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Monday, October 26, 2009

EDITORIAL 26.10.09

 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

 

month october 26, edition 000333, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

 

THE PIONEER

  1. JUDICIOUS SUGGESTION
  2. TWO HEADS BETTER THAN ONE
  3. GREED BLINDS US TO REALITY - ARUN NEHRU
  4. THE SYSTEM NEEDS REFORM - KUNAL SAHA
  5. A TRAGIC DENOUEMENT - PREMEN ADDY
  6. THE BIG FREEZE - BARRY RUBIN
  7. IRAN'S NUKE SMOKESCREEN STILL HAZY - DMITRY KOSYREV
  8. CLERGY'S MYOPIC VIEW ON DONATING ORGANS - NEHAL RAZA

MAIL TODAY

  1. SELECTIVE PUNISHMENT WILL NOT CHANGE THINGS- PRESSURE PAKISTAN
  2. RESPONSIBLE AND INCLUSIVE GOVERNMENT - BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
  3. THE POLITICS OF CBI RAIDS
  4. BJP IS UP A CREEK MINUS THE PADDLE
  5. CAN WE AFFORD UNPREDICTABLEAND ERRATIC MAMATA?
  6. CHANGE CAPITAL'S NAME TO DEHLI
  7. NOT ONLY MOBILES, BAN DVD DISPLAYS TOO

TIMES OF INDIA

  1. LET TRUTH PREVAIL
  2. GET IT RIGHT -
  3. WAZIRISTAN OR BUST -
  4. THE TIME HAS COME FOR INDIA TO PROJECT ITS CULTURAL SUPREMACY
  5. DRIVING LESSONS: AUTO PHILOSOPHER -

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. HARVEST THESE PUBLIC ASSETS
  2. LONDON-DILLI-LANDAN
  3. FAMILY MATTERS
  4. THE SAFFRON BRIGADE'S TEST OF FIRE - PANKAJ VOHRA

INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. SOFT STATE, HARD WORDS
  2. CASE BY CASE
  3. SECOND TIME LUCKY?
  4. 324 YEARS, 100 DAYS - BIBEK DEBROY
  5. SEARCHING EVERYWHERE ELSE - AYESHA SIDDIQA
  6. CHINA'S CARBON CON
  7. 'IT IS (AMBANIS' DISPUTE) NOW AT A CORPORATE LEVEL AND OUGHT TO BE SETTLED BETWEEN TWO CORPORATES'

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. STRANGE DEBATE
  2. SMALL AND SCARED
  3. WHY THE EXIT IN INDIA WILL BE HARD - MK VENU
  4. NOT THE EURO & NOT THE RENMINBI - MEGHNAD DESAI
  5. WHEN GUJARATIS STOP PLAYING - JYOTSNA BHATNAGAR

THE HINDU

  1. LOOMING WAR
  2. CONFLICT OF INTEREST IN RESEARCH
  3. THE MEDIUM, MESSAGE AND THE MONEY - P. SAINATH
  4. A WAR THAT CENTRES ON AUTHORITY - ROBERT F. WORTH
  5. PROSECUTORS TURN TABLES ON STUDENT JOURNALISTS - MONICA DAVEY
  6. GOOGLE BILLIONAIRE'S GESTURE TO BENEFACTOR  - STEPHANIE STROM
  7. DEEPAVALI FIREWORKS AND MEDIA'S SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
  8. PERFECTIONISM CAN BE HEALTHY  - OLIVER JAMES

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. ON CHINA, LOWER OUR EXPECTATIONS
  2. INDIA'S FIRST NUCLEAR MAN - INDER MALHOTRA
  3. IF OUR SMALL INVESTORS FOUND SENSEX SEXY... - PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA
  4. NO IFS AND BUTS IN CONGRESS VICTORY - JAYANTHI NATARAJAN

DNA

  1. FATAL MISTAKES
  2. WIRES CROSSED
  3. FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER - S NIHAL SINGH 
  4. A TOAST TO THE VOTERS WHO DEFEATED THE BJP - ANIL DHARKER 
  5. FRAGILE UK ECONOMY
  6. NATURE OF THE SELF
  7. A WAKE UP CALL  - GRAND SCAM
  8. TOUGH TASK AHEAD
  9. THIRD TIME LUCKY

THE TRIBUNE

  1. BYE-BYE RAJE
  2. PADDY GROWERS DESERVE BONUS
  3. THE BITTER TRUTH
  4. WHY COURT CASES PILE UP - BY HARPREET S. GIANI
  5. AN EVENING IN MINNEAPOLIS - BY SHRINIWAS JOSHI
  6. COST OF PREVENTING CLIMATE CHANGE IS NOT TOO HIGH - BY EBAN GOODSTEIN AND FRANK ACKERMAN  
  7. MP FARMERS TOO DRIVEN TO SUICIDE - BY SHIVNARAYAN GOUR
  8. POLITICIANS TAKE ADIVASI VOTERS FOR A RIDE - BY DEVI CHERIAN

THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

  1. GOVT INACTION
  2. CHANGING WORLD ORDER
  3. NOBEL PEACE PRIZE FOR OBAMA - SAZZAD HUSSAIN
  4. LOSS OF PRECIOUS HUMAN RESOURCES - DR KAMALA KANTA SAHARIA

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. A TAX THREAT TO BPOS
  2. MARX AT THE VATICAN
  3. LET RBI MARK TIME WHILE GOVERNMENT CUTS FISCAL DEFICIT
  4. UNDERSTAND AND PURSUE ATMASUDDHI - K VIJAYARAGHAVAN
  5. MOVE WILL HIT CANE GROWERS VERY HARD
  6. FAIR PRICE CONCEPT IS STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
  7. DOUBLE DIPS AND THE DANGERS OF ECONOMIC RECOVERY
  8. USE CORRECTION TO BUY, STAY AWAY FROM RELIANCE INDUSTRIES: GEOJIT BNP PARIBAS
  9. MARKET SENDS OUT POSITIVE SIGNALS: JP MORGAN'S BHARAT IYER - DEEPTHA RAJKUMAR
  10. BROKING VOLUMES SET TO GROW FURTHER: INDIA INFOLINE - NIRAJ SHAH
  11. WE EXPECT FINANCING BIZ TO SCALE UP IN H2: EDELWEISS
  12. 'RISE IN INCOME FROM DTH OPS HELPED GROWTH'
  13. INTEL SET TO GET INSIDE YOUR TV, YOUR LIFE - PRAVEEN S THAMPI
  14. 'WE BELIEVE IN LOCALLY MANAGED BOARD-LED CO'
  15. 'OUR OS IS NOT ABOUT FEATURES' - JESSICA MEHROIN IRANI

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. ON CHINA, LOWER OUR EXPECTATIONS
  2. NO IFS AND BUTS IN CONGRESS VICTORY - BY JAYANTHI NATARAJAN
  3. IN QUEST FOR AFGHAN WIN, DON'T IGNORE IRAQ - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
  4. HOMI J. BHABHA: INDIA'S FIRST NUCLEAR MAN  - BY INDER MALHOTRA
  5. STORY OF A NUN IN CATHOLIC CHURCH - BY MAUREEN DOWD
  6. PUMPKIN EATERS - BY PETER MAYLE

THE STATESMAN

  1. DEFLECTING TRUTH
  2. HAVEN OF CHAOS - CLAUDE ARPI
  3. WELL DONE, SOMNATH 
  4. MONEY MOCKED

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. BASIC IDEA
  2. THINK AHEAD
  3. CLIMATE CHANGE - ASHOK MITRA
  4. TROUBLE IN THE KINGDOM  - GWYNNE DYER

DECCAN HERALD

  1. A MEGA SCAM
  2. DEAL IN VIENNA?
  3. FUTURE TENSE - BYLINE M J AKBAR
  4. PLATINUM JUBILEE OF INDIAN SOCIALISM - BY BAPU HEDDURSHETTI
  5. ARE YOU ON FB? - BY SUJATA RAJPAL

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. 15 YEARS OF PEACE
  2. JEWS DON'T EXPEL CHILDREN - AMNON RUBINSTEIN
  3. THE REGION: THE BIG AMERICAN FREEZE - BARRY RUBIN
  4. TERRA INCOGNITA: SHOULD THE VICTIMS NOW BE THE CARETAKERS? - SETH FRANTZMAN
  5. TERRA INCOGNITA: SHOULD THE VICTIMS NOW BE THE CARETAKERS? - SETH FRANTZMAN
  6. SELF-RELIANCE SHOULD BE OUR ULTIMATE GOAL - STEWART WEISS

HAARETZ

  1. A SEETHING VOLCANO
  2. THE BLESSING OF THE SECOND TIME AROUND - BY AMIR OREN
  3. CAN A MAN STEAL FROM HIMSELF? - BY ZE'EV SEGAL
  4. LOOK EASTWARD  - BY ODED ERAN
  5. INVESTIGATING THE IDF WOULD BE THE REAL WAR CRIME - BY SHAHAR ILAN

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. THE COVER-UP CONTINUES
  2. OKLAHOMA VS. WOMEN
  3. TORCHING THE BIG TENT
  4. A HABIT TO BREAK
  5. ONE PERSON, ONE DOSE - BY DOUGLAS SHENSON
  6. BENEDICT'S GAMBIT - BY ROSS DOUTHAT
  7. AFTER REFORM PASSES - BY PAUL KRUGMAN

I.THE NEWS

  1. THE LONG VIEW
  2. PLAIN WORDS
  3. SCHOOLS' SECURITY
  4. IMPERATIVES OF THE WAZIRISTAN OPERATION - FARHAT TAJ
  5. IN THE HOLY LAND - DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
  6. FROM AF-PAK TO INDO-PAK AGAIN - ZEENIA SATTI
  7. LEADERSHIP BY DEFAULT - MIR ADNAN AZIZ
  8. THE NRO DECIPHERED – (PART II)BABAR SATTAR
  9. LET'S ALL PLAY... - CHRIS CORK

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. ARMY OPERATION MOVING TOWARDS ULTIMATE SUCCESS
  2. US'S WELCOME INTEREST IN ENERGY
  3. OPEN SCHOOLS – BE MORE VIGILANT
  4. LESSONS FROM LAB OF HISTORY - DR  SAMIULLAH KORESHI
  5. MENTAL HEALTH DISORDER: LEGAL MANIPULATIONS - DR GHAYUR AYUB
  6. CARE FOR A CUPPA? - KHALID SALEEM
  7. THEY DID IT AGAIN - RAY ALIF
  8. 'LEATHERING' THE ROADS..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. HOUSING FOR ALL
  2. RECLAIMING FOOTPATHS
  3. TODAY'S UNUSUAL CALM...!
  4. HARNESSING SOLAR POWER - RIFAT HALIM
  5. INDIA-CHINA RELATIONSHIPS - NAVA THAKURIA
  6. WHY CLOCK NEEDS TO BE BROUGHT BACK - NILRATAN HALDER

 THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. TIME FOR REAL LOOK AT TERRITORY FUTURE
  2. HOLDING THEIR NERVE
  3. AND ANOTHER THING ...

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. CHALLENGES OF OUR GROWTH SPURT
  2. TEHRAN PLAYS A HIGH-RISK GAME

THE GURDIAN

  1. IN PRAISE OF... BANK HOLIDAYS
  2. POLICING DEMONSTRATIONS: GROUNDS FOR PROTEST
  3. WOMEN IN CONSERVATIVE POLITICS: SHOCK AND AWS

DAILY EXPRESS

  1. GREEN TAXES WOULD BRING THE ECONOMY TO ITS KNEES
  2. TRUE-BRIT GRAVY GETS A TOUCH OF THE ORIENT - BY ADAM EDWARDS
  3. WE MUST RETURN TO OUR ONCE GREAT INDUSTRIAL PAST  - BY LEO MCKINSTRY
  4. TORRES HAS THE X FACTOR
  5. TOM PUTS PRESSURE ON KATIE FOR CHILD - BY ADAM HELLIKER

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. KEEP AN OPEN MIND
  2. BETTER TO BE QUIET
  3. MALAY MUSLIMS BECOME MORE EXTREME - MAZNAH MOHAMAD

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. HUB IDEA DESERVES AIRING
  2. NO-NUKES ACTION PLAN
  3. PARANOIDS FEAST ON CHINA'S 'PEACEFUL RISING' - BY TOM PLATE
  4. CHALLENGING OBAMA'S WORD - BY KEVIN RAFFERTY

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. SEEKING REVISION TO OUR LNG PRICE FOR FUJIAN MARKET - MONTTY GIRIANNA
  2. FAREWELL TO KALLA
  3. UNDERSTANDING INDIA: MYTH OR REALITY - LAURA SCHUURMANS
  4. TOWARDS AN EQUITABLE CLIMATE-CHANGE REGIME - HARDIV H. SITUMEANG

CHINA DAILY

  1. WHITHER SPORTSMANSHIP?
  2. THE RIDDLE OF LPG
  3. JAPAN AT CROSSROAD
  4. EAST ASIAN COMMUNITY A TARGET

 THE MOSCOW TIMES

  1. FROM A SAFE DISTANCE: MY HOME IS MY CESSPOOL - BY ALEXEI BAYER
  2. MEDVEDEV HAS PLATFORM THAT WON'T WIN VOTERS  - BY VLADIMIR FROLOV

 

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

JUDICIOUS SUGGESTION

DO AWAY WITH OPAQUE COLLEGIUM SYSTEM


The 'Vision Statement' presented by Union Law Minister M Veerappa Moily on Saturday presumably reflects the UPA Government's commitment to reforms in the judiciary which are long overdue. Mr Moily has already promised that the Government will introduce a Bill in the coming Winter Session of Parliament that will prevent the appointment of individuals with dubious credentials to High Courts and the Supreme Court. This by itself will mark a radical change for the better as the higher judiciary needs to be insulated from tainted individuals whose presence cannot but raise questions about the integrity of the institution and the quality of justice. Unfortunate events of the past couple of years, including the reluctance of judges to place details of their assets in the public domain, have not served to strengthen the people's faith in the judiciary. Similarly, the opaque collegium system of selecting judges for elevation to the higher judiciary has served to fuel often needless controversy. Seen against this backdrop, the 'Vision Statement' presented by Mr Moily, which holds out the promise of far-reaching reforms, makes eminent sense. The statement rightly says that the the collegium system has become "cumbersome" and delays the selection and elevation of judges to the higher courts. There are occasions when further delay is caused by lack of consensus among the members of the collegium or disagreement between the majority and the Chief Justice of India. As the 'Vision Statement' points out, there are no guidelines to break the deadlock when such situations arise. This contributes to cases piling up and adding to the existing backlog. A swifter system of appointing judges would no doubt make a huge difference in dispensing justice to petitioners.


There is also the issue of the quality of judges who are elevated to higher courts. In principle, there can be no objection to the Government's suggestion of expanding the scope of appointments to the higher judiciary by allowing the executive and the legislature the right to recommend outstanding lawyers and jurists as judges. If the Government had sought this right for the executive alone, then it would have been in order to raise doubts about politically motivated appointments. Mrs Indira Gandhi had no qualms about appointing judges who would do her bidding: She insisted a 'committed judiciary' was not a bad idea; everybody else, of course, disagreed and rightly saw it as subversion of the judiciary. Indeed, few have forgotten the infamous supersession of Supreme Court judges that became a blot on the judiciary during the Emergency. But what Mr Moily has proposed is vastly different — it ensures oversight by the legislature. However, certain issues need to be resolved. For instance, would this amount to infringement of the judiciary's freedom? More important, there is a 1993 judgement, reiterated in 1998, that makes it mandatory for the collegium alone to appoint judges. The Law Commission, in its November 2008 report, has recommended that the Government should challenge the 1993 order or amend the law to obviate it. Either move would require tremendous political courage because it is unlikely to go unchallenged by the judiciary which, understandably, would like status quo to prevail. It remains to be seen whether the UPA can summon that courage.

 

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THE PIONEER

TWO HEADS BETTER THAN ONE

KARZAI, ABDULLAH SHOULD WORK TOGETHER


Having been marred by fraud and rigging in the first round of polling, it is imperative that everything be done to ensure that the run-off vote between incumbent President Hamid Karzai and his closest challenger Abdullah Abdullah in the Afghan presidential election be as clean as possible. The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan has promised that polling officials who had committed fraud in the first round of polling will be barred from any role in the run-off vote. But given the circumstances in which Afghanistan is holding the election, it would be extremely optimistic to believe that the run-off poll will be spotless. Besides, the Taliban have threatened to unleash another round of violence to deter voters and derail what it calls an "American process". The first round of polling saw minor incidents of violence, mostly confined to remote areas where security measures were less than sufficient. These areas were also off limits to international observers. It is hoped that the experience gained by the Independent Election Commission from the first round of voting and its decision to trim the number of polling stations will help cut down on poll related violence.


What Afghanistan needs desperately is a stable Government. Both Mr Karzai and Mr Abdullah — a former Foreign Minister — have a distinguished record of service to their country and will do justice to the post of President. It is true that Afghanistan still remains suspended in a far from ideal situation. But this cannot be held against Mr Karzai who has proved himself to be a capable leader with a keen understanding of the problems that plague his countrymen. On the other hand, it is a blessing for the people of Afghanistan that the alternative to Mr Karzai is Mr Abdullah who is equally capable of leading the country into a turmoil-free future. But it has to be borne in mind that to remedy the problems that Afghanistan faces all stakeholders need to work together. In that sense it would be best if the winner of the run-off poll invites the runner up to be a part of the Government. For, whomsoever the people of Afghanistan bequeath the responsibility of steering the country towards a better future, he will need all the help he can get. Hence, it would be prudent if a mechanism is devised wherein both Mr Karzai and Mr Abdullah can work side by side. In fact, the international community should see to it that such a leadership arrangement actually becomes a reality. There is a growing sense among the people of Afghanistan that the election is a futile exercise. This is a matter of serious concern. But if Mr Karzai and Mr Abdullah are seen to be working together it will send out a positive message that the politicians are willing to set aside their differences and work for the welfare of the nation.

 

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            THE PIONEER

COLUMN

GREED BLINDS US TO REALITY

ARUN NEHRU


Political 'accidents' cannot be predicted and at the risk of sounding repetitive I can only ask those in governance today to study political events over the last three decades and act with restraint and maturity. The ruling party, the Opposition and individuals in all three wings of governance cannot ignore the tide of public opinion. We see this with respect to several issues and fortunately for those in governance an alert, unbiased and loyal media is there to bring to light political fault-lines and corrective action is initiated once the facts are in the public domain.


There are issues big and small and political longevity has everything to do with credibility. As the economy grows over the next decade and helps us attain superpower status, we will see a sharp increase in assets among the business community and those in governance. As a result, all three wings of governance will face greater scrutiny.

Even though those in Government routinely resist moves for greater scrutiny and accountability, can anyone prevent political 'accidents' and exposures? Can anyone control the entire media? Can anyone take public opinion for granted?


Land scams due to acquisition, change of land use norms, and the nexus between the political fraternity and the builders have all deprived many in urban and rural areas of their properties. We have seen the vicious reaction to this in many States and this will only intensify as the exorbitant assets of political families are a matter of serious concern.


Excessive greed and asset accumulation by a few can cause severe complications for the Government in power. Events in Andhra Pradesh indicate the challenges which a political party will face when political priorities are determined by money power and influence.


It is tragic that many MPs and MLAs in the State have huge business interests. This is also true for States like Karnataka where the mining lobby has great influence. Besides, the turmoil connected with land in West Bengal, Goa, Maharashtra and Jharkhand is already well known, and is the position any different in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan or Haryana?


The security situation, both external and internal, is difficult to predict. The positive is that today we are better prepared to deal with the situation both in terms of intelligence-gathering and force deployment. However, the situation in Pakistan is unpredictable and it is difficult to judge which wings of the Army and the ISI are with the Government and which are with the hardliners.


Recent suicide attacks in that country have killed and maimed many innocent people, including young university students, and it is hoped that the Pakistani Government will be sincere in its battle against the terrorists. If it stops living in denial over terrorist attacks in India, it will be able to deal with terrorism on its home soil in a more decisive manner.


Amid the chaos that prevails we cannot expect much on the 26/11 trial in Pakistan. It is no surprise that the judge hearing the case has been threatened by the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and has asked to be taken off the case.

The situation in Afghanistan is very fluid and after the fraud detected in the presidential poll last month there is now going to be a run-off vote. Sadly, no one can forecast with any certainty the future leadership pattern evolving in Afghanistan while daily violence continues to cause death and destruction.


Meanwhile, we are in the midst of a war of words with China. A great deal is taking place on our borders with that country and we must undertake all measures that are necessary to protect our national interests. There are few things that cannot be resolved through discussions.


The media in a free society is not subject to Government control which makes it even more important for all concerned to speak in measured tones. China and India have a decisive role to play in the G20 talks and both now have significant influence in global decision making. Hence, the two countries must act with utmost restraint on security issues.


The relevance of China and India in the global community is based on their economic strengths. The robust GDP growth in the two countries is bridging the economic gap between the West and the East. We are witnessing a decisive change in global trade and over the next decade, according to several think-tanks, there will be a shift of 10 per cent in consumption pattern from the West to the East. This is already happening and the gap may well close much earlier as both China and India have saving rates of 30 to 35 per cent.


Change is never easy and many live in denial over the shifting realities. But for us what is necessary is a peaceful transition to the new economic reality and in this process we must encourage cross investments and do everything possible to create a positive atmosphere. There is no logic for any tension on security issues and, clearly, in a post-Cold War era there is really no support, either political or economic, for those who indulge in disruptive activities.


We have benefited from globalisation as have the Chinese who export close to 80 per cent of their production. It is in our interest that the early signs of recovery in the West consolidate into a positive trend for the future. In such a scenario it makes very little sense for any country to have senseless conflicts and to invite a negative reaction from the global community.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

THE SYSTEM NEEDS REFORM

KUNAL SAHA


This refers to the report, "New law to ensure no tainted judge" (October 22). Union Law Minister M Veerappa Moily's promise to introduce a new law for prevention of appointment of corrupt judges must be welcomed by the people. The said Bill, Mr Moily has indicated, will be introduced in Parliament's Winter Session. However, one can't help being sceptical about the claims of the Law Minister as last Tuesday two Cabinet Ministers backtracked on radical proposals they had made a day before. Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal retracted his comment about raising the cut-off marks for IIT aspirants while Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh denied making controversial proposals on climate change.


Although it may not be fair to flay this valiant attempt by the Law Minister without a complete review of the proposed Bill, one hopes that Mr Moily will not have to alter his stance. Nonetheless, even if we accept Mr Moily's statement on its face value and assume that no more corrupt judges will be appointed in the future, there is hardly any reason to imagine that the judiciary will soon become a model of honesty unless the Government is also prepared to take matching measures to weed out the deeply-rooted corruption that plagues public administration in our country.


Further, it is ironical that Mr Moily has deliberately avoided taking any position on the issue of Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court PD Dinakaran despite preaching that the Government will not tolerate the presence of any tainted judge. It was the protests by eminent jurist and lawyers that halted his elevation as a judge of the Supreme Court. The presence of corruption in Indian judiciary, especially in the lower courts, has been a matter of common knowledge long before the Justice Dinakaran issue surfaced.


Paradoxically, the Government is proposing a new law to stop appointment of corrupt judges in the future without any plan to remove sitting corrupt judges. And what about the corrupt judges who have retired now but have allegedly amassed huge amount of wealth through abusing their position as a judge?


A new law to ensure that only honest judges are appointed is undoubtedly an important first step towards restoring the people's faith in the judiciary. But only strict action against those who are guilty can deter future judges from indulging in corrupt practices.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

A TRAGIC DENOUEMENT

WHILE THE US AND THE UK ARE CONSIDERING MORE TROOPS FOR COUNTER-INSURGENCY IN AFGHANISTAN, NATO'S ITALIAN CONTINGENT OFFERED THE TALIBAN BAGS OF MONEY TO BE LEFT ALONE. BUT ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE WHEN JIHADIS TURNED THEIR GUNS ON THE FRENCH, KILLING ONE AND INJURING OTHERS

PREMEN ADDY


Pakistan's tryst with destiny — the apocalypse it had planned for its perceived foes, first and foremost of whom has been India — should be a lesson for students of history, for, nothing is so calculated to concentrate minds as a crisis — Pakistan's in the present case.


Many moons ago, I was presented with a book for review, entitled Bear Trap, composed by one Brigadier (Retd) Mohammed Yousef, of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence, and put into intelligible English by his likely British controller, whose name, writ large, shared the cover. It was an arresting account of the Pakistani military's US-mentored capers against the USSR in Afghanistan, leading on occasion to ill-conceived forays across the River Oxus into Soviet territory, a game of chicken played out without serious consequence during the weak Gorbachev ascendancy in Moscow. This tale of derring-do, part of the 'New Great Game' as it were, was Islamic inebriation a cup too many, became my printed response. I argued that Pakistan's political, social and institutional innards, having neither strength nor durability, would collapse under the strain. The Pakistani Army's present travails in the forbidding terrain of south Waziristan against the locally reared Taliban promise to be the bleak endgame, whose universal parable of scene, dialogue and debilitating characterisation were brought to the stage by the genius of Samuel Beckett. Some may perceive the doomed victim withering in the unbearable blast of Dante's Inferno. Time should reveal all.


Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the situation remains fraught, whether in the Byzantine politics of Kabul or in vast swathes of a terrorist-infested hinterland. The US and the UK are caught on the horns of a proverbial dilemma — to despatch more troops for counter-insurgency operations, as their Generals demand, or keep things as they are and hope for the best.


Nato's Italian contingent came up with an ingenious, if unsoldierly, solution. Preferring life and security to gloriously scripted death, the Italians offered the Taliban bags of money to be left alone. One knows not if this offer of mammon was accepted by the jihadis of god, but all hell broke loose as the Taliban turned their guns on the French, killing a number of their troops and injuring others. France's call to to account has been met with an indignant Italian denial reminiscent of the best opera.


Rummaged through my files in search of a letter to The Spectator, a Tory weekly, from one George Bathurst (September 18, 2004), I read these remembered lines: "The Nato treaty," proclaimed the sulphurous Bathurst, "isn't worth the paper it's written on ..." He went on to dismiss the possibility of France/Germany or Italy/Belgium coming to Britain's aid except in base self-interest. Russia, witness the World War II, was the safer bet by far, he said.


Bathurst continued: "Arab extremists are using Islam to fight a war of imperial expansion against the rest of the world... Sudan, Nigeria, Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir, etc, remain active, literal battlegrounds. We do not have the luxury of fighting alone... We must break the old habits of the Cold War and recognise new realities. We must combine our efforts with not only Russia but also India, and together we can avoid the genocide and human misery that invariably accompany any expansion of Arab extremism." Well, what do you know? Undoubtedly, a turn up for the books.


And so to Geert Wilders, the controversial Dutch MP, who arrived in London to address a meeting in the House of Lords on why Islamic values and practices were inimical to those of the Judaeo-Christian Europe and hence undermined the well-being of the continent. He made it clear, however, that he had no quarrel with Muslims as a people; and he wasn't demanding the deportation of Muslim communities from the territories of the European Union either.


Mr Wilders was denied entry into the country earlier this year by order of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who claimed, speciously, that his presence would be a threat to public order. She has since vacated office under the cloud of the parliamentary allowances scam; the courts reversed her decision on appeal.


The visitor was greeted by the usual media scrum, but on its fringes stood an assortment of Muslim radicals with lurid banners threatening Britain with doom and destruction, the country in which they choose to reside, whose freedom, unemployment doles, housing benefits and myriad welfare perks they endure with enviable lightness of touch.


Ms Smith and her predecessors were ever reluctant to move against imams and mullahs with their ritual hate messages, repeated ad nauseam in public places and circulated on tape for thousands of the faithful throughout the land. Laws banning incitement were blandly ignored, until matters came to a head in Parliament. Thus a Jamaican imam's calls to attack Jews and Hindus, having been raised on the floor of the Commons, forced the authorities to issue a warrant for his arrest. He was found guilty in court, duly sentenced and deported to his native Jamaica on release.


Another case of double standards involved a Bangladeshi politician, who was invited to Britain by the Foreign Office to preach moderation to his community, but ended likening the Hindu minority back home to human excrement.

In this the bicentenary of Charles Darwin's birth, natural selection, has led some scientists, Richard Dawkins being the most notable and eloquent, to expound atheism as the creed best suited to humanity's search for enlightenment and salvation. No church or man (or woman) of the cloth has demanded that he be burned at the stake, as their forbears did centuries ago. Christian charity prevails today, where once hellfire dogmas held sway. Britain, Europe, and the world generally, are the better for it.


The West has indeed come a long way. The leader of the Opposition British Conservative Party, Mr David Cameron, addressing a Diwali gathering in London, spoke movingly of the Hindu values of "Family, community, country," of the tolerance, work ethic and self-improvement that constitute a creative and enduring bond between host and Indian communities.


Prime Minister Gordon Brown threw open the doors of 10 Downing Street for a Diwali extravaganza of song and dance. "I want to thank you for everything that you do. It's a privilege for us to have you here, I want to thank each one of you individually. And I look forward to having Diwali at Downing Street every year again," said Labour's welcoming Prime Minister to his Indian guests as they entered the door.


The Indo-British relationship has weathered its vicissitudes and a harvest of good things are in store, but the mistaken indulgences of empire and the Cold War have become Britain's (and America's) bed of nails in troubled, distant parts. The pity of it.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

THE BIG FREEZE

US POLICY ON WEST ASIA HAS COME TO A DEAD HALT

BARRY RUBIN


If solving the Israel-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflict is the centrepiece of the Obama Administration's West Asia policy — at times it seems the keystone of its entire policy — there is an obvious problem derailing it.

The President of the United States and high officials have repeatedly announced that they are organising as a high priority final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.


It is one of the most basic rules of foreign policy that you don't put the chief executive's prestige on the line unless you know for sure beforehand that what he says will happen.


The fly in the ointment here is the PA. It forcefully insists that it won't even meet formally with Israel until all construction on all Jewish settlements on the West Bank plus east Jerusalem stop completely. Already, however, US-Israel discussions have moved past that point. We don't know precisely where they stand but clearly the Obama Administration isn't pushing for a total halt and it isn't pushing all that urgently on the issue.


Therefore, while Israel has succeeded in conciliating the US, the PA is defying Washington. We know that it's serious in doing so because of what has just happened with the Goldstone report in the UN. The administration asked the PA not to take a lead role in pushing the report; the PA complied for about 48 hours and then internal pressure forced it to go back on its word. Most of this pressure was not the masses spontaneous outrage but from the hardline elements which dominate the ruling Fatah group as well as in the PA itself.


PA leader Mahmoud Abbas is not going to back down on his demand. He is more afraid of his own colleagues, Hamas's baiting him as a "moderate" (a compliment perhaps from the West but a deadly insult in Palestinian politics), and his own people than of Mr Obama. Indeed, nobody is afraid of Mr Obama which is one of the main problems with his foreign policy.


Disdaining the use of threats, leverage, and pressure, the Obama Administration is not likely to push the PA very hard on this and even if it did Abbas would stand firm. Having extolled the Palestinians as peace-loving martyrs, courting Arab and Muslim opinion, treasuring popularity, the administration won't get tough. No amount of funding or other goodies is going to move the PA or Abbas either. For Mr Abbas, it is something like the classical choice which can be paraphrased as: Your money or your life?


So there is, and will be, a deadlock, month after month into 2010. Is there some clever way out? I don't see one and bet the administration doesn't either.


Abbas also has what for him is an attractive alternative: Strike a militant pose, blame America, seek rapprochement with Hamas. In addition, what both the United States and Europe fail to see is that the Palestinians don't need or want rapid progress on negotiations or even a state except on what would be completely their own terms.


They can also afford the luxury of believing — and this is what Western policy has taught them — that Europe and America need them more than they need the West. Moreover they believe, and again this is what they have been shown, that intransigence on their part actually brings more criticism on Israel. If you believe, rightly or wrongly, that the world is about to condemn Israel as a pariah, war criminal state why make compromises with it?

This is the corner into which the Obama Administration has painted itself. And all that it has left is what might be called the cat strategy. Have you ever seen a cat miss a leap or have an embarrassing fall? It merely licks itself and looks around with an expression saying: I meant to do that. Everything is going according to plan.

But it isn't.


The newest development is the idea, favoured by many in the European Union, of endorsing PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's 'plan' for there to be a Palestinian state within two years. Of course, this won't happen either.

The whole thing is taking on a comic opera air. It reminded me of something. And then I remembered: The classical description of the Arab defeat in the 1948 war and Israel's creation by Constantine Zurayk, vice-president of the American University of Beirut, in his book The Meaning of the Disaster.


He wrote: "Seven Arab states declare war on Zionism in Palestine, stop impotent before it and turn on their heels. The representatives of the Arabs deliver fiery speeches in the highest international forums, warning what the Arab state and peoples will do if this or that decision be enacted. Declarations fall like bombs from the mouths of officials at the meetings of the Arab League, but when action becomes necessary, the fire is still and quiet and steel and iron are rusted and twisted, quick to bend and disintegrate."


For the Arab states, the fiery speeches do have a value of their own, cowing rivals and mobilising the masses to support their local dictator. But when the United States acts like a pitiful, helpless giant — even if it is a nice and friendly, apologetic one — the world shudders and shakes.

 

-- The writer is director of the GLORIA Centre, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader, The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, and The Truth About Syria.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

IRAN'S NUKE SMOKESCREEN STILL HAZY

FOR THE IRANIAN NUCLEAR ISSUE TO BE PEACEFULLY RESOLVED, TEHRAN WILL HAVE TO AGREE TO THE AGREEMENT THE US, RUSSIA AND FRANCE HAVE ENDORSED ON IRAN'S ENRICHMENT PROGRAMME

DMITRY KOSYREV


It seemed that everything was going according to plan. Except that only experts in nuclear weapons and nuclear energy fully understood what took place these last two days at the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.


These experts, representing the United States, Russia, France and Iran, discussed a very confidential but key aspect of what is termed the 'Iranian nuclear problem.'


The only thing that is clear is that Director General Mohamed ElBaradei was quoted as saying that the negotiations were successful and that he himself subsequently drafted an agreement that all four Governments are to endorse on October 23. The IAEA Board of Governors, which will meet in late November, will need to register, or ratify this document.


The document in question seems to deal exclusively with the technical aspects of the agreement reached on October 1 in Geneva at a meeting with Iran and six world powers regarding export of Iranian uranium for enrichment in third countries (primarily Russia).


This procedure is of paramount importance for resolving the Iranian nuclear problem. If Tehran agrees to it and does not go back on previous agreements — on October 23 or beyond — that would confirm the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme and negotiations with Iran will continue, as Mr ElBaradei said.


At issue is up to 1,500 kilograms of low-enriched (to approximately 3.5 per cent) uranium, which the Iranians enriched by in their own centrifuges. High-enriched uranium is required to make a nuclear bomb. Nevertheless, the thinking from the previous era, the era of former US President George W Bush, when Iran was guilty until proven innocent with regard to nuclear issues, was that Iran should not have even low-enriched uranium, because it could quickly be enriched to weapons grade.


It was proposed that Tehran export part of its enrichment cycle — to Russia, for example (this was Moscow's idea). There, it would be enriched to almost 20 per cent, which is enough for nuclear energy generation, but not enough for a bomb. And then it would be returned to Iran. On October 1 in Geneva, Tehran wholly agreed to this option (which it stubbornly did not want to do while Mr Bush was in office). The meeting in Vienna was merely to discuss the details.


The next item on the agenda is an IAEA inspection of Iran's second nuclear facility, which is to take place in the next few days. The facility is located near Qum, which existence was made public shortly before October 1. Iran said that it was a medical research facility and had nothing to do with nuclear weapons. So this can also be taken off the agenda.


Now, the question that remains is what all the fuss was about. Take, for example, the recent article in The Washington Post that said that all of Iran's low-enriched uranium is contaminated with molybdenum compounds and that this was due to an inconvenience of equipment at the plant in Isfahan. And now the uranium cannot be further enriched to weapons grade, or any grade for that matter. In other words, Iran needs international cooperation and it needs it a great deal.

This immediately casts all talk of Iran's military plans and capabilities in an entirely different light, no matter how much Tehran threatens it neighbours.


In addition, the US media has reopened a discussion on the US intelligence report of 2007. At the time, the intelligence services reported that Iran had already halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003. This report somehow immediately froze the previous US administration's activity with regard to Iran, although the word "sanctions" was pronounced thereafter with the same consistency, but without the previous passion.


Now the discussion is about reconsidering the report in a more negative light, at the very least because the US intelligence services somehow missed the Qum plant. Nobody in Washington wants to give a clear answer. Confirming or denying the ineffectiveness of one's intelligence services is not a simple matter. But the question remains as to whether the previous US administration needed real facts on Iran and whether facts had anything to do with it at all.


And then there is the Richard N Haass article. Haass is a legendary heavyweight — he is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. In the very same Washington Post, Haass wrote that a policy toward Iran should be geared toward gradual improvement of the regime in Tehran. And Israel, with its constant threats to attack Iran can only strengthen the regime of the Ayatollahs and create chaos in West Asia. It will be interesting to find out whether this is true.


The upside to this story is that Iran's smokescreen in Vienna has not completely dissipated, but the process is going well. And it is obvious that the crux of the matter with Iran is not that the US and its allies are trying to force an "evil Government" to give up its nuclear ambitions through sanctions, and Russia and China scuttle these sanctions using their UN Security Council status. It seems that the gist of it was that the US wanted to change regimes they regard as evil through false accusations, threats, wars or by any other means. This has led to dire consequences — Iran (and North Korea) could have been scared into actually starting nuclear weapons programmes and to be sure, their neighbours were being intimidated by this threat.


It remains to be seen what can be done next and if the US has a new policy in this regard.


The writer is a political affairs columnist based in Moscow.


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THE PIONEER

OPED

CLERGY'S MYOPIC VIEW ON DONATING ORGANS

MUSLIMS SHOULD TAKE AN INFORMED DECISION RATHER THAN WAIT FOR THE ULEMA'S APPROVAL, WRITES NEHAL RAZA


According to the Eye Bank Association of India, our country requires more that four lakh donated corneas to meet the challenge of corneal blindness — mostly among children. And if one were to extrapolate the percentage of Muslims from this, given the negligible healthcare facilities available to those in the lower strata of the Muslim community, it would not be incorrect to say that majority of cornea patients belong to the minority community. However, the entire matter has been plagued by the issue of whether it is sanctioned by Islam or not.


There are other opinions in this regard and since clerics can't take the decision without appropriate medical consultation, the issue has been complicated even further. Unfortunately, many people are not aware that with cornea transplantation, corneal blindness can be cured and one can see the world like any other person.


Initially, there was some hitch about the old method of gorging out eyes from the donor after his/her death. That practice is no more in use. Now that has been replaced by a very simple and smooth method to carve out the cornea layer. The necessary post-mortem or donating organs from a dead body is not mutilation of the corpse or an act of disrespect to the dead body, as is the widespread thinking.


Blood donation and transfusion are practices that must be promoted and appreciated in our society and these can save many a lives which would have otherwise perished. So is the case with other transplants — kidney and other replaceable organs.


In India and in many other countries, post-mortem of the dead body is mandatory for every unnatural death — whether accident, murder, suicide or poisoning. The process of post-mortem involves opening of skull to take brain sample and cutting out samples of viscera from other important body parts for analysis. And today, with technological progress, even the bodies which have been buried are exhumed for a second or first post-mortem wherever required. If one compares this with cutting out cornea layer from the dead body, the later is much less complicated, causes no disrespect to the dead body and leads to a huge improvement towards human life.

Donation of organs is understood to be an act of charity. Islam, in principle, is not against a humanitarian endeavour of saving and improving lives of fellow-beings. Giving an eye to someone who can't see is a great act of humanity and no one can understand the cause of pain the lack of sight can cause and amount of joy its fulfilment can bring to a person who has never seen the world and suffered so much in life on this account.


The transplantation of teeth and bones has already been sanctioned by Muslim jurisprudence experts and has long been practised by Muslim surgeons.

 

Many Islamic jurists, especially in the Arab world, have taken a charitable view and sanctioned transplantation of human organs to save and improve human lives.


It is in the light of these facts that Indian ulema should look at the issue. Doctor and other medical practitioners from the community should come forward to advise clerics to help them take an informed decision. This will not only send a positive message across the community, which is the most affected by cornea-related diseases, but also show that Islam as a religion embraces modern techniques and research and is focussed on the general good of fellow human beings. Any short-sighted assessment of the issue might block a good practice which can help the community in particular and humanity in general.


The writer is a social worker in Uttar Pradesh.

 

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MAIL TODAY

 COMMENT

SELECTIVE PUNISHMENT WILL NOT CHANGE THINGS

 

IN the end the drama of the resignation of Vasundhra Raje as leader of the Opposition in the Rajasthan assembly took on a life of its own. The on again, off again event, stretched out over three months became something of a joke. But behind Ms Raje's recalcitrance lies something more than just a desire to hold on to the somewhat dubious honour.

 

The issue on hand is why the party under the leadership of Rajnath Singh has singled out some chief ministers — Ms Raje and former Uttarakhand Chief Minister B. C. Khanduri — and punished them for the bad performance of the party in the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year, but has not acted against those who were incharge of the campaign at the central level.

 

Could the answer be the simple fact that they include party president Rajnath Singh himself, along with media campaign committee chairman, Arun Jaitley? What about the role of Venkaiah Naidu, former party president and election in- charge in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh; Om Mathur, president of the Rajasthan unit of the party and Gopinath Munde, General Secretary of the BJP in charge of Rajasthan? Indeed, if failure in the Lok Sabha elections is the issue, why not the entire central election committee? Winning and losing is part of an election process and if indeed the party had decided to act against those who, by their acts of commission or omission, had led to the defeat of the party, they should have moved across the board, rather than in a selective manner. After all, was Mr Khanduri responsible for the party's performance in Uttarakhand, or the state party president, Bhagat Singh Koshiyari who spearheaded the drive of the dissidents to replace the former? And what about the role of Mr L. K. Advani? A good case can be made to argue that the party's failure in the elections were, in great measure, a failure of its prime minister- inwaiting, Mr Advani. He did not come across as a credible figure, despite his experience in government and his campaign lacked not only substance and style, but also vitality.

 

But Mr Advani has managed to cling to his position as the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha with a vague promise to quit in the future.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

PRESSURE PAKISTAN

 

FOLLOWING the audacious Taliban attacks on Pakistani military establishments in the last 14 days, including the one on Friday when suicide bombers came close to an alleged nuclear facility in the Kamra Aeronautical Complex, the world is much closer to the " terrorists- taking- over- Pakistani- nuclear- weapons" scenario than ever before.

 

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has her task cut out when she visits Islamabad in the coming weeks to extend American support to the Pakistani military offensive against the Taliban and to seek greater involvement of the Pakistani civilian government in eliminating the Taliban threat to the state in general, and the military in particular.

 

India is rightfully jittery about the recent attacks, but it is also important that it does not remain a mute spectator. The Taliban may have originated in Afghanistan, but it has spread equally effectively in Pakistan, especially in those areas that border Afghanistan.

 

The US and Pakistan cannot afford to leave India out of the Afghanistan equation — and certainly not out of the so- called Af- Pak policy of the current administration, which is under review currently. India can play an important stabilising role in the region given its good equations with the government of Afghanistan.

 

It is equally important that the US more than just nudges Islamabad into arresting the key managers of the Pakistani terror machine which in itself is a complex web of multi- ethnic identities and disparate ideologies.

 

The relative success of the Swat agreement cannot be used as a yardstick or a benchmark for success in eliminating the Taliban terror threat, or for that matter the threat of homegrown terror factories such as the Lashkar- e- Tayyeba or the Lashkar- e- Jhangvi.

 

Pakistan indeed has a rough road ahead, but it also has to be aware of its greater responsibility — that its defence of its military and civilian establishments is also the key to global security.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COLUMN

RESPONSIBLE AND INCLUSIVE GOVERNMENT

BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN

 

Congress must understand the need for good governance in Maharashtra as well as curb the likes of Raj Thackerayand MNSIF THERE was any doubt about the realignment of forces over the past year, these can now be set aside. The scale of the victory of the Congress-led alliance places it in a strong position not only in Maharashtra but the country at large. This is a larger consequence arising not so much from the arithmetic of poll alliances — pre and post — as much as from the political logic underlying the third successive win of the Congress-led alliance.

 

The Opposition is in disarray with the Shiv Sena-led coalition stuck at a score lower than the one it had in 1990 when it first posed a challenge to the Congress at the mass level. Its inability to break through in the droughthit regions of Vidharbha and Marathwada reveals that even in a crisis, it lacks the credibility to be an alternative. Its crisis is compounded by the larger lack of direction of the BJP at a pan-Indian level.

 

This was actually revealed in the run-up to the polls when the national leadership of the BJP played truant and hardly campaigned in the state. Given the major emphasis on the Marathi asmita or regional personality, it also showed a shift away from a pan-Indian Hindutva identity.

 

This disaster cannot but have implications but it is yet to sink into the strategists in New Delhi or Nagpur. The issue of how Hindi speakers fare in the great city of Mumbai where so many of them work and live is certain to be raised at public fora in the Bihar assembly elections next year. The BJP and its allies will have some explaining to do.

 

GOVERNANCE

The Mantralaya and being locked out of it yet again matters. After all it was Maharashtra's turn to the right in the early Nineties that set the stage for the Vajpayee- led alliance's ascendancy in politics in New Delhi.

 

In the absence of the kind of sharp polarisation at a community level that followed in the wake of the tragedies of 1992 and 1993, the saffron alliance is simply not able to make a breakthrough.

 

From the time Maharashtra came into being in 1960, Congress's dominance was underpinned by a tacit alliance of the farming communities, the minorities and the vast underclass of Dalits and, in the forest tracts, the Adivasis. This was not a static or unchanging picture and the party was able to reposition itself to take account of changing trends.

 

On the plus side, this meant that a second generation politician like Prithviraj Chavan whose parents were well- known socialists could find a place in the rainbow of the Congress.

 

It also enabled the party to have a Banjara ( what would not be a OBC community), V. P. Naik, as chief minister for 12 long years despite the Maratha hold on the leadership.

 

It had lost the plot in the 90s but a recovery began about 10 years ago.

 

First, it was able to weather the rebellion of Sharad Pawar. Over this decade it demonstrated an ability to hold together against a tough assertive and well- organised regional partner. Further, it has now emerged as much stronger than Pawar's party not only in the Lok Sabha but also in the state.

As became evident in the Lok Sabha polls, if the large rainbow alliance that sustained the Congress through long decades in the past is rebuilt, it is very difficult to dislodge it. Critics are right to arraign it for its non- performance. But the cumulative impact of the loan waiver and anti- poverty programmes and a relatively riot- free state have signalled to voters that the ruling alliance is on their side. It may not have delivered but its heart is in the right place.

 

None of this makes the task of governance easy. For one, there can now be no excuses about the compulsions of a coalition. The NCP is very much a player but is being reduced to the level of a junior partner. It is a question of time when it becomes a subordinate group, with little elbow room.

 

Its ability to wield clout in the past derived from the weaknesses of the Congress. As the latter consolidates, the

former will wilt.

 

The challenges of governance are too numerous to be recounted. Agriculture continues to be in a crisis, for the safety nets of the past have not proven to be up to the mark in the reforms era. The urban areas have a vast underclass unable to move upward in the labour market due to the broken down education system.

 

A state that once set the pace with innovative welfare and cooperative projects is now lagging behind latecomer neighbours like Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh.

