul. Moreover, China sees Afghanistan as a secure conduit for roads and energy pipelines to transport natural resources from the Indian Ocean and elsewhere. These can also be negotiated with a Taliban regime. Bill Clinton was initially well-disposed towards the Taliban, seeing it as a check on Iran (Ronald Reagan backed Saddam Hussein for the same reason), and the 12th largest American oil company, Unocal, began discussing a Central Asian oil pipeline with the Taliban. The State department blessed the negotiations until other geopolitical factors intervened.


So, while Pakistan and China can both look to some dividends no matter who wins, India must view with dismay any prospect other than the Taliban's total liquidation. For, with the Taliban controlling Afghanistan and militant Islam stretching deep into central Asia, Pakistan would feel emboldened to make more bids to get its own back not only for Kashmir and Bangladesh but also for a long string of grievances against India including water sharing, division of military assets, Junagadh, Hyderabad and just the fact that India is bigger, richer and more powerful. The consequent disruption of India's communal harmony and diversion of resources from the economy would not displease China.


No wonder India is Afghanistan's fifth largest donor country. No wonder, too, that Pakistan resents this interaction and is pressuring the United States of America to end it. But the Afghans welcome Indian help, especially installations like the 202-kilometre electrical transmission line to Kabul and the 218-km highway to the Persian Gulf port of Chahbahar which broke Pakistan's monopoly on Afghanistan's access to the outside world. But goodwill is not enough. Afghanistan needs political stability and the military capability to defend it. India, the world's largest democracy with one of the world's biggest (1.35 million) militaries, is better equipped than any other regional country to help in both respects. Sending fighting troops would deplete India's defence, incite domestic controversy and invite international complications. But the Indian Military Training Team in Bhutan has offered an example of unobtrusive effectiveness for about 50 years.


It is essential for India's future to rescue Afghanistan from the uncertainties of the battle between Ram and Ravana. Ironically, and in the long term, that would also benefit Pakistan.









Pakistan has suffered one more terrorist attack on Friday at Peshawar which is the latest in the series of such strikes against the security forces over the past 11 days. Clearly these attacks are an attempt to restrain the Pakistan army from its proposed offensive operations in South Waziristan in the lawless Federally Administered Tribal Areas which is the stronghold of the Teherik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The Taliban earlier targeted the UN office, the army headquarters, police and the citizenry, killing about 150 people with the latest suicide bomber killing 12 people at Peshawar. The Taliban are apparently unnerved by the Pakistan military's decision to use airpower and artillery against them which proved effective in the recent Swat offensive. This is evident from the fact that some Taliban elements are reportedly fleeing their lair in South Waziristan before the impending army offensive.

Since the July 2007 Pakistan army attack on the Lal Masjid, there have been quite a few cases of the militants taking on military targets. Earlier this year the militants attacked the regional headquarters of the ISI in Lahore apart from attacks on a Pakistan Air Force bus at Sargodha in 2007. This is because the Taliban leaders Fazlullah, Baituallah and Hamkimullah declared a jihad against the Pakistan army and the ISI after the Lal Masjid episode. Also some Taliban elements are fighting the Pakistan army not because they want do so, but only due to its alliance with the US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan. All this suggests that the divide between the army and the Islamic fundamentalists who once formed the military-mullah nexus is weakening and now they are at loggerheads.

The fact that the Taliban appear to be gaining the upper hand over the security forces is alarming because they have over the years provided stability to the Pakistani state. Therefore with the Taliban in open war against the security forces has a civil war started to take shape in the Muslim country? It has enormous implications to India and the world as Pakistan is a nuclear armed nation. The Pakistan army will now have to concentrate on the Pakistan-based Taliban rather than those in Afghanistan. This move may well compel the NATO alliance to deploy more troops in Afghanistan to tackle the Taliban there from collaborating with their counterparts in Pakistan, given the porous nature of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.









The over 10 per cent growth in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) for the month of August, released on Monday, is a sign of the higher momentum being gained by the economy since the beginning of this year. The figures started getting better from June, when it was 8.2 per cent, through July's 7.2 to 10.4 per cent in August. There is an almost five-fold increase in August from the 2.1 per cent growth in May. It can be assumed from the consistently impressive performance that the slowdown is not only behind us, but that the growth rate is accelerating. The second quarter GDP growth rate is also likely to be higher than expected, as forecast by the finance minister. The stock markets have already responded enthusiastically to the confirmation of the turnaround.

The fact that the growth is across the spectrum is also reassuring. Fourteen of the 17 segments of the manufacturing sector registered good growth in August, with seven of them gaining more than 10 per cent. Sectors like chemicals grew as much as 14 per cent. Among the better performers was the textile sector which affects millions of people as it is highly labour intensive. The industry, which was down in the dumps for many months, grew by 16.4 per cent. Though textile exports are yet to show any significant improvement as international markets are yet to pick up, domestic demand has started growing. The Pay Commission handouts helped the consumer durables sector to move up by 22.3 per cent and the demand push is likely to continue, as the second installment of the salary arrears has just been paid.

Fiscal sops and the various economic stimuli given by the government were in good measure behind the good performance of the IIP. The low base effect also to an extent exaggerated the pace of recovery. All the sectors have not performed uniformly and there are still laggards. All these are sufficient reasons for keeping the fiscal and monetary props intact for some more time. Interest rates will need to be kept low, till the time it is clear beyond all doubt that there is no sliding back, so that there is easy credit, enough liquidity and sustained demand. There is no serious danger of inflation either, though mismanagement by the government has pushed up some prices. In any case, growth with some inflation is better than a slowdown with steady or falling prices.









History tells us that many cities of the world have turned the aftermath of the adversities like periods of wars, calamities and pestilence into opportunities for rebuilding and offering a better quality of life for people. It needs enormous resources, great deal of planning and meticulous execution, and above all, leaders with vision to bring about the required transformation.

The entire north Karnataka, consisting of about 14 districts, is slowly recovering from one of the worst natural calamities in recent memory. Apart from taking more than 200 human lives, the disaster has left lakhs of people without a roof over their heads and means of livelihood. It will take months or even a couple of years before these unfortunate people are rehabilitated.

North Karnataka, despite having abundant natural resources like fertile land and being served by magnificent rivers, is among the most backward regions of the country. Almost all elected governments since independence and reorganisation of states have been guilty of neglecting this region, with the result it fares poorly in most human indices, including levels of income, education, health, nutrition and so on. If Karnataka is languishing in the 10th or 11th place in terms of development in the country, the lack of any meaningful and sustained effort to focus on this region's growth has been mainly responsible.

The devastation caused by the floods gives us an opportunity to reach out to the people of north Karnataka to help them not only rebuild their lives, but offer them a better future. Thousands of families have lost whatever little they had, including homes, cattle, sheep and other means of livelihood while the public infrastructure like roads, bridges, schools and hospitals also need to be rebuilt.

The state government has an important role to play in this gigantic task which has suddenly been thrust upon it. Though relatively inexperienced, the Yeddyurappa government is on the right track attending to emergencies like organising relief and rehabilitation for the displaced people on a war-footing, mobilising funds from its own sources of revenue and the Central government, besides ordinary people and institutions.

After initial dithering, the Centre has come forward with a generous contribution of Rs 1,000 crore and offered to make additional grants after an assessment of the damage and the funds required for the rebuilding process. The common people have rallied behind the government overwhelmingly with generous contributions, which already account for about Rs 1,500 crore.

The Information Technology sector, the high-profile state industry, has also responded positively to the chief minister's appeal and is planning to build houses for the displaced.

The state government is seriously considering raising revenue through additional taxes to the tune of Rs 2,000 crore. Increasing the sales tax on petroleum products and hiking the value added tax on some of the goods are said to be on the government's agenda.

The sales tax currently being levied on petrol and diesel is already among the highest in the country and the move to hike it any further is bound to be resented by the people. The VAT will also push up the prices of essential commodities which are already ruling high and making a big hole in the family budget.

The government should steer clear of such unpopular measures, and the priority right now should be to effectively utilise the funds already available — which is not insignificant by any means — and approach the Centre if more money is needed.

In the past, Karnataka had been guilty of not fully utilising the Central funds and failing to submit utilisation certificates, forcing the Centre to withdraw the utilised part of the funds to the state's embarrassment. Chief Minister Yeddyurappa should at least now ensure that the bureaucrats chalk out plans for using the funds in a time-bound manner and be ready to move the Centre again with fresh proposals.

The present calamity should serve as an opportunity to build well-planned colonies with necessary civic amenities in areas less prone to floods. In fact, the government has done well to come up with model plans for construction of houses so that there is a certain order and uniformity in the habitation to be raised.


The government is also being sensible in offering to hand over the land to private institutions which have come forward to build houses and other amenities. The government's role should be limited to speeding up all the paper work required (including, giving ownership rights to the affected families) and ensuring that the other infrastructure like schools, water sources and clinics are in place.

That brings us to the basic question of whether the floods could have been averted in the first place. There is no doubt that the huge dams that states like Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh have built across Krishna, Godavari and Mahanadi have the potential to create such man-made disasters because of the sheer volume of water stored and released downstream when the water levels rise.

In fact, a public interest litigation has been filed in the Andhra Pradesh high court, accusing the Andhra state government of not responding to the Central Water Commission's warning 26 hours in advance of the impending disaster because of the rising levels of water in its dams. It's time all the riparian states set up a joint monitoring mechanism and work in close coordination with the CWC so that such devastations are averted in future.







I have happy memories of my three-year association with Manohar Shyam Joshi. Both of us were working in the 'Hindustan Times' building on Kasturba Gandhi Marg. Every other evening, before offices closed, Manohar would drift in to see me. He always seemed to be in a dreamland and wafted in as if walking in the air. He began the dialogue with a one-word question "So?" It could have meant "So how are you?" or "How are things?" or "How is the world going?" So the best answer I could think of is "Chalta hai".


Since I did not read Hindi, I did not know what he had written, because none of his work had till then been translated into English.

Once he asked me to do him a favour. He had written a TV serial 'Hum Log', the first family soap opera in Hindi. He wanted me to meet its producers and see the first of the serial. I did and wrote a glowing review. Soap operas caught on. Shyam went on to write more like 'Buniyaad', 'Mungeri Lal Kay Hasein Saopney'. He became a national celebrity.

In 2005 he won the Sahitya Academy Award for his novel 'Kyaap'. His earlier novels and short stories 'Kasap' and 'Kuru Kuru Swaha' went into several editions. By the time he died in 2006, he was recognised as the first and the most innovative writer of Hindi.

I knew very little about Shyam Joshi's works till I read 'T'TA Professor' translated by Ira Pande. I was most impressed by his portrayal of middle-class people. In this case, teachers of a village school, their rivalries and affairs with lady colleagues and students. It was my first exposure to the Kumaon's Brahmins.

Kumaon Brahmins are a handsome, brainy, lot but inbreeding has also produced eccentrics who provide material for gifted writers like Manohar Shyam Joshi. His novel, the second to be translated into English 'The Perplexity of Hariya Hercules' is about Harihar Datt Tiwari, better known as Hariya Hercules, because he rides a bicycle of that brand name. He is a borderline case of mental retardation with ability to perform his daily chores. He is sole surviving son of his father Rai Sahib Giruan Datt Ji who rose from a clerk to become minister of a princely state. Hariya's daily duties included clearing up his chronically constipated father's bowels with enemas or inserting his gloved finger in his rectum. His father rewarded him with abuse and called him 'madua' half-mad.

After that Hariya sets out from his house in Gole Market to call on distant relations and friends to convey news of his father's health. Everyone finds him a crashing bore and does his or her best to get rid of him. Ultimately Rai Sahib breathes his last and Hariya, whose other qualification is cremating the dead, performs his father's last rites.

Family disputes begin when Hariya finds the key of his private box wrapped in a shit-soiled langoti. The box yields a treasury of gold, jewels, packets of turd, pornographic pictures of his father in action with different women and a letter from a Lama about some deity called Goomalling to whom all the treasure has to be returned. There is no limit to Manohar Shyam Joshi's over-fertile imagination.

Raj Singh Dungarpur

I met him a few times and found him a most affable and courteous gentleman. I knew he was a big shot in the cricket world and much respected by everyone who knew him. Everytime I met him he was with Lata Mangeshkar. Once, some paper carried in its gossip column that they were married. When questioned by a newshound, he replied in his usual Rajput chivalrous manner, "I would feel honoured if it was true. Actually we are close friends. I admire her and cherish her friendship". Or words to that effect.

Some years ago I ran into them in Muscat. I had been invited by the Indian Association to deliver a lecture on Allama Iqbal soon after the publication of my translation of his two long poems 'Shikwa' and 'Jawab-e-Shikwa' under the title 'Iqbal's Dialogue with Allah'.

Having fulfiled my assignment I had time to look around and do what I wanted. There was a cricket match between India and Pakistan. So I decided to watch it. I was surprised to see the stadium packed to capacity largely with Pakistani supporters and their friends. Such matches often become Muslim versus the rest.

The stadium resounded with thunderous choruses Pakistan-Zindabad and Allah-O-Akbar. I took my seat in the last row. Raj and Lata were in the front row. He came over and sat beside me. When the three Pak opening batsman were bowled out,  Raj said with confidence, "they are done for India is sure to win."

However, the 4th and 5th Pakistani batsman began hitting sixers and fours and changed the complexion of the game. I wanted to stay till the end and see how the Indian side fared. But Raj would not stop talking. So I decided to return to my host's home.

"I've had enough of cricket for the day," I said by way of apology. "I will see the outcome in tomorrow's papers."

Raj Dungarpur's expert opinion that Pakistan was done for proved wrong. It beat India by a wide margin.









I always had a dream. My endless banter with my near and dear ones always began with, "My dream is to be able to work from home." Finally, when it came true, my joy knew no bounds. I called up my kith and kin and crowed about my 'luck'.

No more hurried baths, dealing with endless traffic and packing endless dabbas. No more feeling guilty of making my daughter wait endlessly for me. I can now spend a lot of time with her... I went on and on. My friends couldn't help exclaim — "You lucky bum." I also enjoyed the envious glances my working neighbours threw at me even as they rushed in and out of their homes. My husband's advice to go slow on my bragging sessions only fell on deaf ears. Such was the initial euphoria.

Very soon, I found myself entertaining unwanted guests who visited me with a vengeance. Some were even generous to tell me, "Well, we can force ourselves upon you now. After all, you are at home!" This was only the beginning. Attending insignificant functions like the marriage of a cousin's husband's niece's brother-in-law, the engagement of a friend's wife's cousin, and visiting distant relatives to enquire after their well-being, has now become an obligation. For, I am at home.

Instead of answering mails, I find myself compelled to do the laundry and clean up cupboards. While the deadline for a story is fast approaching, my neighbours drop in for a chat. Every time I put on my thinking cap and scratch my head hard to write a good intro for the article, the door bell chimes. Most part of my day is spent in heeding to my 'friendly' neighbours' requests of "while you're home today…" More often than not, I find myself working through the night to meet the deadline. And most of all nobody takes my work seriously. After all, I am working from home, you see.

I can't even crib. For, hubby dear will fire the "I told you so" salvo that I so dread. I feel like pulling my hair out in exasperation (no wonder my hair is thinning out) and screaming out to the world — "Stay off me! I am also working." But, let me confess. I wouldn't trade my new-found 'work-from-home-mom' status with anything under the sun. For, I've realised, happiness to me is seeing the smile on my daughter's face when I pick her up from school and knowing that I am the one that put it there.







New York State's environmental regulators have proposed rules to govern drilling in the Marcellus Shale — a subterranean layer of rock curving northward from West Virginia through Ohio and Pennsylvania to New York's southern tier. The shale contains enormous deposits of natural gas that could add to the region's energy supplies and lift New York's upstate economy. If done carefully — and in carefully selected places — drilling should cause minimal environmental harm.


But regulators must amend the rules to bar drilling in the New York City watershed: a million acres of forests and farmlands whose streams supply the reservoirs that send drinking water to eight million people. Accidental leaks could threaten public health and require a filtration system the city can ill afford.


Natural gas is vital to the nation's energy needs and can be an important bridge between dirty coal and renewable alternatives. The process of extracting it, however, is not risk-free. Known as hydraulic fracturing, it involves shooting a mix of water, sand and chemicals — many of them highly toxic — into the ground at very high pressure to break down the rock formations and free the gas.


The technique is used in 90 percent of the oil and gas operations in the United States. And while most drilling occurs without incident, "fracking" has been implicated in hundreds of cases of impaired or polluted drinking water supplies in states from Alabama to Wyoming.


The dangers are particularly acute in the Marcellus Shale, which, unlike the relatively shallow formations found elsewhere, lies miles underground. Getting the gas out will require far more water and heavy doses of chemicals. While the rules would require drillers to take special precautions in the watershed, there are too many points — from the delivery of the fluid to the drilling site to the removal of spent fluid after it surfaces — where poisoned water could escape into the water supplies.


Quarantining the watershed also makes economic sense. The shale contains only one-tenth of the gas in the southern tier. One big accident could undo everything the city and state have done — buying up property, creating buffer zones around the reservoirs — to protect the watershed from development and pollution.


State officials worry that if they deny landowners the right to lease the mineral resources under their property — 70 percent of the watershed is privately owned — they will face expensive "takings" claims. But the state has a right and responsibility to prevent drilling that poses a clear danger to public health.


The state insists it has made a good-faith effort to assess the hazards, and its 800-page report is replete with scientific analysis. But it is the state's analysis. What the state has not done, and what it must do, is give those who have serious doubts about drilling in the watershed a fair chance to state their case.


New York City's acting environmental commissioner, Steven Lawitts, has warned of "chronic and acute impacts to water quality." Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and the Manhattan borough president, Scott Stringer, have asked the state for extensive public hearings. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has commissioned an independent scientific study of the risks to the watershed.


A fair review will not be possible unless the state's absurdly quick Nov. 30 deadline for public comment is extended. The mayor's study will not even be completed until mid-December. It is dangerously irresponsible to rush this decision.








More than a million jobless Americans are in danger of losing benefits by the end of the year unless Congress passes an extension of unemployment insurance. The House has acted, but the Senate, which has a better bill, has been bogged down by obstruction from Republicans. In these extraordinarily hard times, Congress should extend this vital safety net without further delay.


Unemployment insurance, one of the great legacies of the New Deal, is intended to provide laid-off workers with an income while they look for their next job. With the unemployment rate at nearly 10 percent nationally — and at 10.3 percent in New York City — it has been hard to line up that next job. The Department of Labor recently reported that there were more than six people looking for every opening.


There are now more than five million Americans — roughly one-third of the unemployed — who have been out of work for six months or longer, according to the National Employment Law Project, a record since data was first recorded in 1948.


Benefits vary by state, but most cut off benefits after 26 weeks. Congress has extended benefits several times, most recently in February, but for many workers they are again running out.


The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, and other Democrats have introduced a bill that would extend unemployment insurance by up to an additional 14 weeks in all 50 states, with another six weeks for states with a jobless rate above 8.5 percent. It is an improvement on a bill passed by the House, which would extend benefits only in states with unemployment above 8.5 percent.


February's extension, which included a $25-a-week increase in benefits, kept 800,000 people out of poverty, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Putting more money in the pockets of the unemployed provided much-needed stimulus for the entire economy.


Every day that the Republicans continue to block an extension — fighting over amendments to the bill or delaying a vote — means thousands more Americans pushed closer to the edge of despair.







The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act, signed into law in May, gave credit card companies a leisurely timetable — as long as 15 months — to phase out predatory practices used to bleed consumers. Not surprisingly, the companies have exploited this generosity by driving already outrageous interest rates still higher and imposing fees that are pushing struggling families further into debt.


Congress can end this injustice by moving up the deadline, accelerating reform and helping consumers.


Some of the worst (and most common) abuses are now scheduled to be outlawed in February. These include the practice of arbitrarily raising interest rates, penalizing customers when they are late paying a bill unrelated to the credit card — so-called universal default — and charging customers interest on debt that they paid off a month or more earlier.


The banks claimed that they needed the long lead time to rework their computer processing system. Consumer advocates warned that this would invite banks and credit card companies to wring as much as possible out of consumers before the law finally took effect.


They were right.


A forthcoming study from the Pew Charitable Trusts' Safe Credit Cards Project shows that credit card interests rates — already too high — rose by 20 percent in the first two quarters of this year, even though the cost of lending went down as a result of low federal interest rates. In testimony before Congress earlier this month, one consumer advocate cited case after case of struggling consumers who had seen their credit card rates more than double for no apparent reason, even when they had faithfully paid on time.


A House bill introduced by Representative Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat of New York, and Representative Barney Frank, a Democrat of Massachusetts, would halt this exploitation by making the act effective on Dec. 1. The Senate needs to take the same approach.








During the Great Depression, America entertained itself with Busby Berkeley musicals, movies about the madcap adventures of the rich and other happy escapism. It is not exactly a trend, but one well-watched and critically acclaimed television show is doing the opposite. In tough economic times, the advertising-biz drama "Mad Men" is offering beleaguered Americans heaping helpings of other people's misery.


Set in the advertising world of the 1960s, "Mad Men" is stunning to look at — a Camelot-era parade of smartly dressed professionals lounging around on midcentury modern furniture.


The writers of "Mad Men," however, are telling an anti-Camelot version of the era. In the well-appointed offices of the advertising agency Sterling Cooper, some of the major ad campaigns have included Richard Nixon's 1960 presidential race and efforts — a year before the surgeon general's fateful warning — to persuade Americans to buy more cigarettes. Racism is alive and well in the South, where four little girls have just been killed in the Birmingham church bombing, and also in the North, where black people are largely invisible. The oppression of women is so raw that the agency's strong and self-possessed office manager, Joan Holloway, was raped at the office by her fiancé.


In this, the third season of "Mad Men," the major characters' trajectories have all taken a decidedly grim turn. Don Draper, the protagonist, is getting kicked around at Sterling Cooper and beaten up by his mercurial patron, Conrad Hilton. Salvatore Romano, the agency's likable art director, is unjustly and cruelly fired. Betty Draper, Don's beautiful but joyless wife, spends her time caring for children she can barely tolerate and considering an affair. Carla, the Drapers' black maid, is forced to stand by silently while Betty tells her it might be too soon for civil rights.


The characters who once shined brightest now seem headed toward despair or oblivion. Joan married her rapist-fiancé, whose medical career is in free fall, and has been forced to work in a department store. The biggest rising star, an oily young British executive who seemed poised to take control of Sterling Cooper, fell to earth when his foot was mauled by a secretary riding through the office on a lawn mower.


The central character, Don Draper, was always an uneasy combination of hero and anti-hero, but his archer qualities are winning out. In the office, he has been capable of acts of nobility, but lately he has exhibited a vicious streak. He tersely informed Peggy Olson, his sometimes-protégé, that there is nothing she does that he could not live without. When he fired Mr. Romano, whose secret homosexuality he was aware of, he threw in a nasty gibe about the failings of "you people."


At home, Don has often been an attentive husband, but never a faithful one. Now he has taken his philandering closer to home, paying a late-night visit to his daughter's teacher, an overture that seems destined to end badly.


For many viewers, "Mad Men" is a window on their parents' world — an era of three-martini lunches, gas-guzzling domestic cars and boundless optimism about America's place in the world. John F. Kennedy was in the White House, and women were choosing between rival style icons Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe.


To a generation beaten down by skyrocketing unemployment, plunging retirement savings and mounting home foreclosures, "Mad Men" offers the schadenfreude-filled message that their predecessors were equally unhappy — and that the bleakness meter in American life has always been set on high.


Escapism makes a lot of intuitive sense — whisk people away from their cares with stories of a better life. And there is plenty of it in today's movies and in the Brangelina celebrity culture.


But there's some scientific support for the gloomier approach of "Mad Men." Stanley Schachter was a Columbia psychologist who conducted a famous experiment years ago in which young women were told they would be given electric shocks. The more anxious they were about the shocks, the more they told researchers they wanted to wait with other people for the experiment to start. They did not want to wait with just anyone, it turned out — they wanted to be with people who faced the same shocks. "Misery doesn't love just any kind of company," Schachter said, "it loves only miserable company."


For people worried about the Great Recession, and the uncertainty of what is coming next, the characters of "Mad Men" are good company.








When, Mr. President? When will your deeds catch up to your words? The people who worked tirelessly to get you elected are getting tired of waiting. According to a Gallup poll released on Wednesday, Americans' satisfaction with the way things are going in the country has hit a six-month low, and those decreases were led, in both percentage and percentage-point decreases, by Democrats and independents, not by Republicans.


The fierce urgency of now has melted into the maddening wait for whenever.


Take health care reform. Because of the president's quixotic quest for bipartisanship, he refused to take a firm stand in favor of the public option. In that wake, Democrats gutted the Baucus bill to win the graces of Olympia Snowe — a Republican senator from a state with half the population of Brooklyn, a senator who is defying the will of her own constituents. A poll conducted earlier this month found that 57 percent of Maine residents support the public option and only 37 percent oppose it.


She is certainly living up to the state's motto: Dirigo. That's Latin for "I lead." And the Democrats have followed. For shame.


When will the president take the risk of standing up for his convictions on health care instead of sacrificing good policies for good politics? (Or maybe not even good politics since a one-sided compromise is the same as a surrender.)


And health care is only one example.


On the same weekend that gay rights protesters marched past the White House, the president again said that his administration was "moving ahead on don't ask don't tell." But when? This month? This year? This term?


As we prepare to draw down troops from the disaster that was the war in Iraq, we may commit more troops to the quagmire that is the war in Afghanistan and the government may miss its deadline for closing the blight that is the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.


Obama pledged to stem the tide of job losses and foreclosures and to reform the culture of the financial sector. Well, the Dow just hit 10,000 again while the national unemployment rate is about to hit 10 percent. And the firms we propped up are set to dole out record bonuses while home foreclosures have hit record highs. Main Street is still drowning in crisis while Wall Street is awash in Champagne. When will this imbalance be corrected?


Candidate Obama pledged to make the rebuilding of New Orleans a priority, but President Obama whisked into the city on Thursday for a visit so brief that one Louisiana congressman dubbed it a "drive-through daiquiri summit." The president spent more time on the failed Olympic bid in Copenhagen than he did in the Crescent City.


At the town hall in New Orleans, Obama appealed for patience. He said, "Change is hard, and big change is harder." Is that the excuse? Now where have I heard that before? Oh, yeah. From George Bush.








The Yankees took the field in gruesome weather Friday night — cold, windy, rainy — for the first game of the American League Championship Series against the clumsily named Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.


The game was played in the new Yankee Stadium, which is equipped with all the upscale accoutrements that are becoming essential in professional sports — enormous video screens to give you the real-life feel of watching the game on television, luxurious restaurants, luxury boxes, outlandish prices and so forth.


You need a mortgage now to get season tickets. Someone recently told me that at the prices the Yankees were originally charging for the best seats in the house, it would have cost around $800,000 for season tickets for a family of four. A lot of those seats stayed empty earlier in the season, so prices were dropped enough so that you only had to be rich to afford them, not superrich.


New York's other baseball team, the Mets, were pathetic this year, so they've gone into hiding. But the Mets have a brand new stadium, too — Citi Field, named for the bank. I can't think of anything more appropriate.


Baseball was called the national pastime not only because it's a great sport but because it was a sport that was affordable for nearly all American families. You didn't have to be Bernie Madoff to get good seats at the Stadium or the Polo Grounds or Ebbets Field, or any of the other classic old parks that have since faded — or are fading — into the ether.


Those old parks might have been a bit grimy, and they might have rattled and swayed a bit when the crowd roared, but you couldn't beat them for fun and excitement if you were there between your mom and your dad — and the hot dogs and Cokes and peanuts and beer were accompanied by the likes of Mays and Mantle and Snider, sometimes in a doubleheader.


There are an awful lot of ordinary families who would have a very tough time paying for even what passes as moderately priced seats nowadays, and even the hot dogs and sodas are increasingly unaffordable.


My Jets will be playing the Buffalo Bills on Sunday in the huge, perfectly fine football stadium that they share with Giants in the New Jersey Meadowlands. But apparently that stadium is as obsolete as the old Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium, where the Mets used to play. Because next year the Jets and Giants will go halfsies on yet another sparkling new stadium for the New York metropolitan area.


Some of the greatest times I had with my dad were at Shea Stadium, which is where the Jets also played back in the days when Joe Namath was their quarterback. On a cold, rainy Sunday, like the one forecast for this weekend, we'd drive out to Queens from New Jersey and shiver and cheer and laugh as Namath lit up the sky with passes that seemed to arc like a rainbow high over the heads of the defenders and then descend into the sure-fire hands of crackerjack receivers like Don Maynard and George Sauer Jr.


The prices were reasonable enough that my dad and I never gave a second thought to the cost. Even the scalpers' tickers were affordable.


The changes over the years were imperceptible enough that no one gave them much notice. There's no way to pinpoint when we became a country that could build the biggest, most garish, most electronically equipped stadiums you could imagine, but almost nothing else.


The auto industry is on its knees and we've got school buildings in sorry shape and we can't even rebuild a public hospital in New Orleans. But the Dallas Cowboys have a brand new billion-dollar-plus domed stadium that looks like something out of "Star Wars."


They actually sell tours of this stadium, and the ticket prices for the tours are more than families used to pay to go to professional sporting events.


Almost every adult I've ever spoken with who went to a baseball or football game as a child remembers the shock of entering the stadium and then suddenly coming upon the glorious expanse of emerald green grass, sparkling beneath the sun or the brilliant lights at night games.


I remember that those games seemed to go by with the speed of light. The seventh and eighth innings — or the fourth quarter in football — used to come so fast. You never wanted it to be over.


Maybe this is not the biggest issue facing the country, but I can't help feeling we're making a big mistake pricing these games out of the reach of today's boys and girls who are growing up in families of modest means.


Gail Collins is off today.








VIEWED from the outside, things have been going quite well for Russia recently. The United States has scrapped, at least for now, the plan to base missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. Germany and Russia seem to have overcome opposition in Europe to their Nord Stream pipeline, despite fears that it will solidify Russia's dominance of the European natural gas supplies. Oil prices have recovered from the disastrously low — for Russia — levels of last winter. And, far from buckling under pressure from the United States over sanctions against Iran, Russian leaders felt confident enough to concede almost nothing to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit to Moscow this week.