 

RAJ

But more than any and all of these, the Congress has to confront the Raj Thackeray phenomenon. In a manner eeirly reminiscent of his now aging uncle in the late 1960s, he has mobilised the man on the street.

 

While many Marathi speakers have been left out by the services boom of the new century, he has found for them an easy and vulnerable target: the outsider. The enrichment of the upper ranks of Sena in the same time has only added to his appeal to its rank and file.

 

The unrest is deepened by the fact that the state government handled him with kid gloves. It lost a golden opportunity in November 2008 when officers and men braved the odds against terrorists, often at the cost of their lives. These were men in khaki drawn from across India coming to the defence of a great metropolis.

 

SELF- CORRECTION

Now that the newborn Sena offshoot has stolen the thunder from its parent party, the alliance has to confront him with the full force of the law. Homilies about the unity of India can have little meaning if Mumbai cannot be safe for children of India who arrive there seeking nothing more than a living. A city built by generations of immigrants and sons of the soil alike stands to lose if they are divided by hate rather than united in life.

 

The victories in the state assembly polls in general and Maharashtra in particular have put the Congress in the driver's seat. But power comes with great responsibility. In the absence of a strong all India opposition, it will require the party to correct the course of its governments to ensure they address issues that affect society at large. In political terms, the Congress may have won but the idea of an inclusive India still has to face up to the challenge of regional exclusivism. This will set the tone for the days that lie ahead for Mumbai and Maharashtra.

 

The writer teaches history in Delhi University

 

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MAIL TODAY

POWER & POLITICS

PRABHU CHAWLA

 

THE POLITICS OF CBI RAIDS

 

AS THE old saying goes, there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics and over a period of time, they start trading places very freely. But in the United Progressive Alliance, even at any given time it is difficult making out who is friend and who is foe. There is a lot of friendly fire going on out there in the 11 party coalition and though there have been no casualities as yet, I suspect it won't be long before that happens.

 

Increasingly it is becoming clear that relations are far from cordial between the Congress and the DMK. Their feud has been on for a while now, first over a dam in the south involving neighbours Tamil Nadu and Kerala, in which the DMK accused the union environment ministry of filing an affidavit in the Supreme Court which favoured Kerala's case.

 

Last Thursday, the shadow boxing turned into open sparring when the CBI raided the Telecom ministry headquarters at Sanchar Bhavan before its long arm reached out to several other locations across the country. Normally, the CBI takes prior approval from either the minister or the secretary of the department concerned before initiating raids, but Telecom minister A Raja of the DMK came to know about the raids only when the Telecom Secretary PJ Thomas informed him even as the raiding party reached the Sanchar Bhavan gates.

 

A CBI source told me that at least a week's planning goes into an operation of this nature. Four hours before the raids began, all entry and exit points at Sanchar Bhavan were shut, the elevators switched off and officers and staff asked to stay put. After the raids, they even whisked a Deputy Director General serving in the Wireless Planning Cell.

 

The CBI is directly under the Prime Minister and crucially, as searches expanded to Mumbai, Mohali, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad and Jaipur last Friday, Manmohan Singh left New Delhi to attend the India- ASEAN summit in Bangkok. The raids followed the CBI registering a case on Wednesday after the Central Vigilance Commission found blatant and scandalous violations in the auction of 2G spectrum in September 2007. Two companies, Swan Telecom and Unitech, which had acquired licences for Rs 1537 crore and Rs 1658 crore respectively sold these within a week to overseas buyers for Rs 2400 cr and Rs 6100 cr respectively.

 

The loss to the government was estimated at Rs 7105 crores and the CVC claimed that overall, the government suffered losses of over Rs 22,000 crore in the allocation of 2G spectrum in all 122 circles.

 

DMK circles counter the CBI and, in effect, the Centre's argument.

 

Their questions are many: if the spectrum allocation was done, as alleged, without cabinet approval, why did the Ministry of Finance last week okay it and for- A Raja ward it to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs for final clearance though Pranab Mukherjee is not the kind to clear a file without vetting it minutely? How did the Foreign Investment Promotion Board, which has representatives from the PMO, finance, commerce, home and foreign ministries also sign on the dotted line? Why didn't the IB raise objections since Telenor, the Singapore registered Norwegian company that bought Unitech's licence, also operated in Pakistan and Bangladesh? The arguments are not without basis and that's why I am inclined to think that it's all about politics.

 

That the raids picked up momentum after last week's election results showed there was no stopping the Congress juggernaut is perhaps a sign of the Congress trying to flex muscles in the run up to the 2011 assembly elections in Tamil Nadu. Congressmen see signs of hopes of revival for the party in the state where it has not tasted power for 43 years now. Rahul Gandhi's recent membership enrolment drives which are said to have been hugely successful has galvanised them to go on the offensive.

 

Already ministers like Jairam Ramesh and Kamal Nath have targeted DMK leaders in charge of various environmental panels and port trusts for a purge. This is in retaliation to the DMK's refusal to share power in Tamil Nadu with the Congress on whose support Karunanidhi presides over Fort St George. Worse, none of the 35 Congress MLAs have been given posts of any significance in even state government undertakings. Now local Congress leaders want all DMK leaders who were given plum Central PSU postings to be replaced.

 

The winter session of the Lok Sabha is scheduled to begin on November 19 and I have reason to believe that alliance partners will begin to value their enemies more than they value their friends. The aisles that divide the treasury and the opposition benches could blur as the Samajwadi Party and Mamata's Trinamool Congress rally around the DMK. Combined, the three parties command the support of 61 MPs, enough to remind the Congress that it is not as invincible as it thinks.

 

BJP IS UP A CREEK MINUS THE PADDLE

 

THE BJP has in Rajnath Singh a president whose last known brave act was to take a flight in the dark from an airport without night flying equipment.

 

The verdict from Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh is proof that its leaders are groping in the dark even as the party lurches from one crisis to another. But instead of switching on the panic signs, the BJP leaders seem to have disconnected the electricity and gone underground. The fact that the BJP National Executive, originally scheduled to be held later this month, was postponed, almost makes me think that the leadership had an inkling of the impending disaster. Normally, the members of the Parliament Board and office bearers meet after election results are declared to draft a political response to the verdict. The PB met briefly, not to conduct a postmortem but to ratify Vasundhara Raje's resignation.

 

The normally TV savvy leaders suddenly became camera shy and fielded the likes of Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi to face the media. He flitted from studio to TV studio and provided for much mirth.

 

When asked about the reasons for the disastrous performance of his party, Naqvi was clueless and came up with a very original alibi: it's the damn Electronic Voting Machines( EVMs).

 

LK Advani, Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Venkaiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar — the BJP's A- team that planned and executed the entire campaign were exposed as B- grade strategists.

 

Politics is the art of the possible, about seizing the right moment at the right place, but these people have let too many moments slip.

 

Take Haryana. They jettisoned Om Prakash Chautala who is of course chuckling now. Could they have won in alliance with the INLD? Couldn't genuine efforts have been made to douse Raj Thackeray's ire? The search for answers must be accompanied by the axing of a few heads. But will they?

 

CAN WE AFFORD UNPREDICTABLEAND ERRATIC MAMATA?

LIKE THE weather, the only predictable thing about Mamata Banerjee is her unpredictability.

Examples are many, but recall just the latest in May last when she became the first ever minister to assume office, not at the ministry headquarters in New Delhi, but at the divisional office in Kolkata. And Ms Unpredictable is living up to her name once again. Among the hundreds of mails that I got last week was one which made nonsense of her claim of being the sole guardian angel of the poor and the underprivileged, a theme around which her entire political career has been built for nearly three and a half decades now. The mail was from an Odiya organisation that was protesting the Railway Ministry's decision to withdraw the weekly Garib Rath express that currently runs between Puri and Bangalore.

 

Readers may recall that it was Mamata's predecessor Lalu Prasad Yadav who introduced these " poor man's air conditioned chariots" in 2005. Over the last four years, 28 of these were rolled out to enable the poor to make long distance journeys in air- conditioned comfort.

 

The weekly Puri- Bangalore Garib Rath was introduced just a month ago and was used mostly by poor Odiya labourers working as cooks, carpenters, plumbers etc in Bangalore.

 

The decision to withdraw the train, less than a month after it started operation, flew in the face of Mamata's famed concern for the poor, as did her bizarre behaviour last week, when more than 30 people died in a train accident near Agra.

 

Instead of rushing to commiserate with the poor, she stayed put in her Kolkata home for two days, only to land up in Agra and do the rounds of hospitals where the injured lay. A day later, she said she would settle for nothing less than a CBI inquiry to look into the cause of the accident.

 

Coming from a railway minister, this was astonishing because such matters are normally looked into by a departmental inquiry. In calling for a CBI inquiry, was Mamata suggesting that she had no faith in her officers? She should clarify.

 

MORE on the BJP. As I said earlier, the Parliament Board met last Friday but had no time to introspect on the latest round of defeats and why the party found itself in such a mess.

 

Probably the array of leaders without followers were scared that they would end up pointing fingers at each other. Instead, they acted with lightning speed to accept Vasundhara Raje Scindia's resignation as leader of the opposition in the Rajasthan Assembly and to appoint a leader of opposition in Maharashtra where the party was soundly thrashed. This is further proof that they intend to target the few charismatic individuals who can still bring in the votes, not to speak of posing a threat to the so called GenNext who, like squatters, continue to occupy the party headquarters long after the lease has expired.

 

They have already silenced leaders like Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and Jaswant Singh, and now Raje Scindia. Her resignation was sought in the wake of the BJP's disastrous outing in the Lok Sabha elections in Rajasthan, which was supposed to have been one of the party's strongholds. By that yardstick, the wise men at 11 Ashoka Road who have been collectively responsible for so many electoral debacles should have been asked to retire from politics.

 

The party is so much a victim of internal dissension that my gut instincts tell me the BJP's future is already behind it.

 

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MAIL TODAY

INTERACTIVE

CHANGE CAPITAL'S NAME TO DEHLI

 

THIS is with reference to the welcome decision of the Centre to remove yet other legacy of British- given names to Indian states and cities after Orissa's renaming as Odisha.

 

Several states and cities in post- independence era have been brought back to their original Indian nomenclature, but the Capital has not been given its traditional name of Dehli ( Hindi for ' Entrance').

 

Several countries like China and Bangladesh now spell their Capital's names as per their actual pronunciation. The Centre and indeed the Delhi state government should take all the necessary steps for Delhi to become Dehli before the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

 

It is illogical, for instance to retain West Bengal's name when the neighbouring East Bengal was renamed Bangladesh decades ago.

 

According to an RTI response, the West Bengal government has failed to forward a unanimous State Assembly resolution passed in 1999 to rename West Bengal as Bangla to the Centre.

 

Madhu Agrawal via email

 

NOT ONLY MOBILES, BAN DVD DISPLAYS TOO

THE decision of the Central government to ban the use of mobile phones while driving by making it an offence and not just an infringement under the dangerous driving section of the Motor Vehicles Act is a welcome move. For long, many Delhi drivers have taken for granted that talking of the cell phone while driving will not attract any legal action against them.

 

What they don't realise — much to the misfortune of their families — is that talking on the while driving is even more dangerous than driving under the influence. This is because the entire attention of the driver's brain is on the conversation which in itself may have several layers of complexities.

 

Since the driver then has to jog his brain cells in different directions, it becomes impossible for the brain to multitask so much and still retain its attention on all the functions. This new law will certainly reduce the number of accidents or even minor mishaps caused by talking while driving.

 

But there is an equally greater threat of DVD entertainment systems being installed in cars that can cause accidents.

 

These are usually installed for the pleasure of those on the backseat. However, in Delhi, it is often observed that these systems are installed complete with high- resolution displays even in front of the driver.

 

What is the driver supposed to do? Drive, or watch a movie? These DVD systems are equally, if not more, dangerous as the cell phone itself. The Motor Vehicles Act must include this section too, and ban the usage of entertainment systems in cars, even from the back seat since the audio would still distract the driver.

 

Rohit Punjwani via email

 

THE TRUE SIGN THE RECESSION IS OVER

WHAT better sign than Victoria's Secret's unveiling of its $ 3 million bra that that the recession is finally behind us! I now only hope the that CEO of the software company that sacked me saw the story and hires all of us back so that we can pool in and buy that piece of undergarment.

 

SANJAY RAMAKRISHNAN VIA EMAIL

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

LET TRUTH PREVAIL

 

His party might be furious, but the CBI raids on offices in the department of telecommunications headed by A Raja are justified. The DMK, to which Raja belongs, has conveyed its displeasure to the prime minister, but there are good reasons why Raja and his ministry are under the scanner.

 

Raja is at the centre of the controversy over the awarding of 2G spectrum licences last year. In January 2008, the telecom ministry gave licences on a first-come-first-served basis to several companies. The price was determined on the basis of the last auction which was done seven years earlier. This resulted in an anomaly where spectrum was sold way below the market price. Some estimates put the loss to the exchequer at a staggering Rs 60,000 crore. This figure has been calculated from the subsequent sale of stakes by companies such as Unitech and Swan, which were six times higher than the price they had paid for the licences.


Raja's defence has been that he was merely following the precedent set by earlier ministers and regulations laid by the telecom regulator, TRAI. Furthermore, his party has argued that all decisions were okayed by the prime minister himself. But Raja's defence has plenty of holes. TRAI has consistently said that new licences should be granted through auctions. We have also made this point repeatedly in these columns. Again, TRAI recommendations were flouted when some companies, which were granted licences, were allowed to offload a bulk of their equity to foreign telecom majors at much higher rates without setting up any basic infrastructure.


In such a situation it is untenable for Raja to continue as minister. Until the investigations into the allotment of licences are concluded, he should step down as minister to facilitate the probe. Though there will be severe pressure by the DMK one of the major constituents of the UPA government to ease the pressure on Raja, the government must not cave in. Unfortunately, there are signs that the Congress is not too interested in keeping the heat on Raja. A party spokesman said that only a few officials in the telecom ministry are under investigation. It would be a mistake on the part of the Congress to cover up on this issue, especially since auction of 3G spectrum is in the offing. It would not only be a blow to transparency in a sector that's key to the Indian growth story, but also to Congress's reformist credentials. Fresh from its success in the three assembly elections, the Congress must assert its authority and not be armtwisted by the DMK.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

GET IT RIGHT

 

After two months of speculation and Hamlet-esque dithering, some light has finally been shed on the way forward in Afghanistan. The UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission's final results after investigating the numerous fraud allegations have put Hamid Karzai's percentage of the votes cast at 49.67, just a fraction less than the 50 per cent needed for an outright victory. Given this and intense pressure from the US and its NATO allies, Afghan president Karzai has bitten the bullet and agreed to a run-off election with his chief rival Abdullah Abdullah on November 7. Although this option is not without its problems, other options are worse.


The cronyism, inefficiency and massive corruption of Karzai's administration have already made his position all but untenable in the eyes of a large section of the Afghan populace. This is his opportunity to regain some modicum of legitimacy. That he will win again seems likely. For all his faults and there are a number of them he is a Pashtun whereas Abdullah is half-Tajik and viewed as wholly one. Afghanistan's ethnic calculus makes it unlikely that a minority candidate will win the majority vote. Karzai, therefore, has little to lose and much to gain by ensuring that there is as little reason as possible to doubt the legitimacy of the run-off elections.


Washington and its allies are constrained by the same logic. They must respond swiftly and in a coordinated manner to the host of challenges that await them. Two hundred poll officials suspected to be involved in electoral fraud may have been fired but a strong contingent of western observers is still a must if the election is to have any credibility. Gathering and mobilising them on such short notice is the first challenge facing the UN. The second one, of course, is security. The Taliban will not sit back and allow the voting to proceed unhindered in the south and east. Inclement weather may add to the problem as winter sets in.


Washington does enjoy a certain amount of leverage with Karzai. And the UN has successfully supervised elections in other countries racked by civil war. Preventing widespread fraud during the run-off elections this time, as well as containing disruptions by the Taliban, is Afghanistan's one chance of getting it right by forming a legitimate government that can be supported by the international community.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

WAZIRISTAN OR BUST

 

Madrid: After nine suicide attacks in just 11 days that killed 160 people, the Pakistan army has finally started its long awaited offensive in South Waziristan where the Pakistani Taliban are based. The success of the offensive could be critical for the fate of Pakistan which is financially broke and politically paralysed.


The spate of attacks could have been designed to prevent or delay the army offensive, but they also aimed to topple the government, impose an Islamic state and, if possible, get hold of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. The recent attacks have proved more deadly than those in the past because they took place in three of the country's four provinces, involving not just Taliban tribesmen from the Pashtun ethnic group, but extremist Punjabi and Kashmiri factions. Moreover, several within the militant leadership had direct connections to the army or the ISI. Police officials say that the Rawalpindi and Lahore attacks had help from inside because the terrorists were able to bypass the stringent security measures in place.


While the armed forces are unwilling to admit what many Pakistanis now believe that there is some degree of penetration by extremist sympathisers within its ranks the civilian government refuses to admit that the largest province of Punjab and especially its poverty-hit southern part has become the major new recruiting ground for militants.

The Punjab provincial government is run by Shabaz Sharif, the brother of Nawaz Sharif and leader of the opposition in the country. The Sharif brothers who ruled the country twice in the 1990s are known to have close ties with the leaders of several militant groups, including Hafiz Saeed, the leader of the Lashkar-e-Taiba whose militants carried out the massacre in Mumbai last year. The Sharifs have refused repeated requests by the Americans, British, Indians and the federal government to crack down on militancy in south Punjab where it is strong and providing recruits for the Taliban.


Meanwhile, the federal government has suffered increasingly fraught relations with the army. At the height of the suicide attacks, army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani chose that moment to blast the civilian government for agreeing to a $7.5 billion five-year aid package from the US for civilian and developmental purposes. The army was furious that the government had agreed to US-imposed conditions, which only insisted that there be civilian control of the army, democracy be maintained and the fight against extremism continued. The army with its deep tentacles in the Pakistani media and among opposition politicians, whipped up a storm of public opinion against the deal. Neither the army nor the politicians seemed to notice that the country is nearly bankrupt, barely subsisting on life support loans from the International Monetary Fund.


The civilian government has also tried repeatedly to end the long running separatist insurgency in Balochistan province by declaring ceasefires and the promise to hold talks with insurgent leaders. However, Baloch leaders accuse the army of sabotaging any such political reconciliation by continuing to assassinate or carry out forced disappearances of Baloch activists.


Meanwhile, as the policy review over Afghanistan and Pakistan continues in the White House, both the army and government are being directly accused by US officials of continuing to harbour the Afghan Taliban leadership. As long as only British and Canadian troops in Helmand and Kandahar faced the effects of the Taliban's safe sanctuaries in Pakistan's Balochistan province, the former Bush administration was quiet. But now that there are over 10,000 US marines in Helmand and Kandahar who are taking casualties, the Obama administration has made the sanctuary issue a major plank in its future relations with Pakistan.
But the dithering in Washington over the future of US policy towards Afghanistan is leading to greater justification by Pakistan and other neighbours of Afghanistan to hedge their bets for the future in case the Americans withdraw or reduce their commitment, by backing once again their favourite Afghan proxies just as they did during the 1990s civil war.


Pakistan has been saving the Afghan Taliban leadership for just such an eventuality. But now Iran, Russia, India and the Central Asian states are all looking at their future in the country in the light of a US lack of resolve to stay the course in Afghanistan. US relations with Pakistan's military remain troubled everyone knows that it is still the army and not the civilian government that calls the shots when it comes to policy towards India and Afghanistan.

President Asif Zardari is known to want peace and trade with India, an end to interference in Afghanistan, improved ties with Iran and better relations and more aid from the West to strengthen the economy and democracy. However, Zardari's attempts to build up public support for these logical civil demands have been stymied because of public disillusionment with the civilian government.


The key to future stability is to bring the army, civilian government and the opposition onto one page with a common agenda to fight extremism, while amicably resolving other internal disputes, but so far that looks extremely unlikely.


The writer is a Pakistani journalist and author.

 

Copyright: Yale Centre for the Study of Globalisation.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

Q&A

THE TIME HAS COME FOR INDIA TO PROJECT ITS CULTURAL SUPREMACY

 

For Pratibha Prahlad, who's been dancing Bharatanatyam for 40 years, the ongoing Delhi International Arts Festival (DIAF) seemed a natural progression. The dancer-choreographer who's convener of the cultural committee for the 2010 Commonwealth Games is the brain behind DIAF that, in its third edition, brings to the capital music, dance, theatre, cinema, photography, visual art and poetry, among other classical arts of India. It also hosts artists from nine countries across the world because culture, festival, travel, diplomacy, all are closely linked and can boost the socio-cultural landscape of the host country, she tells Ratnottama Sengupta :


How did you think of DIAF?

My dance took me around the world. I noticed that every major country had a festival dedicated to the arts but India had none although its cultural capital is so immense. That's when i decided to mount a signature festival of our own.


It wasn't as if festivals are an alien concept in India. Hundreds are on but do they make the right impact? Are we being recognised as a global soft power? Are cultural ambassadors making a beeline for India? The time had come for India to project its cultural supremacy. And what better place to do so than the country's cultural hub?


Who are your role models?

DIAF can become an Edinburgh festival. Rather, it can itself become a standard. Today, every nation is a global village. By all means take the dynamics of India Inc forward but also take forward the soft power of the arts! A country is finally made up of people and soft power defines you as a nation and connects you to people. Your foreign exchange reserves don't really matter to the man on the street.


The Britishers, the French and Germans realised this long ago, so they set up the British Council, Alliance Francaise, Max Mueller Bhavan in every metro and small towns too. Today, China asserts itself through its cuisine, Japanese through technology, French and Americans through cinema. They're monocultures, we're a cauldron of culture, so why not celebrate our diversity?


How do you finance such a festival?


Since 2002 i felt the need for public-private partnership in the arts. So much happens in Delhi, why not harness them? There's a north-east budget from which ICCR mounts a festival, so does IGNCA, Lalit Kala Akademi, Sangeet Natak Akademi and Sahitya Akademi, all within one year. Why duplicate the spending just because there's a budget? Why not plan together and do one major festival? That's how i thought of partnering with them and creating equity for India. Already DIAF has changed mindsets and created new venues 45 at last count. Soon it can become an aspirational platform for young artistes.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

DRIVING LESSONS

DRIVING LESSONS: AUTO PHILOSOPHER

 

Ever since i took to driving, not in the least like a duck to water, my life has become richer and my wallet poorer. The instructor from the first driving school that one enrolled in tried his best to teach me to drive. I, however, just couldn't come to grips with the gears and clutch. I took the wheel and my mind went blank. I couldn't drive and didn't even bother to take the test. I enrolled in another school six months later, and this time made sufficient progress to comprehend that the driving was being done completely from the passengers seat by my instructor. I went for the test drive after 10 days. The RTO failed me and said he didn't know what driving schools taught. I silently agreed. After a while though, the sight of the parked car and the dent auto fares put in my pocket made me coax my husband to teach me driving. Never, ever, ask your husband to teach you to drive! warned my experienced friends. He will curse you for every dent you make. Many days later, with the usually calm husband's patience wearing thin, one did manage to drive independently and even got the licence.


Then began the actual driving. I hit parked vehicles while reversing and paid up. Others braked suddenly in front of me and when my car just nudged them they demanded and got money out of me for not even getting a scratch on their shiny models, while my already battered Maruti took a further beating. I entered no entry zones and was fined by policemen who appeared out of thin air. My husband stopped getting the car painted or serviced. I drove on and discovered that cruising on the airport road in fourth gear is a thrill matched only by the joy of finding the shortest route to your destination. I also made friends with a whole lot of men - cab drivers, who came to my rescue unable to see my struggles at parallel parking, bus drivers who chivalrously gave me right of way lest i hold up traffic any further and mechanics who offered me a chair and tea while they tinkered with the car. There are other benefits, like being able to decipher unwritten rules of road behaviour. But the most important benefit of driving, according to a friend, is that it keeps your reflexes sharp and your attitude philosophical.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

HARVEST THESE PUBLIC ASSETS

 

The UPA government has finally got its divestment programme moving. The announcement of the sale of 5 per cent of National Thermal Power Corporation's (NTPC) stock marks the beginning of what could be five years of a significant revenue stream for a government embarked on an ambitiously expansionary fiscal policy. The equity market seems to have an appetite for a pipeline of public sector issues and could help bridge a fiscal deficit nudging 7 per cent of the gross domestic product. Tied to a move to have more floating stock — from private as well as State-owned companies — disinvestment dons a market-reform halo that its fiercest critics will find difficult to strip. The positive side-effect of a more robust capital market with greater immunity to manipulation is inarguable. The government will have to lead by example if it wants India Inc to float a greater share of its stock to remain listed on bourses.

 

Though no target has been set, the government is well on its way to generating upwards of Rs 25,000 crore this year, as in subsequent years, through minority stake sales in the companies it owns. The temptation to re-route this money into the Consolidated Fund of India is strong as the fiscal profligacy season draws to a close, especially with budgetary support to public enterprises showing up as expenditure in the government's books. As a one-off, increasing the floating stock of 100-odd profitable State-owned companies will also shore up the fisc by lowering their demands for capital expenditure — Steel Authority of India (Sail) is in line for a follow-on issue as it needs to raise its capacity by 60 per cent over the next two years.

 

Purists may argue that sell-off is faux privatisation — the managerial efficiencies built into the latter do not obtain in the former. But public enterprises stand to gain from even minority stake sales. Listing requires quarterly disclosure, a more accountable way of doing business than the annual statements presented by these companies to their single shareholder. The tighter scrutiny of market players imposes a higher discipline in boardrooms and makes political interference a shade less pervasive. The autonomy being considered off and on for the boards of 'Maharatnas', the big daddies of the public sector like Bharat Heavy Electricals, NTPC and Sail, is overdue and will be accompanied by immediate productivity gains.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

LONDON-DILLI-LANDAN

 

For reasons unknown, the British were lousy at pronouncing non-English names. So here we go again fixing another mispronunciation propagated by the Brits by changing the name of Orissa 'back' to Odisha — despite a new error being introduced as the phonetic spelling of the state should really be 'Odissa'. But why don't we just let sleeping incorrect names lie? Because those folks didn't let sleeping correct names lie when they were playing bossmen, did they?

 

So how can we explain Kolkata being turned into Calcutta, Kanpur into Cawnpore and, most strangely of all, Varanasi into Benares — to the point of a famous Hindi film song sounding ridiculous even to our desi ears if sung as 'Khai ke paan Varanasi-wala'? (The jury is out regarding Mumbai, as its name may have come from the Portuguese term, 'Bom Bahia' or 'good bay'.) Choosing the language you speak in is a political act. As is how you decide to pronounce foreign words. It turns out that the Brits — and their North American cousins across the pond — with their stiff upper palates pronounce things their way. This Frank Sinatra-ish approach may boost their cultural self-esteem, but it's puzzling for the 'host' culture.

 

If Gloucestershire can be pronounced as 'Glosstershr' by us, why can't the Anglo-Saxons try and get Gandhi, that they insist on pronouncing as Gaandhi, right? Here's our world-beating suggestion: let's not blink an eyelid when we ask for a bottle of Worcestershire (no more 'Wooster') sauce, plan our holiday to Canayda, or ask for Angelina Jolly's autograph. Trust us, that's how the world will pronounce names soon — even in Kataka (Cuttack).

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

FAMILY MATTERS

 

Each time I complain about the influence of dynasty on Indian politics, I get the usual responses: we are a democracy so if people vote for the sons and daughters of politicians, how can you complain? Or: in India, everything from business to movies is about dynasty so why should politics be any different? And so on.

 

I do not deny that there is some merit in the response. But the truth is that even as we engage in these arguments of principle, the influence of dynasty is growing exponentially. Very soon, all argument will be pointless because all politics will be about dynasty.

 

This was driven home to me by the recently concluded assembly elections. A worrying proportion of the candidates had some family connection with politics.

 

At the very top, Maharashtra politics is dynastically driven. Hardly anybody bothers to mention it any longer but Chief Minister Ashok Chavan is a dynast; his father was former Home Minister (and Maharashtra Chief Minister) S.B. Chavan.

 

The Shiv Sena-MNS story is entirely about dynasty. Bal Thackeray's son Uddhav heads the Sena. His estranged cousin Raj broke away to form the MNS. The BJP in Maharashtra is largely the creation of two men: the late Pramod Mahajan and his sister's husband, Gopinath Munde. This time around, Mahajan's daughter was in the fray and the Munde family had three representatives among the candidates. The NCP is also now becoming a family affair. Sharad Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule and his nephew Ajit Pawar will battle it out for the succession.

 

Down the line, the trend towards dynasty continues. Former Chief Minister (and present Energy Minister) Sushilkumar Shinde's daughter won from Solapur. Former Chief Minister (and present Heavy Industries Minister) Vilasrao Deshmukh's son won from the family region of Latur. Former Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal's son won from Nandgaon. The President of India's son won from Amravati.

 

There were many other dynasts in the fray: Kalpana Patil, Nirmala Danve, Rahul Aher, Prashant Thakur etc. What was most worrying was that the role of dynasty in selecting candidates cuts across party lines. Even the BJP, which claims to be different, nominated several dynasts.

 

In Haryana, politics is about dynasty, and has always been. The state has been ruled by a handful of political dynasties: Bhajan Lal and his family; Devi Lal and his kids; Bansi Lal and his brood etc. There are lesser-known dynasties too. The sitting Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda is the son of a former minister, for instance.

 

So not only was the election fought on the basis of dynasty but even the post-election squabbles were dynastic. Hooda did not get a majority, so O.P. Chautala (son of Devi Lal and father of A.S. Chautala who also won his seat) staked his claim thereby increasing the relevance of Bhajan Lal  (whose wife stood and lost) and his son Kuldeep Bishnoi.

 

Politics in the North-east is just as family dominated as it is in the rest of India.

 

For years, Arunachal politics was dominated by Gegong Apang who introduced his son, Omak, to politics as his heir. This time around, the Apangs lost as did the wife of former Chief Minister Mukut Mithi but Takam Tagar, younger brother of millionaire Congress MP Takam Sanjoy won. (I'm indebted to Friday's Indian Express for much of this information).

 

I could go on but I think I've made my point: the hold of dynasty on state politics is stronger than ever. And it grows with each election.

 

This exponential growth in dynastic politics weakens the traditional argument about 'democratic dynasty'. If there are so many dynasts in the fray and if so many battles pit one dynasty against another (as in Haryana and increasingly in Maharashtra) then where is the element of real choice?

 

Voters are not being offered true democracy. They are being asked to choose between competing dynasties. Democracy is about choice and once you restrict the choice (as all parties now do), you destroy the very basis of democracy.

 

Moreover, as politics becomes about dynasty, you make it impossible for outsiders with ideas or capabilities or even sincerity and integrity to join the system. All parties will give most of their nominations to sons and daughters of politicians.

 

Not only does this harm India because we are denied the politicians we deserve but it also greatly weakens our claim to be the world's largest democracy. In a true democracy, candidates would emerge from the hundreds of millions who are eligible to stand.

 

But in today's India, easy entry into politics is limited to a small group, numbering not more than a lakh (if you include the states) which gets to fight elections.

 

Rather than being a democracy, we have become an oligarchy where a political caste takes charge and then, keeps everybody else out of the process.

 

The only way to change this is for parties to create mechanisms that allow talented people to join politics, no matter who their fathers are. There was a time when the BJP could boast of such a mechanism (and it threw up many of their current national leaders) but recent trends suggest that state BJP units are taking the dynastic route as well. Only the Left parties remain resolutely undynastic but their presence is restricted to two states.

 

Ironically, it is the Congress, a party that has been dynastically driven for many years that is now looking at creating such a mechanism. And even more ironically, it is Rahul Gandhi, who owes much of his popularity to his family background, who is spearheading the move to create an alternative to dynasty by introducing genuine democracy and fair elections in the Youth Congress and the National Students' Union of India.

 

It is not an easy task but because of who Rahul is, people believe him when he says that he can guarantee that good people who come up through the system will get the ticket. (And he demonstrated this in the Lok Sabha election.)

 

I hope he succeeds. Because otherwise, we can kiss Indian democracy goodbye. And learn to be governed by a ruling caste of dynastic politicians.

 

The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

 

THE SAFFRON BRIGADE'S TEST OF FIRE

PANKAJ VOHRA

 

The BJP's run of bad luck seems endless. After getting a drubbing in the parliamentary polls where its numbers went down from 138 to 116, the party has again bitten the dust in the recent assembly polls. Senior leaders are at loss to explain this sudden decline in the saffron party's fortunes even though it is obvious that its leadership crisis is the main reason. But those in charge refuse to read the writing on the wall and the RSS is finding it difficult to impose its will on its own political wing.

 

In fact, RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat's visit to the capital a few months ago seems to have been an exercise in futility. The BJP leadership continues to function under the very leaders whom the Sangh wants replaced. Stories doing the rounds say that both L.K. Advani, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, and party chief Rajnath Singh are in no hurry to quit their posts and enable new people to take over. Some reports suggest that Advani will go on his 83rd birthday on November 8 and Rajnath at the end of his term.

 

Significantly, an operation undertaken by the sarsanghchalak himself does not seem to be coming to a logical conclusion. The Sangh's detractors are amused at the fact that the RSS seems unable to force the BJP to fall in line. Mohan Bhagwat's own credibility is at stake and the delay is eroding it further. What is worse is that the BJP's factional feuds have also spread to the RSS. For the first time in many years, it is finding it difficult to resolve its internal contradictions.

 

The recent assembly results where the BJP and its allies were trounced should occasion further introspection. The polls were held with no one in charge in the real sense. Every candidate had to virtually fend for himself or herself. There was no direction, strategy or political management. If Haryana was a straight case of miscalculation, Maharashtra became a battleground between Advani loyalists and those owing allegiance to the Sangh. In both cases, the BJP paid the price even though some leaders are now blaming the Shiv Sena's inability to hold on to its base as the main cause for the debacle.

 

In Haryana, the INLD made a remarkable comeback largely because the BJP (contesting on its own) failed to present itself as an alternative to the Congress. A tie-up between the two would have benefited both. Similarly, in Maharashtra, the MNS stole the thunder from right under the nose of the BJP-Shiv Sena coalition.

 

What the BJP does not realise is that if it fails as an opposition party and does not project itself adequately as an alternative, the political vacuum will be filled by someone else. It has happened in states and may soon happen in Parliament. Further, the credibility of its current leadership will always be an impediment to it becoming an alternative to the Congress.Parliament is about to commence next month for its winter session. One wonders  what kind of challenge the BJP can provide to the Congress with this lameduck leadership. Further, the Liberhan Commission report is likely to be tabled in both Houses. There may not be many in the BJP itself who will come to the defence of Advani if he is attacked by various sections of the House. Instead of the Opposition taking the government on over its inability to control rising prices etc, the BJP will find itself at the receiving end.

 

The RSS is facing its biggest ever test. It has to either withdraw itself completely from the political (culture is also another name for pursuit of power) arena or prepare to go through its own kind of agni pariksha. The credibility of the RSS is at stake. Between us.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SOFT STATE, HARD WORDS

 

How much credibility does West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee think his state government now has? He might have been partly chastened by the storm of anger caused by the West Bengal government's decision to capitulate miserably to the CPI (Maoist) by accepting, on their terms, the release of a police officer they had kidnapped in a daring raid on a police station — apparently in exchange for the government not opposing the release on bail of several prisoners accused of links to the Naxalites. But his response is truly laughable. The day after he surrendered to the Naxalites, he thundered angrily that he would not surrender to the Maoists. The day after they showed him who was boss, he declared that he would teach them a lesson. Does he even know how weak he now appears?

 

Bhattacharjee also took a moment to attack his home secretary, Ardhendu Sen, for reports that he had made an impolitic comparison between the "swap" and, among others, the Kandahar and Rubaiya Sayeed episodes. And yet, his words were revealing. Where Bengal's top civil servant in charge of law and order apparently shrugged his shoulders and said that such things would happen, because India was a "soft" state, Bhattacharjee chose to take exception to Sen speaking out of turn. He did not engage with the accusation implicit in Sen's words, a concern which all those who believe that the time has come for the state to re-impose its writ in India's lawless interior must share. What people need is strong reassurance that the state it relies on for security is not weak, is not soft; but neither is Bhattacharjee willing to give either his state's residents or those beyond that reassurance, nor is it the case that, even if he did, he would be believed.

 

The CM can say as much as he likes that the kidnapping was an exception, and that the "next time" the Naxalites had better watch out. Those watching will have been reminded of nothing so much as an indulgent, or weak, parent acting out fantasies of being in control of an impossible child. When a government faced by a major security crisis loses so completely its nerve, and the confidence of the people of India is so shaken about whether that government is up to even the most basic of the tough law-and-order decisions that are its constitutional preserve, then there are few alternatives left. The West Bengal government, and Bhattacharjee, must go. India has no place for the mouse that roared.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CASE BY CASE

 

It is a mantra that every judge, every legal administrator and every politician unerringly cites. The "pendency problem" — or the appallingly large backlog of cases in our Supreme Court, high courts and subordinate courts — is a buzz word that is eloquently used, but rarely accompanied by concrete proposals to reduce the cases that clog our judicial system. It is in this context that the immediate deliverables and workable ideas stressed on at the recent conference aimed at "strengthening the judiciary towards reducing pendency and delays" are so welcome.

 

At the conference, Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily announced the creation of the National Arrears Grid, whose main job is to oversee a reduction in pending cases. Of import is the diverse nature of the Grid members — a Supreme judge, high court judges, as well as a CAG representative and the deputy chairperson of the planning commission. The National Arrears Grid also seems goal oriented — the ministry will submit a report on its progress to the prime minister in January. The conference also threw up other novel ideas, such as suggesting that the courts function in three five-hour shifts (requiring 15,000 new posts) and that retired high court judges and senior lawyers be asked to fill in some of these posts on a contract basis.

 

Of the many such interesting proposals discussed, here's one that wasn't. Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati acknowledged that some of the blame fell on the largest litigant of them all — the government. He also pointed to the reason — officers keep appealing adverse decisions, no matter how absurd their case, for fear of being tainted by a decision to close the file. Law Minister Veerappa Moily had earlier cited this as an area in need of reform. With the government's law minister and top law officer themselves admitting to this problem, it is hoped that the solution is not too far away.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

SECOND TIME LUCKY?

 

It's round two in Afghanistan. Fresh elections scheduled for November 7 follow the confirmation of widespread election fraud in the August 20 presidential elections. President Karzai's 50-plus per cent majority has fallen to 49 per cent with his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, at 31 per cent. Cajoling and behind the scenes action has resulted in Karzai's reluctant acceptance to a run-off.

 

An inquiry into the August 20 elections has indicated widespread discrepancies. Registrations themselves were inconsistent: 17 million voters registered; however following an exhaustive inquiry by the UN-backed electoral commission the number eligible and likely to vote stands at about 12 milion. This has given rise to fears about "ghost" voters and polling stations: UN personnel will be responsible in preventing another such scenario. Thus far, there has been a cutback in polling stations; more such measures are needed. There is also the issue of a lower voter-turnout, both because a run-off traditionally sees a decline in the voter turnout and also because of sustained threats from the Taliban. The Taliban have been vocal, calling the elections "a failed, American process" and have threatened, "The mujahidin are fully prepared to defeat this process." The role of the United Nations and the ISAF will be under scrutiny more than before, as the task for monitoring the election falls upon them.

 

Hopeful calls for a coalition government are, so far, fruitless. Neither Karzai nor Abdullah seems willing to work together as equals. Thus, an outright winner may be required to resolve the political stalemate. Much attention is now upon the UN-backed commission as the Afghan election commission stands discredited as a pro-incumbent body. A disillusioned Afghan population need to be assuaged that both the incumbent and the international forces can first ensure security, thereby allowing for genuine legitimacy to follow.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

324 YEARS, 100 DAYS

BIBEK DEBROY

 

Not long ago, even after 1991, there was a time when dispute resolution data were only available with a time-lag of around seven years. Data paucity led to strange figures floating around. One of these was the 324-year figure. If there were no new cases and present rates of disposal continued, it would take 324 years to clear the backlog. This was an all-India back-of-the-envelope kind of number, and simply untrue. However, 324 years was catchy enough for this to be widely disseminated. Courtesy the Supreme Court's "Court News", the time-lag is now less.

 

However, one should be pedantic first. The terms pendency, arrears, delay and backlog are used synonymously, though there is a difference. Pendency means total number of cases in courts and it is worth remembering court-based data don't capture cases clogged in quasi-judicial forums like tribunals. It is possible to argue high pendency indicates faith in the judicial system. Recently, the National Judicial Academy (NJA) put together some inter-state correlations. These show a neat positive correlation between institution rates and literacy. Another neat positive correlation exists between institution rates and population density. Per se, high pendency is a good rather than a bad. Arrears are excess of new cases over disposed cases. Arrears contribute to delays, old cases not disposed of.

 

Backlog is sometimes used in sense of pendency and sometimes in sense of delay. On June 30, pendency in Supreme Court was 52,592. On March 31, pendency in high courts was 4 million — 3.2 million civil, 0.8 million criminal. Of these, almost a million cases were stuck in the Allahabad HC and almost 500,000 in Madras. On March 31, 26.8 million cases were stuck in district and subordinate courts, 7.6 million civil and 19.1 million criminal. At this lower court level, there are 5.2 million cases in UP, 4.1 million in Maharashtra, 2.5 million in West Bengal, 2.2 million in Gujarat.

 

Excluding quasi-judicial forums, we thus have overall pendency crossing 31 million. That's an enormous figure. To dramatise, let's work out another somewhat inaccurate number. With two sides, 31 million translates into 62 million. Roughly, one out of every four Indian households is thus stuck with a case in the court system. That's horrendous. A gypsy curse states, "May you have a law suit in which you are in the right," and it shouldn't be surprising that gypsies originated in India. Based on cross-country comparisons, extremely dubious for something like law reform, yet another back-of-the-envelope number can be mentioned. If we can fix the legal system, there will be an increment of 1 per cent to GDP growth.

 

Pendency is a stock, arrears are a flow. As is obvious, we should worry about arrears rather than pendency. What should be done has been repeated ad nauseam in the Rankin Committee (1924), High Courts Arrears Committees (1949, 1972) several Law Commission reports, two Estimates Committees (1986, 1990), and Satish Chandra Committee (1986). Broadly, there are supply-side solutions and demand-driven ones. On demand, one can use alternative dispute resolution, eliminate unnecessary cases under the Negotiable Instruments Act, Motor Accidents Claims or excise and get the government out of the system. Within civil cases, government litigation often crowds citizens out of the court system. One should mention yet another hoary number. Within civil litigation, 60-65 per cent of cases involve the government, sometimes on both sides of the divide. A large chunk of this is in the form of appeals and 90-95 per cent of government appeals fail. That is, these are appeals that shouldn't have been made in the first place. There is automaticity about government appeals and this has to do with one particular section in Prevention of Corruption Act that makes all public servants risk-averse.

 

Those 60-65 per cent and 90-95 per cent figures are quoted universally as gospel truth. To the best of my knowledge, they are based on a study done by the National Law School in the Karnataka HC in the early 1990s. While the identified issues are correct, the numbers are thus not quite universal. Turning to supply, there are two (with spillovers) kinds of solutions — enhance supply by increasing number of courts and judges (lok adalats, fast-track courts, family courts, nyaya panchayats, gram nyayalayas, people's courts, women's courts are part of this) and improve productivity of existing infrastructure (mobile courts, shift systems, ICT-usage, reduced vacations, changes in procedural law, plea bargaining are part of this). That the NJA study found another neat inter-state correlation between load per judge and disposal rates. At a chief justices' conference in 2004, a committee was constituted to get a fix on the recommended judge/case ratio and a figure of 500 to 600 was suggested for district and subordinate courts. Working with pendency figures, this translates into an additional 35,000 courts or so, depending on how one derives the number. There is also a difference between working strength and sanctioned strength. For instance, there are seven vacancies in the SC, 234 in HCs and 2998 in lower courts.

 

Additional courts require additional judges, with large capital and recurrent expenditure. There are issues of who funds this (Centre versus states), financial autonomy for judiciary (which has limited acceptability until judiciary accepts improvement norms) and focus on certain types of cases (government litigation, petty cases, old cases) and specific courts (geographically targeted). These issues aren't new and have been known. What's new is that for the first time since 1991 (barring a brief Arun Jaitley stint), speed of dispute resolution is now on the reform agenda. One doesn't mean speeches by presidents and PMs. Of UPA-II's unnecessarily hyped 100-day agendas, one that still remains is the Veerappa Moily one and on October 24-25 a national consultation was held on "Strengthening the Judiciary towards Reducing Pendency and Delays". The first part of the title reflects a bias towards one variety of supply-side solutions; that's fine as long as the second part is addressed. As a fallout, we have had a vision statement with 15,700 new judges (some contractual), case disposal targets, three shifts in courts, reducing duration of cases from an average of 15 years to three, reduced government litigation, filling up vacancies, court management services by law students, video conferencing in jails, a national litigation policy and a national arrears grid.

 

Good ideas, though skepticism about implementation is understandable. However, a status report on action taken has been promised by January 2010. Perhaps one should therefore be a bit more charitable. What Rankin said in 1924 remained valid for several years. Hopefully, 2010 might change that.

 

The writer is a Delhi-based economist

 

express@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

SEARCHING EVERYWHERE ELSE

AYESHA SIDDIQA

 

The attack on the Pakistan Army GHQ in Rawalpindi by terrorists and subsequent attacks in other cities have generated a lot of nervousness here and abroad. The attack also helped strengthen a consensus in the government, especially between the military and civilians, reflected in the decision to launch an offensive in Waziristan. The military is keen to root out unfriendly elements such as Hakimullah Mehsud's gang, the Tehrik-i-Taliban, who are not only operating in the Tribal Areas but also seen as the force behind the recent attacks. These are the unfriendly Taliban, who, the military believes, are working in collusion with Indian intelligence agencies or other unfriendly elements.

 

The army is convinced that external forces are motivating members of the various militant groups based in Punjab. A variation on that opinion is that the recent attacks are part of a series to avenge the American onslaught in Afghanistan and Pakistan's Tribal Areas, especially the drone attacks. Since some of the Waziristan-based Taliban are unhappy with Pakistan's involvement in those, they try to punish the military or the law enforcement agencies by launching suicide attacks.

 

Fingers are pointed at breakaway South Punjab-based factions of Jaish-e-Mohammad, especially the Amjad Farooqi group, also involved in the first assassination attempt on Pervez Musharraf, in 2003. It is believed that this group is also connected with the Ilyas Kashmiri group that had broken away from Lashkar-e-Jhangavi a few years ago. Ilyas Kashmiri, who was once honoured and rewarded by Pervez Musharraf for killing an Indian army officer, parted ways with the government in 2004 over some ideological disagreement. Sources claim that he was unhappy with the treatment meted out to his family and joined ranks with the Taliban groups which found fault with the Pakistan army's decision to support the American war on terror.

 

However, the authorities seem unwilling to go beyond targeting individuals or breakaway factions. There is little interest in rooting out sources of terror closer to the establishment's power centre: the numerous jihadi outfits based in Punjab. In fact, there is hardly any consensus in Punjab on the threat's source. The provincial government vociferously denies any involvement of the Punjab-based groups in the terror strikes of the past ten days (or earlier). Despite leads that individuals involved in these attacks were linked with some of the home-grown outfits or belonged to parts of the province, the Punjab government insists that the attack on the GHQ was the handiwork of Taliban based in the Tribal Areas. In fact, the police consider the other argument as the work of delusional minds, or instigated by external interests.