Yet on the inside the country remains dangerously close to a serious breakdown of authority. In addition to the Muslim North Caucasus, which is already barely governable, the most vulnerable places are the company towns, which could catalyze a nationwide explosion of political turmoil.


Products of Stalinist industrialization, an estimated 460 company towns grew around a single plant or factory. Hence their Russian designation: "monotowns" (monogoroda). Most were erected, often by prison labor, in the middle of nowhere and in complete disregard for long-term urban viability, not to mention the needs and conveniences of the workers and their families. In addition to being the single employer, these "town-forming enterprises" are responsible for providing all social services and amenities, from clinics and schools to heat, water and electricity, for populations of 5,000 to 700,000. (There are also more than 1,000 similar but smaller "workers' settlements.")


These crumbling monotowns seem frozen in the 1930s or '50s; the fat years of 2000 to 2008 have passed them by. Worse yet, many of these places were among the first victims of the plunge in industrial output last year, when production fell by almost 20 percent — a rate of decrease unseen since 1941 and 1942, the years of the Nazi onslaught. As a result, the "town-forming enterprises" have begun laying off or furloughing workers, and salaries have been cut, delayed or unpaid for months.


For most Russian workers, there are unemployment benefits from 850 rubles to 4,900 rubles ($29 to $167) per month. (For those in the severe climate zones of the Far East, Far North and some regions of Siberia, the payments are as much as twice these amounts.) As many as two-thirds of the unemployed seem to be unaware they are even eligible for these payments, so of the estimated 6.5 million unemployed in Russia (nearly 10 percent of the work force) in July, only 2.194 million registered for benefits. And not one of the many reports about or from the monotowns that I have read so much has mentioned unemployment benefits as a source of sustenance.


At the same time, the local administrations in many regions have been of little help, having been bled dry by recentralization efforts during the presidency of Vladimir Putin that redirected 70 percent of local revenues to Moscow. As a result, some grocery stores have been forced to stop offering credit to customers who have not been paid for months. In particularly hard-hit monotowns, people are reported to be eating potato peels and spending their days foraging in forests for roots and berries to consume or sell for a pittance.


In Pikalevo, a monotown of 22,000 near St. Petersburg, citizens grew desperate after the shuttering of their plant, which produced cement, aluminum and potash. There were no prospects for work; people were without assistance of any kind. A resident told a reporter over the summer: "We are eating — excuse me — grass. It's shameful." But when the town's heat and hot water were shut off in May — the cement company had stopped paying the bills — it was the last straw. After an occupation of the mayor's office brought no relief, angry Pikalevians blocked a major highway.


A few days later, Prime Minister Putin traveled by helicopter to Pikalevo. Russian crisis management techniques haven't changed much since the days when czars threw boyars off the Kremlin walls to be torn, limb from limb, by rebellious hoi polloi below. With national television cameras rolling, Mr. Putin berated the local administration, plant managers and the plant's owner, Oleg Deripaska, formerly Russia's richest man, whose BaselCement conglomerate is now almost $30 billion in debt. He then ordered them to sign a pledge to reopen the plant. "I did not see you sign!" Mr. Putin barked at Mr. Deripaska. "Come here and sign!" ("And return the pen!" Mr. Putin snapped afterward.)


Of course, neither Mr. Deripaska nor the local government will be able to keep an all-but-bankrupt enterprise open for long. And while the Kremlin's iron grip on the national news media has helped keep the monotowns out of the spotlight, Mr. Putin's very public intervention in Pikalevo is likely to encourage more protests across the country.


This could be catastrophic: after all, a quarter of the urban population — 25 million people — live in monotowns and produce up to 40 percent of Russia's G.D.P. And these struggling workers embody Russia's work force: largely immobile, because the lack of affordable housing makes it impossible to seek employment elsewhere, and sadly inflexible, thanks to their overdependence on these paternalistic, enterprise-based social services, part of what President Medvedev has denounced as the "Soviet-style social sphere." Indeed, the monotowns seem more and more a bellwether of the national trend toward deepening impoverishment and further job losses.


According to the World Bank, this year the number of Russians below the poverty level has grown by 7.5 million to 24.6 million, or 17 percent of the population. An additional 21 percent, or almost 30 million, have incomes less than 50 percent over the poverty level. Together, that's 4 out of 10 Russians. The Federation of Independent Trade Unions predicts that up to 400,000 more Russians may become unemployed in the next three months, while the World Bank projects that the unemployment rate there will reach as high as 13 percent by the end of the year.


Moscow has only one obvious option: increase its financial assistance to the monotowns many times over. But there are numerous impediments to making this happen. First, with the memories of the hyperinflationary 1990s still fresh in everyone's mind, the Kremlin is wisely reluctant to print money and will instead try to stretch its remaining hard currency reserves to plug the growing budget deficit.


Second, though Russia already plans to raise $17 billion by issuing Eurobonds and to borrow billions more from the World Bank, the money will not materialize until next summer at the earliest. The other Group of 20 nations are themselves too strapped for cash — and too politically skittish — to produce an emergency assistance package.


Finally, even if the needed money was miraculously available today, it would take some time to disperse such enormous amounts among the hundreds of monotowns. Which is why the government's mid-August decision to appropriate 10 billion rubles, or $340 million, for assistance to just half of the communities was not only too little but is too late.


There may, in fact, be nothing that can be done to prevent these ticking time bombs from exploding. And as the Iranian protests recently proved, in an age of cellphone cameras and the Internet, one demonstration in one monotown could ignite a wave of nationwide protests that Russia's news media could not cover up, its riot police could not properly contain and its government may not be able to survive.

Certainly, this crisis sends a message of utmost urgency to a country still groggy from the oil-boom intoxication of the past eight years: go back to the decentralization and democratization reforms of the 1990s and early 2000s — or face the political, economic and social calamity of the monotowns on a national scale.


In fact, President Medvedev recently outlined a strategic reform agenda to break Russia of its "humiliating dependence" on oil and gas exports and transform an economy incapable of invention and innovation into a world leader in "new technologies."


Just as helpful for the country's stability and progress would be the next item on Mr. Medvedev's agenda: developing a political system that is "open, flexible and internally complex." This would be a Russia far different from the one that Vladimir Putin bequeathed to Mr. Medvedev — a nation stripped of the much-needed shock absorbers of democracy, including an uncensored news media, a responsible and viable political opposition in the national Parliament and genuine local self-governance.


Mr. Medvedev should act on these plans decisively, now, or else no foreign policy advances or new gas pipelines will prevent the disaster of the monotowns from consuming all of Russia.


Leon Aron, the director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author, most recently, of "Russia's Revolution: Essays 1989-2006."








The terrorists have followed up their string of attacks on Thursday with another on Friday. Now they are using women too as tools of destruction and bloodshed. This time a female suicide bomber riding an explosive-laden motorbike drove into the Peshawar Cantonment area and blew herself up at the gate of the police station there. As this happened, another suicide bomber blew up an explosive-laden car, making the attack even deadlier. This latest attack has caused at least 11 lives and the number may well rise Once more, terrorism has forced its way into the flow of ordinary lives. Several cultural events in Lahore have been cancelled. The Pakistan Olympic Association has indefinitely postponed the 31st National Games that were scheduled to be held in Peshawar next month. Fears expressed by parents whose children were due to participate are one factor in the decision. People who had gradually returned to bazaars and public spots in Peshawar slip back into the relative safety of their homes following the recent terrorist onslaught in the city. The interior minister has warned of a continued threat, with all four provinces placed on high alert and pillion riding banned in Islamabad. It is hard to see how this measure will guard us against heavily armed groups who burst into high security buildings or bombers wearing suicide jackets. Letters received by the Lahore Press Club, from a group that claims to be affiliated with the Taliban, threaten attacks on media offices and editors of publications, if militants continue to be referred to as 'terrorists'. Even police and the chief justice of Pakistan have been threatened, with demands that the court order the release of detained militants.

Military and other analysts may be quite correct when they say that they are winning the war against militants and that the attacks we are seeing now are the last ditch efforts of a force that knows it has been defeated. But the suspicions still linger that the spate of attacks could continue indefinitely, putting us all at risk. This is especially true as we are still not seeing the long-term measures that could put a stop to terrorism. These include action against the Punjab-based groups which appear to have been active in some of the recent attacks. The insistence of the Punjab police – despite the considerable body of evidence to the contrary – that no major training centres are based in the south of the province is hardly reassuring. There can be no action unless there is an acknowledgement of the problem. Similarly, thousands of seminaries operate everywhere. The fact is that many of them have to be closed down and replaced by mainstream schools, if we are to see an end to terrorism. The task is a difficult -- but necessary -- one. The lack of strategy in this respect is distressing. Terrorism has to be addressed from a much more holistic perspective if it is to be defeated. The events of the past week have diminished hopes that this can happen quickly. The government must work to rekindle them.







The Azad Kashmir Legislative Assembly is to vote in its third prime minister, after Sardar Yaqoob ended his nine-month stint in power by resigning hours ahead of a vote of no confidence. The architect behind the vote is said to be former AJK prime minister Atiq Ahmed Khan, who was toppled in an almost identical fashion in January this year. Even the charges mentioned in the no-confidence motion – corruption, mismanagement, misuse of power – are virtually unchanged. The coalition headed by Sardar Yaqoob, himself an independent candidate, consisting of a disgruntled faction of the Muslim Conference, the PPP in AJK, the MQM and other miniscule groups, had always lacked stability. This indeed has been the story of legislative politics in AJK since the 1970s, when elections were introduced in the territory. But what is disturbing is that since that time, events in Muzaffarabad have consistently been manipulated from outside. This time too, Atiq Ahmed Khan is said to have held various meetings in Murree before going ahead with his no confidence plan. There is conjecture too that Sardar Yaqoob was advised to step down, after discovering he had lost assembly support.

We do not yet know what the principal purpose behind these moves may be. In the context of the wider political situation in Pakistan, it is possibly significant that Atiq Ahmed Khan turned down a request from President Zardari to avoid seeking a no- confidence vote. But beyond all this, it is unfortunate that the people of AJK have not been granted the autonomy of choice that Pakistan avers should be their right. In the territory feelings run high against intervention from forces in Pakistan. People have repeatedly been denied their right to move ahead with decisions and the political structure remains weak. All this works against the interests of the people of Kashmir who once again see political turmoil.







The PCB chief continues efforts to try and persuade Younis Khan not to step down as the captain of the Pakistan team. Khan for his part remains determined to quit and has indeed handed in his resignation twice. He is reported to have cited allegations of match fixing as well as discord within the team as the prime reasons for his decision. As if Pakistan's cricketing fortunes on the field were not troubled enough, we seem to face difficulty as well in maintaining stability as far as administrative issues go. Younis Khan has reason to feel aggrieved over the fixing allegations, especially as some of them revolve around the crucial catch he dropped in the semi-final of the Champions Trophy.

As a nation, we need to realize that not every loss is a conspiracy and that on a given day it is possible the opposite side simply played better than our team. But Khan must also accept that such allegations are almost inevitable in a cricket-mad country such as hours. The same sentiments lead to gala parties on the streets when the team wins. And as for the captain's anger over lack of cooperation from his team, he must also accept that this is something he needs to win. Respect does not necessarily come with the job itself. Life as Pakistan's cricket captain is not easy. It will always have its ups and downs. But Younis Khan has the potential to make his stint at captaincy a success. It would be unfortunate if he gave up the attempt to do so too soon and for all the wrong reasons.







The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) – our regulatory Goliath responsible for oversight of the entire corporate sector other than banking – has been on the downward spiral since its heyday during Khalid Mirza's term as chairman (the worthy head of the Competition Commission). But things were probably never as ugly as they presently are, when SECP seems to be indulging in nonfeasance and malfeasance of the sort that not only threatens to reduce it to a moneymaking establishment but also puts to question the whole philosophy of delegating the vital state function of enforcing law to autonomous regulatory bodies.

I witnessed a glaring example of SECP's malfeasance and evolving rent-a-regulator ethic in its treatment of a complaint filed by the National Highway Authority against a concessionaire that was granted exclusive rights in 1997 to build and manage motorway service areas on M2. While this concessionaire has continued to enjoy the concession for the last 12 years, it has so far not paid a single penny in revenue share to NHA. It argues that exploiting motorway-service areas is a loss-making enterprise and consequently it cannot share any revenue with NHA as promised in the bid and required under the concession agreement. While this private company refuses to provide details of its income and expenditure stream and books and accounts to NHA, a special audit conducted on NHA's behest by an accounting firm for 1999-2004 found that the concessionaire was "siphoning off its resources in non-arms-length transaction" to its parent outside Pakistan.

NHA claims that the concessionaire owes the government over Rs300 million in revenue share. In view of the startling findings of NHA's special audit and persistent refusal of the concessionaire to share financial information, NHA wrote to SECP chairman Razi-ur-Rehman in August 2008 (No. 3(72)/ NHA/ RAMD/ Rev/2008-171) highlighting the concern that its concessionaire seemed to be breaching binding accounting and financial obligations under the Companies Ordinance. In view of the information provided by NHA, SECP issued a notice to the concessionaire in November 2008 (No. CLD/RD-234A(01) 2008/4668) to show cause as to why a special audit should not be ordered into its financial affairs under Article 234-A of the Companies Ordinance, which authorises SECP to order detailed scrutiny of the affairs of a company on a suo moto basis.

Nazir Shaheen, executive director of SECP's Company Law Division, conducted formal hearings along with Mohammad Siddique, director of Company Law, where the DPMSL had legal representation and a colleague and I represented NHA. Last April, after a scheduled hearing, Mr Shaheen candidly admitted to us as counsel for NHA that SECP had decided to order special audit under Section 234-A. We were asked to suggest the terms of reference for the auditors to be appointed by SECP, which we did. By a letter dated June 24, 2009 (No CLD-RD/234A(01) 2008/7106) we were informed by SECP that "based on the course of proceedings and the terms of reference received from your office outlining the scope of special audit covering the period from 1997 to-date, it is estimated that an amount of Rs5 million may be incurred as expenses in the course of investigation," comprising "special audit fee payable to the special auditor, and the expenses incurred and estimated to be incurred by the SECP during the course of proceedings." And that "in order to enable us to proceed for appointment of the special auditor it is advised that an amount of Rs5 million may be paid in favour of the Commission, for further action in the matter."

Perplexed at the demand to shoulder SECP's internal expenses for performing the functions that justify its existence, we politely explained in a letter dated June 29, 2009, that "Section 234-A explicitly states that where a special audit is ordered by SECP on its own motion, the expenses of such special audit shall be payable by the company" being scrutinised. We further highlighted that SECP could only charge such fees as explicitly authorised by the Parliament and that "NHA is at a loss to understand how and under what authority can the cost of the internal functioning of SECP be charged to any complainant, which seems even more egregious where the complainant is a public authority reporting prima facie corporate mismanagement of a company to SECP, in its capacity as a conscientious statutory regulator." On receipt of this letter, another executive director of SECP approached us to negotiate a settlement on the instruction of SECP chairman Salman Shiekh, who is also commissioner of the Company Law Division overseeing the proceedings.