 

The above situation basically means that either the authorities are too afraid to touch the outfits, as these have spread their tentacles deep and wide, or are considered comfortably controlled, unlikely to cause a major challenge to the state.

 

So, the emphasis now is on sorting out the problems at a tactical level. This pertains to the security lapses caused due to peculiar socio-cultural dynamics, rather than anything significant. For instance, in case of the GHQ attack, the attackers managed to cross the security barriers around the premises and reach the different gates because they were wearing military uniforms and pretended to be officers. A day before that attack, the terrorists had used a similar trick to access the office of the World Food Programme in Islamabad. In a country where people generally show reverence to the armed forces and the institution's power is unchallenged, this was a security gap that the terrorists exploited happily. The police have begun to take stock of the situation and stop the uncontrolled sale of military and police uniforms.

 

Reports indicate that in some of the later attacks that took place in Lahore and Peshawar the terrorists used women as well. Interestingly, such news was subsequently denied. This raises the question whether this was done deliberately so as not to draw attention towards outfits which regularly train women.

 

The scenario that has emerged after the recent attacks is rather interesting: the consensus between the civil government and the military to launch an attack in Waziristan to vanquish the unfriendly Taliban. However, there is little interest in rooting out other outfits, based in Punjab, and spreading to other parts of the country, probably as a guarantee to achieve tactical objectives at a later date. Unfortunately, given the lack of information regarding the extent of the problem of terrorism inside Pakistan, the strategic community seems to stick to the earlier strategy of keeping the option of militancy open. As long as the government insists on not linking the dots as far as terrorism is concerned, the sources of internal threat will remain. The attack on GHQ and the others over the past fortnight might have been unpleasant incidents but they will not convince the government to review its options unless it feels secure towards traditional rivals like India.

 

The writer is an Islamabad-based independent security analyst

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

PRINTLINE

CHINA'S CARBON CON

TAKE `THE GREENING OF CHINA' WITH A GIANT PINCH OF SALT

 

IN the coming months watch out for brazenly false claims that China is zlazingthegreentrail,andgettingricherbydoingso,andthattocompete we must outgreen them. China is of course delighted to jigger numbers to help frame the story.

 

"China attaches great importance to tackling climate change,"China'sclimatecommissarrecentlydeclared..."China also sets an objective of increasing the proportion of renewable energyintheprimaryenergymixto10percentby2010,andto15 per cent by 2020." Translation: "We'll keep on burning the stuff thatpoorpeopleburnuntilwegetrich."Biomassaccountsfor10 per cent of the global energy supply but less than 4 per cent in the developed worldandcloserto2percentintheUS.Thepooralwaysburnmorecarbohydrates, fewer hydrocarbons. Calling something "renewable" doesn't mean thatitsavescarbon.Sincenobodycantrackhowmanytwigs,cowpatsandrice husksabillionpeasantsburn China'scarbonaccountantscanmakeitsrenewable numbers come out anywhere they like.

 

...Chinaisproudthatithasbeenshuttingdown"smallthermal power generation units." Translation: "We're replacing diesel generatorswithbigcoal-firedpowerplants."Big,centralpower plants burn much cheaper fuel much more efficiently, and thereforegeneratemuchcheaperpower,andthereforeboostenergy consumption, emissions and GDP even faster. From a comment by Peter Huber in `Forbes'

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

'IT IS (AMBANIS' DISPUTE) NOW AT A CORPORATE LEVEL AND OUGHT TO BE SETTLED BETWEEN TWO CORPORATES'

 

K V Kamath, chairman of ICICI Bank, thinks India is a land of opportunity and this is the time to choose the business of aspiration. In this interview with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV 24x7's Walk the Talk, Kamath shares his faith in the robust Indian banking and corporate system and makes a case for a growth rate of 10 per cent

 

You've heard expressions like 'in the eye of the storm', or 'a near-death experience'. My guest this week is somebody who has been through all that exactly at this time last year. K V Kamath, welcome to Walk the Talk.

It was a bit like that but we were always sure of ourselves. I think the global situation was a bit unnerving and I think it is natural that people thought that the world was coming to an end. And the world doesn't come to an end that easily.

 

But describe the eye-of-the-storm feeling. Take us back to the Lehman Brothers' collapse, Merrill Lynch's collapse.

I think several things happened. Frankly, three things happened in sequence. You first had the commodity price correction, and before that you had the market challenge, and these two were weighing very heavily on the minds of everybody in business, whether it was corporate India, or whether it was the markets, the financial services business. I think you have to look at it in that context. It caused what I'd call a psychological challenge more than a practical problem. You had complete loss of confidence in corporate India. And it is not unusual that you will see that loss of confidence would also trickle down to the masses. I think that's what we were seeing at that point of time, but I must say that the government acted at great speed and made sure that systemic challenges need not surface. So I would give a lot of credit to the government.

 

How much strain were you facing in this bank because you knew your bank was in the eye of the storm as well?

For a bank you need two or three things to be in place if you are going to tide over any challenges. The first thing is: do you have adequate capital? Whichever way we looked at it, we had idle capital, we'd raised our capital, we had doubled our capital just a year ago and we had all that lying with us unutilised. So there was no challenge in terms of capital. Second thing is liquidity. We were a liquid bank, so there was no challenge in terms of liquidity per se. So I wasn't really worried about the bank per se. I was more worried about what could be the impact of manipulation because at that point of time I'd mentioned that what I feared was manipulation. Manipulation in terms of market players and so on.

 

But did you find any evidence of that?

We did find evidence of that which we gave to the authorities at that point of time.

 

But nothing came out of it?

Nothing came out of it.

 

Did you figure out what or who was behind it?

I think basically what we can say is players in the marketplace who would try to take advantage of any, I would say, sudden movement, were really trying to look at how to take advantage.

 

Did you reflect or introspect or debate internally as to why did ICICI Bank get so much attention?

I have done that and the only conclusion I have come to is, we basically set the change agenda, and when you set the change agenda, you are in the public eye. And I would think that, for that reason, we've always been in the news. So this was another opportunity to take advantage of an institution which was in the news.

 

But there was nothing in your practices or your methods that made you particularly vulnerable.

Not at all, because again in a banking context, what you are looking at always is capital: do you have capital, do you have liquidity and are you doing business the right way? I think if you look at the situation prior to October 2008, the whole world looked different. Consumer India was booming, corporate India was booming. In the space of 15 days, that rug was pulled out... I think it is to the credit of the institution whose foundation we had built on capital, on adequate amount of liquidity, that allowed us to see through this period.

 

Were there moments during these weeks last year when there was a real fear that somebody might persuade the government to do something desperate, like nationalise private banks in India?

Not at the end of the private sector, not within the bank at all. We were very clear that that was not likely to happen at all... I think anybody who looked at any of the Indian banks at that point of time would have found that they were well-capitalised. They had, I would say, depths of liquidity. Because we should remember that when the crisis unfolded, Indian banks, between SLR and CRR, had 34 per cent of deposits virtually in cash. Plus their capital. So I don't think there was a risk on that front at all.

 

But there was concern. I know in the government, not about ICICI Bank as such, but about the general lack of faith and trust in the market, it's like nobody wanted to believe this system is sustainable.

Frankly, if I were to look at the Finance Ministry and (then) Finance Minister P Chidambaram in particular, I think he had implicit confidence in the system and he had implicit confidence in the Indian banking system. And I think, all credit goes to him for having stabilised the situation across the financial sector in the country. Because if you remember banks were not the only ones that came under attack, a little later the mutual funds industry, and a little later the NBFCs came under even more attack. If you ask me, that was the real challenge to the system. And the way we stabilised it, I think full credit goes to the Finance Minister.

 

One day in October, everybody thought that some dead mutual funds were going to roll over.

Indeed, and dead mutual funds could not roll over. There was a challenge. Roll over and die — I don't think that happened at all... I think the entire credit goes to the Finance Minister for having put liquidity in their hands at that point of time... And the same goes for the NBFC sector. A few days later, it was the turn of the NBFC sector. If debt was not rolled over, there would have been serious systemic damage.

 

To that extent, how we managed the crisis is a success story.

I think it's a lesson that people will look at a few years later and be taught as case studies.

 

So did you also have to make phone calls to your big depositors to say, don't worry, your money is safe?

You talked to all your customers, whether they were depositors or whether they were your lay customers, you talked to them. And whether they were large corporates or individual customers, you talked to them. As for large customers, the directors would've talked to them, the executive directors would have talked, including myself... I think everybody was in the frontline. I think they did a marvellous job of talking and communicating with the lay customer.

 

So what are the big lessons learnt — at ICICI and generally for your sector?

Let me first talk about the sector and then put ICICI into the context. I think the sectoral lessons we really need to look at in a larger, global context. And in the global context, I think the first lesson that has been learnt is that you need to have significantly higher levels of capital than what banks have had so far. You need to be leveraged significantly lesser, to a lesser extent, than you are as of now. And that would mean that you carry significantly higher levels of liquidity than you are doing right now. So these to me would be the key lessons at this point of time.

 

Is the essence of these lessons also that you need to be a little less aggressive?

I will put aggression in a different context. I think what I am basically talking of are basic housekeeping duties that a bank should follow. Putting these into context for ICICI, I would say that all the three tests that I articulated we had met. We never expanded without having capital in place. I can go back to '96 and say the first thing that I did when we came in here — I came in May, June or July — we went and raised the GDR. Two or three years later, we raised the ADR. So capital always preceded anything else that we did.

 

Yet over the past year, we've seen ICICI Bank's aggression come down.

Yeah, there is a reason for change in strategy. The reason is very simple. See, we grew during a period, 2002 to 2009 or 2008, when Indian consumer came of age all of a sudden and had a lot of opportunity. There was a lot of opportunity in the banking space to serve that customer. It also coincided with the time when interest rates were moderate, where inflation was tempered down. In this sort of a period, it is possible to grow at a faster pace than usual. And we had to grow at a faster pace because the market opportunity was there. We raised capital and we met our liquidity through wholesale deposits. But we clearly saw a year ago that we needed to change our strategy. But we needed time to change our strategy. Because we did not have the branch network that was needed. So the branch network had to happen, thereafter you had to allow non-wholesale deposits to build up. That could only be done by slowing on growth. And that's a consistent strategy that we now see that Chanda (Kochhar) has executed.

 

So, you are not sort of retracing your steps, you are not going backwards.

Not at all. I think we had to hit the pause button to allow us to regroup, particularly on our liabilities side and consolidate it. And I think that part of it is falling in place.

 

So would you say one year down that the crisis is now over for the financial sector? Or do some things still remain?

I think for India it is clearly over in the sense that three or four parts of the financial sector in India have stabilised. What could have posed a challenge is if corporate India had not performed the way it has. I was never in doubt that they would perform the way they have. God forbid, if they had not performed the way they now have, that would have caused strain on the banking system, there could have been a challenge. But whether it is the banking system, or whether it is the mutual fund industry, or whether it is the insurance industry, I think all have come of age and have proved that they are strong and they can sustain.

 

So do you see any black swan events in the horizon as you describe them?

My view of life and the way I've done business in the last 14 years is in a way completely at the other end of the spectrum from planning in a black swan way. Because to me a black storm or a perfect storm happens over a long period of time. But in the interim are a whole host of opportunities which you cannot afford to lose. So I would rather seize those opportunities than plan for a black swan event all the time.

 

You just talked about that period when you said it was possible to grow because of a certain set of virtuous circumstances, one of the most virtuous being low interest rates. How come we are still missing that sweet spot?

That's something that we — the government and the policy makers — need to think very deeply about. If you today look around the world, we would probably be the country with the highest rates of interest. And we are a country which, to me, is clearly now on an 8 per cent growth track and will not take too much time to get on a 10 per cent growth track.

 

You don't buy the 6.5 per cent story?

Absolutely not. I do not buy that, that's history, if you ask me. What I would like to see the government do is set a growth agenda and say that all think tanks, all advisory groups work within that constraint. Absolutely, growth should be a target and it should be the job of everybody to facilitate the target that the government has set for itself. And I think that's how you encourage business.

 

So what's your sense of what we'll end up with on March 31, 2010?

On March 31, 2010, I think the run rate will be 9 per cent and we will complete the year between 7.5 and 8 per cent. My target is 7.5-8 per cent. And I ve never strayed from this target. This is the target that started happening in the June quarter.

 

We have condemned ourselves to this Hindu rate of growth, because we say at least we are growing, but now we seem to be psychologically settling to a China minus three formula which is ridiculous.

To me that is dangerous too. Because China's growth rate is going to drop. If we adopt China minus three, I think we will again go back to the Hindu rate of growth.

 

Give us the Kamat formula for bringing down interest rates, maintaining stability, and also keeping inflation at bay.

I would think what we need to look at is growth to start with. We want to grow at 10 per cent. I would start with that as the beginning of the equation. If you want to grow at 10 per cent, we need to make sure that corporate India and consumer India at this point of time are ready to consume. They are ready to consume from what I can see because I see both sides of the equation, my corporate customers coming back with all their growth plans, and pushing them onto the frontburner, and consumer India coming back. But let's take the case of consumer India. We would need to make sure that they could continue to get things at an affordable rate. And it is in this context that interest becomes important. As far as corporate India is concerned, we need to make sure that they are able to produce competitively because while they have gotten competitive, we cannot take it for granted. And interest rate becomes an important variable in how competent they are. So I think the case for lowering interest rates is made, if we have to grow at 10 per cent. Then if you want proof, let's look at what happened in China. Growth happened with interest rates extremely low. I think throughout the cycle China has grown in, interest rates were in the range of 6-7 per cent. And of course, in that country deposit rates were also kept extremely low. And they learnt how to manage inflation. They did have episodes of inflation every four to five years, and took heavy measures to bring down inflation in terms of squeezing out supply of capital at that point of time to bring down inflation. So I think there are well-known methodologies that have been adopted by countries.

 

Now, your other hat, the hat of the mediator. I remember we had a conversation at this same place almost four years ago, 2005, when you were mediating between the two Ambani brothers. Where does that situation now remain? Do you follow it?

No, I do not follow it. I think today it is at the corporate end. And I am sure as mutual corporates whatever are the issues will be resolved.

 

When was the last time you had a conversation with one of them?

I think more than two months back with any one of them. And that too would have been a social conversation.

 

What should the government do?

I think let the documentation be examined and act as per the documentation.

 

Because right now the entire government is blighted by this, the petroleum policy is bedevilled by this. I mean, it's a bloody mess.

I say it's in court at this point of time and probably it is clearly best judged by the courts.

 

Do you have any advice for the two of them, besides the gas dispute, generally?

Of course, I am fond of both of them and my advice is very simple. I think there is so much opportunity at this point of time and I think this is the time to seize the opportunities and clearly get on with business.

 

So as we say in our politics, the Indian voter is choosing the politics of aspiration over the politics of grievance.

Clearly, I think this is the time to choose the business of aspiration... I think India is a land of opportunity, and I think that is what we should seize.

 

And the sooner you move away from grievances the better.

I would think in a much larger context, that is what Indian business should do. Move on to the opportunity. The opportunity is huge. India itself is an opportunity.

 

Since you dealt with this problem, give us your description or understanding of the dispute: is it corporate, financial, or personal?

I would rather not comment on this. As we all know, it is being heard as you speak.

 

But do you think it is resolvable?

I think in life everything is resolvable and I am sure that this will also be resolved.

 

One thing that is not resolvable usually in life is a blood feud.

I think all feuds get resolved.

 

If any of the parties were to ask you again for advice, is this all you would say, or would you be willing to get involved in a more massive manner?

This would be all that I would say because I think it's truly now at a corporate level and ought to be settled between two corporates.

 

But it's harming everybody.

Indeed, it will harm more in terms of opportunities that are there around you, which you may or may not seize.

 

I hope they are listening.

My good wishes are with them and I am sure they will do very well in life, both of them.

 

Thank you very much and our good wishes are with you.

Thank you.

 

Transcript prepared by Sharika C (www.indianexpress.com)

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

STRANGE DEBATE


It is hard to believe that much of the debate before RBI's credit policy statement on October 27 centres on whether rates should be hiked or not. Given the still perilous state of the global economy, the debate should still focus on whether rates should be cut or not. Put bluntly, it is still far too early to begin a serious debate on an exit strategy. That time will come, but likely not before the close of this financial year. And it is important to remember that even at that time, six months into the future, there may still be a need to carefully consider an exit strategy before rushing into it. For the moment, there is every indication that RBI will not raise any key policy rate—key figures in the government including the Prime Minister, finance minister and deputy chairman of the Planning Commission have said that India remains committed to continued stimulus. It is a commitment that India has made at a multilateral forum, the G-20, and it seems hard to imagine that RBI will decide to renege on commitments made by the government of India. But it isn't just about a political commitment. The economic scenario demands continued flexibility in monetary policy, especially because fiscal policy action has just about reached its upper limit.

 

Of course, we are unlikely to get back on to a 9% growth track any time soon. The world's biggest economies will take longer than we will to stage a recovery. However, to achieve 6.5-7% over the short term requires firm policy commitment. Evidence still suggests that credit growth is sluggish and corporate financing from bank lending is still anaemic. We aren't in any obvious credit-led or demand-led overheating type of situation. Of course, inflation is steadily inching upwards, but that is largely on account of a rise in food prices. Unfortunately, the government has been slow in its response to the somewhat deficient monsoon and the problems in food supply chains, but monetary policy can't settle food prices, at least not without inflicting huge damage on the rest of the economy. There is certainly a case for the government to look at ways to curb food inflation—faster imports of foodgrain and vegetables that are suffering from supply glitches should be expedited. There is still no case for RBI to worry itself about the inflation we are experiencing now. In the longer term, there will be some trade-off between growth and inflation, but given the importance of growth to an emerging economy like India, it would be better to lean on the side of monetary policy liberalism than conservatism, at least in the near term.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SMALL AND SCARED


The Sensex has now doubled from the lows of March this year. But retail investors are pulling out their investments fearing an imminent correction on the markets. In fact, an analysis from a sample of 900 companies that have filed their shareholding break-up to the exchange for the quarter ended Septemeber this year shows that two out of every three companies have seen a decline in retail shareholding—retail shareholders typically hold less than Rs 1 lakh worth of equity in any listed company. This does not bode well for the goal of broadbasing our markets and controlling the volatility that often follows high investment from foreign institutional buyers. In the depth of the global financial crisis, FIIs had pulled out $12 billion from Indian markets, but after the recovery, they have pumped in more than $14 billion in Indian equities, half of which came in the last quarter itself. Much of the increase in holdings has been through secondary market purchases, where they have picked up stocks of Indian companies through the issue of fresh shares under the qualified institutional placement route. Though markets are still seeing a high turnover, it is not a definitive indication of forward momentum as long-term retail investors, at current valuations, would like to wait a while before committing fresh money into any stocks. Moreover, only price actions may not lure retail investors as they may wait until clarity in the stock price movement emerges. There is a lot of profit booking at higher levels and the current rally should be seen as increased risk appetite driven by better liquidity conditions and not because of any sudden change in the fundamentals of companies. Significant directional calls are expected to trickle in over the next few months when all companies report their second quarter earnings. It will also soon become clear whether the stimulus packages announced by the government earlier will continue.

 

Various studies in India have shown that less than 5% of total household savings are invested in stocks, compared with 20% in the US and Europe. Overall retail participation in the markets is less than 10% compared with 65% stocks held by promoters—the rest are institutional investors. In fact, promoters are increasing their holdings through share buybacks and warrants. And fresh money from retail investors is finding its way in only through mutual funds and insurance products. These numbers suggest enormous scope in India for the growth in equity investments as a share of total savings. Measures like dematerialisation of shares, conversion of paper shares to electronic records, tax benefits on equity investments and online trading have made it easier for retail investors to own equity or equity-linked instruments. This has to now widen for greater transparency in the functioning of companies.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

WHY THE EXIT IN INDIA WILL BE HARD

MK VENU


RBI's credit policy statement on Tuesday will come in the backdrop of strong signals coming from New Delhi that monetary accommodation should continue for some time until industrial recovery is firmly in place. Interestingly, for the first time in recent years, Cabinet ministers, bureaucrats as well as economists working in the government have gone on record that the central bank must maintain status quo on interest rates. Business leaders too have sought the continuation of the present interest rate regime. Broadly, RBI is also of the view that there is no reason at present to tighten the monetary policy.

 

However, the central bank is more concerned about what might happen over the next six months to a year. The credit policy statement will outline RBI's view on these issues in a medium-term perspective. RBI Governor D Subbarao and his team would therefore be focused on how to time a gradual exit from an accommodative monetary policy sometime early to mid-next year, depending on how variables such as inflation, output and, most importantly, foreign capital induced liquidity will behave.

 

The scale of foreign capital induced liquidity is something RBI will have to worry about the most as it will create contradictory pulls and pressures in the management of exchange rate and interest rate. The report of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council makes a reasonable assumption that net foreign capital flows into India for 2009-10 should touch $57 billion. Keep in mind that net foreign capital flows had peaked at $100 billion in 2007-08 following the unprecedented global liquidity play-out driven by the finance capital boom starting in 2003. When the global liquidity party abruptly ended after the collapse of Wall Street, the net capital inflows into India came down to a mere $10 billion in 2008-09, a 90% drop from the previous fiscal.

 

The EAC report suggests the net capital flows will recover to $57 billion in 2009-10. If the net capital inflows indeed remain under $60 billion, it should not interfere with RBI's monetary policy and exchange rate management. My apprehension is that with so much liquidity sloshing about globally, supported by the G-20 consensus that such coordinated monetary and fiscal accommodation must continue, policymakers and central bankers in individual countries would tend to suspend their instinct for taking actions based on specific domestic considerations.

 

In some sense, 2009-10 may see an officially sponsored liquidity party among the G-20 nations which constitute 75% of the world economy. The key host of this liquidity party remains the US. Fed Chief Ben Bernanke has said on many occasions that his biggest challenge will be to time the exit of the US's excessively liberal monetary and fiscal policies. With US interest rates at near zero and fiscal deficit for 2009-10 projected at 13.5% of GDP, the overall economic situation might seem like a nightmare that is not going to end anytime soon. While corporate balance sheets may show some signs of improvement, one is not sure whether they are purely productivity driven in many sectors. Some Wall Street analysts apprehend that the improvement in the balance sheets of Citi and Goldman Sachs are because of freshly leveraged finance capital play. They may not be a reflection of any real sector improvement in the US.

 

The chief economist of the US Mortgage Bankers' Association said last fortnight that housing mortgage foreclosures and unemployment in the US will peak sometime mid-2010. That is bad news for the rest of the world. Simply because America will continue to export its loose monetary policy through the officially sanctified G-20 platform and make life difficult for emerging economies like India.

 

This will be exacerbated by the dollar's continuing decline, real and perceived, which will, in turn, result in the 800-pound gorillas on the Wall Street yet again flooding the emerging markets with their greenbacks. Indeed, if this happens all over again, India may get flooded with much more than the $57 billion of  net capital inflows that the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council is anticipating.

 

RBI will have a problem on its hands if the dollar inflows peak sometime early to mid next year when industrial recovery is well on its way and the inflation rate too inches closer to 7% as predicted by many.  RBI will then have to craft a gradual exit strategy from monetary accommodation. But that strategy will be marred by a deluge of foreign capital which will do exactly the opposite, i.e create ever more liquidity. At this point, exchange rate management will become a bigger headache. RBI will be called upon to ensure that the rupee does not appreciate beyond what is seen as a fair value vis-à-vis the dollar. Current wisdom says that level could be in the region of Rs 44 to Rs 45 to a dollar. RBI may have to stem any appreciation beyond this, thereby attracting even more capital flows. One does not envy RBI's job in such turbulent times!

 

mk.venu@expressindia.com

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

NOT THE EURO & NOT THE RENMINBI

MEGHNAD DESAI

 

One thing that has come out of the financial crisis is a new world economic order. Or so at least the many people who dislike America are hoping for. They are still angry about George W Bush, if not the very existence of the US itself.

 

Visceral anti-Americanism is one of the few things that remain to unite the Left so there is much cheer in midst of the gloom. If capitalism is not to collapse in their lifetime, people wish at least the American hegemony would end.

 

Many analysts are predicting that economic power will pass from the US to China, from the West to the East. The dollar will decline as a key currency and a multilateral economic and financial order will emerge.

 

But the consequences of success are as difficult for the winner as for the loser. Thus, dollar can only lose its pivotal position in the reserves of most countries if there are other currencies to take their place.

 

Euro is one such candidate currency but the problem with the euro is that unlike in the case of dollar T-bills, there is no EU authority which issues eurobonds which countries can keep in their reserves. So countries have to buy German or French or worse yet Greek and Italian bonds if they wish to have euro.

 

The EU itself has a budget which is only 1.27% of its GDP. It also has a strict budgetary rule so deficit spending is not allowed at the EU level. So the supply of EU eurobonds is nil.

 

China has the same problem. The renminbi is not fully convertible and foreigners do not have full freedom to buy and sell Chinese assets. The Central Bank of China has offered Rmb swaps but no full convertibility. Indeed, since last year it has also stopped the Rmb floating against the dollar and gone back to pegging.

 

This is to preserve the value of its multi-trillion holdings of dollar assets. As Keynes said if you owe your bank a thousand pounds you spend a sleepless night but if you owe them a million they spend the sleepless night. The Chinese may be powerful but they are terrified about the collapse of the dollar.

 

The pound sterling was the key currency through the 19th century and up to 1914. It was based on the Gold Standard. So the pound was universally acceptable. But then it took 30 years till 1945 and two wars before the pound conceded the key position to the dollar. The Americans were eager to take over and willing to take up the responsibility of a hegemon. Neither China nor EU is ready to take on these responsibilities. The main task is to preserve the value of your currency even as others are depreciating, ie let your currency float up. This is painful for your exports and so most countries prefer to peg or have a dirty float as a protectionist device to help their exports.

 

A hegemon must also be ready to have free flows of capital in and out. This is why other countries will hold its currency in their reserves. If the country wants imports of capital but balks at capital outflow then it does not attract other countries' demand for its currency. There is no candidate for such policies as of now except the US.

 

But that still leaves the problem of the fragility of an international payments system which depends on the vagaries of the public finances of one country—the US. At least UK had the Gold Standard which permitted zero deficits for its budget through the period it was a hegemon. American currency's value is never a constant but depends on the productivity of its labour and capital. If the US is to decline, one way to ease the pain is to let the dollar depreciate. But then it may export inflation around the world.

 

Of course, the IMF should have the capacity to step in to provide a multi-currency denominated asset. The SDR is one such asset, but it is not a means of payment, only a unit of account and a precarious store of wealth. The IMF needs to issue a better class of SDR which can be used in trade settlement.

 

This would require some international agreement to provide it with reserves in strong currencies. The G-20 in April 2009 resolved to let IMF have $500 billion but there has been no follow up in terms of contributions except $ 50 billion by the Chinese. We need more action by the rest of the world.

 

This will be the slow but sure way out. It will take perhaps a decade or more before the super SDR is in place but that is the sort of pace at which millennial events take shape.

 

The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

WHEN GUJARATIS STOP PLAYING

JYOTSNA BHATNAGAR


Have those of you who are inveterate market watchers ever wondered why the Indian markets tend to go flat for a few days following the Festival of Lights? While most of you will come up with answers relating to market dynamics, global cues and economic fundamentals, I have evolved a homegrown theory entirely unrelated to all these. Having lived in Gujarat for well over a decade now, I believe that markets flatten out post-Diwali simply because the largest chunk of India's investors—the Gujaratis—are too busy playing hard to play the markets.

 

Sounds strange? Let me explain. The Diwali break is an extended week-long celebration in Gujarat just as the Navratri festivities extend over nine days making them the longest dance fest anywhere in the world. Kicking off with Dhan Teras and ending on Labh Pacham, Diwali is a time to worship the Goddess of Wealth Laxmi. Its also a time when the hardworking and enterprising Gujaratis let their hair down and splurge wealth accumulated over the year with family and friends. Small wonder then that shops and business establishments down their shutters and offices report thin attendance. Funnily enough, while Diwali is not observed as a holiday by most offices and establishments here, it's the two days after the festival which are sealed holidays. And for shopkeepers and business establishments, resumption of work sometimes commences on Labh Pacham, the fifth day after Diwali since it's considered the most auspicious day to resume or start new projects.

 

Most Gujjus also plan mini vacations during this time flocking to domestic and international resorts by the hordes. A close friend of mine who was unfortunate enough to have scheduled a meeting in Ahmedabad during the Diwali break learnt to his peril that if you happen to fall sick in the state, you can have a hell of a time scouting around for a doctor since most are out of town. Moral of my story? When in Gujarat, do as the Gujaratis do. Or else, just stay away while they have a cracker of a Diwali. And wait for them to enter the markets and take them to new highs.

 

jyotsna.bhatnagar@expressindia.com

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

LOOMING WAR

 

Last week, Maoist insurgents in West Bengal paraded police officer Atindranath Dutta before the massed media, a prisoner-of-war logo draped around his neck. Mr. Dutta's release marked the end of the ugly hostage drama in Lalgarh — but illustrated in stark relief the crisis in which India's insurgency-ravaged heartland is mired. Later this year, the Union government plans to push in an estimated 75,000 Central Reserve Police Force personnel in an effort to restore the state's authority. Just two days before Mr. Dutta's release, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram made what has been interpreted as a last-ditch effort to ward off the inevitable bloodshed. In a letter to former Lok Sabha speaker Rabi Ray, he said the Union government was willing to hold talks with the Communist Party of India (Maoist) "on any issue that concerns them and the people they claim to represent." The problem, Mr. Chidambaram argued, was that the Maoists themselves had no apparent wish to enter into a dialogue. He suggested that an end to insurgent violence would have to precede meaningful talks.

 

What now lies ahead? Maoist leaders, many analysts believe, have little immediate reason to come to the table, given that a cessation of violence would mean losing control of the substantial territories they now dominate. The Union government's police-surge is more likely to prove no more than a holding operation. External forces, India's counter-insurgency experience shows, can take years to acquire local intelligence and tactical knowledge. The CRPF, moreover, suffers from crippling officer shortages and lacks an organic intelligence organisation. Successful counter-insurgency operations — among them Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Tripura, and Andhra Pradesh — were built on an overall enhancement of police capabilities. Andhra Pradesh, which defeated a powerful Maoist insurgency, invested not just in its much-vaunted Greyhounds jungle-warfare unit, but in training its personnel, developing intelligence capabilities, and building a network of well-equipped police stations. Andhra Pradesh has 1,579 police stations to serve its 2,75,045 square kilometre territory. By way of contrast, Chhattisgarh has just a fifth as many police stations — 350 — although it, at 1,35,191 square kilometres, is half as large. The situation is no different in other insurgency-hit States such as Orissa. What the Union Ministry hopes is that the central forces it is now pumping in will be able to restore some semblance of order, if not law, while police modernisation programmes it is funding kick in over the next few years. The strategy is less than optimal — but better than no action at all. India's Maoist movement needs to consider if the war it is precipitating will in fact serve the interests of the desperately poor it claims to speak for.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

CONFLICT OF INTEREST IN RESEARCH

 

With research being funded more and more by the pharmaceutical industry and incentives in the form of shares or cash for rendering various services becoming the order of the day, there is a compelling need for physician-researchers to disclose any conflict of interest when submitting papers to journals. While clash of interest by itself may not necessarily mean any wrongdoing, revealing it would help editors and those involved in the publication process take an informed decision, and the readers view the results of a study in the proper perspective. The requirement to declare conflict of interest covers the entire spectrum — authors of papers, editorial writers, peer reviewers and so on — to alert readers of any potential bias. Yet, medical journals have been struggling to find a way to make the self-declaration comprehensive. Ambiguity and lack of uniformity in self-declaration policies by different journals have been the main reasons why authors fail to reveal competing interests while submitting their work to different journals. Whatever the reason, the non-declaration affects scientific enterprise and erodes the credibility of peer-reviewed literature. It is to remove these deficiencies that the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) has recently come out with a uniform format for disclosing competing interests.

 

The format, to be adopted in April next year after taking into account the concerns of the users, requires a declaration that covers a wide range of issues. Apart from the standard declaration of association with commercial establishments, the users are required to disclose non-financial benefits — political, religious and personal, to name a few. Though the requirement to declare religious conflicts may appear an overzealous attempt, certain areas of medical research do evoke religious conflicts. That many scientists are opposed to embryonic stem cell research on ethical and religious grounds is well known. In fact, opposition to infertility research in general on religious grounds is a historical fact. The users would also be required to declare any financial association involving their spouse or children under 18 years. Much like its success in bringing about more accountability and transparency in the way clinical trials are conducted by forcing the industry to fall in line and register trials prior to the recruitment of the first volunteer, the ICMJE's latest initiative will go some way to cleanse the system.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

THE MEDIUM, MESSAGE AND THE MONEY

THE ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS SAW THE CULTURE OF "COVERAGE PACKAGES" EXPLODE ACROSS MAHARASHTRA. IN MANY CASES, A CANDIDATE JUST HAD TO PAY FOR ALMOST ANY COVERAGE AT ALL.

P. SAINATH

 

C. Ram Pandit can now resume his weekly column. Dr. Pandit (name changed) had long been writing for a well-known Indian language newspaper in Maharashtra. On the last day for the withdrawal of nominations to the recent State Assembly elections, he found himself sidelined. An editor at the paper apologised to him saying: "Panditji, your columns will resume after October 13. Till then, every page in this paper is sold." The editor, himself an honest man, was simply speaking the truth.

 

In the financial orgy that marked the Maharashtra elections, the media were never far behind the moneybags. Not all sections of the media were in this mode, but quite a few. Not just small local outlets, but powerful newspapers and television channels, too. Many candidates complained of "extortion" but were not willing to make an issue of it for fear of drawing media fire. Some senior journalists and editors found themselves profoundly embarrassed by their managements. "The media have been the biggest winners in these polls," says one ruefully. "In this period alone," says another, "they've more than bounced back from the blows of the 'slowdown' and done so in style." Their poll-period take is estimated to be in hundreds of millions of rupees. Quite a bit of this did not come as direct advertising but in packaging a candidate's propaganda as "news."

 

The Assembly elections saw the culture of "coverage packages" explode across the State. In many cases, a candidate just had to pay for almost any coverage at all. Issues didn't come into it. No money, no news. This effectively shut out smaller parties and independent voices with low assets and resources. It also misled viewers and readers by denying them any mention of the real issues some of these smaller forces raised. The Hindu reported on this (April 7, 2009) during the Lok Sabha elections, where sections of the media were offering low-end "coverage packages" for Rs.15 lakh to Rs.20 lakh. "High-end" ones cost a lot more. The State polls saw this go much further.

 

None of this, as some editors point out, is new. However, the scale is new and stunning. The brazenness of it (both ways) quite alarming. And the game has moved from the petty personal corruption of a handful of journalists to the structured extraction of huge sums of money by media outfits. One rebel candidate in western Maharashtra calculates that an editor from that region spent Rs.1 crore "on just local media alone." And, points out the editor, "he won, defeating the official candidate of his party."

 

The deals were many and varied. A candidate had to pay different rates for 'profiles,' interviews, a list of 'achievements,' or even a trashing of his rival in some cases. (With the channels, it was "live" coverage, a 'special focus,' or even a team tracking you for hours in a day.) Let alone bad-mouthing your rival, this "pay-per" culture also ensures that the paper or channel will not tell its audiences that you have a criminal record. Over 50 per cent of the MLAs just elected in Maharashtra have criminal charges pending against them. Some of them featured in adulatory "news items" which made no mention of this while tracing their track record.

 

At the top end of the spectrum, "special supplements" cost a bomb. One put out by one of the State's most important politicians — celebrating his "era" — cost an estimated Rs.1.5 crore. That is, just this single media insertion cost 15 times what he is totally allowed to spend as a candidate. He has won more than the election, by the way.

 

One common low-end package: Your profile and "four news items of your choice" to be carried for between Rs.4 lakh or more depending on which page you seek. There is something chilling about those words "news items of your choice." Here is news on order. Paid for. (Throw in a little extra and a writer from the paper will help you draft your material.) It also lent a curious appearance to some newspaper pages. For instance, you could find several "news items" of exactly the same size in the same newspaper on the same day, saying very different things. Because they were really paid-for propaganda or disguised advertisements. A typical size was four columns by ten centimetres. When a pro-saffron alliance paper carries "news items" of this size extolling the Congress-NCP, you know strange things are happening. (And, oh yes, if you bought "four news items of your choice" many times, a fifth one might be thrown in gratis.)

 

There were a few significant exceptions to the rule. A couple of editors tried hard to bring balance to their coverage and even ran a "news audit" to ensure that. And journalists who, as one of them put it, "simply stopped meeting top contacts in embarrassment." Because, often, journalists with access to politicians were expected to make the approach. That information came from a reporter whose paper sent out an email detailing "targets" for each branch and edition during the elections. The bright exceptions were drowned in the flood of lucre. And the huge sums pulled in by that paper have not stopped it from sacking droves of staffers. Even from editions that met their 'targets.'

 

There are the standard arguments in defence of the whole process. Advertising packages are the bread and butter of the industry. What's wrong with that? "We have packages for the festive season. Diwali packages, or for the Ganesh puja days." Only, the falsehoods often disguised as "news" affect an exercise central to India's electoral democracy. And are outrageously unfair to candidates with less or no money. They also amount to exerting undue influence on the electorate.

 

There is another poorly assessed — media-related — dimension to this. Many celebrities may have come out in May to exhort people to vote. This time, several of them appear to have been hired by campaign managers to drum up crowds for their candidate. Rates unknown.

 

All of this goes hand in hand with the stunning rise of money power among candidates. More so among those who made it the last time and have amassed huge amounts of wealth since 2004. With the media and money power wrapped like two peas in a pod, this completely shuts out smaller, or less expensive, voices. It just prices the aam aadmi out of the polls. Never mind they are contested in his name.

 

Your chances of winning an election to the Maharashtra Assembly, if you are worth over Rs.100 million, are 48 times greater than if you were worth just Rs.1 million or less. Far greater still, if that other person is worth only half-a-million rupees or less. Just six out of 288 MLAs in Maharashtra who won their seats declared assets of less than half-a-million rupees. Nor should challenges from garden variety multi-millionaires (those worth between Rs.1 million-10 million) worry you much. Your chances of winning are six times greater than theirs, says the National Election Watch (NEW).

 

The number of 'crorepati' MLAs (those in the Rs.10 million-plus category) in the State Assembly has gone up by over 70 per cent in the just concluded elections. There were 108 elected in 2004. This time, there are 184. Nearly two-thirds of the MLAs just elected in Maharashtra and close to three-fourths of those in Haryana, are crorepatis. These and other startling facts fill the reports put out by NEW, a coalition of over 1,200 civil society groups across the country that also brought out excellent reports on these issues during the Lok Sabha polls in April-May. Its effort to inform the voting public is spearheaded by the NGO, Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR).

 

Each MLA in Maharashtra, on average, is worth over Rs.40 million. That is, if we treat their own poll affidavit declarations as genuine. That average is boosted by Congress and BJP MLAs who seem richer than the others, being well above that mark. The NCP and the Shiv Sena MLAs are not too far behind, though, the average worth of each of their legislators being in the Rs.30 million-plus bracket.

Each time a giant poll exercise is gone through in this most complex of electoral democracies, we congratulate the Election Commission on a fine job. Rightly so, in most cases. For, many times, its interventions and activism have curbed rigging, booth capturing and ballot stuffing. On the money power front, though — and the media's packaging of big money interests as "news" — it is hard to find a single significant instance of rigorous or deterrent action. These too, after all, are serious threats. More structured, much more insidious than crude ballot stuffing. Far more threatening to the basics of not just elections, but democracy itself.

 

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THE HINDU

OP-ED

A WAR THAT CENTRES ON AUTHORITY

THE MYSTERIOUS WAR IN YEMEN SEEMS TO HAVE MORE TO DO WITH THE CRUMBLING AUTHORITY OF THE STATE THAN WITH ANY SINGLE CAUSE.

ROBERT F. WORTH

 

For almost seven weeks, Khasan Muhammad Abdullah and his family cowered in their house in northern Yemen while a war raged outside and their food slowly ran out. He could hear government fighter jets screaming across the sky, and he knew the Houthi rebels by their distinctive logos and headbands. But he could not understand what the two sides were fighting about.

 

"What do they want, what are they thinking?" Abdullah said wearily, sitting on a friend's floor in Sana a week after escaping the war zone, along Yemen's remote northwestern border with Saudi Arabia.

 

Those questions are being asked across the Arab world and beyond. More than two months of fierce fighting have left thousands dead. Whole villages have been pounded to rubble. The conflict has forced tens of thousands to flee their homes, fuelling a humanitarian crisis and worsening the chaos that has already made Yemen a new haven for the al-Qaeda and other militant groups.

 

Yet this mysterious war seems to have more to do with the crumbling authority of the Yemeni state than with any single cause. The Houthi rebels, after all, are a small group who have never issued any clear set of demands. They have been fighting the government on and off since 2004, and it is not clear why President Ali Abdullah Saleh decided in August to force an all-out war.

 

WIDENING INSURGENCIES

Many in Yemen's own government say the conflict is less about controlling terrain — always a tenuous prospect in this tribally splintered country — than about President Saleh's struggle to reassert his military powers, in the face of widening insurgencies and intensifying political rivalry in the capital.

 

"Saleh started this war mainly because he wants his son to succeed him, and many in the military and government do not accept this," said one high-ranking Yemeni official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, echoing an analysis that is often heard in the country. "With a war, people rally around him, even the United States, because they fear chaos in Yemen if he falls."

 

Yemen's Foreign Minister, Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, dismissed that view as idle speculation. He said the Houthis had forced the government's hand by terrorising the population in the north, assassinating local leaders and rearming, in violation of a ceasefire reached last year. He added that the war had a regional and sectarian dimension: The Houthis belong to an offshoot of Shiite Islam known as Zaydism, and he said they received support from Shiites across the region, including in Iran. (The Houthis have denied all this in their official statements.) Yemen is mostly Sunni.

 

"There were some efforts by the government to mediate, but finally we felt we had to take action," Mr. al-Qirbi said during an interview in his office. Much about the war remains uncertain, because the Yemeni government has strictly barred journalists and independent observers from entering the Saada Province, the centre of the fighting.

 

Yet it is clear that the conflict has spread across much of Yemen's lawless north, swamping the few aid groups operating there. As many as 1,50,000 people are now homeless, according to the U.N. refugee agency. Many more remain trapped in Saada, where aid groups have no access at all, and supplies of food, water and fuel are growing scarcer. The area is also flooded with weapons, which are so uncontrollable that the government used a major arms dealer as an intermediary with the Houthis.

 

Those who have escaped the war zone say the crisis is worsening.

 

"If we had not fled our house, we would have been finished," said Abdullah, a lame and beaten-looking 60-year-old who left his home in late September. "The house was in the middle of the fighting. We came with the clothes on our backs, nothing else."

 

On the road south, Abdullah and others said, they were surrounded by other desperate families seeking safety. Some are staying in temporary camps where aid groups are supplying food and water, but even those camps are being rapidly overwhelmed. Many donors have been reluctant to give money, in part because of concerns about poor access and government corruption, according to aid officials in Sana, the capital.

 

It also seems clear that the Houthis' influence has steadily grown since the conflict first broke out in 2004, largely because of the government's mistakes. The Houthis began as a small band of mountain insurgents loyal to Hussein al-Houthi, a former member of the Yemeni parliament. They belong to a quasi-aristocratic subgroup of Zaydis who claim to be descendants of the Prophet Muhammad and who ruled the country for much of the past thousand years until 1962. The government's bombing raids, and its use of thuggish tribesman as a proxy force, infuriated the local population in Saada. They began fighting alongside the Houthis after al-Houthi was killed in 2004, and the battlefield extended to neighbouring provinces. Even more civilians have been killed in the latest round of fighting. An airstrike last month left more than 80 people dead in the Harf Sufyan area, most of them reportedly women and children.

 

SECTARIAN ANIMOSITIES

The fighting in Saada has also provoked tribal and sectarian animosities that threaten to further destabilise the region. The Houthis formed in part to fight back against the influence of hard-line Sunni Islamists, who received support from neighbouring Saudi Arabia. The Yemeni government has often used the extremists (usually known as Salafists) as proxy warriors against the Houthis.

 

"The government never respects your human rights unless you are a Salafist," said Neshwan Yahya Ahmed, another exile from Saada now living in miserable conditions in a crowded house on the edge of Sana. Ahmed, who gave his age as 38 or 39, said he had fought in a government-organised "popular army" against the Houthis, who had arrested and released him four times. Although he seemed hostile to the Houthis, he also deeply resented the government's policy of using sectarian and tribal animosities to further its goals.

 

Several Saada residents, and aid workers who have spent time there, said the Houthis had extended their influence over the past year in part because they had worked hard to resolve local tribal conflicts. This effort, they say, stands in stark contrast with the government's policies, which have long involved setting tribal and political groups against one another.

 

In addition to its scorched-earth campaign against the Houthis, Yemen's government is facing other serious challenges. A southern secessionist movement that has been brewing for years flared up into open violence earlier this year and gained the support of one of Saleh's important allies. The al-Qaeda has regrouped in Yemen and is using the country as a base for attacks throughout the region.

 

 © 2009 The New York Times News Service

 

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THE HINDU

PROSECUTORS TURN TABLES ON STUDENT JOURNALISTS

MONICA DAVEY

 

For more than a decade, classes of students at Northwestern University's journalism school have been scrutinising the work of prosecutors and the police. The investigations into old crimes, as part of the Medill Innocence Project, have helped lead to the release of 11 inmates, the project's director says, and an Illinois Governor once cited those wrongful convictions as he announced he was commuting the sentences of everyone on death row.

 

But as the Medill Innocence Project is raising concerns about another case, that of a man convicted in a murder 31 years ago, a hearing has been scheduled next month in Cook County Circuit Court on an unusual request: Local prosecutors have subpoenaed the grades, grading criteria, class syllabus, expense reports and e-mail messages of the journalism students themselves.

 

The prosecutors, it seems, wish to scrutinise the methods of the students this time. The university is fighting the subpoenas.

 

Lawyers in the Cook County state attorney's office say that in their quest for justice in the old case, they need every pertinent piece of information about the students' three-year investigation into Anthony McKinney, who was convicted of fatally shooting a security guard in 1978. McKinney's conviction is being reviewed by a judge.

 

Among the issues the prosecutors need to understand better, a spokeswoman said, is whether students believed they would receive better grades if witnesses they interviewed provided evidence to exonerate McKinney.

 

Northwestern University and David Protess, the professor who leads the students and directs the Medill Innocence Project, say the demands are ridiculously overreaching, irrelevant to McKinney's case, in violation of the state's protections for journalists and a breach of federal privacy statutes — not to mention insulting.

 

John Lavine, the dean of the Medill School of Journalism, said the suggestion that students might have thought their grades were linked to what witnesses said was "astonishing." He said he believed that the federal law barred him from providing the students' grades, but that he had no intention of doing so in any case.

 

A spokeswoman for Anita Alvarez, the Cook County state's attorney, who was elected last fall, said the prosecutors were simply trying to get to the bottom of the McKinney case. "At the end of the day, all we're seeking is the same thing these students are: justice and truth," said Sally Daly, the spokeswoman. She said the prosecutors wished to see all statements the students received from witnesses, whether they supported or contradicted the notion of McKinney's innocence.

 

"We're not trying to delve into areas of privacy or grades," Ms Daly said. "Our position is that they've engaged in an investigative process, and without any hostility, we're seeking to get all of the information they've developed, just as detectives and investigators turn over."

 

If the courts find that Mr. Protess and the journalism school must turn over the student information, they risk being held in contempt if they refuse, said Dick O'Brien, a lawyer who is representing Northwestern.

 

But if the school gives in to such a demand, say advocates of the Medill Innocence Project and more than 50 similar projects (most involving law schools and legal clinics), the stakes could be still higher, discouraging students from taking part or forcing groups to devote time and money to legal assistance.

 

"Every time the government starts attacking the messenger as opposed to the message, it can have a chilling effect," said Barry C. Scheck, a pioneer of the Innocence Project in New York, who said he had never seen a similar demand from prosecutors.

 

In October 2003, Mr. Protess' investigative journalism classes began looking at the case after McKinney's brother, Michael, brought it to the attention of the Medill Innocence Project — one of more than 15,000 cases the project has been asked to consider investigating over the years.

 

Mr. Protess, who has been on the faculty at Northwestern since 1981 and began leading his investigative reporting students on such cases in 1991, created the Medill project in 1999, the same year he and his students drew national attention for helping to exonerate and free Anthony Porter, an inmate who had come within two days of execution.

 

The McKinney case took three years and nine teams of student reporters, all of whom have since graduated from Northwestern.

 

In the end, the teams concluded that McKinney had been wrongly convicted of killing Donald Lundahl, a security guard, with a shotgun one evening in September 1978 in Harvey, a southern suburb of Chicago.

 

The students said they had found, among other things, that two eyewitnesses had recanted their testimony against McKinney and could not have seen him commit the killing because they were watching a boxing championship (Leon Spinks vs. Muhammad Ali). The students collected an affidavit from a gang member who, they say, confirmed McKinney's alibi that he was running away from gang members when the shooting took place.

 

The students have also suggested alternative suspects in the case and offered witnesses who said they had heard the others admit their involvement.

 

In 2006, the students took their findings to the Center for Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern's law school, and by late last year, the claims were being considered by a Cook County Circuit Court judge and were described in an article in The Chicago Sun-Times and on the Medill Innocence Project Website.

 

The students provided their videotaped interviews of critical witnesses and affidavits to the prosecutors, but in June the prosecutors subpoenaed far more — the students' investigative memorandums, e-mail messages, notes from multiple interviews with witnesses and class grades.

 

In their quest, prosecutors have raised a central question about the role of the students — suggesting that they should be viewed as an "investigative agency," not journalists, whose unpublished materials could, under certain circumstances, be protected under a state statute.

 

"The school believes it should be exempt from the scrutiny of this honourable court and the justice system, yet it should be deemed a purveyor of its inadequacies to the public," a legal brief from prosecutors said.

 

Professional journalism groups have said the students are clearly journalists, and offered support for their wish not to reveal their notes. Beth Konrad, president of the Chicago Headline Club, said the club was seeking a discussion with Ms Alvarez, the state's attorney. "We want to know, what was the decision to overreach on this?"

 

Donald M. Craven, the interim executive director of the Illinois Press Association, questioned the prosecutors' motives.

 

"Taken to its logical conclusion, what they're trying to do is dismantle the project," Mr. Craven said.

 

— © 2009 The New York Times News Service

 

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THE HINDU

GOOGLE BILLIONAIRE'S GESTURE TO BENEFACTOR

STEPHANIE STROM

 

Were it not for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, there might be no Google. Thirty years ago, Sergey Brin, a six-year-old Soviet boy facing an uncertain future, arrived in the United States with the help of the society.

 

Mr. Brin, the billionaire co-founder of Google, is giving $1 million to the society, widely known as HIAS, which helped his family escape anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union and establish itself in the U.S.

 

"I would have never had the kinds of opportunities I've had here in the Soviet Union, or even in Russia today," Mr. Brin said in an interview. "I would like to see anyone be able to achieve their dreams, and that's what this organisation does."

 

The gift is small, given Mr. Brin's estimated $16 billion in personal wealth, but he said it signalled a growing commitment by him and his wife, Anne Wojcicki, to engage more substantially in philanthropy. He has already learned enough about philanthropy to add: "Our foundation is not soliciting proposals. Please make sure to include that."

 

Mr. Brin noted that Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft, was widely criticised for not giving away enough money but is now known as one of the world's leading philanthropists. "While everyone was criticising him, he was generating a whole lot more money for his foundation, and ultimately, when he got serious about philanthropy, he did it really well," Mr. Brin said. "I'd like to learn from that example."

 

The bulk of the money the Brins have given away has gone to the Michael J. Fox Foundation and other research organisations devoted to Parkinson's disease. But this year, in honour of the 30th anniversary of the Brin family's immigration to the U.S., they have given gifts to several Jewish organisations that aided along the way. HIAS, which helped the family navigate the cumbersome process of leaving the Soviet Union for the U.S., paid for tickets, gave them money and helped them apply for visas, received the largest amount.

 

The family lived in Paris for several months while waiting for visas and then moved to Maryland, and the relationship with HIAS ended. "Although they gave us tremendous help, we didn't stay connected with HIAS," said Eugenia Brin, Mr. Brin's mother. "Then a few years ago, I guess because of Google, we got a call from HIAS asking if we could help them digitise their archives." Eventually, Eugenia Brin joined the HIAS board and started a social networking site, mystory.hias.org, initially to encourage Russian Jewish immigrants to post their stories and eventually to attract the stories of other immigrants.

 

Gideon Aronoff, chief executive of HIAS, said the gift would be put to a variety of uses, like increasing the organisation's use of technology and supporting advocacy on immigration policy. "One of the most important things that Sergey Brin's gift signifies, not just for HIAS but more importantly for the nation," Aronoff said, "is the possibilities inherent in being a refugee."

 

— © 2009 The New York Times News Service

 

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THE HINDU

 

DEEPAVALI FIREWORKS AND MEDIA'S SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

 

One more Deepavali, the Festival of Lights, has come and gone. That the celebration-related fire accidents were fewer than in the past and the resultant damage less in Tamil Nadu, and probably in other parts of the country also, is good news. It is not clear whether this was chiefly the result of people adhering strictly to the safety norms prescribed by the authorities. The steep rise in the prices of not only fireworks but also foodgrains and other essential commodities might have played a moderating, if not deterrent, role. What is heartening is that the precautionary measures publicised through the media seem to have helped keep fireworks enthusiasts in check and prevent accidents to a substantial extent. In recent years, scientists and environmentalists have also joined the campaign by highlighting the long-term health hazards of the expensive and dangerous entertainment when it goes over the top. Air pollution caused by the chemicals that crackers and sparklers contain, they say, poses a serious threat to the environment and to people's health.

 

PICTURES

The media's role in educating the people on these problems has received wide acclaim. The safety tips were comprehensive: keep infants away from fireworks, allow children to light sparklers or burst crackers only under the supervision of elders, keep the specified optimum distance from the site where crackers are burst, and so on. A 'dress code' was also suggested. The print media, including this newspaper have been fulfilling this social responsibility of giving wide publicity to these safety guidelines during the festival season in the public interest. However, slips do occur in the choice of pictures accompanying articles or advertisement features during the festival season.

 

Referring to the photograph of a film personality that accompanied an interview published in The Hindu, a Chennai-based reader, A.J. Venkatasubramanyam, points out in an e-mail message to the Readers' Editor: "The film personality is shown trying to light a fire cracker held in his hand. This is contrary to the advice of competent authorities." Asked for his comment, a senior journalist in charge of the section of the paper that carried the picture had this to say: "The reader does have a point. Unfortunately, I missed seeing in that way. It was not our intention to propagate the practice of bursting crackers in this manner. And I thank the reader for pointing it out."

 

(Some callers referred to a few similar pictures that were "in violation of one or the other of the safety norms." These pictures had been published in different pages on different days ahead of Deepavali.)

Another reader, Sudarsanam of Srirangam, objected to the use of a picture of Austrian film actor Christoph Waltz in the magazine section of the paper. "The picture with pipe," he asserted, "may have an impact among readers that cigarette smoking will help them to achieve their interest. When the Government is taking a lot of efforts to reduce the smoking habit among the public, this is not expected from The Hindu." The reader has a point but it is arguable. The key question is: is it all right for newspapers to exercise censorship in such matters, as if in denial of the harmful practice of pipe- or cigarette-smoking in the real world, which are commonly depicted in films, for instance?

 

Back to science journalism. A reader, Arul Louis, informs us that one of the pioneers of modern science journalism was an Indian, Gobind Behari Lal, who won a Pulitzer prize in 1937. He has taken the pains to send a copy of The New York Times dated April 3, 1982, which reported the death of Lal from cancer, at the age of 92. The obituary stated: "Mr. Lal, science editor emeritus for the Hearst newspapers, worked for Hearst in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles since joining The San Francisco Examiner in 1925. He shared the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for distinguished reporting with Howard W. Blakeslee of The Associated Press, William L. Laurance of The New York Times , John J. O'Neill of The New York Herald Tribune and David Dietze, of the Scripps-Howard newspapers ... His efforts in behalf of Indian independence gained him some of India's highest honors, including the Padma Bushan in 1969 and the Tamra Patra in 1973."

 

A week before his death, Lal had this to say in an interview: "My interest is to create among the readers a lust for the knowledge of science, which destroys superstition and all kind of false assumption and raises the power of the human brain." In his long journalistic career, the obituary mentioned, he had interviewed many distinguished scientific, literary, and political figures of the 20th century. They included Albert Einstein, M.K. Gandhi, Sherwood Anderson, and Sinclair Lewis.

 

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THE HINDU

PERFECTIONISM CAN BE HEALTHY

AS LONG AS IT IS NOT INSATIABLE AND COMPULSIVE, PERFECTIONISM CAN BE BENEFICIAL TO STUDENTS.

OLIVER JAMES

 

School examinations cast a long shadow over the lives of millions of teenagers. Those most thrown into darkness are the very ones who do best — 15-year-old girls from the top social classes. A key reason is perfectionism, but parents will be reassured to hear that not all perfectionism is bad: there are healthy as well as unhealthy kinds. Healthy perfectionists derive real pleasure from their strivings, which are for the highest standard, but about which they are prepared to be flexible, depending on the situation — they realise that pursuing perfection may carry costs (such as excessive worry or workaholia) that are not worth incurring. They may have such high standards in order to gain others' approval to some extent, but this is neither their primary goal nor motive, which is the enjoyment of executing a task exactly as they wished. Above all, so long as they feel they have done their best, that is good enough. If they encounter a limit to their capacities after giving their all, they do not repine.

 

Unhealthy perfectionists are insatiable and compulsive — they feel as if they have no choice about their standards — 99% is failure because it's imperfect. There is always something that could have been better about their performance. They are usually strongly driven by a fear of parental criticism, and many studies show that they are liable to come from punitive, authoritarian, overcontrolling families. Sometimes these families seem outwardly relaxed, and often the children will say that their parents have never pushed them. The truth is that they were hijacked by impossibly high standards from before they can remember.

 

Perfectionism is often accompanied by depression, anxiety, eating disorders, alcoholism and obsessive compulsive personality disorder. The single most pathological ingredient is extreme self-criticism — without it, many perfectionists are spared mental illness. The main factor leading to this self-criticism seems to be overcontrol (parents constantly monitoring and analysing the child's every utterance and action) — just having authoritarian or harshly punitive parents does not necessarily lead to perfectionism.

 

Healthy or unhealthy, perfectionists tend to do better than non-perfectionists in tests, including ones that are supposed to be unaffected by motivation, such as IQ and aptitude tests. However — and of particular interest to those of us who might like to have a high-achieving child who is also happy — healthy perfectionists consistently outperform unhealthy ones in exams and tests of ability. Indeed, a recent study showed that unhealthy perfectionist students are more likely to burn out than healthy ones. If you want a nipper who keeps on going at university and beyond after getting those five A-grade A-levels (final year school examinations, taken at 18), make sure you are not overcontrolling, authoritarian or harshly punitive.

 

To put that the other way around, what really counts is to help your child to engage with what really interests them, known as authoritative parenting. It entails supporting the child from infancy onwards to find out what matters to them; being child-centred, while also setting boundaries through consistent reward and punishment that is not driven by your bad mood or need.

 

Unfortunately, we live in a society in which being the "best" — richest, most attractive, popular — is at a premium. At school and work, there is constant monitoring of performance and targets. But if you pull it off as a parent, your children will be much better placed to resist these pressures. They will work to please themselves and, because they are absorbed by the fascination of it, not become people-pleasing results-junkies.

 

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  THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

ON CHINA, LOWER OUR EXPECTATIONS

 

The starkness of a relationship that cannot be abandoned in a hurry, but one from which warmth has escaped and expectations cannot be high, describes India-China ties these days. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave words to it that are apt. According to the Indian spokesman who briefed the media after Dr Singh's meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of the Asean summit at Hua Hin in Thailand on Saturday, the Prime Minister underlined that "neither side should let our differences act as an impediment to the growth of functional cooperation between the two countries". The key word here is "functional". There is no attempt to put a gloss on things. Again, according to the Indian spokesman, the Chinese leader "concurred". Mr Wen noted that "issues that may arise in the course of our bilateral relations should be properly handled through discussions and they should not become an impediment in the development of our friendly relations". The spirit of the formulation is no different from that of the Indian Prime Minister's, but there is an implied suggestion here that tricky issues have not been handled "properly" of late, and that they ought to be in order that they may not become an obstacle in managing relations in a cooperative direction. It is doubtless a positive sign that both sides wish to carry forward a partnership that still has a lot of potential on the economic and trade side, and considerable commonality on leading international questions such as climate change and international financial management. But it is apparent there is no trace of political warmth here. Nor is there too great an expectation of it in the foreseeable future. This would suggest that any likely solution to the boundary dispute is not about to emerge.

 

This is a long way down from the expectations thrown up after the ice was broken between the two countries when Deng Xiaoping took the initiative and Rajiv Gandhi responded. It's been over two decades since then and both sides must ponder why the relations didn't go up and up. Without a political push to bilateral dynamics, the limits of economic and other factors are soon exposed. Boundary negotiations, by their very nature, are a complex entity. But China appears to have stretched it more than it might have. In seeking to lay claims to Arunachal Pradesh, which it calls South Tibet, Beijing makes much of Tawang being associated with the Dalai Lama. It chooses to overlook the fact that its seizure of Tibet is only a little over half a century old, and Tibet is not historically China, although there have been interregnums when Tibet has paid tribute to imperial China. Is a supposedly Communist government to be guided by such considerations? If Beijing takes due account of leaving population centres outside of any territorial exchange matrix, as per an agreement of 2005 between the two governments, India is likely to take a pragmatic view of the whole matter. After its 1962 invasion, Chinese troops retreated to their present position. This is approximately the point at which a deal can be struck. As matters stand, India has done well not to appease Beijing on the Dalai Lama's proposed visit to Arunachal Pradesh next month. Beijing's invidious opposition to India's agreement on civil nuclear cooperation with the United States was also wholly unnecessary and did not go down well in this country. It strengthened the belief that China believes in partnering Pakistan to discomfit India. It might help matters if New Delhi can successfully urge Beijing to quicken the pace in resolving the boundary question. There is a world to win if this were to happen.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

INDIA'S FIRST NUCLEAR MAN

INDER MALHOTRA

 

THE year now moving towards its end is also the birth centenary of one of India's exceptionally great sons, Homi J. Bhabha, the visionary and gifted physicist, a dynamic leader and a brilliant administrator whose phenomenal services to the country and Indian science remain unmatched. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that he was both the builder of India's entire atomic energy establishment and - with Jawaharlal Nehru's full support - the architect of India's nuclear strategy and diplomacy. The two men shared the highest ambition to modernise and develop the country through science and technology and were at one in resolutely safeguarding Indian sovereignty in every sphere. They also had a close personal relationship. Bhabha addressed the Prime Minister as "bhai" even in official correspondence. Nehru addressed him as "My dear Homi". As a lifelong bachelor, Bhabha was dedicated to his work, as was Nehru, a long-time widower.

 

It is all the more surprising, therefore, that the country heard of the landmark Bhabha centenary only the other day, and that too rather perfunctorily. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, was in New Delhi primarily to receive the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding. Around the same time, the Obama administration had announced its elaborate plan for nuclear non-proliferation that, among other things, aims at persuading non-NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) countries, including India, to sign this discriminatory treaty.

 

New Delhi used the coincidence of Mr ElBaradei's presence and the Bhabha centenary to hold a conference on the future of nuclear energy, which enabled Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to categorically declare that India would never sign the NPT as a non-nuclear state. Curiously, no one said a word about whether the Indian state would celebrate the 100th birth anniversary of the greatest Indian scientist of our times, and if so, how?

 

Mercifully, the Indian scientific community has rallied round to commemorate the life and times of its own towering leader. By honouring Homi Bhabha at two functions in his karam bhoomi, Bombay (now Mumbai), it would be honouring itself. On November 20, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research - Bhabha-founded "cradle of Indian atomic science" - and the Indian Academy of Sciences would hold a combined festival of science and arts. This makes sound sense. For, while Bhabha's love for Western classical music was well-known since his student days, his exquisite taste in arts became obvious when he laid out lush gardens around the atomic institutions he built and decorated their walls with superb paintings. A month later, the Atomic Energy Commission would organise a congregation of the priesthood of pure science.

 

Scion of a wealthy Parsi family, Bhabha combined Western tastes and attitudes with a highly nationalistic determination to "raise India's rank in the world". He earned his doctorate in physics from Cambridge in 1935, and used his stay in England and travels in continental Europe not only to enjoy Viennese opera but also to befriend such eminent nuclear scientists as Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi and James Frank, all of whom played a role in producing the world's first atomic bomb under the Manhattan Project.

 

So impressive was Bhabha's academic record that the Institute of Science at Bangalore created a special post of Reader in Physics for him. By 1944, the young scientist was convinced of two things: that the "nuclear age" was about to dawn, and that that Indian science needed a total overhaul and made truly interdisciplinary to keep up with the growing trends of the time. He, therefore, wrote to Sir Jamshedji Tata, suggesting the setting up of an institute devoted to basic scientific and technological research. The Tatas responded promptly and positively, and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, with Bhabha at the head, was born. Its initial annual budget, believe it or not, was Rs 80,000.

Nehru had spotted Bhabha's tremendous talent and huge potential even before Independence. He first appointed him chairman of the Atomic Energy Research Committee, then chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1948 and later secretary of the department of atomic energy also. No head of any department has enjoyed so much authority and autonomy as Bhabha did.

 

In retrospect and with the benefit of hindsight, it seems that those who criticised Bhabha's "unbridled authority" and the "excessive financial support" Nehru gave him, were right up to a point. But basically, they were in the wrong. For if Bhabha wasn't freed from the stranglehold of the bureaucracy, infested with abominable no-men, India's nuclear programme would have fallen flat. There would have been no Pokhran I (1974), or Pokhran II (1998).

 

So prodigious and profoundly important is Bhabha's contribution to India's nuclear capability that even to sum it up briefly would require a book. So let me take up tersely three areas of his luminous legacy.

The first is his steadfast advocacy of nuclear power. He was convinced that nuclear power in large quantities could be produced at sustainable prices. "No power", he would tell doubting Thomases, "can be more costly than no power". He did not say so publicly but he believed that nuclear power would give India electricity, prestige, development and, "if absolutely necessary", nuclear weapons.

 

Secondly, having won kudos as president of the first conference of the Vienna-based IAEA, Bhabha fought relentlessly against safeguards that would have cramped India's nuclear programme. Under no circumstances would he accept the proposal that the international agency should control India's nuclear fuel and other nuclear resources.

 

Thirdly, no one focused on China's nuclear threat and possible counter-measures as he did. As early as in the late 50s, in a masterly paper he argued, with enviable subtlety, that either India must have the right to match China's imminent nuclear weapon or those wanting India not to go nuclear must guarantee India security. After China's bomb became a reality in October 1964, he offered to produce the Indian bomb in 18 months at easily affordable costs.

 

On January 22, 1966, Bhabha was to leave for Geneva for an IAEA meeting. This had to be postponed for some reason. The next evening he took the plane that crashed mysteriously at Mont Blanc. Tragically, he died at age 56 on the day when Indira Gandhi, who respected him highly, was sworn in as Prime Minister.

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

IF OUR SMALL INVESTORS FOUND SENSEX SEXY...

PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA

 

In recent times, movements in Indian stock-market indices have closely mirrored inflows of funds from foreign institutional investors (FIIs) and have become almost completely independent of decisions of domestic investors. The problem simply is that, by their very nature, FIIs are fair-weather friends and the money they bring in is often warm, if not piping hot. As past experience has indicated, FII money can move out as quickly as it comes in. The country's capital markets will never acquire depth and maturity unless more ordinary citizens decide to park at least a part of their hard-earned savings in equity and debt instruments and not treat the stock exchanges as gambling dens.

 

Investments in equity shares and other financial instruments including mutual funds have varied between four per cent and 12 per cent of total household savings in the country over the last few years, according to Reserve Bank of India data. Various independent studies conducted to calculate the total number of investors in India show that their number is not more than 30 million or barely three per cent of the country's total population. The total number of depository accounts is around 13 million. In other words, the vast majority of Indians preferred to park their savings in bank accounts, post offices, precious metals like gold and silver or real estate. When not stashed away in cupboards or under mattresses, many poor Indians (notably tribal women) wear their savings.

 

Not surprisingly then, despite the high-voltage publicity given to developments in stock-markets by pink dailies and business television channels, the Sensex — or the sensitive index of the stock exchange at Mumbai, comprising 30 of the most actively traded shares — is sexy for just a small section of Indians. We are, after all, a country in which the combined value of the assets of the top five billionaires (in US dollar terms) equals the aggregate wealth of the bottom 300 million Indians.

 

The Sensex took nearly two years to rise from 10,000 to 21,000 in early-January 2008. It then collapsed to below 10,000 nine months later in September and further to a three-year low below 8,000 on March 9. Thereafter, the index rose above 12,000 points in early-May 2009 — jumping sharply by 17 per cent on May 18 after the election results indicated that a stable government would be formed. The index crossed the 15,000 mark in July 2009 although the July 6 Budget was not welcomed by the markets. The Sensex is currently hovering around the 17,000 mark.

 

FIIs had pumped in close to $18 billion in calendar 2007 but withdrew nearly $15 billion out of this amount in the course of 2008 as Wall Street collapsed and the international economic recession set in. Just as the inflow of foreign funds had added to domestic money supply and fuelled inflationary expectations, the withdrawal of FII money last year put considerable pressure on the exchange rate of the rupee vis-à-vis the American greenback. Now, attracted by India's growth prospects, FIIs have again returned and have invested over $12 billion in the country's stock-markets between January and October this year.

 

An FII is an institution established or incorporated outside India that invests in securities in this country. A sub-account of an FII could include foreign corporate entities, institutions, individuals, funds or portfolios established outside the country (whether incorporated or not) on whose behalf investments are made by an FII. While FIIs have been allowed to invest in Indian securities from September 1992 onwards, the regulations governing the activities of FIIs were notified by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) more than three years later, that is, in November 1995.

Till the end of 2003, there were barely 500-odd FIIs operating roughly 1,300 sub-accounts in India's stock exchanges. At present, the total number of FIIs registered with the Sebi has more than trebled to around 1,700 and these investors operate close to 5,300 sub-accounts. The number of sub-accounts has gone up by over 50 per cent in the past one year with nearly 1,900 new sub-accounts getting registered in the last two years alone.

The purchase and sale decisions of FIIs are the only significant factors that determine the mood that prevails in the country's stock-markets. Nothing else matters. Forget the small investor. Even those who run mutual funds, heads of large financial institutions or even many corporate captains passive witness the action in the bourses from the sidelines. In the past, the FIIs would often display a "herd mentality", buying or selling together. Over the years, among the FIIs, identifiable bulls and bears have emerged. Still, if one plots the net inflows of FIIs on a graph, its shape would closely resemble the pattern of a chart depicting the movements of the Sensex or the National Stock Exchange's (NSE) Nifty index.

 

The shares of roughly 6,200 companies are listed on the NSE and the Bombay Stock Exchange. On any given working day, between one million and two million transactions take place. The daily trade in equity shares is around Rs 15,000 crores while trade in derivatives (in the futures and options segment) is three to four times higher. At present, there are online trading terminals in more than 450 cities and small towns scattered across the length and breadth of India. Despite this impressive network, the fact remains that most small investors in the country lack confidence in the ways of the stock-markets. Under the circumstances, given the passive role played by small investors, it is not surprising that FIIs are calling the shots.

 

One can understand why FIIs are so keen on investing in India. But the government has to do much more to make stock-market investments more attractive to ordinary Indians. In February 2003, a study conducted by Prime Database headed by Prithvi Haldea had pointed out that the small investor in India had been being grossly neglected, thanks largely to an unfriendly policy regime framed by apathetic officials. The situation continues. It is far simpler for an FII to invest in Indian stock-markets than it is for a citizen of the country.

 

In the 1990s, one would hear of paan-stall owners on Mumbai's Dalal Street playing the markets. But where is the small investor today? Having burnt his/her fingers more than once, individual investors belonging to the middle-class remain rather disillusioned about the stock-markets.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

COLUMN

NO IFS AND BUTS IN CONGRESS VICTORY

JAYANTHI NATARAJAN

 

The best quotable quote from the discussions on the verdict in the three Assembly elections held recently in Arunachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Haryana came from Bharat Kumar Raut of the Shiv Sena. He complained that the Congress Party was guilty of "allowing the Opposition to lose…" It is, of course, virtually impossible to fully parse the meaning of that quote, but taking it at face value, it was perhaps one of the more amusing observations made about these election results by a rather ungracious losing Opposition.

 

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) plumbed a new low by claiming that the Congress' victory in these three states was due to faulty electronic voting machines which, according to them, functioned like "electronic victory machines" for the Congress. They immediately backtracked and contradicted themselves. The most often repeated refrain, however, from political spokespersons as well as political pundits was that the results were by no means a victory for the Congress, but rather a result of disunity among a fragmented Opposition.

 

As the results were being announced, various television channels aired the constant chant that the Congress had won "despite" the lack of governance by its government, and lack of performance by the party. Time and again, especially regarding Maharashtra, panelists claimed that the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government had failed to perform, particularly on agriculture, farmer suicides, and power failures. Time and again Congress spokespersons pointed out that no government can possibly be voted back to power if it didn't perform! Particularly the Congress which has been voted back to power for the third time (second time along with the NCP) beating anti-incumbency, a feat unparalleled in any circumstances.

 

Undoubtedly, the Maharashtra victory was by a bare margin, but that does not take away from the fact that it was a victory, and that the Congress-NCP is set to form the government in Maharashtra for the third time, something the voters of Maharashtra would have never ever allowed had they not believed in the Congress-NCP combine.

 

Another Opposition refrain has been the so-called role of Raj Thackeray and his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) in "ensuring the defeat of the Shiv Sena-BJP, and the consequent victory of the Congress-NCP", as if this was the single major factor accounting for the Congress' victory in Maharashtra. This argument is a convenient distortion of the Congress' achievements. If the index of Opposition unity failed to work, resulting in the emergence of MNS and the decimation of the BJP and the Shiv Sena, surely that is a problem requiring introspection by the concerned parties. Also, the argument regarding the failure of Opposition unity can be easily countered by the fact that on its part the ruling combine faced the anti-incumbency handicap and yet managed to overcome it.

 

In other words, if Opposition unity is to be factored in the assessment of victory, then, equally, so must anti-incumbency. It would be a terrible underestimation of the Indian voter to say that she/he did not have clear views, or that his/her vote was rendered meaningless due to lack of Opposition unity. The further argument that had the MNS not dented the BJP-Shiv Sena's chances the results might have been different, is also not very sustainable. In the ultimate analysis, the Indian voter knows his/her mind well enough to send out a very clear message and is, by no means, confused by the existence of one party or another. In this instance, voters have sent the BJP-Shiv Sena back to the pavilion, given the Congress their mandate, but also told us that they expect good performance from us.

 

An important reason why voters reposed faith in the ruling Congress-NCP combine, notwithstanding the challenges of the drought, farmers' suicides in some regions, and the power supply situation, was the fact that important initiatives of the Central government — such as the loan waiver scheme for indigent farmers, the insurance schemes, National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, and other social security schemes — were meticulously implemented by the state government. This mitigated some of the problems being faced by the farmers and gave them hope and confidence that they were not forgotten and that the Congress government would take care of them.

 

In this context, it cannot be denied that the leadership of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, along with the sincere and inspirational initiatives undertaken by Rahul Gandhi, placed the Congress head and shoulders above other contenders in terms of infusing confidence and faith. The voters were clearly impressed by the credibility and charisma of these Congress leaders and believed that the party, led by people such as these, would certainly make an honest effort to address and ameliorate their problems.

 

The tremendous importance of the verdict given by the voters of Arunachal Pradesh is a matter of considerable pride for the Congress, not just because of the clean sweep but also the substantial turnout of 72 per cent on election day. Voters reaffirmed their commitment to democracy and sent a clear message of contempt for China's self-serving claims on the territory of Arunachal Pradesh.

 

Haryana too was a historic verdict for the Congress in the sense that this is the first time that any incumbent government will return to power in that state after the 1970s. However, our inability to get a simple majority on our own was certainly disappointing in the face of our far more optimistic expectations.

 

THIS MONTH will mark the 25th memorial day of Indira Gandhi. The Congress Party was the most towering presence on the Indian firmament at that time. In the years that followed, the Congress has seen many victories and an equal number of trials and tribulations. It is a matter of tremendous satisfaction for every member and sympathiser of the Congress that 25 years down the road, 10 years into the leadership of Mrs Sonia Gandhi, the Congress has emerged once again as the largest, most principled, credible and successful national party in the country with a powerful pan-Indian presence.

 

The real achievement of the Congress under Mrs Sonia Gandhi's leadership is the fact that the party has gone back to its roots and become, once again, the umbrella party that is steadfastly committed to, and works constantly for, the welfare of the poor and the most disadvantaged citizens of India.

 

Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson. The views expressed in this

column are her own.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

FATAL MISTAKES

 

The mishap on the Central Railway last week where a steel girder fell on a passing train near Thane and then broke a water pipeline contains all the elements of everything that is wrong with infrastructure development in India today. The girder belonged to a bridge which was under construction for the last eight — yes, eight — years. Of this, work had been halted for three years due to some petty squabbles between the Central Railway and the Thane Municipal Corporation. The details of the stand off between the two would be funny to read if the results had not been so catastrophic. Both sides continuously invoked territorial rights and not surprisingly soon after the accident the familiar blame game which is an Indian hallmark, followed.

 

The immediate outcome of the accident was the deaths of the motorman — who took the brunt of the girder's fall — and one passenger. Several people were injured, some quite badly. The fact that the water pipeline was also damaged meant that the accident site also got flooded. Gallons of water were wasted, affecting the water supply to the area. The damage to the railway tracks was so extensive that several train services were cancelled or thrown out of joint for days. Mumbai relies on its train services to move people around — a mishap can affect tens of thousands of people.

 

Jumping into the melee were political leaders and activists. Those who were deemed responsible were roughed up by local MLAs. Allegations flew thick and fast and corruption was assumed to be the main cause for the delay. Each one of these instances underlines one more list of shortcomings in our infrastructure, our disaster management and emergency services.

 

Enquiries and investigations will look into the cause and try and apportion blame for the accident. But the problem lies much deeper than that. It points to the flaws that lie in our systems and in our infrastructure development. The country is practically exploding as far as infrastructure is concerned: there are flyovers, bridges, railways, airports, power plants being built in every major city and town. And yet, not only do we have abysmally low standards, we also have no concepts of time, money and safety, to say nothing of maintenance. What are the chances that this accident will change the way things are fundamentally done? The tragedy is not just in loss of life and material damage: it is in our gross inefficiency and our refusal to learn from our mistakes.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

WIRES CROSSED

 

There was always a whiff of corruption in the allotment of wireless 2G spectrum to telecom companies. When the allotments took place last year, there were allegations that the entire process was skewed and had allowed many companies to make huge instant profits while at the same time  costing the government thousands of crores in lost licence fees. At that time too, the telecom minister A Raja was at the centre of the storm but the political compulsions of the UPA government ensured that there was no investigation.

 

A year later, the picture is different. The UPA coalition, specifically the Congress, looks more secure and thus more willing to take on a minister from the DMK. That may have emboldened the CBI to conduct raids against the department of telecom. Though that is a political spin on the issue, the loud protests by the DMK chief M Karunanidhi bear this out. After all it is not often that the premier investigating agency raids a government ministry to look for evidence of corruption.

 

The scandal revolves around the sale of 2G (second generation) radio spectrum to telecom companies. Companies that paid Rs1,650 crore licence fees were given 4.4 MHz of start-up spectrum for free which some of them sold at huge mark-ups, earning phenomenal profits in the process. Questions had been raised at that time about why the spectrum had not been auctioned, letting the market find its own price. The calculated loss to the government is to the tune of a whopping Rs 60,000 crore.

 

But while the government's action against the telecom ministry and 10 or so companies involved in the sale is welcome, it will be hard put to explain why it had defended the allotment process so robustly last year when pointed allegations had been made. The same point has been made by Karunanidhi in his protest to the PM. Equally intriguing is the fact that Raja was re-appointed to the same ministry this time round too, when a new government could have easily reshuffled ministerial portfolios. The conclusion that there is a political element to this exercise is inescapable.

 

The government could start by asking the minister to step aside while the investigations are on. The politics of it should not concern the CBI; the agency must investigate the case on the facts. And the DMK should allow the law to take its own course. Its protestations will raise doubts that it has something to hide.

 

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DNA

COLUMN

FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER

S NIHAL SINGH 

 

Former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf was fond of saying that the only way to resolve Indo-Pakistani problems was through "out-of-the-box" thinking. Although the retired general's political fortunes are at low ebb, his countrymen could profitably use his advice to grapple with the nation's formidable problems as the Pakistan army fights militants in the inhospitable terrain of south Waziristan.

 

Essentially, the biggest problem facing the country's military establishment is whether and how far to distance itself from the militant organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba it has nurtured and used as a strategic asset against India and Afghanistan. Its dilemma is magnified manifold by the militants biting the hand that fed it. Various brands of militants — it is not always easy to distinguish them —  are now challenging the state.

 

For a time, the Pakistan army tried the softer option of deal-making, particularly in Swat. But instead of consolidating their good fortune in the valley, the militants became over-ambitious and set alarm bells ringing in Islamabad. The Swat operations followed and the army declared victory — how long lasting this victory will be remains to be seen. Having tasted power, militant organisations are answering the belated army offensives with the only coin they know: a series of devastating terrorist attacks on a variety of targets in several towns crowned by taking on the symbol of power, the military headquarters in Rawalpindi.

 

The army has two kinds of problems: its (and the country's) fixation on India and the belief that American patience will snap and it will leave Afghanistan to its own (and Pakistani) devices. There is little sign of the Pakistani mindset on India changing in the foreseeable future. On the second problem, Pakistanis are seeking to extract as many goodies as they can from the United States while they conduct anti-al Qaeda and anti-Taliban operations.

 

The Pakistani establishment has a problem in prosecuting the accused in the Mumbai terrorist attacks as it wishes to retain the Lashkar and like-minded organisations for future use against India and Afghanistan, because it must look to the future — to the day Americans leave Afghanistan. What is complicating the issue for the army, which remains the main power centre, is that its options are narrowing. If the militant organisations it has funded and trained are challenging the very basis of the army's power by seeking to appropriate more land and population centres to rule outside the ambit of state power, the equation has dramatically changed.

 

The army really had no choice but to take its military operations into the traditionally tribal-administered FATA area because that was the least it could do, given the generous financial and arms support it has received from the United States. Americans have been demanding with great persistence that Pakistan clean up the border areas with Afghanistan which serve as the base for al Qaeda in its operations against Nato and American troops there. But as colonial Britain discovered to its cost, bringing tribal societies to heel is to stir a hornet's nest.

 

All indications suggest that the Pakistan army has not thought through its central dilemmas. It will perhaps take a generation to surmount the India obsession and the vicissitudes of US policy-making are still too many to forecast a likely departure date for Americans. The army, of course, is used to wielding real power with a fragile civilian government in office.

 

What we are witnessing therefore are tentative moves. Finally, the army has gone into south Waziristan in an operation expected to last weeks, if not months. The conditions attached to the bumper US civilian aid programme of $ 7.5 billion over five years have hurt the country's amour propre but the army as well as the larger ruling establishment knows very well that there is a cost to becoming a rentier state. Partly, the state of play will depend upon the American resolve, or lack of it, to stay the course in Afghanistan.

 

The chances are that the new army-militants struggle — it is no coincidence that most attacks are mounted on army and security establishments — will intensify. In other words, the army will have to decide sooner, rather than later, to change their traditional mindset. It is all very well to plan Pakistan's role in Afghanistan as one providing it with strategic depth against India, but when militants have become bold enough to challenge the army's writ in the country, radical measures are needed to try to ward off the evil.

 

The problem then boils down to the army getting over its India mental block to plan ahead. Judging by present trends, the attempt will be to muddle through as crises pile up and the army undertakes fire-fighting operations at home while seeking to convince Americans that they are getting their money's worth by Pakistan mounting anti-Qaeda operations.

 

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DNA

A TOAST TO THE VOTERS WHO DEFEATED THE BJP

ANIL DHARKER 

 

Who is the hero of the Maharashtra elections? If you believe the electronic media, it was indisputably Raj Thackeray. If you believe me, it was the voter, at least the 50 per cent who bothered to turn up. Let me tell you why.

 

But first, Raj Thackeray. He has undoubtedly had some influence on the results of these elections, as he did with the Lok Sabha polls earlier in the year. To start with, the MNS took away six seats from the Sena-BJP in Mumbai. Then in getting six per cent of the total vote, the MNS not only won 13 seats in the states but it also hurt the Sena-BJP in about 20 other seats. But analysts miss one important point: any split in a political party is bound to hurt one or both of the entities. If the Congress and the NCP had not fought the election together, the combine couldn't have formed the government, either this time or earlier. If you recollect, there was a lot of brave talk of the Congress going it alone. But this was before the election and it remained brave (actually foolhardy) talk only. The Congress has learnt its lesson from previous elections: you contest an election without seat-sharing arrangements with like-minded parties and you end up losing what you could have won.

 

I have heard several Shiv Sena spokesmen blame the MNS factor for its own poor showing. To hear them talk you would think that

 

the MNS was a Congress creation or that Raj Thackeray was the villain of the piece. None of them wants to acknowledge — or perhaps none of them dares to say it out loud — that the MNS breakaway from the Shiv Sena was a result of the failure of Bal Thackeray to resolve the succession issue. As one has seen in several family-owned industries, these issues are never easy to handle, but elder statesmen are supposed to gain wisdom with their grey hair, which is why several industrial families have arrived at solutions which have been acceptable to all concerned. If that didn't happen with the Shiv Sena, it's not the fault of Raj Thackeray.


When I say the hero of the elections is the voter, I don't mean just this election but the general election of 2009 and the one before that as well. These are the polls that coincide with the decline of the BJP. I am not playing partisan politics here; I am just observing that the voter has become disillusioned with the BJP's refusal to see India as a modern nation state. The BJP has floundered because its Ram Mandir-Hindutva based success went
to its head. It forgot that the voter and voting trends are dynamic, not static. Even the voter who had earlier been for Hindutva politics now wanted to move on. The world was changing rapidly around him and he wanted to be part of that change. That meant a focus on developmental issues, on policies that promote inclusive growth and do not get side-tracked into matters relating to caste and religion. It's possible I am reading too much in to this; perhaps it's not really a trend… But something tells me that I am at least partially right. That, in fact, was the reason LK Advani and company floundered so much: they felt the scenario was changing but couldn't quite grasp it, and found themselves out of touch with the electorate.


If this reading is right, the Marathi manoos issue will not be as important in 2014 as it is now. Even now it's an urban phenomenon, and that too confined to major cities like Mumbai. If the new Congress-NCP government that will be formed soon gets its act together and addresses the issue on a war-footing, it will lose its relevance even further in five year's time. Perhaps Raj Thackeray will find another theme then, but that's to be seen in the years to come. As things stand, it's the electorate which is growing up and it's the political parties which are failing to keep up.

 

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DNA

FRAGILE UK ECONOMY

 

Optimists have been citing all sorts of trends to back up the idea that Britain is on the verge of a strong economic recovery, from a stock market bull run to profits made by large investment banks. Even a couple of months of stabilising house prices have been held up as a "green shoot". The GDP figures from the Office for National Statistics blew that froth away and revealed an altogether less palatable economic brew beneath.
The economy contracted by 0.4 per cent in the three months to September. This means that Britain has now endured six successive quarters of negative growth, making this the longest recession since quarterly figures were first compiled in the 1950s. These latest figures are not based on complete data and might be revised upwards. But even if they are, we are unlikely to see a positive figure.


What these figures illustrate is just how fragile our economy remains. Output from manufacturing, construction and services is still well below trend. The economy is no longer contracting at the terrifying rate of earlier this year. But there has been no strong rebound to growth. And there is little prospect of one either. The British economy has contracted by about 6 per cent since the middle of last year. Getting back to the levels of employment and output to which we have grown accustomed will be a long and arduous journey. The latest report from the Bank of England shows that viable small and medium-sized firms are still not receiving the working capital they need from the banks. Make no mistake, the credit crunch is still going on. To maximise the effects of monetary stimulus, the government needs to ensure that the banks are providing the economy with the money it needs to grow. —The Independent (UK)

 

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DNA

NATURE OF THE SELF

 

Direct realisation is herein expounded as a means to liberation. It should be studied, with great effort. By following the duties of one's own caste and order, by asceticism and by the propitiation of Hari, men will gain the four-fold requisite of freedom from desires.


Spotless freedom from desires means a dissatisfaction in respect of all objects from Brahman down to the inanimate. Discrimination of the real means the determination that the nature of the self is eternal while, all that is perceptible is otherwise. The constant eradication of mental impressions is called control of mind. The restraint of external activities is called control of body.


Extreme abstention is the turning away from the objects of enjoyment. The endurance of all kinds of pain is called resignation. Devoted belief in the sayings of the Veda and of the teacher is called faith. The concentration of the mind on the reality that is the ultimate goal is called balance. Desire for liberation is the name given to the intense thought "How and when shall liberation from the bonds of samsara come to me?" Whosoever desires his own welfare should commence the enquiry with a view to the attainment of knowledge. Knowledge cannot spring up by any other means than enquiry, just as the perception of things is impossible without light. "Who am I? How was this (universe) born? Who is its maker? What is its material cause?" This is the kind of enquiry referred to above.


The self is without parts and without a second; but the body is comprised of many parts. And yet they identify the two. The self is the ruler and subjective; the body is the ruled and objective. And yet they identify the two. The self is of the nature of knowledge and pure; the body consists of flesh and is impure. And yet they identify the two. Can any ignorance be worse than this?


From Select Works of Sri Sankaracharya

 

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DNA

A WAKE UP CALL

The girder and water pipe falling on the train between Thane and Mulund is an eye-opener ('Bridge, pipeline collapse on train in Thane, 2 dead', DNA, October 24). We have seen how the whole city can be paralaysed if the train tracks become non functional. Trains could have run between Thane and Kalyan and Nahur and CST but there was no proper decision-maker. It is hard to get any kind of traffic assistance after 7pm. We need young, experienced, creative thinkers as a part of a crisis management group to tackle the problems plaguing our city.

Sameer Joshi, via email


GRAND SCAM

Apropos '10 companies being probed in Rs60K Cr telecom scandal', (DNA, October 24), the impropriety involved in the spectrum allocation suggesting massive kickbacks in the transactions had been raised by the Opposition parties several times in the past one year. The concerned minister A Raja of DMK has gone on record in the Parliament saying that the allocation was done with the full knowledge and consent of the prime minister. This statement has not been contradicted by the prime minister. Hence, the sudden CBI interest to unravel the telecom scandal could not have been inspired by the PM's 'concern' to maintain the clean image of his government. It only shows that the Congress party is getting ready to cut its allies to size, with its newfound confidence arising from its electoral successes.

VVS Mani, Bengaluru


TOUGH TASK AHEAD

With reference to 'Congress-NCP Raj again' (DNA, October 23), no matter how and why this combine has been voted back to power in Maharashtra, the politicians must note that this is a rare third opportunity being given to them by the electorate to serve, promote growth and development and to strive hard to fulfil the aspirations of the people. Should they miss or waste this opportunity, they will be doing so at their own peril. The electorate will not forgive them and they too will vanish in oblivion as has already happened to some others. So, they must shun petty, narrow politics and get on with the task entrusted to them.

LJ Prasad, via email


THIRD TIME LUCKY

Your edit, 'Third chance', (DNA, October 23) was a balanced and no-nonsense opinion on how the new administration should take care of the governance. The new government has been given a 'third chance' to rectify the mistakes it committed in its previous terms. It must not waste this opportunity and politicians must make sure that they don't let down the people who have trusted them.

Nitin Mhaske, via email

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

BYE-BYE RAJE

OTHER BJP LEADERS CONTINUE TO CLING ON

 

Ms Vasundhara Raje took 11 weeks to step down. She should have done earlier — soon after the defeat of her party in the elections in Rajasthan. So should have the other leaders of the party at the Centre for the same reasons. But the BJP is hit by a phenomenon that comes in the wake of an abject defeat in an election. The party is now caught in confusion, and a free-for-all among blundering leaders out to blame each other.

 

Far from drawing any lessons from the election defeat, the BJP is adding to its woes through crass mishandling and unimaginative leadership. The ignominious showing of the party in the assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal is the latest manifestation of public disenchantment with the party which seems possessed by a death wish. Significantly, the meeting of the Central Parliamentary Board that "accepted" Ms Vasundhara Raje's resignation on Friday did not deliberate at all on the party's poor performance in the three states. At Shimla meeting also, the party leaders chose to avoid pondering why it has been rejected by the people. So much for accountability in the party!

 

Time is indeed running out for the BJP as it continues to stumble and fall. As the principal Opposition in Parliament, it is continuing to give a poor account of itself. Before the situation worsens to a point where it becomes irretrievable, the party must pull itself out of the morass. There is no escape from an overhaul of the leadership and the induction of young and dynamic leaders who can potentially inspire confidence. More than anyone else, it is Mr Advani and Mr Rajnath Singh who need to take the blame for the defeat and walk out from the exit door.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

PADDY GROWERS DESERVE BONUS

CHECK DISTRESS SALE OF PRODUCE IN MANDIS

 

Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has promised a bonus on paddy to farmers. The issue has been left to the Union Cabinet, which should positively view the farmers' demand. This year farmers had to incur additional expenditure to save their paddy crop in view of the deficient rains. It is because of the farmers' efforts that, despite an erratic monsoon, Punjab will be able to supply 85 lakh tonnes of rice to the Central pool against 80 lakh tonnes last year. They deserve a reward. Besides, the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices had recommended a lower minimum support price of Rs 980 per quintal for paddy this year compared to Rs 1,080 per quintal last year.

 

There are reports that farmers have been forced to make a distress sale of paddy at many places in Punjab. Official agencies have been slow in buying paddy as there is not enough storage space since last year's produce has not been cleared by the FCI. Private rice millers initially stayed away from the mandis as they refused to lift the 201 variety, constituting 40 per cent of the total paddy arrivals. This variety, recommended by PAU, takes less time to mature and requires no chemical sprays, but rice millers say it is discoloured beyond the acceptable limits.