This ED acknowledged that SECP had a precarious legal position as it had communicated its intent to order the special audit subject to payment of money that it could not demand. But that he wished to resolve the matter without causing anyone any embarrassment and that SECP meant to defray audit expenses that it could not pay due its tight financial situation. We explained that SECP's demand simply amounted to extortion, and while the regulator could independently decide that the case was not fit for exercise of suo moto powers under Section 234-A, once it concluded that such audit was desirable, the same could not be made contingent upon extraction of money from a bona-fide complainant. Nevertheless, on client instruction, we communicated to the ED and Mr Siddique (who was by then in charge of the proceedings) that NHA would be willing to advance funds to pay the special auditor on behalf of SECP. Mr Siddique was unhappy, as his brief was that NHA should pay additional amounts to cater for any unforeseen future contingencies of SECP related to the matter.

On Oct 6, we finally received the SECP order signed by Mr Siddique, stating that the circumstances did not warrant scrutiny into the affairs of the concessionaire, together with another letter withdrawing the previous demand for payment of Rs5 million. The outcome was shocking. Not because SECP disagreed with the suggestion that the concessionaire's affairs required scrutiny as over Rs300 million of public money was at stake, but that if there could be a textbook explanation of the concept of malfeasance it would be a regulator exercising its statutory authority on the basis of whether or not such exercise would generate funds for itself. What is equally disturbing is not just that SECP officials understand that law requires the expense of special audit to be recovered from the company and that SECP's internal functioning should be financed from its budget, but also that a dozen SECP officials, including the chairman, knowingly indulged in such brazen swindle despite the knowledge that the intent to order the special audit had been documented and communicated to NHA.

SECP has over 3.4 billion in liquid assets and over 800 million in surplus funds, according to its financial statements of 2008, and yet it reversed its decision to look closely at the affairs of a concessionaire that refuses to pay another arm of the government overdue public money, because NHA refused to cough up Rs2.5 million for SECP's "internal expenses." This drive for profits highlights a larger malice. SECP's budget is approved by its policy board in view of the amount of funds generated annually through fees and penalties, which in turn determines the compensation SECP's top management pays itself in the form of salaries, bonuses and fringe benefits. This budget approval process and compensation structure creates a fundamental conflict of interest where SECP has an incentive to implement laws and exercise regulatory and penal discretion in a manner that promotes revenue generation and spurn such essential regulatory activities that are financially consumptive. This profiteering impulse is also shown by SECP's demand to be granted the legal authority to enter into plea-bargains with corporate thugs.

If our regulators will refuse to scrutinise criminal behaviour unless such scrutiny comes along with the promise of financial profitability, or let the big shark swim upon payment of pittance as fine into the regulator's fund, why don't we simply scrap Article 25 of the Constitution that provides for equal treatment of citizens? If this is the treatment being meted out to a governmental authority, one wonders what must become of the common Joes at SECP's mercy. We must not allow law to be enforced in a manner that culpability and its legal consequences rest on one's ability to compensate enforcers of the law. The Supreme Court might wish to take note for matters related to interpretation and implementation of the law fall squarely within its province, and the public accounts committee might wish to probe SECP's self-enrichment drive.

The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad. Email:







It is customary to divide Allama lqbal's career into three phases. The first phase, which ended in 1905, was a period when the young poet strove to teach the bitterly divided people of India the lesson of love and faith. He addressed not only those who defiled his homeland with religious and communal bickering, but also the children who were its future citizens.

In the second phase, which lasted from 1905-1908 and coincided with Iqbal's stay in Europe, his focus shifted from the issue of sectarian conflict in India to serious reflection about the nature of the Islamic millat. The reason underlying this shift was his growing realisation that his universal vision could only be actualised by a "like-minded" homogeneous group which was "non-temporal, non-spatial." He believed that in essence, the Islamic millat possessed these characteristics.

In the third phase, which lasted from 1908 onwards, Iqbal wrote much on this subject, emphasising the universalism which he believed was implicit in Islam. Ironically, this made him open to attacks such as the one made by the Cambridge Professor Lowes Dickinson, who, while reviewing Iqbal's Asrar-e-Khudi said: "Thus, while Mr Iqbal's philosophy is universal, his application of it is particular and exclusive. Only Muslims are worthy of the Kingdom. The rest of the world is either to be absorbed or excluded." Denying this allegation categorically and strongly, Iqbal said:

"The humanitarian ideal is always universal in poetry and philosophy, but if you make it an effective ideal and work it out in actual life you must start, not with poets and philosophers, but with a society exclusive in the sense of having a creed and well-defined outline, but ever-enlarging its limits by example and persuasion. Such a society according to my belief is Islam. This society has so far proved itself a more successful opponent of the race-idea which is probably the hardest barrier in the way of the humanitarian ideal... it is in view of practical and not patriotic considerations... that I was compelled to start with a specific society (for example, Islam), which, among the societies of the world, happens to be the only one suitable to my purpose. All men and not Muslims alone are meant for the Kingdom of God on earth, provided they say goodbye to their idols of race and nationality and treat one another as personalities. The object of my Persian poems is not to make out a case for Islam: my aim is simply to discover a universal social reconstruction, and in this endeavour, I find it philosophically impossible to ignore a social system which exists with the express object of doing away with all the distinctions of caste, rank and race."

Iqbal saw no conflict between his commitment to Islam and his universal ideals because to him Islam was universal in essence. For him, "the ideal nation does already exist in germ" but the germ has to grow. The seed needs air and sunshine in order to develop, and the individual needs the social security provided by the community. In his view, "Muslim society, with its remarkable homogeneity and inner unity, has grown to be what it is under the pressure of the laws and institutions associated with 'the culture of Islam'." Here, it is important to note that the expression 'the culture of Islam' was not used by Iqbal to refer to the cultural practices of Muslims in India or elsewhere but to the value-system implicit in the normative teachings of Islam.

Iqbal believed that in order to become "a living member of the Muslim community", a person "must thoroughly assimilate the culture of Islam. The object of the assimilation is to create a uniform mental outlook, a peculiar way of looking at the world, a certain standpoint from where to judge the value of things which sharply defines our community, and transforms it into a corporate individual giving it a definite purpose and ideal of its own."

Iqbal had become convinced that the Muslim community in India had been able to survive only through the preservation of the culture of Islam. How strongly he felt about the preservation of cultural identity can be seen from the following statement: "That which really matters is a man's faith, his culture, his historical tradition. These are the things which in my eyes, are worth living for and dying for, and not the piece of earth with which the spirit of man happens to be temporarily associated." In a letter to Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Iqbal said, "It is absolutely necessary to tell the world both inside and outside India that the economic problem is not the only problem in this country. From the Muslim point of view, the cultural problem is of much greater consequence to most Indian Muslims." In another letter, which Iqbal wrote to Jinnah a year before his death, he said "the enforcement and development of the shari'at of Islam is impossible in this country without a free Muslim state or states." This realisation inevitably led to another one: "The life of Islam as a cultural force in this country depends on its centralisation in a specified territory."

What would Pakistan have meant to Iqbal had he been alive in 1947? He would have seen it as a successful culmination of the historic struggle spearheaded by the Aligarh movement to preserve the rights of Indian Muslims as a "nation". But -- more importantly -- he would have seen Pakistan as a model environment in which 'the culture of Islam' which he understood as the highest ethical values of Islam, could be actualised to the fullest degree.

The writer is professor emerita at the University of Louisville in the US and a scholar on Iqbal and Islam. Email: rshass01@







After days of blowing hot and cold, the Indians have signalled that they are ready to talk to Pakistan. Only a few days back, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told journalists that the existing state of bilateral relations was not conducive to a move ahead. We should critically analyse the prospects of talks being scheduled at foreign ministers or foreign secretaries level.

Why did Mr Singh sound so pessimistic only a few weeks after trying to convince his MPs that some talks with Pakistan were better than no talks after the two prime ministers had agreed in Egypt that talks would go ahead to end the hiatus resulting from the November mayhem in Mumbai. Mr Singh's remarks were amplified by claims of Indian ministers about the lack of action by Pakistan on India's demands concerning Hafiz Saeed and others.

The Indian side appeared to be turning its back on a process that brought a tangible improvement in relations with Pakistan. India may have been miffed at the slow progress in prosecuting those it holds responsible for the Mumbai attack. But was that enough reason to abandon the composite dialogue, which has been a useful format to address contentious matters between the two nations, including terrorist threats? Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani commented that suspension of the dialogue only benefited the terrorists.

In order to fully understand India's reticence on engaging Pakistan, we may have to look beyond our bilateral relations. The United States has played a major role in facilitating the India-Pakistan dialogue, to create conditions which would allow Pakistan to deal effectively with terrorism on its western borders in an atmosphere of easing tensions with India. In parallel, Washington had moved its strategic partnership with India to new heights, the civil nuclear accord being its centrepiece. This American role had an unannounced caveat whereby a downturn in Indo-American friendship would collaterally damage the dialogue process with Pakistan unless it had gathered considerable traction of its own. In reality, the Mumbai killings proved to be a body blow to the peace process between the two countries, reminding everyone how shooting outside the Indian Parliament in December 2001 had brought the two sides to the precipice.

The dialogue process was launched as a mechanism of engagement which would enable the two countries to resolve disputes and enter into an interlocking system of CBMs to prevent another warlike situation. The process survived the BJP's departure from power because the Bush administration continued to support it while maintaining its policy of building a special relationship with India. The US also continued to place her bets on President Musharraf remaining at the top of a post-election setup in Pakistan.

All that changed between August 2008 and January 2009, with both Musharraf and Bush leaving office. In a sense, the composite dialogue has been orphaned. It could have been brought up by foster parents if Mumbai had not happened. But behind the scenes, what may have hurt the chances of its revival is the antipathy between the new US administration and the Indian leadership, rooted in serious policy differences which show no sign of abating. As a result, a structured dialogue with Pakistan no longer carries the value addition in the eyes of the Indian leadership that it had in the Bush era.

Traditionally, Democrats in the US were considered friends of India while the Republicans were seen tilting towards Pakistan. The "tilt" came to an end under Bush Sr. However, it was during the eight-year presidency of Bush Jr. that we witnessed a remarkable overture in the direction of India, steered by Ambassador Robert Blackwill in New Delhi, and fully supported by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Her move to the State Department in the second term of Bush further reinforced the India initiative with more determined efforts to push through Congress the India-US civil nuclear accord despite objections from the non-proliferation lobby.

This unusual warming for India was generally attributed to the US desire to build India as a counterweight to China. Publicly, Washington had no hesitation in taking the posture that it wanted to "help" India become a global power and that could happen if New Delhi resolved the outstanding differences with its smaller neighbours. Hence, the importance of resolving disputes with Pakistan, notably the one over Jammu and Kashmir.

It is not clear how seriously India took the US mantra. But it is well known that India was mightily annoyed when candidate Obama sought to link success in the fight against terrorism to the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. For India, Obama erred further by appointing a special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan with purported outreach to India. Alongside, a whole range of differences have come to the surface over the past few months.

Obama is considered too protectionist for India's outsourcing business. India is unhappy over limits on work visas for its skilled manpower. Rice, who spearheaded the push for a strategic partnership with India, has been replaced by Hillary Clinton, who adores India and yet is criticised for not including India in her first Asian tour. To many in India, the Obama administration seems to be lacking in enthusiasm for a speedy implementation of the civil nuclear accord.

And why is there so much pressure on India about signing the CTBT that would deprive it of possibilities of further nuclear testing? To complicate life further, the existing differences over WTO negotiations and other trade issues could get worse, dampening the mutual desire to keep the special relationship going. India may be disappointed over America's inability to ensure Pakistan's "compliance" with India's wish list regarding jihadi outfits. Finally, the claims by India about infiltration across the LoC would again indirectly give cause for complaint that the US is not exerting enough pressure on Pakistan.

This inventory of Indo-US irritants shows how far things have moved from the mutual admiration seen during the Bush presidency. Viewed from Pakistan's perspective, the framework of India-Pakistan détente, built with US support, may not survive if the Indo-American alliance suffers a setback. India may consider itself liberated from the commitments undertaken so far and feel free to deal with Pakistan as it did before the composite dialogue, piece by piece, as expedient under India's perceived national mood.

But Pakistan need not be overly regretful if the dialogue process is pushed to the backburner because, as neighbours, we have to conduct relations with India even if the previous arrangement is disowned by it due to multiple reasons.

Rather than repeatedly seeking India's return to the composite-dialogue process, we need to modulate our public insistence on talks, to disabuse India of the notion that they would be doing a favour just by sitting across the table from us. India will come back to the composite form if it sees some added value. If not, US insistence can persuade the Indian side to grudgingly agree to some form of talks in the coming months. However, progress in the talks will be tied by New Delhi to court proceedings in Pakistan against those suspected of links to the Mumbai attacks.


India should realise that the onus for providing evidence would largely be on New Delhi. Anti-terrorism court proceedings can be very long and satisfaction is not guaranteed. The two governments, therefore, need to take other steps to safeguard the gains made through the dialogue process. They owe it to their people, with or without America's urging, to avoid returning to a sterile period in their bilateral relations.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:







As the season changes and 2009 hurls to its inevitable end--with an ever-changing yet ever-present scenario of random as well as planned violence, inflicting lands stretching from Afghanistan to Iraq with Pakistan at the centre--one is inclined to look at the grand scheme of things from which this unbridled violence has emerged to claim thousands of lives. What has made these ancient lands so full of violence and death? Why is so much blood being spilled in certain countries of the world and not in others? What is behind this ever-present scene of ruthless killing of human beings in these lands which are supposed to be filled with a sense of security and peace because the majority of people who inhabit these ancient lands are Muslim--that is, those from whose hands other human beings are supposed to be safe?

The case of Iraq is rather clear: a ruthless military dictator came to power, established an unjust system of governance and ruled with an iron fist, until he became too big for his boots: his ambition invited foreign players who used him against Iran, then overthrew him and killed him once he started to misbehave. The illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq led to the destruction of whatever system there was and killing and displacement of millions of human beings. Thus violence was sowed in the land and it is being harvested.

The case of Afghanistan is likewise explicable: The Soviet invasion of 1979 brought this sleepy pre-modern land to the forefront of an international confrontation, and the American involvement in its affairs since then has been at the root of all its problems. It continues to remain under American occupation and thus, after thirty years of violence and with continuous occupation by foreign troops, it has little possibility of peace.

The case of Pakistan is rather strange: it seems that this land was hurled into the fire, rather than giving birth to a now intensifying cycle of violence and death. Despite its political instability, Pakistan was still a peaceful land until Z A Bhutto was hanged at Central jail, Rawalpindi, on 4 April, 1979. Whatever the personal shortcomings of Z A Bhutto, he was a man of a previous era--an age in which politics still followed certain rules of conduct and his famous declaration about the murder case against him still holds: My lord, he had said in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, this is not a case of murder; it is murder of a case.

Despite his political activism and grassroots appeal, it was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who planted seeds of violence in Pakistan. His socialist policies, coming so late in the day when the entire world was moving in the opposite direction, his failed economic policies which slowed down Pakistan's economic progress, and, most of all, his human-rights abuses, especially those in Balochistan, certainly destabilised Pakistan and strained its already weak socio-political fabric.