 

It is not enough to announce an MSP or bonus for paddy. The government should ensure that farmers actually get the promised price. Farmers who have sold paddy to private traders or rice millers may feel cheated as the bonus will be available only to those selling their produce to the official agencies. The unpleasant situation could have been avoided had the bonus or a suitable hike in the MSP been announced well in advance. Rice millers and traders know fully well that small farmers cannot hold back their produce for long due to their pressing needs and lack of storage facilities. Hence, they take advantage of the situation, often with official blessings.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

THE BITTER TRUTH

INDIA MUST FIGHT DIABETES

 

India, far from being in the pink of health, is heading towards a diabetes explosion. With over 50 million diabetics, the figure released by the International Diabetes Federation, it continues to be the world's diabetes capital. While the number of people with the 'pre-diabetic' condition, too, is fairly large, by 2030 as much as 8.4 per cent of the country's adult population is likely to be diabetic. Indeed, there is a serious cause for concern and concerted efforts have to be made to control the disease that affects more people in the working age.

 

Diabetes, often called the silent killer, can damage the retina, nerves and kidney and even predispose patients to high blood pressure and high cholesterol that increases the risk to heart disease and other complications. Studies have shown that the high incidence of diabetes in India is mainly due to a sedentary lifestyle, lack of physical activity, obesity and stress and calorie-rich diets. The disease not only plays havoc with the lives of patients but is also a huge economic burden. Besides productivity loss, India is likely to spend nearly 2.8 billion dollars annually on diabetes control measures by 2010. Treating the disease as an urban health problem alone would not be judicious. The government proposal for a compulsory blood test for the rural masses is welcome.

 

Since the problem of diabetes is compounded by the lack of awareness, mass awareness campaigns can play a crucial role. Identifying those in the high risk category and regular check- ups are vital. Experts are also right in asserting that the disease has to be tackled right from childhood years. Simple lifestyle changes like regular walks and use of sugar substitutes have shown a significant reduction in diabetes cases. Proper disease management and prevention can go a long way in tackling diabetes, the fifth largest killer in India.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

WHY COURT CASES PILE UP

GIVING STAY ORDERS AS A ROUTINE IS TO BLAME

BY HARPREET S. GIANI

 

It is highly instructive to sit in any court at precisely 10 every morning. The first order of business before most judges in a High Court every day is to hear the freshly filed cases and to consider whether to entertain the petition or appeal, or whether to dismiss the case out of hand immediately.

 

Typically, a lawyer has just a few minutes to make out a case and try to convince the judge of the validity of the cause he is pleading. In those cases which make the cut and are not thrown out immediately, it is now usual for the judge to put the other side on notice (or in legal parlance, to issue a "notice of motion") and thereby to call them on a future date to appear and rebut the petitioner or the appellant's lawyer.

 

This system of issuing a notice in order to hear the other side before admitting a case for hearing at length was initially meant to weed out frivolous or patently unsustainable cases and prevent them from clogging the courts' docket. But now this system has degenerated to the extent that the fresh "motion" cases take up most part of a judge's working day and leave him very little time to hear the "admitted" or "regular" cases which require in-depth consideration.

 

In a violent departure from the intent behind this system of issuing a "notice of motion", it has become the norm for a majority of the cases filed in the High Court to be carried on the "motion" docket for many years rather than being "admitted" or "dismissed" swiftly.

 

This is not, however, the main reason for the insurmountable pendency of cases which the High Court is faced with. The real reason why cases continue to pile up and the reason why one hears of lawyers and litigants going to great lengths to delay the adjudication of the cases by the courts is the practice of appending the vexatious sentence "stay operation meanwhile" to the initial order putting the other side on notice.

 

It has become a commonplace practice for the judges, who are presented with petitions or appeals against the orders or judgments of inferior courts, to direct that the order or judgment which has been challenged shall not be given effect to and shall be kept in abeyance until further orders. The hitherto successful respondent who finds himself called to the High Court even after winning a tortuous legal battle in one or multiple subordinate courts suddenly finds that the other side has managed to get his foot in the door in the High Court; and all the words of wisdom and the reasons hitherto marshalled by the judges in the lower courts are set to naught by this "stay" order.

 

An order by a High Court judge to "stay" a subordinate court's order is nothing but a vote of no-confidence in that subordinate judge. Take an example here. Let us say that a landlord files a case against his tenant seeking his eviction from some rented premises. Let us say that the tenant puts up a spirited defence before the court of the Rent Controller but is unsuccessful. The tenant, who has been ordered to vacate the premises now files an appeal before the Appellate Authority who immediately "stays" the order of eviction and proceeds to decide the appeal — over a period of a few years usually. Now even if the landlord is successful in repelling the appeal filed by the tenant, the tenant has the right to file a revision petition before the High Court.

 

At this third stage in the course of the litigation, the High Court is well aware that the tenant has already been ordered to be evicted by at least two judges who function lawfully under the direct control of the High Court. Still, if the tenant's lawyer is able to make out even the semblance of a case – on a technical ground or rarely on some substantive issue – then the High Court judge is almost guaranteed to once again stay the judgments ordering the tenant's eviction. Having secured this order of "stay", neither the tenant nor his counsel is going to be in any pressing urgency to have the petition heard and decided at any early date.

 

The order of stay is an embarrassment for the judge against whose judgment the High Court passes the order. The order of stay is a preliminary finding on the part of the High Court judge that the subordinate judge seems to have made a mistake and ought not to have decided the way he has. It goes to the very judicial competence of the subordinate judge and casts his ability, integrity and impartiality into doubt.

 

Needless to say, if the High Court feels that a particular subordinate judge is consistently ignoring the law or deciding wrongly, it is open to the High Court to discipline the judge or even withdraw work from him. This logical approach is unfortunately shunned in favor of "righting the wrongs" of a bad judge by staying his judgments and burdening the High Court with additional work and reopening the case for re-examining the facts.

 

The very fact that a judge has given a patient hearing to a case and has delivered a judgment ought to inspire sufficient confidence in the mind of a superior court's judge that justice has been done. It ought to be presumed that the judgment of the subordinate judge must be correct and must have been arrived at after due legal assistance from the counsel on either side.

 

In reality, however, it is usually presumed by the judge issuing a notice of motion that the subordinate court lawyers as well as judges are incompetent and unless the High Court intervenes, no justice would be done. It is presumed by superior courts that allowing the judgment of the lower court to be implemented expeditiously would necessarily result in a miscarriage of justice.

 

The filing of an appeal is an attack on a lawfully delivered verdict and must never be treated as a routine affair, for if successful the appeal or revision exposes a miscarriage of justice. The reversal of a judgment by a higher or appellate court must be viewed as a very serious failure on the part of a subordinate judge and not treated as casually as it is these days.

 

To ensure that litigants and their lawyers do not indulge in speculative litigation or frivolous tactics, to restore the respect and authority of the subordinate judiciary, indeed to curb the enormous backlog of cases, it is imperative that the passing of stay orders in routine is deprecated.

 

The procedural law which is on the statute books provides sufficient protection for a person who is genuinely aggrieved of a judicially bad order or judgment to approach a superior court expeditiously and to secure a speedy reversal. There can be no justification, therefore, to condemn the subordinate judge and to doubt his judgment in the few minutes that the judge gets to hear the case on the very first occasion that the petition or appeal is set before him.

 

This self-discipline which the superior judges must exercise is by far the simplest and the most effective way to curtail the litigious rut our society is falling into and to restore the function of the constitutional courts to their correct role.

 

The passing of stay orders as a matter of routine undermines the authority of the subordinate judges and turns the multiple rounds of hotly contested litigation before subordinate courts into a mere formality which litigants must endure before finally getting justice in the High Courts.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

AN EVENING IN MINNEAPOLIS

BY SHRINIWAS JOSHI

 

Approaching weekend makes Friday evenings lively in the US. My wife and I reached Minneapolis in upper Midwest on a Friday evening to be received at the airport by my charming niece Richa. She had made all arrangements to make our evening a memorable one.

 

Our seats were booked in a newly opened Chambers kitchen that serves art and sculpture besides the best in Italian gastronomy. It is in Hennepin Avenue of the downtown named after Belgian Father Louis Hennepin who in the seventeenth century gave eyewitness account of two waterfalls — the renowned Niagara and the St. Anthony on river Mississippi at Minneapolis.

 

Our table in open-air courtyard of Chambers, where fire was aglow in a square pit, was adjacent to one where a young damsel was celebrating her birthday vociferously. With overweight and obese abounding in the US, I found the gathering there slim and trim — the gift of long, extreme cold winters as the residents take to physical exercises during the bright days.

 

The Italian dinner is served leisurely and in morsels. The waiter could cull out vegetarian and teetotal dishes for us from 'creature-cum-champagne-centric' menu. The beverage was Bellini with peach puree and carbonated water. And the food opened with greenness of verdure, thinly sliced pieces of kaddu-tori, called Zucchini Carpaccio and lemon.

 

Fritti meaning fried food, the next course, was fried artichokes served whole in Italy but presented chopped to us in finger-friendly style. Fried mushroom in Polenta made of corn flour was the next item. Pizza Margherita, the subsequent dish, has been named on Queen Marghereta who visited Naples in 1899 where a chef Esposito prepared pizza for her which she liked and sent a thank you note to him.

 

Pizza has a recent history in Italy compared to pasta having older pedigree — about a thousand years. Of scores of pasta forms, we were served armoniche pasta, wavy half-ruffle shape, with cut vegetables mostly tomatoes. We wrapped up the dinner with dessert of Pavlova in yuzu sorbet with side dish of olives and pecans in chocolate syrup. Prepared of corn flour mixed in well-beaten white of eggs and light like the movements of a Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, it earned its name from her.

 

Yuzu is a citrus fruit native to China. The easy-paced dinner concluded at midnight when we visited the art-gallery where a sculpture made of 3000 steel tongs (chimta) by world-known Subodh Gupta from Khagaul, Bihar, made us proud.

 

After the 'historical' feast, we wandered past midnight in crowded Hennepin Avenue where a stunning, svelte lasso in cowboy boots and bikini was feasting the eyes of the gathered joyous. Richa made us rich by the treasured evening.n

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

COST OF PREVENTING CLIMATE CHANGE IS NOT TOO HIGH

BY EBAN GOODSTEIN AND FRANK ACKERMAN

 

Here is the good news on the climate front: The Europeans have ratcheted down their emissions targets, the Chinese are getting serious about solar power and energy efficiency, and Washington is lumbering toward a carbon cap.

 

These are steps toward the long-held goal: cutting global warming pollution 80 percent by 2050. Such cuts would stabilize the thickness of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide blanket surrounding the planet at 450 parts per million (ppm) and, we've been told, ensure that the global average temperature increase would not exceed 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) from 1990 levels.

 

The bad news? Turns out that 450 ppm is so 2005.

 

In the past four years, climate scientists, led by NASA's James Hansen, have dramatically altered the goal. To avoid the collapse of the continental ice-sheets and a dangerous rise in sea levels, many scientists are now saying we have to get down to 350 ppm, and quickly.

 

This means what was already a heroic (and to many, impossible) target has become mind-boggling. Reaching 350 ppm would require a 97 percent reduction in emissions, entailing a complete conversion to renewable energy systems by mid-century, with the world economy virtually free of carbon emissions. Such a goal is far more demanding than any of the leading policy proposals under discussion.

 

Game over?

 

No. It's just time to rethink what is possible.

 

Some have argued that the worrisome climate news is that the cost of preventing climate change is too high. In fact, estimates of the cost of acting to mitigate warming have remained relatively stable, while estimates of the likely cost of inaction are becoming unbearable.

 

Whether the goal is 450 or 350 parts per million, this is still a problem we can afford to solve. Stopping global warming remains fundamentally a problem of political will.

 

We are among the eight authors of a recent report for Economics for Equity and the Environment Network, an affiliate of the nonprofit Ecotrust, that surveyed numerous economic studies on the cost of meeting the 350 ppm goal. We found that quicker action aimed at more ambitious targets makes good economic sense.

 

Our report shows that a comprehensive global strategy is well within the range of what most nations are willing to pay to avoid far greater damages from climate change down the line.

 

With investments of roughly 1 to 3 percent of global gross domestic product, or $600 billion to $1.8 trillion, we could rapidly transition from oil and coal to renewables and clean energy sources, including wind and solar, and replenish global forests, which would help trap billions of tons of carbon.

 

These efforts would create jobs and stabilize the climate in the process. Fluctuations or changes in some factors, such as the price of oil, could mean these investments might actually save us money.

To some, the price of 1 to 3 percent of global economic output may seem too high. But examine the amount in context. Suppose, for instance, that the cost of climate protection turns out to be 2.5 percent of global GDP.

 

In an economy like that of the United States that is, say, growing at a roughly 2.5 percent annual rate, spending 2.5 percent of its GDP on climate protection each year would be equivalent to skipping one year's growth and then resuming.

 

Put another way, Americans in 2050 would have to wait one additional year, until 2051, to be as rich as they would have been had they not been investing in the transition to clean energy.

 

Consider another comparison: Military spending is greater than 4 percent of GDP in both the United States and China. Because of concerns about potential future dangers, both countries are already diverting from annual consumption more than the high-end estimates of what it would take to stop global warming.

 

Business lobbies have argued that even the moderate reductions called for in recent U.S. climate and energy legislation would cripple the economy.

 

Yet academic research and findings by the Congressional Budget Office and the Environmental Protection Agency show that recent U.S. legislative proposals would have very little if any negative impact on the U.S. economy.

 

Our report surveys the economic studies of the costs of achieving the far more ambitious target of 350 ppm and finds only estimates of moderate net global costs.

 

The pace of our switch to clean energy will determine whether we hit a concentration target (whatever it may be) or fail to do so. Certainly, failure to slow and stop warming will impose high costs on future generations. The world has begun taking important initial steps toward addressing the climate crisis, with increasingly widespread acceptance.

 

To avoid dangerous warming or the effects it would cause will require us to do better than 450 ppm. Luckily, the data suggest that we can, indeed, afford to do better. What we cannot afford is too little climate policy, too late.n

 

Eban Goodstein is an economist and a professor at Bard College. Frank Ackerman is an economist at the Stockholm Environment Institute

 

 By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

MP FARMERS TOO DRIVEN TO SUICIDE

BY SHIVNARAYAN GOUR

 

It was a seemingly peaceful day in April this year in Kursithana village of Bankhari block in Hoshangabad district of Madhya Pradesh. Except this time around the cultivation season for Amaan Singh, a farmer, meant the end of a tether. Expecting to produce 100 quintals of wheat which would have provided for his family and seen him through till the next season, he had taken a loan of Rs 50,000 from Satpura Regional Cooperative Bank and an additional Rs 1 lakh from money-lenders.

 

However, he had grossly been off the mark regarding the yield from his piece of land. Instead of the expected 100 quintals, it produced only 35 quintals which would fetch around Rs 37,000 and certainly not enough to feed his family and pay back his debtors. Driven to despair, Amaan took the only solution that struck him: He consumed poison and ended his life.

 

In another chilling case, in the same block another farmer from Nandana village consumed poison but he was rushed to a health care centre where his life was saved . In this case too the farmer had taken a loan of Rs 1,25,000 which he was hoping to pay back through money earned after a good yield.

 

Large amounts of money was gobbled up by an extended use of the generator for irrigation purposes. There was no choice since the availability of electricity is sporadic. In spite of this he harvested only 12 quintals of wheat.

 

In yet another case in village Bhairapur also in Bankhari block, 22-year-old Mithilesh Raghuvansi committed suicide. His disconsolate mother said that as the crop was not good and his son had taken loans which he could not hope to repay, he committed suicide.

 

Three lives snuffed out in a single week in April, 2009. Farmers who till the earth and toil to produce the golden grain. Is this the bitter harvest they had to reap? How could such a situation come to pass in this century in a country where agricultural work is the mainstay of the vast majority?

 

Small farmers use pumps for irrigation which are run on diesel in the face of severe electricity shortage. This pushes up the cost and, if followed by a low yield, breaks the backs of farmers. And they enter the vicious debt trap.

 

In Hoshangabad district the Tawa Dam's use for irrigation remains limited. For instance, in Bankhedi block, the sources of irrigation remain existing wells and rivers.

 

While farmers struggle on the fields and battle with rising costs of inputs, there is a lot to be desired in terms of fixing support prices by the government. According to sources, prices for 24 crops are not increasing at the same pace as the costs of inputs.

 

According to a study, the support price of wheat should be Rs 1,500 per quintal while the government rate stands at Rs 1,100 only. Sadly, the shortfall bears heavily on farmers and the pattern of suicides in the region is a reflection of this situation. In another sense, it means farming is proving unviable.

 

Farmers' suicides is a phenomenon that has spread its tentacles in various parts of our country, except perhaps the Northeast. According to statistics available, 46 farmers are committing suicide in India everyday. According to the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) in the year 2007, there were 1,22,637 cases of suicide; out of them 14.4 per cent i.e. 17,656 were farmers. These figures continue to rise every year.

 

There is an even more disturbing trend within this overall picture. In Maharashtra and Karnataka, most of the farmers who committed suicide were involved in cultivating cash crops. This is changing. Now even those cultivating foodgrains are taking their lives.

 

In the Vidharbha region of Maharashtra, infamous for the number of farmer suicides, the cultivation is primarily of cotton. Farmers are dependent entirely on external market forces for selling their produce. In case the market slumps, farmers are forced to sell at prices lower than what would be remunerative.

 

In the case of foodgrains, however, it is quite different. The degree of dependency on external markets is much lower. Foodgrains can be sold at the local 'haats' or village markets or even consumed within the household. Many payments done within the village community are through foodgrains. Thus, the safety net for foodgrain farmers traditionally is much wider.

 

In a way this trend is linked to the Green Revolution, which boosted production of crops in the short-term. The situation is fast changing and while the yield is stagnant, the costs are increasing. And this is pushing more and more farmers into debt. According to newspaper reports, 80 to 90 per cent farmers, around 32,20,600 in MP bear the burden of debt.

 

In the face of rising costs and stagnant yields and in the absence of a system of support prices, they are simply falling between the cracks and taking the ultimate solution as a way out of their misery. This is unfortunately a growing trend and farmers' suicides have been reported from several parts of MP, including Chindwara, Khargaon, Bhopal, Bankeri, Pipariya and Badwani.

 

Unfortunately, no one is listening. Both the Union and state governments have ignored the needs of farmers. They have turned a deaf ear to the farmers' demands for remunerative prices of their produce. Inputs such as fertilisers, water for irrigation, seeds and power are some of their fundamental needs which find little priority with the authorities.

 

To add insult to the injury, the focus has been on corporatisation of farming. Last year, the state government organised an agri-business meet and invited several companies to enter the farm sector.

 

What is required is not half-baked, superficial methods but a fundamental change in thinking and action on the ground to address this problem which is gnawing at the lives of our farmers. It is time that the farm sector, largely dependent on the monsoon in India, should receive the priority it so clearly needs before the crisis engulfing the farm sector reaches mammoth proportions and becomes a national crisis. — Charkha Features

 

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THE TRIBUNE

CHATTERATI

POLITICIANS TAKE ADIVASI VOTERS FOR A RIDE

BY DEVI CHERIAN

 

A number of villagers who set off for Diwali shopping nearly had a heart attack when they flashed Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes from their purses to make payments. The shopkeepers after a close examination declared that the notes were counterfeit. They were gullible tribal voters who had received money from some politicians during elections. So the villagers had to turn back empty-handed without making purchases as the currency they possessed turned out to be fake.

 

It is said during this election a large number of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 counterfeit notes have been pushed into circulation in the rural areas. Usually, during elections such notes are distributed among the voters as a consideration for votes. Some original notes were being pushed out but as demand became too much the candidates seem to have taken recourse to the counterfeit notes. Such notes are mostly in the tribal talukas in Maharashtra.

 

The villagers, who had been taken for a ride by political parties and miscreants, cursed their fate as their hopes were shattered. A complaint has already been made to the authorities.

 

Recently, a large stock of counterfeit notes was seized by the police and the RBI had declared the series fake. But how do the innocent, poor and illiterate villagers know the real from the fake?

 

MODI GOES IN FOR TIFFIN POLITICS

A savvy Narendra Modi in a white sports jacket, a khaki trouser and a blue T-shirt was addressing a group of his followers. He announced that his friends must go through his blog.

 

Narendra Modi has decided to show off his other talents now. He has become a poet. He has written a long poem in Gujarati. The poem is full of words like compassion, empathy, pain and sensitivity. There is an English translation also available of the poem.

 

So not only has his attire changed, his thoughts too seem to have undergone a drastic change. Is this an image change for a higher ambition for tomorrow?

 

With the state of the BJP what it is, it seems that the Chief Ministers are getting a bit desperate. Obviously, Narendra Modi has a lot of free time on hand, especially when he is not in demand for campaigning. There is no party work as the party is so busy with infighting going on among leaders. Today there are more leaders in the BJP than workers. So in a way, it's good that Narendra Modi is keeping himself busy with his hobbies.

 

On the other hand, Modi is setting new trends. He had a meeting in his constituency at a dinner where every worker brought a tiffin from home and shared it in a mass meal. Mr Modi brought his tiffin of local bhakeri and shaak and shared it with his grassroots workers.

 

Over dinner, he discussed basic issues of his constituency, besides giving an idea of various schemes and issues that he is tackling.

 

The success of Modi's tiffin meeting has motivated the BJP to organise similar meetings in all constituencies to build a better rapport of the elected representative with grassroot party workers in the constituency.

This is a solid cadre-building exercise plus tiffin diplomacy. The home-cooked meals are shared in a community/constituency. The BJP has decided to re-introduce the concept of tiffin baithaks in Gujarat.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUME

EDITORIAL

GOVT INACTION

 

Almost one year has passed since the worst ever terrorist strike in the form of serial blasts which killed more than 90 persons in Assam, but unfortunately, till date, the Assam Government has not implemented the recommendations made by former Director General of Police, DN Dutt to ensure prevention of total breakdown of the law and order machinery as it happened after the blasts on October 30 last year. The former DGP was asked to probe into the circumstances leading to the blasts, reasons for the mob violence in the aftermath of the blasts and to fix responsibilities. Though Dutt submitted his report with recommendations on December 31 last year, no action has yet been taken by the Government on the same, which raised doubts on the sincerity of the Government in dealing with any such eventuality in future. One of the main recommendations made by the former DGP was creation of a State Disaster Response Force with training and equipment in lines with the elite National Security Guards (NSG) to deal with terrorist attacks, but no step has yet been taken by the Government in this regard. With the Centre refusing to accept the demand of the Assam Government to set up a hub of the NSG in Assam, creation of a State force similar to that of the NSG was vital to deal with terrorist strikes but one fails to understand as to why the State Government is not keen on that. Dutt suggested installation of CCTV cameras in vulnerable locations of the city and to upgrade the intelligence branch of the police. Of course, the State Government recently cleared a proposal for installation of CCTV cameras in the vulnerable locations and submitted a proposal to the Centre for upgrading the special branch, but such steps should have been taken much earlier as the city is always the preferred target of the militants.


Immediately after the serial blasts, the State Cabinet decided to appoint a Police Commissioner for Guwahati city and in his report, Dutt also stressed the need for appointment of a Police Commissioner to deal with the law and order situation in the ever-growing city. But the Government is yet to appoint a Police Commissioner for Guwahati city for the reasons known to the persons at the helm of affairs. The former DGP also made a series of other recommendations after a thorough study of the events on October 30 , which included steps to ensure free movement of the fire tenders in the busy roads of the city, but the Government is yet to act on the same and the law and order machinery will found wanting if the city faces any major terror strike again. Moreover, the former DGP, in his report, pointed out the failures of the senior police officers right from the then DGP to the Senior Superintendent of Police of the city, but no action was taken against any of those officers.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUME

EDITORIAL

CHANGING WORLD ORDER

 

India has reasons to rejoice over its score of a major victory at the recently concluded G-20 summit at Pittsburgh in the last week of September, 2009 since its demand for increasing the voting rights of developing countries in international financial institutions like International Monetary Fund (IMF) and International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) was adopted, reflecting the importance of emerging economies like India, China, Indonesia, etc. in the current financial crisis and global recessionary situation. Significantly, the current summit hosted by US President, Barack Obama took a cool long-term look at the situation admitting the brilliant role played by emerging economies in rescuing the developed countries from economic crisis since September, 2008. It is also heartending to note that the recent summit has deliberated on the reforms of IMF and World Bank (IBRD) which had been in the agenda of G-20 forum for a long time. It may be recalled that the London Summit of last April decided to carry forward the proposed reforms of the two world financial institutions which with their existing coffer strength were unable to bail out the sinking economies of then resource-starved world. Apart from boosting their coffers, the anomalous IMF quota system and the criteria for voting rights among member countries, which were set up in 1944, were also decided to be amended to suit the current situation faced by member nations.


The statement of leaders at the conclusion of the recent G-20 summit with respect to reforms says that they have not only established the Financial Stability Board (FSB) to include major emerging economies and welcomed its efforts to coordinate and monitor progress in strengthening financial regulations but also confirmed that they were committed to a shift in the IMF quota share to dynamic emerging markets and developing countries of at least five per cent from over-represented countries to the under-represented ones using the current quota formula as the basis to work from. The earlier promise of G-20 members to strengthen the IMF coffers by US $ 500 billion has also been implemented. Happily, the IMF quota shift reflects a recognition by the US and Europe of a new global reality in which emerging economies play a bigger role in the aftermath of the crisis. The shift in voting rights in the IMF could lead to a 50:50 power equation in the international financial architecture if not more in favour of emerging economies, a stand that has been voiced by India for long. In the case of IBRD, the summit has also stressed the importance of adopting a dynamic formula to reflect the weight of evolving economies and an increase of at least 3 per cent of voting power for developing countries. An expert group that also includes India has suggested a number of steps to reform the World Bank's governance as it assumes larger size and strength. All this speaks of India's increasing voice over global economic management.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUME

EDITORIAL

NOBEL PEACE PRIZE FOR OBAMA

SAZZAD HUSSAIN

 

The announcement by the Norwegian Nobel Committee of its prize for peace for the year 2008 to US President Barack Hussain Obama came as a pleasant surprise for all who are concerned about bringing peace to all the trouble spots of the world. Obama raced past more than two hundred contenders, many of them genuine peacemakers, to win the coveted award which has raised eyebrows everywhere about the yardstick of the Nobel committee in selecting a candidate for the prize. The Nobel committee says that the American President is selected for the prize because of his advocacy of diplomacy over the use of force in resolving the most outstanding and contentious issues of global conflict. However there seems to be other objectives for this hasty and early decision by the Nobel committee for an ambitious plan to create history.


The surprise over Obama's selection for Nobel Peace Prize is mainly because of his achievements as a peacemaker. When his name was announced in Oslo, Obama had completed only six months of office at the White House. Within so limited time it is really hard to scale the achievements of an elected executive who was voted to power to create history by brining change ('In change we can believe'-the official punch line of Obama camp in the election 2008). However the Nobel Committee has told that Obama was selected for his sheer diplomatic initiative to resolve the most outstanding conflicts and crises that afflict the international community. In the past there were numerous diplomatic initiatives and peaceful negotiations dedicated to bring genuine and lasting peace to the world by many leaders whose efforts were not considered for Nobel Peace Prize. But the present global crisis inherited by us from the bullish policies of George W Bush from 2001 to 2008 where diplomacy was pushed back to military adventurism, reinitiating diplomacy bears momentum. President Obama's presidency is saddled with the burden of the blunder in Afghanistan and fiasco in Iraq coupled with the colossus damage to West Asia peace and nuclear detente with Iran and North Korea. Since the US Presidential Poll of November, 2008, the people of the world have been wishing an end to these crises and strongly believed that if elected President Barack Obama would make the difference by resorting to diplomacy. It was in fact the stated objective of the Obama camp during election campaign to follow the diplomatic course which is indeed a very important component of international politics, dumped to oblivion by his incumbent neo-con administration of Bush-Cheney. The importance of diplomacy for the western society has become so important in the post-Bush world that its mere agenda by the US President and not the results have convinced the Nobel Committee to confer the peace award to Obama.


In the history of Nobel Prizes the categories of Peace and Literature have always been influenced by the typical western policies which always try to shape this world according to their own vision and objectives, often in accordance with the corporate interests. During the Cold War era any personality who spoke against the Soviet Communism and the iron curtain of the Eastern Block countries was awarded Nobel Peace Prize for Peace and Literature. The Nobel Peace to Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walecha in 1982 and Literature award to Russian-American Joseph Brodsky in 1987 are few examples of Nobel policies during that period. In 1990 Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was awarded the peace prize to dissuade him from using military force against the breakaway campaigns by the three Baltic republics of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. Personalities like Nelson Mandela and Yasser Arafat who were branded as terrorists in the western world until 1991 were conferred Nobel Peace Prize when they agreed to certain western demands for peace. It now appears that had the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison camp been run by the erstwhile USSR or present Russia or China, any detainees from Afghanistan-Pakistan or Saudi Arabia writing diaries inside the camp would have been awarded the Nobel for Literature or Peace. Similarly Nobel prizes for Peace and Literature were given mostly to the sufferers of holocaust but at the same time those who suffered apartheid and other injustices supported by the west never got any recognition. In the post-Cold War period emphasis was given to dissenting voices of the countries that still do not follow the diktats of the west. Nobel Peace to Bishop Ximenes and Jose Ramos Horta of East Timor in 1996 were aimed at political independence of Timor from Indonesia. In 2001 it was awarded to the UN and its Secretary General Kofi Annan who remained helpless when Bush-Blair invaded Iraq in early 2003 despite global protests. The Nobel Peace to Shirin Ebadi of Iran in 2003, to IAEA and its chief Mohammad El Baradei in 2005 and literature Nobel in 2006 to Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk were all motivated by certain designs suitable for the western capitals. In 2006 when an ailing Yasser Arafat was put under house arrest surrounded by Israeli tanks in his Ramallah home amidst disproportionate scale of devastation on Palestinian lands by Israel and reprisal by Hamas and other fringe resistance groups, the Norwegian Nobel Committee, in a clear bid to reassert western view, regretted for awarding Arafat the 1993 Nobel Peace for his failure to end violence. All these decisions by the Nobel Committee thus make us to greet Obama with reservations.

History was created when an African-American entered the White House as the elected executive in the form of Barack Hussain Obama. The world concerning foreign policy was in shambles due to Iraq-Afghan blunder and the 'war on terrorism' for which people across the world saw another history to be created by this President who represented their enthusiasm and optimism. His promise to pull out forces from Iraq and surge in Afghanistan where the epicentre of global terrorism lies, in direct contrast to his predecessor, created lots of hope among those who had suffered during the first decade of twenty first century. Obama's reach out programme to the 'Muslim world' also received with enthusiasm both in the western capitals and in some Arab and Islamic nations who are traditionally US allies. But the thorniest issue of this so called reach out programme is the West Asia peace concerning Palestine. The newly elected hawkish Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the halt of construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied Arab territories as demanded by all stake holders of the conflict including Obama. After initial tempo shown by Obama to revive the peace talks between Israel and Palestine, which was totally abandoned by the Bush administration during his tenure of 2001-08, Obama scaled down to the Israeli position of remaining silent on the issue of illegal construction. The US also opposed the Goldstone Report concerning the war crimes by Israel during its winter blitz over Gaza in 2008 at the UN meet in Geneva. So how can we hope that the Nobel crowned Obama will bring peace to this world when he has shown complicity in the most vital issue of global conflict or we have to wait till the end of his second term in 2016?


(The writer teaches English at Lakhimpur Commerce College)

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUME

EDITORIAL

LOSS OF PRECIOUS HUMAN RESOURCES

DR KAMALA KANTA SAHARIA

 

Human resource development is one of the major concerns for the entire world today. The perfect coordination between man and machine, which pushes the civilization ahead, is brought about by not alone the sophistication in the machine, but the efficiency and efficacy of man with his thinking process and coordinated skill. The very beginning of development of any technology germinates in the mind of a man and interestingly it is not that man in particular utilises it the most. It is, in fact, other people who bring that innovation to the best use either in that original form or with some modification. We want to create best human resources through formal education. But the formal education in our country is in doldrums today.


A good number of our students are going outside for 'higher studies'. It is a fact that necessary and timely modifications and changes we should have in the course contents of the higher education and professional courses have not come through. Efforts are definitely on, but even before some attempts are made so many controversies surround them. Ultimately, they remain as non-starter and when they clear the desks for application; the curse of time factor brings them to a halt. It is because of the extra ordinary vision of some professors and education experts including the policy makers that they bring the reality into the pedagogy and continues to create some valuable human resources for the nation. The number of such professors in different streams in the country is not less. What remains less is the fact that such professors hardly get recognition, sponsorship, fellowship or incentive. As a result of lack of support of the governing systems their contributions remain sporadic, aloof and handicapped but still forceful. That is one of the reasons for which there is huge gap between teacher student relationship and a large extent of anarchy in the entire education scenario. It is important for all the stake holders to gear up their own thinking processes which may ultimately provide some sort of relief to the congested educational scenario for the students in the north eastern region in particular and in our country in general.


Students' unrest is a rampant and global phenomenon today. Collectively they easily fall into various conflicts like the interpersonal fights, group clashes, racial movements and so on. When in Australia the Indian student have vecome victims of racial feelings needing diplomatic support for safe guards, the students from different States including North East in Sikkim were no way happy and content when the Engineering Colleges had to immediately declare long holidays for the students keeping the examinations pending because of group clashes. If that was not enough, at the same time students from Assam were said to have been brutally beaten up in Meghalaya. Big incidents in small places like in Dimoria college also, extreme offences have taken the toll of innocent student when one poured kerosene on other and set him on fire. The reason for doing so was nothing more than asking the victim for a T-shirt to wear which was refused. Only couple of years back the fight among students took the life of a high school student in one of the city high schools. Again some friends killed one of their colleagues in the picnic spot itself when differences came up. There are so many other cases of street fights, gang beating, insult and mental torture, which go unnoticed and unrecorded leading to suicides. As a whole the students today are not level headed, mentally and physically strong enough nor safe and secure from the atmosphere. There is something seriously wrong in their mental make up including up bringing. They have to sustain ever-growing mental pressures from the friends, peer groups, parents, teachers, professors, administrative mechanisms and other conditions like lack of employment opportunities.


Actually for such an uncertain atmosphere of education we all are responsible, particularly the parents. Let us analyse the existing situation. The schools today hardly have playgrounds, so their studies as well as the recreations remain inside the room leading the students to the buttons of computers and internet etc. The students today do not make decisions. All problems are brought home to be solved by the parents including some homework and other assignments/projects. The parents not only do so, they also expect maximum from their sons and daughters. There is no limit. The students, as a result forget to laugh, interact or cooperate in any of the domestic event or happening. They forget to share the household matters whether happy or tragic moments. They are reluctant to socialise.


Once they cross the Higher Secondary level, there is high competition for securing a seat in "good" technical college, institution of higher education or professional colleges. This is where the parents make the biggest mistake by putting maximum students in private colleges against huge mount of capitation fees. This attempt is as good as starting an industry with loss. According to a study conducted in the year 2007-08, only for entry to an engineering college as high as five to six thousand students yearly go out of the State of Assam. Out of them around ten per cent come back and complain of being cheated. About fifteen per cent come back empty handed without being able to cope up with the course. Twenty five per cent of the total admitted outside come back home after completion of their degree programme without being able to secure a job. Out of the remaining fifty per cent, it is reported that some of them are really able to get relatively good job, pick up unspecific jobs or go traceless. If considered broadly, sending students outside for studies under capitation fees is a big loss to our society. But the parents are not to be blamed. They do not have any option. A culture has developed where one as a parent has to survive and sustain. When so many other people could do so and put their sons and daughters even with lower marks in such colleges with capitation fees, why you cannot will be a big question. The love, affection, parental responsibility, hopes of relatives and friends and chance of losing the family bondage get tested here. Ultimately, the parents have to submit and follow the same track, which others adopted. Now after admission think about the mental make up of such students. They will always keep it in mind that they have incurred a heavy expense in the name of studies, so at the earliest opportunity, they have to recover the same. This tendency brings rampant corruption to the fore. Under the full knowledge of all in the hierarchy, the unlawful activities continue, which no one dares to curb. Whoever tries to listen to the dictates of conscience will be not only in trouble but also will be thrown out of the system


This is the education scenario where we are competing. Can we not think something else than the completely blind-ended concept of higher education? Parents today should look forward to make their sons and daughters stand on their own feet, make them good decision makers, look forward for their livelihood rather than the lifestyle and see that education makes them good human resource. For that one has to keep abreast with the changing trends on one hand and keep close touch with the academic progress of sons and daughters on the other. Our students are good but we have found wrong ways for them by expecting maximum from them. It is high time that some safety devices are worked out so that loss of precious human resources is no longer continue and sufferings, pain and agony of the parents are rninimised.

 

(The writer is Head, Extension Education, College of Veterinary Science,AU).

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

A TAX THREAT TO BPOS

 

The revenue department has created needless uncertainty on the tax liability of foreign parents and principals of business entities in India, by suddenly withdrawing a 40-year old circular. It needs to bring out another circular at the earliest, clarifying that its intention is not to endanger India's thriving outsourcing industry, particularly the captive units which generate about 35% of the sector's revenue.


The Income Tax Act requires foreign companies to include in their income taxable in India any income arising from or through its business connection in India.


There are no clear-cut rules to define a business connection. The circular that has now been withdrawn had been successfully interpreted, to the chagrin of the tax department, to put the income generated for a foreign company by a business process outsourcing unit in India outside the ambit of taxation in India.


The only condition was that the foreign client should fully compensate the Indian BPO for its services, something that is not readily guaranteed if the Indian BPO is a subsidiary of the foreign client.
Now, with the withdrawal of that circular, a captive BPO or a BPO that has a substantial part of its work coming from a single foreign client, runs the risk of being classified as a business connection — a dependent agent is a business connection.


And then, a portion of the income the foreign client derives from the activities of the Indian BPO could be liable to tax in India. Now, such a situation would discourage foreign companies to outsource work to India, particularly to captives.


Such actions by the revenue department only help to make the tax environment unstable and hinder investment. More significantly, the withdrawal of the circular creates uncertainty for India's booming IT/ITeS industry which thrives on activities outsourced by foreign companies. The captive BPOs of foreign companies as well as those that earn a greater portion of their income from a single foreign entity, and thus could be construed as a business connection, may find their survival threatened by this single act of the tax authorities. Revenue must make amends.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MARX AT THE VATICAN

 

The global recession is having a queer effect in unlikely quarters. The dent in faith on how the world economy works is making quite a few hang the question mark on capitalism. The Vatican, for example, has had quite a few things to say on the subject. In his reappraisal of modern capitalism, the Pope had recently said that it had lost its way, and that the Church could help restore things by focusing on justice for the weak and closer regulation of the market.

 

Well, the Holy See has just done one better. It has apparently accepted no one less than Karl Marx. Now, that surprising bit of news might be enough to make some see red. But the truth is that the man who is commonly presumed to be the sworn foe of organised religion has found some Papal acceptance.


The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, has reportedly recently concluded that Marx's criticism of capitalism highlights the "social alienation" felt by a "large part of humanity" that still remains excluded from economic and political decision making. The paper also opined that Marx's work remained quite relevant today as humans seek a 'new harmony' between their needs and the environment.


Marx's theories, the paper went on, can help explain the issue of income inequality in capitalist societies, posing the question: "If money as such does not multiply on its own, how are we to explain the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few?"


One could, perhaps, see it as an attempt at a larger inclusion, in a sense. Accepting the hitherto unacceptable seems to be in vogue. Thus, the Vatican last year erected a statue of Galileo, centuries after persecuting the astronomer for his views on the movement of the Earth around the Sun.


And more recently, a leading Church official declared Darwin's theory of evolution to be compatible with the faith. And the same paper which spoke of Marx also has had words of praise for Oscar Wilde, the playwright who was hounded out of England for his homosexuality. Maybe it's just a bad time to be a capitalist, and a good era to be a heretic!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

LET RBI MARK TIME WHILE GOVERNMENT CUTS FISCAL DEFICIT

 

All eyes are on the central bank, industry anxiously praying for unchanged, if not lower, policy rates, and inflation hawks pressing for tighter money supply. But the proper corrective step right now is for the government to cut the fiscal deficit, specifically by freeing up petro-fuel prices and dumping all subsidy on fuels.

Upward pressure on prices and interest rates stems from interaction between fiscal and monetary policy. It would be unhealthy, as also unfair, for the government to persist with bad policy, leaving the central bank to pick up the slack. The temptation is high for the RBI to start reversing some of the extra accommodation it had provided, in response to the global financial crisis and its impact on India.


After all, industrial production has bounced back, stock prices are levitating beyond the reach of fundamentals and consumer inflation is high. This sounds logical. The only problem is that the signs of economic recovery are as yet very, very tentative. Year-on-year industrial growth looks healthy because of very poor growth last year. Capital goods production remains lame. Credit growth is extremely sluggish, although a lot of corporate debt is being raised via private placement of bonds.


However, it is reasonable to expect a pick-up in credit, following a flurry of public offerings of equity. Many companies would not have borrowed in the absence of equity. With equity under their belt, when their appetite now grows for debt to finance fresh investment, it would be a pity if the central bank raises the rate of interest. As it is, the RBI has been chiding banks for not lowering lending rates in line with cuts in policy rates. If the RBI now starts hiking policy rates, banks would be more than ready to make amends and immediately act on the central bank's cue. That would hurt growth at a time when we can ill-afford it.


Interest rates are, in any case, going to come under pressure from continued capital inflows: the RBI would mop up a fair bit, to prevent the rupee from rising too fast, and then sell government bonds to suck out the rupees paid out for purchasing the dollars, with the result that falling bond prices would cause yields to rise. The economy could do without an added policy boost to rates at this juncture.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

UNDERSTAND AND PURSUE ATMASUDDHI

K VIJAYARAGHAVAN

 

Translated, atmasuddhi simply means, 'clarity of the self'. This inner self or the spirit within is the atman which is more subtle than just the mind (chitta). Therefore, chittasuddhi is the stage before attaining that ultimate, the atmasuddhi. This state of atmasuddhi involves not just cleansing of the mind or psyche of 'mental toxins' (chittavrithi), but attainment of freedom for the entire self or personality.

 

This is a release from the binding effects of all past karma — not just the aspirant's karma but that of others too, which have had the effect of affecting or influencing him. This, therefore, is that supreme freedom, attaining which, the liberated soul (muktah) is freed of all suffering — that state of dukah samyoga viyogah, which the Bhagawad Gita declares, is yoga by itself (6, 23).


Atmasuddhi, thus commences with the stage of true comprehension of and thus discriminating between the true and the false, whereby all aspects of one's thinking, living and speaking become right and holistic. Not permitting any exceptions or allowing any weed of a dead past to ever even rear its head, this verily also becomes the process of neutralising or annihilating, through the new found right living, all past bad karma.


In the stage which would follow naturally, the vagaries of living or the bad karma done upon the sadhaka by others too, would cease to even affect him. This also is that state of oneness with nature, where, as conceived of by Wordsworth, no "dreary intercourse of daily life" would "ever prevail against us, or disturb our cheerful faith, that all which we behold is full of blessing" (Tintern Abbey Lines).


Simply put, the pursuit of atmasuddhi involves freedom from all aspects of one's past and present, which have the effect of sullying his soul, reflected in unnatural developments or situations, obstacles, shallow relationships, fruitless transactions and such irritants, which most persons are heir to.


An analogy in the above regard is that of a white writing board or a spotless mirror, rendered even unidentifiable through accumulation of innumerable writing marks, dust and dirt. Effective cleansing would bring the board or mirror back to its original and normal state (swaroopa).


Applied to the individual self, all spiritually refining processes would involve rediscovering and obtaining the swaroopa within. Comprehension of this is that vital step towards real pursuit of the ultimate — atmasuddhi!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MOVE WILL HIT CANE GROWERS VERY HARD

 

As per media reports, the Centre is set to amend the Essential Commodities Act (ECA) 1955 to usher in a new sugarcane pricing regime. With this, the present statutory minimum price (SMP) will pave way to a new fair & remunerative price (F&RP) regime. Replacing SMP by F&RP is a welcome step, but mere jugglery of words will not help the already collapsing sugar economy.

 

Farmers in general, and sugarcane growers in particular, have little faith in the pricing policy and they have valid reasons. The government must come clean on the terms of reference for the F&RP regime and its basis. There is a need to examine whether the government is also amending the Sugarcane Control Order 1966, which is the guiding tool to fix the SMP, presently loaded against the farmers.


Interests of sugarcane farmers, who are at the bottom of the sugar economy pyramid, is always hit by mighty mill owners in connivance with the government. It is evident from the series of decisions taken by the government such as artificial suppression of SMP for several years (i.e., Rs 79.25 in 2005-06 to Rs 81.18 in 2008-09) and banning export of sugar (2005-06) when there was bumper production of sugar. The government also did not accept the supplementary report of CACP (2008-09) which cautioned that there would be a drastic decline in sugar production if the SMP was not fixed at Rs 155/quintal.


There is speculation that F&RP will be somewhere between 50% and 60% above the SMP (Rs 107.76/quintal) which comes out to be Rs 160-171/quintal. It is not the fair and remunerative price, and as already feared, just jugglery with words. Any price less than Rs 215/quintal would further lower the area of cultivation.


In the past, the state advised price (SAP) was the only hope of the cane grower. But changing the sugarcane control order that the state governments would have to bear the burden of the difference in levy price of the sugar based on SAP and SMP is clearly a ploy of the government, which is playing into the hands of mill owners, to sabotage the SAP. This would hit the cane growers very hard. How would the sugar economy revive if the base of the sugar economy is hit? This decision of the government will be stiffly opposed by the cane growers.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

FAIR PRICE CONCEPT IS STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

 

The key objective of the ECA ordinance for the government appears to nullify all the dues to the sugar industry on levy sugar purchase (retrospectively and prospectively) necessitated through the SC ruling after sugar mills went to court. Rough estimates peg that at around Rs 11,000 crore plus in arrears and another Rs 2,500 crore in prospective payment. But details of the ordinance have to be scrutinised in order to understand what the amendment means in terms of production and other costs incurred by the sugar industry while computing the levy sugar price on what basis the "fair" price has been arrived at.

 

Any new price fixed by the government for levy sugar is crucial for the health of the industry. The government should allow market forces to set sugar sale price and refrain from imposing stringent controls such as imposing stock holding limits on bulk users for more than 15 days' requirements. In two years, in fact, we are looking at a complete decontrol map for the sugar sector.


So far the main focus of the government was the consumer. But now, the government has realised that this alone will not help in achieving optimum production to meet demand. It started hiking support prices of foodgrains and other crops. But support price parity was lacking in the case of sugarcane, depressing output because farmers switched to rice and wheat cultivation. That has to be balanced out. The "fair" price concept to substitute the SMP is, therefore, a step in the right direction.


I do not see a glut situation in India in the near future. So there is little need to get apprehensive that a high fair and remunerative price for sugarcane will force industry into the red. In the current tight supply scenario the industry is anyway paying market price for sugarcane, well over the ridiculously low support price of the Centre. Mills today pay farmers well over Rs 140/qtl against the Rs 107/qtl SMP of the government. (The Punjab government recently announced a Rs 200/qtl SAP for this sugar year). Against this backdrop, cane price has become market dictated and there is competition among mills to procure the most.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

DOUBLE DIPS AND THE DANGERS OF ECONOMIC RECOVERY

 

I've lived here too long already. We're still in recession, so why, unlike the rest of the economists and analysts from those places where they get those hefty bonuses, am I not at all surprised?

 

All they needed to do was take a walk down high streets with closed down shops, drop into usually packed restaurants looking eerily deserted, wander around the City of London and check out the huge on sale banners in posh shops, and talk to common people this past summer. It's also been rather funny, with everyone from commentators, media, governments, academics, economists et al — who were all set to pop the champagne last week, struggling to rationalise what's happened.


Behind the rhetoric is a very simple, very keenly felt pain. Britain's not just doing badly, it's at the bottom of the G7 league tables? US, forget it, but we're behind Germany, all right, we've always been, but even France?


It's never really said, stiff upper lip and all that, but that, as they say, is the unkindest cut of all. France, ouch. If there's one thing that Britain's voters are unlikely to forgive Labour for, it's bringing us to this ultimate humiliation. So okay, how'd you feel if the Karachi Stock Exchange started outperforming the BSE? That, however, is not the point I'm trying to make. I don't, unlike the economists and analysts, have to depend on 'surveys' or PMI data. Being no expert, I can say what I like. I think that Britain will, like the Chancellor says, turn around in the headline macro figures sooner than later.


But now I know exactly what the economists mean when they talk about double dips, Ws, Vs, and L shaped recoveries. And what is keeping people like Mervyn King, regulators and pessimistic economists intensely worried about the next two years. What I see happening around me is the kind of feeling you get when people have been holding their breath for too long, and suddenly get a blast of oxygen.


Everyone around me is feeling a lot better, and those famous green shoots? They're just good, old-fashioned, biblical Hope. Jobs are creeping back, the kind of bankers who lend to small businesses are less edgy and occasionally smile, London's cabbies are a lot less gloomy, the Royal Mail and every other union is getting militant (I know that's an odd parameter. But unions aren't stupid. They don't strike if there's no hope of getting something). And every other business which managed to survive the recession is throwing a party. It's going to a rocker of a Christmas season, if Diwali and Eid parties were anything to go by.


The people I talk to in the City, they have that bonus kind of gleam in their eyes. The wolfpack has been given a hint of blood, profits, and a return to the good days. They're not going to let go of the scent.


It's why the FTSE thumbed its nose at depressing GDP data. It's the kind of hope you get when you've turned your pocket out three times for that 20 quid you think you should have, though you suspect you've spent or lost it, and then find a tenner in your other jacket. You know you should pay off your mortgage, but ... it's been so long. Comes a time when the wildest risks look easy to take, whether you're a consumer or a trader or a bank. After all, how much worse can it get than the deprivation we've already been through? It can, but that's not human nature.


A taste of the good life is as addictive as cocaine. Whether you're in the dog-walker and nanny class, or the Friday night out with the boys class.


Consider this. The big retail chains, despite bad sales last month, are stocking their shelves with premium end products. A cold, almost inedible, frozen Beef Wellington from Tesco at 10 quid, at which price you can get a perfectly decent pizza at a decent place? Nobody would have touched it before — supermarket takeaways are for the off colour days. But well, how long can one keep eating pig's cheeks from Lidl or wherever? A consumer needs a feel-good nostalgic treat, even if she still can't afford the fancy restaurants or the posh menus.


Ditto with businesses and financial services people. It's been so long since they've had any money, or orders, or deals, or customers, it feels like a windfall.


The danger, like deep sea divers coming up, is that people who make up economies won't stop long enough to decompress properly. We'll get a mad, wild, rush of risk-taking and spending as people come up for air, that will eventually find its way into the PMIs and GDP data, and make them look good. For a while, at least.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

USE CORRECTION TO BUY, STAY AWAY FROM RELIANCE INDUSTRIES: GEOJIT BNP PARIBAS

 

Gaurang Shah, Chief Manager, Geojit BNP Paribas feels that that even any correction in the market is an opportunity to buy. However, he feels that litigation and refining margins are an overhang on Reliance Industries right now and that investors should stay away for now. Here is what he told ET Now on Monday:

 

We hope that the week stays well but there are some interesting calls coming in. People believe Reliance would go to 1800, important numbers later to come out this week, credit policy, if indeed that happens you think there is a possibility of Nifty sliding down to 4800?

On Reliance, what is happening on the litigation front and of course the calls coming on Reliance, it could possibly head down. There is no doubt about it, but, it will not drag the market down to a great extent. Reliance has been a terrible under underperformer. May be 4900, 4850 or 4800 could be on the cards but in terms of kind of upside that we have seen I think that 200 and 300 odd point correction is hardly anything to worry about and I would possibly use those kind of corrections to get into the market. On the credit policy, I do not think the RBI is really going to go and interfere with the interest rates as of now.


The tone?

Tone maybe, yes. Maybe early part of next year, one can really start worrying about it and of course given the kind of up-tick that we have seen in the inflation, that might trigger a minute kind of a change may be in PLR or CRR or something like that but nothing more than that.


The PM said yesterday that it is not yet right time enough to pullback the stimulus packages, not right time to do any kind of interest rate change. So, from that point of view I really do not think that credit policy will be a big-big negative. Punj Lloyd –because of the poor numbers seen on Friday, Reliance, ONGC and SBI could bring the indices down to a certain extent.


On the markets, are you feeling sanguine or are you feeling that we are sitting at the edge and it could go either way?
No, I do not think that there could be a knee jerk reaction on the downside, a pullback of a great extent. There is enough liquidity waiting to come into the market. Like Chetan Ahya mentioned a short while back, not many in the Asia Pacific region are recording this kind of growth. Even if you conservatively expect the GDP to grow at 6%, that's also very-very attractive. The results have been very good by and large, barring one or two negative surprises.

The only concern would be a huge jump in inflation and equal jump in the crude oil prices - that could possibly dampen down the spirits to a certain extent. But, I do not think that more than 200-300 points correction on the Nifty may be about 1000 to 1200 points on the current scenario on the Sensex will happen. That will be an opportunity to buy.



Reliance Industries will once again be in focus because end of last week the stock corrected down sharply. Do you think it is an opportunity right now to buy into this correction or would you still wait a little bit on the side lines?
Frankly a six-blade sword is hanging on Reliance in the form of this litigation. Even if you just spin back and look at the last quarter numbers, there was downtick as far as the Pet-chem margins were concerned, gross refining margins were also a little bit lower than what market was expected in terms of Singapore Dollar. The concern is still there at this time around. So, I would not really do any kind of value buying or bottom fishing in Reliance at the current scenario. I think there needs to be lot of clarity to come out both in terms of numbers as well as with the litigation which is going on.


How about Punj Lloyd, you have something to say on that?

If the volumes were something to go by both in cash and F&O segment, I think there is possibly an exit route which is being taken by some of larger investors. A downward correction is quite visible as far as Punj Lloyd is concerned. But, again if you have a little bit of stretched out time horizon - I think anything close to Rs 220 to 230 would be a decent possible level to get into Punj Lloyd because long-term stories still intact

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MARKET SENDS OUT POSITIVE SIGNALS: JP MORGAN'S BHARAT IYER

DEEPTHA RAJKUMAR

 

He believes that the Galleon affair is a one-off case and is not indicative of any systemic problems. Bharat Iyer, ED and head-India Equity research at JPMorgan, is of the view that investor interest (in India) which was limited largely to value-oriented, traditional 'long only' investors, has picked up across investor categories, both in terms of geographies and fund styles. He spoke to ET and shared his outlook on earnings, his Sensex target and the sectors he is bullish on.

 

Despite being a tad overpriced, there appears to be a lot of money chasing Indian equities. What has been the trigger for investors to buy and do you see this trend continuing?


The Indian economy displayed remarkable resilience through the global financial crises, with GDP for FY09 rising 6.7%. Into FY10, the national elections threw up a decisive verdict and cyclical data points continue to improve. At the same time, the global liquidity environment has seen a substantial improvement. Low external rates and increased risk appetite, coupled with stable growth prospects, have accelerated capital inflows. In our case, growth is driven by local factors, but the financial markets are dependent on external capital. Sustainability of portfolio inflows will depend mainly on the global liquidity situation.

 

What are your projections for economic growth in FY10 and FY11?

The deficient monsoon will likely affect the performance of the agriculture sector this year. But we expect the weakness herein to be partially offset by stronger manufacturing and estimate GDP growth for FY10E to come in at 6%. For FY11E, we estimate the GDP growth rate to trend up further to 7.5%. Improving demographics and adequate infrastructure are key drivers.

 

What is your outlook for earnings growth? Do you foresee any nasty surprises round the corner?

We expect earnings for the broad market to increase by 8% y-o-y over FY10E and by 21% y-o-y over FY11E. Revenue growth over 1H FY10E has been sedate and earnings growth is being driven largely by margin improvement, due to lower input prices and cost-cutting efforts. But we expect sales growth to pick up from 2H FY10E onwards. Margins in downstream sectors may have likely peaked though, given the rising trend in raw material costs. On a sectoral basis, we expect consumer discretionary, energy, IT services and utilities to lead in earnings growth over FY10E. For FY11E, we expect energy, materials, industrials and financials to lead growth.

Interest rates have been relatively low since the central bank eased monetary policy last year. When do you see the RBI reversing the policy?

The liquidity situation is comfortable at the short end as reflected in the overnight LAF reverse repo amount. However, rates at the long end remain high, given concerns about the government's borrowing programme and the expected rise in inflation. Consequently, the yield curve is currently at the sharpest that we have seen it at, in a long time. Going forward, monetary tightening, coupled with a pick-up in credit growth, should result in a flattening of the yield curve. While we expect rates at the long end to stay elevated, the rise at the short end should be more substantial.


The Indian currency has strengthened, thanks to strong capital flows. Do you see the rupee gaining further?

We remain positive on the currency, with targetted levels of Rs 43 to the dollar by March 2010 and Rs 41.5 to the dollar by December 2010. We are structurally positive on capital inflows. Exports appear to be stabilising, at least on a sequential basis, and growth should revive off a low base effect over the near term. Near-term volatility could be influenced substantially by the trend in portfolio flows and international crude oil prices though.

Which are the sectors you are bullish on, and why?

Structurally, we remain bullish on the investment cycle and financials. The decisive mandate in the national elections provides the government with significant policy freedom to pursue reforms and kickstart infrastructure investments.

We are selectively positive on global cyclicals. The house view calls for a synchronised global recovery and for easy liquidity to be maintained. The appreciating rupee could, however, pose headwinds to some of the sectors in this category... We are also cautious on telecom and cement due to rising competition and pricing pressures.

What is your target for the Sensex?

For the current year, we have a fair value estimate of 17,000 for the BSE Sensex. With the market hitting our target, we expect a phase of consolidation over the near term. We, however, remain positive over a 12-18 month horizon. Given the dependence on foreign capital, liquidity constraints in the international financial markets are the key risk to our positive stance.


Buoyant equity markets have seen India Inc go on a mammoth fund-raising drive. While QIPs have been the flavour of the month, other instruments have been used as well. What do you make of this trend? Do you see this continuing and are there any concerns relating to this fund-raising?

Yes. With an improvement in investor sentiment, fund-raising has increased meaningfully. The choice of financial instruments is largely influenced by the balance sheet structure of the issuer. But QIPs have been preferred for the sheer ease of the process. Early this fiscal, we had estimated the equity issuance pipeline at about $20-25 billion. About $12 billion has been raised so far. The total amount sought to be raised is about 2% of total market cap outstanding and is not daunting in relation to our own historic comparative or that raised by peer group markets.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BROKING VOLUMES SET TO GROW FURTHER: INDIA INFOLINE

NIRAJ SHAH

 

In an exclusive interview with ET NOW , India Infoline chairman & managing director Nirmal Jain said the signs of a turnaround are clearly visible, with volumes continuing to maintain their uptick. Excerpts:

 

Has there really been a turnaround and has it had a positive impact on businesses like yours?

There has been a complete turnaround in sentiment, the economy has started looking up and macro-variables look better. In March, everybody was in complete despondency; from there the recovery has been very swift and very impressive. Stock market volumes have picked up from the previous quarter, and they have sustained momentum in this quarter as well. If you look at our numbers on a y-o-y basis, our income grew by 13%, but that has helped us grow our bottomline by 44% on a y-o-y basis.


Can you tell us which segments have contributed to the net profit?

All the segments of businesses have done well, but relative to previous quarters, our life insurance distribution income and financing income have grown a lot more significantly. Financing and investing income in this quarter is higher, compared with the previous quarter by about 48.7%, and this has been led primarily by funding for large IPOs such as NHPC and Oil India. Life insurance distribution income also is higher by 60.7%, compared with previous quarter. In the life insurance business, the first quarter of the financial year is always a slack quarter, it picks up in the second and a lot more in the third and fourth quarters. The environment looks a lot more conducive for financial services companies to maintain their growth.


How have the average daily broking volumes been in the quarter? Can you give us the break-up between institutional and retail as well?

Average daily trading volumes have been in the region of 3,300 crore, and they're about 3% higher, compared with the previous quarter, and significantly higher compared with the quarter before that. I'm not able to share the institutional and retail break-up. But both the businesses grew more or less in tandem with each other, and I think the outlook for next two quarters looks distinctly better compared with earlier.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WE EXPECT FINANCING BIZ TO SCALE UP IN H2: EDELWEISS

 

Financial services company Edelweiss Capital has registered a second quarter profit growth of 49% from a year earlier, aided by a revival in financial markets, trading and fund-raising activities. Rashesh Shah, chairman, Edelweiss Group, spoke to ET NOW on the company's performance. Excerpts:

 

Which segments contributed to your profit?

We have registered a profit of Rs 65 crore for the quarter. Growth has mainly come from scaling up the financing book, brokerage revenues and investment banking business. Treasury and arbitrage have been slow due to low and falling yields on the back of ample liquidity in the system. On a year-on-year basis, short-term yields are lower by 3-4 percentage points.


Can you break down your broking revenue into institutional and retail broking, and give us a sense of the average yields? How has the arbitrage business grown in the second quarter, and what were the average arbitrage yields?

A large part of our broking continues to be institutional business, as our high networth individuals and retail segments are still growing. We have, on an average, blended (across F&O and cash markets) yields of 5-6 basis points. Arbitrage yields have been 13-14% gross and 9-10% at the net level (after securities transaction tax and other transaction costs).


What about your loan book? Is it growing again?

Our loan book has grown significantly in the second quarter on what we call steady-state loans as well as episodic loans, such as for IPO financing. The growth in the steady-state loans during the second quarter has been around Rs 200-250 crore. We expect the financing book to continue to scale up in the second half.


Can you give us a sense of the investment banking pipeline that you have in terms of deals or amount?

There is a significant pipeline building up, as companies are feeling confident to bring their capital-raising plans back on track via IPOs and qualified institutional placements (QIPs), etc. I would say the pipeline has doubled in the past 4-6 months.


Is the entry-load norm on mutual funds affecting your asset-management business?

Our focus in domestic asset management has been on building a high-quality product suite, and we continue to build on that. We had two schemes launch in the second quarter, and we now have eight schemes across debt and equity products. Assets under management are now around Rs 120 crore, up from around Rs 60 crore at the end of the first quarter.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'RISE IN INCOME FROM DTH OPS HELPED GROWTH'

 

Zee Entertainment CEO Punit Goenka in an interview to ET NOW said rise in subscription income from DTH as also increase in ad revenues and reduction in inventory utilisation helped growth. Excerpts:

 

Subscription numbers were expected to rise close to 10%, if the street is anything to go by. Has that been the case with Zee this quarter?

I think, we have seen the subscription income growth from DTH, which has helped us to grow. Analog cable is marginally up at 1%, whereas international subscription has declined by about 3% for us.


What is the subscription revenue, as a percentage of total revenue in the second quarter?

About 46% of our revenue has come from advertising, 9% from other sales and the balance is from subscription.

How have the margins shaped up this quarter and would there be any chance of improvement?

The margins in Q2 have definitely improved. They stood at 27.9% in the quarter, which is an improvement sequentially q-o-q, and we do expect further improvement.


How have ad revenues shaped up in the quarter, with most people talking about green shoots in the economy?
Well if you look at ad revenue in the past few quarters, where we had a drop in ad rates as well as reduction in inventory utilisation, the resurgence for us has come from both increase in ad rates as well as in inventory utilisation. The 25% sequential growth has come 60% from ad rates and 40% from inventory utilisation.


On the scheme of arrangement, the proposal to acquire Zee News' regional channel and merge them into Zee Entertainment, what will be the share-swap ratio and when can one expect this to take place?
Well the scheme has only been approved in principle by the board of Zee Entertainment to demerge the regional entertainment channel into Zee Entertainment by way of an quote scheme. The independent valuers will determine the share-swap ratio where the business moves into Zee Entertainment and the shareholders of Zee News would get shares of Zee Entertainment.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

INTEL SET TO GET INSIDE YOUR TV, YOUR LIFE

PRAVEEN S THAMPI

 

Eric Kim, senior vice-president and general manager of Intel Corporation's Digital Home Group, is the man tasked with the $115-billion chip-maker's next big thing: home entertainment. He wants to bring the power and richness of the Internet to TV, yet keeping it simple. Widely credited as the mind behind Brand Samsung — he was an executive VP at the Korean firm — Kim believes TV is about the overall entertainment experience and not just the device, the contours of which are radically changing. Talking to ET on the sidelines of the recently concluded Intel Developer's Forum 2009 in San Francisco, Kim says emerging markets like India are key for Intel's new venture. Excerpts:

 

The Television that we all grew up with was a one-way device... How much has it changed so far, and what's the future like?

The biggest change in recent years has been the shift toward users wanting their content at the time of their choosing. There are multiple approaches they are taking to satisfy this desire: DVRs on-demand via their Pay TV provider and via over-the-top Internet video sites. In the future, we expect the Internet to cause a dramatic increase in the content options that consumers can choose from.


Another emerging change is how content is being monetised. Advertisers are demanding more accountability for their advertising spends. This is making advertisers move their spending to online options. However, for demand creation and brand building, television advertising is still the best medium. In the coming years, we expect Internet connectivity to these devices to deliver more relevant and effective advertising — even letting users to directly purchase items via the television.


Is consumer electronics the future of Intel? How much of a share do you see your digital home division commanding in total the Intel revenues in the coming years?

It is definitely part of our future. While it's too early to predict what our market segment share will be, we do expect it to be a major area of growth for the company. As far as how much of that will come from India, the great thing about television is it's the most pervasive screen in people's lives around the world. We see emerging markets as being a huge opportunity since the TV is often one of the first purchases that households make as their income rises. With Internet capabilities on the TV, even households who don't yet have a PC will be able to get much of the educational and socio-economic value the Internet has to offer.


Whether it be HD, blue-ray or 3D, it all requires systemic jumps in processing power, and that's where companies such as Intel comes in. But it is important to have a level of consistency in application architecture. What is Intel doing about that?

You bring up a very good point, the consumer electronics (CE) industry doesn't have the common software foundation that exists in the PC world. For the real software-based innovation to materialise, one or more common and open software foundations are needed. Using Linux as a foundation, Intel and its ISV partners are working to solve this problem. One great example is our joint announcement with Adobe at IDF that we are delivering a hardware optimised Flash 10 environment for CE.


"TV is out of the box and off the wall," this was a statement one often heard at IDF 2009. Could you explain what Intel means by this?

This was a quote from Justin Rattner (Intel CTO) in his IDF keynote speech. It means that the future of television is about the experience of watching TV and the overall entertainment experience, not just the device. This entertainment experience is migrating to all the devices in our lives and Intel is enabling it across all of our platforms from the PC, to the television, to mobile devices. We've already seen this beginning to happen with the popularity of watching TV on the PC and mobile devices. In the future, we see this expanding and having much more meaning for consumers.


Are we anywhere near a seamless 3D experience in the living room?

From a technology standpoint, stereoscopic 3D is a reality and the costs of creating this content are coming down fast. The biggest challenge is really a social problem: do consumers want to wear 3D glasses in their living room? Our research indicates that a reasonable subset of consumers are willing to wear them for certain types of content. Over time, we expect consumers to increasingly want the level of immersion that 3D provides.

At the same time, we also expect that advances in auto-stereoscopic technology will enable 3D to become mainstream. That being said, the industry appears to be moving fast to create products that support 3D content, so for those consumers who want it, it should become a reality in the next couple of years.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'WE BELIEVE IN LOCALLY MANAGED BOARD-LED CO'

 

Swiss Re has a significant presence in India as a reinsurer and through its investment in a third-party administrator company. Now, the reinsurance giant has announced its intent to set up a health insurance company in India. This would be an exceptional business for the company insofar as the group does not have any significant retail business anywhere in the world. In an interview with Mayur Shetty , David Muiry, MD (life and health), Swiss Re Services UK, speaks about the health insurance market and the group's plans for India. Mr Muiry holds the distinction of having a PhD in medicine as well as being a qualified actuary . Excerpts:

No country seems satisfied with their health insurance services. Is there an ideal model?

I don't think the system anywhere is perfect but the Swiss system is quite good. It combines a compulsory health insurance cover with optional layers that entitle you to benefits such as a private room in a hospital and aspects that are considered non-essential. It also gives a choice to individuals on how much costs they bear themselves and how much is met by the insurer.

 

A system that involves a degree of cost-sharing between the end-user and the payer — the government or insurers — will encourage responsible utilisation of health benefits. It has been debated in the UK to introduce a nominal general practitioner attendance charge. In the UK, the National Health Service is a sacred cow for all political parties. It is very challenging to tamper fundamentally with NHS that is positioned as a 'cradle to grave' comprehensive healthcare system.


Why is it that the cost of health insurance always rises?

We talk about the rectangularisation of the mortality curve — as the society develops the typical causes of premature deaths become much less prevalent and mortality is due to chronic diseases of old age. A vast majority of people, who live close to a normal lifespan, spend a large part of their healthcare expenses in the last years of their lives. Even in the most mature markets, healthcare costs rise by over 10% every year. A significant part of that is medical inflation, wages and medical technology. For a developing health market, the more relevant characteristic is increasing utilisation. As societies develop, the increased affordability drives up usage, which from an insurance perspective, drives up overall costs.


So, would it be possible to design a long-term health insurance policy with level premiums?

It is very challenging to price health business for the long-term. Our view is that role of insurance is not to take those long-term pricing bets, but to pool healthcare risks in the short term. It is difficult to structure a product with level pricing over the years, but it is possible to structure a policy close to that by incorporating a significant savings component.

 

One of the paradoxes of health care is that the period of life when one can afford to pay is mismatched with the period of life when one has to pay a high cost. Having the ability to pay into a policy at a rate that is above the cost of providing health care during the earlier years allows for the creation of a fund which can be used to meet costs.

Why did your proposed health insurance JV with Religare fail to take off?

In many ways, Swiss Re and Religare were compatible. But at the end of the day, there were certain areas on the terms of the insurance joint venture with which we could not agree and in the end, the resolution of that was to part amicably. Religare and Swiss Re were aligned in many respects. But on some aspects of the development of the business, there were parts that neither party could get comfortable with and that led to us parting ways.


What partner are you looking for now?

We are looking for a partner who is committed for the medium to long-term and sees health insurance as a strategic to its business. We would look to full commitment from the partner at all levels in the joint venture, particularly at the board level. I believe that for this to work, we need to have a strong locally managed board-led company without undue influence or interference from the JV partners.

 

The more successful JVs are those that are managed locally and reactive and receptive to local conditions. We will bring our global actuarial expertise, product management, underwriting, whereas we would expect our partner to bring strong distribution and marketing capability.


Swiss Re doesn't have any retail business elsewhere. What prompted you to get into health insurance in India?

We are getting into health insurance in India as it is the natural extension of the way we approach health reinsurance here. We get involved in the administration, in product development, underwriting and claims...effectively, in many part of the value chain. Swiss Re remains committed to finding the right partner with whom to do primary health insurance.

 

Isn't there a conflict between being a health insurer and a third-party administrator for health insurance?

We do not see a conflict either between our TPA or our reinsurance activity. We are used to managing potential conflict between reinsurance clients and we have processes to ensure separation of different capabilities. In many ways, I think it is complementary as fundamentally we are talking about insurance risk. The activity of a TPA can be part of the insurer, but regardless of our interest in primary market, we want to play an important role in controlling health insurance risk.


Should TPA services be outsourced?

There are aspects of the claims management process that are administrative in nature for which there may be continuing benefits of outsourcing. We will see a lot of development in that direction in the coming years. That is the direction we have seen in more mature health markets.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'OUR OS IS NOT ABOUT FEATURES'

JESSICA MEHROIN IRANI

 

Having challenged Microsoft's Internet Explorer with its browser Chrome, Google is now preparing to launch a new computer operating system (OS) to compete directly with the entrenched Windows platform. The Chrome, designed initially for low-cost netbooks, will offer its programme code to developers across the globe and create another 'open source' competition for Microsoft. In an interview with Jessica Mehroin Irani, Vinay Goel, Google's country head of products in India, talks about his company's strategies ahead . Excerpts.

 

Do you believe Google launching its own operating system will be a threat to Microsoft?

Our is not about features. We never said Chrome will have these five features that the others (Windows, Safari) don't have. If you look at the way computing has evolved, and look at today's operating systems, all the popular ones pre-date the web. People spend 99% of their time on browsers, then why is that we are still beholding operating systems that are 15-year-old and were formed with desktop operations in mind?


We should move to an application-based system, where it does not matter how many applications are there, just that the boot-up time should be at its minimal. It should be like a TV — you switch it on and voila, your programmes start right away. This is really the promise of Google's operating system, Chrome.

 

Today, browsers have become very powerful. For example, look at Google maps and the kind of things you can do with it — like zooming in, etc. It really behaves like a desktop application, although it is fully browser based. And now, we are moving into the next generation, which uses the technology of HTML 5, making the browser even more powerful.


Will this be built into Google's operating system?

The HTML 5 technology will support any browser & operating system, and this will be true for Google's Chrome as well. We are trying to make an operating system that is fine-tuned to the browser and supports whatever it needs.


What is Google doing to address the local market for search and e-mail in terms of vernacular languages?

We provide search in various Indian languages like Hindi, Telgu, Bengali, etc. However, not all search results are in these languages. Mostly they are in English. We are still working on it. This is based on transliterating — you type the word based on the phonetics, and it is converted into the language of the user's choice. The same is the case with e-mail services.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

ON CHINA, LOWER OUR EXPECTATIONS

 

The starkness of a relationship that cannot be abandoned in a hurry, but one from which warmth has escaped and expectations cannot be high, describes India-China ties these days. The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, gave words to it that are apt. According to the Indian spokesman who briefed the media after Dr Singh's meeting with the Chinese Premier, Mr Wen Jiabao, on the sidelines of the Asean summit at Hua Hin in Thailand on Saturday, the Prime Minister underlined that "neither side should let our differences act as an impediment to the growth of functional cooperation between the two countries". The key word here is "functional". There is no attempt to put a gloss on things. Again, according to the Indian spokesman, the Chinese leader "concurred". Mr Wen noted that "issues that may arise in the course of our bilateral relations should be properly handled through discussions and they should not become an impediment in the development of our friendly relations". The spirit of the formulation is no different from that of the Indian Prime Minister's, but there is an implied suggestion here that tricky issues have not been handled "properly" of late, and that they ought to be in order that they may not become an obstacle in managing relations in a cooperative direction. It is doubtless a positive sign that both sides wish to carry forward a partnership that still has a lot of potential on the economic and trade side, and considerable commonality on leading international questions such as climate change and international financial management. But it is apparent there is no trace of political warmth here. Nor is there too great an expectation of it in the foreseeable future. This would suggest that any likely solution to the boundary dispute is not about to emerge. This is a long way down from the expectations thrown up after the ice was broken between the two countries when Deng Xiaoping took the initiative and Rajiv Gandhi responded. It's been over two decades since then and both sides must ponder why the relations didn't go up and up. Without a political push to bilateral dynamics, the limits of economic and other factors are soon exposed. Boundary negotiations, by their very nature, are a complex entity. But China appears to have stretched it more than it might have. In seeking to lay claims to Arunachal Pradesh, which it calls South Tibet, Beijing makes much of Tawang being associated with the Dalai Lama. It chooses to overlook the fact that its seizure of Tibet is only a little over half a century old, and Tibet is not historically China, although there have been interregnums when Tibet has paid tribute to imperial China. Is a supposedly Communist government to be guided by such considerations? If Beijing takes due account of leaving population centres outside of any territorial exchange matrix, as per an agreement of 2005 between the two governments, India is likely to take a pragmatic view of the whole matter. After its 1962 invasion, Chinese troops retreated to their present position. This is approximately the point at which a deal can be struck. As matters stand, India has done well not to appease Beijing on the Dalai Lama's proposed visit to Arunachal Pradesh next month. Beijing's invidious opposition to India's agreement on civil nuclear cooperation with the United States was also wholly unnecessary and did not go down well in this country. It strengthened the belief that China believes in partnering Pakistan to discomfit India. It might help matters if New Delhi can successfully urge Beijing to quicken the pace in resolving the boundary question. There is a world to win if this were to happen.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

NO IFS AND BUTS IN CONGRESS VICTORY

BY JAYANTHI NATARAJAN

 

The best quotable quote from the discussions on the verdict in the three Assembly elections held recently in Arunachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Haryana came from Mr Bharat Kumar Raut of the Shiv Sena. He complained that the Congress Party was guilty of "allowing the Opposition to lose…" It is, of course, virtually impossible to fully parse the meaning of that quote, but taking it at face value, it was perhaps one of the more amusing observations made about these election results by a rather ungracious losing Opposition.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) plumbed a new low by claiming that the Congress' victory in these three states was due to faulty electronic voting machines which, according to them, functioned like "electronic victory machines" for the Congress. They immediately backtracked and contradicted themselves. The most often repeated refrain, however, from political spokespersons as well as political pundits was that the results were by no means a victory for the Congress, but rather a result of disunity among a fragmented Opposition.
As the results were being announced, various television channels aired the constant chant that the Congress had won "despite" the lack of governance by its government, and lack of performance by the party. Time and again, especially regarding Maharashtra, panelists claimed that the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government had failed to perform, particularly on agriculture, farmer suicides, and power failures. Time and again Congress spokespersons pointed out that no government can possibly be voted back to power if it didn't perform! Particularly the Congress which has been voted back to power for the third time (second time along with the NCP) beating anti-incumbency, a feat unparalleled in any circumstances.


Undoubtedly, the Maharashtra victory was by a bare margin, but that does not take away from the fact that it was a victory, and that the Congress-NCP is set to form the government in Maharashtra for the third time, something the voters of Maharashtra would have never ever allowed had they not believed in the Congress-NCP combine.


Another Opposition refrain has been the so-called role of Raj Thackeray and his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) in "ensuring the defeat of the Shiv Sena-BJP, and the consequent victory of the Congress-NCP", as if this was the single major factor accounting for the Congress' victory in Maharashtra. This argument is a convenient distortion of the Congress' achievements. If the index of Opposition unity failed to work, resulting in the emergence of MNS and the decimation of the BJP and the Shiv Sena, surely that is a problem requiring introspection by the concerned parties. Also, the argument regarding the failure of Opposition unity can be easily countered by the fact that on its part the ruling combine faced the anti-incumbency handicap and yet managed to overcome it.


In other words, if Opposition unity is to be factored in the assessment of victory, then, equally, so must anti-incumbency. It would be a terrible underestimation of the Indian voter to say that she/he did not have clear views, or that his/her vote was rendered meaningless due to lack of Opposition unity. The further argument that had the MNS not dented the BJP-Shiv Sena's chances the results might have been different, is also not very sustainable. In the ultimate analysis, the Indian voter knows his/her mind well enough to send out a very clear message and is, by no means, confused by the existence of one party or another. In this instance, voters have sent the BJP-Shiv Sena back to the pavilion, given the Congress their mandate, but also told us that they expect good performance from us.


An important reason why voters reposed faith in the ruling Congress-NCP combine, notwithstanding the challenges of the drought, farmers' suicides in some regions, and the power supply situation, was the fact that important initiatives of the Central government — such as the loan waiver scheme for indigent farmers, the insurance schemes, National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, and other social security schemes — were meticulously implemented by the state government. This mitigated some of the problems being faced by the farmers and gave them hope and confidence that they were not forgotten and that the Congress government would take care of them.


In this context, it cannot be denied that the leadership of the Congress president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, and the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, along with the sincere and inspirational initiatives undertaken by Mr Rahul Gandhi, placed the Congress head and shoulders above other contenders in terms of infusing confidence and faith. The voters were clearly impressed by the credibility and charisma of these Congress leaders and believed that the party, led by people such as these, would certainly make an honest effort to address and ameliorate their problems.


The tremendous importance of the verdict given by the voters of Arunachal Pradesh is a matter of considerable pride for the Congress, not just because of the clean sweep but also the substantial turnout of 72 per cent on election day. Voters reaffirmed their commitment to democracy and sent a clear message of contempt for China's self-serving claims on the territory of Arunachal Pradesh.


Haryana too was a historic verdict for the Congress in the sense that this is the first time that any incumbent government will return to power in that state after the 1970s. However, our inability to get a simple majority on our own was certainly disappointing in the face of our far more optimistic expectations.

 

THIS MONTH will mark the 25th memorial day of Indira Gandhi. The Congress Party was the most towering presence on the Indian firmament at that time. In the years that followed, the Congress has seen many victories and an equal number of trials and tribulations. It is a matter of tremendous satisfa-
ction for every member and sympathiser of the Congress that 25 years down the road, 10 years into the leadership of Mrs Sonia Gandhi, the Congress has emerged once again as the largest, most principled, credible and successful national party in the country with a powerful pan-Indian presence.


The real achievement of the Congress under Mrs Sonia Gandhi's leadership is the fact that the party has gone back to its roots and become, once again, the umbrella party that is steadfastly committed to, and works constantly for, the welfare of the poor and the most disadvantaged citizens of India.

 

Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson. The views expressed in this

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

IN QUEST FOR AFGHAN WIN, DON'T IGNORE IRAQ

BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

BAGHDAD, IRAQ

 

August 25, 2012: The President, Mr Barack Obama, flew into Baghdad today on his end-of-term tour to highlight successes in the US foreign policy. At a time when the Arab-Israel negotiations remain mired in deadlock and Afghanistan remains mired in quagmire, Mr Obama hailed the peaceful end of America's combat presence in Iraq as his only West Asian achievement. Speaking to a gathering of Iraqi and US officials under the banner "Mission Actually Accomplished", written in Arabic and English, Mr Obama took credit for helping Iraq achieve a decent — albeit hugely costly — end to the war initiated by President Bush. Aides said Mr Obama would highlight the progress in Iraq in his re-election campaign.


Could we actually read such a news article in three years? I wouldn't bet on it. But I wouldn't rule it out either. Six years after the US invasion, Iraq continues to unnerve and tantalise. Watching Iraqi politics is like watching a tightrope artist crossing a dangerous cavern. At every step it looks as though he is going to fall into the abyss, and yet, somehow, he continues to wobble forward. Nothing is easy when trying to transform a country brutalised by three decades of cruel dictatorship. It is one step, one election, one new law, at a time. Each is a struggle. Each is crucial.


This next step is particularly important, which is why we cannot let Afghanistan distract US diplomats from Iraq. Remember: Transform Iraq and it will impact the whole Arab-Muslim world. Change Afghanistan and you just change Afghanistan.


Specifically, the Obama team needs to make sure that Iraq's bickering politicians neither postpone the next elections, scheduled for January, nor hold them on the basis of the 2005 "closed list" system that is dominated by the party leaders. We must insist, with all our leverage, on an "open list" election, which creates more room for new faces by allowing Iraqis to vote for individual candidates and not just a party. This is what Iraq's spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is also demanding. It is a much more accountable system.


If we can get open list voting, the next big step would be the emergence of Iraqi parties in this election running for office on the basis of non-sectarian coalitions — where Sunnis, Shias and Kurds run together. This would be significant: Iraq is a microcosm of the whole West Asia, and if Iraq's sects can figure out how to govern themselves — without an iron-fisted dictator — democracy is possible in this whole region.


What is tantalising is that the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who emerged from the Shia Dawa Party, has decided to run this time with what he calls "The State of Law Coalition", a pan-Iraqi, nationalist alliance of some 40 political parties, including Sunni tribal leaders and other minorities.


Maliki was in Washington last week, and I interviewed him at the Willard Hotel, primarily to ask about his new party. "Iraq cannot be ruled by one colour or religion or sect", he explained. "We clearly saw that sectarianism and ethnic grouping threatened our national unity. Therefore, I believe we should bring all these different colors together and establish Iraq as a country built on rule of law and equity and citizenship. The Iraqi people encouraged us. They want this. Other parties are also organising themselves like this. No one can run anymore as a purely sectarian bloc... Our experiment is very unique in this region". That's for sure. The Iranians want pro-Tehran Shia parties to dominate Iraq. Also, the Iranian dictatorship hates the idea of "inferior" Iraq holding real elections while Iran limits voting to pre-selected candidates and then rigs the outcome. Most Arab leaders fear any real multi-sectarian democracy taking root in the neighbourhood.

"The most dangerous thing that would threaten others is that if we really create success in building a democratic state in Iraq", said Maliki, whose country today now has about 100 newspapers. "The countries whose regimes are built on one party, sect or ethnic group will feel endangered".


Maliki knows it won't be easy: "Saddam ruled for more than 35 years", he said. "We need one or two generations brought up on democracy and human rights to get rid of this orientation".


If this election comes off, it will still be held with US combat troops on hand. The even bigger prize and test will be four years hence, if Iraq can hold an election in which multi-ethnic coalitions based on differing ideas of governance — not sectarianism — vie for power, and the reins are passed from one government to another without any US military involvement. That would be the first time in modern Arab history where true multi-sectarian coalitions contest power, and cede power, without foreign interference. That would shake up the whole region. Yes, let's figure out Afghanistan. But let's not forget that something very important — but so fragile and tentative — is still playing out in Iraq, and we and our allies still need to help bring it to fruition.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

HOMI J. BHABHA: INDIA'S FIRST NUCLEAR MAN

BY INDER MALHOTRA

 

THE year now moving towards its end is also the birth centenary of one of India's exceptionally great sons, Homi J. Bhabha, the visionary and gifted physicist, a dynamic leader and a brilliant administrator whose phenomenal services to the country and Indian science remain unmatched. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that he was both the builder of India's entire atomic energy establishment and — with Jawaharlal Nehru's full support — the architect of India's nuclear strategy and diplomacy. The two men shared the highest ambition to modernise and develop the country through science and technology and were at one in resolutely safeguarding Indian sovereignty in every sphere. They also had a close personal relationship. Bhabha addressed the Prime Minister as "bhai" even in official correspondence. Nehru addressed him as "My dear Homi". As a lifelong bachelor, Bhabha was dedicated to his work, as was Nehru, a long-time widower.


It is all the more surprising, therefore, that the country heard of the landmark Bhabha centenary only the other day, and that too rather perfunctorily. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, was in New Delhi primarily to receive the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding. Around the same time, the Obama administration had announced its elaborate plan for nuclear non-proliferation that, among other things, aims at persuading non-NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) countries, including India, to sign this discriminatory treaty.


New Delhi used the coincidence of Mr ElBaradei's presence and the Bhabha centenary to hold a conference on the future of nuclear energy, which enabled Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to categorically declare that India would never sign the NPT as a non-nuclear state. Curiously, no one said a word about whether the Indian state would celebrate the 100th birth anniversary of the greatest Indian scientist of our times, and if so, how?
Mercifully, the Indian scientific community has rallied round to commemorate the life and times of its own towering leader. By honouring Homi Bhabha at two functions in his karam bhoomi, Bombay (now Mumbai), it would be honouring itself. On November 20, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research — Bhabha-founded "cradle of Indian atomic science" — and the Indian Academy of Sciences would hold a combined festival of science and arts. This makes sound sense. For, while Bhabha's love for Western classical music was well-known since his student days, his exquisite taste in arts became obvious when he laid out lush gardens around the atomic institutions he built and decorated their walls with superb paintings. A month later, the Atomic Energy Commission would organise a congregation of the priesthood of pure science.


Scion of a wealthy Parsi family, Bhabha combined Western tastes and attitudes with a highly nationalistic determination to "raise India's rank in the world". He earned his doctorate in physics from Cambridge in 1935, and used his stay in England and travels in continental Europe not only to enjoy Viennese opera but also to befriend such eminent nuclear scientists as Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi and James Frank, all of whom played a role in producing the world's first atomic bomb under the Manhattan Project.


So impressive was Bhabha's academic record that the Institute of Science at Bangalore created a special post of Reader in Physics for him. By 1944, the young scientist was convinced of two things: that the "nuclear age" was about to dawn, and that that Indian science needed a total overhaul and made truly interdisciplinary to keep up with the growing trends of the time. He, therefore, wrote to Sir Jamshedji Tata, suggesting the setting up of an institute devoted to basic scientific and technological research. The Tatas responded promptly and positively, and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, with Bhabha at the head, was born. Its initial annual budget, believe it or not, was Rs 80,000.

 


Nehru had spotted Bhabha's tremendous talent and huge potential even before Independence. He first appointed him chairman of the Atomic Energy Research Committee, then chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1948 and later secretary of the department of atomic energy also. No head of any department has enjoyed so much authority and autonomy as Bhabha did.


In retrospect and with the benefit of hindsight, it seems that those who criticised Bhabha's "unbridled authority" and the "excessive financial support" Nehru gave him, were right up to a point. But basically, they were in the wrong. For if Bhabha wasn't freed from the stranglehold of the bureaucracy, infested with abominable no-men, India's nuclear programme would have fallen flat. There would have been no Pokhran I (1974), or Pokhran II (1998).


So prodigious and profoundly important is Bhabha's contribution to India's nuclear capability that even to sum it up briefly would require a book. So let me take up tersely three areas of his luminous legacy.
The first is his steadfast advocacy of nuclear power. He was convinced that nuclear power in large quantities could be produced at sustainable prices. "No power", he would tell doubting Thomases, "can be more costly than no power". He did not say so publicly but he believed that nuclear power would give India electricity, prestige, development and, "if absolutely necessary", nuclear weapons.


Secondly, having won kudos as president of the first conference of the Vienna-based IAEA, Bhabha fought relentlessly against safeguards that would have cramped India's nuclear programme. Under no circumstances would he accept the proposal that the international agency should control India's nuclear fuel and other nuclear resources.


Thirdly, no one focused on China's nuclear threat and possible counter-measures as he did. As early as in the late 50s, in a masterly paper he argued, with enviable subtlety, that either India must have the right to match China's imminent nuclear weapon or those wanting India not to go nuclear must guarantee India security. After China's bomb became a reality in October 1964, he offered to produce the Indian bomb in 18 months at easily affordable costs.


On January 22, 1966, Bhabha was to leave for Geneva for an IAEA meeting. This had to be postponed for some reason. The next evening he took the plane that crashed mysteriously at Mont Blanc. Tragically, he died at age 56 on the day when Indira Gandhi, who respected him highly, was sworn in as Prime Minister.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

STORY OF A NUN IN CATHOLIC CHURCH

BY MAUREEN DOWD

 

Once, in the first grade, I was late for class. I started crying in the schoolyard, terrified to go in and face the formidable Sister Hiltruda.


Father Montgomery, who looked like a handsome young priest out of a 1930s movie, found me cowering and took my hand, leading me into the classroom.


Sister Hiltruda looked ready to pop, but she couldn't say a word to me, then or ever. There was no more unassailable patriarchy than the Catholic Church.


Nuns were second-class citizens then and — 40 years after feminism utterly changed America — they still are.

 

The matter of women as priests is closed, a forbidden topic.


In 2004, the cardinal who would become Pope Benedict XVI wrote a Vatican document urging women to be submissive partners, resisting any adversarial roles with men and cultivating "feminine values" like "listening, welcoming, humility, faithfulness, praise and waiting".


Nuns need to be even more sepia-toned for the über-conservative Pope, who was christened "God's Rottweiler"

 

for his enforcement of orthodoxy. Once a conscripted member of the Hitler Youth, Benedict pardoned a schismatic bishop who claimed that there was no Nazi gas chamber. He also argued on a trip to Africa that distributing condoms could make the AIDS crisis worse.


The Vatican is now conducting two inquisitions into the "quality of life" of American nuns, a dwindling group with an average age of about 70, hoping to herd them back into their old-fashioned habits and convents and curb any speck of modernity or independence.


Nuns who took Vatican II as a mandate for re-imagining their mission "started to look uppity to an awful lot of bishops and priests and, of course, the Vatican", said Kenneth Briggs, the author of Double Crossed:

 

Uncovering the Catholic Church's Betrayal of American Nuns.


The church enabled rampant pedophilia, but nuns who live in apartments and do social work with ailing gays? Sacrilegious! The pope can wear Serengeti sunglasses and expensive red loafers, but shorter hems for nuns? Disgraceful!
"It's a tragedy because nuns are the jewels of the system", said Bob Bennett, the Washington lawyer who led the church's lay inquiry into the pedophilia scandal. "I was of the view that if they had been listened to more, some of this stuff wouldn't have happened".


As the Vatican is trying to wall off the "brides of Christ", Cask of Amontillado style, it is welcoming extreme-Right Anglicans into the Catholic Church — the ones who are disgruntled about female priests and openly gay bishops. II Papa (The papal) is even willing to bend Rome's most doggedly held dogma, against married priests — as long as they're clutching the Anglicans' Book of Common Prayer. "Most of the Anglicans who want to move over to the Catholic Church under this deal are people who have scorned women as priests and have scorned gay people", Briggs said. "The Vatican doesn't care that these people are motivated by disdain".


The nuns are pushing back a bit, but it's hard, since the church has decreed that women can't be adversarial to men. A nun writing in Commonweal as "Sister X" protests, "American women religious are being bullied".


She recalls that Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, who heads one of the investigations, moved a meeting at the University of Notre Dame off campus to protest a performance of The Vagina Monologues. "It is the rare bishop", Sister X writes, "who has any real understanding of the lives women actually lead".


The church can be flexible, except with women. Laurie Goodstein, the Times' religion writer, reported this month on an Illinois woman who had a son with a Franciscan priest. The church agreed to child support but was stingy with money for college and for doctors, once the son got terminal cancer. The priest had never been disciplined and was a pastor in Wisconsin — until he hit the front page. Even then, "Father" Willenborg was suspended only because the woman said that he had pressed her to have an abortion and that he had also had a sexual relationship with a teenager. (Maybe the church shouldn't be so obdurate on condoms.)
When then-Cardinal Ratzinger was "The Enforcer" in Rome, he investigated and disciplined two American nuns. One, Jeannine Gramick, then of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, founded a ministry to reconcile gays with the church, which regards homosexual desires as "disordered". The other, Mary Agnes Mansour of the Sisters of Mercy, headed the Michigan Department of Social Services, which, among other things, paid for abortions for poor women.


Marcy Kaptur, a Democratic Congresswoman from Toledo and one of Bishop Blair's flock, got a resolution passed commending nuns for their humble service and sacrifice. "The Vatican's in another country", she said. "Maybe people do things differently there. Perhaps the Holy Spirit will intervene".

 

By arrangement with the New York Times

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

PUMPKIN EATERS

BY PETER MAYLE

 

THERE is a tendency among the French to welcome certain aspects of American life with immediate and uncritical enthusiasm: hamburgers, Jerry Lewis, baseball caps, elderly television series (Starsky & Hutch is still running on French TV), Westerns, Marlboro Lights, button-down shirts — these and much more besides have crossed the Atlantic to become firmly embedded in le lifestyle français.


The Celtic-by-way-of-America celebration of Halloween is one more example that has always stuck in my mind because it arrived in France about the same time that I did, 20 years ago. I remember the moment well. I was passing the window of a shop that specialised in avant-garde underwear when my eye was caught by a small pumpkin, half-concealed behind the lacy thickets of a black brassiere. A hand-lettered sign tucked into the bra read, "N'oubliez pas l'alowine!" — as if one could ever forget Halloween when reminded of it in such an exotic fashion.