As if this was not enough, the military dictator who replaced him poured oil over fire by opening Pakistan to the Afghan drug trade and American weapons: thousands of Pakistanis were recruited to fight a war in Afghanistan, which despite its glorious title of Afghan Jihad, was, in the final analysis, an American war. Thousands more came from other parts of the Muslim world through a well-advertised and well-funded campaign.

In the heydays of the Afghan Jihad, no one was concerned about the after-effects of that war; no one was concerned about the spread of weapons in Pakistan and the consequent emergence of smaller groups which would turn their weapons against the state once the Afghan Jihad was over. True, Afghanistan needed to be released from the Soviet iron fist and there as an Islamic imperative for this, but the same Islamic imperative also demands sagacity in matters that involved the living conditions which would affect future generations. No one was concerned about what would have happen once the Soviet army retreats; no one was inclined to look into the consequences of playing with the fire as if the terrible price of such a play was a joking matter.

Since the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Afghanistan has remained filled with violence, and the ever-increasing circle of the violence that originated in that country is now sweeping through Pakistan. The uncontrollable smaller units of armed men can walk into any city, mosque, building, or other public space and kill at will. This is not what the 180 million people of Pakistan had hoped for; this is not the dream for which millions of people sacrificed their lives and property in 1947; this is not the consequence of anything that emerged from within Pakistan; violence is a foreign element that has intruded and penetrated every nook and corner of public life in Pakistan.

Yet, despite its ubiquitous presence, the present cycle of violence cannot be allowed to become the defining feature of Pakistani polity; it must be brought to a full stop and a new beginning needs to be made for the future of Pakistan. That new beginning requires an entirely new paradigm--an entirely new operative mechanism at the national level. This new policy directive needs to come into existence through a thorough and critical analysis of the present state of affairs, keeping in view the historical roots of violence and the multi-directionality of the very volatile situation that now exists in Pakistan. This is not a weekend project; it requires deep understanding of historical forces which have pushed Pakistan into the cycle of violence and fiercely independent and sincere minds which can come up with a blueprint for a different future for Pakistan. In the absence of such an exercise, the default would be the continuation, even escalation, of violence which now grips Pakistan.


The writer is a freelance columnist. Email:









Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has returned from his lightning visit to Washington with a joint explanatory statement to accompany the Kerry-Lugar Bill, which has been enacted as the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act upon its signature by the US President on October 15. At a press conference with the chairmen of the foreign relations committees of the two Houses of Congress, Qureshi called it a "historic step" and declared that the assurances given in the document would "allay the fears of Pakistan." Not everyone will share his assessment or optimism. In fact, the internal debate on the law is likely to intensify further and could push the country into another serious political crisis.

The document with which Qureshi has expressed such unqualified satisfaction has been jointly prepared by the two committee chairmen. It does not express the views of the US Congress. Our foreign minister is laying much store by the declaration that the bill "does not seek in any way to compromise Pakistan's sovereignty, impinge on Pakistan's national security interests or micromanage any aspect of Pakistan's military and civilian operations."

All this verbiage does not hide the fact that none of the conditions attached to the aid package will be eased. Its purpose is stated to be to "facilitate accurate interpretation of the text." It does not change one iota of the law. Much is being made of the fact that the explanatory statement will be placed in the Congressional Record, the official log of proceedings of the House of Representatives and Senate. But as has been pointed out, law makers frequently put comments and documents – even congratulatory notes for local sports teams – into the Congressional Record.

Kerry claimed in his joint press conference with Qureshi on October 13 that the statement will "provide a clarity that has force of law". This is not just misleading, it is a deliberate falsehood. Kerry would know better than anyone else that only the act as passed by the US Congress and signed by the president has the force of law. Surprisingly, even Qureshi has said that the explanatory statement will have the force of law. He is either gullible or is equally guilty of misleading the Pakistani public.

If Qureshi had cared to seek legal opinion he would have been told that a joint statement issued by individual members of the legislature, even if they happen to be the main co-sponsors of the legislation and chairmen of the concerned committees, does not have the force of law. Such a statement might be of some political value but if that is what we were seeking, we should have sought a declaration by President Obama, not by the two committee chairmen.

The explanatory statement also claims that the requirements spelt out in the law are for the US government, not for Pakistan. This is nothing but quibbling. The demands that "direct access" be provided to Pakistani nationals associated with nuclear proliferation and that the government of Pakistan cease all support for extremist and terrorist groups, to name just two examples, are addressed to Islamabad, not Washington. Similarly, the requirement of civilian control of military budgets, of the chain of command and of the process of promotion for senior military officers, as well as that of civilian involvement in strategic guidance and planning, are addressed to Pakistan, not the US administration.

Civilian control of the military is a very laudable objective. It has been a long-standing and consistent demand of civil society and political circles in Pakistan. But when it is included in a US assistance package for Pakistan, it amounts to an unacceptable interference in Pakistan's internal affairs. Yet, Kerry has been claiming that it does not impinge on Pakistan's sovereignty.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs was more honest. He said on October 13 that he knew a number of countries that had conditional aid based on meeting certain important criteria and that President Obama believed this was appropriate. A spokesman for the chair of the House State and Foreign Operations appropriations subcommittee has also made clear that the amount and type of assistance would be subject to annual review based on the "performance" of the Pakistan Government, among other factors. This contradicts the assertion made in the explanatory statement that the legislation places no conditions on our government, regarding the annual economic aid of $1.5 billion.

Gibbs also alleged that the opponents of the Kerry-Lugar Bill in Pakistan were misinformed or were mischaracterising it for their own political purposes. This is an accusation that has been made by other US officials and law makers, including Berman, Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee. Kerry has also hinted at the same.

The Zardari Government has taken the same line and has suggested that critics of the bill are manufacturing a crisis to discredit and destabilise the civilian government. According to Farhatullah Babar, in a meeting with PPP leaders and ministers on October 6, Zardari defended the language used in the bill and rejected criticism that the conditions undermined the country's sovereignty. Babar also said that attacks on the legislation were propaganda aimed at undermining Zardari's position.

It is clear that the government either failed to take the military into confidence, as it should have, on those portions of the legislation which have a bearing on national security or did not take their concerns on board. It has even been suggested that our ambassador at Washington and the men in the presidency connived with the drafters of the bill in having some clauses included which call for civilian control of the military and the cessation of support to terrorists groups.

There is merit in the criticism levelled at the army for having gone public in their expression of concern at parts of the Kerry-Lugar Bill. These views should have been conveyed to the government through the regular official channels which are supposed to exist for this purpose. But the question is whether these channels – the defence ministry and the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) – are functional. We know that the defence minister, the nominal civilian boss of the military establishment, is no more than a figurehead who has no say or even interest in policy-making and that the DCC was not involved in the deliberations on the bill. The foreign ministry also seems to have been largely bypassed. The prime minister himself, who is the head of government, has been kept out of the loop. There are even reports that he has been stopped by Zardari from calling a meeting of the DCC to discuss the bill.

The crisis over the Kerry-Lugar Bill is the consequence of a wider problem of governance in which the constitutional powers of the prime minister have been usurped by Zardari. Decision-making on vital national issues is in the hands of a small coterie of individuals hand-picked by Zardari. Their main priority is to monopolise control of the state institutions and perpetuate their hold on power and privilege, often in breach of the constitution. The crisis over the Kerry-Lugar Bill will not be resolved by the explanatory statement issued in Washington. Many PPP stalwarts are now openly pointing fingers at the military and the replacement of the army chief is not being ruled out.

Zardari's sense of insecurity has been further aggravated by the looming vote in the parliament on the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) and the subsequent expected challenge of the ordinance in the Supreme Court. The tension is palpable and is reminiscent of the situation in March this year when Zardari committed the incredibly foolish act of dismissing the Punjab Government and having the Sharif brothers disqualified by the Dogar court. The danger now is that in his desperation Zardari might attempt another coup d'etat. Last March, the prime minister and the army chief joined hands in taking the country out of a cul de sac. This time Gilani is alone. The prospects do not look all that good.








I always try to imagine what the president or prime minister are thinking when one of them issues a statement celebrating, say, Literacy Day, Population Day or Teachers Day. Let's take the last. Can we take Prime Minister Gilani's promises to raise our teachers' status literally when we all know that the PPP government has a practice of stuffing "teachers"? "My cook would go at the end of every month to the school and collect his teacher's salary," I was once told by someone high-up in government. The cook-cum-teacher was obviously a jiyala in Benazir Bhutto's last government.

Now to the World Literacy Day last month. Do our rulers really care how many of their countrymen can actually read and write? Do they really care about mentoring kids attending government schools? Do their hearts turn to the conditions these poor mites face and the abominable standard of education imparted to these faceless millions? Even the editorial writers of newspapers roll out the same stuff each year, loaded with figures that don't seem to make sense.

Make an attendance roster, all you big guns sitting in your gilded palaces. The president, the prime minister, cabinet ministers, armed forces chiefs and top bureaucrats, get up and go. Turn these schools into go-go schools as in the go-go musical movement that changed the scene in the Washington of the 70s. You don't have to be funky but you can definitely be fun to be with. Sit around a group of boys and girls along with the school staff. Your talk to them should be relayed on the TV channels and reported in the national press. Put some spice and all things nice in the lives of these deprived souls who don't know the word "luxury" or "academic excellence."

President Obama addressed the young of America by visiting a school in a poor locality in Washington. His address to the kids on the first day of school after the summer vacations was the biggest news of the day. Will a day ever come that we have the chief executive of Pakistan (no, it's not Prime Minister Gilani but President Zardari) to go to a school and speak to the children there, his address being carried live all across the country? Never, I think. Zardari is too busy playing political games in his palace on the hill to bother about kids.

"Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it," Obama told 1,500 pupils gathered in a school gym. "The truth is, being successful is hard. You won't love every subject that you study. You won't click with every teacher that you have. At the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents and the best schools in the world; and none of it will matter, unless all of you fulfil your responsibilities," he said.

Can Zardari openly speak of his school days and the degrees he was awarded before the children of Pakistan? Former chief justice of the Supreme Court Dogar disingenuously changed the rules of the game by removing the graduate clause for our parliamentarians in anticipation of Zardari fighting the elections. Zardari ended up in the Presidency via another route. "When I was your age, I was a little bit of a goof-off. My main goal was to get on the varsity basketball team and have fun," Obama, who finished with honours at Harvard, told the kids.

Truth prevails in the end, no matter how inconvenient it is (their poor education) for the rulers of the day in Pakistan.
The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting. Email: & www.







FOR the last many months we have been witnessing an alarming repeat of gory incidents of terrorism in different parts of the country on almost daily basis. However, what happened on Thursday has turned it a black day in the history of Pakistan as terrorists struck three cities with vengeance and the ferocity of the attack gave an impression of the country crumbling down before the wave of terrorism. It was perhaps for the first time that the terrorists hit multiple targets in different areas on a single day and employed 'bomb and gun' tactics to create panic and chaos. Over thirty innocent souls were martyred while scores of others received serious injuries in attacks on three targets in Lahore, suicide attack on police station in Kohat and a car bomb blast in Peshawar.

The law-enforcing agencies are doing their best to prevent acts of terrorism and in fact they have foiled a number of potential threats. The personnel of Pakistan Army, Rangers, FC, Police and other security agencies deserve full appreciation for rendering great sacrifices. But it is understood that there is a limit to human endeavours to avert such terrorist activities especially suicide attacks, which no country of the world has so far been able to stop completely. Attacks on GHQ, Elite Force training centres and regional Headquarters of the FIA as well as previous attacks on Sri Lankan team show that terrorists have changed their tactics and they are now capable of mounting organized attacks and nothing is beyond their reach. Lahore, otherwise calm and peaceful city serving as centre of cultural activities, presented scenes of battle-field on Thursday as terrorists not only launched attacks on three offices of law-enforcing agencies but fought pitched battles for hours. The substantial increase in terrorist attacks involving many militants in one incident and use of sophisticated foreign origin weapons shows that the militants are being funded and trained by our enemies. In fact, there are also credible reports that foreign security agents are exploiting the situation in a free for all manner because of unrestrained permission given to them by our Government to operate in the country in the garb of harmless activities. There could be other factors as well including plan of the Government to launch a full-scale operation in South Waziristan where most of the terrorist operations are planned and directed. The militants apparently wanted to convey the message that they have spread to each and every part of the country and the Government would get no meaningful benefit by launching operation in South Waziristan. It is also believed that the terrorists, after receiving defeat in Malakand and Swat, are trying to establish their strength and influence with a view to creating scare among the general public about their capability to inflict harm. Anyhow, there are clear indications that the situation would deteriorate further in days and weeks to come as is evident from the SMS message received by 'Pakistan Observer' wherein the TTP has not only claimed responsibility for Lahore attacks but also threatened media organizations. This is because the militants believe that it is not Pakistan's war but that of the United States and Army and security forces are playing the role of mercenaries for the sake of a few dollars. That is why we would say that it is time to pause and ponder over what to do next. Use of force is unlikely to eliminate terrorism, rather it breeds more terrorism and, therefore, we will have to formulate and pursue a strategy that helps change the mindset. Instead of just relying on hackneyed bureaucratic solutions and parrot-like assertions of immature politicians, there is a need to take all stakeholders on board and hammer out a coherent strategy with input from all segments of the society. Political, religious and military leadership as well as intelligentsia can surely do that. It is also time that the Government reviews its policy of liberal grant of visas and inspection free import of consignments of all sorts to embassies or other foreign organizations as the concession has widely been misused. The agencies should also be given clear instructions not to tolerate visa-free arrivals, proliferation of weapons and negative activities by foreign agents and their local cohorts.








IN the backdrop of mounting public pressure and clear-cut directive of the Supreme Court, the Government has decided to seek parliamentary approval for the controversial ordinance ironically titled as "National Reconciliation Ordinance" (NRO).

There is a great interest among people about the possible fate of the ordinance that is unanimously being viewed by all sections of the society as a black spot in the history of the country. This is because no nation worth the name can think of legalizing corruption at the state level. It is unheard of in the human history that the law making power, which is used for general welfare and interest of the people, is misused in a manner to benefit not one but thousands of people including big wigs guilty of corruption and crime. In our view, it would have been far better if the Supreme Court, which is the apex judicial authority, could have struck down the infamous ordinance that has brought bad name to the country in the comity of nations. However, in its good judgement, the worthy court has thrown the ball in the court of lawmakers and it is to be seen how they confront the challenge. No doubt, the PPP and its allies, that are sole beneficiaries of the black law, have the required majority to get the ordinance approved from the National Assembly and also from the joint session of the two Houses if the Upper House, where Opposition has the majority rejects it. But we fervently hope that the legislators would rise above party considerations and support or oppose the ordinance on the yardstick of morality, legality, probity, honesty and principles. It would be a litmus test for dignity and honour of individual members and political parties and the nation would not forgive those who would lend support in passage of the filthy ordinance.







The dollar, which has been under pressure in the global foreign exchange markets recently, fell to a 14-month low against the euro. Over the past six months, the American currency has depreciated in trade-weighted terms by as much as 11.5 per cent in relation to currencies such as the yen, the euro, as well as the Canadian, New Zealand, and Australian dollars. The weakening dollar has made exports from the U.S. more competitive. By the same token, exports from countries whose currencies have strengthened are losing their edge in the all-important American market. While global imbalances are being corrected, a precipitous fall in the exports of other countries will certainly not be good news for the global economy that is slowly coming out of the recession.

The U.S. economy continues to suffer from structural deficiencies. For instance, its level of external debt is very high and the fiscal deficit is almost 13.5 per cent of its GDP. However, partly aided by the currency depreciation, the U.S. has made impressive strides in trimming its current account deficit to nearly a half of what it was at the start of the financial crisis. On the domestic front, the falling dollar has become a political issue, with the Obama administration coming under pressure to intervene and stem its fall. That would involve, among others, pushing up the interest rates, a course of action unlikely to be accepted as it will imperil recovery in the U.S., and given also the broad agreement among leading countries to keep the stimulus measures in place for some more time.

The decline in the dollar has revived the debate over its role as the world's principal currency. It is the currency of choice in trade transactions and the undisputed benchmark in currency trading around the world. This is not the first time that a terminal decline of the dollar has been predicted. Yet no real alternative has emerged as a safe haven currency. At present, 65 per cent of the world's reserves are in dollars and 25 per cent in euro.

There would be some shift over the next few years, but the dollar's supremacy is unlikely to be challenged for a long time to come. Even its current fall is viewed by Paul Krugman and others as a symbol of success of the measures to revive the world economies including the U.S. economy, not as a sign of weakness. Simply stated, at the height of the crisis, investors flocked to the dollar, the traditional refuge currency. The dollar is merely climbing down from the inflated values to which it was pushed up. In India, the sharp appreciation of the rupee caused also by the surging portfolio inflows is posing major policy challenges. —The Hindu










It goes without saying that between Pakistan and no Pakistan stood only M A Jinnah! Frail and dying, he achieved single-handedly and constitutionally a distinct identity for the Muslims of India in a homeland exclusively their own. Muslims were searching for an identity throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Muslim League and the two-nation theory has its roots in the Aligarh movement of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Maulana Altaf Husayn Hali, as far back as 1880 when the "Shuddhi" movement (the forcible conversion of Muslims to Hinduism), language riots and objections to Urdu and the Persian script, bans on cow slaughter, the rise of militancy amongst Hindus started. Numerous leaders and intellectuals such as Nawab Mohsinul Mulk and Nawab Viqarul Mulk, Allama Iqbal came to accept the theory as inevitable.

Quaid-i-Azam convinced the Muslims that the most important factor in the formation of a nation is unity. Muslims of various sects, provinces and languages were asked to unite under one banner to attain their homeland first and to shape it according to their genius afterwards. The Quaid knew that during the stage for the struggle of Pakistan discord by pressure groups and debates on what Pakistan would actually be would thwart securing the award of Pakistan. The vision of Jinnah was shared with different emphasis by the masses, workers, supporters of the movement and leaders of All India Muslim League who voted Pakistan on to the map of the world. What followed then was the largest democratic separatist struggle that the world had ever seen; 400 million Muslims of India demonstrated strength on the streets of India for the cause of Pakistan. Thus it would not be wrong to say that the Pakistan movement was a struggle of liberal, middle class and educated Muslims comprising of "civil society" and intellectuals of that time. After the creation of Pakistan M.A.Jinnah symbolized Pakistan as he had earlier symbolized the movement and he established the institutions of the state where none had existed before. Alas! Within the thirteen months that Quaid-i-Azam lived he saw his dream go sour and witnessed tumultuous setbacks which left him disillusioned. It was not the economic difficulties nor state problems of an insurmountable nature but political intrigues, deceptions and conspiracies; a scramble for power and material gain, the "I" syndrome instead of the "We", the incompetent attitude of his lieutenants running the state, lack of dependable leadership that only paid lip service to his principles, provincialism and sectarianism, corruption and violence, fanaticism during partition, severe anti-Muslim riots, the linguistic troubles in East Pakistan and above all the agitating and challenging Ulemas had broken him down more than his ill-health. The Muslim political leadership believed that Ulema were not capable of giving a correct lead in politics to them because of their exclusively traditional education, complete ignorance of the complexities of modern age and the nature of politics of the 20th century. They pleaded that Ulema should confine their sphere of activity to religion only.

As G M Sayed, a trusted lieutenant of Quaid-i-Azam observed, "Do not forget also that Islamic society actually in existence is that in which the religious head is an ignorant mullah, the spiritual head an immoral pir, the political guide a power intoxicated feudal landlord—their cry of 'Islam in danger' became a cloak for dark deeds and reactionary moves, complacency and tyranny. Such is the extent to which mockery can be made of Islam in these days of capitalist subterfuge and commercialized politics." (The man who divided India by Rafiq Zakaria) The very ulemas who had openly opposed Quaid-i-Azam and denounced Pakistan were demanding that the whole fight for Pakistan was on religious grounds and they alone should be entrusted with the task of shaping its polity. Quaid-i-Azam was adamant not to turn Pakistan into a theocracy. the Quaid's vision of Islam was in no way the Islam of the 'obscurantist mullahs', but rather the enlightened, reformist Islam of the Aligarh Tehrik, the Islam of Sir Syed and Maulana Hali, and their 20th-century inheritors such as Allama Ja'fer Shah Nadvi and Allama Barq and not just Quaid-i-Azam but also the Aligarians were against a theocracy.

When a group of leading Ulemas asked Quaid-i-Azam to apply Shariah to the new state, he told them sternly. "Who's Shariah? Hanafis? Hambalis? Sha'afis? Ma'alikis? Ja'afris? I don't want to get involved. The moment I enter this field, the ulema will take over for they claim to be experts and I certainly don't propose to hand over the field to the ulema. I am aware of their criticism but I don't propose to fall into their trap" When Margaret Bourke-White, a photographer of an American Journal, Time and Life congratulated Quaid-i-Azam on creating the world's largest Islamic nation, he quickly corrected her by saying, "Oh, it's not just the largest Islamic nation. When asked which Islam, Sunni, Shia etc., the Quaid was always clear, "was the Holy Prophet, (PBUH) Sunni or Shia?"

On a visit to Kashmir, in 1944 on the invitation of the National Conference, Quaid-i-Azam urged the Muslims to come under the Muslim Conference, associated with the Muslim League. He didn't even spare Mirwaiz Maulvi Yusuf Shah, whom he called a "rotten egg" and told the maulvi, "I advise you to remain aloof from politics. In Kashmir, we want a leader and not a mullah".Quaid-i-Azam was eager to see Pakistan grow as a democratic and secular state. When he saw his political adversaries trying to undermine the democratic roots of the country he seriously considered the possibility of declaring the Muslim League a secular party and transforming it into the Pakistan National League; A front page story in the Dawn, Karachi of 26th April, 1947 stated, "All-India Muslim League to be wound up, Pakistan National League, open to all, proposed to replace it." The Quaid's intention, prematurely revealed by the Pakistan Times raised a hue and cry from the reactionary elements and he being a democrat was compelled to shelf the proposal, keeping the door open for future.

Quaid-i-Azam's Pakistan had turned out to be a mixture, neither secular nor Islamic, neither democratic nor united, neither moderate nor governable and he was unable to run it according to his vision, for each faction was pressing for a specific framework and every step that he took for national integration was misunderstood. Since Pakistan was intended to be the homeland of the Muslims of British India, its national language could only be a powerful unifying force—Urdu, the mother tongue of millions of Indian Muslims and Hindus for over a century and the language of the enlightened, intellectuals and reformists of the Aligarh Tehrik. When Quaid-i-Azam declared Urdu the official language of Pakistan, the East Wing leaders disputed the decision demanding Bengali as the official language of East Pakistan. Though Quaid-i-Azam had been told that the Islamic bond would be enough to silence the opposition he however discovered that language proved to be a much more powerful link than religion.

His dream to build a strong state relying on the threefold principle of 'one nation, one culture, one language' was shattered. When he returned to Karachi from Dacca, he confided to his sister Fatima Jinnah, "I am sorry the game is lost. I backed the wrong horse." Quaid-i-Azam could anticipate beforehand Hindi's dagger to be pitched on Urdu's throat. He did not permit the political system to kill this dynamic language. With the passage of the Hindi Bill in September, 1949, to replace Urdu by Hindi as the official language of India Jinnah stood vindicated.







In the past two weeks, Pakistan has suffered a string of suicide attacks that have killed more than 100 people. The Taliban has accepted the responsibility for most terrorists' attacks. On Thursday, approximately 25 militants dressed in police uniforms simultaneously attacked three law enforcement agencies in Lahore-Manawan Police Academy, FIA building, Elite Police training institute at Bedian road almost simultaneously. Police officials said at least 26 deaths had been confirmed so far, including 16 police officers, at least eight militants and two civilians. In Kohat, a suicide bomber ploughed his car into the outer wall of the police station in the town of Kohat leaving one police official and 11 others dead. Some 20 others have also been wounded. In Peshawar, several people were injured and a child was killed when a car packed with explosives was parked at the scene, and that it was later detonated by remote control. Apparently, there is change in the techniques and methods employed in terrorists' attacks, and since the last week the focus is on fidaeen-type attack instead of suicide attacks.

Only a few days back, army commandos aborted an attempt of the terrorists on the General Headquarters Rawalpindi who had the plan to take some senior military officials hostage to get the release of more than 100 arrested terrorists. Eight of the terrorists, who stormed the security office of the General Headquarters, were gunned down by the commandos. Two were later killed to get the hostages freed from them. Another terrorist - Aqeel alias Usman believed to be the mastermind of the attack - was captured after being injured when he tried to set off some explosives. The people shouted slogans in support of the army across the country and called for action to be taken against militants. TV news channels aired patriotic songs and saluted the sacrifices made by soldiers who were martyred or injured in the operation against the terrorists. Army personnel deserve all the superlatives for having displayed exemplary military skill, courage, conviction and commitment for having raided a building manning security staff at the gate of the military's General Head Quarters and freed 39 people that were held hostage by the terrorists. Earlier, three hostages were also killed when a militant wearing suicide jacket blew himself up.

Terrorists had struck the security check post and security office of the GHQ. This is the place where many visitors wait to get the passes to visit the officers in the GHQ. So-called experts in print and electronic media also try to prove that there was security lapse on the grounds that about four months ago Punjab CID had informed the government about the plot. Anyhow it is up to the army to conduct an inquiry if there was any security lapse, but it will not be wrong to say that it was duty of the CID also to follow it up and trace the terrorists and planners. Secondly, it has to be understood that without knowledge of the time and place when the terrorists will strike, there is always an element of surprise. Thirdly, just like the army and other intelligence outfits continue improving their methods of intelligence-gathering and fighting with the terrorists, the latter also learn new techniques and methods to fight the state apparatus. Finally, it has to be borne in mind that there can never be a foolproof system, and even the best of intelligence agencies of the developed countries including the US cannot avert such terrorists' attacks.

There have been militants' attacks on the best of the armies' camps and barracks in the world. It is a long list but it will suffice to mention a few. On 18th April 1983, a suicide bomber exploded an explosives-truck near the US military barracks at Beirut Airport killing 241 marines. Minutes later, second bomb killed 58 French paratroopers at West Beirut. On June 25, 1996, in Saudi Arabia a truck bomb exploded outside Khobar Towers' military complex killing 19 American servicemen and injuring hundreds of others. In Iraq, terrorists had penetrated in Iraq's greenbelt and other military camps causing colossal loss of army personnel. On 1st September 2004, the Beslan school hostage crisis began when a group of armed terrorists, demanding an end to the Second Chechen War, took more than 1,100 people hostage at School Number One (SNO) in the town of Beslan, North Ossetia-Alania, an autonomous republic in the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation. On the third day of the standoff, Russian security forces stormed the building using tanks, thermo-baric rockets and other heavy weapons. A series of explosions shook the school, followed by a fire which engulfed the building and a gun battle between the hostage-takers and Russian security forces. Ultimately, at least 334 hostages were killed, including 186 children. Hundreds more were wounded or reported missing.

If an honest appraisal is made it is not difficult to reach the conclusion that Pakistan army's military prowess is better than their counterparts in developed countries of the world. Take the case of military operation against Lal Masjid, the recent operation in Swat and Malakand or the action against the terrorists to free hostages from them at security office of the GHQ, one would be amazed at the figures of the collateral damage, which is lowest in the world. The CIA and RAW are jealous, which is why they want the ISI be made ineffective. Last year, as a first step they had tried to place ISI under interior ministry and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had issued a notification to that effect but it was withdrawn within hours due to the resistance by the military top brass. Recently, British Home Secretary (interior minister) Alan Johnson told reporters after meeting his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik a few days ago, that Britain is keen to provide expertise to Pakistan to help combat terrorism. The proposal is ludicrous because the US and the West have utterly failed in Afghanistan, and their poor performance in fighting terrorists speaks volumes about their so-called expertise.

But it should be borne in mind that war against terror in Pakistan cannot be won unless people come forward to inform the police or security agencies' personnel about suspicious characters in their street or mohalla. The government should launch an awareness campaign so that people in general and property dealers and house owners in particular do not give any house to unknown or suspicious persons on rent.

Take the case of terrorists involved in attack on the GHQ, who had rented a house in Rawalpindi, and when after the arrest of mastermind of the terrorists, security agency personnel visited the area, the people said that there used to be movement of cars and suspicious persons during late hours of the night. The question is why they did not inform the police or government agencies? It has to be mentioned that success in Swat and Malakand Division was first of all due to the courage of the armed forces, but it is also because of the support and cooperation of the people in identifying the terrorists and extremists. Anyhow, there is a redeeming feature that frequency of attacks by explosive-laden vehicles has waned, which means that their sources for such vehicles and suicide bombers are drying up.







In the past two weeks the terrorist activities in Pakistan have become more vibrant and more hostile. Consecutive suicide bombing in Peshawar, Matta, Shangla, Lahore and a very well planned attempt on the Army General Headquarters on the 10th of October, 2009, all these events are very much alarming. When we look back at the past one and a half year, we find a very strange series of events and incidents which can be very logically linked together. It seems that so many unseen forces with a common agenda have joined hands to give Pakistan a tough time. The story beginning from the Mumbai attacks moved to the K Santhanam episode.

This honorable nuclear scientist had been a director for Indian Nuclear Test Site Preparation program 1998 ; after a long period of almost eleven years , he started trumpeting the need of new nuclear tests claiming the old ones not up to the mark.. Taking advantage of the Mumbai blasts, the Indian government started proclaiming that India is constantly under a threat because of the extremists and militants fighting in the tribal areas of Pakistan. It stressed the need of more nuclear tests to enhance its abilities and strength to counter the militants if they proceed to Indian Territory. The US authorities, feeling a stubborn change in the Indian behavior, tried to increase their pressure on Pakistan to pacify India because more nuclear tests on Indian lands can never be very much soothing for the USA. In the course of time the armed forces of Pakistan remained busy in tackling with the terrorists with an iron hand in Swat and the adjacent areas. During the operation against the militants Pakistan had to face a very large scale migration of the people of Swat to the other cities of Pakistan. This internal and temporary displacement of the people was greater than any other trial not only for these people but also for the government of Pakistan. It was again the Pakistan Army which had to help out the government in the rehabilitation of these IDPs.