But there was a problem. In those unenlightened days, hardly anyone in France had the faintest idea of what alowine was. An informal survey among friends produced nothing at first but shrugs and incomprehension. I gave my respondents a clue in the form of a pumpkin. Ah, they said, soup. I tried again, this time with the date, October 31, the eve of All Saints' Day. Of course, they said, Toussaint, but this is not a day of pumpkins. Toussaint is marked here in France by the chrysanthemum. But how would you know that, being English? I retired hurt.


The years passed, and alowine scored one or two minor victories. I noticed a modest selection of cards, a sprinkling of pumpkins and the odd witch's hat. But there was nothing to indicate that Halloween was having much of an impact locally until I happened to bump into M. Farigoule in the village cafe. (Here I should explain that M. Farigoule is my mentor — self-appointed — on all matters that have to do with correct behaviour for a foreigner living in France, from table manners to income tax. He is an unrepentant chauvinist, a fund of misinformation and a prodigious consumer of rosé. I'm rather fond of him.)


It was the first morning of November, and M. Farigoule was seething with indignation. The previous evening, just as he was settling down in front of the television to disagree with the evening news, he had been disturbed by a thunderous clattering on his front door. On his doorstep, he found a gang of sooty-faced infants. One of them, holding up a hollowed-out pumpkin with a guttering candle inside, demanded bonbons. Why should I give you bonbons? asked M. Farigoule. Because it is alowine, was the reply.


M. Farigoule looked at me and shrugged, his expression a question mark. It was clear that he was not familiar with Halloween and its customs. At last it was my chance to teach him something. He listened while I described the cast of characters — the witches and hobgoblins, the skeletons and spirits of the dead, the Grim Reaper and his attendant vultures — and he seemed to understand the basic principles of trick-or-treating. It was when I was trying to explain the historical significance and traditional use of the pumpkin that I saw, from his elevated eyebrows and pursed lips, that I had touched a nerve.

 

Peter Mayle is the author of "A Year in Provence" and the forthcoming novel "The Vintage Caper.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

DEFLECTING TRUTH

 

CONTRADICTING themselves seldom causes politicians much embarrassment, but the Delhi chief minister has come up with a classic mismatch of reality and buck-passing. When opening yet another self-defence training workshop for women ~ note the occasion ~ she rightly asserted that "there is no place for crime against women, and the person involved in major kind of crimes like rape and sexual assault should be punished by the harshest punishment". Yet moments later the politician overtook the stateswoman: "a wrong picture is being painted in respect of Delhi", eve-teasing was prevalent all across the country but incidents in the Capital are "exaggerated, highlighted and presented with an intention to malign the authorities in Delhi". Coming as it did from as respected and decent a person as Sheila Dikshit, who must have experienced the city's notorious ill-treatment of women during her own DU days, it was a shocker. One that equates with a former Commissioner of Police's trivialising rape because, "in the majority of cases the perpetrator is known to the victim". Sheila did not merely "let the side down", she waved the green flag to the several hooligans who deem it their right, if not their duty to make every woman in the city feel uncomfortable almost every time she ventures out in public.
Would the chief minister care to reflect on the reality that this unsavoury dimension of the city's character (lack of it to be accurate) was established long before she entered the local political arena? And since law and order does not fall within the responsibilities of the Delhi government, its culpability is merely notional so there was really no need for passing the buck. The truth is that the harassment of women fits in with the several other manifestations of the disregard for the law, rules and regulations of all kind that dominates the local culture. The element of truth that could, perhaps, have triggered Sheila's evasive action was a vast majority of law-breakers thriving on their political connections. Hence training women to defend themselves physically will pay only moderate dividends until netagiri is negated. Sorry Sheila, you have shot yourself in the foot.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

HAVEN OF CHAOS

CLAUDE ARPI


WHILE the Indian media is focussed on the intrusions and other aggressive Chinese postures on the northern front and the utter mess in Pakistan to the west, interesting developments are taking place in Afghanistan.
It was first reported that General Stanley McChrystal, NATO's top commander, had argued with the Obama  administration that without more troops the United States could lose the war against the Taliban. "Resources will not win this war, but under-resourcing could lose it," wrote McChrystal in a report addressed to his boss in the White House and reproduced by The Washington Post.


He explained: "The stakes in Afghanistan are high. President Obama's strategy to disrupt, dismantle and eventually defeat the Al Qaida and prevent their return to Afghanistan have laid out a clear path of what we must do. Stability in Afghanistan is an imperative; if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban ~ or has insufficient capacity to counter transnational terrorists ~ Afghanistan could again become a base for terrorism, with obvious implications for regional stability."


Unfortunately in the meantime, the tenant in the White House was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize putting him in a terrible dilemma. Considering that he received the coveted prize on his declarations of intention, President Obama is now in two minds about sending more US troops to Afghanistan.


But there is more of interest. Let us go back a year. While France lamented the "too few gold medals" earned by the nation in the Beijing Olympics, 10 of her soldiers were killed on a reconnaissance mission in Afghanistan after a fierce battle with the Taliban. The French commandos were part of the contingent of 70,000 serving under a 40-nation NATO coalition called the International Security Assistance Forces. They were ambushed in a mountainous region of Surobi about 50 km east of Kabul. It was the deadliest attack on international troops in Afghanistan since June 2005, when 16 American soldiers were killed as their helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade.


SHOCK IN FRANCE

SOME of the surviving soldiers complained that once they had fallen into the trap, they had to wait for four hours before NATO planes arrived, who then missed their target and hit the French troops. It was neither confirmed nor denied, though General Michel Stollsteiner, the NATO commander of the Kabul region, commented that the French troops had been 'over-confident'. France went into deep shock.


The public began to grumble louder: President Sarkozy's decision to increase the French contingent in Afghanistan by 700 troops (to 3,300) was widely criticized "just because the US had asked its NATO allies to share the burden in Afghanistan". Le Figaro echoed the general feeling: "If the aims are just, are the tactics being used to achieve them correct?"


After seeing the ten coffins covered with the tricolour flag, the public took a stronger view. The common question was: what price are we paying for what?


The French President decided, however, to send a 700-member reinforcement force. In typical Sarkozy style, he said: "It is here that the peace in the world is at stake and therefore it is here that war (is waged) against terrorism, poverty, and also for human rights and for the rights of the women." Many were not convinced.


Fourteen months later, The Times in London broke a sensational piece of news: "Italians bribed the Taliban all over Afghanistan". A Taliban commander and two senior Afghan officials would have confirmed to The Times reporter that "Italian forces paid protection money to prevent attacks on their troops".


It was immediately denied by the office of the flamboyant Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi. "The Berlusconi government has never authorised nor has it allowed any form of payment towards members of the Taliban insurgency." However from May 2006 to May 2008, it was Romano Prodi who was heading the government and the present government's refutation is not a denial that the Italians have done it.
Mohammed Ishmayel, a Taliban commander explained to The Times that "a deal was struck last year so that Italian forces in the Sarobi area, east of Kabul, were not attacked by local insurgents."


The French forces, who took over the area from Italian troops, were apparently unaware of the 'deal' with the local commanders resulting in the death of the French soldiers. Ishmayel said that it had been agreed that "neither side should attack one another. That is why we were informed at that time, that we should not attack the NATO troops." When the French troops attacked the Taliban, the latter presumed that the deal had been broken.


The French newspaper, Le Monde, affirmed that sources close to NATO see it differently: "It would be simplistic to explain such an attack only by the lack of proper information (about the 'protection money'?). It would be more correct to point to the difference of strategy between the Italians and the French".
The Italian defence minister, Ignazio La Russa, acquiesced: "The behaviour of our military, is very different compared to that of other contingents". Their orders are to support the local population and help in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan, a task that France has begun only after the death of its soldiers.
A usually well-informed French blog, run by a journalist of the newspaper Liberation, said that though the bribing information could not be confirmed or denied, "several times we heard from serious military sources, accusations against the behaviour of the Italian troops in Surobi district. The accusations were of two types: one, absence of patrols in certain areas like Uzbine (where the French troops were killed) and a wide tolerance for the culture of opium". The blogger admitted, however, that he had never heard about downright payments to the Taliban. 


In a speech recently delivered in London, General McChrystal said that people constantly suggest to him schemes 'for fixing Afghanistan's problems'. One of these 'recommendations' advocated a plan called 'Chaosistan.' The idea was to let Afghanistan become a "Somalia-like haven of chaos that we simply manage from outside".


CIA ANALYSIS

SOME US intelligence officials believe that the reference originates in a secretly published CIA analysis titled 'Chaosistan'. With or without the CIA's covert schemes, it is clear that Afghanistan has become Chaosistan. The last presidential election is yet another proof of it. But western governments continue to put on a brave face. During a recent visit to Kabul, the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner declared: "The present period is crucial in the history of this nation… these elections will mark a new step in the consolidation of the rule of law, the reconstruction of the nation and the foundation of stable institutions". Serious observers don't believe that this will happen soon, though Kouchner announced that Karzai and his opponent Abdullah Abdullah have agreed to work together. Whoever is aware of the past history of Afghanistan knows the impermanence of this type of alliance.


Though the NATO forces are technologically far superior to the Taliban, they will always be in a state of inferiority in terms of ground knowledge and intelligence gathering. In such conditions, there is no way to win a 'war against terrorism', especially under the aegis of a puppet (or divided) government. The terrorists continue to roam free in the neighbouring country.

In an editorial, Le Monde summed up what many people think: "The Afghan electoral imbroglio sends us back to the contradictions of the international coalition and the ambiguity of objectives which mix counter-insurrection and tentative nation-building."


Moliere, the greatest French playwright of all times, once wrote a play in which one of the characters keeps repeating: "What the hell are we doing on this boat?" Many in France believe that this could apply to Afghanistan.

The writer is an expert on China-Tibet relations and author of the Fate of Tibet.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

WELL DONE, SOMNATH 

 

EXTENDING their careers is what all politicians desire, so there is every reason to applaud Somnath Chatterjee's declining the offer of an "eminent person" nomination to the Rajya Sabha. While we are not taken in by his rather pontifical "I feel I will not be able to make any useful contribution and therefore I may be excused", we are gladdened that he has yet again (inadvertently?) upheld the dignity of the office of the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. As he had done earlier when resisting party pressure to resign: a stance that was, in fact, essentially a snub to the upstarts dominating the CPI-M. Having presided over the more powerful wing of a bicameral legislature (even if the less-knowledgeable draw a skewed Westminster parallel when talking of upper and lower houses) it would have demeaned the Speakership had he sat on the "floor" of the Rajya Sabha. What if a situation arose in which whoever was in the Chair in the red-carpeted chamber had to rule against the man whose rulings till "yesterday" set the benchmark for conduct in legislatures across the country? Much potential embarrassment has thus been averted. Mrs Meira Kumar, for one, should be both grateful and relieved.
The offer to Chatterjee is said to have been made on behalf of the Prime Minister. If so, it serves to further exemplify how the executive fails to accord the legislature requisite respect. Nominations to the Rajya Sabha are intended to provide the House the experience and sagacity of artists, film personalities, writers and other intellectuals who would refrain from the hurly-burly arena of electoral politics ~ the very arena in which Somnath had shone. The offer would add to the long list of misuses of that lofty Constitutional provision. Over the years the Rajya Sabha has been degraded to a recovery-and-rehabilitation centre for those who lost a Lok Sabha poll, or to accommodate others whose political parties needed a lifeline. Yet does it really do high non-political Constitutional offices ~ the Chief Justice of India, the Chief of the Army Staff, the Comptroller and Auditor-General, to name some ~ much honour when their ex-incumbents opt for the Rajya Sabha? Dr Manmohan Singh was inducted into that House because he was an economist. That despite switching to a political role he prefers to retain the seat that was "arranged" for him, perhaps, explains the "award" dangled before Somnath. 

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

MONEY MOCKED

 

UNDERSCORING the disappointment of domestic fans that none of the three IPL sides made it to the semi-finals of the inaugural Champions League T20 is a reality that Lalit Modi & Co. cannot ignore ~ money is no provider of the cohesion, commitment, pride and determination that regional affinity injects into a sporting squad. That was the cement of all the sides that made it to the last four of the just-concluded tournament. Teams with a concentration of players "procured" by the highest bidder lack such bonding. To suggest that each IPL team also has geographical roots is to be merely technical, the ownership of the Kolkata Knight Riders or the Delhi Daredevils is alien. And owners of teams like the Deccan Chargers, Royal Challengers etc have had little previous cricket connection. The argument that football clubs in England have solid local support though their players are bought from all over doesn't quite hold good: most fans have membership of one sort or another of their club, loyalties have been built over decades. What the last few days have revealed is that traditional entities have mocked at squads put together by big bucks, in quest of big bucks one might add. In short, the difference between true sporting contest and highly entertaining tamasha. 


While the legendary Aussie cocktail of grit and firepower ensured the trophy went to New South Wales, the sentimental victors were the men who proved that still alive is the verve that once made West Indies cricket so very unique. Did not Keiron Pollard, Lendl Simmons, Darren Ganga, and Dwayne Barvo transport us back to an era when the sheer power of Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards made a joke of the distance to the boundary-line and Sobers and Kanhai exuded sheer grace. True there were few "perfume balls" a la Hall, Griffith, Garner, Roberts, Holding, Marshall etc, pitch conditions in CLT20 did not make for that. Maybe the showing of T&T looked extra impressive against the backdrop of West Indies cricket going through a terrible patch, but it did reassure: calypso cricket was still around. Back to our own guys, they have opportunity to redeem themselves in the upcoming ODIs against Australia. Will the apprehensions of a former BCCI official that filthy lucre has taken its toll be dispelled, or will there be confirmations of Bishen Bedi's quip about them being "commercials not professionals"? Will "success" be determined by the balance-sheet or score-card?

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

BASIC IDEA

 

It is easy to get lost in the thicket of official acronyms. BPLR does not stand for below-poverty-level racketeers, but for benchmark prime lending rate. The Reserve Bank of India compels all banks to declare one. The chiefs of the RBI travel much, and meet their peers from other central banks all over the world. Over soft drinks in some resort, they heard that banks in other countries declare prime lending rates at which they lend to their most valuable customers; they charge everyone else more. So they came home and ordered Indian banks too to declare their PLRs, which they obediently did.

 

The banks did not tell the RBI, but eventually it found out that they were lending even below their PLRs to specially favoured customers. The RBI realized that it had been had. As is its custom under such circumstances, it appointed a committee of faithfuls to tell it what to do. This committee has recommended replacement of BPLR by a base rate — a rate below which banks would promise on their honour never to lend. It would be the sum of all the costs a bank simply has to cover — the average interest the bank pays on its deposits, overheads, a mark-up from which it would cross-subsidize what it has to lend to the government, and a minimum profit margin. The interesting thing is that the RBI expected the BPLR to be the minimum interest to be charged to lenders. To its discomfiture, banks lent to some customers at below BPLR, so the RBI does not know what animal the BPLR is; it is looking for an animal it can recognize. One would have thought that there was a simple way of finding it out — just ask banks to declare their minimum lending rate. But that does not suit the RBI; it also wants the minimum rate to cover a bank's costs, for it is determined not to let any bank make a loss.

One would expect a central bank to know the difference between interest and profit. Interest is what the bank pays a particular lender or charges a borrower; it applies to a single loan or deposit. Profit is what the bank makes at the end of a period out of its income after paying its costs. It is not necessary for a bank to make a profit on every loan; all that matters is that it should make a decent profit at the end of the year. It is understandable that the RBI, as a zealous regulator, would like to have some figures of actual interest rates from the banks. It would, however, be quite sufficient if it were to ask the banks for any of four rates, namely minimum, maximum, modal and weighted average lending rates. It should abandon its obsession with cost-plus pricing.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

THINK AHEAD

 

As far as the current timeline for climate change goes, nobody alive today, in India or elsewhere, will live long enough to suffer the direst effects of global warming. So a well-developed ability to look very far into the future, together with a conscience that compels one to act according to that vision, is required for citizens and governments to start planning against climate change and then earnestly implementing those plans. This is particularly true for the developing economies, which are used to feeling absolved from the environmental responsibilities of the developed economies. So India, for instance, is busier fending off the developed world's demands regarding emission-cuts than thinking pragmatically about what it can do, in its own way, about global warming. Ordinary Indians are still far from perceiving climate change as a problem that touches their lives, and therefore worth thinking about. So it would not matter to most people that a recent survey has found Calcutta to be the highest emitter of carbon dioxide among 25 Indian cities. It has to be noted, though, that the comparable figures for Delhi and Mumbai have not yet come in. So it is impossible to make out how the Indian big cities emit compared to one another.

 

Yet, a survey like this is important in initiating some sort of awareness in municipalities, panchayats and state governments, and in ordinary citizens, about the long- and short-term measures and targets regarding cutting down energy consumption. India's place in the world is getting more and more prominent, and with that will come certain global responsibilities that it will find increasingly difficult to dodge. Himachal plans to become a carbon-neutral state by 2020, and states like Uttarakhand and Kerala have already taken some decisions regarding biosphere restrictions and replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lights. It usually takes West Bengal an inordinately long time to wake up to immediate dangers and crises. So perhaps its keepers could begin to wonder if they would like to begin to think about such things. Calcutta has got used to lethal air pollution. So it may not be too bothered about this sort of thing.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

CLIMATE CHANGE

THE BALANCE OF POWER HAS SHIFTED FROM POLITICIANS TO TYCOONS

ASHOK MITRA

 

The philosophy of self-aggrandisement defies social logic. Seven leading banks in the United States of America had last year incurred an aggregate loss of $82 billion; the chief executive officers of these banks nonetheless claimed and collected annual bonus to the extent of $38 billion. The economy might lie in ruins; that did not distract sharks from zooming in on their prey.

 

Our corporate sector has shaped itself in the image of the goings-on in Wall Street. It is therefore only natural for it to feel peeved at the genteel suggestion emanating from official quarters that the grossly bloated emoluments industrial tycoons have been bestowing upon themselves be scaled down. Righteous indignation is boiling over, and, alongside, there is a note of righteous exasperation: why does not the government understand that the animal spirit the tycoons have been exhibiting would be badly affected by such silly suggestions? Is it not a free economy, is not profit-making the only criterion by which things are to be judged? If a firm is willing to pay its executive officers astronomical sums, there is a reason for it: the enormous profit the firm is registering is on account of the talent and capability of its top brass. Whittling down the size of the compensation package is as good as imposing a moratorium on initiative. What will then happen to the country's rate of industrial growth — or to the rate of the gross domestic product growth? What face will the prime minister then show at the next G-8 or G-20 meet?

 

The corporate sector is getting het up for nothing. It is in the Congress's tradition — almost its cultural heritage — to be occasionally bitten by the conscience bug and propose a number of so-called 'austerity' measures. The party does not, however, mean any harm; it merely goes through the motions of a ritual. Once the season for rituals is announced, circulars are issued, for instance, directing ministers and senior civil servants to fly only economy class. It is a joke from the very beginning, for even if it is an economy class ticket the minister or senior civil servant is carrying, the airline will take care to 'upgrade' the ticket so that the eminent person travels comfortably in the executive or business class. Give or take a couple of months, the contents of the circular are quietly forgotten and life resumes flowing along normal channels. The Congress has always revelled in such hypocrisies, even in the pre-Independence days. There is a hugely hilarious story about how Bhulabhai Desai, the top Bombay barrister and Congress satrap, smuggled a carton of Old Grandad whisky in his bed roll at the party's Haripura session in 1938. To be a primary member of the Congress, Desai had to sign the pledge not to touch alcohol. So what; it is all in the game.

 

The current season of austerity too will soon be over and pastimes like passing a summer night in a Dalit tenement or requesting tycoons to trim their take-home pay will also come to a surcease. Ruling politicians in their heart of hearts cannot even conceive of a cut in corporate salaries; one of these days, one of their offspring will seek a cushy employment in the private sector.

 

Even so, the hectoring manner in which corporate sector spokesmen responded to the government proposal carries a message of its own. In the post-liberalization era, the centre of gravity in mutual bargaining has shifted decisively in favour of the corporate sector and against the government of the day. Corporate bosses can now afford to treat with contempt homilies from politicians. They know the ins and outs of the life and times of that tribe: how the politicians make their pile, where they stash it, and other such sleazy details. Besides, most political parties are sustained by financial contributions the corporate bosses arrange for them. Such contributions have been generally under-the-table; with climate change, over-the-counter contributions too are now proposed to be made tax-free. Birds of the same feather are in any event supposed to flock together. Money lying in the vaults of Swiss banks has been paid in as much by business tycoons as by politicians, along with remittances from other specimens. Each species knows fairly well what amount which of the other species has stacked up in Mauritius or Cayman Islands or Zurich; some judges too have of late joined the fraternity.

 

Things were not always so smooth. During the first few decades following Independence, the economy was semi-controlled, and the corporate sector was somewhat in awe of politicians. One needed a licence to start an industry or business of corporate proportions. The minister was a godlike figure who decided an industrialist's or businessman's fate. Even if this or that politician would, for rendering a favour, accept money from this or that business tycoon, no tycoon would dare to tell tales; his licence could get cancelled on the flimsiest pretext. Reigning politicians still carried around their personae the halo that got lit during the freedom movement. A stray Birla or a Bajaj apart, few among the tycoons could aspire to bridge the social distance separating them from the ministers. Politicians, it will be wise to remember, had the other, equally lucrative milch cow: the public sector was flourishing. Come election season, a minister would summon heads of the public undertakings controlled by his ministry and inform them how much they were expected to contribute to the party's election kitty; how they showed these in the account books was their headache, not the minister's.

 

Some senior civil servants presiding over the distribution of licences, however, had the private sector constantly in mind. A few among them, with an adequate lack of scruple, would not even bother to be subtle. One of these gentlemen had a sculptress wife; every time she would hold an exhibition, the husband would post himself outside the exhibition hall, tycoons would dutifully troop in, the sculptures would be sold out in a jiffy.

 

Those pastoral days are long gone. It is now an altogether different landscape. The size of industrial and economic activity has expanded several times. The public sector is in cold storage. The government is in a contrite mood, it has confessed what a big folly it was on its part to enter the sphere of industry and commerce or to patronize the barbaric licensing system. It has apologized and pledged total surrender to the private sector. The 'advisories' from the government have therefore not even a symbolic significance. Official pronouncements on the issue of austerity are as fake as the anger formally registered by industry barons in response. The government has, in effect, ceased to be the decision-making authority in economic matters; principals of the private sector constitute the actual authority. That is what neo-liberalism is all about.

 

On paper it is a multi-party democracy and political parties supposedly reflect the sovereign will of the people. In practice, almost all parties run on funds supplied by the corporate sector. It is very nearly in the nature of a straightforward business transaction. Politicians heading the parties have to survive. Their survival is also a necessity for the tycoons since they seek a front. Politicians provide the facade of a throbbing, living democracy where representatives of the people are assumed to take the crucial decisions. This is the de jure framework; the actual decisions are the handiwork of the tycoons.

 

In the meantime, India has slipped down to 134th position in the human development index put out by the United Nations. That datum can be taken in stride, for the GDP growth rate is what counts at the G-8 concourse. The Maoists flex their occasional muscle, but, overall, it is a well-managed system. Even without the prime minister informing them about it, people know that, now that the aman harvest is imminent, prices are to decline, even if marginally. They will be grateful for this little mercy. Ordinary men and women are generally full of good behaviour; they let politicians let their tycoon friends — whom they hold in awe — make killing profits.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

TROUBLE IN THE KINGDOM

GWYNNE DYER

 

People get long jail sentences in Thailand for criticizing the royal family. So the Thai media have been silent on the question of what happens after the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. But the king is 81 years old, and he has been in hospital for a month now. So there are widespread fears that he is dying. Recently, the Bangkok stock market fell by 8 per cent in a day on rumours that his health is worse than the palace admits.

 

Bhumibol has been on the throne for 63 years, and he is universally revered. Thailand is three years into the worst political crisis it has seen since it became a democratic country two decades ago, and the king is just about the only unifying factor that remains.

 

The crisis is the result of democracy. Thailand has become a semi-developed country — average income has risen forty-fold since Bhumibol came to the throne — but most of the population is still rural and quite poor. Their votes used to be bought by powerful local politicians and delivered to whichever urban-based party paid the highest price, but no more. As the people of the overwhelmingly rural north and north-east acquired more education, they started using their votes to back politicians who promised to defend their interests. In 2001, they elected a populist politician of humble origins called Thaksin Shinawatra as prime minister.

 

Thaksin had made a fortune in telecommunications, and he probably couldn't have won the elections if he wasn't rich. But he did govern in the interests of the poor, and he was re-elected with an increased majority in 2005. It was how you would expect a maturing democracy to work, for the poor always outnumber the rich. But you would also expect a backlash from the traditional ruling elite, and it came in the form of the People's Alliance for Democracy, a yellow-shirted movement that actually aimed to roll back democracy. By provoking confrontations in the streets with Thaksin's supporters, the PAD created a pretext for its allies in the army to seize power in a coup in 2006.

 

SILENT PRAYERS

The PAD's urban, middle class supporters can control the streets of the capital and even overthrow governments they don't like, but they cannot force the rural majority to abandon its own loyalties. The country is dangerously polarized and politically paralysed, and many Thais believe that only King Bhumibol can hold the country together.

 

Maybe it's true, although there are suspicions that he actively supported the 2006 coup. At any rate, the king's death would greatly deepen the crisis, for his likely successor is not loved.The crown prince, Maha Vajiralongkorn, has led a turbulent life, including three marriages. His attitude has probably not been improved by living for 57 years in the shadow of his father. He would be a perfectly serviceable constitutional monarch in normal times, but the Thai people have decided that they do not like him very much.

 

Vajiralongkorn is so lacking in the respect that has enabled his father to play a mediating role that there are those who quietly suggest that his sister, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, might perform the duties of the monarchy better. Thai law has been changed to allow women to occupy the throne, and the constitution leaves the final right to designate an heir to the senior advisors to the king.

 

They are unlikely to change the succession, but the mere fact that it could happen introduces another element of uncertainty into the equation. This gives Thais another reason to pray for Bhumibol's recovery. The almost daily reports from the palace on the king's condition are always upbeat, but there have been references to a "lung inflammation," which is a delicate way of saying pneumonia. That is potentially a killer in a man of his age, and the worries of the Thai public are justified.

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

A MEGA SCAM

"THE TELECOM MINISTER SHOULD BE SACKED."

 

The raids conducted by the CBI in the department of telecom offices and the case registered against 'unknown' officials on the basis of preliminary findings confirm the suspicion about serious irregularities in the award of second generation (2G) licences to telecom operators in 2008. The opposition parties and others had pointed out that the irregularities had cost the government between Rs 40,000 crore and Rs 60,000 crore. Communications minister A Raja, who took the vital decisions, is answerable for the loss. It is inconceivable that senior officials would act without the minister's clearance on matters that involved thousands of crores of revenue. Violation of norms is clear even for a layman. The licences were given and spectrum allotted to companies some of which did not have the right qualifications. It was done without inviting tenders and strangely on a first-come-first-served basis. Licences were sold for fees that prevailed in 2001 and the entire process was arbitrary and non-transparent. The questionable nature of the entire matter is clear from the fact that two companies which got the licence sold their stake within weeks for many times their investment.


The CBI investigation is on the orders of the Central Vigilance Commissioner who had found that conduct of the DoT was not above board. The minister has defended the DoT action and refused to resign, arguing that the department had followed all procedures laid down by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). This is wrong because the TRAI had actually recommended auctions for selecting licensees. Raja accepted only those recommendations of the TRAI which suited the course he had decided to adopt. In any case it is wrong to blame the TRAI, because the department was not bound by its recommendations. Raja has also tried to shift responsibility by claiming that the decisions had the approval of the prime minister. That is also lame defence.

Raja, who is involved in the scandal, should not have been given the telecom portfolio when the UPA returned to power this year. It was pressure from his party, the DMK, which forced the UPA to award him the portfolio. Now that a case has been registered after preliminary investigations, his continuation in the government is untenable. He has showed no sign of public morality, sense of responsibility or shame. If he does not resign, he should be told to, or sacked. And the CBI should be allowed to complete the investigation independently.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

DEAL IN VIENNA?

"THE DISCUSSION WITH IRAN IS GETTING COMPLICATED."

 

A suicide bombing against Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard that killed six commanders and 37 others has cast a shadow over the fate of ongoing talks at Vienna on Iran's nuclear programme. The Iranian government has blamed the United States, Britain and Pakistan for the attack. While a Sunni militant group called Jundallah has claimed responsibility for the attack, Iran's allegations are not completely unfounded. Even if the US did not have a direct hand in the attack on the Revolutionary Guard, it did foster militant groups opposed to the Iranian government. It is believed that former president George Bush began a covert programme in 2005 that  involved providing financial and other assistance to Iranian opposition groups. It's not known whether it was discontinued after Obama came to power. The suicide attack couldn't have happened at a worse time. It took place on the eve of crucial talks at the International Atomic Energy Agency between Iran and Russia, France and the US on Iran's nuclear programme.


On the table for discussion at Vienna is a plan that would provide for Russia and France treating Iranian low-grade uranium and turning it into fuel rods for a medical reactor in Tehran, instead of Iran creating its own medium-enriched uranium. This plan is seen as one that addresses concerns of all sides. It would provide Iran the fuel it needs, implicit acknowledgement of its right to enrich uranium and no new sanctions. It would also ease western fears over Iran's existing stockpile being diverted to make nuclear bombs.


The plan holds out an opportunity to resolve the crisis over Iran's nuclear programme diplomatically. The question is whether Iran or the US is keen to solve the problem. The Iranian leaderships legitimacy was shaken by public unrest over a rigged vote. It will be reluctant to make concessions that will be seen by hardliners as a sign of weakness. As for the US, Congress has begun taking steps to move legislation that will provide for new unilateral sanctions against Iran. This, at a time when a solution seems within reach. This is not just unhelpful, it is provocative. Obama's strategy of engaging Iran diplomatically to resolve the crisis over the latter's nuclear programme is being undermined from within.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

FUTURE TENSE

BYLINE M J AKBAR

 

When the ageing but still incomparable Groucho Marx, now trundling into his 80s, was asked what he most wanted as a birthday gift, his reply was succinct: Last year. Which is the year from their past that the BJP and Shiv Sena would most like as a gift? 2001. Since then it has been a steady trot downhill.


The Shiv Sena's stagnation is easily comprehensible. After a lifetime of leadership by a dominant patriarch it confused the man with the mission. The Shiv Sena has two dimensions. In rural Maharashtra it is the regional, Marathi-centric alternative to the Congress, playing the democratic game with a slant but within the framework of conventional politics. Its urban manifestation is different.


In Mumbai, particularly, and in Pune, to a lesser degree, the Shiv Sena's success has been through the sharp articulation of grievance and local pride, through a sensational rhetoric and, when required, violent agitation. Balasaheb Thackeray has been, for some years now, unable to either breathe such fire or turn his rather mild heir Uddhav into a fire-breather. His nephew Raj Thackeray walked into vacant space; the sound of broken windows was sufficient to persuade the young unemployed that they had found their voice.


Raj Thackeray picked up 23.35 per cent of the vote in Mumbai. Translate that figure into ground reality and it becomes more comprehensible. If roughly half the vote of Mumbai is Marathi, then the nephew took around half the Marathi votes cast. This is a huge swing, with an impact extending far beyond the 13 seats that he won.

The Shiv Sena, already down by three per cent in the Lok Sabha elections from its support in 2004, dropped a further three percentage points. Balasaheb still gets respect, but that is really a homage to his past. The mission has passed on to Raj Thackeray.


The BJP has a larger dilemma. It is simply out of focus. It has nothing by way of a new narrative to offer, and its old one is so tired that it can't get out of bed. The party has gone through an identity crisis before. Its first incarnation, the Bhartiya Jana Sangh, submerged itself into the Janata, under popular pressure, in 1977.


The Janata never functioned as the sum of its parts, and proved so incapable to understanding the compulsions of power that it collapsed and split. The bruised Sangh resurrected as the Bhartiya Janata Party, preaching some strange form of pretend-Gandhism, and was promptly battered in the 1984 elections.


It reinvented itself through the street politics of the Ayodhya temple movement, consolidated its gains with patience during the Narasimha Rao years and won unprecedented rewards in Delhi. The Atal Behari Vajpayee years can be summed up quite succinctly. As long as the party followed Vajpayee's advice, it maintained a keel that was acceptable to the country.


REVERSE ACTION

When the party imposed itself on Vajpayee, the balance went awry. It was only a question of time before the keel broke. Since then the BJP has been struggling to find the balance between regional demands and a national presence, emotionalism and shrill invective, communal rhetoric and the compulsion of social peace as the necessary bedrock of economic development and, finally, an image that reflects concern for the future rather than the conflicts of the past.


Such contradictions had a direct impact on the Maharashtra elections. When it joined the me-too Marathi manoos agenda of the Shiv Sena, which is essentially anti-Bihari migrant labour, its Bihar unit publicly disassociated itself from the decision.


And so, typically, the BJP fell between the traditional two stools. The Marathi shrugged and moved to Raj Thackeray; and one can safely assume that not a single Mumbai Bihari voted for the BJP. BJP leaders have neither understood the reasons for their now prolonged stagnation or decline, which is why they embarrass themselves and their party with silly excuses on the day results are declared. Some bright spark blamed the electronic voting machines the moment the trend in Maharashtra pointed towards defeat. That leader had not lost an election, he had lost his mind.


The BJP's real problem is a sense that it has got lost in a time warp at a moment when young Indians, the decisive element in the vote, are either looking ahead or bursting with anger and frustration. The BJP has been unable to offer a road map for the next years, or unlike say Om Prakash Chautala become an effective mobiliser of voter resentment.


This has been a poor election for all major parties. The Congress actually lost one per cent of its vote from five years ago in Maharashtra; while its embarrassment in Haryana was plainly evident. The NCP vote dropped 2.4 per cent from 2004. The ruling alliance won not because it was better but simply because it was less worse.

Depression engenders an enervating lethargy. Government is of course recognised as a full-time activity, but Opposition has become election season frenzy punctuated by a few forgettable speeches during parliament sessions. Opposition is the time parties use to expand their base; the BJP can barely protect what it had two decades ago in a volatile state like Haryana.


You can only dream of the gift of a past year. To survive in electoral politics you need to create a future.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

PLATINUM JUBILEE OF INDIAN SOCIALISM

THE CONGRESS SOCIALIST PARTY REALISED THE FUTILITY OF VIOLENCE AND ACCEPTED DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISM.

BY BAPU HEDDURSHETTI

 

On the failure of the Second Round Table conference, Mahatma Gandhi started the civil disobedience movement and thousands of Indians were jailed. Among them were Jayaprakash Narayan, Minoo Masani, Achyut Patwardhan, Asok Mehta, N G Goray and others who were held in Nasik jail. It is in this jail that the idea of launching a socialist movement in the country was conceived.


This October 22, the India Socialist movement which began with the formation of the Congress Socialist Party in 1934 at a conference of socialists at the Readymoney Terrace in Mumbai under the presidentship of Dr Sampurnanand, completed 75 years. In its chequered journey, the movement had many ups and downs, many mergers and splits but also has many achievements to its credit.


It may surprise many that today India is treading the path shown by the socialists rather than Mahatma Gandhi. But this is a historical fact. In 1934, Minoo Masani had given to Mahatma Gandhi a programme adopted by the Mumbai socialists for his comments. Gandhi said while he welcomed the formation of the Congress Socialist Party, he did not agree with its programmes.


PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY

Gandhi opposed the idea of class struggle, abolition of princely states, the repudiation of India's public debt, the idea of nationalisation of the means of production, exchange and distribution which the socialists demanded. He asked as to how people will become thrifty if they need not worry about old age, ill health and accidents. He asked, if it was the responsibility of the state to take care of the children, does it not absolve the parents of their responsibility?

He said he was against the abolition of zamindari, but wanted just relations between the landlords and tenants. But if one looks at the changes that have taken place, one would know, that India is treading the path shown by the socialists and not the one shown by Mahatma Gandhi.


The Congress Socialist Party, started as a Marxist party, soon realised the futility of violence as a means to achieve power and accepted democratic socialism as its creed. It tried to redefine socialism in the Indian context by emphasising the need for broadbasing democracy by decentralising power, the need for equality, in the social structure by giving special opportunities to the deprived, gender equality and cultural and linguistic equality.


Unfortunately the political wing of the movement went through many splits and mergers due to mostly the personality clashes of the leaders. While many of them joined the Congress party, some of them even joined the outfit led by the communalists. Today, the socialists have dispersed in several different political parties giving rise to a feeling that socialism in India has failed. But this can be the failure of the socialist leadership but not that of the movement.


Socialist movement has many reasons to be proud of. In the paper published to justify imposition of emergency, Indira Gandhi said that most of the 14 point programmes suggested by the socialists to Nehru in 1952 had been implemented. While the Congress which had begun as a forum to demand participation in the British administration of the country to the educated Indians, came to adopt the socialistic pattern of society as its goal.

ADAPTABILITY
The communists who believed in violence as a means to achieve power, accepted democracy and and are today functioning within the framework of the constitution. Even the BJP had at one time to say that it too believes in socialism but of the Gandhian variety. Credit for all this should legitimately go to the socialist movement.


In 1934, socialists demanded the linguistic reorganisation of states, planned economic growth, abolition of princely states and zamindari, redistribution of land, abolition of debts of farmers, nationalisation of banks, right to work, encouragement to co-operatives, secularism, gender equality, etc. After 75 years, we find Indian states reorganised on linguistic bases, five year plans, disappearance of princely states and zamindari, land reforms, nationalisation of banks, reservation to the deprived, panchayat raj system of sub-state governance and the right to work being realised through the employment guarantee schemes. Even the constitution was amended to include 'socialist and secular' to describe the nation in the preamble to the constitution. These are no mean achievements.

Socialists are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the movement this October 2009. The question is whether the movement will regain the steam it lost when it merged with the Janata Party in 1977 and suggest socialist solutions to the problems posed by the new developments in the country and the world.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

ARE YOU ON FB?

YOU ARE CONSIDERED OUTDATED IF YOU ARE NOT ON THE FACE BOOK.

BY SUJATA RAJPAL

 

I know all about him: what he eats… what time does he sleep… which best seller is he reading these days… his weekend plans… grade his kid got in mid term exam and even the gift he gifted his wife on her birthday... but I haven't met him for the past six years, may be seven. Guess who is he to me? One obvious clue: he is my friend. Na, he is not my 'actual' friend; he is my Face Book friend. He has 543 (and still counting) FB friends with whom he loves to share all irrelevant updates of his life.


What is it in FB friends that is not there in real flesh and blood friends? "I make it a point to visit FB at least once a day even on my sojourns abroad to keep in touch with all in one shot", he says in one of his sweet tweets.

When I first 'met' him on FB he looked very different from the real self. May be some people look different in photographs or may be he had grown old. Thanks to his second hand 7 mega pixel digital camera which he bought from his uncle's nephew's colleague at a throw away price (all this I learnt from the FB, where else?), I can now see him in different moods and modes… serene, relaxing, naughty, noisy, bustling. If I ever meet him in real life again, firstly, I may not recognise him because I am so used to seeing him on FB. Secondly, in real life he is not as handsome as he looks on FB.


Orkut is passé; FB and Twitter are the trendiest way to keep in touch with people. You are considered old fashioned and outdated if you are not on FB. No matter how many good friends you have in real life, the number of friends on your FB account and followers on twitter are metaphor of your popularity and amicability. One is no more judged by the kind of friends one has, the number of FB friends is the litmus test of your popularity. Add to your list a couple of heavy weights and see your popularity soaring.
For the trendy types, first came the e-mails, then e-messages, e-cards, e-shopping and now e-friends. What next?

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

15 YEARS OF PEACE

 

It's not exactly the peace Yitzhak Rabin, King Hussein and Bill Clinton envisioned when Jordan and Israel signed their treaty on October 26, 1994 at what is today the Arava Border Crossing connecting Akaba and Eilat.

 

And yet this unsatisfactory peace trumps what preceded it.

 

Tellingly, what Israelis like about the treaty is precisely what irks Jordanians: It did not address the Palestinian issue, and it was a pure exchange of peace for peace. Israel forfeited no strategic assets; no communities were uprooted.

 

The treaty did momentarily seem to hold out the possibility of a deeper peace - not just between our two states, but between our two peoples. At the signing ceremony, the military bands of the two countries played in concert. Opposing generals shook hands.

 

But the treaty reflected the wishes of the monarch, not his subjects, despite Hussein's assertion: "I know it is supported by the overwhelming majority of our people." Actually, most Jordanians are of Palestinians origin - anywhere between 55 to 70 percent of Jordan's seven million people.

 

Both Fatah and Hamas called for a general strike to protest the treaty signing, while Muslim fundamentalists in Jordan gathered in their thousands to protest the "sellout."

 

Paradoxically, it was the September 1993 Oslo Accords which Rabin and Yasser Arafat signed that paved the way for Hussein to make peace with Israel. But unlike Anwar Sadat, who emphasized the Palestinian Arab issue during every step of the peace-making process, Hussein said nary a word about the Palestinians at the Arava ceremony.

 

Still, the Palestinian issue hangs over the Jordanian-Israeli relationship.

 

In 1974, Hussein was forced by the Arab League to step aside and accept the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Later, to hedge his bets, he also established relations with Hamas.

 

IN JUSTIFYING the treaty at home, Hussein told his parliament that it would enable Jordan to tackle poverty and unemployment. It didn't.

 

Nevertheless, thanks to the accord, Jordan receives hundreds of millions of dollars in annual aid from Washington, and it can export goods with some Israeli content duty-free to the US.

 

Yet the peace has not dramatically improved life for the average Jordanian. Per-capita income stands at $5,100, which in world rankings sandwiches the Hashemite Kingdom between Egypt and Syria, though well ahead of the West Bank. Officially, unemployment stands at 12.6%; it's probably closer to 30%. Poverty is palpable, particularly outside Amman. Jordan is also terribly water-deprived.

 

Author Benjamin Balint recently returned from a visit to Jordan and says his fellow Israelis sometimes lose sight of how much events in this country resonate among Jordanians. There is an almost "quivering sensitivity" - for example, to delusionary stories about Jews threatening Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount.

 

Indeed, during Arab-orchestrated violence earlier this month, Israel's ambassador in Jordan, Yaakov Rosen, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry and handed a letter of protest. King Abdullah II - who assumed the throne in 1999 - warned Israel of "disastrous repercussions" if it crossed a "red line" on Jerusalem. He demanded that Israel "stop all unilateral actions that threaten holy sites in Jerusalem and the identity of the holy city," warning that "such actions threaten to destabilize Israel's relationship with Jordan, inflame the Islamic world and jeopardize efforts to relaunch peace negotiations."

 

Under our treaty, the Hashemite Kingdom enjoys a "special role" regarding the Muslim shrines in Jerusalem. So expect yesterday's renewed Palestinian violence in "defense" of the Aksa Mosque to raise hackles in Amman.

 

OPPOSITION to Israel-Jordan normalization is driven not only by tendentious Arab satellite news coverage, but also by Jordan's semi-tolerated Islamist opposition, which includes the parliamentary Islamic Action Front bloc and the Muslim Brotherhood. Anti-normalization campaigners maintain a blacklist of Jordanian companies, journalists, academics and cultural figures that have contact with Israel. Jordanians who appear on the same dais as Israelis are invariably either government officials or forced to take chances because of their dependence on European or American largesse.

 

Because of internal pressures, Jordan needs momentum in the stalled negotiating process between Israel and the Palestinians, perhaps more than the parties themselves. Unfortunately, by being tone deaf to reasonable Israeli concerns, and oblivious to Palestinian intransigence, Amman has abdicated a more constructive role in bringing the parties closer together. It needn't be so.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

JEWS DON'T EXPEL CHILDREN

AMNON RUBINSTEIN

 

The Labor faction in the Knesset decided to oppose the government's planned deportation of around 1,000 children born here to foreign workers. This is the right attitude.

 

In most states, the rule is that anyone born within the territory of the state becomes a citizen (jus soli). This is why in most democratic countries, these children would have been exempt from deportation by virtue of their automatic citizenship. In Israel, the rule is different: Under the "blood-rule" (jus sanguinis), citizenship is inherited from parents or given automatically to Jewish immigrants.

 

I do not propose to change this rule, but the planned deportation of children born and educated here, raises another issue: Israel is duty bound not to expel children if this amounts to inhuman action. Sending children born and bred in Israel to a country whose ways - and sometimes even language - are strange and unfamiliar means deporting them to a cultural exile. This is a breach of the children's human rights not to be exiled, and it is this which prompted two former interior ministers - Avraham Poraz and Ophir Pines-Paz - to initiate a government decision granting these children the right to stay here with their parents.

 

WHY SHOULD the lot of the children be different than that of adult foreign workers? Because these children are not guilty of any illegal behavior. Unlike adults who have overstayed their visa periods, they are not guilty of any misdeed. They were born here. That's all. Because sending them to their parents' homeland is tantamount to punishing them, and this is totally unjustified.

 

And it is even more unjustified in view of the fact that Israel has not adopted an immigration policy which would clarify to foreign workers their "dos" and "don'ts." The Knesset and government have constantly refused to formulate such a policy, leaving the rights and duties of these workers to the whims of various ministers and to the courts' readiness to intervene in these ministerial decisions.

 

The recommendations of a committee of experts which I had the honor to chair were unceremoniously shelved without any reason. Now another paper, written under the auspices of Prof. Ruth Gavison by Prof. Shlomo Avinery, lawyer Liav Orgad and myself, is due for consideration. The three writers of the paper have issued a statement asking the government to let these children stay.

 

The principle embodied in our paper is simple: "tough outside; soft inside" - i.e. it's not easy to immigrate to Israel (except, of course, under the Law of Return) but once inside, Israel is bound to treat its immigrants and foreign workers with dignity and accord them equal rights. In the absence of any immigration policy, it would be doubly unjust to punish these children.

 

Furthermore, in these days, when we are isolated in international public opinion, the sight of crying children being dragged to the expelling airplanes is something we can certainly do without.

 

But this is not merely a question of our image abroad. The elementary moral rule is plain and simple: In a Jewish state, Jews don't expel children. This is our true Jewish heritage. This is the message of a people who have suffered from persecution for ages. And anyone who acts differently, acts in a non-Jewish way.

 

The writer is a professor of law at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a former minister of education and Knesset member, as well as the recipient of the 2006 Israel Prize in Law (www.amnonrubinstein.org)


THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

THE REGION: THE BIG AMERICAN FREEZE

BARRY RUBIN

 

If solving the Israel-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflict is the centerpiece of the Obama administration's Middle East policy - at times it seems the keystone of its entire policy - there's an obvious problem derailing it.

 

The president of the United States and senior officials have repeatedly announced that they consider final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) as high priority.

 

It is one of the most basic rules of foreign policy that you don't put the chief executive's prestige on the line unless you know for darn sure beforehand that what he says will happen.

 

The fly in the ointment here is the PA. It forcefully insists that it won't even meet formally with Israel until all construction in all Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem stops completely.

 

Already, however, US-Israel discussions have moved past that point. We don't know precisely where they stand, but clearly the administration isn't pushing for a total halt and it isn't pushing all that urgently on the issue.

 

THEREFORE, WHILE Israel has succeeded in conciliating the US, the PA is defying Washington. We know that it's serious in doing so because of what has just happened with the Goldstone report in the UN. The administration asked the PA not to take a lead role in pushing the report; the PA complied for about 48 hours and then internal pressure forced it to go back on its word. Most of this pressure was not the masses spontaneous outrage but from the hard-line elements which dominate the ruling Fatah group as well as in the PA itself.