Feeling the increasing pressure on the Pakistan Army as well as on the government of Pakistan, India decided to take full advantage of the situation and started increasing the deployment of its troops along the India-Pakistan borders. At the same time Indian forces in the Indian Occupied Kashmir began to crush the Independence movement more violently. During the operation clean up in Swat, the security forces of Pakistan came by many solid proofs of Indian involvement in the area. The Taliban Diaries and the Indian Branded ammunition discovered from the possession of the arrested miscreants provided the security agencies with a proof that India was supporting the terrorists in all possible manners. It also came to light that the disturbing situation in Balochistan was also a handy work of Indian agents. In short, all this was a conspiracy of destabilizing Pakistan. India wanted to enhance its nuclear capability against the will of the USA and for this purpose it staged the drama of Mumbai Blasts, blamed Pakistan for it; supported the militants in FATA; financed the separatists in Balochistan and on the other hand kept on wailing that it is continuously facing a threat from the increasing militancy in Pakistan. By playing this game India was expecting to kill so many birds with one stone, but the armed forces of Pakistan did not let India succeed in its ulterior motives. The recent attacks on the GHQ are also being taken as another futile attempt of demoralizing Pakistan Army and depriving it of a strong national support. By the grace of God Almighty, the said attacks added not only to the morale of the army but also to the national support and affection towards the army.

Ignoring the increasing poverty rate and growing discontentment of its poor people, India is wasting all of its resources in the name of nuclear research and testing whereas the common man of India is always worried about his one time's meal and medicine. According to the media reports, the undue desire of nuclear advancement does not belong to the Indian nation. The actual miscreants are those handful politicians and government officials who have their own personal interests hidden behind the plans of nuclear advancement. It has been reported by western media that there is a significant increase in corruption scandals involving Indian and Israeli defense industries and government officials from both sides. In 2008, there was a credible evidence of malpractice in the Indo-Israel medium range surface –to-air missiles deal worth two billion dollars. Indian opposition parties had been demanding a probe into the matter, alleging that state-owned Israeli Aerospace Industries bribed the Indian officials to secure the deal. The opposition parties claim that the Israeli firm paid out 120 million dollars to win the deal. A section of the Indian military was also opposed to this contract, arguing that it could prove a death knell to the Indian efforts to build its own surface-to-air missiles for which hundreds of millions of dollars have already been spent.

It is the responsibility of the Indian people, the think tanks and the politicians in opposition to keep a vigilant eye on those selfish people who just for the sake of their own trivial interests are trying to distort and deform the face of the whole Indian nation. Such miscreants who are eager to deprive this world of its calm and peace just for their personal gains must be dealt as criminals. It is the result of these criminals that India is today being ranked as a terrorist country.







Maldives is a small country comprising of 1191 tiny islands in the Indian Ocean. The population of Maldives is around 300,000 excluding 100,000 workers who are not Maldivians. The Maldivian people are predominately Sunni Muslims. US interests in Maldives has brought the country in the limelight. US Ambassador to Maldives, Robert Blake who is presently doing as US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia has already submitted a report on Maldives to President Barack Hussain Obama in which a legal framework has been drafted to supply weapons and high-tech equipments in order to serve the American interests in the region.

In other words, Maldives which was being secretly armed by US to bring western styled democracy would be openly provided military assistance within next couple of weeks. According to a well chalked out plan some of the American missionaries have been encouraged to settle down in Maldives to attain Maldivian nationalities. US businessmen and social workers are being granted special privileges to settle down in Maldives. It has been targeted that the strength of Americans holding Maldivian nationalities should make around 1,000 persons by the end of this decade. A long term plan includes construction of US marine bases and shelters on at least two Maldivian islands. In fact US is also concerned about Chinese interest in Maldives as both countries enjoy good diplomatic relations and China has also support from Maldives on the issues related to Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, and human rights. US is also concerned about last week's visit of Zhang Gaoli, who was leading a delegation of the Communist Party of China (CPC) on a three-day visit to this Island as he met Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed and delivered special message of Chinese President Hu Jintao.

US President Barack Obama has signed a presidential determination on September 7, 2009 for his Secretary of State to transmit it to the Congress, saying "the furnishing of defence articles and defence services to the Maldives will strengthen the security of the United States and promote world peace." Soon after the commitment announced by US President, Robert Blake said that occasionally terrorists try to make use of the Maldivian territory, and thus there is need for the US to help Maldives to monitor its territories. He categorically said that "Maldives faces a number of challenges. First of all there are terrorists that come through the Maldives, transit through the Maldives." These developments are not without the warrant. Interestingly, US think tanks and security experts are airing a lot of propaganda for their fear that that island resorts could be taken China, which according to some reports is keen to establish a naval base at one of its islands by 2010. It is interesting to note that in the end of August 2009, Indian Defence Minister A K Antony visited Maldives and concluded an understanding for greater level of cooperation between the two countries. New Delhi plans to help Maldives set up a network of ground radars in all its 26 coral islands and link them with the Indian military surveillance systems, the project jointly funded by US and Israel. India has also agreed to provide helicopters to Maldives. In another development Maldives Interior Minister Muhammad Shoaib visited Pakistan and concluded a number of understandings and agreements. The important outcome of the visit was that Maldives requested Islamabad to train its Police which was hounored by Pakistan .

Maldives is a Non-aligned developing country, which needs food, shelter and health services and not arms and ammunition. The so called democratic government of President Nasheed is increasing the prices of commodities to import weapon. If this is democracy, one might fear that dictatorship in Maldives was better than this democracy. US is projecting its presence in Maldives on the grounds that Maldives faces a number of challenges, the prime being that there are terrorists that come through and transit through the Maldives but so far Washington has neither identified these terrorists nor has disclosed the nature of threat US faces from terrorist in Maldives. US claims that Maldives must maintain an ability to monitor what is going on in their seas as one of the major sea lanes in the world passes through them. US, China and India are competing for bases in the Indian Ocean. India recently gave Maldives additional economic and military aid. India is increasing its military and intelligence collaboration with Sri Lanka, where China is seeking to obtain basing rights for warships. Both Maldives and Sri Lanka are located off the southern tip of India and posses serious threat to India if these countries provide Chinese ships with bases in the middle of the Indian Ocean. US is backing India to have firm grip in these two countries so that China is isolated. In this power politics the looser would be no one but Maldives. Maldives should stay neutral and needs not to link itself with any power. In case it forgoes its Non-aligned status, very soon it will loose its identity, integrity and sovereignty.








"..Policemen refusing to register an offence on the pretext that it was committed outside their jurisdiction is something that has frustrated citizens for years…" Oct 11th Oct. We are slowly becoming a crime free nation! Police stations across the country are steadily recording less and less vice and violations and very soon we could indeed become the first nation in the world with a zero crime rate! I decided to congratulate the police for the excellent job they were doing. "It's an excellent job you're doing," I said, "may I have your autograph?" "If I may borrow your ball pen," smiled the inspector. "Where's yours?" I asked. "It's dried up with no one wanting to register any offence," said the inspector as a very hassled looking young girl entered the station.

"Inspector, my cell phone has been stolen, please register my complaint, I saw the pickpocket running away with it." "Which bus stop did it occur at?"

"Three bus stops away." "Then you will have to go that police station madam." "But I went there and they directed me here." "Oh they did, did they? Will madam be able to come here everyday between nine and twelve in the morning? Everyday madam, everyday?" said the inspector sternly. "Why should I? I have come to register my complaint. I have come to make an FIR," said the girl. "Madam has to understand that if an FIR is registered, madam is also a suspect," said the inspector winking at me. "Madam could have thrown away the phone to get insurance, or maybe madam wants her father to buy her the latest cell phone? You will have to report here every morning, so our constable can interrogate you. In fact if madam will step into the back room, we can start questioning madam as soon as our lady constable who is on bandobast duty returns. Where are you going madam?" "Home!" shouted the girl as she ran out of the police station like a frightened bunny nearly throwing aside the man who came running into the police station. "Inspector! My flat has been burgled and my mother injured in the scuffle." "How much stolen?" "Three lakhs inspector, and gold and jewelry."

"Income tax has been paid on it?" "What inspector?" "I will send a constable to your house…" "Thank you inspector sahib."

"Along with an income tax official." continued the inspector, " Now let me register your complaint." "Its okay inspector," said the man pulling out a five hundred rupee note and laying it on the table. "My mother is a strong woman she will recover!"

"See!" said the inspector, "my complaint page is blank. "You must tell your readers that because of us there is less crime." "Yes," I said, "I will. I most certainly will..!"








Since the poor cannot buy services from the costly private health sector, their only option is to approach the general hospitals at urban centres and the upazila health complexes. Regrettably, corruption, indifference and insincerity have become the hallmark of such facilities. So if decentralisation can resolve this, the government should pay heed to the call of health experts in this respect.  

The responsibility of the government is to oversee this sector. The quality of health care they provide are a good indication of good governance. Speakers at a round table discussion in city's Press Club on International Rural Women Day-2009 rightly demanded that the National Health Policy and functional decentralisation of the health sector needs to be implemented.  Stressing that such Policy has to have greater accountability and transparency, they echo the global theme of this year's International Rural Women Day, as everybody has a right to Health and Well-being. The general perception is that the existing health services "are not poor friendly."

If people are not receiving the basic health care, even though the government is spending a lot money on the health infrastructure, it may be because some thing is wrong with our health management system. To quote Zunaed Ahmed MP, "The country cannot bypass its responsibilities and obligations as described in the Constitution."  This is very important because the state of the health services of a nation is an important indicator of the status of its socio-economic health.

No wonder, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provides the most comprehensive article on the right to health in international human rights law as it recognises the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. The Bangladesh Constitution has not been left behind either as it says "The State shall regard the raising of the level of the nutrition and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties."







The latest coordinated attacks on law enforcement facilities in Peshawar and Lahore following the raid on the most heavily secured army headquarters in Rawalpindi near Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, are proof of the militants' reach and firepower. These attacks make a mockery of the claim the government made a few weeks ago that it was winning its battle against the militants and the Taliban was in disarray. Sure enough, the militants have opted for a counter-offensive inside the more secured and sensitive areas with the clear aim to stop the planned ground attack against them by the army in the tribal areas of South Waziristan. Their attack-is-the-best-defence policy has more than worked and also struck terror in the hearts of common Pakistanis residing in the capital, Punjab and tribal areas.  

Attacks like the one on the army headquarters in the middle of the day, with senior military officers trapped inside, should give the Pakistani authorities a nightmarish time. It is well-nigh impossible for the militants to conduct raids like the ones of the past week without help from within the heavily fortified military or police compounds. Ever since Pakistan opted for falling in line with USA in its fight against terror, the Taliban has tried to advance its cause with ruthless brutality.

The latest series of attacks has all the making of violence on a daily basis as suffered by Afghanistan and Iraq. This does not bode well for a country that has long struggled to return to democracy through a parliamentary election. The $7.5 billion aid package the United States is giving to Pakistan may still not be enough to arrest the country's downhill journey. It may still continue to bleed. Its integrity seems to be under threat. The stake is great, so the world must help Pakistan to come out of the crisis.







"…In Vashi, Advani talks of Ram Temple…" TOI, Oct 10th 

The old man wearing khaki shorts under his starched dhoti held the blueprint of the proposed temple in his hand and looked in the direction of Ayodhya whispering. "Pillars of bronze that will rise to the sky!" A hungry beggar crept up to the old man wearing khaki shorts under his starched dhoti crying, "Bread! Bread! I'm hungry, give me bread!" The old man whispered, "Marble flooring!" Beggar, "Bread! Bread!" Old man, "Carvings carved by craftsmen from Rajasthan and sculptures that will be envy of the world!" Cried the beggar, "Bread!


Bread!" as he held onto the leg of the old man wearing khaki shorts under his starched dhoti. "Domes!" cried the old man, "Domes that will resound with the silence of a people who will stand under in awe at its magnitude and glory!"

"I am hungry!" wept the beggar, "Give me bread to eat!"

"Gold idols and silver vessels!"

"Bread! Bread! I'm hungry! I'm going to die! Bread! Bread!" The old man wearing khaki shorts under his starched dhoti held the blueprint of the proposed temple in his hand and looked in the direction of Ayodhya. He was joined by thousands of others who stood around him, all wearing khaki shorts under their dhotis and peering at the same blue print as they looked in the same direction. Around them millions of thin, starving men and women clutched their feet. "Bread!" they cried. "Marble flooring!" cried the men and women looking at the blueprint. "Bread!"

"Carvings carved by craftsmen from Rajasthan and sculptures that will be the envy of the world!"

"Domes!" cried those around the old man, "Domes that will resound with the silence of a people who will stand under in awe at its magnitude and glory!"

"Bread! Bread!" cried the thin men and women as they held onto the legs of those standing around the old man wearing khaki shorts under his starched dhoti. "Gold idols and silver vessels!"

"Bread! Bread! We are hungry! We are about to die! Bread! Bread!" The old man smiled as he saw the temple rising high, looking beautiful in the rising sun, splendid in the rays of the setting sun. "My dream!" he cried, "My dream!" and he folded the blueprint and turned to face the electorate.            He did not see the beggar fall, he did not see the beggar die. Nor do the others see the starving millions, as they talk once more of making the temple an issue with which to fight the elections, while millions die! Advani Sahib, "Roti first, then Mandir sir...!"








FOR generations, the Australian people have had an understanding with their governments that the nation will continue to be built up through immigration, including refugees. Government's side of the bargain is to maintain an orderly migration program, as Kevin Rudd acknowledged in a front-page interview with this newspaper on the eve of the 2007 election. Almost two years later, Mr Rudd faces a dilemma. It stems from stronger "push" factors, which have seen more desperate people displaced from nations such as Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. And in their ruthless greed, people-smugglers are exploiting such tragedy for rich profits, playing up the notion, largely erroneous, that Australia has become a softer touch. The problem requires leadership that is compassionate, resolute and effective.


We have a proud tradition of welcoming refugees who have in turn strengthened the civic and economic fabric of the nation. Tens of thousands fled here from the Great Irish Famine in the late 1840s, including thousands of orphans. The 35,000 Jewish refugees from Nazi persecution who arrived from the 1930s onwards, and their children, have made vast contributions to Australian business and intellectual life. So have many others, including more than 100,000 Vietnamese and other Southeast Asians who arrived in the 1970s and 80s.


Forget the hostility directed at former immigration ministers Philip Ruddock and Gerry Hand, who introduced mandatory detention under the Keating government in 1992. Australia's intake of refugees exceeds that of most nations. Among those operating resettlement programs in co-operation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, our per capita intake of 12,000 is one of the highest. But given the sufferings of at least 16 million refugees displaced by conflict and persecution, Australia should now consider increasing its intake substantially. But in keeping with our immigration policy of the past 40 years, selection should be non-discrimatory, open to those unable to afford the $10,000 or more demanded by people-smugglers. And they should come here safely, their flights paid for by the Australian government if necessary, after proper screening and internationally established processes have been followed.


Of the hundreds of thousands of individual claims for asylum made around the world last year, about 4700 were made in Australia, with the vast majority of claimants arriving by air. Such facts are relevant for understanding the current spate of boatpeople in a wider context. That said, the arrival of 1762 people by boat since September last year, when the influx began, is a problem that needs more than Mr Rudd's tough talking to solve.


There is no mood to return to the wasteful "Pacific Solution" or the detention of children behind razor wire. But what is needed is clarity. With more people than ever displaced internationally, the government needs to articulate how it intends to respond.


Its policies and actions must show would-be passengers contemplating the treacherous sea journey to Christmas Island that handing over their money will not advantage their quest for asylum in Australia, which prefers to reach out generously to refugees through the UNHCR. Asylum-seekers who arrive and who are deemed a risk or ineligible must continue to be repatriated without delay.


Wherever possible, interception of people-smugglers' boats and forcing them back is vital. Mr Rudd did the right thing last weekend asking Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono personally to have a boat carrying 260 Sri Lankans to Christmas Island intercepted. And the new strategic compact he is seeking with Jakarta is also vital. Patrols and interceptions by the Australian and Indonesian navies should be stepped up, as should the joint efforts of intelligence and law enforcement agencies to find and punish the criminals running the rackets. Australia must remain hard-headed about border security. But that does not preclude compassion, which may demand that we increase our refugee intake, administered in an orderly way, when the need arises.








A ROUGH rule of politics is that the government which raises tax should spend it. It's the only way to truly control the direction of spending and to be accountable to taxpayers. Yesterday's revelation by the Institute of Public Affairs that the states have gone on a hiring spree of public servants since they got their hands on GST revenue in 2000 is a case in point. An extraordinary 28 per cent increase in state bureaucrats - and the flow-on effect of public sector unions' financial support of Labor governments - is not a good omen for the future of federal-state fiscal arrangements.


The data reinforces the need to sort out the states on tax, a key goal of the Henry review into taxation now in its final stages. The review is being touted as a once-in-a-generation, "root and branch" reshaping of the tax and transfer system. And in the hands of Treasury secretary Ken Henry, who has been advising governments on tax for the past 25 years, it shows every sign of delivering a significant outline for changes over several years.


As George Megalogenis writes in the Inquirer section today, the Henry report will offer short-, medium- and long-term recommendations; in essence, an opportunity, if he cares to take it, for Kevin Rudd to be remembered as a tax reformer in the mould of Paul Keating and John Howard.


But, given the IPA data, the possibility that the Henry review will recommend another federal tax to raise revenue for the states and complement the GST must be treated with caution. It will be essential for the states to "own" the tax and be accountable to voters for the way that revenue is spent. Any repeat of the GST performance where the states have spent as they wished then turned around to Canberra to ask for more funding for hospitals, schools and roads, would be a disaster. The Rudd government has argued that it wants to end the blame game between Canberra and the states but a "grand bargain" over tax sharing will only work if the states carry the can for their spending. There is plenty of evidence, such as Australia's lower outlays on health (9 per cent of GDP) compared with 15 per cent in the more diffuse US system, that centralised control of spending is the way to achieve desired outcomes.


In his speech this week to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, Dr Henry said tax reform must be about improving the wellbeing of the Australian people. To that end, a key challenge is to remove the tax disincentives for people to take low-wage jobs. Dr Henry has already signalled that family payments could be organised to encourage supporting mothers to return to work when they want to. But more broadly, Australia must begin to look seriously at policies such as tax credits for low-wage earners who at present are financially disadvantaged if they enter the labour market. The Howard government's decision to use the welfare system rather than the tax system to support the poor simply locked many Australians into the soul-destroying world of unemployment. We need a better way.


While many of the review's ideas will need a longer time frame, superannuation is one area ripe for attention from a second-term Rudd government. The government has already signalled that some tax breaks for high-income earners are not sustainable and the Henry review is being shaped at the same time as three other key superannuation reports which will feed into the tax report. Changes to super are always tricky because of the need for certainty for retirees, but the larger imperative is to construct a viable system for an ageing nation.


Tax reform is never popular unless it means a rate cut but in the 1980s and 1990s, Australian politicians on both sides showed they were prepared to tackle change, irrespective of short-term political fallout. Soon it will be Mr Rudd's turn. If he wants to be seen as a a tax reformer, the Prime Minister will need to stand firm against the 24-hour news cycle and use the Henry report to make the changes Australia needs to ensure its future.







PERHAPS we should not be so surprised to see people in their 60s and 70s navigating a swimming pool or racing track. In an age when 50 is the new 40 and gym is the new black, the fact that a certain percentage of oldsters are not just fit but fast is not so unusual. These days, older is younger, so to speak. But in fact there's been tremendous exhilaration around the World Masters Games being held in Sydney. It's not just about the age range. That some participants are in their 90s, some over 100 even, is amazing but the wonder of the games is the sheer joy of people of varying levels of skill having a go. Australians love elite sport, but the games show we're also delighted by an event that is as much about competing as winning.








SUDDENLY, Coalition MPs have an issue they can unite around. Suddenly, it is the Government that is struggling to cope. The appearance of 255 Sri Lankan asylum seekers in Indonesian waters, and Kevin Rudd's hasty request to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for Indonesia to take them into custody rather than let them set off for Australia, has returned boat people to the political centre stage. Unauthorised boats carrying asylum seekers have been arriving with increasing frequency since the Rudd Government came to office. Five boats reached Australia in 2007, seven last year, and so far this year 31.


The surge looks to have started at about the same time rules on asylum seekers were changed in August last year, with the abolition of temporary protection visas. The Howard government's ''Pacific Solution'' ended almost as soon as Rudd won office. As the local representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Richard Towle, said yesterday, though Australia is not alone in experiencing a surge in arrivals, ''perceptions of policy play a role in people smuggling''.


After weeks of divisions over climate change and its own leadership, the Coalition has jumped back onto the issue it had made its own under Howard. Its spokeswoman on immigration, Sharman Stone, has been criticised as ineffective - for which read: less willing than her predecessors to exploit the electorate's latent xenophobia with an apparently tough line on asylum seekers. Malcolm Turnbull has condemned the Government for holding open the door, and putting out the welcome mat. The former immigration minister Philip Ruddock has weighed in too in similar vein.


In response, Rudd has looked somewhat desperate. His phone call stopped one boat - for now - but will it stop others? Can he rely on long-distance summitry to micro-manage this traffic? His harsh words about people-smugglers are no doubt true, but people-smugglers would not exist without customers who thought they had a hope of safe arrival. The ''Pacific Solution'', objectionable as it was, removed that hope. For those wanting to jump Australia's queue, hope has returned. Rudd's only alternative is to try to cut demand - to stop people wanting to come. He will find that much harder.


The trend worries people: a Lowy Institute poll out this week found 76 per cent were somewhat concerned or very concerned about asylum-seekers coming to Australia by boat. Their high visibility gives them political importance far beyond their numbers. As we have stated before, many more illegal immigrants arrive by air but attract nothing like the same attention. Perhaps the leaky, shabby boats both provide better images for television news, and emphasise the foreignness of those who take to them. Perhaps Australians believe flights can be controlled, but boats cannot.


In the latest case, the telegenic quality of the Sri Lankan refugees, and their well-groomed, emotional appeal to Australians' sympathy, appears to have counted against them for many: they look too much like economic refugees and queue-jumpers to merit sympathy. Rudd, not the most convincing xenophobe, has taken the opportunity to turn down their appeals.


The divisions over boat people run not only along the obvious line between border security and compassion. Last month the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, released estimates from the forthcoming intergenerational report which showed Australia's population is likely to reach 35 million by 2049 - 7 million more than the last such report estimated. A higher birthrate will contribute some of that increase, but so will the hugely expanded migrant intake. The estimate shocked those who fear what such a large population will do to the fragile Australian environment. Some - including the Labor backbencher Kelvin Thomson - have called for immigration to be reduced. It is a legitimate position to hold given both environmental concerns and the likely effect of looming shortages of oil and fertiliser on food production. The call, though, assumes that people can be kept out at will. Certainly immigration quotas could be cut, if the political will existed. But how is that to be policed, unless border controls deter illegal immigrants?


The illegal immigration problem Australia faces is smaller than the one confronting other countries. It must be kept in perspective and approached calmly. In all its ramifications, though, it is far more complex than just opening or shutting a door.







THE electronics company Philips and the finance house ABN Amro have jointly developed what they are calling an emo-bracelet for investors: it tests the wearer's emotional state and uses colours to show whether they are capable of making investment decisions rationally. Red, of course, means danger. You are too overwrought to trade competently - too fearful or greedy, or possibly both. If your emo-bracelet shows red you have no choice but to get a job trading shares for the Sydney diocese of the Anglican Church until your madness passes. Orange means you are still flustered and panicky, but you might be all right in a while. While orange, don't make any investment decisions beyond a modest flutter on whatever you fancy at Randwick. Don't borrow more than $50 to do it, though. But once the bracelet turns yellow, the world is your oyster. Get straight down to the bank, remortgage the house, and bet the lot on a tearaway dotcom like MySpace. Rupert Murdoch did, so it's a sure thing.








A QUARTER of a century ago, when the Cain government concluded its contract with Alcoa to operate an aluminium smelter at Portland, the deal was hailed as a great achievement for the region and the state. The smelter would bring jobs, sustaining the local economy and underpinning an expanded export industry for Victoria. The Age was among those who applauded the government's skill in negotiating the agreement that made the long-suspended project a reality, but the praise was mingled with misgivings. ''The Government seems to have procured the best deal possible in the circumstances,'' this newspaper editorialised. Two years earlier, shortly after the government won office in 1982, The Age had bluntly declared the smelter proposal to be a problem bequeathed to the government by the ''irresponsible and opportunistic'' decisions of its Liberal predecessor. The paper argued that the government was bogged down with trying to save a smelter that ''should never have been built where it was, or on the terms it was. There is a range of alternatives open to it, but every one of them is unpalatable.''


The Brumby Government might feel that it, too, is in a bind with regard to the smelter. In some ways, indeed, its predicament is worse because the jobs eagerly expected from 1979, when for electoral reasons the Hamer government designated Portland as the site for Alcoa's second Victorian smelter, now exist. No one could responsibly put them in jeopardy. But neither can the massive power subsidy that was the most contentious aspect of the 1982 deal be called responsible, nor can the fact that the aluminium industry, which consumes a fifth of Victoria's electricity, is threatening to move offshore to less carbon-conscious regimes unless it is given special consideration under the Rudd Government's planned carbon pollution reduction scheme (CPRS). Finding a way to keep Alcoa employing Victorians without reducing the already modest CPRS to a mere fig leaf is a dilemma for the Brumby and Rudd governments, and one every bit as overwhelming as that faced by John Cain in 1982. Then, the government chose to lure Alcoa with discounted electricity contracts for the Portland smelter until 2016 and for Alcoa's older plant at Point Henry, near Geelong, until 2014. The contracts provide for a tariff pegged to global aluminium prices, which the Cain government obviously hoped would steadily rise. That hasn't happened, and by the time the Portland contract expires the deal is expected to have cost Victorian taxpayers up to $4.5 billion - the privatisation of the power industry in the post-Cain era notwithstanding.


The aluminium smelters, like other big contributors to carbon emissions, will also be entitled to generous assistance under the CPRS if it becomes law: of $12.5 billion in free carbon permits and other measures, an estimated $1.71 billion would go to Alcoa. To Alcoa, however, it is not enough. Electricity generators, burning greenhouse-intensive brown coal from the Latrobe Valley, will be required to pay for permits to cover emissions, and can be expected to pass the cost on to customers. Alcoa claims that the cost of doing business in Victoria will rise by $50 million a year under the CPRS, and, once again, industry lobbyists are reminding governments that multinational companies will go wherever lower costs mean bigger profits.


Few would now blame the Cain government for acting as it did to deter Alcoa from acting on that threat in 1984. As The Age recognised, it was the best that could done in the circumstances. But voters - and other businesses not so generously compensated for the cost of participating in an emission-trading scheme - might not be so understanding if the Rudd and Brumby governments simply give Alcoa whatever it demands. The European Union's experience of emissions trading does not substantiate fears of ''carbon slippage'' - the relocation of smelters and other big polluters to countries with weak environmental policies. And in any case, it is misleading to present the choice facing governments as a matter of either preserving Alcoa's jobs on Alcoa's terms, or not at all. The point of any emissions trading scheme is to change behaviour, so that, over time, ways of using energy that reduce the level of emissions are adopted. That includes gradually changing the sources of energy, not just to renewables, which power smelters in some other countries, but to less polluting fossil fuels such as gas. There is no reason why Victoria cannot have an aluminium industry and a greener future; but realising that prospect requires political will and tough negotiating.


Source: The Age







The autumn party conference season is already a distant memory for the main Westminster parties, all battered once more by fresh expenses scandals. North of the border, though, politics marches to a different drum. This week's Scottish National party conference in Inverness is a reminder that British politics is no longer a three-party monopoly. The SNP would have to be treated as a major player even if it did not already form the devolved Holyrood government. To exclude its leader, Alex Salmond, from a role in televised UK election debates, for example, would be absurd.


The atmosphere at the SNP conference has been strikingly distinct too. Where the mood at the earlier party conferences was respectively uncertain (the Liberal Democrats), grim (Labour) and disciplined (Conservative), that of the SNP is positively cocky. The SNP is on a roll, and means to keep on rolling. It has shrugged off the collapse of the Edinburgh-based banks. It has brushed aside dismay at the freeing of the Lockerbie bomber. Its position in the opinion polls is more than resilient. If there were a Scottish election today, Mr Salmond's party would be returned stronger than ever. At the next UK election the party aims to leap from its present seven Westminster seats (out of Scotland's 59) to 20. If that happens, the SNP might be a major player in a hung parliament.


SNP conferences today are a far cry from the era of Winnie Ewing and Margo MacDonald. The fervour for independence remains, but today's SNP is now a professional political party of a recognisably modern kind. Its members look like the country they represent. The party talks to the voters, not to itself. Its leaders may denounce London with the intensity of their predecessors, but Mr Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney and their colleagues run a government now. SNP ministers come to the rostrum at Inverness and make announcements about new policies they are implementing. The rise of the SNP has been rapid and remarkable. But it is not a flash in the pan.


The SNP has prospered as its Scottish rivals have failed and faltered. But the SNP's rise is not and should not be irresistible. It is convinced that independence is the answer to all of Scotland's problems. That is not true. Nor is it a belief shared by the majority of Scots – despite Mr Salmond's efforts to finesse the point. Nor do all SNP leaders agree on what independence would mean. Yesterday's debate at Inverness about a future Scottish currency – should it be the euro (with a referendum or without?), the UK pound, the Norwegian krone or some wholly Scottish denomination? – exemplified the fact that a vote for the SNP is still in many ways a leap in the dark.







It is an everyday tale of citizen action, but the Woodland Trust's efforts to preserve and restore ancient woodland and show the rest of us why it matters so much are a triumph of what one determined individual can achieve. It is less than 40 years since a conservation-minded farmer, Kenneth Watkins, became alarmed at how swiftly broadleaf woo