 

PA leader Mahmoud Abbas is not going to back down on his demand. He is more afraid of his own colleagues, Hamas's baiting him as a "moderate" (a compliment perhaps from the West but a deadly insult in Palestinian politics) and his own people than of Obama. Indeed, nobody is afraid of Obama, which is one of the main problems with his foreign policy.

 

Disdaining the use of threats, leverage and pressure, the Obama administration is not likely to push the PA very hard on this and even if it did, Abbas would stand firm. Having extolled the Palestinians as peace-loving martyrs, courting Arab and Muslim opinion, treasuring popularity, the administration won't get tough. No amount of funding or other goodies is going to move the PA or Abbas either. For Abbas, it is something like the classical choice which can be paraphrased as: Your money or your life?

 

So there is, and will be, a deadlock, month after month into 2010. Is there some clever way out? I don't see one and I bet the administration doesn't either.

 

Abbas also has what for him is an attractive alternative: strike a militant pose, blame America, seek rapprochement with Hamas. In addition, what both the US and Europe fail to see is that the Palestinians don't need or want rapid progress on negotiations or even a state except on what would be completely their own terms. They can also afford the luxury of believing - and this is what Western policy has taught them - that Europe and America need them more than they need the West. Moreover they believe, and again this is what they have been shown, that intransigence on their part actually brings more criticism on Israel. If you believe, rightly or wrongly, that the world is about to condemn Israel as a pariah, war criminal state why make compromises with it?

 

This is the corner into which the Obama administration has painted itself. And all that it has left is what might be called the cat strategy. Have you ever seen a cat miss a leap or have an embarrassing fall? It merely licks itself and looks around with an expression saying: I meant to do that. Everything is going according to plan.

 

But it isn't.

 

The newest development is the idea, favored by many in the European Union, of endorsing PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad's "plan" for there to be a de facto Palestinian state within two years. Of course, this won't happen either.

 

The whole thing is taking on a comic opera air. It reminded me of something. And then I remembered: the classical description of the Arab defeat in the 1948 war and Israel's creation by Constantine Zurayk, vice-president of the American University of Beirut, in his book The Meaning of the Disaster.

 

He wrote: "Seven Arab states declare war on Zionism in Palestine, stop impotent before it and turn on their heels. The representatives of the Arabs deliver fiery speeches in the highest international forums, warning what the Arab states and peoples will do if this or that decision be enacted. Declarations fall like bombs from the mouths of officials at the meetings of the Arab League, but when action becomes necessary, the fire is still and quiet and steel and iron are rusted and twisted, quick to bend and disintegrate."

 

For the Arab states, the fiery speeches do have a value of their own - cowing rivals and mobilizing the masses to support their local dictator. But when the US acts like a pitiful, helpless giant - even if it is a nice and friendly, apologetic one - the world shudders and shakes.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

TERRA INCOGNITA: SHOULD THE VICTIMS NOW BE THE CARETAKERS?

SETH FRANTZMAN

 

Recent revelations regarding Hashomer, a pre-state Jewish defense organization founded in 1909, brought to light an interesting quote. Sammy Tolkovsky, a resident of Rehovot, wrote in 1913 that "it is my duty as a man... to protest... serious crimes against humanity [by Hashomer]. We Jews of all people, who suffered persecution and abuse for thousands of years... are duty bound to have a modicum of humanity." This line of thinking, appealing and quite common as it may be, leads not only to a double standard but punishes the Jews twice.

 

First it acknowledges that Jews were victims, but then it says because they were victims they must live up to a higher standard. Yet this does not apply to other peoples. From African-Americans, who were victims of racism and slavery, to Muslims and others who were victims of European colonialism, the victim narrative is used as an excuse rather than as a weapon against the victimized community. Thus any outburst of anger by former colonials or by Muslim extremists can be excused by them having been victims of slavery, forced labor, racism or things such as apartheid and the Crusades.

 

So why do the Jews get caught in the vice of this strange double-edged sword and why is it so often Jews who are the ones pointing the fingers at fellow Jews and saying, "You should know better?" or "The victims should exemplify morality in the extreme sense."

 

The tendency to have this reaction is not illogical and has its appeal. But it quickly degenerates into a myriad of distasteful comparisons. How often does one hear that Israelis treat each other or others "like the Nazis did the Jews."

 

One Israeli attorney once told me that "Israelis should not criticize the world for not taking in the Jews before

the Holocaust unless Israel is ready to receive all the world's refugees from genocide. We Jews are just hypocrites."

 

Consider how this claim works. Jews are hypocrites for asking why the world didn't take in Jewish refugee ships such as the S.S. St. Louis or Struma because Israel doesn't take in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Sudan and Rwanda and other genocides? Once again it is easy to see how people think this way.

 

REMINDED OF the Jewish refugees stranded in Europe before the war, one asks why Israel doesn't immediately grant asylum to Sudanese who manage, with great hardship, to cross Egypt to get here. It is valid to ask this question. It is valid to acknowledge that Jews suffered greatly as unwanted refugees and to see in modern day refugees similar hardships. What is wrong is to condemn Israel and hold it to a higher standard for not taking in "all" the world's refugees from genocide.

 

Egypt owes as much to the refugees from Sudan as Israel. Just because Egyptians or Germans or the Swiss were never refugees from genocide doesn't release them from responsibility to humanity. Because Jews were once refugees from genocide doesn't mean Jews have a "special" responsibility.

 

Consider what Gerald Kaufmann, UK Labor Party member of Parliament, said in January before the House of Commons. In the midst of the Gaza war, he stated that "my grandmother [who was murdered by the Nazis] did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza." He went on to say that Israel was "ruthlessly and cynically exploiting the continuing guilt from gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians."

 

Thus for him Israel is like the Nazis, and Kaufmann feels that as a Jew he is perfectly placed to make this comparison and also to show that Israel should be held to a special standard because the Jews suffered the Holocaust. When Pakistan or Russia bombards Muslim extremists, no one says they use their past suffering to "provide cover" for their actions, instead their actions are seen as legitimate.

 

Lizzy Ratner, writing in her blog, notes that her grandfather "believed profoundly that the fate suffered by Europe's Jews meant that you did everything possible to prevent other people from suffering the same thing." Her trip to Poland, "far from freeing me to embrace Israel, I wondered, baffled, how a people that was forced to live - and die - behind walls could force another people [the Palestinians] to live - and die - behind walls?"

 

She says she "would like to see trips that go from the Warsaw ghetto to the Jabalya refugee camp... I would at least like to see the true lessons of 'never again' enshrined in a single, consummately-inclusive Israeli-Palestinian state - a state that serves, through its unparalleled openness and respect for the rights of all its residents, as a true rebuke to the forces of hatred and genocide."

 

Thus the one Jewish state in the world, because of the Holocaust, should be a binational non-Jewish Palestinian state. Because of the Holocaust the Jews do not deserve a state, lest they be nationalistic, because they must be held to a higher standard.

 

THE ARGUMENT that Jews must have a special respect for human rights because of the Holocaust punishes the Jews for having been victims. It is countries that have a history of committing genocides that should have a special respect for human rights and be held to a higher standard. Victims at the very least should be like everyone else. Furthermore the insinuation that Jews, such as those from Ethiopia or Yemen, whose communities did not suffer the Holocaust deserve to be held to a higher standard is more ludicrous and forces them to live up to special standards for crimes committed far away by Europeans.

 

One Croatian journalist told me, when explaining why she would dress modestly and visit religious Muslims in Gaza but not religious Jews in Mea She'arim: "I expect more from the Jews."

 

Some think expecting more from people shows respect for them, but in this case it also means excusing violence against them, being unnecessarily critical of them, disrespecting their diversity and holding them to a double-standard.

 

The writer is a researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

TERRA INCOGNITA: SHOULD THE VICTIMS NOW BE THE CARETAKERS?

SETH FRANTZMAN

 

Recent revelations regarding Hashomer, a pre-state Jewish defense organization founded in 1909, brought to light an interesting quote. Sammy Tolkovsky, a resident of Rehovot, wrote in 1913 that "it is my duty as a man... to protest... serious crimes against humanity [by Hashomer]. We Jews of all people, who suffered persecution and abuse for thousands of years... are duty bound to have a modicum of humanity." This line of thinking, appealing and quite common as it may be, leads not only to a double standard but punishes the Jews twice.

 

First it acknowledges that Jews were victims, but then it says because they were victims they must live up to a higher standard. Yet this does not apply to other peoples. From African-Americans, who were victims of racism and slavery, to Muslims and others who were victims of European colonialism, the victim narrative is used as an excuse rather than as a weapon against the victimized community. Thus any outburst of anger by former colonials or by Muslim extremists can be excused by them having been victims of slavery, forced labor, racism or things such as apartheid and the Crusades.

 

So why do the Jews get caught in the vice of this strange double-edged sword and why is it so often Jews who are the ones pointing the fingers at fellow Jews and saying, "You should know better?" or "The victims should exemplify morality in the extreme sense."

 

The tendency to have this reaction is not illogical and has its appeal. But it quickly degenerates into a myriad of distasteful comparisons. How often does one hear that Israelis treat each other or others "like the Nazis did the Jews."

 

One Israeli attorney once told me that "Israelis should not criticize the world for not taking in the Jews before the Holocaust unless Israel is ready to receive all the world's refugees from genocide. We Jews are just hypocrites."

 

Consider how this claim works. Jews are hypocrites for asking why the world didn't take in Jewish refugee ships such as the S.S. St. Louis or Struma because Israel doesn't take in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Sudan and Rwanda and other genocides? Once again it is easy to see how people think this way.

 

REMINDED OF the Jewish refugees stranded in Europe before the war, one asks why Israel doesn't immediately grant asylum to Sudanese who manage, with great hardship, to cross Egypt to get here. It is valid to ask this question. It is valid to acknowledge that Jews suffered greatly as unwanted refugees and to see in modern day refugees similar hardships. What is wrong is to condemn Israel and hold it to a higher standard for not taking in "all" the world's refugees from genocide.

 

Egypt owes as much to the refugees from Sudan as Israel. Just because Egyptians or Germans or the Swiss were never refugees from genocide doesn't release them from responsibility to humanity. Because Jews were once refugees from genocide doesn't mean Jews have a "special" responsibility.

 

Consider what Gerald Kaufmann, UK Labor Party member of Parliament, said in January before the House of Commons. In the midst of the Gaza war, he stated that "my grandmother [who was murdered by the Nazis] did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza." He went on to say that Israel was "ruthlessly and cynically exploiting the continuing guilt from gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians."

 

Thus for him Israel is like the Nazis, and Kaufmann feels that as a Jew he is perfectly placed to make this comparison and also to show that Israel should be held to a special standard because the Jews suffered the Holocaust. When Pakistan or Russia bombards Muslim extremists, no one says they use their past suffering to "provide cover" for their actions, instead their actions are seen as legitimate.

 

Lizzy Ratner, writing in her blog, notes that her grandfather "believed profoundly that the fate suffered by Europe's Jews meant that you did everything possible to prevent other people from suffering the same thing." Her trip to Poland, "far from freeing me to embrace Israel, I wondered, baffled, how a people that was forced to live - and die - behind walls could force another people [the Palestinians] to live - and die - behind walls?"

 

She says she "would like to see trips that go from the Warsaw ghetto to the Jabalya refugee camp... I would at least like to see the true lessons of 'never again' enshrined in a single, consummately-inclusive Israeli-Palestinian state - a state that serves, through its unparalleled openness and respect for the rights of all its residents, as a true rebuke to the forces of hatred and genocide."

 

Thus the one Jewish state in the world, because of the Holocaust, should be a binational non-Jewish Palestinian state. Because of the Holocaust the Jews do not deserve a state, lest they be nationalistic, because they must be held to a higher standard.

 

THE ARGUMENT that Jews must have a special respect for human rights because of the Holocaust punishes the Jews for having been victims. It is countries that have a history of committing genocides that should have a special respect for human rights and be held to a higher standard. Victims at the very least should be like everyone else. Furthermore the insinuation that Jews, such as those from Ethiopia or Yemen, whose communities did not suffer the Holocaust deserve to be held to a higher standard is more ludicrous and forces them to live up to special standards for crimes committed far away by Europeans.

 

One Croatian journalist told me, when explaining why she would dress modestly and visit religious Muslims in Gaza but not religious Jews in Mea She'arim: "I expect more from the Jews."

 

Some think expecting more from people shows respect for them, but in this case it also means excusing violence against them, being unnecessarily critical of them, disrespecting their diversity and holding them to a double-standard.

 

The writer is a researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

SELF-RELIANCE SHOULD BE OUR ULTIMATE GOAL

STEWART WEISS

 

This is a bad time to be claustrophobic in Israel. One can almost feel the walls closing in as we are barraged from all sides by condemnations, critiques and curses. Making matters worse, some of the harshest diatribes are coming from people and places previously regarded as our friends, or at least our allies. London courts have made many of our most important political and military leaders persona non grata, causing them to cancel visits and speaking engagements in the UK.

 

In the United States, more Jews are engaging in "soul-searching" over Israel's moral conduct and wondering how long they can continue to defend us in the face of a media onslaught.

 

Speakers coming to America to define and defend Israel's position - most recently former prime minister Ehud Olmert - are routinely heckled and harangued before they can utter a single syllable.

 

Most galling of all, perhaps, is the behavior of Turkey. Once, we considered Turkey our most reliable partner in the Middle East, a bulwark against Syria and a model of non-radical Islam with which we could peacefully coexist. Not anymore. Moving ever closer to Iran and the rejectionists, Turkey has unleashed a series of insults at us that would make a longshoreman blush.

 

THE HEIGHT of hypocrisy came when the Turks accused us of committing genocide against the Palestinians. True, the Turks do know whereof they speak when it comes to genocide. Virtually all the historians agree that the Turks engaged in the systematic destruction of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire during and just after World War I.

 

As many as 1.5 million Armenians were said to have been exterminated by the Turks, who are "credited" with introducing the phenomena of mass shootings, deportations and forced marches that would later be emulated by Hitler. The New York Times, reporting almost daily on the mass murder of the Armenian people, described the process as "systematic, authorized and organized by the government."

 

American president Teddy Roosevelt characterized the Turkish atrocities as "the single greatest crime of the first World War."

 

What makes this even more appalling is that, for years, Israel refrained from openly criticizing Turkey's World War I massacres, due to Ankara's hypersensitivity over the issue. Sadly, despite our own tragic experience with holocausts, we suppressed our ethical responsibility to condemn the Turks, and at times even lobbied other countries to downplay the issue. It didn't get us all that far; we scratched Turkey's back, but they didn't scratch our's.

 

So it seems to me that we ought to think about spending less time, energy and effort courting the outside world, and concentrating more on our own well-being. We ought to be seeking ways to make our own country stronger, safer and more self-reliant. To the extent that we can depend more on our own resources, we will not only be less susceptible to boycotts and blackmail, but may even gain greater respect - however grudging - in the eyes of the world community.

 

We can start by making sure our military is as strong as it absolutely can be. Defense spending should be increased, not slashed, even if it means painful cuts elsewhere in the budget.

Draft-dodging, which has reached frightening proportions - as many as 30 percent-40% of those eligible for army service now manage to evade the IDF - should be drastically reduced, if not eliminated.

Every school child should be educated early on as to the vital role the military plays in our lives, and the necessity of each and every citizen to sacrifice his personal needs to that of the community.

 

Internal tourism should become a top priority, promoted at the highest levels of government, and not assigned to the low minister on the totem pole. We have an amazing, diversely beautiful country, and most Israelis have never seen it.

 

Tel Avivians needs to walk the ancient and modern streets of Jerusalem, soaking in its history and character, while Jerusalemites should experience the vibrancy and culture of Tel Aviv. Why do 5,000 Israelis each week need to visit Turkey, when gorgeous, world-class resorts can be found right here, from Eilat to the Golan?

 

And our economy, vibrant and resilient as it is, could be even stronger, if we put the nation to work improving our infrastructure. We need better roads, a national mass-transit system, more universities and the cultivation of more agricultural land. With the exception of a few commodities, we lack for nothing in this country.

 

Even the absence - so far - of oil under our land can be significantly alleviated by the promotion of alternative energy sources.

 

So you will tell me that we live in a global village, where the fate of every country is inextricably connected to that of every other nation, that we cannot "go it alone" without diplomatic, economic and military cooperation and support from those around us. But while I am not suggesting that we adopt a completely isolationist policy - we ought to seek friends wherever we can find them, forge alliances and develop markets whenever possible - engagement cannot come at the cost of our own national pride. To the extent that we can stand on our own two feet and fend for ourselves, we will actualize our potential, enhance our survival and restore the feeling that once was taken for granted here: Israel is the greatest country on Earth in which to live.

 

The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra'anana. jocmtv@netvision.net.il

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

A SEETHING VOLCANO

 

The clashes yesterday between Israeli police who entered the Temple Mount plaza and Palestinian stone throwers and inciters seemingly ended calmly. There were "only" three policemen who suffered light injuries. In contrast to prior incidents on the Temple Mount, and using the standard wherein the number of casualties is the measurement by which one views the gravity of an incident, what happened yesterday was almost routine. Yet it is that very routine which indicates that the Temple Mount is behaving like an active, simmering volcano; the timing of its next major eruption is impossible to gauge. The government's attitude, by which it views these events as just another competitive front between Israel and the Palestinians, is likely to foment a violent outburst which will ignite the entire Middle East.


The trepidation of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims from what is referred to as "the Judaization of Jerusalem," or the Jewish takeover of the Temple Mount, cannot be overstated. Archaeological digs; the construction of Jewish neighborhoods and Jewish housing in and around the Old City; and the purchase of property and condemning of public parks with the intention of using the land to build Jewish residential neighborhoods are all apparently part of a deliberate policy being pursued by the government of Israel. Yet, while the battle against the building and inhabiting of apartments in East Jerusalem has been limited to a diplomatic tug-of-war between Israel and the American administration, the battle over the Temple Mount is being waged on the street.


This is a struggle in which Israeli Muslims stand alongside their coreligionists throughout the world, all of whom view themselves as custodians of one of Islam's holiest sites. Political and diplomatic disagreements between the Palestinians and the Arab world go by the wayside in the face of the religious struggle at hand. Israel has been made fully aware that even friendly states like Jordan and Egypt cannot stand idly by while the Muslim world broods.

 

As the entity responsible for overseeing visits to the Temple Mount and ensuring the safety of guests, the Israel Police is caught between a rock and a hard place. It is wedged between a government which views strengthening the Jewish hold on the Temple Mount and its environs as a political and diplomatic objective, and Palestinians who view themselves as the fortifying wall standing in the way of such Israeli aims. Yet it is precisely the sensitive nature of the police's task that requires it to adopt a more tolerant position of understanding and sound judgment. Its success will not be measured by an ostentatious show of force. Rather, it will be measured by its ability to hold a dialogue and reach understandings with the Muslim interlocutors in order to prevent a conflagration.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THE BLESSING OF THE SECOND TIME AROUND

BY AMIR OREN

 

David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Shamir and Benjamin Netanyahu had one thing in common besides all having been prime ministers: they were all born in the same week of October.


Much more obvious are the differences between them, each representing different generations, with Shamir being 29 years Ben-Gurion's junior, and 34 years older than Netanyahu.


While most prime ministers have been characterized by being remembered more for their second term in office than their first, this does not always hold true. Not for Ben-Gurion, who shaped the mold, and still not for Netanyahu. But if there are any constant rules, then perhaps the precedent will also apply to the current prime minister.

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In November 1998, on the third anniversary of the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, his widow, Leah, wrote to an old friend: "I hope, pray, that the days of this government are numbered. Benjamin Netanyahu is a corrupt individual, a contentious liar who is ruining everything that is good about our society. He is breaking it up to bits, and in the future we will have to rebuild it all over, with bridges of understanding and tolerance that have been demolished long ago."


In March 1999, the day after Rabin's birthday, Leah added in a letter to the same friend: "We all want this nightmare to end, that this monstrosity called Netanyahu will get lost because he exhausted our patience a long time ago."


She expressed hope that Ehud Barak would win the elections, with the support of the Center Party ("the fact that my wonderful daughter Dalia is there [in that party] is difficult for me").


Her hope came true but quickly evaporated. After that, there was a sharp drop in emotions. Barak, in his fall in 2001, wished to come back as prime minister the way Rabin had done. To date he's only managed to cross half the distance that Rabin did, to the Defense Ministry, and his chances of imitating Rabin fully are nonexistent, except in an extreme scenario.


It is actually Netanyahu who, for now, has managed to recover in a style similar to Rabin, even though in his case it is with the portfolios of the Foreign Ministry and the treasury and not Defense (like Shimon Peres before him, in between his two terms as prime minister).


Netanyahu in his second term is not necessarily similar to Rabin in his second term, just like the first Netanyahu, arrogant, did not have any similarities to the first Rabin, who was hesitant.


But even Rabin's enemies will admit that his second term was much more successful than his first. By then, at 70, he was an older and more experienced statesman who defeated one after another internal party rivals (Peres) and external ones (Shamir), and not a young 52-year-old greenhorn, an appointed leader under the auspices of Golda Meir and Pinhas Sapir.


During his first term, Rabin surrendered to the National Religious Party, missed a chance for an agreement with Jordan and moved slowly and in too many steps along the path of peace with Egypt.


During his second term he signed agreements with the Palestine Liberation Organization and Jordan. His assassination was a terrible blow not to the Oslo process, which was stalled because of its structural problems, but those supporting an agreement with Syria.


The blessing of the second time around did not serve Moshe Sharett, who did not receive a second chance. Levi Eshkol went to the polls as Ben-Gurion's successor, emerged from them a victor after beating Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin by virtue of his abilities and not because of any favors, and served as the prime minister who commanded the Israel Defense Forces during the Six-Day War.


Meir reached the peak of her power - it is an entirely different matter whether she used it wisely - with her second coalition. Shamir, when he returned as prime minister, after the Peres hiatus, held back during the Iraq War in 1991, and took part in the subsequent Madrid Process. Ariel Sharon avoided major changes in his first term, and decided to evacuate the Gaza Strip during his second.


Improvement the second time around is not guaranteed. Begin, who signed a peace agreement with Egypt during his first term, sought to undermine it during his second term, by stalling the talks on Palestinian autonomy, in annexing the Golan Heights, and in embarking on the first Lebanon war.


Peres, an energetic organizer of diplomatic and economic initiatives during his first term, failed by making every political and defense related mistake during his second term.


Bibi Version 2 can be a replay of Bibi Version 1 or surprise by diverting from his known and boring program. The matter is still in his hands.


Either way, based on the past, the decision will not substantively influence the possibility of a Bibi Version 3. Only Ben-Gurion has been more than twice victorious.      

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

CAN A MAN STEAL FROM HIMSELF?

BY ZE'EV SEGAL

 

Deputy Supreme Court President Eliezer Rivlin agreed last week to have the Supreme Court reconsider its own ruling in the case of Yisrael Perry, which, inter alia, upheld the lawyer's conviction for embezzlement in a scam perpetrated against Israelis who sought to claim pensions from Germany. Perry was convicted in 2007 along with the organization for implementing the Israel-West Germany Convention on Social Security, which he headed, and sentenced to 10 years in jail.


The reconsideration will revolve solely around Perry's conviction on the charge of embezzlement. Thus Rivlin's decision has no effect on his conviction on several other grave charges, including aggravated fraud. Even Perry's skilled and expensive legal counsel lacks the power to create something from nothing.


Israeli law instituted the practice of reconsideration to address cases in which the Supreme Court found itself having to make a difficult legal decision. This includes cases in which the justices themselves were split over the legal principle at issue, and the difference must be resolved. Rivlin has applied this practice to a case that deserves it.

 

There is no doubt, even after the current ruling, that Perry is a charlatan who concealed his ownership of the insurance companies with which he insured himself. In so doing, he grossly violated both his own obligation and the companies' obligation to inform his clients that the negotiations he was conducting with the insurance companies were in effect being conducted with himself, meaning that he himself was setting the terms of the loans - the interest rates and repayment schedules - that the clients were receiving.


Nevertheless, a legitimate question remains about his conviction for embezzlement, given the fact that the insurance policies were meant to cover Perry's own risks, not those of his customers. They paid their premiums to Perry and a company he set up, and these premiums were not then transferred to the insurance companies. But the quid pro quo he promised his clients - a monthly allowance - was in fact paid.


Thus the question of whether a man can steal from himself arises in the Perry case in full force. The fact that he was convicted of embezzlement, a form of theft, rather than of obtaining money fraudulently, effectively lays down the problematic legal principle that a man can indeed steal from himself. This is so because he, not his customers, was the beneficiary of the policies whose premiums were never transferred; these policies were meant to cover his own risks, not theirs.


On this difficult question, the justices were split in their ruling. The problematic outcome this created is clear in light of the principle once articulated by then-justice Aharon Barak, who wrote, "We must preserve appropriate boundaries for the crime of theft, which in the classic sense is committed by taking an owner's property without his consent." The expansion of these boundaries derives from the language of the Penal Code, which permits someone to be convicted of theft if he is a custodian, or "agent," who was entrusted by mutual consent with responsibility for the asset. But this provision raises difficult questions about how it should be interpreted. As Prof. Yoram Shahar correctly noted in an article he once published on the subject, the interpretation of what comprises theft in cases other than the classic one must conform to the spirit and culture of the age and the society in question.


Rivlin's decision does not change either the legal principle under which Perry was convicted of theft or the outcome of the conviction. All it means is that an expanded Supreme Court panel will reconsider some of the arguments relevant to his conviction for embezzlement, with a focus on clarifying the legitimacy of conviction in a case where a man "stole" from himself rather than another.


The need to reconsider cases that involve weighty issues of legal principle stems from the fact that the Supreme Court normally hears cases with panels comprised of only three justices. But when the court as a whole contains 15 justices, as it does today, it clearly ought to be possible to have cases heard by an expanded panel the first time around if those cases involve important issues of legal principle whose significance goes beyond the case at hand. Having panels of seven justices hear such cases to begin with would obviate the need for reconsiderations. Had a complex case like Perry's been heard by seven justices initially, the legal principles it lay down would have enjoyed greater validity, and there would be no need for a reconsideration.

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

LOOK EASTWARD

BY ODED ERAN

 

Fifteen years after the exciting ceremony in which prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein of Jordan signed a peace treaty, the ties between Israel and Jordan are at a worrisome low, generating feelings of disappointment and missed opportunities.


The interview that Jordan's King Abdullah granted to Haaretz's Akiva Eldar, which was published on October 8, reflected the disputes and alienation that characterize the bilateral relationship today.


Both parties to the peace treaty are to blame for the miserable situation. Israeli governments have acted contemptuously and patronizingly toward the Hashemite Kingdom since 1994, failing to take Jordan's needs and sensitivities into consideration and taking the ties between Jerusalem and Amman for granted.

 

The long shared border between the two countries, and the fact that most of the Jordanian population is of Palestinian origin, create a comfortable context for cooperation. The areas of Aqaba-Eilat, the Dead Sea and the Beit She'an Valley have indeed been recognized as potential sites of cooperative activity, but only some of that potential has been realized - with Israel largely to blame. Local interests, including those of Israeli lobbies, combined with governmental apathy, are among the key factors contributing to that long border remaining largely blocked off.


Despite Rabin's explicit directive, the idea of building a joint airport, with the airport in Aqaba as its base, has expired. The idea of moving most of the Eilat airport activities to the Aqaba airport has never even been examined. Expensive coastal real estate, which could have been developed and leveraged to generate income, now serves as a parking lot for cars from the Far East.


The Israeli interest in Jerusalem is undoubtedly greater than that of Jordan; but in the peace treaty, Israel recognized Jordan's special status in the city. Translating that clause into reality would, perhaps, have yielded more positive results than the current situation, in which Palestinian and Israeli-Arab entities control sensitive parts of the city.


Meanwhile, the idea of a Red-Dead Canal connecting the Red Sea and the Dead Sea has great potential for harm. The Jordanians love the idea, but while some Israelis advocate it, there are also plenty of skeptics, myself included. Israel should present Jordan with an alternative that takes their interests into account, instead of burying the idea under thousands of pages of studies.


Israel transfers significant quantities of water to Jordan, but its policy is shortsighted. In the long term, there is no substitute for Jordanian-Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in creating water sources that meet the requirements of a larger population. Instead of pushing for a regional economic solution, Israel's governments have been ignoring the broader geopolitical take on the matter.


The Jordanian government must also take responsibility for the situation. Since 1994, King Hussein and the current monarch, his son King Abdullah II, have allowed opponents of the peace treaty to go wild both in the press and in the streets. It's true that the professional associations for doctors, lawyers, journalists and others are primarily controlled by Palestinians in Jordan who are sometimes more extremist than their comrades in the West Bank, but that doesn't justify the powerlessness of the government in Amman. The mistakes of the past can still be corrected. In the coming years, the Jordanian government will face serious challenges. The results of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will have an effect on Jordan. America's withdrawal from Iraq will likely cause Jordan to have to cope with a surge of refugees as well as military constraints. Israel has a great interest in Jordan's stability and should therefore be assisting it, certainly in matters in which Israel has a direct interest.


Instead of overreaching by demanding normalized relations with the countries of North Africa, Israel would do better to focus on normalizing relations with countries in closer geographical proximity. Developing energy, water and transportation networks with those countries is more important to securing peace and stabilizing it. Israel must try to develop a diplomatic-economic dialogue with Jordan and expropriate it from the security officials currently in charge of it. As much as a dialogue on security issues is important, it isn't enough.


On one of the nights after the failed 1997 attempt to assassinate Hamas' Khaled Meshal in Jordan, Ariel Sharon told top Jordanian government officials that he was mistaken when he said Jordan was Palestine. It's crucial that we prevent the need for another contrite conversation in a few more years, in which we beat our chests for the sin of ignoring our neighbor to the east.


Oded Eran is director of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. He has served as Israel's ambassador to Jordan and as deputy director general for economic affairs in the Foreign Ministry.

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

INVESTIGATING THE IDF WOULD BE THE REAL WAR CRIME

BY SHAHAR ILAN

There are positions which are difficult to understand anybody wanting to hold. One of these is a commander in the army. During every military campaign, we place them on a pedestal, send them to fight in our name and (supposedly) give them the backing of 90 percent of the public.


Each time, we lead them to believe that the support they received was so widespread that perhaps they would no longer be asked to pay the price for fighting our wars for us. And each time we betray them anew and abandon them on the battlefield to the devices of commissions of inquiry.


It is important to remember this: A commission of inquiry is not an entity whose purpose is to get to the truth. A commission of inquiry is an entity whose very existence affirms the fact that there was an oversight and a crime was perpetrated.

 

The commission's very being gives rise to an oversight. There has yet to be one commission of inquiry that was formed and failed to find any flaws, nor has there been one panel created only to dissolve with the following statement: "Sorry, you appointed us for no reason. You just wasted hundreds of thousands of shekels to subsidize our time and our wonderful sandwiches, and the real mistake was in our very formation."


Whoever thinks that such an inquiry does not have an impact on the willingness of quality, upstanding people to pursue a military career and the readiness of senior officers to make proper decisions in the field is burying their head deep in a jug of military camouflage face paint.


Every time the standing of the military's senior echelon of officers is discussed, one ought to bring up the question of why Lt. Col. Roi Klein, who jumped on a grenade during battle in Bint Jbeil in the Second Lebanon War and as a result saved the lives of his soldiers, has not been mythologized (and perhaps encouraged the mythologizing of others).


There was a time when we considered officers worthy of adulation. Today, we haul them before committees of inquiry. There was a time we feted acts of heroism and sacrifice, a time when we hailed those who won the battles for us. Today we consider them suckers.


During the Second Lebanon War, perhaps it was possible to claim that the war was not a rousing success and that this justified an investigation. It was certainly not a failure, but Israel's strategic predicament does not allow for anything less than a decisive victory. This was something the Israel Defense Forces should have taken into consideration.

But Operation Cast Lead was a resounding military success. It put a stop to the Qassam rocket fire in the south and we sustained few casualties. Yet even this success does not relieve the commanders of the need to go into battle with a lawyer in tow.


There is no way to wage combat in Gaza without harming the civilian population, and it is obvious that the IDF did much to avoid this. We are essentially telling our commanders: Your war is never over, and even if your life was saved, your career is in danger. No deed geared toward Israel's defense will go unpunished.


IDF officers and their charges are not the only ones whose faces we are spitting in by entertaining the very idea of establishing a commission of inquiry. What message are we sending to the residents of the south? That we accept the claim that firing thousands of Qassam rockets on their heads is not a war crime, but our operation is?


One needs to be blind not to recognize the fact that the world is judging us by a double standard. It does not change the fact that the world is stronger, and sometimes we need to put our heads down and play their game.


But there also comes a time when we need to say "enough is enough." If the officers who led Operation Cast Lead end up paying for it with their careers, or even if they do not pay but their appearances before a commission of inquiry become nightmarish, this will be the real crime.


All of us will bear responsibility for it, and all of us will pay the price during the next war.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

THE COVER-UP CONTINUES

 

The Obama administration has clung for so long to the Bush administration's expansive claims of national security and executive power that it is in danger of turning President George W. Bush's cover-up of abuses committed in the name of fighting terrorism into President Barack Obama's cover-up.

 

We have had recent reminders of this dismaying retreat from Mr. Obama's passionate campaign promises to make a break with Mr. Bush's abuses of power, a shift that denies justice to the victims of wayward government policies and shields officials from accountability.

 

In Britain earlier this month, a two-judge High Court panel rejected arguments made first by the Bush team and now by the Obama team and decided to make public seven redacted paragraphs in American intelligence documents relating to torture allegations by a former prisoner at Guantánamo Bay. The prisoner, Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British national, says he was tortured in Pakistan, Morocco and at a C.I.A.-run prison outside Kabul before being transferred to Guantánamo. He was freed in February.

 

To block the release of those paragraphs, the Bush administration threatened to cut its intelligence-sharing with Britain, an inappropriate threat that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton repeated. But the court concluded that the actual risk of harm to intelligence-sharing was minimal, given the close relationship between the two countries. The court also found a "compelling public interest" in disclosure, and said that nothing in the disputed seven paragraphs — a summary of evidence relating to the involvement of the British security services in Mr. Mohamed's ordeal — had anything to do with "secret intelligence."

 

The Obama administration has expressed unhappiness with the ruling, and the British government plans to appeal. But the court was clearly right in recognizing the importance of disclosure "for reasons of democratic accountability and the rule of law."

 

In the United States, the Obama administration is in the process of appealing a sound federal appellate court ruling last April in a civil lawsuit by Mr. Mohamed and four others. All were victims of the government's extraordinary rendition program, under which foreigners were kidnapped and flown to other countries for interrogation and torture.

 

In that case, the Obama administration has repeated a disreputable Bush-era argument that the executive branch is entitled to have lawsuits shut down whenever it makes a blanket claim of national security. The ruling rejected that argument and noted that the government's theory would "effectively cordon off all secret actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the C.I.A. and its partners from the demands and limits of the law."

 

The Obama administration has aggressively pursued such immunity in numerous other cases beyond the ones involving Mr. Mohamed. We do not take seriously the government's claim that it is trying to protect intelligence or avoid harm to national security.

 

Victims of the Bush administration's "enhanced interrogation techniques," including Mr. Mohamed, have already spoken in harrowing detail about their mistreatment. The objective is to avoid official confirmation of wrongdoing that might be used in lawsuits against government officials and contractors, and might help create a public clamor for prosecuting those responsible. President Obama calls that a distracting exercise in "looking back." What it really is justice.

In a similar vein, Mr. Obama did a flip-flop last May and decided to resist orders by two federal courts to release photographs of soldiers abusing prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. Last week, just in time to avoid possible Supreme Court review of the matter, Congress created an exception to the Freedom of Information Act that gave Secretary of Defense Robert Gates authority to withhold the photos.

 

We share concerns about inflaming anti-American feelings and jeopardizing soldiers, but the best way to truly avoid that is to demonstrate that this nation has turned the page on Mr. Bush's shameful policies. Withholding the painful truth shows the opposite.

 

Like the insistence on overly broad claims of secrecy, it also avoids an important step toward accountability, which is the only way to ensure that the abuses of the Bush years are never repeated. We urge Mr. Gates to use his discretion under the new law to release the photos, sparing Americans more cover-up.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

OKLAHOMA VS. WOMEN

 

Anti-abortion activists found great encouragement in 2007, when the Supreme Court's conservative majority abruptly departed from the high court's recent precedents and upheld a federal ban on a particular method of abortion.

 

Soon, they began looking for other inventive restrictions on reproductive rights for testing in the courts.

 

In May, Okahoma state lawmakers approved a beaut: a law requiring that abortion providers fill out a 10-page questionnaire for each procedure, and that details of abortions be posted on a public Web site.

 

Among other things, the intrusive questionnaire asks three dozen questions about the woman's reasons for having an abortion, including details about her relationship with the father that the government has no business probing.

 

The law's purpose is political. Its real aim is to persuade doctors to stop performing abortions by placing new

burdens on their practice, to intimidate and shame women, and to stigmatize a legal medical procedure that one in three women have at some point in their lives.

 

Women — especially those living in small Oklahoma towns — have reason to fear for their privacy when information from the questionnaire is gathered in government offices and at least some details are posted online.

 

Fortunately, last Monday, the Center for Reproductive Rights succeeded in obtaining a temporary restraining order from a state judge that blocks this new flanking maneuver on abortion from going into effect on Nov. 1.

 

What persuaded the judge was not the affront to women's rights, but a technical defect: the law addressed disparate issues in one bill in violation of the state's Constitution. Still, the victory for reproductive freedom is heartening.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

TORCHING THE BIG TENT

 

The feeble pulse of moderation in the Republican Party is in danger of flat-lining in the Nov. 3 Congressional election in upstate New York. Luminaries like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich have taken opposing sides over whether the party dare tolerate the official Republican candidate in the 23rd district — Dede Scozzafava, a six-term assemblywoman whose record includes refreshing tinges of centrism.

 

Ms. Scozzafava was nominated by local party leaders as eminently electable despite — or because of — her defense of women's abortion rights and her tolerant views on same-sex marriage.

 

She is already shunned by many more ideologically narrow House Republicans, and deep-pocketed right-wing purists, pouring in hundreds of thousands of dollars, have driven up the poll numbers of Douglas Hoffman on the Conservative line. Barely noticed in the intramural scrum is the Democratic candidate, Bill Owens. He could profit most from the three-way split in the heavily Republican district, which was vacated by John McHugh, the G.O.P. moderate appointed secretary of the Army by President Obama.

 

Helping to elect the Democrat is not the aim of ambitious conservatives like Ms. Palin, last year's vice presidential nominee, who is now intent on building a national constituency. She pronounced Scozzafava's candidacy unacceptable because it "blurs the lines," at least of Ms. Palin's idea of party orthodoxy. Mr. Gingrich, the former House speaker, nostalgic for the G.O.P.'s "big tent" fantasy days, disagreed. If the party wants to regain power, he advised, "there are times when you have to put together a coalition that has disagreement within it."

 

The fact that those are fighting words says much about the Republicans' glaring misunderstanding of American voters. The party continues to deny the Obama ascendancy with an agenda of naysaying when creative ideas and candidates, not right-wing zeal, are the obvious way to get back in the game of democracy.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

A HABIT TO BREAK

 

A year ago, New York State joined nine other Eastern states from Maryland to Maine in an innovative program to control greenhouse gases by charging power plants a fee to emit carbon dioxide. Nine of the 10 agreed to use the proceeds exclusively for renewable energy, advanced technologies and other programs to address the challenge of global warming. New York did not, and it now seems likely that almost none of the money Albany has collected will be used for the envisioned cutting-edge research and development.

 

The State Legislature voted several months ago to devote a little over half the fund — $112 million — to retrofitting homes, collecting energy data and other "green jobs" programs. These are worthy objectives, but New York already has a number of programs that try to increase energy efficiency through existing technologies. The point of the fund was to jump-start new and emerging technologies, for which there is very little money.

 

Now Gov. David Paterson has announced that he plans to take what is left in the fund, about $90 million, and use it to help close the state's yawning budget deficit. The governor is desperate for money: programs large and small are being slashed — including health care and education — and it can be fairly argued that nothing should be off-limits. That said, we strongly hope that the other states hold the line. We also urge Mr. Paterson not to make this a habit.

 

To cover previous budget shortfalls, New York's governors, from both parties, have repeatedly raided an older program called the Environmental Protection Fund — aimed, among other things, at conserving open space. The result, time and again, is that short-term gains in the state's balance sheet translate into long-term losses for the environment.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

ONE PERSON, ONE DOSE

BY DOUGLAS SHENSON

 

OUR ability to immunize large numbers of Americans quickly and effectively against the H1N1 virus may depend on an unlikely resource: our voting system. I do not mean our elected leaders, but our network of polling places. As we learned in last year's presidential election, American polling sites can process more than 130 million people in a single day.

 

Last Nov. 4, my colleagues and I conducted a national test of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Vote and Vax initiative. We found we were able to deliver more than 21,000 flu shots in 42 states and the District of Columbia. We worked with local public health practitioners and cleared the program with election officials to make sure we didn't violate any polling regulations. Vaccinations were available to people regardless of whether they voted, and both adults and children took advantage of the opportunity.

 

At the time, we didn't realize that our work may have been a rehearsal for something much bigger. The H1N1 pandemic is already upon us. Widespread influenza activity is reported in 46 states. On Saturday, President Obama declared the outbreak a national emergency.

 

As millions of doses of H1N1 vaccine are shipped out, doctors' offices may be overwhelmed. Polling places, until now largely overlooked, could be used for providing mass inoculations.

 

There are about 186,000 polling places in the United States, in schools, centers for the elderly, churches and fire stations in every community. Federal law requires that they be accessible to people with disabilities, many of whom may be particularly vulnerable to influenza.

 

Still, not all polling places conform to accessibility rules and would need to be modified to serve as vaccination sites. Nearly a third of them cannot accommodate people in wheelchairs, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office.

 

Public health officials must soon decide how and where to deploy health care personnel to administer the H1N1 vaccine. If the pandemic becomes more severe, they will need to deliver the vaccine to large numbers of people while avoiding crowds that would increase the risk of infection. Sites that are universally available and dispersed across all neighborhoods would be ideal.

 

To get polling places ready to serve as vaccination sites, local health departments would first need to make sure each site is accessible. Plans would need to be made, too, for the allocation, transportation and cold storage of vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could help let the public know about polling-place vaccination. Arrangements to use the various facilities should be made now. Individual communities could offer vaccinations when they have received an adequate supply of vaccine.

 

Providing widespread delivery of H1N1 vaccine is an enormous, looming challenge. Our polling places offer the best way to meet it.

 

Douglas Shenson, an associate clinical professor of epidemiology and public health at the Yale School of Medicine, is the executive director of the nonprofit organization Sickness Prevention Achieved Through Regional Collaboration.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

BENEDICT'S GAMBIT

BY ROSS DOUTHAT

 

The Church of England has survived the Spanish Armada, the English Civil War and Elton John performing "Candle in the Wind" at Princess Diana's Westminster Abbey funeral. So it will probably survive the note the Vatican issued last week, inviting disaffected Anglicans to head Romeward, and offering them an Anglo-Catholic mansion within the walls of the Roman Catholic faith.

 

But the invitation is a bombshell nonetheless. Pope Benedict XVI's outreach to Anglicans may produce only a few conversions; it may produce a few million. Either way, it represents an unusual effort at targeted proselytism, remarkable both for its concessions to potential converts — married priests, a self-contained institutional structure, an Anglican rite — and for its indifference to the wishes of the Church of England's leadership.

 

This is not the way well-mannered modern churches are supposed to behave. Spurred by the optimism of the early 1960s, the major denominations of Western Christendom have spent half a century being exquisitely polite to one another, setting aside a history of strife in the name of greater Christian unity.

 

This ecumenical era has borne real theological fruit, especially on issues that divided Catholics and Protestants during the Reformation. But what began as a daring experiment has decayed into bureaucratized complacency — a dull round of interdenominational statements on global warming and Third World debt, only tenuously connected to the Gospel.

 

At the same time, the more ecumenically minded denominations have lost believers to more assertive faiths — Pentecostalism, Evangelicalism, Mormonism and even Islam — or seen them drift into agnosticism and apathy.

 

Nobody is more aware of this erosion than Benedict. So the pope is going back to basics — touting the particular witness of Catholicism even when he's addressing universal subjects, and seeking converts more than common ground.

 

Along the way, he's courting both ends of the theological spectrum. In his encyclicals, Benedict has addressed a range of issues — social justice, environmental protection, even erotic love — that are close to the hearts of secular liberals and lukewarm, progressive-minded Christians. But instead of stopping at a place of broad agreement, he has pushed further, trying to persuade his more liberal readers that many of their beliefs actually depend on the West's Catholic heritage, and make sense only when grounded in a serious religious faith.

 

At the same time, the pope has systematically lowered the barriers for conservative Christians hovering on the threshold of the church, unsure whether to slip inside. This was the purpose behind his controversial outreach to schismatic Latin Mass Catholics, and it explains the current opening to Anglicans.

 

Many Anglicans will never become Catholic; their theology is too evangelical, their suspicion of papal authority too ingrained, their objections to the veneration of the Virgin Mary too deeply felt. But for those who could, Benedict is trying to make reunion with Rome a flesh-and-blood possibility, rather than a matter for academic conversation.

 

The news media have portrayed this rightward outreach largely through the lens of culture-war politics — as an attempt to consolidate, inside the Catholic tent, anyone who joins the Vatican in rejecting female priests and gay marriage.

 

But in making the opening to Anglicanism, Benedict also may have a deeper conflict in mind — not the parochial Western struggle between conservative and liberal believers, but Christianity's global encounter with a resurgent Islam.

 

Here Catholicism and Anglicanism share two fronts. In Europe, both are weakened players, caught between a secular majority and an expanding Muslim population. In Africa, increasingly the real heart of the Anglican Communion, both are facing an entrenched Islamic presence across a fault line running from Nigeria to Sudan.

 

Where the European encounter is concerned, Pope Benedict has opted for public confrontation. In a controversial 2006 address in Regensburg, Germany, he explicitly challenged Islam's compatibility with the Western way of reason — and sparked, as if in vindication of his point, a wave of Muslim riots around the world.

 

By contrast, the Church of England's leadership has opted for conciliation (some would say appeasement), with the Archbishop of Canterbury going so far as to speculate about the inevitability of some kind of sharia law in Britain.

 

There are an awful lot of Anglicans, in England and Africa alike, who would prefer a leader who takes Benedict's approach to the Islamic challenge. Now they can have one, if they want him.

 

This could be the real significance of last week's invitation. What's being interpreted, for now, as an intra-Christian skirmish may eventually be remembered as the first step toward a united Anglican-Catholic front — not against liberalism or atheism, but against Christianity's most enduring and impressive foe.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

AFTER REFORM PASSES

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

So, how well will health reform work after it passes?

 

There's a part of me that can't believe I'm asking that question. After all, serious health reform has long seemed like an impossible dream. And it could yet go all wrong.

 

But the teabaggers have come and gone, as have the cries of "death panels" and the demonstrations by Medicare recipients demanding that the government stay out of health care. And reform is still on track. Right now it looks highly likely that Congress will, indeed, send a health care bill to the president's desk. Then what?

 

Conservatives insist (and hope) that reform will fail, and that there will be a huge popular backlash. Some progressives worry that they might be right, that the imperfections of reform — what we're about to get will be far from ideal — will be so severe as to undermine public support. And many critics complain, with some justice, that the planned reform won't do much to contain rising costs.

 

But the experience in Massachusetts, which passed major health reform back in 2006, should dampen conservative hopes and soothe progressive fears.